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.

George Photog 2

I can’t imagine what George was looking so satisfied about! What is not well-known about George Roussos is that he was a conservationist. In particular was a tract of private property out on Long Island, where he lived, that he was documenting. He worked on an elaborate brochure for several years!

575 Mad 35PC fix

This is what George and I were looking at! A very nice, shabby genteel office building. 57th Street was to the immediate left, the corner led down 56th Street (where I lived, for the shortest, sweetest commute known to Man!). You can see my Nikon 35PC lens is fairly wide– I had wanted the 28PC but it was too expensive– and can just straighten out the building. Marvel’s offices were on the 6th and 9th Floors. The Bullpen was on 6.

George Roussos tries out a new camera lens, 1979.

George Roussos was one of Marvel Comics’ great talents. We shared a common interest in photography. George and I often talked lenses and methods. I had purchased a Nikon 35PC lens, with the ability to add distortion to an image that would “correct” perspective, or straighten out converging image lines. George had recently bought a 17mm lens, a very wide angle lens. He was concerned about the look of wide-angle lens’ distortion. So out we went to take pictures of 575 Madison! Across Madison Ave was the recently demolished IBM Building. You can just see that George is holding his camera body vertically, not tilting upward. This was to see how much coverage he got.

 

Looking very relaxed, George Roussos

George, here pictured at 387 Park Ave South– the “new” offices– looking very relaxed. I visited the Marvel Bullpen the day of their moving back up to 10, from where they languished, on 4, while they rebuilt the whole place. I am using a rented super-wide 15mm lens, which makes George look like Egghead. George intensely disliked being out in the middle of the Bullpen floor, in fact at a corner of heavy traffic. He had had his own office for most of his time at Marvel. But, as he reminded me at the time, he was just keeping his head down. This was late 1992, of note was the Dr. Marten’s standard 36 bottle coloring set, filled with Luma Color watercolors. Coloring correction was all done by hand. Corrections were one thing, George was often asked to do entire covers as part of the job. I particularly like seeing George as relaxed as I’d ever seen him. Also of note: his very casual slacks!

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