Tuesday, December 27, 2011

FRANK ROBBINS 1917-1994 by Dylan Williams

As a young kid growing up in the 70's I can think of only a hand full of comic artists who's styles I recognized and looked for ... Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Herb Trimpe, Alex Toth and most of all Frank Robbins. The Invaders, Captain America, Ghost Rider, and (above all) the Human Fly, were some of my favorite comics as a kid, and one man made them look the way they did.

Only in adulthood did I find out that this above average "superhero artist" had been one of the real, greats of the newspaper adventure strips and the comics medium in general. He began drawing strips instead of making money from serious artforms.

His first job, in 1939, was drawing Scorchy Smith (an aviation hero strip once drawn by Noel Sickles). At first Robbins didn't write it, but after eight months he was doing it all. He continued with Scorchy until 1944 when he was hired by a rival syndicate to draw his own version of Scorchy: Johnny Hazard.

At first Johnny Hazard did seem like just another clone in the world of strips (although the drawing was, of course, nearly without peer). Soon the story began to prove it's own though. The stories and art became intensely moody and subtle. Pictures of sad dead bodies lying in the bleak snows of Eurasia. To me, his pictures/words are like the best of German Expressionism.

His life from there seemed prosperous and healthy, but thanks to the messed up world we live in, Robbins art suffered. He was told by editors to tighten up his art to look more like the slicksters of the day. And like a good commercial artist, he did it. While his drawing ability was never (could never be) lost, his vitality was. The strip Johnny Hazard was drawn until 1977 by Robbins (and probably assistants). He began drawing comic books in the 1960's and continued until the late 70's. His comics are great (really great), but the run of Johnny Hazard from 1944 to the mid-50's are some of the greatest stuff ever done in comics. Setting a standard that the rest of us will aspire to, but only once in a lifetime (if we're lucky) achieve.

Thank you Frank Robbins. Rest in Peace.


  1. Originally published in Destroy All Comics V.2 #2, February 1994

  2. There's a new, hardcover collection of the Johnny Hazard daily newspaper strips, publshied by Hermes Press. The first volume is available now, with a second volume scheduled to be released in August 2012.

    The comicsreporter.com website had this to say when the book was released, "I have no idea if this has been out before. In fact, I'm not even sure who's out there to buy Johnny Hazard collections for $50 a pop. But I guess it happens, because there it is."

    The 288 page collection is currently available on Amazon for $27.70