A tough week of losses in the literary/pop culture world, though there’s some solace in knowing that, with one exception, all of them lived to ripe old ages. Let’s start with the most recent one first:
I heard this morning that Christopher Hitchens, longtime contributor to The New Yorker, and the author of countless books and articles, died of complications from lung cancer at age 62. Hitchens was explosive and ranting, conflicted and controversial — and whether you agreed with him or not (and it was probably impossible to agree with him on EVERYTHING; he was all over the map), he was always passionate and always an entertaining read. Christopher Buckley wrote a nice piece in (where else?) The New Yorker, which you can read here.
On Tuesday, author Russell Hoban passed away at age 86. Hoban made his living as a writer of science fiction and fantasy novels (most notably Riddley Walker) — but to me, he’ll always be remembered as the author of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which Jim Henson later turned into one of the finest Christmas television specials of all time. An American expatriate, it’s probably appropriate that the best obit is here in the Guardian.
Comic book legend Joe Simon passed away on Tuesday at the age of 98. Simon — and his partner Jack Kirby — seemed to have his hand in nearly every comic book genre, from superhero to western to romance to science fiction. In the 1940s, while working at Marvel, he and Kirby created Captain America, then jumped to DC to revamp Sandman (the Simon/Kirby version plays a small but crucial role in the Neil Gaiman revival) and created the mighty Boy Commandos (which was, at one point, the publisher’s third highest selling title). Simon didn’t always have the Midas touch — he’s got Brother Power, The Geek on his list of creator credits — but his work was always interesting, and Simon was a true gentleman. His obit in the LA Times is here, but I’m waiting for the long piece being promised by Mark Evanier.
Finally, Batman fans (like me) are mourning the loss of Jerry Robinson, who passed away late last week at age 89. Robinson was one of the true unsung heroes of the Batman mythos—even moreso than writer Bill Finger, whose name still doesn’t appear on Batman‘s title page—for it was Robinson, ghosting for Bob Kane, who drew most of the early installments of Batman and Detective Comics. And when it came to creating characters, Robinson gave us two icons: Robin, who pretty much became the template for every teenage sidekick that followed, and a villain called the Joker who . . . well, is pretty much the coolest bad guy of all time.
While Robinson never saw his name or Bill Finger’s formally attached to Batman, Robinson was one of the great advocates for creator rights. It was Robinson who helped push (and then basically shame) DC Comics into giving Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster not only a creative byline on all Superman comics, but also lifetime pensions and health benefits. Robinson also served as a teacher at the New York School of Visual Art — where he helped make comics into an art form — and co-wrote one of the finest books on the history of the comic strip, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art, which went back into print earlier this year.
Losses, all — but thanks to each of them, what memories we have.