23 Aug 2022
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Here we present with permission Tom Palmer, Jr.’s eulogy for his dad Tom Palmer Sr. as posted on his Facebook feed August 19, 2022 at 11:01 AM
“Very sad to share this news with everyone. My dad passed away last night.
Many of you know my dad from all of his comic book work, but for me he was just my dad. He was kind and funny, and most of the other things that people say about their dads. He loved old movies, especially the Universal monsters and the black and white serials he used to watch as a kid. He worked at home all the time, so he was always there when I was growing up. I might not have appreciated it fully back then, but I can see now that it was something special, and I think he enjoyed the fact that he could be there for me and my sister (and my mom!) when we needed him. I might have lost count, but I think my sister and I convinced him to take us to see Star Wars about 472 times when it was in its original movie theater run, back in the dark times before home video and streaming.
When life sometimes got hard, he would often say “Better days lie ahead.” I think that’s a lesson he learned early in life. Due to a childhood illness, he was bedridden and forced to be on crutches for a few years. His older brother took pity on him and finally let him raid his prized comic book collection. That’s when he fell in love with EC Comics and developed a lifelong passion for appreciating and creating art. He spent days on end drawing to pass the time. When those comics became tattered and torn, he created his own replacement pages and covers. I can’t wait to dig around in his collection to find them and see his old art again.
He loved classic illustration art and aspired to a career in magazine illustration like his heroes Norman Rockwell, Dean Cornwell, and J.C. Leyendecker. He wrote a letter to Rockwell while in art school, and even got an invite to visit his hero at his Massachusetts art studio. I can only imagine what he saw there and how it inspired him. Dad started out in the art field at a few different New York City ad agencies while he was still in art school. At one of his agency jobs he met Jack Kamen, one of his favorite EC Comics artists, who had found a new career in advertising after the demise of EC. Jack was an early mentor and also a father figure. He helped my dad find his way into the comic book field and also sponsored him for membership into the Society of Illustrators.
When dad’s first assignment at Marvel as penciller of Doctor Strange (issue #171 back in 1968) didn’t exactly set the world on fire, he persevered and was excited to try his hand at inking on the following issue. He was paired up with pencil artist Gene Colan, whose fully-rendered pages were a challenge to many inkers. How could you translate the subtle gradations of Colan’s art for black and white reproduction without turning it into a muddy mess? Dad threw himself at the task and used every tool available to him at the time: crosshatching, a wide array of zip-a-tone, and even his own fingers to smudge the ink around the page. What he ended up with was magic. He brought an illustrative style to Colan’s art that allowed all of the light within the shadows to shine through. Dad loved the tactile nature of hand-drawn art, and always enjoyed trying out new techniques to make his art stand out.
When the opportunity to try his hand at coloring one of those early issues of Doctor Strange was presented, dad jumped at the chance. While most colorists at the time would turn around a comic in a day (or maybe even a few comics in a day), he labored over those pages for days. The printing process of the time only allowed for 64 colors, but he made sure to use them all, even the ones that others avoided because they feared they might print too dark. Those early color guides looked like elaborate watercolors by the time he was done with them. It didn’t matter that he spent all that time on the work, he just wanted the book to look the best it could.
Dad worked on a lot of comics over the years, but he also had a long career in advertising art in the 1970s and ’80s. He worked on campaigns for Hertz, Panasonic, Winsor & Newton, the New York Yankees, Columbia Records and a whole bunch more. This was back in the day when it wasn’t acceptable for a professional artist to work in comics. If an ad exec found out, your art might get branded as too “comic-booky” and work would dry up. And it was also hard to balance the other side of his two art careers. If an editor at Marvel or DC found out that you had an advertising gig, they could worry that you might miss a deadline while moonlighting on a better gig outside of the industry.
In recent years, dad got invited to a lot of comic conventions. He loved meeting fans and telling stories of the early days at Marvel. Because he spent so much time with everyone who came to his table, he needed someone to help him keep track of things. I’m truly grateful that I was able to tag along and help him out. We got to travel a lot together; I even got to accompany him on his first trips abroad to shows in the UK and France. I’ve heard all of his stories dozens of times, but I’m really going to miss hearing him tell them.
Dad’s passion for art was infectious. I’m pretty sure he didn’t’ “get” all of the weird alternative and underground comics I discovered as a teenager, but he could see that those artists had that same passion for art that he had. He would point out how my favorites reminded him of his heroes growing up, the EC greats like Wally Wood, Al Williamson and Jack Davis. Those guys weren’t in it for the money or the fame, they poured themselves into those pages because they loved what they were doing. And my dad was the same way. He was proud of the fact that his work never felt like work. He was just doing what he loved to do since he was a little kid.”