Jerry Robinson sat down for a Friday evening panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego to discuss “Jerry Robinson: Ambassador Of Comics,” the book on Robinson’s life in comics that will available in September from Abrams ComicArts, and answer questions from. The panel was moderated by Michael Uslan, executive producer of the “Batman” movies.
The panel opened with a slide show of images from the upcoming book highlighting various points of Robinson’s seventy years in comics, including his stint on “Batman”, which he started in 1941 when he was seventeen years old. Also of note were slides detailing the ten years that Robinson spent with Stan Lee at Timely Comics (later Marvel) in the 1950s, the “Jet Scott” strip Robinson worked on with Sheldon Stark (now available in a collection from Dark Horse), and “Astra,” a collaboration with Manga artist Shojin Tanaka and Ken-ichi Oishi based on Robinson’s thirty-song opera of the same name.
Uslan opened the panel for questions and asked Robinson about the genesis of Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. Robinson replied, “For better or worse, I did” create the character, and Robinson also opined that Bill Finger never got the co-creator credit for Batman that he should have. Robinson went on to explain that he sought to create a character that contradicts himself, since “a memorable character has some contradiction in his personality,” and that he was inspired by the decks of playing cards his family always had around the house. He also noted that the influence of the silent film “The Man Who Laughs” starring Conrad Veidt had on the Joker’s look actually came later through Bill Finger.
When asked who created Robin, Robinson answered that he came up with the name, but Bill Finger came up with Robin’s look, inspired by N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations of Robin Hood. Robinson also noted that Robin’s nickname “The Boy Wonder” was actually Bob Kane and Finger’s nickname for Robinson.
Uslan asked Robinson about the names for Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and Gotham City, and Robinson answered that Bill Finger came up with all three. He went on to explain that Finger was actually responsible for the atmospheric mood and spirit of the “Batman” strip, as Bob Kane originally came from humor-based comic strips. Robinson also noted that he himself drew the first covers to feature the “Batman” characters Two-Face, Scarecrow, and Catwoman.
When asked how he got into the comics industry in the early ’40s, Robinson explained that he met Bob Kane in a tennis court one summer while enrolled in Columbia University. Kane had spotted Robinson’s warm-up jacket, which Robinson had decorated with his own cartoon illustrations. Kane offered Robinson a job on the spot, despite Robinson having never seen a comic book before, only newspaper strips. Robinson went to work for Kane immediately, and transferred from Columbia to Syracuse University, so he could receive college credit for his work.
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