January 16, 2011 | Leftovers
There's little in life that Jerry Robinson loves more than talking about comics.
If you're lucky enough to meet this 89-year-old legend, he might talk all about how he came up with the idea for perhaps the most infamous villain in comic book history - the Joker - back in 1940.
Or he may talk about carousing in New York City with the who's who of the golden age of comics and his relationships with the likes of Batman creator Bob Kane and Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
He may even tell you about the time in 1941 when he and five fellow creators spent an entire weekend churning out an astonishing number of pages to make deadline for a new comic as New York was buried under one of the wildest snowstorms to ever hit the city. (This yarn is so good that author Michael Chabon adapted it into his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay).
Fortunately, art historian N.C. Christopher Couch has given us a barrelful of Robinson's life to savour in Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics (Abrams ComicArts, 224 pages, $42).
The book examines the artist's life - in his own words, accompanied by page after beautiful page of his work - from humble beginnings in New Jersey to his chance encounter at 17 with Kane that led to his first job as the art assistant on Batman and into the fascinating world of comics in the 1940s and '50s.
The legendary Joker story is in here, and that snowy weekend, too. Going back in time to that era with Robinson as your guide is a true treat.
After he left comics in the late 1950s, Robinson was a lauded newspaper comic strip illustrator; a successful magazine and book illustrator; an award-winning editorial cartoonist who was invited to meet with four different U.S. presidents; and the creator of the Cartoonist & Writers Syndicate, a highly successful company that exists to this day.
He has also been at the forefront of the battle for artists' rights, helping Siegel and Shuster get credit and compensation for co-creating Superman and has worked with the likes of Amnesty International and the United Nations on issues of human rights and free artistic expression around the world.
It's truly fitting someone finally has chosen to honour him.
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)