Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Five)

Jimmy was a year or so older than me, and very big for his age. As I mentioned previously, he was also a volatile personality, and there was no predicting what might set him off. We would talk about comics and I would mention that I was starting to like Batman more than Superman, and Jimmy would get mad. We would play soldiers in the back yard and I would want to play Gunner while he played Sarge, and Jimmy would get mad... even though the day before, those were the roles that we had played for hours!

And where Jimmy was volatile, Jimmy's dad was just somber. He sat in a dark room that perfectly reflected the mood he displayed whenever I saw him. Up until that time, I had always viewed my friends' parents as benign and benevolent adults who treated children kindly, making us think that we were always welcome even when they might prefer that we stayed home. Mom and Dad were the same way; no friend of mine ever came to visit without being greeted with a smile and a kind word from my parents. "No one should ever feel unwelcome in our home," my parents always said, and they lived that motto constantly.

Jimmy's dad was... well, he was different. He seldom smiled, and he never made anyone feel welcome. He tended to sleep during the day; when he was awake, he often seemed cranky and made it clear that he neither wanted to hear nor see Jimmy or his friends.

The only times he acted differently came when Jimmy and I were talking about Sgt. Rock. Mention that Bob Kanigher-Joe Kubert series and he perked up; he would actually talk to us about his favorite stories, and every now and then he would pull a comic from the shelf and show it to us. I saw my first Our Army at War "painted cover" when Jimmy Haynes' dad was showing me a near-perfect copy of Our Army at War #86. The look of the art, with its heavily shaded "painted" look, immediately captivated me.

Attuned to that distinctive style, I began looking for it--and I found it on other DC war books, as well as on books like Sea Devils. That unique look was created by DC colorist Jack Adler, who created these "paintings" in a time when comic book covers generally featured pen and ink illustrations with flat coloring. Adler didn't truly paint the covers at all; instead, working with pencil art by others, he used a complex system of creating layered black ink washes (grey tones created by painting with diluted black ink) for each of the four colors. In effect, he was painting in imaginary colors, since he was working entirely in black and white, envisioning what the process might look like when printed with colored inks. I still marvel at the skill that this must have taken; while I doubt Adler was ever adequately compensated for the time this process took, the finished products rank up there with comics' greatest covers.

While I felt a little more attuned to Jimmy's father after this, my relationship with Jimmy began to sour because of his temper. The deterioration of our friendship escalated when I realized that Jimmy was wiping out my plastic soldiers--if he didn't bury 'em in his back yard, he would set fire to them, transforming an elite plastic army into sizzling green slag. Since I liked my soldiers--and since I didn't have enough money to pay for more soldiers and more comics at the same time--I quit spending time with Jimmy. There was never a big falling out... we just quit being friends and became acquaintances. When the Haynes family eventually moved out of the neighborhood, I barely noticed. Children make and lose friends very quickly...

While Jimmy was my primary comics friend at this time, he wasn't the only comics reader I knew. It may seem odd now, but almost every kid I knew read comics. I didn't search out kids who read comics--it just seemed that reading comics was ubiquitous among six to nine year old kids. It was odd to find someone who had never read comics, in fact--but when I did, I'd give 'em one or two of mine, frequently making a convert.

But comics collectors really like to find friends who enjoy the same comics... friends with whom they can make up their own comic book stories and play superheroes and draw and read and trade comics and walk to the local stores in search of books. With Jimmy Haynes gone, I didn't have a comic book buddy any longer. I was good friends with Morris Lively, whose back yard was just across the fence from my back yard--but Morris read comics only casually, and he didn't share my growing passion for the art form. We could have fun riding bikes and playing games and climbing trees and walking from our house to Rattlesnake Hill (where I never once saw a rattlesnake), but his lukewarm response to comics meant that we would never be close friends.

Thankfully, I met David Lynch at about this time...

1 comment:

mike weaver said...

Cliff,

Thanks for posting this Jack Adler information! I noticed that Jack has a shamefully short entry on Wikipedia, unlike almost every other comic artist>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Adler


Mike