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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.