Friday, July 10, 2015

Frankly Speaking Too!

Frank Robbins is an artist about whom fans have strong feelings, and alas most of those that I detect are negative. Robbins in his earliest days was a comic strip artist of the Milt Caniff school who took over Scorchy Smith and later created his own strip Johnny Hazard.

Frank Robbins at work.

Some years later he started working for DC mostly as a writer which is how I first thought of him when I found the name in credits. The work he did there I most remember was his outstanding work on several issues of The Shadow. Most today, myself included laud the Mike Kaluta work done in the earliest issues, but the Robbins material in the later issues is just as vigorous in its own way. The covers are knockouts.

He also did some great Batman work, mostly as a writer but sometimes as an artist too. Here are some splash pages featuring his distinctive take on the Dark Knight.

After he came to Marvel he worked on many projects including Ghost Rider, Morbius the Living Vampire, and even the memorable Legion of Monsters one-shot.

He had a sturdy run on The Human Fly, Marvel's offbeat hero who they argued was "real" because the character was based on a daredevil who wore the costume and performed around the country. He rarely looked more alive than when Robbins rendered him.

Robbins also had a good run on Captain America and The Falcon just before Jack "King" Kirby returned to Marvel and the character he co-created. Doubtless the work most remembered by Robbins for Marvel was his lengthy run on The Invaders, the WWII series in which the authentic details Robbins brought to the pages really paid off.

Robbins is weirdly responsible it seems for launching Frank Miller onto the comic masses. He'd been assigned Daredevil as his regular book  but left the series and comics completely after a single issue. Frank Miller, an up and comer at the time was brought in to take the helm of DD's book and the comics world never has been quite the same.

The last comic book page by Frank Robbins?

Frank Robbins then moved to Mexico where by all reports, he lived quite happily apart from comics painting until the day he died. To see some of his paintings go here.

Robbins is controversial it seems, but there's no doubt in my mind that his vibrant pages filled up with action and energy are superior to most of the lifeless images I see sprawled across the tepid pages of today's comics. A cartoonist's job is not to present reality but to distort it and then ask you to understand as a reader what that means. I liked the way Frank Robbins distorted reality.

Rip Off


  1. I think it would not be far off the mark to say I was frankly appalled at Frank Robbins art when I first saw it which if I recall correctly may have been with issue 7 of the "Shadow" ( despite that amazing cover, which I liked even at the time) However I quite liked some of his House of Mystery etc work (and Plop) But through the years I really started to like Franks work to the point where I now avidly will pick up anything with his art in it, it is so animated and feels fresh (to me at least) his "Man from Atlantis" work is excellent as is some of his Marvel black and white work on Dracula Lives etc . Its good to read that artists like Bruce Timm and many others hold Frank Robbins in such high regard it took me a while to appreciate him but Im glad I stuck in there,

    1. I distinctly remember thinking that Alan Kupperberg's work was somewhat neater and closer to what I considered ideal superhero work when he took over. I didn't dislike Robbins by any means, liked him even, but oddly preferred Kupperberg. As good as he can be, I see no real comparison between the two of them now, Robbins is clearly more sophisticated and a much more dramatic storyteller. We learn as we go I guess.

      I'd forgotten he'd done Man From Atlantis. Thanks for the reminder.

      Rip Off

  2. His DC work. where he was able to ink himself and was assigned more noirish subjects, seemed more successful. Marvel went through phases where they asked inkers to "fix" (dilute) the work of distinctive artists like Robbins. And of course the art in Johnny Hazard is just fantastic.

  3. Count me among those who didn't appreciate his least I didn't until he started drawing The Invaders. His art fit that series. I remember when the Rich Buckler issue came out with the Red Skull. I was excited when I opened it up and read the credits, but was ultimately disappointed with the results.

    In retrospect, I think his work was better with DC, too, when he was allowed to ink his own pencils. I really liked his dark and gritty take on Batman.

  4. I agree that the Shadow covers are the best I have seen of that chracter. I can"t describe the attraction maybe the Noir aspect of the subject.


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