Few people can claim to have had as big an impact on their generation as Robin Pattinson. The British producer, director, and artist changed the way we viewed comics, graphic novels, and especially Batman, forever. In the process, he redefined not only the medium but also the meaning of “graphic novel.”
It’s safe to say that almost everyone has heard of Batman, the dark knight and crime fighter who first appeared in editorially serialized newspaper comic strips in 1939. Over the years, he has become one of the most recognizable icons in pop culture.
What most people don’t know is that Batman wasn’t originally designed to be a full-fledged superhero. The comic book character didn’t even exist in his current form until nearly 40 years after his creation. Prior to that point, he had been an everyman with a taste for adventure who dressed in black and fought against crime. In fact, Batman originally started out as a “serious” character who used his intelligence and resources to track down criminals. These aspects of his personality would serve as the basis for much of the character’s later depiction in other media.
Enter Robin Pattinson. For those who don’t know, Robin is the adopted son of Batman’s biological mother, Anne, who had originally given the boy to a couple named Clayton and Estelle Gray. After Anne’s death, Clayton and Estelle raised Robin as their own child. They noticed he had a passion for art and encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. They gave the boy his middle name – Pattinson – to honor their dead mother.
Even though he had always been close to his relatives, Robin decided to pursue his own path and left home to become an artist. Luckily for us, he never lost his passion for art and continued creating illustrations and designing album covers throughout his career. Many of Robin’s designs can be found on T-shirts, hats, and even glasses for fashion houses across the globe. But his most significant work is probably the artwork he did for the critically acclaimed 1977 graphic novel, The Killing Joke.
In the years following the publication of The Killing Joke, Batman was hailed as a masterpiece and gained a large cult following. It’s important to note here that the book wasn’t intended to be a direct sequel to Batman’s first adventure, which had been set years before. However, it’s impossible to talk about Batman without mentioning his nemesis, the Joker. The Joker is one of the most recognizable characters in the history of comics, credited with transforming the art form as we know it. He is perhaps the quintessential representation of pure evil. Even those who despise him recognize his distinctively bizarre physical appearance and vocal ticks. The character was designed by Joe Chill and first appeared in Batman #1. Over the years, the two have gone head-to-head several times, resulting in many epic battles.
In many ways, the story of The Killing Joke is typical of the tragicomic nature of the Batman character. It begins with a kidnapping that forces Batman to don his suit and pick up his utility belt. On his way to the Gotham City Police Department, he discovers that a young girl named Barbara had been kidnapped. The story then follows Batman’s quest to find the men who had committed the crime and bring them to justice. Along the way, he confronts many unexpected characters and battles villains from his past.
The Killing Joke is one of the most complex and engaging Batman stories ever told. It was originally published in six monthly installments in 1974 and then compiled into a single volume in 1977. The fact that it took Robin three years to edit, illustrate, and design makes it all the more special. In the end, the story is both heart-breaking and moving, due to the great lengths to which Robin went to make the characters and atmosphere real. It was the product of his experience, imagination, and talent. And, as we’ve established, he had plenty of all three.
How Did Robin Meet His Collaborators?
While researching this article, I came across old interview tidbits that referenced Robin’s long list of professional collaborators. It started with names you might recognize – Jack Kirby, Bernie Wrightson, and Dick Giordano – and continued on to include some of the most successful creators of all time. Here’s a short list of some of the most prolific and famous creators who worked with Robin on various projects.
Kirby, Joe was the co-creator of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, among many other popular comic book characters. He was also one of the main architects of the modern comic book form, designing many of the most recognizable characters of all time. He created a version of himself in his own image, which he called the Dream Master, later featured in an issue of Thor #126 in 1966. In 1989, Kirby published a memoir, “One of the Great Marvels: My Life in Comics,” in which he discussed his experiences working with the great man. The two became close friends and often worked together. In fact, Kirby made a cameo appearance in The Killing Joke. He was also the artist who designed the logo for the legendary EC comics, which appeared on the covers of many of their most popular titles. Kirby passed away in 1994 and was posthumously awarded the Comics Legend Award by the Comics Society of America in 1995.
As I mentioned above, Kirby worked with Robin on several projects. One of the most famous is undoubtedly the 1994 collaboration they did on the graphic novel, The Death of “Superman.” It was published after Kirby’s death and, due to its controversial nature, was considered a masterpiece by some fans, but a bit of a bomb by others. It was an in-depth look at the death of Superman, which had originally appeared in the comics in 1968. The story followed Superman’s deterioration after having been poisoned by kryptonite. Even though the story was based on real events, it was wildly fictionalized. The aim was to explore the nature of truth and fiction in the modern world. The story is told from the point-of-view of a group of people who knew Superman well, including his creator, Jerry Siegel, and the artist, Curt Swan. Jack Kirby’s contributions to the story were numerous and invaluable. At the end of the book, Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, who is in the process of assuming the role of the Man of Steel, finally confronts his doppelgänger, who looks just like him. It was a powerful and moving story about finding the courage to be yourself, even if you’re not exactly sure who that is.
Bernie Wrightson is famous for his work on the Dark Knight Returns, the definitive comic book series that served as the blueprint for many other superhero comics. Like Kirby, he is also a co-creator of popular comic book characters, having worked with writer Alan Moore on the character of Swamp Thing, who first appeared in Swamp Thing #1 in July of 1970. Later that same year, Bernie Wrightson became the primary artist on the series. In 2013, Wrightson was awarded the Inkpot Award for lifetime achievement in comics at the San Diego Comic-Con International. When asked about his work on The Killing Joke in the 1980s, Wrightson said, “I think it was something I’d been waiting for all my life. I’d been trying to draw the Joker, but I just couldn’t get it right. So this was my chance to draw the character the way I always dreamed of drawing him.”
The collaboration between Wrightson and Robin was invaluable. The artist had originally sought out the help of a professional editor prior to working on The Killing Joke. But he found the experience to be so rewarding that he decided to go through with it and see what all the fuss was about. According to Robin, the two had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas and came up with an innovative way to present the material, using a mosaic-like layout, which they had never tried before and had always found difficult to master.