Batman Ghost Artist Co-Created Batwoman, Batgirl, Bat-Mite
by BK Munn
Golden Age cartoonist Sheldon Moldoff died February 29th at age 91, it was reported by his family today. Moldoff was best known as an artist on the Batman comic books in the 1950s and 1960s. He was also the last surviving contributor to Action Comics #1, the comic that introduced Superman.
Born in New York City, “Shelly” Moldoff was instructed in cartooning by comic book artist Bernard Baily, co-creator of The Spectre with Jerry Siegel. Moldoff’s first published comics work was a sports-themed strip that appeared on the inside back cover of Action Comics #1 in 1938. Moldoff later created the character The Black Pirate (Action Comics #23) and wrote and drew many other features for National Periodical Publications, the forerunner of DC Comics. He also did work for a number of other publishers, including co-creating Kid Eternity with writer Otto Binder (“The Origin of Kid Eternity”, Hit Comics #25) for Quality Comics in 1942. Moldoff’s distinctive artwork is familiar to fans of some of the earliest Hawkman stories, published in Flash Comics (#2-61) and in All-Star Comics (#1-23). Moldoff also drew the covers to Flash Comics #1 (1940) and All-American Comics #16 (1940) which introduced the original versions of The Flash and Green Lantern, although he did not create either of those characters. Moldoff’s facility and ease with a variety of formats and genres led to a job offer from the NEA comic strip syndicate (publisher of V.T. Hamlin’s Alley Oop and Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs) which led to National publishers Jack Liebowitz and M.C. Gaines wooing Moldoff with counter-offers, eventually retaining him with a raise of five dollars a page.
In 1948, Moldoff sold the idea for two horror comics, This Magazine Is Haunted and Strange Suspense Stories, to Fawcett Comics after first selling the concept and book content to Bill Gaines, the publisher of EC Comics. Moldoff always asserted that EC’s famous horror comics, including Tales From the Crypt, were directly inspired by his proposal and initially used some of the work he had created on spec, without honouring a signed contract or paying royalties.
Moldoff’s most famous work was also to be mostly anonymous and the result of nefarious contracts. When Bob Kane and Bill Finger created Batman in 1939, Kane sold the character to National in a deal that included sole character credit and a healthy stipend to provide art for Batman comic book stories. From that point onwards, Kane hired a series of uncredited ghost artists to do this work and in 1953 he chose Moldoff to replace Lew Sayre Schwatz on the feature, a position Moldoff held until 1964 when DC decided to update the look of the Batman series. Under Moldoff’s artistic tenure during the 50s and 60s Batman blossomed into a visually distinctive, humourous action feature that was to be the eventual inspiration for the 1966 television show. Moldoff produced an overwhelming number of covers, character designs, and thousands of elaborately staged, action-packed comic book pages for the Batman title, including several iconic characters that still reverberate in pop culture today.
In 1956, writer Edmond Hamilton and artist Moldoff created the character of Bat-Woman, aka Kathy Kane (“The Bat-Woman!”, Detective Comics #233), an heiress and acrobat who becomes Batman’s rival and sometime helper and object of affection. The success of the popular heroine was repeated in 1961 when Bill Finger and Moldoff created Bat-Girl, aka Betty Kane, the niece of Kathy Kane, as a love interest for Robin the Boy-Wonder (“Bat-Girl”, Batman #139). Under a different creative team, the character was later updated to Batgirl, daughter of Gotham City police commissioner James Gordon, and played by Yvonne Craig on television.
Finger and Moldoff also created Ace the Bathound, the canine crime-fighting partner of Batman and Robin (“Ace, the Bat-Hound!”, Batman #92, 1955), and the extra-dimensional imp Bat-Mite (“Batman Meets Bat-Mite!”, Detective Comics #267, 1959). These characters became part of a key superhero comics concept, the extended superhero family, eventually built into a vast universe of interconnected Batman Family histories, constructed story by story through many different comic book titles, and one of the hallmarks of the so-called Silver Age of U.S. comics production, the family-friendly period that followed the introduction of the Comics Code in 1954.
Other Moldoff co-creations include the Batman villain Poison Ivy with writer Robert Kanigher (Batman #181, 1966) –played by Uma Thurman in the 1997 film Batman and Robin.
During this time, in part because of his handshake working relationship with Kane, Moldoff did not receive any credit or extra compensation for the use of these characters. In fact, when Moldoff moonlighted for DC outside of his work done for Kane, he was often asked to ink his own (anonymously produced) artwork, which the DC editors continued to refer to as by Bob Kane.
After Moldoff was unceremoniously put out to pasture by DC in 1967, he worked in advertising and illustration, notably providing art and stories for a series of promotional comic books for a number of fast food restaurant chains, before retiring to Florida.
In the 1990s, Moldoff was plucked from obscurity and began appearing at comic book conventions to great acclaim, making a secondary living selling artwork and recreating his classic comic book covers. Most recently Moldoff was promoting a limited edition, self-published autobiography, I Am A Successful Failure, and was scheduled to appear at the Miami Comic Con in June.
Moldoff is predeceased by his wife Shirley and is survived by his three children Richard Moldoff, Kenneth Moldoff, and Ellen Moldoff Stein, a son-in-law, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral services are scheduled to be held March 6 at Kraeer Funeral Home, 1655 University Drive, Coral Springs.