Cartoonist Who Created the Joker Discusses 'The Dark Knight'

Article excerpt

The actor who plays the Joker in a blockbuster 2008 movie is gone. The cartoonist who created the Joker in 1939 is still around.

He's Jerry Robinson, and he thinks the late Heath Ledger's acting turn in "The Dark Knight" is "a tour de force."

"A brilliant performance," said Robinson, 86, when E&P reached him by phone at the currently running Comic-Con in San Diego. "Very nuanced. The Joker is psychotic, but you believe in Heath's portrayal."

How does Ledger's portrayal of the supervillain compare with Jack Nicholson's hammy turn in the 1989 "Batman" film? "They're really different," replied Robinson, who has also had a long career in newspaper cartooning and syndication. "Nicholson made him kind of a mad terrorist. It wasn't exactly the most interesting view of him. It was more of a satirical, TV take on the Joker -- though it was a great performance."

Robinson said the way "The Dark Knight" and Ledger portray the Joker is closer to the way the character was conceived nearly 70 years ago. Back then, Robinson was a teenage Columbia University journalism student working on comic books with "Batman" co-creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger. (The name of Batman sidekick Robin was inspired by Robin Hood, not Jerry's last name.)

For "The Dark Knight," Robinson served as "creative consultant." He was on the set of the movie last fall in London, after filming moved from Chicago.

Robinson recalled that the scene in which the Joker threw the Rachel Dawes character (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) out a window was first shot in Chicago and then finished in London -- where Batman (played by Christian Bale) saves Rachel before she hits the ground. Robinson joked that being thrown out of a window in America and landing in another continent is quite a feat.

The cartoonist also said the movie makeup of Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent/Two-Face) was digital, not actually applied to his face. "I spent a lot of time on the set with the makeup artist, and she didn't mention him," recalled Robinson. "Now I know why!"

Bale, recalled Robinson, "was an interesting guy" to talk with on the London set. "Very literate and articulate," said the cartoonist. (Bale has since landed in some hot water with this week's report of his arrest for allegedly assaulting his mother and sister; the actor denies the charges.)

Robinson didn't meet Ledger in London; the actor had finished his Joker scenes and flown back to the U.S. at that point. Ledger died this January in New York City of an apparent drug overdose.

"It's such a tragedy," said Robinson, who added that there had been plans for he and Ledger to get together in New York.

The cartoonist did see various "Dark Knight" actors at last week's New York premiere of the movie. They included Bale again, Gary Oldman (who played Lt. James Gordon in the film), and Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth). Robinson said Caine was so good in the role of the butler to Bruce Wayne -- aka Batman -- that he'd like to see the character focused on in another movie. …