The Ghost With the Most: Celebrating the Unsung Legacy of Sheldon Moldoff
If you only go by bylines, you would believe that not only did Bob Kane create Batman on his own, he also wrote, drew, and inked every adventure of Batman all by himself from 1939 until the mid 1960s. However, fans with even a little bit of knowledge of comics history know that most elements of the Batman mythos were created by writer Bill Finger, and that Kane employed a host of ghost artists whose work he took credit for for decades, including Jerry Robinson, Dick Sprang, Lew Schwartz, and Win Mortimer.
One of the most prominent of these ghost artists, whose style would define an entire era of Batman history, was Sheldon “Shelly” Moldoff.
Sheldon Moldoff was born on this day in 1920 in New York City. He was discovered as a teen by DC Comics writer and editor Bernard Bailey (co-creator of Hourman and the Spectre, among others), who happened to live in Moldoff's building and saw him drawing Popeye on the sidewalk with chalk. Bailey took Moldoff under his wing to teach him cartooning, and before long Moldoff was working for DC Comics. His first published work for them was a one page filler strip that appeared on the inside back cover of an obscure back issue called Action Comics #1.
During the early Golden Age of the late '30s and '40s, Moldoff did a great deal of cover work, including the cover of All-American Comics #16, the debut of the original Green Lantern. In this same period, he created Jon Valor, the Black Pirate, in the pages of Action Comics, and turned supporting character Shiera Sanders into heroic Hawkgirl during his tenure as the regular artist of the Hawkman feature in Flash Comics. In a stint at Quality Comics, he co-created Kid Eternity with Otto Binder in 1942.
Following service in the military during World War II, Moldoff returned to comics, drawing Moon Girl for EC Comics and introducing the horror genre to Fawcett Comics with the horror anthologies This Magazine Is Haunted and Tales of the Supernatural, the former of which was hosted by Moldoff's creation Doctor Death. (By some accounts, Moldoff is the inventor of horror comics, as he pitched This Magazine Is Haunted to EC Comics before they created Tales from the Crypt.)
Without a doubt, however, Moldoff's best known contribution to comics is his extended tenure as the uncredited artist of Batman between the years 1953 and 1968. He drew stories for nearly every issue of Batman between #81 and #199, and nearly every issue of Detective Comics between #199 and #372.
The early part of this period contained the weird “sci-fi” era of Batman history, which has come to be defined visually by Moldoff's smiling, barrel-chested Batman. In the 1950s, Moldoff co-created such characters as the original Batwoman and Bat-Girl, Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, Calendar Man, Mister Freeze, the second Clayface, and the Club of Heroes.
While for many years this era of Batman was forgotten or derided, it has experienced something of a revival thanks to Grant Morrison's multi-year Batman epic, incorporating many concepts from this era, as well as the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon show, whose art direction borrows a great deal from Moldoff's style.
Even as other notable Batman artists such as Dick Sprang were phased out of the books in the early 1960s as the Caped Crusader entered into his “New Look” era spearheaded by Carmine Infantino, Moldoff would continue to draw the book (with credit going to Bob Kane, of course) well into the decade, co-creating Poison Ivy in 1966 and reintroducing the Riddler for the Silver Age in 1965.
Moldoff was somewhat unceremoniously fired by DC in 1967, moving on to do storyboards for animation and promotional comics for children given away at Burger King and Red Lobster. He eventually retired to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he passed away at the age of 91 in 2012.
Hopefully new fans will continue to discover and enjoy the art and contributions to an under-appreciated era of Bat-history made by Shelly Moldoff, the definitive Batman artist of the 1950s.