Jerry Robinson, American comic book artist (Batman) and reputed creator of The Joker, died he was 89
Sherrill David Robinson, known as Jerry Robinson, was an American comic book artist known for his work on DC Comics‘ Batman line of comics during the 1940s died he was 89.. He is best known as the self-proclaimed creator of the Joker, and for his work on behalf of creators’ rights.
He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004.
(January 1, 1922 – December 7, 2011)
Robinson was a 17-year-old journalism student at Columbia University in 1939 when he was discovered by Batman creator Bob Kane, who hired him to work on that fledgling comic as an inker and letterer. Kane, with writer Bill Finger, had shortly before created the character Batman for National Comics, the future DC Comics. Robinson rented a room from a family in The Bronx near Kane’s family’s Grand Concourse
apartment, where Kane used his bedroom as an art studio. He started as a
letterer and a background inker, shortly graduating to inking secondary
figures. Within a year, he became Batman’s primary inker, with George Roussos inking backgrounds. Batman quickly became a hit character, and Kane rented space for Robinson and Roussos in Times Square‘s Times Tower.
Approximately a year and a half after Robinson and Finger were hired
by Kane, National Comics lured them away, making them company staffers.
Robinson recalled working in the bullpen at the company’s 480 Lexington Avenue office, alongside Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, as well as Jack Kirby Fred Ray, and Mort Meskin, “one of my best friends, who[m] I brought up from MLJ“.
By early 1940, Kane and Finger discussed adding a sidekick. Robinson suggested the name “Robin” after Robin Hood books he had read during boyhood, saying (in a 2005 interview) that he was inspired by one book’s N.C. Wyeth illustrations. The new character, orphaned circus performer Dick Grayson, came to live with Bruce Wayne (Batman) as his young ward in Detective Comics #38 (April 1940). Robin would inspire many similar sidekicks throughout the remainder of the Golden Age of Comic Books.
Batman’s archnemesis, the Joker, was introduced around the same time, in Batman
#1 (Spring 1940). Though Kane claimed he and writer Bill Finger came up
with the idea for the Joker, most comic historians credit Robinson for
the iconic villain, modeled after Conrad Veidt in the 1928 movie, The Man Who Laughs. Credit for that character’s creation, however, is disputed. Robinson has said he created the character. Kane’s position was that:
and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me
with a playing card of the Joker. That’s the way I sum it up. [The
Joker] looks like Conrad Veidt — you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs [the 1928 movie based on the novel] by Victor Hugo…
Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it
to me and said, ‘Here’s the Joker.’ Jerry Robinson had absolutely
nothing to do with it. But he’ll always say he created it till he dies.
He brought in a playing card, which we used for a couple of issues for him [the Joker] to use as his playing card.
Robinson, whose original Joker playing card was on public display in the exhibition “Masters of American Comics” at the Jewish Museum in New York City, New York, from September 16, 2006 to January 28, 2007, and the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta, Georgia from October 24, 2004 to August 28, 2005, has countered that:
knew of Conrad Veidt because Bill had been to a lot of the foreign
films. Veidt… had this clown makeup with the frozen smile on his face.
When Bill saw the first drawing of the Joker, he said, ‘That reminds me
of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs.’ He said he would bring
in some shots of that movie to show me. That’s how that came about. I
think in Bill’s mind, he fleshed out the concept of the character.
Robinson was also a key force in the creation of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth, and the villain Two-Face.
In 1943, when Kane left the Batman comic books to focus on penciling the daily Batman newspaper comic strip, Robinson took over the full penciling, along with others such as Dick Sprang. Only Kane’s name appeared on the strip.
From 1944 to 1946, Robinson and his friend Meskin formed a studio which produced material for the short-lived Spark Publications.
Robinson worked on numerous other characters for several publishers, at
one point doing freelance illustrations for a textbook publisher. After
leaving superhero comics, he became a newspaper cartoonist and created True Classroom Flubs and Fluffs, which ran during the 1960s in the New York Sunday News (later incorporated into the Daily News). Robinson would later launch a political satire feature, Still Life, in the early 1970s.
Robinson never saw himself only as a comic-book artist. In the 1950s, he started drawing cover illustrations for Playbill
and tried his hand at political sketches, producing what he considered
his best work: “I did 32 years of political cartoons, one every day for
six days a week. That body of work is the one I’m proudest of. While my
time on Batman was important and exciting and notable considering the
characters that came out of it, it was really just the start of my
Robinson was president of the National Cartoonists Society
from 1967 to 1969 and served a two-year term as president of the
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists starting in 1973.
During the mid-1970s, Robinson was a crucial supporter of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in their long struggle with DC Comics to win full recognition and compensation as the creators of Superman. With comics artist and rights advocate Neal Adams,
Robinson organized key support around Siegel and Shuster, to whom DC,
in December 1975, granted lifetime stipends and a credit in all
broadcast and published Superman works. In 1978, he founded CartoonArts International, which as of 2010 has more than 550 artists from over 75 countries.
During 1999, Robinson created an original manga series, Astra, with the help of manga artist Shojin Tanaka and Ken-ichi Oishi. This was later on released in English through Central Park Media by their manga line CPM Manga as a comic book miniseries and then a trade paperback.
On May 26, 2007, DC Comics announced that Robinson had been hired by
the company as a “creative consultant”. The press release accompanying
this announcement did not describe his duties or responsibilities. Robinson died in his sleep at age 89 on the afternoon of December 7, 2011 in Staten Island.
In 1974, Robinson wrote The Comics, a comprehensive study of the history of newspaper comic strips.
Robinson won the National Cartoonists Society Award for the Comic
Book Division in 1956, their 1963 Newspaper Panel Cartoon Award for Still Life, their 1965 Special Features Award for Flubs and Fluffs and their Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Robinson was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004. Robinson received the Sparky Award for lifetime achievement from the Cartoon Art Museum at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International.
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