Monday, April 27, 2009

THE BRONZE MINE UNEARTHED: FRANK ROBBINS!



If I were to write a coffee table-book biography on the enigmatic artist FRANK ROBBINS, I'd call it "Love It or Hate It: The Art of Frank Robbins."

That's because Frank Robbins has always been a polarizing figure in the annals of Marvel. People flat out either loved his style or despised it, and the proof is all over the letters pages of THE INVADERS, THE HUMAN FLY, GHOST RIDER, LUKE CAGE, CAPTAIN AMERICA and other titles he ran stints on. Given the two camps, I belonged to the former. I loved his anatomically incorrect, funky-posed superheroes and his Flash-paced action, the best combo being the two Franks: Robbins inked by Springer. Robbins was no prim and perfect Neal Adams, photo-realistically rendered and almost static at times...his work was high-octane, breakneck-speed fun and trashy, in the best, B-comic sense. You didn't stick a Robbins comic in a mylar and mount it on your wall, you rolled it up in your back pocket and took it with you wherever you went. Yes, Frank Robbins had soul.



If you read his INVADERS, his Captain America had the bluest eyes, and his Union Jack was so distinguished and majestic. He also brought his A-game to B-level books like HUMAN FLY and turned those issues into secret treasures. (For the behind-the-scenes on the making of THE HUMAN FLY series, read my article in BACK ISSUE! # 20, available through TwoMorrows.com). Thankfully, he also did that one issue of LEGION OF MONSTERS (MARVEL PREMIERE), in which we got to see him do Ghost Rider again...and Werewolf By Night!



For no other reason than just because, behold the Bronze Age art of Frank Robbins!

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Robbins's stuff wasn't bad, but it was bad for superheroes in the '70s era, in my humble opinion...
When he took over for Mike Kaluta on the SHADOW, I found it easy to keep my sheckels in my pocket. His INVADERS work likewise was not something I needed to check out on a regular or irregular basis. To be fair, he was a cartoon strip kinda guy, and his stuff was better suited for some adventure strip...which he probably did at some point in his career.

Greenblatt the Great! said...

I totally agree with you regarding THE SHADOW, I didn't dig his work on that series. Mike Kaluta, Berni Wrightson practically owned that character, and Robbins' art was too lightweight for that kind of character, turned the book into TERRY AND THE PIRATES or something. His Batman stuff was OK, and while he WROTE some issues of UNKNOWN SOLDIER, I would've much preferred he drew the stuff. A perfect character for Robbins' sensibilities, in my opinion.

I totally dug his INVADERS work though. He and Springer made that series totally oddball and exaggerated, and he seemed to take some glee in mocking the Natzhees with his caricatures....

Robert Boyd said...

I'm going to repost what I posted over at Heidi McDonald's blog... Frank Robbins started in comics in 1939 (working on Scorchy Smith) then had his own “Terry and the Pirates”/”Scorch Smith” knock-off “Johnny Hazard” which started in 1944 and ran until 1977 I think. Later in his career, he churned out numerous weird (but to my eyes, compelling) issues of The Invaders, Man From Atlantis, Ghost Rider, etc., as well as creating the character Man-Bat. I love “Johnny Hazard” and generally think Robbins has been grossly under-rated. He was a workhorse with a unique “mutant Milton Caniff” style.

It's probably just me, but I will take Frank Robbins over two Michael Kalutas any day (even though Kaluta is a lovely person and a good creator of single images). Robbins stood out from the bland Buscema/Buscema/Romita axis that kind of defines Marvel in the 70s to me.

Johnny B said...

The Shadow was the first place I ever saw Robbins' work. I was a stone Kaluta fan, even back then at age 13- he's still one of my top five favorites. Anyway, as you can imagine, I was not pleased at the abrupt, sudden change from Kaluta's lithe 30's recreations to Robbins' herky-jerky, awkward Sickles/Caniff style. It was just too different, with no explanation, which made it worse (even though Robbins did draw #5, before Kaluta's swan song in #6). However, a funny thing happened- I kept buying anyway because I loved the character, and I got used to Robbins' style, to the point where I liked seeing it when I'd run across the odd horror or Batman story he did for DC back then. To this day, I remain a fan of his sharp and lively storytelling skills.

That said, I didn't follow him to Marvel when he started doing Invaders, but it was more because Thomas' hamfisted nostalgia act gave me a headache.

Anyway, good on you for shining a spotlight on Mr. Robbins' work. However, I'm not so sure he did that Marvel Premiere/Spotlight "Legion of Monsters" cover from which that detail of the Werewolf By Night comes; I believe that was Ed Hannigan. Robbins did the interior.

Anonymous said...

Frank Robbins in the '70's to me is kind of like Kirby in the '70's - fully revelling in the uniqeness of the comic book form - every panel full of action - not even trying to draw anatomically perfect fashion model superheroes but making everything explode off the page and every emotion over the top. I have revisited the Robbins / Springer Invaders issues lately after twenty years away from them and I find them tremendously cool.

Greenblatt the Great! said...

I can sympathize with aspects of all of the above comments. As I’m probably younger than some of you, I missed the early-‘70s boat with THE SHADOW (got those years later) and began collecting Robbins in the mid- to late-‘70s in the pages of HUMAN FLY and THE INVADERS. Only in more recent years, I’ve become aware of Robbins’ JOHNNY HAZARD stuff. So my taste probably runs generational…
(By the way, as junkie a series as HUMAN FLY may sound to even some hardcore Robbins fans, I highly recommend the series as a showcase for the art of Robbins/Springer and Lee Elias, all of INVADERS fame. It’s fun, lightweight stuff. I wrote about and interviewed talent related to HUMAN FLY at length in my first article for BACK ISSUE! magazine, back in BI # 20...see www.TwoMorrows.com for the 4-1-1).
I definitely went through a stage where I kind of rejected artists such as Robbins and Aparo and Kirby and Ditko and other stylists who did not draw in a realistic style. That lasted exactly 10 minutes during my teens when I was learning how to draw and trying to draw as realistically as possible, and, therefore, admired the likes of more “realistic” artists such as Neal Adams and John Byrne and Bill Sienkiewicz. Then one day, I got over that phase and realized I preferred the funky, offbeat stylists---artists with as much soul and individuality as chops---over the realists (although I still dig Adams, Byrne and Sienkiewicz to some degree). They had more flair and they were great storytellers. It’s led me to appreciate even some artists considered more generic, such as Don Perlin, George Tuska, Sal Buscema and today’s birthday boy Dick Ayers, all of whom are solid, no-nonsense storytellers. One guy I really dig who draws and inks in the Robbins quasi-cartoony mold is Gerry Talaoc, who worked on THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER.
(On an aside, I think Gene Colan cuts both ways, as realist and stylist. He somehow manages to be both in one).
If there’s one thing all of the comments on this Robbins post prove, it’s indeed how polarizing Robbins was. One thing’s for sure, it’s hard to be indifferent to the way Robbins interpreted Marvel/DC characters in his quasi-cartoony style. You either dug it or he rubbed you the wrong way, and sometimes both at once. Kind of like one of those love/hate, on-again/off-again relationship or something. This guy got people hot and bothered. His style definitely stood out from the pack.

joecab said...

It's funny, my first introduction to Frank Robbins was in the Invaders, and I thought he drew that way on purpose to make it look like a 1940's book!

Boy was I surprised when I saw his first work outside of that book ... no matter. Invaders was a great book, and I quickly warmed up to his style. It's tough finding a style this unique in standard comic books anymore.

Greenblatt the Great! said...

INVADERS was definitely a fun book, thanks to Robbins, not to mention Kirby, who did a mess of great INVADERS covers. My favorite is # 6 with the Red Skull looming over the city. That's problems. Nice touch with the bonds banner:

http://www.coverbrowser.com/covers/invaders

On Smash said...

Hello

Came here via The Beat

One of the few comics I used to collect was the Invaders, & it took me a while to appreciate Robbins' art work. His eye for details was amazing & for my money the best run was the Baron Blood/Union Jack storyline.

Greenblatt the Great! said...

Robbins is definitely an acquired taste.

I also liked the Jacob Goldstein/Golem storyline, the capture of Biljo White, the Master Man/Warrior Woman stuff. And of course Agent Axis, he of the very ridiculous origin and very cool design. Fun books, those INVADERS....At least until Robbins left the building.

Mark Tague said...

I was so going to post a long comment, but then I read Greenblatt the Great!'s post and realized it would be entirely redundant. Very nice, Greenblatt. You hit all the points. I do love the various non-house style artists that made it into the Marvel 70's comics. Story telling trumps "realism".

Greenblatt the Great! said...

I agree with you, Mark: "Story telling trumps 'realism.'"

And I used "realism" in quotes because in hindsight, guys like Bill Sienkiewicz and John Byrne, while more realistic artists than Kirby and Ditko, are still pretty stylized.

Jeff Durham said...

As a lad I felt there was something weird about Robbins' artwork but I thought it was very cool-- now, I think he's absolutely top-notch. I get a little tear in my eye when I recall buying the Invaders, Devil Dinosaur and Shade the Changing Man off the same rack a couple of times. Not to wallow in nostalgia but those were the days-- well, that's nostalgia-wallowing if I've ever seen it. Still.

It's great to see him admired out loud.

Anonymous said...

Robbins was a great storyteller. His panel design and placement of figures was quite dynamic. We used to go over his stuff at the Buscema Workshop in NYC. Dave Simons was a great admirer of his work and we used to review that stuff panel by panel. By the way - (and I'm sure I'm biased)- Buscema's work was never bland! :)

Greenblatt the Great! said...

I personally never thought Sal Buscema's art was bland but I think there are legions of Marvelites who did. At the very least, he never really got the acclaim of his brother John. And his sketchy latter-day style on PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN grated some people I knew.

That said, as talented and technically superior as John Buscema may have been, I've probably read and enjoyed more of Sal's work. PETER PARKER and ROM: SPACEKNIGHT alone, before that THE INCREDIBLE HULK and, some of his tightest work ever, on CAPTAIN AMERICA with Steve Englehart. Fun stuff! Go, Sal, go!

In related news, you Sal freaks out there must be aware that TwoMorrows.com will be putting out a book devoted to Sal in the near future. It's all up on their site.

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Joplin John said...

"Ham-fisted nostalgia"?? What a fucking douche bag!

Johnny B said...

Yeah. Just my opinion, and you know what they're like.