The last couple months have not been kind to the world of comics and artists. We’ve lost Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Dick Giordano, Steven Perry, Vic Dowd and Rik Levins (if not others). Some have been within the same week. And this week was a different kind of loss, that of a Great Woman “behind” a Great Man: Adrienne Colan, wife of Gene Colan.

She married Gene on Valentine’s Day the year I was born. They met at a singles resort in the Poconos of Eastern Pennsylvania, where it was basically Folgers love–the instant kind. Theirs is a wonderful tale related in the book, I HAVE TO LIVE WITH THIS GUY, by Blake Bell. (Strongly recommended.) Adrienne and Gene’s story is the first of the book, and deservedly so. In his introduction to the couple, Blake wrote, “You’ll find even fewer people who love as hard and as faithfully, and perhaps as blindly, as Adrienne Colan.” True, that.

Proud-as-punch (and beautifully dolled-up) Adrienne and Gene at the Cartoon Art Museum exhibition, “Gene Colan–Visions of a Man Without Fear!” Photo ©2008 Mike Pascale.

I met Gene and Adrienne at a couple San Diego conventions in the 1990s. But I didn’t really get to know them better till the end of the century in 2000. We’d corresponded through the wonderful Gene Colan Internet fan group (now part of Yahoo! Groups) which was started around 1999 by Kevin Hall. She was always funny, thoughtful and encouraging. To me she was always kind and warm, and when she found out I was an artist, she asked to see samples and became one of my biggest boosters. (Are you kidding me? I figured being married to a living legend she’d have unapproachable standards; yet she was always able to see the talent and heart come through, and inspired me to reach greater heights. She did that with all the younger creatives she met.)

At that year’s San Diego show, Adrienne was selling commissions by Gene in a very unique way. He’d done several in very rough outline, enough to recognize the pose and character only. If you wanted one, you paid her, Gene finished rendering it and you picked it up the next day or two. (Though my favorite Colan character was and is Captain America, the Iron Man pinup was too awesome to resist. Plus, Gene’s IM was always my favorite anyway.)

My first Gene commission, courtesy of Adrienne. Thanks! Art ©2000 Gene Colan. Iron Man is ™ and © Marvel.

She was also experimenting with selling T-shirts of Gene’s Dracula. I wanted to buy one but they didn’t have any left of my size. So what did she do? Gave me one! Though it’s still a bit too big I enjoy wearing it anyway. That was just the first of many examples of her kindness and generosity over the years. Sometimes at her table when I’d ask how much something was, she’d say, “Take it.” Just like that. Many times I refused and paid anyway, but other times she insisted. She had a very giving side, especially when it came to fellow struggling artists!

On the Yahoo! group list Adrienne was our “virtual Mom.” Whenever there was a (rare) flame-war, argument, or political blow-up, she would step in and ask–or command–us to play nice. Sometimes sweetly, other times sternly, like any other mother. Always with paternal love, topped with some humor. She was political herself, proudly liberal and very, very passionate. The Bush years especially brought out some vitriolic posts, and disagreements, but as I can recall, never directed at other listers. Though I disagreed at times, I never voiced them because I respected her so much–and I knew when she made her mind up, that was that! If she felt she crossed a line, she would immediately apologize, and profusely. Passion could get the best of her but she acknowledged it. She tried her best to keep things cordial and informal. To me it was one of Adrienne’s strongest qualities, because you always knew where you stood–no guessing. (So much better than dealing with human mannequins.)

Another strong point was her insightful spirituality and philosophical outlook. Some of the discussions on the list were quite “heavy”, deep and profound, and Adrienne often had an interesting take on things. Even if we veered into Kellogg’s country with our flakiness, she appreciated the sentiments and complimented other listers on their contributions. It really became like an online family get-together, as she would ask and encourage us to bring her up to speed on our personal and professional lives. Many of us were posting things on a public forum normally reserved for face-to-face friends, but thanks in large part to Adrienne’s disarming charm and matronly love, we usually didn’t think twice about it. I will miss that.

I recall several conventions and events where we all got together for a meal. After I was married, my wife Lisa joined us a few times and the two of them hit it off instantly. They commiserated on a variety of things, not the least of which was what it’s like being married to an artist. (I’m sure Adrienne had seen and heard it all.) She would make my wife laugh so hard I thought she’d fall out of her chair or snort out her dessert. Lisa adored her as much as I. We all wished we lived closer to one another as I know we would have visited much more often.

My last Gene commission, again thanks to Adrienne. (I suspect it could be a self-portrait in some ways!) Art ©2005 Gene Colan. Captain America is ™ and © Marvel

There are a flood of memories. Lots of laughter. Hours of discussion. Scores of hugs. Having dinner with a dozen list members at a foo-foo Asian place in San Francisco during the opening of the Cartoon Art Museum’s Gene Colan exhibition. Dinner with a few friends at a motorcycle grill in Chicago. Grabbing overpriced snacks at Comic-Con San Diego. Another dinner at the big hotel in San Diego with industry friends, where a certain famous name-dropper stiffed the Colans with the check.

(Hmmm…I’m noticing a culinary connection here. See Clifford Meth’s wonderful tribute for Adrienne’s delightful take on philosophical food!)

I had taken some digital pics at that Cartoon Art Museum event and planned on making prints to send to her and Gene. The folder sat on my desktop for over a year. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t get to send them out to her. With luck she’ll see them now, wherever she is. My hope is she’s with Roz Kirby, Ellie Frazetta, other friends and family, kibitzing about the fabulous food and wine in Heaven. (Good thing is, everything at that joint has zero calories, no fat, sodium or chemicals, and tastes–well, like heaven.)

Top: A bunch of list pals at a (non-foo-foo) Chinese place in SF after the exhibition. Clockwise from left: wife Lisa, Kasra Ghanbari, Dave Guiterrez, Roger, our man Craig, Gene and Adrienne. (It’s not blurry, it’s Art. Or maybe it’s your eyes.) Middle: WH’s own Craig, his partner Roger and Adrienne. Bottom: Two of the greatest “comic-book wives”: mine and Gene’s. Photo ©2008 Mike Pascale.

How special was Adrienne? When Gene was in the hospital over a month ago, Adrienne was home alone. Things were not going well at all and the situation was bleak. Gene asked me to give her a call and offer my support. I tried a few times but the phone just rang and rang. So I tried to send out an email of support, told her things will get better and that she is loved. So what does she reply with? She calls me “a remarkable man”, appreciates our friendship and thanks me for writing.

Me? Remarkable? Who compliments someone else when they’re going thru hell?

Adrienne Colan, for one.

And that’s the Adrienne I will always remember.

I just want to thank her for her friendship, love, wisdom, endless encouragement, generosity and humor. God bless you, Adrienne.

Best,

Mike

P.S.: I’m going to reread her and Gene’s chapter in I HAVE TO LIVE WITH THIS GUY. I suggest you do the same–I bet she’d appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

Published by Mike Pascale

Mike is a freelance storyboardist, artist, writer, comic book/web comic creator, graphic designer, award-winning senior art director/copywriter, Kubert School alumnus, Spectrum Fantasy Art award-winner, guitarist/songwriter, future novelist and full-time, life-long comics fan, pop culture collector, and book hoarder. His creations include Bru-Hed™ (America’s favorite Blockhead™), The Game Buzz!™ weekly webcomic, Nasti: Monster Hunter™, Mikey Moo-Moo™ and more “™s” waiting to be unleashed from his crazy cranium.

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9 Comments

  1. Thanks very much you guys–you’re too kind.

    Feel free to share other memories of A as well (and/or links to Gene art or commissions she helped you with)…I’ll miss her at San Diego especially.

    Best,
    Mike

  2. Gene had done a couple commissions for me before we had ever met. He did the stunning “Triple Self-Portrait” for me, and then soon after that, I had him do another self-portrait for a smaller, leather bound book of self-portraits I have. Adrienne mentioned in an email to me how much Gene loved the leather book. I heard they’d be coming to the West coast for WonderCon and decided I HAD to meet them and thank them in person for the incredible commissions.

    I was going to meet a legend! I couldn’t come empty handed, so I ordered a leather sketch book much like mine for Gene. When I got to the show, I stood in line waiting to speak with Gene and knew that the woman with him must have been Adrienne. More than one person said “oh, you’ll get to meet Adrienne too” when I told them I’d be seeing Gene at the show. Just as Mike said, rarely is one of them mentioned without the other.

    When I shook hands and presented my gift and my thanks for the commissions, you’d think I’d given them a million dollars. The gush of genuine appreciation was heartfelt and kind. We chatted a bit, and by the end of the day it was decided a group of us, Gene, Adrienne, and other friends and fans would be going to dinner together. I was lucky enough to sit next to Gene and we had a grand time chatting. He did most of the talking, because I was too star-struck to think of much interesting to say. 🙂

    The next night, G&A were both too tired to go out, so instead invited us to have pizza and beer in their hotel room! This night, I spent the entire evening sitting on the bed with Adrienne talking about all the things you’re always warned not to talk about. As luck would have it Adrienne and I shared common views on most subjects (being an unabashed liberal myself), and where there were differences, we discussed them with intelligent passion. It was an incredible evening.

    After that weekend we kept in touch regularly via email and phone. The ’08 election was a fun time of political discussion. Adrienne was a hard-core Hillary supporter – I was not. But again we agreed to disagree, but did so fully appreciating the other’s insight.

    The last time we got together in person was at Gene’s gallery show at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco (thanks Mike for those great pictures! I’d not seen them before!) This time around it was like meeting up with old friends. I’ve never met more endearing and warm hearted people. With the many memories that have been shared about Adrienne there’s a common theme I’ve noticed. She was so giving and supportive. She had the ability to make you feel as though you could accomplish anything. She believed in you so strongly, that you couldn’t help but believe in yourself.

    This site would likely not exist if it weren’t for Gene and Adrienne. I wanted to create a place on the web in which I could try to support and encourage artists in the same whole-hearted way that Adrienne supported and believed in me.

    So thank you Adrienne. Thank you for your love, your support and your heart. Thank you for believing and supporting not only Gene, but all artists. We’ll all miss you.

  3. Thanks for capturing Adrienne’s spirit. Right now, I miss her voice. You’ve reminded me of how special she was to me.

  4. Thanks, Craig…That was just wonderful. I know she would love it (and think she didn’t deserve it!)

    I wonder if that night during Wonder Con was the one Lisa and I shared as well…Truly magical, fun, hilarious, insightful, inspirational and surreal, all at once.

    Thanks,
    Mike

  5. I believe it was. It was indeed a surreal evening. Hanging out with Gene and Adrienne in their hotel room was beyond my imagination. I was geeked to just meet and thank them at the show. 🙂

  6. I’m getting choked up all over again. That was such a magical evening, wasn’t it? And my stupid camera was out of focus. *sigh.* I wonder if anyone else got a group shot.

    I’m happy they’re together again. Just sad that it’s not on the same plane of existence as ours. But they gave a lot of themselves for folks like us.

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