Jerry Robinson, the cartoonist widely credited with creating the Joker, the iconic arch villain in the Batman comics franchise, died Dec. 7 at a New York City hospice, according to DC Comics and a statement from his family. He was 89. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Mr. Robinson was first hired as a teenager by Batman co-creator Bob Kane in 1939, when superhero comic books were in their infancy. It is difficult to trace the lineage of some early comic characters, but many historians credit Mr. Robinson with drawing the initial, grease-pencil image of the Joker — who was introduced in 1940’s Batman No. 1 — and with co-creating Batman’s sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder.
What is beyond debate is that he helped create the early Batman mythos.
In an interview with The Washington Post last year, Mr. Robinson recounted how at a summer camp in 1939 he wore a sports jacket covered with his own cartoons. The artwork was spotted by a passing Kane, Mr. Robinson recalled.
Soon the teen was working in the studio as part of the original Batman team, which included Kane and co-creator Bill Finger. Mr. Robinson said a deck of cards inspired him to create the Joker character. He also said he was influenced by an N.C. Wyeth illustration of Robin Hood, wearing tights, in helping invent the Robin character.
Mr. Robinson would go on to create such superheroes as Atoman and Jet Scott. Known for his beautiful brushwork, he would start the syndicated strips “Still Life” and “Flubs and Fluffs.” He founded the agency CartoonArts International in 1978.
“Jerry Robinson was not only one of the finest artists ever to illustrate comic books,” Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee said in an interview with The Post, “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.”
As a champion of artists’ rights, Mr. Robinson helped lead attempts by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to seek compensation for their Superman character after they had sold their rights for a pittance in the 1930s. He also drew attention to the rights of imprisoned political cartoonists overseas.
Mr. Robinson easily wore the moniker that was the title of a 2010 book about his career: “Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics.”
He was inducted into 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 the National Cartoonists Society and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
In an August interview with The Post, Mr. Robinson reminisced about his early days with fellow comic-book legends Joe Simon and Lee, saying, “We all influenced each other.”
Sherill David Robinson was born Jan. 1, 1922, in Trenton, N.J. He had no formal artistic training while growing up and didn’t consider a career in art. But he was passionate about drawing from life, often producing portraits of relatives. And, as if to foreshadow his career, he was very careful about preserving his childhood art.
Later, working in an era when drawings were routinely thrown away, Mr. Robinson saved many now-treasured pieces of original comics art from the trash heap.
In the August interview, he said he and many of the early Golden Age cartoonists were profoundly influenced by movies, in particular the cinematic language of Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane.”
Acclaimed comics artist and DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee acknowledged Mr. Robinson’s historic importance 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.”
Survivors include Mr. Robinson’s wife of 56 years, the former Gro Bagn of New York, and two children.
At the National Cartoonists Society’s 2010 Reuben Awards ceremony, Mr. Robinson told The Post he had visited the set of Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film “The Dark Knight,” which earned the late Heath Ledger an Academy Award for best supporting actor for playing the Joker.
During his visit, Mr. Robinson missed seeing Ledger in Joker makeup by one day.