Saturday, July 27, 2019

Kid's Play

Sunday Robinson Reparations.

We interrupt our regular Alex Toth post today for an examination of Jerry Robinson's work on The Green Lama. Just after the war a new comic book company Spark Publications produced three series that have always interested me. Atom Man and Golden Lad had loads of work by the newly formed duo Mort Meskin and Jerry Robinson. Robinson's companion on Batman (and frequent collaborator to their and later Meskin's work) George Roussos can be found there as well.

Each of them often worked and signed on their own as well, but they certainly shared a common sensibility - or helped each other out on their solo stories. That makes it very hard sometimes to determine who did what when Robinson and Meskin did work together. I have always believed that Robinson added more solidity to Meskin's work on the many Black Terror and Fighting Yank comics they did for Standard.

But here they were both just transitioning. All of the Spark books were very well executed. The stories were well written and both the creator and the writer were credited. It seems everyone tried to deliver his (or her) best work. Certainly Mac Raboy (who did The Green Lama) did some of the best work he produced until he took over the Flash Gordon Sunday strip in the fifties.

But are those credits a true reflection of who did what? Here are two stories from the first two issues of The Green Lama available on the Digital Comic Book Museum, both signed by Robinson. The first one (sadly missing the first two pages) has the solid Robinson work, you will later also see on The Black Terror and Fighting Yank (as well as his solo work for Timely and his newspaper strip Jet Scott). Apart from everything else, Robinson was a master at incorporating realistic backgrounds into the story in such a way that it gave depth to his images. You can clearly see that in the first story. The atmospheric trees and cityscapes give the story a grounding many comics at that time did not yet have. Since the first page is missing, there are no credits, but I am sure the GCD listing of Jerry Robinson is right.

Mort Meskin was less inclined to use backgrounds. On his two DC series The Vigilante and Johnny Quick, he concentrated on the action. He could do backgrounds or machinery, but usually made them up without using any sort of photo reference. Instead he used a number of panel shapes and shadow tricks to lead the eye of the reader over the pages, without anyone noticing how little actual drawing work it took. And he was very good at that. There are many people, who believe his work for DC is the best he did in his career. Alex Toth also tells the story that he once saw Meskin covering a whole page in grey pencil and drawing his figures' shapes with an eraser. After which he inked the shaped, filled them out and removed the pencil layer when the drawing was completed.

I see some of that in the second story, which is also signed by Robinson - but doesn't look like his work on the first one very much. Take a look at that figure on the splash page, the use of circles as a background saving storytelling device, the shape and inkwork on the main character's face. All look more like Meskin's work than Robinson's to me.

Of course George Roussos could do all of that as well. Roussos' work can vary in quality but he did approach Robinson's facility with backgrounds in his work on the General Motors' give-away series he drew for many years. And whenever he drew on his own, his faces always looked a bit weird, as if he wasn't able to draw a normal handsome hero.

Of course Robinson s here as well (he wouldn't have signed it otherwise). For me he is most visible on the more detailed panels, such as the first and the last one on page two and three.

And this is not the last of it. The Green Lama went up to #8, so we'll see what's there next week!


Doccomix said...

Notice the crazy coloring on the first story. When I see that, I assume that it was colored by George Roussos. It's crazy stuff (you can see more on his Air Wave strip for DC), but I like it, for some unfathomable reason. Decades later, George became the main colorist during the early Marvel Age.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Well spotted!

drivingovercanaan said...

Can't say I care for much Roussos art past the 1940s, but his Sparks stuff is outstanding. His AIR WAVE is BEAUTIFUL, and visually all Roussos-- drawing, lettering and color.