GROTH: You got married during the time you were drawing Jet Scott.
ROBINSON: Yes, I guess I did.
GROTH: You started Jet Scott as a single man and you finished it as a married man.
ROBINSON: You know more about me than I do!
GROTH: I thought it was interesting that Wally Wood was your best man at your wedding.
ROBINSON: That’s right.
GROTH: Were you two good pals?
ROBINSON: Very good. We were close friends.
GROTH: Can you tell me where you met Wood?
ROBINSON: I think I was president of the National Cartoonist Society when Wally first joined.
GROTH: That would have been about when?
ROBINSON: That would have been ’68, I think.
GROTH: But you obviously knew Wood prior to ’54.
ROBINSON: Oh, yes.
GROTH: That must have been in the early ’50s.
ROBINSON: Quite possibly. We soon found out, whenever I did meet him, that he lived very near me, only blocks away. So I’d see him often. I got to know his wife at the time, Tatiana. [My wife] Gro and I became very good friends with them both.
GROTH: I assume you socialized, went out to dinner?
ROBINSON: Yes, we did that. He’d have parties at his apartment. I remembered going there and just talking about work and life. We never collaborated professionally, but I had a great admiration for his work, and also for him. He was a very sweet, gentle guy, really — a little bit troubled, even then, but not to the extent he later became.
GROTH: I was going to say, he obviously had a darker side.
ROBINSON: Yes. I knew it from time to time.
GROTH: Friendships require a certain mutual affinity. What was it about Wood that you liked so much or that propelled you into a friendship?
ROBINSON: I just liked him. He was very honest and generous. He was very dedicated to his work and was, as you know, an extraordinary artist. And I liked Tatiana, as Gro did. We had work in common and our general views of life. Philosophy.
GROTH: And they were compatible?
ROBINSON: Very compatible. Yeah. Found him easy to talk to and just thought of him as a good person and a good friend. I always felt that if there was anything I needed or wanted and if he could help he would be there.
GROTH: Based on what I know of both of your careers, and what I know of both of you, you obviously navigated the real world of publishing and business and so forth better than he did.
ROBINSON: I suppose so.
GROTH: Which would indicate that you were far more pragmatic. Pragmatic is not the word that I would use to describe Wally Wood. That would be one difference between you.
ROBINSON: I guess … I think those things didn’t interest him as much. He had his own world that he lived in.
GROTH: A bit insular then?
ROBINSON: Yes. So in reflection I can see that. I think generally he was a passive/aggressive person. He had that split personality.
GROTH: I gather that you didn’t stay as close to him later as you were during that period?
ROBINSON: No. I know for years I didn’t see that much of him. I don’t know if he moved or I did.
GROTH: You two just drifted apart?
ROBINSON: Yeah, because we got absorbed in different things. At that time during the ‘60s, and for over 20 years, we spent three or four months a year at Cape Cod and I would work there during the summer. That might have been part of it. I remember one time I was at the Cape when he called to tell me he was getting married again.
GROTH: Would that have been in the ’60s or ’70s?
ROBINSON: Well, it could have been.
GROTH: Was he ever with you at Cape Cod?
ROBINSON: I’d have to ask Gro. I wouldn’t be surprised if he visited us there on occasion. Most of our friends and family did at one time or another but I can’t remember specifically.
GROTH: What did you do after you quit Jet Scott? You did some illustration work illustrating books?
ROBINSON: For a good long period I was illustrating books. I think I did 30-odd books, a few that I collaborated on or wrote and the rest I illustrated. For most of the major publishers. I enjoyed that, too. I didn’t have the immediate deadlines of comic books or comic strips. I could devote more time to the art and the research. I was able to study the top illustrators, which I admired. People like Robert Fawcett and others in the past.
GROTH: You also illustrated a series of biographies.
GROTH: Mozart …
ROBINSON: Right. Lincoln, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Annie Oakley, Lou Gehrig, many others — and science, history, and children’s books.
GROTH: Were these for book publishers?
ROBINSON: Yes. Many, among them Simon & Schuster, Scholastic, Merrill, Harpers, Putnam, Fawcett, Little Brown, McGraw Hill, and others.
GROTH: Now how would you get gigs like that?
ROBINSON: Well, I had a book agent at that time. Jon Nielson was a very prolific illustrator who taught at SVA at the same time I did. I met Jon there. We became very close friends. He was living in Dobb’s Ferry at that time. Anyway, Jon taught illustration, not cartooning. As I say, he and his family became really close friends. We spent Christmas and Thanksgiving together and things like that. So Jon introduced me to his agent. That’s how I got into those gigs. She represented me.
Die, Lassie, Die!
GROTH: In the early ’60s you returned to comics. You did work for Dell.
ROBINSON: Well, I did some work for them even while I was doing the book illustration.
GROTH: Let me finish this off by asking you a little bit about your stint with Dell, which was also known as Western Publishing, I think. You did one of your favorite comics for them, Lassie.
ROBINSON: [Laughs.] You’re kidding.
GROTH: You’re on the record as hating that strip. And you did Bat Masterson, which was a TV show.
GROTH: And Rocky, which I guess is from Rocky and Bullwinkle?
ROBINSON: Yeah. I think I only did one Rocky book or one story. I think somebody once picked that up in the list of my credits. As I recall, one summer I wanted to take something with me. I think that summer I spent in Kennebunkport, Maine. I was in the office one day at Western. The editor was either Matt Murphy or Wally Green. They were two very nice guys. I think I just spotted the Rocky thing and said, “Gee, that would be fun to do. Maybe I’ll do a story for you this summer,” and they said, “O.K. Fine.” I always loved to do humor anyway. The writing I did at college and high school was mostly humor. They were short stories, but mostly humor. So I took the one assignment story, which I wrote and drew just to pay for the summer.
GROTH: An easy job.
GROTH: I think you did Lassie first and then Bat Masterson for Dell. How did you ever get sucked into doing Lassie?
ROBINSON: God, I don’t know, in retrospect. It seemed a good idea at the time.
GROTH: But you actually did it for two years.
ROBINSON: I don’t know how I held out for that long.
GROTH: The main problem was you hated drawing the dog?
ROBINSON: Yeah. I didn’t like the dog and the stories were …
GROTH: I assume they were insipid.
ROBINSON: Insipid. They also were repetitious. How many times can you have a dog rescue somebody from a burning fire? I used to try to invent ways of not drawing Lassie while I was drawing him. If he had to run across the field to a burning barn, I’d have him run through a wheat field or high grass, where you only saw his tail.
GROTH: That’s pretty good.
ROBINSON: Coming into the room, you just see his nose coming around the corner. I remember the last story I wrote, as a gag, there was a series of arson fires — burning farmhouses, burning barns and other acts of arson. At the end the culprit was revealed: It was Lassie! Strangely enough they didn’t let me publish that one.
GROTH: Well, that sounds like torture, that two years. Do you remember who wrote the stuff?
ROBINSON: God no. I have no idea.
GROTH: You were just given scripts?
ROBINSON: Yeah. I liked Bat Masterson, though, because I loved to draw Westerns. That was fun. The stories were more varied and dramatic. Of course, I always loved cowboys as a kid. Tom Mix was my hero, and Ken Maynard and Tom Tyler and all of those Western heroes. The settings were interesting: the landscape, the frontier towns, bars, clothes, horses, villains, all the lore of the best of the West. I enjoyed doing it.
GROTH: Of course they had to be better written.
ROBINSON: Yes. I’m sure they were better written. Or if they weren’t I’d tighten them up or made them more visual.
GROTH: Was it the same situation where you were basically just handed scripts?
ROBINSON: Yeah, as I recall. I didn’t write any of them.
GROTH: How much latitude were you given to change things when you were in the drawing stage?
ROBINSON: Well, I always felt I had wide latitude. I think I would have had conflicts and maybe not continued if I didn’t. There were always things to improve and I felt that the writers were my collaborators. When I could improve the script, I did, from a story sense and visual sense. I think Stan Lee was particularly forgiving in that regard. I don’t remember showing him anything before I handed in the finished story.
GROTH: The work you did in the ’50s and early ’60s, the work you did for Atlas and Jet Scott, and the work you did for Dell, you inked all of that work yourself, right?
ROBINSON: Most of it, although from time to time I had a good assistant. They were all students of mine who, when they were that good, I would hire them as assistants. Several of them became my partners.
GROTH: Who would they be?
ROBINSON: One was Bob Forgione, who you should know.
ROBINSON: He had a brief but very important career, I think. He was exceptional. I hired Bob right from the class. He became a very close friend, too. As I say, he became a partner. We did a lot of books together. He went off into commercial work for advertising agencies. You know, comic-book work is perfect training to do storyboards for TV. So he was a particularly good visualizer. I must say he was with me a long time and I think we both improved a lot during our association. When he started to get freelance work for television — because they were paying very well — advertising agencies, rather. They quickly made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. They made him art director. In fact, that’s what Mort went into and was equally adept in TV. They were able to make five times the amount in advertising as they did in comics because they were so fast and so good at visualizing storyboards. They made Bob a vice president and they put him in charge of their whole Southeast Asian operation. They bought him a home in Indonesia, with servants and a car. So we lost a good man there.
GROTH: But for a good reason.
ROBINSON: Yeah, he was excellent.
GROTH: Do you remember anyone else?
ROBINSON: Yeah. There was John Langton. He was very good and was an assistant for some years. He went off to do some syndicated things of his own. Steve Flanagan was with me the longest period of time — an incredible talent. Today, he’s a very fine painter and has had many gallery exhibits. He’s also the art director for a big publishing house. He became my art director when I first started the Cartoonists and Writers Syndicate and was my assistant for a long time before that. I think of Steve as a son.
GROTH: What would these assistants exactly do? How participatory were they in the work?
ROBINSON: I remember Bob was a very good inker. That’s what I first hired him to do from school. A lot of the comic-book work when I got overloaded, he would do the inking, or a good part of it. I think that’s where I got most of the help. I continued to do the layouts and penciling and more or less of the inking. Once I started the syndicate and the studio, Steve was A.D. and there were a lot of other things to do: promotion, designing advertising and so forth. Both Steve and I wore a lot of hats.