Jerry Robinson: Comic book artist whose most famous creation was The Joker

 

A central figure in the so-called Golden Age of comic books, Jerry Robinson, who has died aged 89, was perhaps best known as the creator of The Joker, probably the best known villain in comics history.

Although Batman's creator, Bob Kane, for whom he worked, claimed that he and scripter Bill Finger had modelled the character after the actor Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs, even Kane conceded that the Joker's look came from a playing card drawing Robinson made. Since comics were a disposable commodity for children, and publishers controlled all copyright, issues of authorship are often hazy, but historians agree with Robinson's version. And many years later, the artist became a key figure in the establishment of artists and writers retaining the rights to their creations.

Sherill David Robinson was born in Trenton, New Jersey on New Year's Day 1922. Though he exhibited great artistic skill as a youngster he received no formal training, and having finished high school at 17 he intended to study writing at Syracuse University. But after he had earned money for college by selling ice cream off a bicycle, his mother forced him to take a vacation at a resort in the Pocono mountains where he met Kane, who was struck by Robinson's linen jacket decorated with his own drawings. Kane showed him a copy of Detective Comics 27, featuring The Batman's debut, and offered him a job in his studio.

Robinson transferred to Columbia College in New York City, moved to the Bronx and began working in Kane's studio, a bedroom in his apartment on the Grand Concourse. He became Kane's primary inker, his brushwork adding deep shadows to Kane's pencils. The Joker was created for the first issue of Batman's own comic; Robinson also came up with Batman's sidekick Robin, the Boy Wonder, whose look was borrowed from NC Wyeth's illustrations of Robin Hood (also the basis for Errol Flynn's costumes in the 1939 movie), Batman's butler, Alfred, and another memorable villain, Two Face, influenced by the grotesqueries of Chester Gould's Dick Tracy.

When National brought Batman in-house, he became the Batman comics penciller after Kane moved to the daily newspaper strip. In the office, he worked alongside the likes of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. When he and Shuster met girls, Robinson joked it was "Batman and Superman double-dating". Robinson soon joined Mort Meskin and Bernie Klein in their own studio, working for National but also creating heroes like Atoman for smaller publishers, and, in one legendary weekend, producing an entire 64-page issue of Daredevil, for which Robinson devised London, a hero born out of the Blitz. He later worked on adaptations of radio and TV characters like The Green Hornet, Lassie, and Bat Masterson, but by the 1950s was busier outside the comics industry.

For many years Robinson drew for Playbill, the Broadway theatre-programme magazine, and from 1953-55 he produced, with the screenwriter Shelton Stark, a daily strip, Jett Scott, syndicated by the Herald Tribune. He wrote and drew "True Classroom Flubs and Fluffs" for the Daily News, which led to the work of which he was most proud, the syndicated daily commentary strips, Still Life and Life With Robinson, which he produced for some 32 years, and for which he was honoured twice by the Cartoonists Society.

Robinson will also be remembered for what he gave back to the field. For years he taught at New York's School of Visual Arts, where his students included Steve Ditko, creator of Spider-Man, Dr Strange, and The Question. His influence can be seen clearly in Ditko's expressive, fluid style. A hoarder of his own drawings, he led the fight for artists to retain their original works, and in 1974 published the first edition of The Comics, an illustrated history of comic strip art.

In 1975, when the first Superman movie helped turn comics into huge money-makers, Robinson was instrumental, along with the artist Neal Adams, in the campaign that finally got Warner Bros and DC to give credits and pay royalties to Siegel and Shuster, who were living in poverty. "Jerry didn't hesitate a moment, ever, if he had a chance to help someone," Adams said.

He founded Cartoon Artists International in 1978, through which he was instrumental in freeing the imprisoned Uruguayan cartoonist Francisco Laurenzo Pons. He curated "Ecotoon" at the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992, and the Human Rights Collection for a United Nations exhibition in Vienna in 1993. In 1999 he worked with two Japanese artists to produce Astra, a manga aimed at an American audience. In 2010 he was the subject of a biography, Jerry Robinson: Ambassador Of Comics. Despite all his good works, he knew he would be remembered for the Joker. "Villains, I always thought, were more interesting," he said.

Sherill David Robinson, comic book artist: born Trenton, New Jersey 1 January 1922; married Gro (two sons); died New York City 7 December 2011.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn