Interview: The Joker’s Maker Tackles The Man Who Laughs

By - August 5, 2009

Dr. Travis Langley (Papa Llama - right) thanks Jerry for many things.

Dr. Travis Langley (Papa Llama - right) thanks Jerry for many things.

Pre-Comic-Con discussion in preparation for panel, “Is the Joker a Psychopath? You Decide!”
Continued from
part one: Meet the Joker’s Maker, Jerry Robinson.

After describing how he created the character and discussing the character’s nature, Jerry asked for our thoughts about the Joker. We discussed how the character had never been treated as criminally insane until the early 1970s, which may actually have limited him by pinning him with any specific defining term. Insanity also became a handy explanation for why the Joker didn’t get executed. Back in earlier stories, the Joker had gotten executed in a story titled “The Joker Walks the Last Mile,” thereby paying the penalty for his crimes to appease the new Comics Code Authority (only to be revived by his henchmen and temporarily become a free man on grounds of double jeopardy), but didn’t kill again for the next two decades. Once writer Denny O’Neil had the character start killing again in 1973’s “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge” (Batman #251), the comics began using the term “criminally insane.”

Jerry: There again, that shows the progression and adaptation of the character’s use. [Because the Joker’s motivations are unclear, it makes people wonder about him.] Well, that’s good. As far as story-wise.

We discussed how the fact that the character makes us ask those questions indicates that they should not be answered. When you answer the questions, the character loses some of the mystery.

Jerry: It becomes too mundane.

Jerry Robinson talks. Robin Rosenberg, Michael Uslan, Adam West, Travis Langley listen.

Jerry Robinson talks. Robin Rosenberg, Michael Uslan, Adam West, Travis Langley listen.

Jerry: There was a story that’s been repeated that the look of the Joker came from Conrad Veidt.

Travis: From The Man Who Laughs.

Jerry: The Man Who Laughs, yes. Well, it’s true and not true. What actually happened was, Bob and I never heard of The Man Who Laughs before Bill brought it up. Bill was an aficionado of offbeat films, German Expressionism. Conrad was a well known German actor who carried that kind of aura with him. In that first meeting when I showed them that sketch of the Joker, Bill said it reminded him of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. That was the first mention of it. He said, “I’ll show you,” and in a day or two he found a clip of Conrad in that role. He brought it in and it was astounding, it looked so much like the Joker. That was after the fact. It had nothing to do with the playing card or how I first came to that image. So it helped Bill kind of visualize the character because he was struck by the similarity. That’s how it came about.

Jerry: If you read the Batman historian Bridwell, he had one interview where he interviewed Bill Finger and he said no, the Joker was created by me – an acknowledgement. He can be credited and Bob himself, we all played a role in it. The concept was mine. Bill finished that first script from my outline of the persona and what should happen in the first story. He wrote the script of that, so he really was co-creator, and Bob and I did the visuals, so Bob was also. But as Bill said, Bob didn’t create any of the other characters except perhaps Two-Face. Bill Finger was really the creative genius for Batman. He created all of the other characters except the Joker, and I think he did more on Two-Face that he’d admit himself. I think sometimes Bill was so self-deprecating that he didn’t take credit for the things he did do at times because he was so kind of brow-beaten in a way and insecure. It’s a tragedy. He died broke and uncredited. That’s why I started that award in San Diego that’s given in his name every year, because from the very beginning everything should have said it was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger just like Siegel and Schuster (the creators of Superman).

  • Steve Englehart on “The Laughing Fish”
  • Jerry Robinson, Michael Uslan, and Adam West on the Joker’s Origins
  • The Joker’s Relationship with Harley Quinn: Would the Joker Date?
  • The Joker’s Relationship with Batman
  • Joker Panel: Actors Playing the Card
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