Anytime I visited New York, I would pay homage to Jerry Robinson at his Riverside studio in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River. Walls of his apartment were adorned with original drawings of his and other priceless or autographed originals from other great cartoonists and comic artists. He would also allow me to use his facilities. And sometimes arrange hotel bookings for me.
The last time I was at his apartment, I had dinner with him prepared by his lovely wife Gro. He would point at the beautiful sunset over the Hudson River and allow me to use his studio facilities to do my work away from home.
He always seemed busy. On this particular visit, he was on the phone negotiating a deal that had to do with his character creation The Joker. It was tense, but later after a long telephone conversation he was relieved that it had been resolved.
Everyone has written about his passing. Its big news internationally and when TV stations like CNN and the BBC report about it, you know that this was a superstar making headlines. I prefer to write about his passing as an African and Nigerian cartoonist who had the opportunity of knowing him for many years. Through his Cartoonists & Writers syndicate, many African cartoonists had the opportunity to have their cartoons syndicated by CWS in the U.S. and internationally.
I am the first African and Nigerian to be syndicated regularly in the U.S. I was not greedy but thankful that an opportunity had arisen. Jerry was fond of me and took me to be his son. He would advise me earlier on in our professional friendship how to improve my work to make it more international. He sent me my first syndicate contract in Nigeria and made me understand the importance of a contract. One day he said he was quite impressed with my cartoons, and then I knew I had improved vastly. I needed to because he bent over backwards to market my work internationally.
In the beginning, he would ask me to courier my editorial cartoons for syndication by FEDEX as CWS had an account with them. Later on I would send my cartoons by emails as it became easier and quicker to do so.
Jerry introduced my drawings on Black History OUR ROOTS to the U.S. readers. It wasn’t a format in line with political cartoons he syndicated but gave it a shot and the response was very good in US newspapers. OUR ROOTS was also syndicated in the Bermuda Sun newspaper and Florida’s The News Sentinel newspaper. The day Jerry called to say he was ready to syndicate OUR ROOTS, it was like winning the lottery.
Jerry would always take me around at NCS Reuben Award weekends to introduce me to mostly his colleagues in the profession and many of whom are now my friends. “TAYO he would say….Have you met so so and so…let me introduce you”. His introduction made many pay attention to me and my work and I was taken seriously knowing where I was coming from. I have cultivated the skill to introduce people at events to one another as well. Jerry had rubbed off on me.
Jerry introduced me also to NATIONAL CARTOONISTS SOCIETY and that’s how I became an international member. Jerry would also ask if I would like to sit at the same dinner table with him and his wife at the Reuben Awards night in which I would gladly say yes to. It was a great honor.
I loved calling him across the Atlantic and sometimes to ask how he was as he got older and frail. Through it all he was strong. Jerry would always call me anytime he was in the UK and we would arrange to meet up. The last time he visited the UK with his son Jens to attend a Comic convention in London. He would make sure that he contacted me. He was such a humble person. I never saw him upset. I’ve had reunion with my former Joe Kubert school days teachers such as Hy Eisman, Jose Delbo and Sal Amendola due to being with Jerry and professionals such as Graham Nolan and Rob Smith Jr. I also got to meet other cartoonists, and in particular Daryl Cagle, through Jerry.
Jerry and I last met in Jersey City and sat together at the NCS Awards night dinner table with the legendary Joe Kubert and my former tutor Hy Eisman. We gave each other a very big hug as we departed for our separate destinations. I knew I was saying good-bye. It was emotional. He had lived life and helped many cartoonists from around the world including some African cartoonists. Someone in one tribute said he was generous. He was. He took me from being a local Nigerian cartoonist to being an international Nigerian cartoonist. It was also advantageous that I had attended the Kubert Comic Art School in Dover New Jersey. Jerry and Joe Kubert, founder of The Kubert School were good friends.
Africans are very appreciative and I’ll like to continue in that tradition by saying Thank you Mr Jerry Robinson.