I was straightening up my studio today and going through some old paperwork, when I came across a Polaroid® photograph of a friend I once knew in New York.
I had lost track of him, but over the years that old photograph of him sitting on the steps of my place petting my dog, Homer, has re-surfaced many times.
Each time I came across it, I would stop whatever I was doing and look at that old picture.
I felt a little bad that I had had a long, successful career in comics that I didn’t particulary want, while he had given up on his dream of working in comics and gone back to California to work the family farm.
In those days, I didn’t have many friends. I was living alone with my dog in a storefront in Lower Manhattan and doing freelance lettering for Harvey Comics for five dollars a page.
I had worked for Marvel for a year and a half, but quit my staff job to freelance, but the art director didn’t especially like me, it seems, and would not assign me any work. So I went over to Harvey Comics and started getting five-page stories to letter.
I first met Jack when I placed an ad on a bulletin board in the supermarket for a rocking chair I was selling. A young woman and her sister came to my place to see the chair. When she realized that I was working in comics, she told me,
“You should meet our friend, Jack. He’s really interested in working in comics, too.”
I’ll admit, I wasn’t all that interested in working in comics at the time. I still thought of myself as a fine artist and dreamed of getting my work into a gallery in New York. I thought of comics as just a way of making some money to pay the rent until that happened.
The next day, I was lettering a Richie Rich story when there was a knock on my door.
The two sisters were back to pick up the chair and they had brought Jack with them to help carry it.
I never saw either one of them again, but Jack began showing up at my place regularly and just hanging out. Once in a while he seemed to have had a little too much to drink. But that didn’t bother me, sometimes I had a few too many beers, myself. I could relate to him.
He would often sleep on the couch. He didn’t talk much and spent a lot of time drawing from his imagination in his sketchbook while I lettered comics pages.
He’d have a beer with me or maybe two or three and occasionally something to eat, but he wasn’t much for conversation. But he was easy to get along with, and I enjoyed having him around.
One day he asked me if I could give him a ride in my truck back to his place in Dover, New Jersey.
I asked him, “How far is it, Jack?”
“Not too far, just over the bridge”, he told me.
We drove up the West Side Highway and crossed the George Washington Bridge and drove and drove.
“Jesus–How much further is it, Jack?” , I asked.
“Not much further”, he said.
He was a man of few words.
Finally we arrived at The Joe Kubert School, which at one time, seemed to have been a sprawling estate of some rich person, but had been converted to dormitories and classrooms. Jack introduced me to a few of the guys there and then I drove back to New York City alone.
On one of his stays at my place, he had given me one of the drawings from his sketchbook.
I have it around here somewhere.
It depicted a man in a fedora hat. The man was looking down so you couldn’t really see his face. But I knew when I looked at the drawing that the man in the picture was Jack. He had his sleeves rolled up and he was busy unloading boxes of fruit from the back of a truck.
Over the years, whenever I would come across that drawing, I would think of Jack. I wondered how his life had turned out.
Today when I ran across the photo again after maybe ten or twelve years, I googled him. There was a photo of a middle aged man on my computer screen. It sort of looked like him, although it had been 40 years.
I clicked on it, thinking I’d send him a fb message.
It was his obituary. Jack died four or five years ago.
Apparently, he never married.
The newspaper said he “was a local apricot and peach farmer and talented artist and blended his old-fashioned rural lifestyle with his passion for comic book art, study of dinosaurs and love of science fiction. He was more than happy to keep up with the news of the day over early morning coffee with locals and daily lunches with friends.“
I feel bad that I didn’t stay in touch with Jack, but, sometimes, the friends you make in life, like the years, have a way of just quietly slipping away.
But I am happy to know that he got together with “locals” early each morning at some coffee shop in Brentwood to talk over the events of the day and that he regularly had lunch with “friends” and probably made a decent living for himself as a farmer with peaches and apricots–
–just like the man in that drawing which he gave to me so many years ago.