Jerry Robinson

Comics Lose Two Original Innovators

Two of the true innovators and original pioneers of the comic book industry died recently.

Jerry Robinson died Wednesday, December 7, at the age of 89. Robinson will forever be most linked with the 1940 creation of Batman’s nemesis and possibly the first super-villain, The Joker. During this time, he also co-created Robin the Boy Wonder to be Batman’s sidekick, which established what soon became an iconic narrative device for superhero comics, and of course the inevitable wave of sidekick imitators. As if forever changing the superhero genre wasn’t enough, he also created another iconic element of Batman, Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred. Following his genre-defining work in superhero comics in the 1930s and ’40s, Robinson went on to fight for creator rights (notably in support of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, co-creators of Superman), write The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art (one of the earliest publications to detail the history of the art form [Dark Horse Comics published a revised and expanded edition earlier this year]), as well as establish CartoonArts International, a syndicate that helped create distribution networks for political cartoonists around the world. He is the only person to have served as President of both the National Cartoonists Society (NCS) and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), and also served as guest curator for several art galleries hosting shows featuring comics art.

Joe Simon died last Thursday, December 14, at the age of 98 of an undisclosed illness. In late 1940 with his partner Jack Kirby, Simon created Captain America, one of the first and certainly the most influential superhero meant to stir up patriotism as the United States considered involvement in World War II. The first issue of Captain America Comics, released in December 1940 (cover-dated March 1941), brazenly featured Captain America slugging Adolf Hitler in the jaw right on the cover. While Hitler now seems like a comic book villain, he was then a real-world political leader. With nearly one million copies sold, it was considered an instant hit and got the attention of Nazi sympathizers and anti-war activists who wrote angry and even threatening letters. Flag-draped superheroes soon came out of the woodwork but few could compete. Simon served as head editor of the Marvel Comics precursor, Timely Comics, during this time, but soon moved on with Kirby to create a brand new genre for the comics art form: romance. Now frequently satirized, romance comics were a massive hit and brought in a whole new demographic. The two were also pioneers in establishing the horror and true crime genres in comics, which were also huge sellers. Simon went on to consult for Harvey Comics in the 1960s, helping to develop then new characters Casper the Friendly Ghost and Richie Rich. Simon also wrote two autobiographies, The Comic Book Makers and this year’s Joe Simon: My Life in Comics.

Indicative of how small the industry is and was back then, the two shared studio space in New York City for a time.

Copyrights and comics

As a preview to their upcoming Comic Book Comics #5 by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, Evil Twin Comics has posted a 6-page excerpt titled “The Grabbers”. It does an excellent job encapsulating and presenting copyright law and how it has effected the history of comic books. The piece focuses on Superman, so this is a great prequel to that BBC Superman documentary where we see Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster a few years after the events depicted at the end of this comic.

The comic also covers the legal shenanigans involving Bob Kane (Batman co-creator), Bill Finger (Batman, Robin and Joker co-creator), Jerry Robinson (Robin and Joker co-creator), Joe Simon (Captain America co-creator), and Jack Kirby (co-creator of Captain America and half of the rest of the Marvel Comics superhero universe).

What’s amazing (and kind of sad) is that a lot of these legal battles are still being fought.

New Graphic Novels, Comic Books for You – 12/23

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff that came out the week of December 23 that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Action Philosophers!: More Than Complete – $24.99
By Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey
320 pages; published by Evil Twin Comics; available at

Imagine Plato as a wrestling superstar of ancient Greece, Nietzsche as the original ubermensch, and Bohidharma as the grand master of kung fu. These are not just great thinkers they also make great comics. Action Philosophers details the lives and thoughts of history’s A-list brain trust in hip and humorous comic book fashion. All nine issues of the award-winning, best-selling comic book series have been collected into a single volume, making this a comprehensive cartoon history of ideas from pre-Socratics to Jacques Derrida, including four new stories. You’ll never have more fun getting the real scoop on the big ideas that have made the world the mess we live in today! Tom Morris (Author of Philosophy for Dummies, If Aristotle Ran General Motors, and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric).

I’ve got an issue of this that looks at Ayn Rand and it’s excellent. Fun and informative. This same team is working on a comic about the history of comics, which astoundingly has never been done before to my knowledge, called Comic Book Comics. Here’s an 8-page preview of Action Philosophers looking at Carl Jung.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons – $24.99
By various; edited by Craig Yoe
184 pages; published by Fantagraphics Books; available at

For centuries, cartoonists have used their pens to fight a war against war, translating images of violent conflict into symbols of protest. Noted comics historian Craig Yoe brings the greatest of these artists together in one place, presenting the ultimate collection of anti-war cartoons ever assembled. Together, these cartoons provide a powerful testament to the old adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” and remind us that so often in the 20th century, it was the editorial cartoonist who could say the things his fellow newspapermen and women only dreamed of, enlightening and rallying a nation against unjust aggression.

Readers of The Great Anti-War Cartoons will find stunning artwork in a variety of media and forms (pen-and-ink, wash, watercolor, woodcut — single images and sequential comic strips) from the hands of Francisco Goya to Art Young, from Robert Minor to Ron Cobb, and from Honoré Daumier to Robert Crumb, as well as page after page of provocative images from such titans as James Montgomery Flagg, C.D. Batchelor, Edmund Sullivan, Boardman Robinson, William Gropper, Maurice Becker, George Grosz, Gerald Scarfe, Bill Mauldin, Art Spiegelman and many more. The book also includes an Introduction by 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus and a Foreword by Library of Congress curator Sara W. Duke.

This book is neither ideological nor parochial: The cartoons range across the political spectrum from staunch conservative flag-wavers to radicals and hippies, and span two centuries and the entire globe (Australia, Russia, Poland, France…). But their message remains timeless and universal.

What better way to celebrate the season of peace than this collection of anti-war editorial comics? Well, OK, maybe there are better ways, like donating to charities or volunteering with anti-war movements, but this is a good way, too. Here’s a 10-page preview in PDF. There are comics dating back to the 1800s. Pretty fascinating. I particularly like the one from 1915 by Luther Bradley and the one from 1920 by Jay “Ding” Darling.

The Original Johnson, Volume 1 – $19.99
By Trevor Von Eeden
128 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at

At last – The Original Johnson, Trevor Von Eeden’s personal and heartfelt graphic novel biography of Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, international celebrity, and the most controversial American of his time. This is the artistic achievement of Trevor’s career (Batman, Black Canary, Black Lightning, Green Arrow), more than four years in the making and worth every moment.

Originally published online at, this has been in the works for over 12 years. It is a passionate and unrestrained depiction of Johnson’s life and the racial tension of America at the time. You can read the first 100 or so pages at ComicMix. (Oh and by the way: IDW, update your online store.)

Marvels – $24.99
By Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross
248 pages; published by Marvel Comics; available at

“MARVELS is a giant leap forward in the evolution of illustrated literature.” — Stan Lee

Welcome to New York. Here, burning figures roam the streets, men in brightly colored costumes scale the glass and concrete walls, and creatures from space threaten to devour our world. This is the Marvel Universe, where the ordinary and fantastic interact daily. This is the world of Marvels.

Originally released in 1994 to much acclaim and enthusiasm, this new printing provides a great introduction to the world of superheroes and the superhero world of the Marvel Universe in particular. Looking back at it now, the painted art feels like it’s a little much (do superheroes really need to be that realistic and life like?) but with superhero movies now a pretty normal occurrence, maybe it was never that big of a leap. Either way, the story is told from the point of view of a normal guy in Marvel’s New York struggling through life as flashy dressed people with extraordinary abilities start running around the city and inevitably break things. There’s a small preview at the Amazon link above.

Footnotes in Gaza – $29.95
By Joe Sacco
432 pages; published by Metropolitan Books; available at

From the great cartoonist-reporter, a sweeping, original investigation of a forgotten crime in the most vexed of places.

Rafah, a town at the bottommost tip of the Gaza Strip, is a squalid place. Raw concrete buildings front trash-strewn alleys. The narrow streets are crowded with young children and unemployed men. On the border with Egypt, swaths of Rafah have been bulldozed to rubble. Rafah is today and has always been a notorious flashpoint in this bitterest of conflicts.

Buried deep in the archives is one bloody incident, in 1956, that left 111 Palestinians dead, shot by Israeli soldiers. Seemingly a footnote to a long history of killing, that day in Rafah—cold-blooded massacre or dreadful mistake—reveals the competing truths that have come to define an intractable war. In a quest to get to the heart of what happened, Joe Sacco immerses himself in daily life of Rafah and the neighboring town of Khan Younis, uncovering Gaza past and present. Spanning fifty years, moving fluidly between one war and the next, alive with the voices of fugitives and schoolchildren, widows and sheikhs, Footnotes in Gaza captures the essence of a tragedy.

As in Palestine and Safe Area Goražde, Sacco’s unique visual journalism has rendered a contested landscape in brilliant, meticulous detail. Footnotes in Gaza, his most ambitious work to date, transforms a critical conflict of our age into an intimate and immediate experience.

I’m a big admirer of Joe Sacco and his work, and here it looks like he’s going one step further in developing comics journalism, where he targets one specific story to investigate. Here’s a great preview (PDF) that pulled me right in. I need to get this.

Luke on the Loose – $4.99
By Harry Bliss
32 pages; published by Toon Books; available at

Luke looks on at the pigeons in Central Park, while Dad is lost in “boring Daddy talk,” and before you know it—LUKE IS ON THE LOOSE! He’s free as a bird, on a hilarious solo flight through New York City.

Harry Bliss, the renowned illustrator of many bestselling children’s books, finally goes on a solo flight on his own with a soaring story that will delight any young reader who has ever felt cooped up.

This looks very cute. Recommended for kids age 4-8, but I won’t tell anyone if you’re older and get this because it looks very charming and fun. Here is a preview of the kid running through the city with his new pigeon friends causing mayhem.

Alec: The Years Have Pants (A Life-Sized Omnibus) – $35.00
By Eddie Campbell
640 pages; published by Top Shelf Productions; available at

For the first time ever, the groundbreaking autobiographical comics of master cartoonist Eddie Campbell (FROM HELL) are collected in a single volume!

Brilliantly observed and profoundly expressed, the ALEC stories present a version of Eddie’s own life, filtered through the alter ego of “Alec MacGarry.” Over many years, we witness Alec’s (and Eddie’s) progression “from beer to wine” — wild nights at the pub, existential despair, the hunt for love, the quest for art, becoming a responsible breadwinner, feeling lost at his own movie premiere, and much more! Eddie’s outlandish fantasies and metafictional tricks convert life into art, while staying fully grounded in his own absurdity. At every point, the author’s uncanny eye for irony and wry self-awareness make even the smallest occasion into an opportunity for wit and wisdom. Quite simply, ALEC is a masterpiece of visual autobiography.

ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS (A LIFE-SIZE OMNIBUS) collects the previous Alec books THE KING CANUTE CROWD, GRAFFITI KITCHEN, HOW TO BE AN ARTIST, LITTLE ITALY, THE DEAD MUSE, THE DANCE OF LIFEY DEATH, AFTER THE SNOOTER, as well as a generous helping of rare and never-before-seen material, including an all-new 35-page book, THE YEARS HAVE PANTS.

I don’t know, that blurb kind of says it all. Here’s a 16-page preview.

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 5/6/09

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this Wednesday (tomorrow) that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: Having not read these yet (’cause this isn’t Wednesday), I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, they just might appeal to you.

Public Enemy Volume 1 – $22.99
By Chuck D. & Adam Wallenta
Published by American Mule Entertainment

A must have for any true Public Enemy fan! 

To the general population, PUBLIC ENEMY is a world-famous, pioneering, revolutionary, HIP-HOP band that have toured the globe, selling hit records for over twenty years. Unbeknownst to most though, they are also members of a secret, global network of freedom fighters called the Underground Railroad, that help those in need and fight injustice, corruption and oppression wherever it may surface. 

In this first story-arc, collecting the first five issues of the hit series, our heroes must face an enemy unlike anything they have ever experienced. The evil Executives and their New World Order are about to unleash their master plan for world domination. Before they can succeed though, they must eliminate a young boy named Vincent who holds the key to their ultimate secret weapon. Unfortunately for the Executives, Vincent is a Public Enemy fan and he has sought out their help to expose the evil plans of the Executives. In a desperate attempt to destroy their enemies, the Executives devise a plan that will eliminate Vincent, Public Enemy and their Underground Railroad allies in one clean swoop as they set out to take over the world.

In this epic battle for peace and justice Public Enemy and the Underground Railroad fight for their lives and the freedom of the world, as they are torn apart, imprisoned and hunted down by the government in a desperate fight for their lives.

A hip-hop group as super-heroes? Sure, why not? It worked for KISS. (Uh, not that KISS is hip-hop.) Truth be told this type of crossover attempt in comics rarely works but there have been a couple of fairly favorable reviews. Plus its co-written by the group’s lead rapper Chuck D, which is kind of an unusual level of involvement for this sort of thing. So if you or someone you know likes their music, it might be a fun thing to check out.

walledinWalled In – $16.95
By Roger Mincheff & Denis Calero
136 pages; published by Ape Entertainment

The origin story of Malastraza, the brilliant, yet disturbed architect and sociopath in the upcoming feature film Walled In, starring Mischa Barton. In this chilling graphic novel of love, betrayal, and obsession the roots of his madness first take hold. From his humble beginnings as a precocious honor student in a Paris Academy, to his tutelage in the dark arts of occult architecture, Malastraza learns that many of the secrets upon which civilizations are built have been drenched in blood. When he is betrayed by his mentor and the woman he loves, Malastraza’s obsession to create the perfect structure leads him down a dark path where victims must be sacrificed in service of his grand vision. 

Another popular crossover angle in comics: the comic book tie-in to a new TV show, movie, video game or what-have-you. In this case the comic ties into a direct-to-DVD film, which itself is based on the French novel Les Emmurés (translated to The Trapped] by Serge Brussolo. As above, the results tend to be mixed depending on the source material and the creators involved in the adaptation, but for horror fans out there, this could be worth checking out, even if the movie isn’t getting the best reviews. At the very least, there’s some appropriately moody artwork to enjoy based on this online sample. (I’m not sure, but it looks like this can be read on its own without having seen the movie first.)

Plan 9 From Outer Space Strikes Again – $3.99
By Chad Helder, Darren G. Davis & Giovanni P. Timpano
28 pages; published by Bluewater Productions

Rated one of the worst films ever, Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space continues as Bluewater and Legend Films tell the story of what happens after the film! Fifty years after the alien invasion unleashed the unspeakable horror of Plan 9, a corrupt team of government scientists reactivate the zombie horde in order to lure the aliens back to Earth! Their sinister plan: steal the most hideous weapon known to intergalactic intelligence. Only conspiracy theorist, Eugene, and his mother, a former professional wrestler, can expose the shadowy agenda of the government as they fight off the growing zombie horde. This time, a new alien force invades Earth: the revolutionary followers of the martyred Eros. Eugene and his mother join forces with the last remaining heroes of a corrupt government. Together, they must thwart Plan 9 once again, with all life in the universe hanging in the balance!

Well this is just silly. I guess the goal would be to be as bad as the movie? Morbid curiosity I guess, but I imagine fans of Ed Wood ought to get a kick out of this. (OK this kind of breaks my rule for this list of not having read or seen anything else but it was such an oddity I had to mention it.)

Boris Karloff: Tales of Mystery Archives – $49.95
By a whole host of talented folks
256 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics; available at

A circus performer terrorized by mysterious powers from beyond… a jade idol of a monkey that carries a curse on a South Pacific island drives a man to the brink of madness… an art gallery haunted by paintings that come to life at night… a dictator who sees enemies around every corner, but who can’t see the threat right before his eyes.

For nearly twenty years, the comic-book series Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery wove stories of intrigue, suspense, and macabre drama. Hosted by renowned actor Boris Karloff, the comic featured contributions from some of comics history’s most well-known creators: Alex Toth, Joe Orlando (EC artist and editor), Mike Sekowsky (Justice League of America artist), Frank Thorne, José Luis García-López, Arnold Drake, Len Wein (co-creator of Swamp Thing and Wolverine), Al Williamson, Jerry Robinson (creator of the Joker), Dan Spiegle, and many others.

* Originally published by Gold Key and unavailable for three decades, more than thirty spine-chilling stories are compiled in a new collection.

* Features a new introduction by Boris Karloff’s daughter Sara Karloff.

Classic old horror tales. A bit pricy but I bet it’s worth it.

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories – $16.95
By Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim
176 pages; published by First Second Books; available at

A fantastical adventure through the worlds we live in and the worlds we create.

From two masters of the graphic novel — Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference and Other Stories) come three magical tales – 

The story of a prince who defeats his greatest enemy only to discover that maybe his world is not what it had seemed.

The story of a frog who finds that just being a frog might be the way to go.

The story of a women who receives an e-mail from Prince Henry of Nigeria asking for a loan to help save his family – and gives it to him.

With vivid artwork and moving writing, Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang test the boundaries between fantasy and reality, exploring the ways that the world of the imagination can affect real life. 

These two award-winning creators produce great work, so this is kind of a no-brainer. If you can only buy one from this list, this is the one I would suggest you flip through first to see if it appeals to you. And it probably will. As an extra incentive, here’s a quick glimpse at this release, by way of a video by Derek Kirk Kim’s thankless assistant.

Oliver Twist – $14.99
By Charles Dickens, David Cerquiera & Philippe Chanoinat
64 pages; published by IDW Publishing; available at

Oliver Twist is the story of a young orphan who is subjected to ill-treatment in institutions in Victorian England. He falls into the clutches of the ghastly Fain and comes into contact with the seediest parts of London. The adventures of young Oliver are a story of fear, poverty and the darkness of the human soul.

This is the second book in a series of classic novel-to-comic adaptations this publisher has started to release. 64 pages seems a bit tight to adapt a 300+ page book, but I’d give it a try.

Pherone – $24.99
By Viktor Kalvachev, Patrick Baggatta & Jim Sink
104 pages; published by Image Comics; available at

Following Eve, a dangerously seductive woman on the edge of her sanity, PHERONE weaves a dark storyline filled with espionage, mystery, and suspense. Armed with a killer body and a killer’s mind, the femme fatale must hunt down clues to rediscover her own troubled past, bringing violence and danger to anyone who crosses her path.

The art looks pretty stunning. Hopefully the story matches, as this could be a great suspense/thriller. Not for kids, though.