Saturday 18 September 2010

Jerry Robinson - The Man That Added Lustre To The Batman

I've already mentioned Jerry Robinson's remarkable work on the early years of the Batman, he it was the either created or co-created (it depends on who you're getting the story from) the Joker and he who came up with Robin as a humanizing sidekick for the Batman and if these achievements weren't worthy of guaranteeing Mr Robinson a place in the Comics History Hall of Fame, he was also an artist of exceptional talent whose capabilities extended well beyond just being one of Bob Kane's anonymous ghosts.

Someone working at DC comics when the Batman was still a new but rapidly rising star also thought the same, as the work being sent in from Kane included pages that were increasingly beginning to look as if they had been created by someone with considerably more ability than Kane. The changes had been gradual as Kane had started Robinson on lettering with work on backgrounds and then inking rapidly following on. But it got to the stage where with the launch of a comic devoted solely to the Batman who would feature in four stories that even with an initial quarterly publishing schedule, Kane's required output had more than doubled within a year.

Robinson found himself drawing full length stories as other inkers and assistants helped cover the chores that Robinson had initially covered - most notably George Roussos. The observant editor at D.C. - may well have been Batman editor Whitney Ellsworth, spotted that the work was too good to be Kane's and having made a few enquiries put Robinson directly onto the D.C. payroll.

More can be gleaned about this fascinating artist in N.C. Christopher Couch's newly published book on Robinson, "Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics" published by Abrams and a definite Christmas list essential for anyone remotely interested in the early years of comic books.

Here as an appetizer is a gallery of some of the most exciting work to grace the covers of U.S. comic books as well as a photo of Robinson himself and some of his comic book collection.

Three copies of Batman No. 1???!!!!

All Batman images © DC Comics 2010


  1. The more we learn about the major additions that Bob Kane's many 'ghosts' made to the Batman legend the more ghostlike his own contribution comes to seem. In recent years people have even found evidence of outright plagiarism in those very early, crude strips that had previously been seen as his own work. And yet, because he was canny enough at the beginning to secure a personal contract which named him as sole creator he was able to live the life of an idle playboy for the rest of his life, shamelessly basking in plaudits that rightly belonged to others - many of whom were allowed to die in poverty like his earliest collaborator Bill Finger.

    Jerry Robinson was the exception in that he was enough of a businessman to move on from his early years of anonymous servitude in the Batcave to forge a successful career for himself elsewhere, where his talent could be appreciated in its own right. After all, how many other comic artists from the Golden Age could afford to hold onto such an impressive collection of their own work instead of having to sell it off in order to supplement their meagre pension...?

  2. Very true Phil, there's a really interesting essay and analysis of Kane on the wonderful "Dial B For Blog" under the title of the Haunting of Robert Kane.

  3. Thanks for the tip Peter. I just had a look at Robby's account and you're right that it provides a thoroughly forensic deconstruction of Kane's entire reputation.

    However, I must admit that my all-time favorite Bob Kane story is the one about him and the clown paintings, as told by the late Arnold Drake and subsequently transcribed on Mark Evanier's blog:

    "...Bob had gotten to the point where he never drew anything. Never drew anything on the Batman comics, anyway. [Sheldon] Moldoff was ghosting them all and when he didn't, someone else did. The only thing I think Bob ever drew was when we'd be out somewhere, in a restaurant or someplace, and a pretty girl would come over to him and say, "Are you really the man who draws Batman?" Then he could whip out a little sketch for her, a big sketch if she was wearing something low-cut and would bend over to watch him draw.

    One day I'm over at his house to discuss this newspaper strip idea we had and he's talking about who we might get to draw it. I was going to write it and we were going to get someone else to draw it. I'm not sure what he was going to do on it except sign his name. I said to him, "Bob, isn't it disappointing to you that you don't draw any more? You were once such a great artist." He wasn't but you had to talk to Bob that way.

    He said, "Oh, no. Let me show you something." He took me into a little room in his house. It was his studio. I didn't even know he still had a studio. It was all set up with easels and things and there were paintings, paintings of clowns. You know the kind. Like the ones Red Skelton used to do. Just these insipid portraits of clowns, all signed very large, "Bob Kane." He was so proud of them. He said, "These are the paintings that are going to make me in the world of art. Batman was a big deal in one world and these paintings will soon be in every gallery in the world." He thought the Louvre was going to take down the Mona Lisa to put up his clown paintings. I didn't have the heart to tell him.

    So a few months later, I'm up at DC and I ran into Eddie Herron. Eddie was another writer up there and we got to talking and Bob's name came up. Eddie said, "Did you hear? Bob's getting sued by one of his ghost artists."

    I said, "How is that possible? Shelly Moldoff's suing Bob? But they had a clear deal. Shelly knew he wasn't going to get credit or anything..."

    Eddie said, "No, not Shelly." Bob was being sued by the person who'd painted the clowns for him..."

    - I reckon that just about says it all! :-)