George Roussos Artist, Photographer, Friend and Colleague
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A few words about George Roussos. The unusual thing one noticed about George was that he dressed identically every day. Charcoal grey suit, white shirt and a modestly colored tie– cycling between dark blue with red diagonals and burgundy with dark blue diagonals. Every day! At marvel Comics– the staff colorist! And never spilled a drop of watercolor on his shirt!
He carried a very neat, even spiffy attache case. After we got to know each other a bit better, I asked him about his form of dress. His answer was revealing. He commuted to work on the Long Island Rail Road. Dressed as he did, he slipped in and out of the railroad cars blending in like a pigeon mingling in a crowd of pigeons. Whenever asked about what he did, he replied, “I’m in publishing.” George told me he never wished to stand out or call attention to himself.
At 575 Madison, George and I were only a few doors apart. I soon learned of his photographic endeavors. The man processed his own color film, no mean feat. He had made his own darkroom and we swapped techniques and tips a lot. I had been introduced to fast film and print-making from nightclub darkroom men. George was a strictly by-the-book scientist. But on lenses we agreed that you couldn’t have enough of them. I was a Nikon man, George a Canon. I liked Kodak film, George liked Agfa. My quest was wider and wider lenses, his was higher precision. Eventually I wore him down. He got a $700 17mm wide-angle lens. I wouldn’t say George was cheap, but let’s
just say he may still have had his third or fourth nickel! I had explained that wide lenses had distortion when you started fooling around with them. If you set them level and square to, say, the lines of a room, they merely took in more. George was passionate about documenting a private residence on a nature preserve out on Long Island. We usually had new things to talk about every Monday morning as he had spent time photographing something at the residence that weekend. One day after the purchase of the wide lens he came in to my office and proudly showed me a shot of a hand-carved newel post taken from the stair side, maybe only 2-3 feet away. Straight and precise, the shot was artfully printed showing all the curves with highlights. Lovely. Of course he invited me out to see his laboratory/darkroom workshop but I was not smart enough to manage that.
George is gone now. Whenever I read old interviews with him, he tells stories I now wish he’d told me. But the one that I was told and have not seen elsewhere (yet) is that he was the inker on Bob Kane’s first Batman comic book and that it was he who who decided to make the night sky solid black around the Moon on page 1. That’s quite a step back in time; 1938 I believe. No one really knew how old George was when he died. He was an orphan since very young. He seemed to have found a family– of sorts– in comics. To be sure, never
replacing his own family. Like many of us though, the small universe of comics has its own language and mores– when you’re in it, it’s like nowhere else. His happiest time in his office as staff colorist was when John Tartaglione was the staff correction artist, in with him.