A Tribute to the of

Here is part 2 of the interview I enjoyed with Jerry Robison

Prof:  [Thanks to your former students] You've got a living legacy out there.

JR:   I hear from them now and then.  They'll write or if they do a book or something they send it to me.  I'm always very, very pleased.  I'm as excited about that as if I'd sold something of my own.

Prof:  It must be almost like seeing your children mature and do well.

JR:  Yeah.  Stan Goldberg, another student, is a great professional for Harvey and Archie Comics.  Another is Mort Gerberg, a top New Yorker cartoonist.  Also Don Heck.  He did a lot of top comic book work.  In fact, I haven't read it yet, but in a recent issue of Alter Ego there is a piece about him. He worked a long time in the comics.  I think, sadly, he may not still be with us.

Note:  With appropriate thanks to my buddy, Daniel Best, I contacted Stan Goldberg as well.  What a fine gentleman he is and he shared a lot about his long and successful cartooning career in addition to some great memories of Jerry.  Stan is also on the web at www.stangoldberg.com.  He's still going strong after decades in the business.  Here's a segment from that conversation:

Stan Goldberg:  Jerry and I go back a few years (chuckle), that's for sure and before I go ahead and do this thing just remind me we were at a big International Cartoonist Society event; the big long weekend every year where we give out all the major awards and things like that.  Jerry came over to me, I was nominated for one of the awards, and Jerry comes over and he says, "Stan, I'm gonna be the presenter of that award."  I said, "Well, that's nice.  That's great."  He didn't tell me then, but later I found out he wrote a piece about more than just him being a presenter and me, one of the nominees, but like everything that you prepare for, I didn't win the award, and that was just perfectly fine with me, at this stage in my life, but he came over later and he said, "I had this whole speech lined up," and if I remember now, I think he read it off to me while I was standing with a drink in my hand.  "This is what I was gonna say about Goldberg."

Prof:  (Laughter.) 

SG:  Jerry and his wife, Gro, I've known them forever and it's one of those few guys that are still around that you could touch bases with and…another interesting side bar, many years ago…we go down to Mexico every year to a little town called San Miguel, and the first time we went down there about sixteen years ago.  We spend a couple of months there every winter.  I met the great Frank Robbins, who lived down there.

Prof:  Oh, wow.

SG:  And I grew up on Frank Robbins and we touched base and when we got together down there, he passed away a few months after that, but I had real quality time with him there and he was a sweet, great man and a lot of his contemporaries back home, like Jerry and Irwin Hasen and people like that, they were all close buddies and they thought that Frank just disappeared.  They knew he loved Mexico, but they thought he'd passed on because he was not in touch with any of these compatriots, all these guys that he used to hang out with.  Jerry told me an interesting story about Frank Robbins.  He said Frank Robbins got him, got Jerry, his first job for Look Magazine.  Frank couldn't do this job and this was about 1938 or 1939 and he passed it on to a young Jerry Robinson to do.  And that was like Jerry's first big job for a major magazine.

Prof:  When you took the classes from Jerry what sort of principles did you take away from your time being his pupil?

SG:  It's interesting.  That had to be 1950, I think.  Just to go back a little bit, I started working for Timely Comics in 1949.  I think I just turned 17 or I was still 16 at the time, I don't remember, and I was one of the staff guys and running the coloring department…not running it at that time, I took it over about two years later, but I was one of the colorists there and then 1950 rolled around and I started coloring some books and figured I've got to continue going to school.  I enrolled in the School of Visual Arts in the evening classes and one of my instructors was Jerry Robinson.  Now Jerry didn't know me from Adam, but when I went into that class I told him who I was and I'd just got through with the day of coloring some of Jerry Robinson's war stories and some of the books that we were putting out.  Jerry was doing a lot of war stories at that time.  So that's how we touched base right away.

Prof:  Oh, fantastic.

SG:  And Jerry's art…he wasn't one of the ordinary, good artists, he was better than 99% of them, and I especially remember his war stories so well.  It was so authentic and so realistic and he was magnificent.  People remember him for certain things, but he was a good artist, really a great artist and it was so sad because the coloring we were able to do in those particular books at that time was so poor.  So here Jerry was and everything was so authentic looking; the tanks and the uniforms and all that, but those were all colors that half the time you put down on what we used to call silver prints, you had to keep your fingers crossed and hope you got something close to that because it was very difficult getting the browns and the grays.  Certain colors that demanded three or four of the major colors and a certain percentage of them to make this great gray uniform or the color of mud or the color of a plane.  And half the time Stan [Lee] was telling me, "Look, its difficult getting those colors.  I would have no problem if you made the tanks," I'm exaggerating now, but more or less he said, "if you make the tanks red, you make one guy's uniform blue and the other guy's uniform yellow…"  And here I was trying to be so authentic.  I would go to the library and get the correct color, and I felt bad that Jerry was putting all this work in and I'm sure he realized, and he knew who I was, I was coloring his stuff, because I told him right off the bat that it's difficult getting it right.  In those days when the color of the paper in the comic book was almost a gray color, it wasn't even white, then some of those colors would come through the pages.  And up at Marvel, Timely at that time, it was quite poor.  But that was the class and it was quite a kick to have there, as my teacher, was a guy that I was working on his stuff, and I knew of his work even before I came into the business.  I was aware of his artwork.  It was so distinctive and I loved it.

Prof:  You mentioned you had aspirations of journalism, did you get opportunities to write, back in the day or was everyone else doing the scripting?

JR:  Well, for Batman Bill Finger was the chief writer and really the co-creator of Batman.

Prof:  Right and was unfortunately unsung for that for many, many years.

JR:  Yes, unfortunately so.  I'm always sure to mention Bill in my interviews as being the co-creator.  There wouldn't have been Batman as we know it without Bill.

Prof:  I'm sure that's true.  In fact, didn't you found the Bill Finger Award?

JR:  Yes, I did.

Prof:  Good for you.  And please clarify for me; was Arnold Drake involved in that as well?

JR:  No.  Arnold, I think the first year, received the Bill Finger Award.

Prof:  Okay.  For some reason I had it in my head that he was involved in creating it.

JR:  No.  Not that he wouldn't have, I'm sure.  He honored Bill as I did, but I didn't work with Arnold on that.  I dealt with people at San Diego Comicon, notably Jackie Estrada, who agreed to make it a part of the Eisner Awards presentation.  I wanted to give it a platform where it would be known and where the young writers and cartoonists would learn about Bill; those who were not aware of him or of his contributions.

Prof:  Yeah, because he's an important part of the heritage.

JR:  Oh, definitely, and I contacted Marvel and DC, particularly DC. I called Paul Levitz, DC President, to help finance the first award and have every year since, I believe.

Prof:  I know it's gone on for several years now and has been presented to some very deserving creators, both living and posthumously.

JR:  Well, we decided to make one award for the living and one for those that have passed on, so that we could honor both.  I thought that people shouldn't wait 'til they die.  (Mutual laughter.)  And they are ones to remember.  I thought it was kind of a nice touch that Jerry Siegel won the first Bill Finger Award.

Prof:  Yes.  Very fitting.

JR:  And I think that's when Arnold won the living one and Jerry Siegel got the other.  Jerry and Joe [Shuster] were very good friends of mine.

Prof:  Yes and you've done a tremendous service for them and for their families also.

JR:  Yeah, that was later.

Prof:  How did you originally come to work for Bob?

JR:  Well, that story has been told so many times.  I guess if you're re-telling something, okay.  (Chuckle.)

Prof:  I'm sorry.  I just thought we should have a little background.

JR:  No, that's okay.  It's an improbable story, so I know why they always ask it. When I graduated high school at seventeen, I intended to be a journalist, so I applied to Columbia, Syracuse and Penn.  All were in the Northeast and I grew up in New Jersey, so that was within the realm of reason for me at that time.  So lo and behold I was accepted at all three and decided to go to Syracuse only because I was brought up in Trenton, which is only a few miles from Princeton University.  So I knew the Princeton campus and played tennis there and in fact one of my brothers moved to Princeton so that was how I knew the college town.  And so that's what I visualized going to college in Syracuse was like.  And certainly Columbia, when I found it was in the heart of Manhattan, and Penn in downtown Philadelphia didn't sound like bona fide college towns, so I picked Syracuse.  When I graduated high school, I sold ice cream all summer to earn money for the first semester.  In those days it was sold from a cart on the back of a bicycle.  So being the new man getting this ice cream franchise, I was given the territory on the suburbs of town.  I had to pedal for half an hour in the hot sun just to get to the place where I could sell.  At the time I was only 98 pounds on the track team and on the tennis team.  Tennis was kind of my passion.  So by the end of the summer I was down to something like 89 pounds or whatever.  So my mother was afraid that I wouldn't survive the first semester in college.  So she persuaded me to take $25.00 of that hard-earned money and go to the country to fatten up.  So I did, reluctantly, because I was hardly able to eat a popsicle myself and lose the royalty.

Prof:  Eating into the profits.  (Chuckle.)

JR:  Right and I had to save enough for the first semester and so I think I managed to make about $17.00 a week at that time, which, you know, this was 1939.

Prof:  That was still significant.

JR:  Something, yeah.  I wasn't sure I could quite live on it in New York.  It wouldn't go a long way.  So I went to this mountain resort for the purpose my mother had in mind and the first day out I ran out to the tennis court.  And I put on a jacket that was a fad in high school at the time.  It was just an ordinary white painter's jacket that you bought in a paint store.  A short jacket with pockets all over it, you know, for brushes and supplies for painting. So it was a fad to decorate them with drawings and the equivalent of graffiti in that day.  We picked that up from Princeton.  It was a college fad, so we wanted to look like college kids when we were in high school.  So I decorated mine with cartoons.  I had been a cartoonist for the high school paper.  I don't know how I got into that because, again, I didn't take any art courses there, but I guess I had an affinity for drawing cartoons.

And so I ran out to the court to find a partner and I used it as a warm-up jacket. I felt a tap on my shoulder and a voice said, "Who did those drawings?"  I thought I was going to be arrested or something.  I turned around and meekly said, "I did."  "Well, they're not too bad."  He introduced himself and it was Bob Kane.  That was the serendipitous start of my career.

We got to know each other.  He was like seven years older, I was 17 and he was 24.  So, close enough that we could converse and hang out together.

He showed me the first issue of Batman, which had just come out and to his chagrin I wasn't terribly impressed.  I liked the good stuff like Terry and the Pirates and Hal Foster in the newspapers.  When he found out I was going to Syracuse, he said, "That's too bad.  If you were going to New York we need somebody on the Batman team.  There's just two of us."  I don't know if he even mentioned Bill Finger at that point, come to think of it, but I soon found out that was all the "team" consisted of.  He said, "If you come to New York I could offer you a job for $25.00 a week." I didn't realize that much afterward. (Chuckle)  I thought, "Well, gee, that's great, I was making $17.00 a week selling ice cream."  It sounded like a lot easier to do, just draw some pictures.

So I called the admissions office at Columbia and asked if my acceptance was still good.  Luckily it was.  Of course, I'd already decided to go to Syracuse and I called there and told them I'm not coming, and I called my folks at home and I said I've got a job in New York and I went right from the mountains to New York.  I didn't even go home.  So that was the start of my career.

Prof:  That is quite a story of being in the right place at the right time.

JR:  Yeah, I owe it to that jacket.  Bob didn't play tennis and I think he was just wandering around that day and spotted the jacket.

Prof:  I'll be darned.  Serendipitous indeed.

JR:  I wish I had that jacket.  I've been asked about it many times.

Prof:  Yeah, that would be Smithsonian material.

JR:  But I handed it on to…I had three nephews of my oldest brother who became like my own sons and they were at that time maybe 10, 7 and 5.  So I gave it to the oldest one, and when he outgrew it, he handed it on to his next oldest brother.  By the time it got to the third brother it must have been in shreds.

Prof:  (Chuckle.)  I've got two younger brothers myself, so I'm sure you're exactly right.  Things just reach tatter stage after awhile.

JR:  Another thing while I'm talking about my nephews, one just happened to visit and spend the day with me yesterday.  When he was about six, my brother was still living in Trenton.  He was a dentist.  I visited them one day.  I was out in the back yard.  It was in the summer and I was drawing pictures for them.  So all the kids in the neighborhood gathered around watching me drawing; probably Batman and other characters for them.  I heard one of the kids whisper to my nephew, the youngest, "Who is that man?" My nephew answered, "Oh, that's Uncle Jerry.  He's a friend of ours."  I always treasured that.

Prof:  Oh, absolutely.  It sounds almost worthy of your old "Flubs and Fluffs" feature although it was neither of those.  Did you ever know any of the other 'ghosts,' like Dick Sprang, for example?

JR:  You want to hear a funny anecdote about Dick Sprang?

Prof:  Please.

JR:  It might have been in '89 or '90, we were both invited to the San Diego Comic Con and they presented me with the Inkpot Award, I believe.  Anyway, that was why I was there that year.  And there were some comics fans who had a society there and were throwing a party for a few of us at one of their homes. They had a very nice home with a big lawn in the back and there were lines of chairs set up out on the lawn for this event.  To my surprise the other two guests were Dick Sprang and Charlie Paris.  I don't know if you know the name Charlie Paris.

Prof:  I sure do.

JR:  I hadn't seen either one of them since the 40's when I left Batman.  When I first saw Dick we fell into each other's arms and hugged each other. Then suddenly, almost instantaneously, we both took a step back and looked at each other and realized we had never met or even seen each other before.

Prof:  (Laughter.)

JR:  But we knew each other through our work, and so somehow it seemed like we both felt that we knew each other.  It was a strange sensation and that's exactly what happened.  Now Charlie and I also embraced.  Charlie Paris I did know very well.  He worked in the DC bullpen when I was there.

Prof:  Right, quite an accomplished inker.

JR:  They were both exceptionally nice guys.  I admired them very much.  Charlie I knew had moved out West up in the mountains and was living in a trailer and became an excellent Western painter. So we had that wonderful reunion at that time.

Prof:  Neat.  That's a great memory.  When I talked to Lew [Sayre Schwartz] a few months ago he told me that he really loved working on Bill Finger's scripts because he said Bill had a gift for very visual writing.  Was that your experience, too?

JR:  That's exactly right.  He was a visual writer.  He would have been a great Hollywood writer for film. We always thought that's what we were doing….producing films in story book form.  In what proved to be graphic novels of today.

Prof:  I think I read somewhere that he did some television work.

JR:  Oh, yes, Bill did some television.  He never really became a top TV writer.  He could have been.  He should have been.  I think at that time he was already having a lot of personal problems that held him back.  But I think if he had got into TV earlier he would have been very successful.  I'm convinced of it. Because, as you said, he was a visual writer.  That's what made the scripts so good and that's why it was great to collaborate with him. He knew what the artist could do, what he couldn't do, what he needed, and how it would be visualized.  I've mentioned this many times; he would often attach all kinds of research to the script that he was using himself in developing the story.

Prof:  So you had an automatic reference there for some of the things to work off.

JR:  Exactly.  Whatever he had he would attach.

Prof:  Marvelous, I'm sure it made the job that much easier.

JR:  Yeah, in many cases it made things work.  If he decided to have a sequence on a ship, a luxury liner or a cargo ship he would get a cutaway of the ship and when he had the action on the boat, you'd see that it worked. I've worked with scriptwriters who didn't do that research or didn't visualize it and it was a nightmare.  I had to re-write the script.  I won't say who.  (Chuckle.)

Prof:  And I won't ask.  (Laughter.)

JR: At times I spent half my time re-writing the script before I could draw it.

Prof:  That had to be frustrating, especially when you're under the gun to reach a deadline.

JR: That's right.

© 2008 by B.D.S.

Inerviw copy edited by Jerry Robinson

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