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He put color in the world's superheroes
Barry Grossman talks about 47 years in the comic books BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer Imagine a world with a yellow and brown Spider-Man, a pink Incredible Hulk and a Little Mermaid with violet hair.
SCOTT FRIEDMAN As a way to help children understand "The 9/11 Commission Report," Upper Freehold resident and comic book colorist Barry Grossman helped create "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation" by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón. Grossman has worked in the comic book industry for over 40 years with Archie Comics, Marvel Comics and Walt Disney's Comics, to name a few. That is the kind of bizarro world that could exist without Barry Grossman's colors.
Grossman has worked as colorist in the comic book industry for 40 years. He has developed the coloring, lighting and shading that give a three-dimensional feel to the comic book superheroes, villains and cartoon characters that pervade life on this planet.
The Upper Freehold resident has worked for Archie Comics, Marvel Comics, Hanna-Barbera Comics, Warner Brothers Comics and Walt Disney's Comics, coloring to life Archie Andrew and friends, Spider Man, the Incredible Hulk, The X-Men, Daffy Duck, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo and The Jetsons, to name a few. The only superhero he never got the opportunity to color is Superman, but that's no kryptonite to Grossman or his career.
The Brooklynite started his stint in the comic book universe in 1961 at the age of 13 when his older brother got him a job as a mail clerk at Archie Comics when its main offices were located in Manhattan. At that time, he never dreamed of a lifelong career in comics, although he was born with an aptitude for art. He excelled in art throughout his schooling and obtained a degree in fine arts from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Archie Comics Editor Victor Gorelick recognized Grossman's budding artistic talent.
"One day I got a call to work in the bullpen," Grossman said. "I started working full time in 1968."
Throughout his 47-year stay at Archie Comics, which is now located in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Grossman went from clerking in the mailroom to working in production to becoming production manager to serving as assistant art director, and taking opportunities to write and edit his own title, "Riverdale High."
Grossman's title, "Riverdale High," included interactive sections that asked readers to send in information about their schools. Each issue featured a "School of the Month" that would be included in the comic and on the cover. For example, one of the books dealt with why it's important to go to school because Grossman discovered absenteeism was high at schools on Indian reservations.
He wore many disguises, but Grossman's true alter-ego on the job remained colorist. His flare for color made him sought after by many comic book companies, including Marvel Comics.
When he met Jim Shooter at Marvel Comics, he handed the 7-foot-tall editor the coloring of an advanced story for "The Master of Kung Fu." Grossman said the industry giant intimidated him.
"He looks at me and says, 'Where have you been all my life?'" Grossman said. "It turns out I had a flare for action, which is not the same as the cartoony stuff."
Not only was Grossman named one of the top three colorists at Marvel Comics, but in 1996 comic book readers voted him the top fifth colorist in the industry in Comic Buyer's Guide Magazine.
Being in the top five put Grossman "in the clouds," he said, as he sometimes ponders whether comic book readers realize how much work goes into each issue.
Colorists are the last people on comic book assembly lines before going to print, according to Grossman, who noted writers, pencil artists, ink artists and hand-letterers are a few of the other hands in the process.
Although most comic books are created digitally these days, Grossman started out with and still uses watercolors. He continues to color for Archie Comics, which is one of the only companies in the industry that maintains the watercolor tradition.
Although Grossman can color the images any way he wants, he has to adhere to the colors Stan Goldberg and Stan Lee developed in the 1950s for many of the famed superheroes.
"I work with nuances and develop moods," he said. "Color is just another form of storytelling."
Colorists have to break a comic book down into parts to know all of its subtleties and details or they could "mess a story up," according to Grossman. He often re-creates scenes in his home from the issues he's working on to develop the perfect shadows and hues.
During his career, Grossman worked closely with Goldberg and other "comic masters" such as Bill Vagoda, Henry Scarpelli and Dan DeCarlo.
The colorist is proud to have worked on "Walt Disney Classic Storybook," for which he colored faded and black-and-white Disney images from the '30s and '40s.
Grossman also recently worked on "The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation" by Sid Jacobsen and Ernie Colón.
"Children can read [the graphic novel] and understand the breakdown of time when everything happened," he said. "The Department of Defense was completely behind this. They loved it."
He also had a hand in developing the animation for the live-action movie "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and could have a similar task soon developing animation for a live-action movie featuring comic book hero Reverend Prayer.
The colorist dreams of creating a children's book, but for now shares his stories with his four grandsons, Tyler, Ryan, Justin and Aidan. He shares a love for SpongeBob SquarePants with his grandchildren, but remains fond of classic cartoons like "Tom and Jerry" and "Woody Woodpecker."
He readily states, "Because of doing comic books, I never grew up."
His adoration of children recently led him into a new venture of opening a play place in Howell called "Junglerrrific."
"I love to play with kids," he said.
He and his wife, Marlene, have two children, Eric, who owns a graphic design company, and Alisa, who is a school psychologist. Grossman expects to pass his artwork down to his family so they can experience the comic book trends he witnessed during his lifetime.
When Grossman began his career, comic books sold for 10 cents and now cost $2.25 each. In the beginning, his audience mainly consisted of children, whereas today the industry caters more to adults. While kids can still subscribe to comics, other means of getting them have changed, too.
"There are no comic book stores," Grossman said. "You have to go to Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton or Waldenbooks for comic books. They used to be on every corner in every newsstand."
Grossman noted that companies like Archie Comics used to produce over 2 million comics a month and now produce 16 million per year, despite a growing global audience. He said "Archie" is available in 12 languages and is most popular in India, so the comic introduced a new Pakistani character.
Some things in the industry will always stay true to their beginnings, he said.
"Archie never grows up," Grossman said. "He was 17 in 1941 and he's still a teenager. He can't get out of high school. And they will never say who Archie ends up with — it would ruin the love triangle."
After all of the years he's been putting the gold in Betty's hair and the black in Veronica's locks, when asked if he's a Betty or Veronica type of guy, Grossman said, "I met my Betty and we've been married for 40 years."
He met Marlene, who is the director of admissions at Regency Heritage Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Somerset, when they were just kids in Brooklyn. Just like Archie, Grossman carried her books to school for her.
Images Attributed to Barry Grossman
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