What About Bob?
As a career illustrator, one of the questions I am asked most often is “when are you going to throw that shirt away?” And because I learned long ago the strategy of answering the question you wish had been asked, I respond by rattling off my encyclopedic knowledge of the Bay City Rollers’ full discography (skipping the UK-only debut on the Bell label, which I simply will not acknowledge as a legitimate BCR release).
The other question I’m often asked is about drawing portraits of people I dislike. Having suffered the Stings and Bonos of outrageous culture, do I enjoy distorting their sagging jawlines and pock-marked foreheads when drawing them, as suitable punishment for their crimes against humanity? Givin’ ‘em the business? “What about Hitler?” they demand. “Would you make Hitler pretty?”
And the true answer, as it is for everything in this life, is kinda. I would make Hitler kinda pretty.
One way to look at this is that any portrait subject, no matter how Weinsteinian, is going to find being run through the Holt-o-mizer a blessing. How could they not come through my patented process of beautification anything but their best possible selves? Botox shmotox, etc.
But of course the truth is that, being an artist of limited resources, the uphill battle to achieve anything near an acceptable likeness puts my fragile ego at considerable risk. Forcing my inept scribbling into a shape even reasonably resembling Strom Thurmond is difficult enough; best not to compromise the effort by adding the painful skin lesions I’d like for him to have. A Jaffee-esque drool puddle oozing from Strom’s race-baiting maw would only distract from the main objective of making the guy look like the guy. (Though I will neither confirm not deny the existence of subliminal messages in any of my portraits.) But there may be something deeper at work here, and I wondered about this while drawing the Bob Kane portrait shining down on us from above.
Bob is part of my never-ending series, The Gods of Geek Mythology, which is never-ending because my conflicted nature as a self-hating geek tends to stymie the momentum of the project. But anyway, Bob Kane, as you know, is the creator of Courageous Cat, and he’s also notable for claiming credit for a certain bat-themed super hero character the kids are all crazy about. I won’t recount Bob’s crimes here; there are whole books chronicling his misdeeds, including his highly-recommended autobiography, Batman and Me. Suffice it to say that Kane’s reputation as a self-aggrandizing, credit-stealing, no-talent sleaze is so well-established that his unmitigated grandiosity is literally written in stone.
Yet, loving to hate Kane as I do, when I selected him as the next God in the Geek Mythology series, I found myself softening on the old guy. As I gathered my photo reference, there was Bob, steeped in the middle of the 1966 Batmania craze, passing off someone else’s pop-art Bat-paintings as his own, posing for photos holding a paintbrush he’d never seen before, milking his moment for photographers, and basking in what was surely the highlight of his oily life in the syndicated gutters of the comic book biz. And goddammit, I felt happy for him. The delusional little toad was riding the soulless entertainment tilt-a-whirl to the very end, having had his cushy career ghost-written for him, barely having worked an hour of his stupid-ass life. Bob Kane wins.
But rather than concluding that I’m too open-hearted to dance on his grave with sufficient groove, I’m realizing in my old age that hating Bob Kane – and indeed, hating so many of the noxious public figures passing through my lifetime – has brought me so much enjoyment that it actually qualifies as a form of fandom. In fact, the aforementioned Batman and Me book, “written” by Bob with the help of someone with basic literacy skills, has long been one of my most treasured artifacts. In it, Kane not only reproduces painfully-obvious forgeries of “original sketches” to prove he was the mastermind behind the Batdude, but he pulls the classic maneuver of every self-absorbed, show-business also-ran of the classic Hollywood era: He claims to have discovered Marilyn Monroe. I was half expecting him to next tell us he had heard Elvis singing at a truck stop and drove him to Sun Records.
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The point being, the book is such an amazing cornucopia of blatantly-false claims and oblivious ego gone amok, and my deep relish of this idiocy so rapturous, that I cannot, in all honesty, claim that I actually hate Bob Kane. He is clearly a detestable wretch, but being so has entertained me enormously. Perhaps I should be ashamed of that, but dammit, my portrait of Bob cannot be an attack – it is an ODE to the man, in all his grimy glory.
Still, a couple of liver spots wouldn’t hurt to balance the composition, right?
(And let’s not forget Ashley’s website, jam-packed with portraits and other drawings, his highly-affordable prints and books currently available, his eagerness for your portrait commission, and his contact email, firstname.lastname@example.org, where he longs to hear from you.)