Friday, November 03, 2006

Golden Age of Comics Panel Discussion: Irwin Hasen, Jerry Robinson, Jules Feiffer & Gerard Jones

A short comment about a lovely event. My thanks to Stan Goldberg, a guy who started out at Timely Comics (now Marvel) as a teenage assistant to Carl Burgos, for inviting me along.

Last night, The Jewish Museum held a 90 minute panel discussion about the Golden Age of comic books (1938-50). This is in conjunction with its Masters of Comic Art show. (NY Times review here.) Author Gerard Jones (MEN OF TOMORROW) hosted the evening, and gave some historical background about the time.

He introduced the participants in order of age. First was Irwin Hasen, born in 1918. Irwin read from a hand lettered script; a statement of his early life. Irwin wanted to be a sports cartoonist, like his idol Willard Mullin (some wonderful examples of Mullin's work here). He wound up working for a couple of newspapers in NYC, and became, in the Golden Age, one of DC Comics' most prominent cover artists. He is best remembered for Dondi, co-created by Gus Edson.

Jerry Robinson worked as an assistant to Batman creator Bob Kane. Jerry created The Joker, and contributed to the character of Robin. Jerry's had an extensive career. He's President of the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate, and is the author of a seminal book THE COMICS, a history of the comic strip. THE COMICS had a big impact on me, and has been reprinted in a revised paperback from Dark Horse Publishing. And there's a lot more, if you peek at his NCS autobio above.

Jules Feiffer, who first worked for his idol Will Eisner, is best known as a political and social cartoonist, as well as a playwright, screenwriter and author. The day of the panel discussion, he had a cartoon in the NY Times. His 1965 book THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES "was the beginning of serious scholarship of the comic book," said Mr. Jones.

Irwin Hasen talked about his first sale, to a socialist paper, in the 1930s. "This was before those kind of organizations had a bad connotation." When he finished his drawing and asked the editor for payment, the editor sent him to the publisher. When Irwin asked the publisher to be paid, the guy eyed him, and asked, "PAYMENT?! Don't you believe in the cause, Comrade?" Irwin got a nickel subway fare out of the guy. But, he confessed, he didn't care. He was published!

Jerry talked about fighting for Seigel & Shuster, the creators of Superman, who were destitute in the early 1970s. (Jerry and Joe worked at side by side drawing boards at DC together, and were friends. They would go on double dates, said Robinson, and tried their best to impress girls with their superhero connections.)

It was great to hear the story directly from Jerry Robinson, the guy who, with some help from Neal Adams, got some justice for the creators of one of the most lucrative properties of the 20th century. Jones' book MEN OF TOMORROW tells the story in detail. Mark Evanier has a short review here.

Jules Feiffer was asked if there was any idea that what they were creating would one day have lasting value and be considered art. And Feiffer said, no. Eisner felt the work was throwaway and not meant to last. And Hasen added that comic books were a stepping stone to better things, like getting syndicated.

This is just a fraction of what was said on a chilly evening in The Jewish Museum auditorium that night.

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