Jerry Robinson, cartonist and Batman collaborator: an appreciation

Jerry Robinson helped to create Batman's protege Robin the Boy Wonder and may also have been the creator of the Joker, Batman's most memorable nemesis.

Mark Evanier/HONS/AP
Robinson helped to create the character of Robin the Boy Wonder. He said the name of Batman's sidekick was inspired by by the Robin Hood books he'd loved as a boy.

Jerry Robinson, the cartoonist who named Batman’s protege Robin and helped in many ways to shape the popular comic, died last week. 

“In addition to those closest to Jerry who knew him as husband, father, grandfather, father-in-law, uncle and dear friend, Jerry was adored personally and respected by so many people around the world,” his son Jens Robinson wrote in a statement from the Robinson family. “His comics creations, especially the first supervillain, the Joker, are cherished by many millions more.”

Robinson was 17 when he went to work for Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, after Kane saw him wearing a jacket that was decorated with Robinson’s own illustrations. 

Robinson was responsible for many memorable covers of comic books, including that of the famous No. 13 issue of “Batman” which showed the hero parachuting. He also drew comic strips for newspapers, artwork for “Playbill” magazine, and satirical cartoons centering on political figures and controversies.

““[He] was an innovator, a pioneer in storytelling,” Mike Marts, the editor of the Batman series at DC Comics, told the Associated Press. “The streets of Gotham City are a little lonelier today.”

Jim Lee, the co-publisher of DC Comics parent company DC Entertainment Inc., told The Los Angeles Times that any comic book fan should thank Robinson for some of the genre’s most memorable characters.

“[He] illustrated some of the defining images of pop culture’s greatest icons,” said Lee in an interview with the Associated Press.

When Robin was being created, Robinson tried to think of a name and was inspired by the Robin Hood books he had loved growing up. He is credited with creating Alfred, Batman’s butler. However, Kane and Robinson disagreed on who was responsible for the idea for the Joker, the archenemy of Batman and Robin who sported a shocking white face and eerie grin. Kane credited himself and comics author Bill Finger with coming up with the idea, after Robinson offered them a card with a joker on it to inspire them. Robinson, however, said that he had created the character.

Robinson later became a teacher at New York’s School of Visual Art and became known for supporting the cause of cartoonists getting credit for their work in an age when the comic book publishers owned the right to any illustrations that were drawn for them. In addition, Robinson served as the curator for many art exhibits and wrote books about the history of comic books, including “The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art” which he co-wrote with fellow comic artists Milton Caniff and Hal Foster, among others.

Robinson also served as president of the National Cartoonists Society and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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