At the 2007 Heroes Con, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jerry Robinson of Golden Age Batman and Joker fame (among his many other honors and accomplishments). This is by far my favorite interview for the Golden Age of Comic Books Podcast. I hope I get to see Jerry again in the not too distant future. He is a gentleman’s gentleman.
Not only is Jerry a celebrated comic book and comic strip artist, he has devoted much of his professional time as a historian of this great art form. While Jerry has compiled several historical works, my favorite is his The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art published in hardback in 1974 by Putnam with a softback reprint by Berkley in 1976 (Dark Horse reissued the book with some changes in April 2009 with a cover price of $24.99). If you are interested in the history of comic strips (the precursor to comic books) this book is highly recommended.
This 256 page book covers comic strips from the late nineteenth century up to the era the book was first published in 1974. Robinson explores the origins of dozens of strips, both well known and obscure. Of course, any book exploring a visual medium like comics must have art to accompany the text, and Robinson provides a plethora of black and white reprints from all eras and genres. The book isn’t limited to black and white reproductions, and between pages 160 and 161, “A Cavalcade of Color” presents 32 full color reprints of some of the great comic strips from all eras. Here you’ll find the four color adventures of Hogan’s Alley, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Nemo, The Gumps, Alley Oop, Buck Rogers, Li’L Abner, Prince Valiant and Peanuts, to name a few.
The book is divided into eight distinct sections, designed to guide the reader through the development and evolution of the comic strip. Here’s the table of contents showing how Robinson has broken this down.
The table of contents reveals one of my favorite features of this book, the comments by some of the great comic strip creators. I don’t think you can find another book with the collected commentary of the likes of Milt Caniff, Lee Falk, Johnny Hart, Charles Schulz, Chic Young, Hal Foster, Walt Kelly and others. This alone is worth the price of admission!
Anyone who has an interest in Golden Age comic books should at least take a little time to explore the origins of the comic strips. Without the great strips of old, the comic books would never have come into being. Jerry’s book is a perfect place to go to explore these origins. It’s also a whole lot of fun!