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September 26, 2011

Jack Adler, 1917-2011


Jack Adler, the longtime production mainstay of DC Comics and eventually that company's production manager and vice president of production, died on September 18. He was 94 years old.

Adler graduated from high school earlier and went on to become a graduate of Brooklyn College, where he completed an intensified one-year course in art. He didn't join DC's ranks until 1947, when he formally came on board doing production and coloring for the entire comics line, then in a period of outright industry leadership. Adler's contribution to comics-making history began before his joining DC. In the late 1930s he developed a color separation process for King Features on the beautifully elaborate Prince Valiant strip, and assisted the New York Daily News in developing their graphics work. Adler worked for the separations companies with whom DC worked before bringing some of that work in-house, leading industry historians to the sometimes-disputed notion that Adler worked on separations for the comic book's commercial true-arrival point: Action Comics #1. (His friend Mike Gold says in his loving tribute that Adler definitely worked on the less-important but still significant Superman #1.)

imageWhat is 100 percent clear is that Adler later displayed a thorough understanding of color in comics to the point where he and color comic book could almost be made synonymous, a staggering claim in an industry dominated by color reproduction. From his catbird seat at DC Comics and through virtue of his tireless ingenuity in terms of technical solutions, Adler firmly established many of the ways comic books were produced during his long career at DC Comics. Further, he had direct input on how hundreds of that company's characters were to be colored -- an under-appreciated act of character creation. Adler was also a general problem-solver within the company. He inked covers, and also developed procedures such as the astonishing wash technique used to significant sales effect on book covers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, perhaps most notably a run of GI Combat issues and maybe most handsomely with Adler inks over Gil Kane pencils on Green Lantern. He also contributed technical expertise -- he was a skilled photographer -- to the use of photo elements on covers, used to striking effect in the 1970s. The look of comic books at one of the all-time prestige comics publishers during a period of absolute sway and influence can be credited to Jack Adler.

Adler kept his initial production position until 1960, when he became the company's assistant production manager. He held that position until 1975, when he became production manager and vice president of production. He would retire after six years in that last job, in 1981. As a supervisor, Adler worked through a variety of different publishing strategies and claimed to have had no problem -- leading a team he trained in his own methods and preferences -- dealing with any publishing production workload tossed his department's way. Adler was often thought of in terms of working in partnership with longtime DC art director and later President Sol Harrison, whom because of his position of authority Adler would later suggest perhaps shared in too many of Adler's individual accomplishments. The two were one-time classmates, and both worked at separation companies before DC. Harrison brought Adler into the company.

In an interview conducted four years ago, friend Joe Kubert cited conversations with Adler both about the process of making comics and, more directly, about what it takes to start a school as being a significant part of the core ideas he took into the founding of The Kubert School. Adler apparently declined a full-time position in 1976.

Adler won the 1971 Shazam Award for best colorist.

Adler's passing was first reported on Howard Stern's current radio show; the broadcast personality was the late artist's cousin, and in conjunction with that announcement expressed the esteem with which he held Adler.

A lovely photo credited to Adler of Christopher Reeve visiting DC Comics can be seen at the top of this post. Todd Klein -- the man to the right in that Reeve photo -- discusses his work under the old DC coloring system here. Photos of Adler at work, both in the early and latter stages of his long career, can be found at Mark Evanier's site. A slideshow of Adler's work on DC Comics covers can be found here.

posted 1:20 am PST | Permalink

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