Michael Uslan

From the Uslan Vault of DC History

Did you know..?

DC’s in-house attorney, Bernie Kashdan, explained to me in 1974 that the addition of the yellow circle was motivated by DC’s need to trade-mark Batman’s chest symbol for merchandising, et al, to come. The legal opinion was that the simple drawing of a black bat was insufficient then for trade-markable protection. The legal opinion was that the addition of the yellow circle would give them a readily protectable mark they could secure.

The full story…

BATMAN, Vol. 1, #164 (1964)

Not only did DC’s lawyer explain this to me back in 1974, but later on, vice president (later to become president) of DC Comics, Sol Harrison, independently reiterated it to me. At DC, when it came to anything dealing with rights, copyrights, trademarks, etc., legal took precedence over creative. DC was a small office back in the early to mid-70s and Julie never countered what Bernie and Sol said. It’s important to understand the corporate drive behind this.

Jack Leibowitz, one of the owners of National Periodical Publications/DC Comics, had a nephew named Jay Emmett who had been working at DC since the 1940s. He was National’s in-house licensing guy since the late 1940s.

In 1960, he and a partner, Allan Stone, formed Licensing Corporation of America. Liebowitz already understood the gross revenue potential in merchandising and that there had been far too little of it for the past few decades. If DC was to grow and if Batman was to thrive, this platform had to be mined and greatly expanded.

Adam West as Batman, c. 1966

Keep in mind that a Batman TV series had been discussed since 1961. This led to the time circa 1962 or 63 when DC’s lawyer was first given the task to make sure everything that needed to be trade-marked or copyrighted was in order and secure.

Thus, Bernie Kashdan went to work on this in association with outside counsel and then let Irwin Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz know about the requirements of trade-marking Batman’s chest symbol. Irwin or Bernie would then have instructed editor Julie Schwartz what was needed. In no way, did Julie or any DC editor then have the power, authority or clout to unilaterally make a change as major as a top character’s symbol without it coming from and/or approved from on high.

In 1965, LCA acquired the merchandising rights to James Bond. On the heels of that breaking news, LCH in 1965 was bought by National for 38,000 shares of National stock.

Later in 1965 when William Dozier’s Greenway Productions and 20th Century Fox entered into a deal with National and ABC regarding Batman, the merchandising rights were to be handled by NPP’s Licensing Corporation of America.

And the rest is history. – Michael Uslan

Michael Uslan

Dr. Michael Uslan is a Professor of Practice at the Indiana University Media School. He is the Executive Producer of many award-winning movies, including Batman Vs Superman: Dawn Of JusticeThe Lego Movie; and The Dark Knight TrilogyBatman BeginsThe Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises. He is also the Executive Producer of a wide range of TV movies, animated TV Series, and documentaries. He won an Emmy Award for “Best Animated Series” with his production of Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? ®

Dr. Uslan was the instructor of both the first accredited college course and correspondence course on comic books (Indiana University 1971), and the author of the first textbook on comics, The Comic Book In America. He has authored a wide range of books and graphic novels, including, America At War- A History Of War Comics; Mysteries In Space- A History Of Science Fiction Comics; Best Of Archie; The Comic Book Revolution, and his memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman. He worked with his friend and mentor, Stan Lee, on many comic books, including their most recent initiative, Just Imagine.

He is the recipient of the World’s first Doctorate of Comic Books, Monmouth University 2012, and also has a JD from Indiana University School of Law; M.S, Urban Education, Indiana University School of Education; and BA, History from Indiana University.