The finest collection of original art from the Golden Age of American comic books belongs to Jerry Robinson, the talented and thoughtful artist from the early days of Batman. Many pieces from his astounding archive were plucked from studio trash bins back in the 1940s when he was a young artist in a new publishing sector.
Since Februrary, some of the finest of those artifacts have been at the Skirball Cultural Center in an exhibit called “ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938–1950” that is a must-see for fans of American pop-culture, especially now in this era of super-hero cinema. Here’s the blurb from the museum directory:
Included with Museum admission (tickets at the door): $10 General; $7 Seniors and Full-Time Students; $5 Children 2–12; Free to Members and Children under 2; Free to all on Thursdays
Through never-before exhibited art and objects culled from private and institutional collections, “ZAP! POW! BAM! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950″ explores the genesis of cultural icons such as Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman. In the midst of the economic and political turmoil of the 1930s and 1940s, comic books offered America champions who shaped the values of an entire generation. ZAP! POW! BAM! examines the creative processes and influences that drove young Jewish artists to express their talents through the storylines and art of comic books. The exhibition features rare vintage artwork and books, 1940s Hollywood movie serials, and colorful interactive displays including a drawing studio, a newsstand, a vintage Batmobile ride, and stations that allow children to dress up as Superheroes or transform themselves via a quick costume change in a telephone booth. Guest curator Jerry Robinson brings a long history as a comic book industry insider to the exhibition. Working with Batman co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Robinson named Robin, Batman’s young protégé. Robinson also co-created The Joker, Batman’s nemesis and one of the first Super-Villains.
I give the exhibit my highest recommendation (the only bad thing about it is the corny name) and hope i get a chance to drop by for a second visit before it moves on. If I could have any piece in the collection for my own home? Tough question but I’d pick either Fred Ray’s iconic cover art to “Superman” No. 14, shown above, or Robinson’s brilliant cover to “Detective Comics” No. 69, shown below, which shows a spectral Joker materializing out of the stygian darkness with two guns and a malicious cackle. It’s a rare treat to see these pieces up close and one you shouldn’t miss.
– Geoff Boucher
CREDITS: Artwork courtesy of Jerry Robinson and the Skirball. Chracters trademarks of DC Comics.