In 1939 DC Comics (a.k.a. National Periodical Publications) published Detective Comics #27, a book featuring among other stories, the first appearance of DC’s Batman a.k.a Bruce Wayne. A rich eccentric orphan who dresses up like a bat and punches crime in the face in his “war on crime”. In 1932, Frank Foster II visited the company now known as DC Comics, with some sketches of a masked hero who fought at night, who had no special “powers” and was called BATMAN.
Confused? I know I am. Read on to learn more about this mystery worthy of the Dark Knight Detective himself, as I talk to Frank’s son Frank Foster III about his father’s 1932 Batman character.
JOHN: Hi Frank, (a.k.a. Frank Foster III, son of Frank Foster II) tell us a little about yourself and the site OriginalBatman.com, for people who have not heard of it.
FRANK: Frank Foster II was my Father who created Batman in 1932. Ever since I was a young child I remember his telling how Batman was stolen from him in New York. At the time we were living in Washington DC when he discovered a Batman comic at a news stand. I was almost four years old when we moved there from New York City in the Fall of 1939. It was sometime in 1940 that he discovered the Batman comic. I heard the re-telling of the story over and over my whole life until he passed away.
It is one of those things that we get so familiar with that it loses it’s significance. Just an historical story. In the process of finding my way in life’s struggles, education, career, marriage, raising a family, Batman was the least of my concerns. But when the kids left and had families of their own, and my career wound down, I had the space to reconsider the injustice to my dear Father.
JOHN: What was you father like, as a man, and as a father?
FRANK: My Father was a kind and gentle person with a great sense of humor. I know of no one who ever disliked him. Soft spoken, trusting and always saw the good side of things. He would shoo the fly out the door rather than kill it. He was creatively gifted in many ways as an artist not business-like in managing his affairs. He was a creative person who produced a stream of creative work that was used by others. His trusting and generous nature meant that others capitalized on his talent for their own benefit leaving him with little or nothing for his work. This was a pattern in his life. My Mother Ruth was the strong one descended from tough rural French Canadian Catholic stock and ruled the roost in my family. Both parents were genuine, sincere, honest and thoughtful folks much beloved by all.
JOHN: What is the overall purpose of your site?
FRANK: With the advent of the internet there was a way to reach out to people and present his story to the public. A relative who is more web savvy than I am put the web site together for me. It is my wish to correct history and give my Father the creative credit he deserves albeit posthumously. I only wish I could have helped him while he was still with us.
JOHN: Do you feel that DC Comics stole the name “Batman” or “Bat-Man” from your father?
FRANK: Someone certainly stole the name “Batman” from my Father. Not just the name but the whole unique concept. We have not been able so far to uncover hard physical evidence of who it was but the probability is very high that is was someone at DC if not Kane himself. Kane’s reputation is not one of integrity. Most likely it was Kane.
JOHN: Did they take/steal the look of the character, personality, costume, vehicles, gadgets, story ideas or any other ideas from your father in your view?
FRANK: There are three unique features of my Father’s Batman that are still in effect today. No one else has ever created a Bat-like character with any of these features.
1. Hero of the night. It was my Father’s unique idea that while all other heroic characters were heroes of the day, he thought “Why can’t there be a hero who does good deeds at night?” His alternate name was “Nightwing”.
2. There was never a heroic bat-like creature. Bat-like creatures were associated with the underworld and evil. Never heroic.
3. Batman had no super powers. He was an ordinary man with a bat-like costume doing good deeds at night. Unlike other pulp heroes, there were no extraordinary characteristics.
JOHN: Many pulp characters and comic characters from 1900-1940 had animal themed names such as The Bat, Black Bat, The Spider, and a variety of characters were referred to as “Supermen” or “a Superman” Superman knock offs such as Wonder Man, Captain Marvel and other men referred to as ‘a Superman’ (such as Doc Savage)
Is Batman or Bat-Man not an obvious name for a character such as Cat-Man, Cat-Woman etc? If so, would you say it is possible for two (or more) people to come up with the name ‘Batman’ or a version of that name, at the same time, in the same era? People come up with the same ideas today all the time, just look at the theatrical movies out in cinemas in any given year, and there will often be two similar but entirely unrelated projects.
FRANK: If it were only the name Batman that was in question, then it would still be a big stretch to imagine that coincidentally the two people creating the name would be in the same place at the same time without being related. But considering the unique features described above I think it is beyond the realm of possibility that two men would have created a Batman who was a night hero, heroic bat-like creature, and had no extraordinary characteristics. To a logical person it is inconceivable.
JOHN: Published in 1936 ‘Spicy Mystery Stories’ (three years before DC’s Batman) has a 12 page story simply titled “Batman” and features the word “BATMAN” in all caps, (no hyphen) promoting the lead feature in that issue. Batman was the story of a man whose brain is removed and put into the body of a Bat, but it turns out it was all a delusion of the main character who had suffered brain trauma, so this story was published three before DC’s Bruce Wayne Batman, and this character in this story was referred to as “Batman”. If anyone has a right to the name Batman, (other than DC) would it not be the author of this short story?
FRANK: My Father created Batman in 1932 and brought his work to New York that year when he completed art school. Four years before “Spicy Mystery Stories”.
It was in New York’s Greenwich Village staying with a friend from art school that he coined the name “Batman”. He was unable to sell his ideas at that time and returned to Boston and went into the painting and decorating business.
JOHN: Was your father aware of this short story from Spicy Mystery Stories? (Which predated the Bruce Wayne Batman by three years).
FRANK: The question is was “Spicy Mystery Stories” aware of my Father’s Batman which predated them by four years?
JOHN: Did he ever attempt to copyright the name Batman, or submit his Batman drawings and/or ideas to any companies other than DC?
FRANK: He never copyrighted anything he did. He never involved himself with legal matters of any kind. It was simply not in his nature to attend to that sort of thing.
He did make the rounds of all relevant publishers in New York showing his work a number of times. First in 1932, then from 1936- 1939. He did find a few weeks work drawing for “Munsey Publications”.
JOHN: Would you ever allow print publication of your father’s illustrations in a historical context? Like in a book on Pulp characters and early superheroes?
Of course. The more people that know about this the better. A feature length story with drawings was done by the “Comic Book Marketplace”.
JOHN: Any way you look at it, I feel the illustrations are important, there is no denying that he created a character with the name of Batman, and his signature is clearly dated 1932 . That a later character with the same name became famous takes nothing away from the initial sketches, which are of historical significance as pieces of pop-culture art, and showing the pattern for animal themed characters in that era.
JOHN: Do you have any sort of Bibliography of your father’s published work?
FRANK: My Father never had any of his characters in publication although his most darling favorite “King Aquazoo” nearly became a children’s book. A fanciful story of an island kingdom that sunk into the sea. The wise king taught his subjects how to breathe and live underwater. It was filled with adventures of fanciful underwater creatures like “ The Great Red Sponge”. He used to tell wonderful bedtime stories and make up new Aquazoo adventures as he went along. It was written and assembled but never went to print.
After leaving New York, he got a job at the National Gallery of Art helping restore paintings. Then back to New York doing architectural renderings for renovating hotels for “Hotel Corp” (A.M. Sonnabend). Then a free-lance water-color artist finally on Cape Cod.
JOHN: Bob Kane’s Batman doesn’t really look like Frank D. Foster II’s Batman. Bob’s initial ideas were of a blonde haired Superman clone in a red costume with mechanical bat wings.
FRANK: Note that my Father’s Batman appears to be blond without his costume. Kane appeared to be trying to cover his tracks with his Da Vinci claims. The comparison is ludicrous. Batman has no wings and can’t fly. Never did. Kane was trying to authenticate his idea.
The details of Batman’s costume are incidental to the key characteristics of Batman. My Father’s Batman had no cape but the cape is not essential to the nature of Batman. His appearance and costume varied considerably depend on the particular artist who drew him. But his essential features remain even today.
JOHN: It was Bill Finger who later changed Kane’s blonde haired “Superman with a Zorro mask” and Da Vinci style mechanical wings and added the now famous cape and cowl, adding the ‘white’ eyes and cowl from Lee Falk’s The Phantom. Bill’s Batman with a cowl and slits-for-eyes white eyes is more similar to your father’s character, but given that Bill Finger was Bob Kane’s employee, how would he ever have seen Frank D. Foster II’s drawings?
FRANK: My Father recalled that he was sometimes asked to leave his drawings for consideration. Some days later when he would go to pick them up he was told they weren’t interested. Anyone could have easily seen them.
JOHN: The Bat Whispers (1930) is an acknowledged popular influence on DC’s Batman. The story is about a costumed killer known as The Bat, by popular mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart. Later plays were inspired by the popularity of ‘The Bat Whispers’ and ‘The Bat’ such as The Cat and the Canary and ‘The Gorilla’. Bob Kane was influenced by the ambiance, mystery and horror-like setting of The Bat Whispers. This film was a strong influence, and was released in 1930.
FRANK: It is possible that my Father saw “Bat Whispers” although he never mentioned it. Note that the “Bat” was evil, not heroic. There is no shortage of evil bat creatures going way back. Vampires, Dracula Etc.
What Kane said about creating Batman must be taken with a big helping of salt. In Kane’s book “Batman and Me” there are many suspect, fabricated even ridiculous allegations.
JOHN: Thank you for taking the time Frank to answer these questions, I encourage everyone to check out the site OriginalBatman.com – read the articles and take a look at the drawings which are fascinating. Be sure not to miss the other sketches such as the “Raven” character and see Foster’s alternative name for Batman which was “Nightwing”.