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.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.
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.
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.