Robin Malone

Bob Lubbers was an American comics artist, who was especially known for his "good girl art". He began his career in the comic book industry during the so-called "Golden Age of Comic Books", drawing for companies like Centaur Publishing and Fiction House. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s he worked on many syndicated comic strips for newspapers, including 'Tarzan' (1950-1954), 'Long Sam' (1954-1962), 'Secret Agent X-9' (1960-1967), 'Li'l Abner' (±1958-1977) and his own creation, 'Robin Malone' (1967-1970). Among his influences were the cartoonists Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and Ray Van Buren, as well as the illustrators Al Dorne, George Bridgman and Matt Clark.

Rangers Comics cover by Bob LubbersWings Comics cover by Bob Lubbers

Robert Bartow Lubbers was born in Brooklyn, New York on 10 January 1922. He became a cartoonist when he was commissioned by Wright's Hardware to do a weekly cartoon in the Manhasset Mail in the late 1930s. He also drew for his high school newspaper, and played the trombone in the school band. He furthermore designed the Manhasset High School Indian which is still used today on the band's drums. He continued as a musician after high school, playing in a big band in the evenings, while studying at the Art Students League in New York City. One of his teachers was the painter George Bridgman. He started to work in the upcoming comic book industry at age eighteen, together with his pal Stan Drake. He sold his first feature about "daring adventurer and soldier of fortune" 'Reef Kinkaid' to Centaur Publishing. It became a regular feature in the company's title Amazing Man Comics issues 12 through 22 from May 1940 until May 1941. He also drew covers and stories for the short-lived title 'The Arrow' (1940-1941), and furthermore appeared in Stars and Stripes Comics, Liberty Scouts Comics, C-M-O Comics and Man of War Comics with features like 'Liberty Scouts' and 'Red Riley' until Centaur went out of business in 1942.


Firehair, from Rangers Comics #38

Lubbers was then employed by Fiction House, where he served as art director. At this point, he dropped his activities as a musician. He contributed to mostly patriotic war-oriented comic books like Fight Comics ('Rip Carson'), Wings Comics ('Captain Wings and the Hell-Diver Squadron') and Rangers Comics ('U.S. Rangers', 'Firehair'). The young artist was called to war in 1943 and served in the United States Air Force Air Transport Command until World War II ended in 1945. Back in civilian life, he resumed his post at Fiction House and continued most of his features in Rangers Comics and Wings Comics. He also appeared in Jungle Comics ('Captain Terry Thunder', 'Camilla') and Movie Comics. Lubbers' tenure with Fiction House lasted until 1950. Other post-war comic book work included a couple of stories in 'Adventures into the Unknown' for the American Comics Group (1949-1950), romance stories for Pines and Lev Gleason (1949-1950), the 'Vigilante' feature in three issues of DC's Action Comics (1949) and some covers for St. John Publishing (1948-1950). Besides comic stories, he also stood out for his cover illustrations featuring good-looking women.

Tarzan, by Bob Lubbers
Tarzan

By 1950, Lubbers shared a studio with Stan Drake and John Celardo, and switched from comic books to newspaper comics. He was employed by United Feature Syndicate, where initially worked on the 'Tarzan' newspaper comic from July 1950 through August 1954. He succeeded Nick Cardy on the daily strip, and Burne Hogarth on the Sunday page. Lubbers admitted on a later date that he was only familiar with cartoonist Hal Foster and movie actor Johnny Weissmuller's work with the jungle hero, and never read any of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novels. He and writer Dick Van Buren managed to fill their stories with a lot of action, jungle animals, colorful backgrounds and exotic girls. 'Tarzan' was continued by Lubbers' studio mate John Celardo in 1954, and Lubbers moved on to work with Al Capp.

Long Sam by Bob Lubbers
Long Sam

Lubbers was assigned art duties on a new Capp strip called 'Long Sam'. Like in Capp's main series 'Li'l Abner', the title character was a hillbilly. Only this time she was a naïve mountain girl sheltered by her overprotective "Maw", who had never seen a man in her life. Actress Elizabeth Allen, known from 'The Jackie Gleason Show', stood model for the character. Al Capp's brother Elliot Caplin and Stuart Hample ghosted on the writing in 1958-1959, after which Lubbers assumed both art and writing duties until the final strip on 29 December 1962. Lubbers continued to work with Capp in the 1960s and 1970s as an assistant on 'Li'l Abner'.

Bob Lubbers additionally drew the newspaper comic based on Leslie Charteris' antihero 'The Saint' for the New York Herald-Tribune during a couple of months in 1959, succeeding John Spranger. He furthermore did ghostwork on several strips for King Features Syndicate, such as John Cullen Murphy's 'Big Ben Bolt', and Frank Godwin's 'Rusty Riley' after the latter had passed away in 1959. In March 1960 he succeeded Mel Graff as writer and artist of the 'Secret Agent X-9' detective comic, which had been originally created by Alex Raymond and Dashiell Hammett in 1934. Lubbers drew the comic as "Bob Lewis", and was succeeded by Al Williamson in January 1967.


Secret Agent X-9

Lubbers then launched his own comic strip, in which he could fully showcase his talent for drawing sexy girls. Main character was the beautiful and voluptuous 'Robin Malone', and the first strip was distributed through the News Enterprise Association on 19 March 1967. Lubbers got assistance on the writing from Paul S. Newman (1967) and Stuart Hample (1967-1970), while Mike Peppe and Tex Blaisdell participated in the artwork during a couple of weeks. In a mix of exotic backgrounds, adventure and melodrama, Lubbers and his writers told the story of an independent career woman who had just lost her husband. By 1968 the comic changed its tone to more humorous and satirical storylines, although the Sunday page returned to drama in 1969, when it shifted focus to Robin's secretary Jo.


Robin Malone, 1969

Although Malone was presented as a strong independent woman, the strip would be deemed sexist to modern standards. Especially the 1968 storyline in which the villainess Victoria Eagle forces Robin to run for President probably alienated much of the female readership. The main goal of the "Femocratic" party is making men vote for it by having their wives threaten them with withdrawing their sexual favors. Despite Lubbers' talented artwork, 'Robin Malone' was not picked up by many papers. The final storyline involved the return from the dead of Robin's amnesia-suffering husband Mike. The strip of 11 March 1970 ended with Mike attacking Robin on a rooftop, which resulted in a major cliffhanger. An unidentified character falls down, but it was never revealed who he or she eventually was, since the syndicate had dropped the strip. Lubbers later admitted to researcher Tom Heintjes that the car pattern on the road contained a hidden message, revealing that Robin had indeed died together with her strip. It must be said however that the syndicate offered some alternate versions of this final strip to newspapers, which show Robin's survival. Other papers even printed rectifications clarifying that Mike died and Robin lived on happily ever after.


The final 'Robin Malone' strip of 1970, with Lubbers' hidden message

Bob Lubbers made his return to comic books in 1967 with a story published in Gold Key's 'The Twilight Zone' ('The Crime-a-Day Town' in #19). In the 1978-1979 period, Lubbers briefly drew for the Marvel titles 'The Defenders' and 'The Human Fly'. But by then, Lubbers was mostly working in other artistic disciplines. He specialized in drawing storyboards for television ad agencies, and retired in 1989. Later in life, he began creating crossword puzzles for the Creator's Syndicate, which appeared in Newsday and the New York Times Sunday puzzle. He won an award for best Sunday crossword in 1995. Lubbers also remained closely involved with his hometown Manhasset, a small hamlet on the North Shore of Long Island, and has written many nostalgic articles for the Manhasset Press.

The Human Fly, 1978, by Bob Lubbers
The Human Fly #17

Many of Lubbers' 1940s 'Captain Wings' and 'Rio Rita' stories were reprinted in comic books published by the independent label AC in 1994-1996, for which Lubbers provided new cover art. Although he has not become a household name among comics fans, Bob Lubbers has been praised for his "Good Girl Art". Especially in Italy, where his work was collected in the 100-page 'Glamour International: The Good Girl Art of Bob Lubbers' in 2001. In 1998, Lubbers was awarded with the Yellow Kid prize at Rome's Expo Cartoon Festival, and he received an Inkpot Award in 2002. He passed away in his sleep on 8 July 2017, at the age of 95.

Bob Lubbers

Tom Heintjes about Bob Lubbers' Robin Malone
Bob Lubbers on Ger Apeldoorn's blog

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