For many years, the publisher Abrams has been celebrated as one of the most respected purveyors of upmarket art books, with a quality of image reproduction that puts most of its rivals in the shade. So it is particularly encouraging to note that (along with the customary sumptuous volumes focusing on the Old Masters) the company has shown similar dedication to the art of the comic strip. And here is Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics, a truly impressive volume detailing the art and career of one of its most protean talents. Robertson is, of course, best-known as one of the essential elements in the early creation of Batman, and along with fellow Batman artist Dick Sprang, he was undoubtedly a better draughtsman than the man whose name is on every appearance of the character, Bob Kane — not to mention the fact that Robinson created the visual appearance of such key elements in the mythos as The Joker, Robin and even the striking logo which adorned the comics for so many years. But Robinson has several other claims to fame: as an artist, he excelled in virtually every field of comics, including crime, horror and fantasy (I first encountered him in one of his splendidly inventive SF outings, a British reprint edition of Mystic (Number 10, priced at a now historic ‘shilling’), where his story of alien invasion, ‘The City that Vanished’, appeared, drawn from the US Mystic Number five (intriguingly, elements of Robinson’s eye-catching splash panel were redrawn for the cover of the British edition).
As an illustrator, Robinson was comfortably streets ahead of most of his rivals — except, of course, his friend and colleague Jack Kirby, who is namechecked here; there is even a nice colour photograph showing these two with fellow legends of the comics industry Will Eisner and Burne Hogarth. There is a welcome retelling in N.C. Christopher Couch’s celebratory book of how Robinson (along with Neal Adams) agitated for justice (and a decent financial settlement) for the impoverished Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
But in a book as handsome as this, the art is the thing, and admirers of the comics field will be in seventh heaven. There is also a strong representation of Robinson’s work in other fields, such as commercial illustration, caricature and photography (frankly, the latter is the least interesting of Robinson’s accomplishments) and even fine art.
This is the sort of book that makes you hope the publisher Abrams will continue to produce a host of similar books celebrating the popular arts.
Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics N. C. Christopher Couch