Jack Adler has contributed so much to the comic book genre right from the very beginning that it’s difficult to underestimate the scope of those contributions. His first job was painting on engraving plates for comic books. He was, in fact, the first to color Superman in Action Comics #1, and he did so much more from that point on, up to and including doing the art restoration on what is generally agreed to be the first Golden Age reprints in Jules Feiffer’s “The Great Comic Book Heroes.” And leave us not forget his ascension to Vice President of DC comics before he retired.
Read Part One of this wonderful interview here.
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: You developed the 3-D comic book, didn’t you?
Jack Adler: Correct. Sol Harrison came to me and said there were rumors that people were working on 3-D and did I know how to do it. He always came to me for help. I said, “Yeah.” His words to me were strange. He said, “Crap or get off the pot.” So I said, “Give me a picture,” and that same day I the thing and showed him with the red and green glasses and that was it. We went ahead and worked with it. Joe Kubert was working on that with Norman Maurer. I don’t know if you knew that.
Stroud: No, I sure didn’t.
Adler: They worked out a system, but I refined it so that mathematically we did certain things. It was great. You know one of the things that my daughter held against me was that I didn’t go to the conventions and sell my autograph. You know these guys were getting $25 an autograph and making a fortune on it and I never did. I was not a businessman. I never cared about that. Never cared about money. I made a lot, but I never cared about it.
Stroud: Well, you avoided getting obsessed with it, which I think is probably good. Is it true that you also developed the 3-D technology for the Viewmasters?
Adler: Yeah. It’s a sad story. I applied for a patent on it, and it was turned down on the grounds that I was using materials that had been used before, which is ridiculous.
Stroud: Oh, yeah. A unique application should stand on its own.
Adler: Anyway, it was turned down and that was it. It took Viewmaster seven years to figure out how I did it. My interest was in the science of optics and it led to that. Also I’m a woodworker. I have a complete workshop and I built furniture. I built most of the furniture in my house.
Stroud: You’re a man of many talents. Perhaps you’ve got the soul of an engineer.
Adler: I don’t know what I’ve got, but I was happy with what I was doing. Every day was fruitful and I loved it.
Stroud: So you never actually “worked” a day in your life.
Adler: That’s correct. Do you know anything about cameras?
Stroud: Just a little.
Adler: I invented the stop-down lens. And the mistake I made was that I went to show it to one of the top companies and they’d just come out with the Stop-o-matic diaphragm, and it was a copy of what I did.
Stroud: Speaking of photography, you were also the innovator in using photos in creating comic book covers as well, isn’t that correct?
Stroud: What brought that to mind?
Adler: Damned if I know. I don’t know how it came to me. I usually went to bed with something on my mind, and about 3 o’clock in the morning I’d wake up and had the solution to what I wanted to do.
Adler: Don’t use the word Marvel!
Stroud: (Laughter.) Fair enough, Jack.
Adler: One of the things I had to promise when I left was that I wouldn’t go to Marvel. (Chuckle.)
Stroud: They didn’t want them to poach you, huh?
Adler: That’s right.
Stroud: You were a DC or National exclusive. That was something Carmine told me that I didn’t realize was that the editors and the production people were the only ones actually on staff.
Stroud: You must have felt you were fairly treated to stay there so long.
Adler: It didn’t matter. I was doing something I liked. I will say that I never got the kind of money I should have had, and one of the problems is that I never was able to get past Sol Harrison. (Chuckle.)
Stroud: Sure. He ended up as publisher while you were ultimately Vice President in charge of production?
Stroud: You obviously worked with pretty much all the editors and we already talked a little about Julie. Did any others stick out in your mind?
Adler: Jack Schiff was a gentleman. Joe Kubert, of course. In fact Joe came out to see me with Irwin Hasen about a year ago and he’s planning to come out again.
Stroud: Nice that he still remembers his friends. Did you run across Bob Kane at all?
Adler: (Chuckle.) Which one?
Stroud: (Mutual laughter.) That says it all right there, Jack.
Adler: Bob Kane was lucky. His father was an accountant and a close friend of Jack Liebowitz’s, and he was the one who set Bob up with a contract, and Jack Liebowitz was nice enough to set up that contract and it made a fortune for him, whoever he was. (Chuckle.) Also, I have photographs of most of the people, the artists who freelanced for DC back in the day. I’m an excellent photographer. I use photography instead of drawing. I replaced my drawing capability by doing photography, and my photographs have everybody.
Stroud: What a great thing to look back on. How long did you and Sol end up working together?
Adler: Until he left.
Stroud: Okay, so literally decades.
Adler: Yeah. As a matter of fact, he came to visit me and I asked him why he retired and he said, “Because I didn’t want to die on the job.” He was having a problem with Jenette [Kahn] and I got involved in it, which was stupid of me; it cost me…I don’t know if I should go into it.
Stroud: Whatever you feel comfortable with.
Adler: You might ask me again.
Stroud: Okay. What memories do you have of Ira Schnapp?
Adler: Ira Schnapp was a gentleman, and I have a very funny experience about him. I was up in Cape Cod in a famous restaurant up there and I saw a picture on the wall which had a drawing of Ira Schnapp; a watercolor of Ira Schnapp that I had done. I don’t know how it got there and I never found out. How a portrait of Ira Schnapp that I’d done got there, I’ll never know. I used to do sketches of the people I worked with. I used to get by on four hours of sleep a night. I worked full time and did freelance work for agencies around the country doing color separation work. I did many magazines. I did the first copy of Ms. Magazine, the cover, for example. I did a lot of that. I did a lot of work with Murphy Anderson. He can tell you a lot of things about me. He’s the best friend I’ve got, I think. The nicest man I’ve ever met. He asked me to give him space in the department because he didn’t want to work at home. So I gave him a desk and he came in every morning and worked and if he took a pencil…he stayed past the time I was there, in the morning he’d bring one in. He’s replace it, and you know, there were pencils all over the place. He didn’t have to do that.
Stroud: Just a man of the highest integrity.
Adler: Absolutely! I can’t say enough about him.
Note: I gave Murph a call and asked him what he remembered of working with Jack and he graciously shared the following:
Murphy Anderson: We worked on a lot of freelance projects together.
Stroud: Was anything particularly memorable to you?
Anderson: Mostly licensing projects. People would get a license to do various things from DC and it would be for any number of different projects. They’d get permission to use the art and so forth and Jack would help me with the coloring and that kind of thing. I remember working on toys, too and he helped me a lot. Advertising things, too.
Stroud: He did say you had your own space in the production department where you liked to work.
Anderson: He and Sol Harrison, who was his boss most of the time had things arranged there in the shop.
Stroud: Right, he mentioned that he and Sol moved up the ranks together.
Anderson: They went way back and were also involved with A. L. Strauss who was the father of another good friend of mine, Andy Strauss. I never knew the older Strauss, but he was a color separator and up until then they’d never done much work in comics, but Sol and Jack, with their interest in comics, they got to work on a lot of comic projects. They were very capable. They were doing commercial work in advertising and that sort of thing.
Stroud: He did tell one kind of amusing story about you. He said anytime you were in there doing any kind of work if you happened to pick up a pencil you made absolutely sure that it got returned. He said despite there being pencils everywhere you wanted to make certain you didn’t take anything that didn’t belong to you.
Anderson: That’s kind of true, I guess. (Chuckle.) That was a bit of a problem when you had a guy like Milt Snappin who was taking care of things and was also an artist who did a lot of lettering, but he could only squeeze that kind of work in on his lunch hour, so lunch time would come and Milt would have some kind of freelance project, but he had no tools, so he’d wander around while other guys were away from their desks and borrow things so that he could use them. He tried to return them all most of the time, but sometimes he didn’t. (Chuckle.) He just left them where he finished the job. So that created a bit of consternation. (Chuckle.) A lot of shouting and hollering for awhile.
Stroud: Did you and Jack socialize much at all?
Anderson: Not a whole lot, but we did some. We knew his wife and his daughter. His daughter would come up fairly often to the office and so I got to know her quite well. Dorothy was a very nice lady and Jack would invite us over and she’d tolerate us. (Chuckle.) We always had a good time. Dorothy was one of a kind. Never very boisterous or anything and she obviously felt a great deal of affection for her husband.
Stroud: Always so nice to hear. He had fond memories of working with you on the P.S. magazine as well.
Anderson: Right. He colored and did some of the separations on it. Separations only on the four color section of it. I introduced the Army to a type of color separation they did at DC. Jack and Sol were the guys who invented the process and they did it for Andy Strauss. In fact I discovered that Andy Strauss was close by to me and could help me, so when I got the P.S. contract he did all the photography and the engraving for us, but someone had to do the color separations and that brought Sol and Jack back into it. Well, not Sol so much, but Jack mostly and they were both delighted because they had a good relationship with Andy’s father.
Stroud: It sounds almost like a homecoming.
Anderson: It was. They (A.L. Strauss) were doing the engravings of newspaper comics as I think about it along with advertising. One of the things they worked on was Prince Valiant. They did the plates and color separations for that. Jack and Sol were instrumental in introducing the unique separation technique they’d arrived at. They created a process that allowed them to do it without such an elaborate process. So they pioneered there and then later were hired by DC and they started doing their covers like that and adapted the process they’d been using on newspaper strips.
Stroud: Magnificent. I also asked Jack about his innovations with the washtones.
Anderson: That’s right. They did it as a wash and shot it and matched it up with the line art and added tone to color. They understood color so well that they could make a mix of 3 or 4 colors if they had to in order to achieve a color and have it work out to be a brown or some other color that normally was not used much in comics. DC’s covers were unique in that respect. The other publishers didn’t have anything quite like it. While the folks up at Chemical knew how it was done, they had no one with the expertise to do it really. They didn’t have the ability that a trained artist did to take care of the drawing as well as the color separation. Of course I’m just giving you a layman’s view of what they were doing. It was very involved and very technical and they did it extremely well.
Stroud: I have no doubt and unfortunately a layman’s viewpoint is probably about all I could understand anyway. (Laughter.)
Anderson: They would often take black and white photos and color them so that they looked like color photography.
Stroud: You worked with him on P.S. magazine, too, didn’t you?
Adler: Correct. I did all the separations. I did it every month. I taught Murphy how to do the separations and he set up a system for himself. I turned it over to him. I began to have a problem with one eye. Macular degeneration. I have 20-20 in the other eye.
Stroud: That would make depth perception difficult.
Adler: Yeah, the image is displaced and the center is blacked out. It’s weird.
Stroud: Someone was telling me that toward the end Ross Andru was having vision troubles that made it difficult for him to do some of his penciling.
Adler: Nice guy, Ross.
Stroud: I’ve heard good things about him. Did you know Mike Sekowsky?
Adler: Oh, Mike was funny. Mike used to do little sketches, that I saved, fortunately, that are light. He had a good sense of humor. I’ll give you an idea of the kind of thing he’d do. He’d draw a sundial and write “Tick, tock, tick, tock” on it. He did one thing where, “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy Levy’s Rye Bread,” and he had some sort of insect on it. He was always very funny. Very cute drawings. A lot of stuff I didn’t save. As a matter of fact, I have a number of awards, and I’m hunting like crazy for them. Not for me. Of course I never cared about them, but I have two great-grandchildren now and I was looking for them. I’m trying to find everything I can. I’m finding some treasures, and I look at the stuff that I did and I marvel about how good an artist I was. I really marvel at it. I’m impressed with me. (Mutual laughter.)
Stroud: Speaking of saving treasures, I was going to mention to you that I’m lucky enough to be the beneficiary of one of your efforts. When the so-called Jack Adler Collection was being sold on eBay, I ended up with one of the approval covers that you rescued.
Adler: Which one?
Stroud: Adventure Comics #374.
Note: This approval cover and many other pieces of the “Jack Adler Collection” were being sold on eBay in the not too distant past and the following narrative was included in the auctions:
Jack Adler was DC Comics’ premiere colorist from the early ’50’s through the mid ’80’s, and was head of the art department for much of his tenure. He graduated from high school at the age of fifteen, and quickly got a degree in fine art. He became magnificent at sculpting, pencilling, inking, painting, and photography. He pioneered the washtone/graytone effect which became so popular on the DC “Big Five” war titles. Plus, he inked many ’50’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s comic covers as well. Moreover, he also developed the “3-D” process used on the Batman 3-D and Superman 3-D comics in 1953; –so we’re talking about a major contributor to DC history! During the summer of 2004, the living legend himself, Jack Adler, (thought by some to have passed away years prior), at the urgings of his kind family, made his very first public appearance, at the San Diego Comic-Con. He was honored Thursday afternoon at the ever-popular convention with the Inkpot Award For Excellence for Outstanding Achievement In Comic Art, and a rousing standing ovation from the many onlookers at the panel of Golden-Age and Silver-Age Greats, hosted by Mark Evanier (of course!) Besides just Mr. Adler, other noteworthy members on the entertaining and informative panel were Tom Gill, Sid Jacobson, Gene Colan, Frank Springer, Harry Harrison, and Frank Bolle. On Friday at the Comic Con, there was a one-on-one panel, with just Mark Evanier and Jack Adler, titled “Spotlight On Jack Adler”, and many questions were answered for the large crowd of audience member, who were kept entertained by the charismatic and respected living legend. It is amazing how many great names were hired on by him! I also found out that he invented the 3-D image technology popularly used in Viewmasters, but was unable to get the deserved patent, as the film itself had been patented, (but not in a similar 3D format, so he got burned, as viewmaster was able to capitalize freely!) Plus, the method that made integrating photo cover and line-drawn cover art easily into a single cover image was also pioneered by this influential innovator. (The technology was supposed to be kept a secret, but was leaked immediately by a DC exec!) Julius Shwartz had told him “don’t tell me about it, just do it”, and when it worked, it worked, and was immediately utilized, as the articulate and charming Adler related. As an accomplished photographer, he created covers using photographs he had taken of his own grandchildren, producing his own copies of Shazam #2 and #6, which were displayed on an overhead projector to the glee of many enthralled listeners! The picture of Captain Marvel, sitting reading to the innocent youths, was actually of Jack Adler reading to his grandkids. (These same grandkids were present at the panel, and turned out to be pleasant, gracious, and kind adults!) Moreover, he highly touted the art skills of good friends Neal Adams and Joe Kubert, (relating entertaining stories, of course!) He helped Kubert set up his now legendary School Of Comic Book Art. Once the school was set up, he was supposed to head the school, but had to back out, as he couldn’t bring himself to move to New Jersey! You could write a book on the contributions Mr. Adler has made to the medium many of us know and love.
Back in the “good ole days”, DC normally burned or discarded such production art once the comic went to print. Mr. Adler painfully remembers himself and fellow DC artist Jerry Serpi cutting up thousands of pages of original comic line art and production art. He said it broke his heart to destroy all that beautiful artwork; But back then, nobody foresaw the future value of such exclusive pieces of comic-book history! Fortunately, during the period of 1967 to 1974, this award-winning artist pulled aside many prime examples, representing each step of the comic-making process! Nevertheless, there’s an extremely small amount of these that were saved, considering the volume that was produced in those days. It is estimated that out of 840,000 pieces created for the production process over that time period, only about 3,700 or so survived, thanks to Jack Adler; ~A miniscule percentage of less than one half of one percent!
This is the actual Approval Cover, (blank on the reverse, unlike cover proofs), for this comic. The editorial and creative staff reviewed it and approved it for use, to make sure there were no errors or needed improvements, before the actual book hit the press.
Provenance: Back in the late eighties, in Texas, Mr. Adler and his grandson sold his entire collection, comprised of the DC Archives of cover production art, in one fell swoop. Then, years later, it changed hands again, with the vast bulk of the load still untouched… Eventually, after lengthy negotiations, a longtime friend and I were able to acquire the whole load, except for the horror, from the Southern California art collector who possessed this landmark find since 1997. The horror genre took me an additional three and a half years of wrangling, but now they too can find their way into the hands of the true fans, who can preserve and cherish them the right way. For additional information regarding this popular pedigree, check out the lengthy color article on the Adler Collection in the September 2001 issue of Comic Book Marketplace (which is still available in another of our auctions for cover-price, but I digress!) A signed & embossed cardstock Certificate Of Authenticity is included, forever guaranteeing the provenance of each piece from this major historic discovery. Approval Covers are brilliant and glossy, (obviously very well preserved), and they are blank on the reverse side, and are slightly larger than comic size; since they were part of the editorial process they can include tack-holes, indentations from a paper clip, staple-holes, chips, pencil notations, tape, and/or edge wear. (This one has some general wear and edge creases, but no tape, tears, or holes.) I hope that the weak, shadowy, low-resolution scan will still convey that this is a great looking showpiece, which would be especially impressive framed. Regrettably, our scanner makes the item look subdued and the background colors appear wavy –when all colors are actually rich and uniform, and extremely bold throughout!
Jack asked me to clarify some things about the above. First and foremost, he told me that he never took anything from the DC offices, that in fact they mailed him about 30 cases of material and that 1 of those cases was sold by his grandson to someone in Texas and that it somehow became the fabled “Jack Adler collection.” Also, for the record, the Shazam! cover referred to above contained not Jack, but his son-in-law with Jack’s grandchildren.
Now, back to the interview:
Adler: Ah. I’m looking for a cover that I did for Green Lantern. I think its number 8. It was the wash cover, and it was stolen by one of my assistants and given to one of the artists and I’ve not been able to find it and I could get a fortune for it. If you come across it, I’d appreciate hearing about it. I’m looking for it. It’s the one with the prehistoric monster. Gil Kane did the pencils.
Stroud: Ah, Gil. Now there was an artist.
Adler: (Laughter.) I have a very funny story to tell you about him. I used to take photographs and on Wednesday night I would have a model come in at the Art Student’s League, and we would invite the writers and the artists to come in and they’d sketch. It was a coffee klatch kind of thing. And I took pictures of the artists, not the models, and Gil Kane had one of the ugliest noses you ever saw, and when I made the prints, I printed it, but I never showed it to him, because he would have been embarrassed by it. He met a girl who said she’d marry him on three conditions: That he fixed his teeth, because they were baby teeth; that he’d change his name, which he did, from Eli Katz; and that he’d fix his nose.
Stroud: She didn’t ask for much…
Adler: He did all three. Of course he screwed around and married someone else. Anyway, when he had it done, Julie Schwartz came in and said, “Gil is coming in with his new nose. Can we play a gag on him?” So I thought for a minute and I said, “Yes. I have a picture of him,” and I told him what I wanted to do. So he said, “Fine.” Now the place had windows in all the offices, so everyone could see into every office. I said, “When Gil Kane comes in, I know he’s going to ask me to take a photograph.” That’s exactly what happened. He came in and incidentally the guy did a gorgeous job on him, he was now a good looking guy. He was six foot two and handsome. And he came in and as soon as he saw my camera he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m taking pictures of some of the people. I do it regularly.” He said, “Will you take a picture of me?” I said, “Yes.”
When he came in to the sketch class, I set him up in the same position as that earlier picture. He said, “When are you getting it back?” I said, “It’s going out and will be back by the end of the day.” I get a call that the photographs are in. I set up about a hundred photographs with his at the bottom, and I went to Julie and said, “Julie, I have all the photographs,” and he said, “Come in.” Gil Kane is on my back waiting to look at the picture. We’re going through each one slowly, and Gil is dying. Finally we get to that and he looks at it and I hear him say, “Wha? Wha?” He turned white as a sheet and didn’t speak to me for two years! I made up my mind then that I’d never play a stunt like that on anyone again, and I never have. He used to talk to me all the time about the movie stars and how they moved. He was really a great artist.
Tune in next Friday for part three of this interview!