The amazing comic book collections of Jerry Robinson, creator of The Joker

Jerry Robinson is comic book legend, whose career started with the Golden Age of Comics and has now spanned 70 years working in the industry. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2004.

Robinson talking the Los Angeles times about the Joker

Born on New Year's Day in 1922, Robinson grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. It was whilst working as a journalism student at Columbia University that Robinson started his cartooning career at the age of just 17, working for Bob Kane.

This was not a long-held ambition. Robinson had not heard of comic book in the form they are now known when he met Kane, (though he enjoyed books which reprinted newspaper comic strips as a child) and Robinson saw his job as a temporary way to fund his course.

Robinson worked on early versions of Batman from 1940. The character had been created in Detective Comics issue #27 the previous year, and was rapidly gaining popularity as the first caped superhero.

Robinson influenced Batman's look and tone, as well as the name and part of the concept of Batman's sidekick Robin (the name was suggested as a Robin Hood reference) and the first supervillian: The Joker.

Although the exact circumstances of the Joker's conception are disputed, Robinson has explained that he wanted the character to act as a 'Moriarty to Batman's Holmes', and a wholly different character to the sorts of comic book villains such as bank robbers seen before.

Hitting on the name 'The Joker', Robinson flicked through one of the several card packs around his home (his brother played contract bridge) and took the image from a card. The original card has gone on display in museums and The Joker still tops polls for the greatest comic book supervillain.

Detective Comics Double Gun issue with the Joker
Detective Comics Double Gun issue with the Joker
(Click to enlarge)

Robinson went on to create many cartoon formats, notably the award-winning features of social/political satire, Still Life and Life with Robinson which were syndicated for 32 years. He has served as president of both the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) and the National Cartoonists Society.

Collectors though will be most grateful to Robinson for his instincts in his early days in the comic book industry. In the early years few people working in the comic book industry viewed the artwork as having much value. Indeed it was often viewed with contempt and the originals thrown out.

Robinson increasingly found that he could not bring himself to throw out the Indian ink on thick board original art works, as he became increasingly aware of the various qualities which were required in order to create successful works.

Superman issue 14 'Patriotic Shield'
Superman issue 14 'Patriotic Shield'
(Click to enlarge)

His collection was therefore created not as an investment, or initially even as a deliberate collection, but simply because the only alternative was the bin, and Robinson thought the pieces were too good for that, both his own and that belonging to some of the other artists of his time.

Alongside the ink-on-board works, he retained a number of copies of Batman 1-12, early Detective Comics, Superman and other key DC titles and Golden Age titles.

Recently, Robinson has offered for sale two pieces which any Golden Age comic collector would make tracks just to see:  his own "Double Guns" Joker cover to Detective Comics #69 and fellow Comic Book artist Fred Ray's famous "Patriotic Shield" cover to Superman #14.

"The cover to Superman #14 is arguably THE most important piece of surviving original comic art in existence, and the cover to Detective #69 is just mind-blowingly rare and historic," enthused Rob Reynolds, Director of Consignments at where the pieces are being offered.

Without Robinson these pieces would never have been preserved at all - and that makes him a real-life superhero for collectors.


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