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Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: That Adler Touch Pt. 1

by  in Comic News Comment
Scott’s Classic Comics Corner: That Adler Touch Pt. 1

If this is the first time you’ve heard the name Jack Adler, you are in for a treat. Adler was a key figure in head of DC’s production apartment for most of the Golden, Silver and Bronze Ages. This week I am going to take a look at the ‘Adler touch’ on certain classic covers during the five year period between 1957 and 1962.

Jack Adler started with DC in 1946, and worked in its production department for the next 35 years until his retirement in 1981. Over the years, he progressed from colorist to production manager and vice president of production. During this time, his innovative approach to colors and techniques resulted in some of the most memorable comic book covers ever produced. This week, I’ll look at a small sample of covers that feature the Grey Tone (aka. Wash) effect perfected by Adler. If you’ve ever seen a Sea Devils cover gallery or the covers to those early Hawkman covers by Joe Kubert in Brave and the Bold, you’ll be familiar with grey tone covers.

I’m far from an art expert but, as far as I understand, Grey Tone covers being as an ink-wash drawing. That drawing is then Photostatted in half tone, and the colors are applied to this washed picture. The result is often dramatic, sometimes adding realism, while other times adding surrealism. I find them to be very intriguing and if I was a rich man, I’d spend my time and money tracking down a full collection. DC is well known for its ‘Big Five’ war titles, and I think that the one of the reasons that they are so well loved by collectors is that so many feature wonderful Grey Tone covers by amazing artists. I love this cover to Our Fighting Forces #71 (October, 1962) by Jerry Grandenetti. Grandenetti would team up with jack Adler for a number of memorable covers, but this one is a perfect example of just how effective a Grey Tone can be. Everything is palpable, from the sweat dripping from Gunner and Sarge to the darkness of the jungle behind them.

At the other end of the spectrum is the rather silly cover to Detective Comics #239 (January, 1957). For this one, Shelly Moldoff team up with Adler to produce the only Grey Tone Batman cover of the era (I think I’m correct on that count, but would be happy if someone can prove me wrong). You can see the difference that the wash technique makes, as some colors become quite muted while others have some serious pop.

The wash used by Adler over Irv Novick’s great cover to Brave and the Bold #18 (June-July, 1958) is much more subtle, and I can only assume that he tweaked his formula somewhat. The key element here is that the chainmail and armor actually look metallic and the red has a wonderful scarlet tone. This series features a number of terrific grey tone covers, but they are all very pricey.

If you look hard enough, you’ll see Adler’s Grey Tone covers popping up in all sorts of titles for DC, as the production department was experimenting in all genres. I liked to joke that Tomahawk features one of just about every type of comic book cover, and Grey Tone covers are no exception. The cover to Tomahawk #65 (November-December, 1959) is a collaboration between the underappreciated Bob Brown and Jack Adler. I find this one to be very powerful as elements of it are almost photo-realistic and those warriors emerging from the shadows are simply brilliant.

Here’s another fun western themed cover. DC acquired the rights to the popular Hopalong Cassidy after Fawcett closed up shop in 1954. The series initially featured photo covers, as it had at Fawcett but eventually transitioned to line drawn covers. The first dozen line drawn covers were penciled by Gene Colan with the remainder penciled by Gil Kane. Hopalong Cassidy #124 (July-August, 1957) was the only Grey Tone cover of the series. To my eyes, it also seems like a piece of pop art.

Mystery in Space #55 (November, 1959) is another terrific collaboration between Gil Kane and Jack Adler. In this case, the wash really adds to the colours and gives an almost 3-D perception of the depth of the scene. Kane and Adler would later team up on a similar cover for Green Lantern #8.

I am a big Dick Dillin fan, but I think that the cover to House of Mystery #92 (November, 1959) would have looked quite generic without the wash. The Grey Tone provides for some nice lighting effects via the flame of the torch. The figure stepping from the glass case (Ponce de Leon?) seems truly menacing as a near 3-D effect is achieved.

The lighting effects are also terrific on this cover to My Greatest Adventure #17 (September-October, 1957). This series was pretty inconsistent during its pre-Doom Patrol days, but this Ruben Moreira penciled cover is a minor masterpiece thanks, in part, to Adler’s contributions. I like how the terrified men are made to be quite literally ‘white as ghosts’.

I could go on and on about the covers produced during this 5-year period, but I’ll simply wrap it up with a few more covers to demonstrate how Adler dabbled in just about every genre. These books can be tough to find, but many come from relatively affordable series and they always look better in real life.

Next week, I’ll take a look at some of the quirky covers Adler helped to produce for DC in the 70s. For more comic book nonsense, stop by my blog: Seduction of the Indifferent

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