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Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics

A book review article by: Jason Sacks
I had the honor of interviewing Jerry Robinson about a month ago. That interview ran earlier this week, and you can read it here. Robinson has had a remarkable career in comics, all of which is chronicled in the lovingly assembled book Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics (and much of which is covered in our interview). He worked with Bob Kane and Bill Finger soon after those two men co-created the Batman, and it was during his early tenure with them that Robinson created the Joker--arguably the greatest villain in comics history. He followed up that success by co-creating Robin, and then formulating such classic Batman villains as the Penguin and Two-Face.

It was a great apprenticeship for the young man, who ended up producing such great series as "London" and The Black Terror, and illustrating hundreds of horror, love and crime stories in the '40s and '50s. That work would be enough for most cartoonists, but not for Robinson, who clearly has boundless energy. He moved on to illustrating for magazines and paperbacks, and created several daily strips--producing comic strips for over 30 years.

Robinson's influence was also indirect, as he worked as a teacher at the School of Visual Arts. While there, his students included such comics greats as Don Heck, Steve Ditko, Jack Abel, Marie Severin and Stan Goldberg--not to mention fine-arts painters, advertising agency professionals, and artists of all shapes and sizes.

Robinson is also a man of the world, having traveled to dozens of countries to meet cartoonists and curate important art shows of editorial cartoons. He went to Rio for the first Earth Summit and Vienna for the World Conference of Human Rights. He has also visited China, Cuba, Soviet Russia, and many other countries. While traveling, he used comics as a way to help bridge international gaps and improve understanding between countries.

In short, Robinson has been an important and influential figure in the art of comic books and comic strips, and he thoroughly deserves the sumptuous profile of his career that is offered in this book, which presents wonderfully reproduced art from every era of Robinson's life.

Many remarkable pieces of original art from Robinson's work on Batman are presented. My heart skipped a beat when looking at Robinson's original sketch of the Joker. It's a clever and interesting piece, but its historical importance makes it incredibly exciting to see. For a comics reader, looking at a piece of art like that is a lot like looking at the original Constitution in Washington, D.C.

It's also thrilling to get to look at Robinson's original art for a series of covers for Detective Comics. We get to see the art before it gets cleaned up. Wite-Out ® is strewn sensitively across the covers, and you can almost imagine Robinson drawing these pages right in front of you. It's extraordinary to see any art from this era, but to get to see work of this caliber and importance is amazing.

It would be easy to dwell on the Batman-era work in the book, but that's only one part of it. We also get a generous selection of his comic strips and editorial cartoons, some of which are quite beautiful and all of which are interesting.

Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics also gives readers a generous look at Robinson's work as head of the National Cartoonists Society and the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate. In those jobs, he gave many great cartoonists their first big break in the USA, and he broadened his influence on the industry even more.

Like the great Will Eisner, a friend of his, Robinson was a born cartoonist who ended up being a businessman as much as he did an artist. Also like Eisner, the business influence on his art always complemented his craft as much as anything. Robinson seems like a man who just never stops doing creative work. Even at the age of 88, he is a human dynamo. This wonderful book is a terrific tribute to his long and extraordinarily successful career.

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