Jack Adler, who brought technical and artistic innovations to comic books during 35 years at DC comics, the home of Superman and Batman, died Sept. 18. Reports differed on his age, either 93 or 94.
Adler’s chief contributions were in the inking and production processes to permit vivid and memorable colors in comic books. He also designed the color schemes of numerous DC comics superheroes. A slide show of his work highlighted Green Lantern, who was featured recently in a large-scale adventure film, along with “Sea Devils,” “Mystery in Space” and other titles from the 1960s and 1970s.
“It would not be exaggerating to say that Jack Adler was the guy in charge of color in DC Comics for 35 years,” one comics blogger wrote. “It would actually be understating his contribution because Jack invented many of the procedures and techniques used to print comic books, especially their covers. During that period, he colored most of DC’s covers and even did the color separations by hand on them for many years. He also designed the color schemes of most of their characters.”
DC editor Julius Schwartz described Adler as "the guy who knew more about how to color and print a comic book than any man alive."
In a 2009 interview, Adler expressed both pride in his work and bitterness about never receiving the credit – or payoff – he might have expected: “I was in a position where I had to do something in order to stay in the field and I worked out the system of color separation, and it was used around the world. I never got any money for it. Never got a penny for it. Not even a Christmas present for it.”
Adler’s career might have been historic and lucrative even if he hadn’t worked for DC for decades. In 1938 he worked at the printing firm that did the color separations for Action Comics #1, the first appearance in print of Superman. He said in 2009 that he had three copies of the original comic in his home: “Some years later I began to have a health problem and the doctor said to me, ‘Do you have any old paper in the house?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Get rid of it because you’re allergic to the fibers and that’s causing your problem.’ So I threw them out.”
Copies of the Action Comics No. 1 have sold for more than $1 million at auction. “I should have killed that doctor,” he said.
In that interview, posted online in two parts, Adler dished and dissed on a number of the early figures in the comic books industry, which was essentially created by and largely developed by Jews, including Joe Kubert and Bob Kane (co-creator of Batman), among others.
Adler’s death was publicized by shock jock Howard Stern, Adler’s cousin, who dedicated the opening of one of his shows to remembrances of Adler and called him a "genius." Stern credited Adler with saving him from failing out of high school.
“Jack saved my life many times," Stern said. "He was a free spirit. I loved him. He was bordering on genius. He WAS a genius. … My mom called to tell me Jack had passed away on Sunday night, and I will miss him."