Friday, December 9, 2011

Jerry Robinson 1922-2011

I had the pleasure of having a cartoon of mine published in Jerry Robinson's The 1970's : Best Political Cartoons of the Decade published by McGraw-Hill in 1981. 
We both served, a few years later, with Hans Georg Rauch and Rinalto Traini, on the jury of the Montreal International Salon of Caricature. 
You can also see here a caricature he drew of me on a trip to a cartoon festival in St. Estève, France, in the early 90's.

From Comic Book Resources.

R.I.P. Jerry Robinson, Joker Creator & Comics Ambassador

Jerry Robinson, a pioneer of the comics form best known by fans for creating the Joker but also praised for his work as a comics historian and creator rights advocate, has died at age 89.
Robinson was born in Trenton, New Jersey on New Year's Day in 1922. At only 17 years of age, the aspiring artist was hired as an inker by Batman creator Bob Kane, and over the next several years, Robinson offered as much visual input into the character's world and cast as his originator. Robinson co-created Robin, the Boy Wonder and is often credited as the primary influence for arch-villain the Joker, though Kane and Robinson would clash over credit for the villain's creation in later years. The artist was soon hired away from Kane's shop by "Batman" publisher DC/National Comics, for which he served as a staff artist, drawing many of the most striking covers of comics Golden Age.

Over the course of his early years in comics, Robinson proved a creative and social dynamo, moonlighting as a comics artist on projects such as the infamous "created in one night" issue of "Daredevil" while taking classes in Journalism at Columbia University. "I was always a political animal," Robinson told CBR News last year. As the production of comic books wound down near the end of World War II, Robinson moved primarily to newspaper comic strips where he remained for the late '50s, '60s and '70s, becoming known for Editorial illustration, political satire strips such as his long-running "Still Life With Robinson" and lush cover paintings for Broadway's "Playbill." The artist also served as President of both the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) and the National Cartoonists Society (NCS), and remains the only person to receive both honors.

In the 1970s, Robinson returned to the national spotlight as a comics historian and advocate for the rights of artists. "Starting in 1972, I curated the first comics at a fine art gallery. That was, I think, the year after, or almost simultaneously, with a show at the Louvre on comics, which I went over to see. I think that started it," the artist recalled in a conversation with CBR earlier this year. "The following year, I was a guest curator at the Kennedy Library in Washington, where we did I think the largest show ever held on the comics. Certainly in the US. It was the size of a couple football fields and had all the genres of the comics. So it's been a long time, but more and more universities and colleges have taken it on as a course of study, serious scholars and so forth." That renewed interest in the medium combined with Robinson's curatorial interests to create "The Comics" -- one of the first definitive books on the strip comic artform as a whole, written by Robinson in 1974 and recently published in a new edition by Dark Horse.

Shortly thereafter, Robinson became a key figure along with artist Neal Adams in the fight to get Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster proper credit and pay for their hero from DC Comics. Robinson himself saw the benefits of a corporate culture at DC and Warner Bros. become arguably more appreciative of its original creatives in recent years as he served as a paid creative consultant for the company on projects including Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" which drew heavily on Robinson's original stories in its portrayal of the Joker.

In recent years, Robinson rode a wave of publicity and public appearances surrounding not only the books by him and about his life, but also for his contributions to comics as a whole. He curated more exhibitions of original comics art, and last year auctioned off some of his most acclaimed original cover artwork from the Golden Age.

An in depth piece by Geoff Boucher for the Los Angeles Times:

Jerry Robinson, 'Batman' illustrator, dies at 89

Jerry Robinson, a pioneer in the early days of Batman comics and a key force in the creation of Robin the Boy Wonder; the Joker; Bruce Wayne's butler, Alfred; and Two-Face, has died in New York City. He was 89.

The illustrator with a far-ranging career - after shifting in the early 1960s into political cartooning, he was president of the National Cartoonists Society and then author of the exhaustive and well-regarded "The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art" - died Wednesday, according to Michael E. Uslan, a family friend and an executive producer of the Batman feature films since the 1980s.

Born on New Year's Day in 1922 in Trenton, N.J., Robinson was a still a teenager when he stepped into the fledgling comic book industry. He had met Bob Kane, who showed him the just-published issue of Detective Comics No. 27, which introduced a masked manhunter called Batman. Robinson was wearing a white painter's jacket that caught the eye of Kane because the teen had covered it with his own illustrations.

"That was a fad then, kids would get these linen jackets ... and personalize them with all this razzmatazz," Robinson told The Times in 2009. "Someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked, 'Hey, who drew that stuff?' It was Bob Kane. ... He showed me the issue that was on sale there at the local village. I wasn't very impressed."

However, Robinson, fresh out of high school and selling ice cream, was impressed with the offer of an art-table job in New York City. Just 17, he began inking over the pencil drawings of older artists but eventually moved up to the job of penciling - the marquee spot in the production chain.

Working with Kane - who was a decade older - opened new frontiers, but Kane also took the credit when Batman became a sensation. After Robinson started working with Kane and Bill Finger on Batman in 1939, he came up with the name "Robin" for Batman's sidekick, and he was the creator or key contributor to the first and formative appearances of the Joker, Two-Face and Alfred the butler.

Comics historians acknowledge that the polished, high-verve style of Robinson is clearly evident in many issues that do not bear his name.

In those early days of the comics industry, the product was seen as totally disposable. Young Robinson, though, so admired the work of his older peers that he fished their pages of original art out of the trash. Years later, that salvage effort gave Robinson the most esteemed collection of original art from the golden age of comics. Artifacts from his archive were displayed at museums, including the Skirball Cultural Center in 2009, then privately auctioned in 2010.

For today's comic book artists, Robinson was one of the last and most admired links to the genesis era of the American superhero.

"Jerry Robinson illustrated some of the defining images of pop culture's greatest icons," said Jim Lee, perhaps the most popular comic-book artist of the past 25 years and now co-publisher of DC Entertainment. "As an artist myself, it's impossible not to feel humbled by his body of work. Everyone who loves comics owes Jerry a debt of gratitude for the rich legacy that he leaves behind."

Neal Adams, the comic book artist who became a fan favorite in the 1960s and a champion for creator rights, said that young Robinson brought energy and intuitive understanding of his audience to the Batman comics. Nothing showed that more, Adams said, than the addition of Robin, the plucky daredevil sidekick who provided an entry point for every kid who spent their nickels on Detective Comics.

"As I grew up and fell into this stuff, I realized that everything I liked about Batman ending up being the stuff that Jerry Robinson created," Adams said Thursday. "When I started doing Batman the stuff that came back in - Two-Face, who they hadn't used in years, and the Joker and Alfred - all was from the stuff that Jerry Robinson did, and when you go see the films, a lot of that is there too."

Comic books were just one stop in Robinson's long and eclectic career. There was also the 1953-55 comic strip "Jett Scott," created with screenwriter Sheldon Stark, and his work as a curator with a specialty in art-as-activism, which led to two major exhibitions, the Ecotoon collection of environmental art at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the Human Rights collection of political commentary in Vienna in 1993. Robinson also contributed to more than a dozen books and shot photographs around the world for exhibition and publication.

Robinson's satirical eye led to two award-winning newspaper features, "Still Life" and "Life With Robinson," syndicated throughout the 1960s and '70s and part of a three-decade career of published political commentary. The New York Times once praised Robinson and his newsprint humor for "a commentary more humorous and his approach more timeless than that of most other political cartoonists." Far from Gotham City, Robinson considered this to be the defining core of his career.

"I did 32 years of political cartoons, one every day for six days a week, I wrote and drew every word, every line," Robinson told The Times in 2010. "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 life."

Still, Robinson was proud of his years working in comics and the success of the recent Batman films brought Robinson back into the spotlight, but watching Batman, the Joker, Alfred, Two-Face break box-office records was bittersweet.

"It was based on a playing card and the character had a lot of mystery to him early on," Robinson said of the Joker. "We had no idea, of course, that we'd still be talking about him all these years later. When I think of the money from that movie - a billion dollars - I get a chill. ... We should have copyrighted what we had done. ...We were young and no one could have seen all of this. ...It was a new industry and we were pioneering a new mythology. We had no past so we had very few rules. We also didn't expect any of it to last."

Robinson is survived by his wife, Gro; his son, Jens Robinson; his daughter, Kristin Robinson-White; and two grandchildren.

From The Comics Journal:

Jerry Robinson: January 1st, 1922-December 7th, 2011

The dwindling pool of surviving Golden Age talent grew a little smaller last week with the passing on the afternoon of December 7th of Jerry Robinson, a famed comic book artist, political cartoonist, comics historian, curator of comics art shows, and passionate advocate for cartoonists’ rights.

Robin the Boy Wonder from Detective Comics #38, 1940
Robinson is perhaps most famous for his creation of The Joker while working as Bob Kane’s assistant during the early years of theBatman comic book. Robinson was Kane’s assistant and ghost for seven years, eventually graduating to penciling and inking the interior pages, as well as drawing some truly memorable covers. During his tenure on the strip, Robinson added much to the luster of the Batman legend, including coming up with the name Robin the Boy Wonder (inspired by Robin Hood), and designing his costume (inspired by the N.C. Wyeth painting “Robin Meets Maid Marian”). The addition of Robin to Batman’s continuity opened the floodgates of youthful superhero sidekicks in the 1940s, so if you’ve always loathed those characters, blame Jerry Robinson and Batman writer Bill Finger, who first suggested that Batman needed a sidekick. Additionally, Robinson helped Finger with the conception of Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler, and had a hand in creating Two-Face, one of the most intriguing and tortured of Batman’s rogues gallery of villains. To his dying day, Bob Kane always denied that Robinson came up with the Joker, but according to Kane’s first assistant and long-time ghost on Batman in the 1950s and ’60s, Sheldon Moldoff, “(Bob Kane) was not one for sharing credit. He just couldn’t do it. It was not in his ego or his makeup…” Most of Kane’s other collaborators and assistants have echoed this sentiment.

Atoman by Robinson
However, while working for Kane Robinson became an excellent cartoonist in his own right, drawing hundreds of pages of Batman continuity and crafting some of the most memorable Batman covers in history, especially those featuring the Joker. But after six years Robinson grew restless and he left Batman to chart his own path, going on to create “London”, a superhero spawned by news of the aerial “Blitz” carried out on Britain in the early days of World War II, and “Atoman”, one of the first superheroes of the Atomic Age. He also teamed up with his friend Mort Meskin, a talented and very troubled cartoonist, to make “The Black Terror” one of the best-looking superhero features in comic books. Robinson left comics in the early ’50s to co-create (with writer Sheldon Stark) Jet Scott, a scientifically realistic and visually innovative science fiction daily and Sunday newspaper strip for The New York Herald Tribune. It premiered in 1953 and lasted for two years, predicting many of the astounding technological feats that would occur in the post-Sputnik era. The prolific Robinson continued to work as a newspaper cartoonist, creating the humor strip True Classroom Flubs and Fluffs, which ran for most of the 1960s in the New York Sunday News and was later incorporated into the Daily News. From the early ’60s on, Robinson wrote and drew a strip called Still Life, in which inanimate objects made humorous and often very pointed social and political comments. His Life with Robinson strip ran from the early ’60s through the early ’80s and was widely respected.

Life with Robinson, 1980
In his professional capacity, Robinson served as the president of the National Cartoonists Society from 1967 to 1969 and later served a two-year term as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists beginning in 1973. In 1978, Robinson established his own syndicate, Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate/Cartoon Arts International, the very first international cartooning syndicate, which now boasts 550 members from 75 countries worldwide. DC Comics announced that it had hired Robinson as a Creative Consultant in May of 1978, though his duties and responsibilities were not spelled out in the initial press release.

An exhibition curated by Robinson in 1993.
Even if he hadn’t been a first-rate artist and writer, Robinson would still be remembered for his role in popularizing comics as a genuine art form, both in his books, and as a tireless curator of gallery and museum shows of comics art. Robinson curated his first show of comic book art at the Graham Gallery in New York, which opened on April 4, 1972. This pioneering exhibit boasted 145 works by 120 artists, including Winsor McCay, Peter Arno, Jack Kirby, Milton Caniff, Heinrich Kley, James Thurber, Alex Raymond, Burne Hogarth, Sir John Tenniel, and Mort Meskin, to name only a few. It occupied two floors of the gallery, and encompassed many areas of cartooning: comic strips, magazine cartoons, caricature, political cartoons, and of course, comic books. This was only the first of many shows that Robinson would curate, including serving as the special consultant for exhibitions of cartoon art at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. He also curated exhibitions abroad, including the first American cartoon art shows in Tokyo, Warsaw, and Moscow, as well as numerous others in China, Portugal, Slovenia and the Ukraine. The United Nations invited Robinson to produced major exhibitions: In Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit in 1992; the Human Rights show in Vienna in 1993; thePopulation & Development show in 1994, staged in Cairo; and in 2007 the Sketching Human Rights show in New York City. The year 2004 found the seemingly unstoppable Robinson curating what is regarded as the first in-depth exhibition focused on the early artwork of the superhero genre, The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books 1939 –1950 at the Breman Museum, Atlanta. Next, Robinson curated The Superhero: Good and Evil in American Comics, an exhibition which debuted at the Jewish Museum in New York in 2006.

A typical installment of "True Classroom Flubs and Fluffs"
Among the many honors heaped on Jerry Robinson during his lifetime were several National Cartoonists Society Awards including the following:  one in the Comic Book Division in 1956 (for his work onBatman), one for Still Life as Best Newspaper Panel Cartoon in 1963, a Special Features Award for Flubs and Fluffs in 1965, and the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award (2000). Robinson was also nominated by the NCS six times in the category Best in his Class. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004, and was awarded the Sparky Award for Lifetime Achievement at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con International. His Life with Robinsonpolitical cartoon was also honored overseas by the International Salon of Humor in Italy and the Overseas Press Club, which recognized it as the Best Cartoon on Foreign Affairs. The International Humor Pavilion in Montreal, Canada named him a Distinguished Foreign Cartoonist, while the world-famous Lucca Exposition of Comics bestowed upon him, the Premio Gran Guinigi. He was also received cartooning awards in Turkey, Russia, and China, and was given the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award, the Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award, a San Diego Comic-Con Inkpot Award, and the Nemo Award from the Toonseum in Pittsburgh.
Jerry Robinson wrote or edited at least thirty books, including a number of well-regarded books on the history of the comics medium, the encyclopedic and well-researched volume The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (1974), which was reissued in an updated and expanded edition by Dark Horse in 2011, Skippy and Percy Crosby (1978), plus three paperbacks collecting his True Classroom Flubs and FluffsThe World’s Greatest Comic Book Quiz, and a two-volume Jet Scott collection also from Dark Horse. In addition, Robinson illustrated biographies of Lou Gehrig, Jim Bowie, Abraham Lincoln, and provided illustrations for books on space flight, logging, civics, and atomic energy. Robinson’s talent was nothing if not wide-ranging.
He also loved comic art in a very personal way, too, rescuing countless pieces of comic book art from trash bins and incinerators, thereby saving these priceless pieces of our cultural heritage from oblivion. When I interviewed Robinson in the mid-80s for a three-part interview that ran in Comics Interview, he related the story of how he and a friend happened to be passing the King Features offices, where workmen were consigning Hal Foster Tarzan pages to the incinerator. Robinson managed to save about 20 or so. He brought them back to his studio and gave most of them away to colleagues, though he wisely retained a few for his own personal collection of comic art, some of which was displayed for years on the walls of his lovely Riverside Drive apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Joe Shuster, Neal Adams, Jerry Siegel and Jerry Robinson celebrate the DC Comics deal.
In the late ’70s he again became a hero to America’s comic book fans for his championing (along with artist/activist Neal Adams) of the cause of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Siegel and Shuster had sold their creation in 1938 for the paltry sum of $130 and then watched as D.C. Comics made millions on the character from comic books, books, toys, radio, TV, motion pictures and other spinoff products while they lived in poverty and obscurity. By making a series of phone calls to the offices of DC Comics, Robinson was instrumental in helping Siegel and Shuster to finally win their lengthy legal battle with DC Comics and Warner, its corporate owner, when they were finally awarded annual payments, health insurance, and published credit on the strip they had created so many decades before. This was not the only time Jerry Robinson put himself on the line for fellow cartoonists. In 1980, he interceded on behalf of Francisco Laurenzo Pons, who had been thrown into prison for cartoons lampooning the repressive military dictatorship of Uruguay. Robinson also smuggled money into the Soviet Union to help poverty-stricken Russian cartoonists whose work was being suppressed by the Soviet government. As creative and talented as he was, Jerry Robinson was much more than a man of the arts. He was a man of courage who lived out his ideals in his day-to-day life, working to protect the rights of cartoonists world-wide, and make their lives better.
More than almost any other figure from comics’ Golden Age, Jerry Robinson will be greatly missed for his enormous talent, his scholarship of the comics medium, and the greatness of his character. Jerry Robinson is survived by Gro, his wife of 57 years, his son Jens, a daughter, Liv Robinson-White, and two grandchildren.

Jerry Robinson, Godfather of a Comic-Book Villain, Dies at 89

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
Jerry Robinson, with a sketch of the Joker, in 2010.
Jerry Robinson, a prolific comic-book artist, comics historian and editorial cartoonist who is credited with having created the Joker, the archenemy of Batman with devilish eyes and ghoulish smile, died on Wednesday at a hospice on Staten Island. He was 89 and lived in Manhattan.
His son, Jens, confirmed the death.
It was a chance encounter on a tennis court in the Poconos in 1939 that started Mr. Robinson’s career. Then 17 and on vacation before going to college, he was wearing a jacket covered with his own cartoons when a man on a nearby court struck up a conversation. It was Bob Kane, primary creator of a counterpart to Superman then still in the works: Batman.
“It’s a shame you’re going to Syracuse or you could join the Batman team,” Mr. Robinson recalled Mr. Kane saying. Mr. Robinson transferred to Columbia, joined the team and, by most accounts, began sketching the sinister character.
“Villains, I always thought, were more interesting,” Mr. Robinson said last year in a profile in The New York Times. “I think the name came first: the Joker. Then I thought of the playing card.” (His parents were bridge players).
The Joker made his debut in 1940 and has created havoc ever since, in print as well as on television (Cesar Romero in the 1960s series) and in film (Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger).
Mr. Kane, who died in 1998, long contended that he and Bill Finger, the original writer on the series (who died in 1974), had created the Joker. But several comic-book historians concur with Mr. Robinson’s account.
“I believe Jerry did most of it, and Bill Finger polished Jerry’s idea,” one of them, Mark Evanier, said on Thursday. Michael Uslan, a historian who is executive producer of the Batman movies, agreed: “From everything I’ve heard over the years, it was him and Bill Finger.”
No one, however, has contested that Mr. Robinson created Robin, Batman’s sidekick, following Mr. Finger’s suggestion for a character youngsters could connect with. He came up with the name and designed the costume, based on N. C. Wyeth’s illustration “Robin Meets Maid Marian.”
Mr. Robinson left the Batman team in the early 1940s and began creating his own comic-book characters, among them London, a superhero inspired by the bombings of Britain during World War II, and Atoman, a nuclear-powered version of Superman. For two years, starting in 1953, he did a daily science-fiction adventure strip, “Jet Scott,” for The New York Herald Tribune.
In a syndicated strip in the 1960s, “Still Life,” Mr. Robinson featured inanimate objects involved in conversation, often political. In one, a water faucet says, “Unless this country faces up to the problem of water conservation, we’ll be in real trouble” — to which a drop of water from the faucet asks, “Where will we put all the pollution?”
Mr. Robinson also did cover illustrations for Playbill magazine, wrote more than two dozen books on the history of comics and taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He was president of the National Cartoonists Society from 1967 to 1969.
Sherrill David Robinson was born in Trenton on Jan. 1, 1922, the youngest of five children of Benjamin and Mae Robinson. Besides his son, he is survived by his wife of 57 years, the former Gro Bagn; a daughter, Liv Robinson-White; and two grandchildren.
Beyond his own creations, Mr. Robinson was active in supporting artists’ rights. According to a 2010 biography, “Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics,” by N. C. Christopher Couch, he helped secure the release of a Uruguayan cartoonist, Francisco Laurenzo Pons, who was imprisoned in the 1980s for lampooning the military junta in his country.
He was also instrumental in mobilizing support for the writer-and-artist team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who created Superman in the 1930s and had sold their rights to the character for $130. A long legal fight resulted in a settlement with Warner Communications, DC Comics’ corporate parent, providing the pair with annual payments for the rest of their lives and provisions for their heirs.

It took a series of calls involving Mr. Robinson to reach a deal to have Siegel and Shuster credited on all print materials, films and television productions. Afterward Mr. Robinson received a letter from Mr. Siegel: “Thank you for being what is truly priceless: a good friend.”

From the School of Visual Arts Journal:

Remembering Comics Legend Jerry Robinson

Former SVA faculty member Jerry Robinson, the legendary comic book artist credited with creating Batman’s nemesis The Joker, died on December 7 at the age of 89. Born in Trenton, New Jersey on January 1, 1922, Robinson started his long career at DC Comics at the age of 17, and went on to become a renowned comics historian and editorial cartoonist as well. He was also president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists and the National Cartoonists Society, and was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004.
Jerry Robinson was an incredibly “prolific” comic book artist, said Dennis Hevesi in The New York Times, and The Joker “has created havoc” ever since its debut in 1940. But Robinson was also a champion of artists’ rights, and “instrumental in mobilizing support for the writer-and-artist team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who created Superman in the 1930s and had sold their rights to the character for $130. A long legal fight resulted in a settlement with Warner Communications, DC Comics’ corporate parent, providing the pair with annual payments for the rest of their lives and provisions for their heirs.”
The world of comic books would have been “much the poorer” without Jerry Robinson, said The New York Daily News. Batman’s sidekick, Robin, and The Joker were “only the beginning of his contributions to an art form belatedly recognized as an art form.” And as a historian, Robinson’s collections were “a treasure trove that helped shape comic book history—including the major role he played right here in Gotham City.”
For more tributes to Robinson, visit NPREntertainment WeeklyThe Washington Post, and Comics Alliance.

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