Volume 93, Issue 56
Wednesday, January 26, 2000
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Comic legend gets animated
Graphic by Jerry Robinson
By Luke Rundle
Jerry Robinson may not be a household name to modern comic book fans, but it should be.
Besides being an artist behind one of the world's oldest and greatest cartoon superheroes, Robinson created venues for artists around the world to showcase their talents. He has also fought countless court battles on behalf of oppressed cartoonists for their simple right to freedom of expression. In terms of this art form, Robinson is seen as more than a pioneer he's nothing short of a Messiah.
Robinson fell into the cartoon industry as a journalism student at New York's Columbia University, bumping into future Batman creator Bob Kane at a tennis match. Kane needed a crew to help get his pet project launched in 1939 and Robinson enlisted to earn some extra cash.
"I just thought of it originally as a way of earning my way through college," Robinson laughs. "Then I got very interested in the art form as a means of telling a story through the combination of pictures and words and now here I am, so many years later, still involved in cartooning in one form or another."
Contributing to the success of a legendary comic book wasn't enough for Robinson, as he went on to create the form's first supervillain, the Joker. "At the time I created the Joker, there were really no supervillains in the comic books. Most of the villains in Batman were small-time crooks that Batman would fight," Robinson remembers.
"From my studies of literature, I knew all great heroes had protagonists, so I volunteered to write a story, which they gladly accepted. When I set out to write, I immediately thought of creating a villain that would make the story exciting and hence, Batman had a more worthy opponent. Somebody bizarre and larger than life who was a contradiction in terms one with a sense of humour. So that was the genesis of the Joker."
An accomplished artist, writer, historian and curator, Robinson is currently the president and editorial director of the Cartoonists and Writer's Syndicate, which syndicates and exhibits the work of 550 leading cartoonists and graphic artists from over 50 countries worldwide.
Robinson's syndicate is a result of monetary greed, but of a philanthropic necessity. "I had entertained the soldiers during World War II, travelled all around the army camps in Japan, Korea, Morocco, up to the front lines with small groups of cartoonists," Robinson recalls. "We would meet with the local cartoonists, some of the greats around the world, which we would never see or hear of in the U.S., nor are they seen outside of their own country. So I did a book based on that idea called The 1970's: Best Political Cartoons of the Decade. That was successful and I thought, if I could think of a mechanism to bring the fine work of these artists to American newspapers, it would add another dimension of understanding, internationally. "
Understandably, he is more than a little proud of his baby. However, for Robinson, the most rewarding feature of CWS is the hope it brings to artists, in offering rewards for their endeavours.
"This [CWS] has meant a lot to artists abroad, where the [American] dollar has so much value in terms of their own currency," Robinson explains. "I brought royalties to Russia and the artists were just collapsing out of joy. One artist said that he could live four or five years on them, so that's been a source of satisfaction."
Robinson doesn't just devote his philanthropy to unseen artists, but also to those whose art has been seen and misappropriated against their wishes. He has led creator rights cases for countless artists worldwide, arguing for cases involving copyrights and trademarks, as well as free expression and basic human rights.
Besides aiding the original creators of Superman in their quest for accreditation, Robinson has facilitated the release of jailed and tortured cartoonists in Uruguay and the former Soviet Union.
A look at the current landscape of the comic industry from Robinson brings nothing but hopeful promise. "I think the field is evolving [it] always has and I think it's always reflected technology," he says.
"It's going to change and get to a different and wider audience with the web and films and so forth, since there's more being done and more widely circulated. I think it's a fascinating field, a unique method of expression."
Robinson's visit to Western, which was originally scheduled for today, has been postponed until Feb. 2.
Copyright © The Gazette 2000