The Many Lives of Jerry Robinson

« When comics came along in the 1930s there was a talent pool waiting. And one reason is so many areas were closed to Jews. Colleges, advertising agencies, many of the corporations – the doors that were closed led to the one that was open. » — Jerry Robinson

It’s New Year’s Day, which means it’s also the titanic Sherrill David ‘Jerry’ Robinson‘s birthday. Born on the first of January in 1922, he left us not so long ago, on December 7, 2011. He played at the very least a strong rôle in the creation of Batman’s sidekick Robin, his foes the Joker and Two-Face, his butler Alfred Pennyworth… and much more. Naturally, since we’re entering the murky world of Bob Kane, the whole process is mired in controversy, conflicting accounts and perhaps a little fibbing from certain parties.

Robinson went on to, well, several brilliant careers. In the 1950s, he worked as an instructor at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, where he mentored and considerably influenced a young Steve Ditko (among many others); he had a hand in several successful newspapers strips; served as president of the National Cartoonists Society (1967-69) and of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (1973-75); he lobbied hard for cartoonists’ rights, helping Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster obtain long-denied compensation and credit; he wrote, in 1974, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art. And this is but a sprinkling of highlights…

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We won’t limit ourselves to the obvious Bat-imagery, which was mostly studio work anyway. Here, for instance, is a more obscure but purer œuvre, both pencilled and inked by Robinson: the original art from « Behind the Mask », page 2, originally printed in Atlas’ Marvel Tales no. 103 (Oct. 1951). Writer unknown.
PhantomBrakemanCoverA
My earliest encounters with Mr. Robinson’s work were through a pair of books for young readers he illustrated in the late 1950s, in a beautifully free and expressive styles. Here’s the cover and one interior vignette from The Phantom Brakeman (1959, Scholastic), written by Freeman Hubbard, then editor of Railroad Magazine.

PhantomBrakemanIlloA

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The following two pieces belong to Hurricane Luck (1959, Scholastic), written by Carl Carmer.
HurricaneLuck02A
Spoiler alert: Peter does, in the end, win the Tarpon fishing contest.

« What about Batman? », you might say. Okay, I admit I don’t have a prayer of getting away with a Jerry Robinson tribute devoid of the caped crusader and his trusty bird-themed sidekick, so here goes!

Detective70A
Detective Comics no. 70 (Dec. 1942). Pencils and inks by Robinson.
Detective71A
Detective Comics no. 71 (Jan. 1943). Pencils and inks by Robinson.

-RG

4 thoughts on “The Many Lives of Jerry Robinson

  1. Barney Dannelke January 2, 2019 / 04:36

    I had no idea about any of this beyond Robinson’s Batman work. Not the book stuff and not the Siegel and Shuster bail-out. Fascinating. Is there a name for that crappy book illustration style beyond just “duo-tone”? I remember even as a kid, thinking, “oh man, are these folks even trying?” I now recognize it as a period style combined with some corner cutting economics – but I always sort of hated it. Even when (especially when?) Renegade Press brought it back for the MS. TREE comics. Blecchh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gasp65 January 3, 2019 / 15:43

      Hey, I’m always extra happy to provide something new! As for the illustration style (I never expected to hear anyone call it “crappy”, given how beloved it is among ‘artistic’ types), we generally called it “spot colour illustration”, since it only uses a specific ink/colour, not a mix, which would involve colour separation and defeat the economy. And of course, it can be done incredibly well… and quite direly. And Ms. Tree? ‘Blecchh” seconded. I do like Terry Beatty’s “The Phony Pages”, and I adore his cover for Mod #1 (https://www.comics.org/issue/277390/), but he was well out of his depth trying to draw a realistic detective strip. Stiffness City! And, well… Max Allan Collins is just an overrated hack.

      Like

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