Jimmy Thompson's Tenure on "Robotman"

This week, guest blogger Frank M. Young continues his encyclopedic look at the life and comics of Jimmy Thompson: Golden Age Comics' Best-Kept Secret

Part Two:
Jimmy Thompson's Tenure on "Robotman"

by Frank M. Young

Jimmy Thompson did not create "Robotman." The concept came from "Superman" creator Jerry Siegel, via Eando Binder's "Adam Link" science-fiction stories. Despite its obvious debt to the Binders' concepts, "Robotman" was a genuinely fresh idea for the comics.

Siegel infused the character, as with his creation, the Spectre, with a sense of fatalism also seen early installments of "Superman." Siegel's heroes, like Steve Ditko's "Spider-Man" of the 1960s, all exist on the periphery of the regular world. They mingle with the "little people" but cannot truly be a part of them.

This troubles them, and they talk at length, to themselves, about this aspect of their existence. In this sequence from the feature's second story, Paul Dennis/Robotman asks a flesh-and-blood woman out for a date, then slumps into a chatty depression about how things can never really work out with a real live girl:

Robotman comic book scans SS8-EXC

Siegel soon abandoned the feature, which began a predictable slide into mediocrity. Like most DC secondary features, it was filler--sometimes-clever, sometimes-lively, but still filler.

When Jimmy Thompson inherited "Robotman," it had most recently been illustrated by Don Cameron, whose characters' lock-jawed grimaces often suggest the less pleasant sensations of a colonoscopy.

Such angst--and such perfunctory status--were not part of Jimmy Thompson's agenda.
He gave "Robotman" a whimsical, breezy touch from the moment he inherited the feature, with issue #25 of Star-Spangled Comics.

Thompson contributed a six or seven-page story for the next 57 issues--plus another 17 for Detective. Thompson left the series after issue #154. It would prove his last work in the super-hero genre.

The Grand Comics Database credits Joe Samachson, with the scripts for this series. (God bless the GCD, which is as riddled with errors as the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide!)

Regardless of who scripted the stories, Thompson's sensibilities take center stage in this series. His staging, direction and "acting" are unmistakable.
As we have seen in Part One of this series, a bold sense of design, innovative use of typography, a deft blend of comical and dramatic elements and a tendency to explore eccentric characters and narratives distinguish Thompson's seven-year run on "Robotman."

In his tenure on the feature, Thompson created a DC equivalent to Jack Cole's popular "Plastic Man." The features share a frequently whimsical outlook, and interlace cartoony drawing with serious, sometimes-sinister themes of crime and punishment.

--Frank Young
Text ©2009 by Frank M. Young
Coming up next: "Robbie, Come Home!" from Star-Spangled Comics # 69, is a charming example of "Robotman" at its least super-heroic. Thompson's graphics are at their smooth, cartoony and designy peak here. Don't miss it!

Robotman Part 3: Battle of the Beasts

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This is the third part of guest blogger Frank Young’s celebration of the life and comics of Robotman artist Jimmy Thompson -  Golden Age Comics' Best-Kept Secret

Part One features an in-depth biography of Jimmy Thompson’s early years, along with some gorgeously pulpy scans from "If I Were Robotman" from Star-Spangled Comics #26 

and today’s installment features "The Battle With The Beasts" from Star-Spangled Comics #36

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Next time, an even more in-depth look at the next steps in Jimmy Thompson’s cartooning career!
These posts are brought to you by Frank Young and his Stanley Stories Blog…The place for all your John Stanley comic book needs!

Robbie the RobotDog in “A Sniff in Time” – Robotman Comics by Jimmy Thompson

cartoon robots and gangsters in Robotman-by-Jimmy Thompson_33-01
In our last post, guest blogger Frank Young (of the terrific Stanley Stories blog) began a three-part comprehensive look at the career of cartoonist Jimmy Thompson. Thompson is most famous for his work on the comic book adventures of Robotman. Today’s story, “A Sniff in Time” features Robotman’s trusty cyber-canine companion, Robbie the RobotDog!
comic book robots and gangsters in Robotman-by-Jimmy Thompson_33-02
Cartoon dogs and robots in Robotman-by-Jimmy Thompson_33-03
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cartoon robots and gangsters in Robotman-by-Jimmy Thompson_33-07

Check back soon for our next Robotman adventure: “the Battle With the Beasts!”

..and be sure to check out Frank Young’s Stanley Stories blog for the best of John Stanley comic book scans!

Did you miss Part 1? If so, CLICK HERE!
Robotman Part 1
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Robotman and Jimmy Thompson: Golden Age Comics' Best-Kept Secret

Robotman and Robot Dog Comic Book Scans 02

“Jimmy Thompson: Golden Age Comics' Best-Kept Secret”
by Guest Blogger Frank M. Young

It's my pleasure to offer the first in a series of guest postings for Cartoon SNAP! You may have seen my blog Stanley Stories, which is devoted to the works of John Stanley, whom I consider to be comics' greatest writer. Sherm has asked me to write a post on Stanley. I'll certainly do that one soon. For my first post here, I'd like to discuss one of the hidden treasures of 1940s comic books: writer-artist Jimmy Thompson.

Part One:
Who Was Jimmy Thompson?

Thompson, a former newspaper-strip artist, had worked anonymously on several syndicated features for the Philadelphia Ledger, including the pioneering Sunday feature "Hairbreadth Harry." Thompson entered comic books in their infancy. His first features were serious, well-told accounts of Native American life and culture. In this vein, he created what is, arguably, the first graphic novel, the 64-page Red Eagle, for publisher David McKay in mid-1938.

The American West would inform a few other comics series from Thompson's pen and brush. His greatest volume of published work, as with many other 1940s comic book artists, was in the super-hero genre. Thompson worked for Timely, Fawcett, DC and Famous Funnies in the '40s. His artwork can be found on features such as "Mary Marvel," "The Human Torch," "The Angel" and "Sub-Mariner." Flashes of Thompson's individuality peek out from his pre-"Robotman" work for Timely and Fawcett. As their comics were, by and large, assembly-line production, it was tough for any single artist to stand out.


Thompson's entry in the super-hero world occurred when the genre was in a rut. By 1943, the comic-book industry was in high gear. Demand for comics by servicemen pushed publishers to increase their output--and to cut corners. Quantity, not quality, was the order of the day. The medium's great formal innovators were at war (Will Eisner, Jack Kirby), distanced from their creations (Siegel and Shuster were gone from their "Superman" feature), or settled into generic "house styles."

While this generic approach cut corners for publishers and enabled best-selling titles to appear regularly and reliably, it robbed comic books of their pre-war distinctiveness. Outstanding work still appeared. Jack Cole's output for Quality Comics got better and more confident with each passing year. Writers such as Alfred Bester and Bill Finger enlivened the super-hero genre with clever scripts. Innovative artists like Mort Meskin, Klaus Nordling, Dick Briefer, Bob Powell and Joe Kubert began to hit their stride.

As well, 1943 saw the professional debuts of two enormous writer-artist talents: Carl Barks and John Stanley. Their work fell outside the super-hero genre, but the two creators would soon click with the reading public, and remain top sellers for years to come--despite their complete anonymity. A certain dullness began to creep into super-hero comics during World War II. A de-emphasis on the wild, weird and eccentric was supplanted by patriotic propaganda. Ruts and routine became the norm for story content. The lesser writers' and artists' flaws were aggravated by the need for more product. Scanning the contents of most wartime comics can become depressing. One longs for a spark of inspiration, or distinction. It is seldom found. A strong exception to this rule is the work of Jimmy Thompson.


When he inherited the "Robotman" feature in DC's lackluster Star-Spangled Comics anthology, he endowed the genre with charm, droll humor and powerhouse design and draftsmanship. Thompson helmed "Robotman" for the next few years.

The feature migrated to the higher-profile Detective Comics, home of Batman. Thompson worked on the strip from 1943 to 1949. Thompson continued to work for Timely during his "Robotman" tenure. He turned in a stunning 12-page "Human Torch" story for All-Select Comics #9, in 1945, that's identical to his "Robotman" stories in look and feel--right down to the stylish mechanical lettering.

-----"If I Were Robotman" from Star-Spangled #26-----

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Click on any page to open up
a HUGE hi-res Robotman comic book scan
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His work has somehow flown below the radar of most comics historians. Ron Goulart accorded him a berth in the second volume of his The Great Comic Book Artists series in 1989. One Thompson "Robotman" story appeared in DC's hardcover anthology The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told, from around the same time. Thompson's work has been nearly impossible to see.

The stories you'll have the pleasure to read today were kindly scanned by diligent, anonymous individuals who regularly scan and post old comics, of all genres, on the Internet. Without the tireless efforts of these devoted folks, most of these comics would remain unseen, except in the collections of the very rich, or of those fortunate enough to hoard them back in the 1960s and early '70s, when they could still be had for reasonable sums.

The supposed value of old comic books has, rather cruelly, banished their accessibility until recent years. DC and Marvel have published numerous expensive hardcovers of Golden Age material. These books are highly flawed, in my opinion. They are printed on glossy paper--a mistaken choice that impedes their enjoyment--given garish, unapt recolorings, and often traced or crudely reproduced. Digital scanning has, belatedly, become the standard. A few savvy publishers have recognized that matte-finish papers are the best way to properly reprint these vintage materials.

Short of holding an actual 1943 comic book in one's hands, a high-quality digital scan is the best way I know of to read this material. This is how I have become acquainted with Jimmy Thompson's work. And, as well, it's how we're able to share it with you today. For your reading pleasure over the next few posts, we’ll be sharing three of Thompson's earliest "Robotman" stories: "If I Were Robotman," from Star-Spangled #26; "A Sniff in Time" from issue #33; and "The Battle With The Beasts" from issue #36. Joe Samachson is credited as writer on these early stories, but Thompson's sensibilities transform potentially-routine scripts into something special.
--Frank Young
Text ©2009 by Frank M. Young

Ponytail Part 4 –The Rest of Issue #6, 1962

This is the fourth in a series of Ponytail comics scans form 1962. For the first three posts on Lee Holley and his teen comic, just click on the links below:

Ponytail post #1

Ponytail post #2
Ponytail Post #3

Take a look at some of these links for more insight into the career of cartoonist Lee Holley:

There’s a lot of great information about Lee Holley on the web – including this VERY in-depth interview:
Robotman is coming!!!
Robbie the Robot Dog and Robotman - Comic Book Scans art by Jimmy Thompson
Stay tuned to CartoonSNAP
for an extraordinary series of guest posts about
Jimmy Thompson:
Golden Age Comics' Best-Kept Secret

Ponytail Part 3 - Even More Vintage Teen Comics by Lee Holley

Click on any page for a HUGE
full-sized Lee Holley Ponytail Comic Book scan!
This is the third in a series of Ponytail comics scans form 1962.
For the first two posts on Lee Holley and his teen comic,
just click on the links below:

Ponytail post #1

Ponytail post #2

Take a look at some of these links for more insight into the career of cartoonist Lee Holley:
UPDATE! Pat from the Silver Age Comics blog has just posted a nice long article on Lee Holley and his Ponytail comics, featuring lots of juicy comic art from the very first issue!
Click on the cover for more on Ponytail #1
There’s a lot of great information about Lee Holley on the web – including this VERY in-depth interview:

MORE Ponytail Classic Teen Comics By Lee Holley

cartoon man mechanic works on car Lee Holley Ponytail comic book cartoon
Here’s 2 more stories from Lee Holley’s Ponytail comic book!
Teenage cartoon girls talking Lee Holley Ponytail
As usual, every page is filled with simple and ultra-appealing artwork!
Click on any page to open up a HUGE comic book scan
If you missed the previous post about Lee Holley and Ponytail, make sure to check it out HERE.

There’s a lot of links in that post about Lee Holley and his teenage comic creation!
Teenage cartoon boy sprawled out on couch Lee Holley Ponytail
Wanna see more Ponytail comics?
Lemme know in the comments below!
UPDATE! Pat from the Silver Age Comics blog has just posted a nice long article on Lee Holley and his Ponytail comics, featuring lots of juicy comic art from the very first issue!
teenage boy and cartoon girl drinking from the same milkshake in Ponytail comic book by Lee Holley
Click on the cover for more on Ponytail #1