Friday, July 16, 2010

Tom Palmer (Quietly) Breaks His Silence

One of the great unsung heroes of the Marvel Age of Comics, Tom Palmer has humbly contented himself with taking almost a backstage role in co-creating some of the finest comics we’ve seen. And it dawns on me that the inker’s job in comics is not unlike the bassist in rock and roll; when it’s done right, it’s almost silent; when wrong, it’s glaring.

I speak with Tom on odd occasions. The first time, decades ago, he was delivering a freelance assignment to Tom Phon, the art director at Electronic Design magazine in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where I was starting my career as a staff editor and writer. I just happened to come across his name on some art credits.

“There was a Tom Palmer who worked in comics,” I said to Phon.
“Same guy,” he said.
When I got up off the floor, I asked for an introduction. Several months later, the Toms and I lunched.

Tom Palmer's name has continued to come up in conversation—with Gene Colan, with Neal Adams, and with my friend the late John Buscema—so often, in fact, that I probably feel like I’ve spoken to Tom more than I really have. I have a lovely Avengers pages he gifted me with that hangs in my family room. That’s been the source of many conversations, too.

Today, I asked Gene and Neal about Tom again, for the benefit of a panel discussion that my new friend Mark Waid is hosting at San Diego ComicCon. Gene was particularly gushing:

Tom Palmer was really the only inker who made something of my work. From the moment that I saw his inks I saw what great painting skills and art skills he had. He really made me look good and I just loved his stuff.

As we worked together, we became friends and we still are. He was always very easy to talk to. He has a simple way of reaching you that’s hard to explain. Whenever he calls or I call him, we get lost in conversation about life and about art. I’ve learned so much from him.

My favorite inker? Tom was the only one. Al Williamson was really great, too, but Tom is special. He is a complete artist.
Anticipating my forthcoming ComicBook Babylon (Aardwolf Publishing, 2011), it occurred to me that Tom is only barely mentioned in there. Another crime I don't need to be prosectuted for. So I asked Tom for a sit down sometime over the next few weeks. And in my emailed note, I foolishly assumed he was retired and basking in the New Jersey too-hot sun ever-after.

I'm still doing a few books for Marvel and just starting on the new Kick Ass series with John Romita Jr. and Mark Millar, which involves a more finished halftone art and is time consuming; only finished the first four pages of issue #1 and miles to go! I have three painting commissions waiting and luckily the clients are patient and willing to wait until I get to them. Don't know if I've ever heard of an artist retiring and kicking back; think you only start to get good after age 50 and hit your stride around 90. I don't play golf either.
Stay tuned. Following SD ComicCon, Tom will have more to say here about something or another.



Tom Palmer is one of the best inkers (and colorists) in the business...i used to look forward to see him color his own jobs,in the days prior to computer coloring...when i was pencilling for marvel i asked for him to ink the captain america annual i pencilled,but he wasn't available....that would've been great to see!...Brian Postman...

Castellan said...

I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to reading an interview with Tom Palmer. I regularly check the net and magazines for new interviews, particularly with or about the giants of the industry like Romita, Buscema, Kane, Cockrum, Stern, Thomas, Englehart & co, and always hope that one involving Tom will appear. I'm a first time visitor but I'll certainly be back. Thanks.

Mark Staff Brandl said...

Palmer is indeed a genius. I too have talked to Gene about that. I have a page of DD done by Gene and inked by Palmer, I look at it every day (it is framed on the wall) and just get thrills looking at the amazing brush work, thin to thick to thin, sweeping beauty.

~P~ said...

Tom Palmer has ALWAYS been one of my fave inkers/ artists in the comic biz.

Most especially because his was the only inking that really WORKED for Colan's shadowy chiaroscuro.

I enjoy everything the man works on because I know he gives it more than 100%.

(That said, the other "inkers" I'm partial to are Terry Austin and Kevin Nowlan - even though none of these gents is only an "inker".)

Also, I'm happy to see you've used one of my own pics of the 1980 Dr. Strange Marvel Calendar - from my all-intensive overview series of the Marvel calendars.

I'm glad that series keeps giving the web/fan community some good views into the greatness of "yesterday's" best.

Anyone interested feel free to visit:

"Tamam Shud!"

keythd23 said...

Tom is absolutely the best inker of all time! The care and extra work he put into all his jobs was phenomenal. I still get great pleasure every time I read the X-Men he did with Adams and the first run of Dr. Strange with Colan and Thomas. And Avengers # 93 is IMHO the best comic of all time: due to the perfect coming together of Thomas, Adams and Palmer at their peaks. Despite the tendancy of many to fall all over themselves about Joe Sinnott (I'm thinking of you Jim Amash) for most of his career Joe was a slick, but very good tracer, largely drawing his rep from his magnificent teaming with Kirby on the Fantastic Four. Palmer on the other hand was a true embellisher adding so much to whomever he inked. Just check out his one time collaboration with Mike Sekowsky in House of Mystery # 205. Mike never looked so good and I'm a big fan of Sekowsky. I'd like to see Tom receive some of the adulation usually reserved for Sinnott and more acknowledgement of what a great inker he is and was in the history of comics.