Jerry and the Joker: Adventures and Comic Art is part memoir, part art showcase. The hardcover collection mixes personal stories from the legendary Jerry Robinson with some of his original artwork for Batman, Detective Comics, and various other projects. Does this mix of content work as a cohesive whole?
The memoir portions of this collection are definitely some of its strongest. The first chapter details how a chance meeting changed Robinson’s life, as he went from just graduating high school to working on Batman and Detective Comics in the Golden Age, to include creating the Joker. Anyone with an interest in the behind the scenes aspects of creators’ lives is likely to enjoy the journey Robinson takes them on, as well as his descriptions of the ideas behind his work. The passages detailing what motifs and characters influenced the creation of the Joker is especially fascinating, as one gets to see exactly how one of the most beloved villains of all time came into being.
Another aspect of this collection worth praising is the artwork included. There is a large amount of Robinson’s original comic art included, along with a variety of sketches. Seeing the original line-work for 1940’s era Batman and Detective Comics covers is fun. Even more enjoyable is the inclusion of several long excerpts from various issues of said titles. Getting to hear Robinson talk about his excitement for creating Batman and then see the products of his excitement and labor makes for a rewarding reading experience.
Robinson’s love for the art form shines through, and the long excerpts of issues he drew allows one to get a good sense of his approach to sequential storytelling. The specific tales included are usually a lot of fun, and include Batman and Robin facing off against the Joker by using their signature detective skills. My favorite line of dialogue reprinted here comes from a flower crime-themed caper in which Batman exclaims “Here’s a bouquet–of knuckles!”
My main qualms with this collection pertain to the way it handles its page time. Jerry and the Joker is both a memoir and a collection of original artwork, but the memoir portions are fewer and shorter than I wish they were. With only six brief chapters from Robinson, the amount of prose content feels disappointingly small for a collection of this size. Similarly, I wish there was a bit more artwork included. What the collection delivers in both prose and art is good, but the two aspects of the collection both feel a bit shortchanged by having to compete for such relatively little page-time.
I appreciate that this collection gives a lot of page-time to Robinson’s career outside of Batman, so that a more complete picture of his work and values is allowed to shine. The original art included is both impressive and charming, and the prose portions of the book contain a lot of good insights into Robinson’s creative processes and personal life. With that said, the collection feels like it could have benefited significantly from a higher page count and more content, especially in the memoir segments. Nonetheless, Jerry and the Joker: Adventures and Comic Art is a nice tribute to the memory of a talented and passionate artist.