Jerry Robinson is one of the founders of those American superhero comics that have now gone international and taken over the movie theatres of the world. First, there was Superman and then there was Batman. Jerry was in on Batman almost from the start. Recruited as an assistant when Bob Kane spotted him wearing a jacket illustrated with his own drawings, he moved to New York and began working with Kane and Bill Finger on the early issues of the great detective. Jerry created the Joker and co-created Robin the Boy Wonder. Well, his creation of the Joker is disputed but everything is now that the properties are worth millions. Back then, nobody cared a lot and the talent all chipped in willingly to help make the product better. Robinson makes it clear in interviews that he and the others lived and breathed Batman, day and night, obsessed with developing the series and making it better. Clearly, they succeeded.
For the first year, he worked in Bob Kane’s studio but then DC employed him directly and he worked in a sort of bullpen with such greats as Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, George Roussos and others. Robinson shared an apartment with Bernie Klein who became his best friend and they worked all hours on freelance contracts with many other artists dropping by and helping out. Comics were a new medium and they were inventing new techniques, changing the designs from the strip format made for newspapers to something that fitted a whole page. They were heady days. Robinson also had a spell working for Stan Lee over at Timely comics and they got on well together.
Roughly half the book is taken up with Robinson’s comic career and it’s clearly aimed at the comic fan but there’s a lot more to the artist than that. The second hundred pages deal with the rest of his life when he branched out into book and magazine illustration and newspaper cartoons. Unlike some other talents, notably Jack Kirby, Robinson had a head for business and kept control of his own work, freelancing direct for high paying markets and often forming syndicates to spread the product more widely. He always had a toehold in other fields of illustration and when comics slumped managed to keep thriving. Of course, he was very talented and worked hard.
He was also a decent chap and involved himself in campaigning for various good causes connected to his field. He worked to free jailed political cartoonists in other countries and famously took a lead in the fight to get Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster recognition, and money, for the creation of Superman.
I bought the book because I was interested in Jerry Robinson the comic artist but must say I found the rest of his story just as interesting. Alongside the fine text, there is page after page of his wonderful drawings, including some highly amusing political cartoons and pieces from Flubs and Fluffs where he extracted humour from real-life verbal mistakes by teachers and children. Those are timeless.
I picked this up for £4.00 at The Works, a British shop that sells remaindered books and often has such bargains. It was worth every penny.