When you are tasked with creating many different characters in a fairly condensed amount of time, you will naturally be susceptible to images you have seen before, especially when the characters you are redesigning have existed for decades. Prior to “Batman: The Animated Series,” most people’s familiarity with Batman came from the Adam West-led TV show from the 1960s. The same goes for Kevin Nowlan. Speaking with 13th Dimension, he explained his unhappiness with his designs for both the Penguin and the Riddler for “Batman: The Animated Series,” because those original TV versions lived in his head:
“The Penguin was changed to the Tim Burton movie version. But I hadn’t done much more than sketch the ’66 TV character so I didn’t have a lot invested in that one. I also had Frank Gorshin in mind when I drew the Riddler.”
I think that is why these are two characters where I don’t immediately see these animated versions in my head; my mind also goes to Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin. Another character Nowlan wasn’t too thrilled with was the lesser-known Mad Hatter due to their strange adherence to the Lewis Carroll source material:
“The Mad Hatter always looked very awkward to me. I was thinking of the toothy, chinless, [John] Tenniel drawings from the original book. In the end, it didn’t matter because Roddy McDowall did the voice and just acted up a storm. No one noticed the character design, good or bad. They were focused on Roddy [McDowell]’s virtuoso performance.”
Ultimately, the voices do bolster these characters more than anything else. The Joker from the show is the first image I imagine, but would that be the case without Mark Hamill’s voice? Probably not.