Friday, June 25, 2010

Adrienne Colan: A Fond Farewell

There’s nothing quite like a funeral to realign your priorities and make you appreciate what you have…and who you have. Today’s services for Adrienne Colan at King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton, New Jersey (just miles from where Adrienne grew up) saw family and friends gather in her memory and to help her husband Gene and their children Nanci and Erik, as well as Adrienne’s brother Bruce, say goodbye.

A large crowd gathered. Gene was moved to see not only many relatives but also old friends attending, among them Bryan Headly, Walter Simonson, Danny Fingeroth, Michael Vassallo, Jim Reeber, and Leo Klein. As we buried Adrienne together in the ancient tradition, the weather cooperated and there was a sense of calm after the storm.

At Gene’s request, I spoke briefly about my old friend:
Adrienne and Gene have been my friends from the earliest moments of my career. It’s hard to even say one of their names without saying the other. It’s like saying Romeo and not following with Juliet… Adrienne and Gene. Gene and Adrienne. A half century together. A life time together.

The Torah tells us that before a neshamah is sent down into the body of a fetus, it’s determined who its mate will be. Indeed, that the two neshamot–the two souls—are part of a unity, part of a whole. We all saw that in Gene and Adrienne. I don’t believe I ever had a single conversation with either where the other’s name—to say nothing of the other’s interests and needs and feelings— didn’t come up.

I first met Gene as a boy at a comics convention in 1975. I was one of a million fans who would approach him in his career for a little doodle and he was only too happy to supply it. Years later, when I was looking to work with Gene on a project, I had to get past Adrienne. Boy, was she tough. She was so protective of Gene that I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get to work with this great artist. But that's when I saw where the strength of that team came from. A stellar career like Gene Colan’s doesn’t happen by itself. Talent is the absolutely necessary prerequisite without which nothing makes it, but you also have to be made of sturdy stuff. And Gene would be the first to tell you that all he wanted to do was draw. So Adrienne became his sturdy stuff. She was the bedrock. Gene is that rare combination of sublime artistry and absolute craftsmanship, but Adrienne was the engine.

I saw her influence on my own career as well. Eager for approval in my early days as a writer, I was hungry for the attention of folks like Gene and quick to send off early stories and seek blurbs for books. And Gene was only too happy to comply. But it was Adrienne who offered the validation. And not just once: I would hear from her often, when stories were flowing or on those occasions when nothing came forth. She wanted to why I wasn’t producing. And she would dissect my stories… and me in the process—but never in a way that made me uncomfortable. Hers was always an encouraging voice. After a conversation with Adrienne, I felt like I really was a terrific writer. She made me believe that I’d get somewhere because she believed it. Genuinely. And because she was no dummy. Adrienne was smart and insightful and cultured and well-read; she was full of opinions and drive and loved to share of herself and give you drive. She didn’t just do that for Gene—she did that for me. She did that for a lot of people.

In 1996 I performed a small kindness for Gene and Adrienne, but Adrienne never let me forget it. She acted as if this tiny act was the working of a saint. Her gratitude never diminished. I was family after that, let in on everything, the recipient of lavish baby gifts when my children were born… And the letters never stopped. The encouragement. Genuine, sincere, carefully considered words.

There are literally thousands of Adrienne Colan fans out there. You'll find them on the Internet. Seeking Gene, they met Adrienne at a convention or on the web and became attached to this powerful matriarch. I addressed these fans of hers in a column several days ago. I’d like to share some excerpts with you today:

The Adrienne Colan you met at conventions was the real McCoy. She was tough and funny and uncompromising; warm and intelligent and spiritual. And her sense of humor was splendid. I think that’s where we met—at that dark crossroads where everything was tragic-comic. Our friendship existed outside of my friendship with Gene; we corresponded for decades, sharing dreams and fears.

“I can take both sides of the debate,” she once wrote. “I believe in G-d and that Judaism, at its root, is the healthiest and happiest way for a Jew to live and safeguard oneself from dangerous, misleading …spiritually harmful things. But I also believe that there's a sickness that overtakes ‘religious’ people. There are many paths to G-d.

“[But] my Jewishness is something separate. My Jewishness is something I adore, feel enriched by. It makes me laugh inside and feel grateful for [it]. I feel like there's prime steak unseasoned, and then there's prime steak seasoned with salt & pepper and maybe a shmeer of fresh garlic! I bring to the table of life my Jewishness.”

And so to Adrienne, I say goodbye for now. And I say thank you for many years of meaningful friendship. And I beg of you mechilla—forgiveness for anything that I did that hurt you. In the end, we are many things, and some of them are sad. But some of them are grand.

So goodbye Adrienne...Until we meet again.