11 December 2011

Robinson’s Visual Inspiration for Robin

In further honor of the late Jerry Robinson, this weekly Robin quotes from his 2004-05 interview by Gary Groth for The Comics Journal on the character design for Robin:
We had a long list of about 30 names, and we kept adding others. The names are very important for the characters. Bill  [Finger] was very specific about that, as well as Bob [Kane]. Most of the names, as I recall, were of mythological origin — Mercury and others. None of them sounded right to me, or to anybody, because we never agreed on any one.

My reservation was that I thought that it should be a name that evoked an image of a real kid. He didn’t have superpowers, nor did Batman. That was what distinguished it from Superman and the other superheroes. I thought the boy should be the same. And thinking of a more human name, I came up with Robin because the adventures of Robin Hood were boyhood favorites of mine.

I had been given a Robin Hood book illustrated by N. C. Wyeth — I think it was a 10th or 12th birthday present. It was a big, very handsome book for the time, very elaborate because it had full-color illustrations, maybe a dozen throughout the book. It was the full text with full-plate tip-ins. I remembered those because I had pored over them so many times as a kid.

I had a vision of Robin Hood just as Wyeth drew him in his costume, and that’s what I quickly sketched out when I suggested [the name] Robin, which they seemed to like, and then showed them the costume. And if you look at it, it’s Wyeth’s costume, from my memory, because I didn’t have the book to look at. But it is pretty accurate: the fake mail pants, the red vest, upon which I added the little “R” to correspond with Batman’s bat on his chest.

When I started to letter the strip, every legend I did started off with a little round drop-out white letter. So I thought of that for the vest.
Now in fact I don’t see many elements of the Robin costume in Wyeth’s paintings, particularly the one most often cited as inspiration: “Robin Meets Maid Marian,” shown at right above. Certainly the “fake mail pants” don’t show up many places before Detective Comics, #38.

But I think the title-page illustration at top, showing young Robin Hood learning to shoot, must have been in Robinson’s head. For one thing, it shows the hero as a boy wonder. And although the garments are quite different from what Robin would wear, the silhouette is rather similar: short boots with flared ankles, smooth legs from ankle to upper thigh, jerkin extending below the belt, puffed upper sleeves looking like short sleeves. And, of course, emblems on the chest.

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