Robert Kanigher and Writing

Yes, Robert Kanigher did write the first appearance of Barry Allen. Yes, he also came up with the iconic cover to that first appearance in Showcase #4. That isn't the only reason that Robert Kanigher is one of my favorite writers. He had a hand in creating a number of my favorite characters. Along with Joe Kubert he is responsible for the creation of Sgt. Rock. Kanigher was the writer and editor for the five war comics that DC comics published; G.I. Robot, Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, All-American Men of War, and Star-Spangled War Stories. Within these titles features like Enemy Ace, The Losers, The Haunted Tank, and the Unknown Soldier would be introduced. He would go on to create the Metal Men over the course of a weekend. The Wonder Woman title was edited and written by him for two decades. Lady Cop is also a Kanigher creation. The man was prolific.

My personal favorite of the war features that he wrote was The War That Time Forgot. It started as a mostly continuity free series that centered around World War II soldiers finding an island of dinosaurs. Every month the soldiers would fly or sail into a mist, get attacked by a dinosaur, find an island of dinosaurs, barely escape. No soldiers ever said, "Hey. I think I read something in Stars and Stripes about his." There were no briefings before missions about the possibility of running into dinosaurs. Obviously the government might be trying to hide the dinosaur islands. Alas, the dinosaurs would not cooperate. They would show up in the arctic. They would pop out of landing boats to attack US soldiers. They would not be put in a corner.

You might think that reading stories about dinosaurs fighting soldiers would get boring. It can. To his credit, Kanigher started to throw some new flavors into the mix. G.I. Robot would make a few appearances, a trio of circus performers (The Flying Boots) who joined the army would battle the dinosaurs for a bit, and a Suicide Squadron would make an appearance. Kanigher was willing to toss anything into the mix to make the story interesting. That was the important function he was serving, he was trying to make that issue that you held in your hands was entertaining.

My favorite facet of Kanigher is quickly demonstrated by anecdote passed along to me by Chris Sims (noted funny comictator), and covered in Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed by Bryan Cronin. Basically, Julie Schwartz made a notation on the cover of war comic that an art element needed to be dropped an inch. He got the art back discovered that instead of moving the art element, the cover now featured a blurb advertising the story "Drop An Inch!" Kanigher then had to write a nine page story entitled "Drop An Inch!" It almost has an improv feel to it. The source of the inspiration is less important than the creative crafting of a story around it.  It didn't matter what book it was, Kanigher was a born storyteller and he would find something to say.

If something like that happened in comics today, and fans found out, it would be internet pandemonium. We have a very romantic notion of comic writers. Fandom wants the creators to feel a personal and deep connection to whatever it is that they are writing. We want there to be a plan, a road map to the creative vision of the writer.  This is true for Marvel, DC, and indie books. There probably are writers who fall into the Kanigher Kraftsmen type, but we certainly wouldn't want to hear that on a podcast interview. 

"Well guys, I wrote this story because they solicited it and someone had to do it. I did the best I could with what I had, but I certainly wasn't planning on doing this. It got handed to me." Would you buy a book described in that fashion?

I have been thinking about this for a couple days and I am struggling with what it means. Do we delude ourselves about the nature of comic creating? Has the industry evolved for better or worse? Do we spend too much time attributing motives to every creative decision? Do we know too much about the creative process now?

Get your hand drum and let's share.

Tom Katers is listening. He is always listening. Everywhere.


  1. Nice article.

    The don’t make comics like that anymore. Maybe we know too much about the creators and the creators are too aware of the fans and what we want 

  2. Kanigher was always one of my faves…great article Tom.  I think people (And I see it on this site) go on about how comics today are a long organic story process like Civil War to Secret Invasion, to Siege.  Yet at the end of the day people are fooling themselves a bit.

    It’s still really guys being told to "come up with something but whatever you do make sure it ends this way so we can sell X, Y, and Z books and lead into ABC Event next summer".  It’s really no different than Julie Schwartz saying here’s the cover now make a story around it! 

    Doesn’t make stories less enjoyable or take away from anybody’s work from any period, it’s a business and not a free flowing fusion jazz piece that comes together organically… it’s all manufactured to sell and and continue to sell.  I’m okay with it if the stories are fun… and Kanighers ALWAYS were!!!

  3. Don’t forget to give credit to Kanigher for scripting the first silver age flash story.  He (along with Infantino and Schwartz) deserves credit for creating Barry Allen.

  4. @bedhead I believe I gave him credit in the first sentence.

  5. @Bedhead: Did you read the very first line in the article?

  6. Once again, great article Tom!

    Also, all of you iFanboy writers have the patience of saints. You have my undying respect. 

  7. I’m a moron.

  8. Yes but did you give him credit for Wonder Tot?!?  Wonder Tot!