JERRY ROBINSON, a renaissance comics great whose career was launched at the dawn of superhero comic books beginning with “the Batman,” died in his sleep Wednesday in New York, according to DC Comics and a statement from his family. He was 89.
Robinson was first hired by Batman co-creator Bob Kane in 1939, while still a teenager, and many comic historians credit him with creating the iconic supervillain that is the Joker. What is beyond debate is that Robinson helped create the early Batman mythos.
Robinson recounted for Comic Riffs in 2010 how while playing tennis at a Poconos summer camp in 1939, he was wearing a sports jacket covered with his own cartoons. The artwork was spotted by a passing Kane, Robinson recalled, and soon the teen was working in the studio as part of the original Batman team, which included co-creator Bill Finger. Many also credit Robinson with co-creating Batman’s sidekick, Robin — a character Robinson said was influenced by an N.C. Wyeth illustration of Robin Hood.
Robinson would go on to create such superheroes as Atoman, Jet Scott and London. With his beautiful brushwork, he would launch the syndicated strips “Still Life” and “Flubs and Fluffs,” and was also successful as fine illustrator for books and magazines and Broadway.
Robinson championed artists’ rights — he helped lead attempts by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to seek compensation for their Superman character — as well as human rights for imprisoned political cartoonists overseas. And he easily wore the moniker that was the title of a 2010 book about his career: “Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics.”
Jens Robinson, editor of the agency CartoonArts International that his father founded in 1978, said in a statement: “Among his numerous accomplishments and awards, my father was most proud of his lifelong fight for creator rights, notably on behalf of his friends the Superman co-creators ... and oppressed political cartoonists abroad.”
Robinson was inducted in the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004, and received numerous honors from the National Cartoonists Society, including its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. He served as president of both the NCS and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
The last time I spoke to Jerry, in August, he reminisced about those early days with fellow comic-book legends Joe Simon and Stan Lee, telling me: “We all influenced each other.” He talked about how so many of those early Golden Agers were also profoundly influenced by the cinematic language of ”Citizen Kane.” And he shared how he saved many now-treasured pieces of original comic art from being thrown away when a studio would close or move.
[THE GOLDEN AGE: At 98, Joe Simon reflects on a remarkable career]
I first met Jerry at the National Cartoonists Society’s 2010 Reuben Awards ceremony in his home state of New Jersey, and he talked about different styles of cartooning; about some past comics legends; and about visiting the set of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” and missing the late Heath Ledger (in Joker makeup) by one day.
Today, we begin to miss and mourn Jerry Robinson, who through his inspired life and legacy will remain an ambassador of comics.
“Jerry Robinson was not only one of the finest artists ever to illustrate comic books,” Marvel mastermind Stan Lee tells Comic Riffs on Thursday, “but he was also the head of an editorial syndicate which made cartoons available worldwide, as well as being an inspiration to young artists whom he always found time to help and advise.
“A genuine talent and a genuine gentleman, he was truly a credit to the arts.”
And DC Comics co-publisher and “Batman: Hush” artist Jim Lee says in a statement:“Jerry Robinson illustrated some of the defining images of pop culture’s greatest icons. As an artist myself, it’s impossible not to feel humbled by his body of work.”
In his introduction to the 2010 “Jerry Robinson” book, journalist Pete Hamill wrote: “As a master of graphic creation, as teacher, historian, and roving amassador of comics, Jerry Robinson has ensured that future generations of talented kids will continue to imagine, and then put marks on paper.
“Some of those marks will be his.”
In addition to his son Jens, Robinson is survived by his wife of 56 years, Gro Bagn; and daughter Kristin Robinson White.