Jerry And The Joker: Adventures And Comic Art by Jerry Robinson (book review).

If Bob Kane deserves his place in comicbook history for creating Batman then Jerry Robinson is equally deserving of his spot in the comics hall of fame for his creation of the Joker and also his tireless work for expanding appreciation of the art form and its artists. After all, what are heroes if they have no-one to defeat? Robinson’s creation has undergone a huge transformation since his creation in 1940, going from a camp thief to a psychotic representation of the human id. The Joker has become one of the most iconic villains in popular culture thanks to his mysterious origins and the myriad of ways he’s been portrayed on screen and beyond.

While touted as Robinson’s biography (who died in 2011), this is more a series of anecdotes placed within a coffee table volume of comicbook art as in-depth biographical detail is somewhat thin on the ground. The chief focus here is Robinson’s account of meeting Bob Kane and beginning work on Batman and soon coming up with the Joker, feverishly working late at night, he thinks of a perfect character to reflect the dourness of Batman. Grabbing a deck of playing cards he sketches out a character which he presents to Kane and Batman co-creator Bill Finger and history is soon made.

As with many comicbook creations, the actual truth as to who created various aspects of a character is lost to the mists of time, litigation and self-interest. Robinson glosses over any possible clash with Finger and Kane over the true origin of the character though he does dispute the popular theory that the Joker was inspired by Conrad Veidt’s character in the 1928 film ‘The Man Who Laughs’. While there is no hint of any acrimony towards his claims to the Joker character and Robinson’s son, Jens, is at pains to point out in the book’s final chapter that both Finger and Kane identified Robinson as the chief architect of the character, it is perhaps telling that Robinson was one of the people who helped Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster gain the recognition that had previously been denied to them for creating Superman.

His status as the main force behind the development of the Clown Prince of Crime stood him in good stead in the industry and his accounts of visiting the sets of the Nolan Batman films show that he was rightly revered by many.

Robinson, of course, did much more than Batman comics. This book delves into his time as a political cartoonist and his encounters with Kissinger while his time working for the theatre magazine ‘Playbill’ brought him into contact with numerous stars including Mia Farrow and Mickey Rooney. There’s also a fun chapter exploring his touring overseas with fellow comic artists to entertain the troops. Everything feels a bit piecemeal and brief and the biography is really more a selection of selected anecdotes which happen to be brief yet fun. I now want to find that bar in Cuba that Robinson claims has a mural on the wall he painted 50 years ago. Sadly, people still can’t remember where it is.

Of course, there is much to admire on the art side of it. Many original ‘Batman’ covers and comicstrips as originally drawn by Robinson alongside the original sketch of the Joker. There is also lots of his other work from detective and western comics to political and celebrity sketches. There’s also a selection of the book covers he designed, including Robert Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers’.

If you’re looking for an in-depth biography that takes in all of Robinson’s life alongside an analysis of comicbook history, you’ll be disappointed. But for a collection of fond memories and some striking art, this is a worthwhile purchase for Batfans and admirers of the Golden Age of comicbooks.

Laurence Boyce

September 2017

(pub: Dark Horse. 192 pages graphic novel hardback. Price: $34.99 (US), £29.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-50670-225-4)

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