Colleagues, Friends and Family Remember Jerry Robinson


Photograph of Jerry Robinson of CartoonArts International and Jerry Robinson Art courtesy of Kevin Miller

On Friday February 24, 2012, family, friends and colleagues gathered to remember Jerry Robinson, cartoonist, comic book superhero and supervillian creator, creators’ rights activist, editorial cartoonist, historian, curator, teacher, businessman, human rights activist and devoted family man.  Jerry passed away December 7, 2011.  The memorial, hosted at the Time Life Building in New York City by DC Entertainment, was ably MCd by Jerry’s son Jens, editor of CartoonArts International.

The Cartoonists Rights Network International thanks Jerry and his family for asking that contributions be made to CRNI in lieu of flowers.  Anyone wishing to make a contribution in support of the free speech rights of endangered cartoonists in the memory of our mutual friend Jerry Robinson can do so via the Your Support page on our website.  Jerry’s family will be notified of your generosity and commitment to free speech.   
DC Comics Co-President Dan DiDio, began the memorial with some brief remarks.  He set the tone of the remembrance by announcing, “We have a lot of people from DC, family members and friends who know so many wonderful stories about Jerry.  And what we like to do at these celebrations is keep the mike open and keep a very free-flowing format so that we can share our stories and experiences of Jerry.”  Dan then told his story of meeting Jerry at the Dark Knight premiere.  He said the experience of meeting someone he was “in awe of” under those circumstances “was overwhelming.”  And there was Jerry “pitching me on cartoonists and fun ways to work with DC Comics.”
Jerry’s wife Gro then addressed the invited guests.  Gro began her remarks by telling her and Jerry’s charming first meet story.  She was looking for, and found, someone sweet.  Gro then said it was natural for the fans of Joker and Jerry’s other creations to express “the global output of grief” upon hearing the news of Jerry’s exit.  “I also believe that everything that Jerry created was born of his special qualities – his innate sweetness and his dedication to his work.  I really like to think that the world was really responding to Jerry himself.”  She also noted that “his determination to finish his work was formidable.  Just think of it, in 2010, when he was in and out of the hospitals, he came out with four major books and he managed to have a fifth, his memoirs, almost ready for publication.”  She concluded by saying that, “Jerry’s long life was a triumph.  His death was not a tragedy.”
Batman producer Michael Uslan spoke next.  He said he would never forget “the wonderful, memorable night” that he and his wife Nancy took Gro and Jerry to the premiere of the Dark Knight.  Michael first related how much fun he had announcing on the red carpet to the gathered reporters, photographers and spectators, “Ladies and Gentlemen!  This is Jerry Robinson, the co-creator of the Joker.”  This after Jerry had offered to go with Gro around the red carpet and meet back up with the producer and his wife once inside the theater.  Michael then related how much fun it was to introduce Gro and Jerry to the actors who portrayed Jerry’s creations, including Danny Devito, Aaron Ekhart and Michael Caine.  Michael Uslan concluded by reading the tribute he was asked to write for the LA Times:

“To his family he was the devoted husband and father.  To my fellow fan boys, comic book geeks and Batman fanatics he was the co-creator of both the greatest supervillain in history, the Joker, and, the greatest superhero sidekick in history, Robin the Boy Wonder.  To me he was a dear friend, an idol, a mentor and let me tell you why. … Jerry Robinson was a creative and business force in the comic book and related industries.  He was propelled throughout his career by his creative juices and instincts and compelled to push the envelope every time.  He loved the world of comic books, comic strips and cartoon panels.  From the early days he was aware that this was an emerging new American art form and would dedicate his life as its ambassador to elevate comics in the eyes of both the general public and the art critics.  Even more importantly, Jerry was a humanitarian who fought for the rights and welfare of cartoonists as well as for the artists and writers who created the modern day mythology of comic book super heroes.”  Perhaps Jerry’s greatest contribution to humanity was his commitment to his fellow creators and cartoonists especially when life dictated that they could not protect or defend themselves.  Two incidents that define Jerry Robinson were his successful efforts in the nineteen eighties to free political cartoonists Francisco Laurenzo Pons from a Uruguay prison where he was being tortured for poking satire at unamused rulers and his 1970s efforts with artist/creator Neal Adams to restore dignity and respect to Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  My greatest personal moment with Jerry, one that will be a lasting sweet memory came last June when we were invited to take the stage at the United Nations and address political cartoonists from all over the world who had been flown to New York for the occasion. … Creator, illustrator, writer, innovator, commentator, satirist, historian, executive, philanthropist, husband, father of his real children and of his fictional children, teacher, mentor, idol, ambassador of good will, and, dear, dear friend.  Here’s to you Mr. Robinson.  You are a gift to the world.”

Jens then invited anyone who wanted to say a few words to step up to the microphone.  The following friends and family members came forward to share their memories of Jerry.
Through touching personal stories, Jerry’s nephew Dr. Richard Robinson highlighted Jerry’s humor, politics, artistic nature and his ability to connect with people, even complete strangers.  Dr. Robinson began by recounting the times during his childhood that Jerry stopped by, to Richard’s and his friends’ delight.  As to Jerry’s political leanings and his grasp of the issues, Richard said Jerry “was a staunch liberal democrat.  In fact … if you were to put Jerry on a baseball field, he would have been in left field all the way against the foul line. There wouldn’t have been any room for anybody to get between him and that line. … And … if you wanted to talk politics with Jerry, be prepared.  Be prepared to spend a long time [and you] better get your facts and figures straight because he had his in order.”
DC Comics writer, cover artist, colorist, and letterer Anthony Tollin spoke of the projects that he had the privilege of working on with Jerry.  He said through the time he spent with Jerry, he observed Jerry’s collegiality, generosity and idealism.  He emphasized, “One of the things I remember most about Jerry is [that] he was such a crusader for others, for other cartoonists.  There are a lot of people who fight crusades for comic artists who are comic artists and are fighting for something they themselves will benefit from.  Jerry moved to other areas …. When he was fighting for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to get a pension and medical insurance, he wasn’t fighting for something that would benefit himself personally.  He fought so much for others.  [For instance, Jerry worked with a group of dissident Soviet cartoonists] to get some imprisoned editorial cartoonist in the Soviet Union freed.  It was just amazing.”

Irwin Hansen, cartoonist and creator of the comic strip Dondi, and, author of Loverboy: An Irwin Hansen Story, spoke next.  He told amusing stories about the celebrities he met through Jerry, including a skinny kid named Frank, and about the good career advice Jerry gave him many years ago.
Like Irwin, Joel Pett, President of the Cartoonists Rights Network International, and the political cartoonist at the Lexington Herald-Leader, momentarily kept the mood light by congratulating Jerry on the timing of his exit.  “He was able to miss seventeen Republican debates.” After skewering the Republican presidential candidates with jokes that Jerry would have loved, Joel spoke from the heart.  Joel said Jerry “was the warmest, nicest guy.  He reminded me of my own father....  I was drawn to him immediately and we remained friends for truly decades.… I was always so impressed by how he embraced the foreign cartoonists again from whom he had nothing really to gain and everything to give.  And it was in many ways my impetus for joining the Board of the Cartoonists Rights Network which does the kind of work that Jerry was known for doing – defending the rights of cartoonists elsewhere.  Needless to say, in say, Syria, they don’t go for the kind of thing that we American political cartoonists do.  And Jerry was keenly aware of that and reached out to cartoonists all around the world.  And I think it is to his everlasting tribute that he did so and I will always admire him for it.  Thank you for letting me come Gro.”
Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher of The Economist and The Baltimore Sun, and former president of the Cartoonists Rights Network International, spoke next and revealed another side of Jerry – “Jerry Robinson, party animal.”  KAL said Jerry “was always the last guy to go to bed.  And in the morning, whatever time you got up, no matter how blurry-eyed you felt, when you got up Jerry had already played a game of tennis.”  KAL then proceed to tell a funny and charming, family-friendly story which should only be retold by KAL.  So, if you have the good fortune of attending a talk by cartoonist and story-teller extraordinaire Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher, be sure to ask him to recount the Perpignan (pronounced per-pee-nyahn) story.    

Photograph of an animated Kevin "KAL" Kallaugher by Drew Rougier-Chapman
Writer and editor Danny Fingeroth recounted his fond memories of Jerry which emphasized Jerry’s inexhaustible energy and tolerance of Danny Fingeroth’s nearly inexhaustible fan boy questions.   
Mort Walker, cartoonist and creator of Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, spoke of his and Jerry’s successful efforts in creating and strengthening the National Cartoonists Society.  He also briefly mentioned Jerry’s efforts to focus attention on international cartooning as a member and as President of the National Cartoonists Society.   
Neal Adams, cartoonist, creators' rights activist, and, co-founder of the graphic design studio Continuity Associates, began by urging the young cartoonists to be like Jerry.  That is, he encouraged them not to do the same thing over and over again.  He pointed out to them that, “There are people out there who do other things [besides drawing superheroes with lines on them to indicate clothing] [people] like Will Eisner and Joe Kubert and Jerry Robinson.  … Jerry Robinson created the Joker and Robin and then went on to become an internationally known political cartoonist.”  Neal then detailed the story of how he and Jerry, like Batman and Robin, took on no less than Warner Communications for the little guy, actually two guys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, “two Jewish kids from Cleveland.”  To set the stage he noted that despite creating an iconic superhero that had made a ton of money for Warner, Siegel and Shuster “didn’t end up very well in the sixties.  They had nothing, essentially.  Joe was legally blind [and] lived with his brother in an apartment [and] slept on a cot at night next to a window that had cracks in it that was taped up with tape.  Jerry Siegel, a little better, was a clerk [and] in those days earned seven thousand and five hundred dollars a year.  It wasn’t good.  They had disappeared.”  Neal then recounted what he and Jerry had to do to pry the long deserved and long denied compensation for Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Paul Levitz, comic book writer, editor and executive spoke about Jerry’s creativity and writing chops, evidenced by the longevity of his work.  He said, “Jerry’s stuff will be inspiring people way longer than he was here.  We got almost ninety years of him.  Thank you for the loan guys.  But we got far more than ninety years going forward when the things he put in the magic twinkle of those characters’ eyes will make a difference for people. ”     
Denis Kitchen, cartoonist, publisher, author and founder of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund noted what a great source Jerry was when researching the history of comic books.  He retold Jerry’s stories about cartoonists/bad boys Bob Wood and Charles Biro.  He concluded by saying Jerry “was an encyclopedia of stories and a wonderful human being.”          
Ed Summer, director and founder of the Buffalo International Film Festival spoke to the tremendous influence that both Jerry’s artwork and his crusading has had.  Ed for instance revealed the influence that Jerry’s artwork had on the look of Orson Welles’ stunning movie Citizen Kane.  He concluded by noting the influence that Jerry’s efforts on behalf of golden age cartoonists has had for all cartoonists and fans of the art form.  “He himself has his name on [his work].  It wasn’t on it when it was published.  He’s given that to me, he’s given that to you, he’s given that back, I think, to the whole world.  Thank you Jerry.”
Ellen Abramowitz, chairman and president of the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCA) spoke to how supportive Jerry was of MoCA.  She noted that Jerry could somehow miraculously make things happen and that the mere mention of his name could garner immediate support from any one of his many friends.  
Bill Janocha, cartoonist and Mort Walker’s longtime assistant, spoke to the two ways in which Jerry has inspired him.  He said he was first inspired long before meeting Jerry by Jerry’s book The Comics, Jerry’s history of newspaper comic strips, which Bill called “the milestone book.”  He said he was later inspired by Jerry himself when he had the privilege of speaking with Jerry while researching the lives of the members of the National Cartoonists Society for a collection of biographies.        
Jerry’s and Gro’s daughter, artist and social worker Kristin Robinson-White fittingly and movingly spoke last.  Kristin spent most of her time recalling the various aspects of Jerry’s personality from his perfectionism to his generosity to his fondness of a good party.  She did though take a moment to note that while it is coincidental that Jerry died on December 7th, “it is not without significance. …   As Gore Vidal mentioned, the superheroes … Superman and Batman … were really important at that time in the late thirties and early forties in changing public opinion against the isolationism [and anti-Semitism] that [were] rampant here … so that we started to mobilize and could join the Allies in fighting Hitler.  Along those lines I just keep thinking that he was a crusader himself.  He was a little bit of Batman.  He was a little bit of Robin.  He was remarkable.”

Photograph by Drew Rougier-Chapman of Dan DiDio and Jens Robinson as Jens thanks DC Comics and the invited guests for their stories of Jerry and their presence at his memorial