A Splash of Color — the incredible impact a comic book colorist had on me as a young boy growing up in southern Appalachia
I originally wrote this as a “note” on Facebook shortly after the death of DC colorist Adrienne Roy. As today is her birthday, I wanted to remember her here and tell others about her kindness, and possibly inspire others to do the same.
First, a little background.
When I was a little boy of 10 years old growing up in southern West Virginia in the seventies, like most boys in those days I loved to read comic books. But I didn’t just read them, I absorbed them…I knew the origin stories, the arch-nemeses, and the various ancillary characters that surrounded each protagonist. They were wonderful…they didn’t insult my intelligence like a lot of the dumbed-down juvenile fiction was prone to do. They were amazing and fantastic stories of people doing impossible things. And for me, they were an escape…most of my daily life felt rather uninspired at the time…nearly every adult conversation seemed to revolve around coal mines, coal trucks, pothole-filled roads, and mountains. I loved the mountains, because they were a giant, endless playground for me to play in…but they also made me feel isolated…cut off from the rest of the world.
So comic books were my escape. When I was 3 or 4, my brother Dusty had garbage bags full of them. I couldn’t yet read, but I would try to figure out the stories from the pictures. Several were literally falling apart because I would get to the end and would immediately start reading it over again. I was actually reading the words by the time I entered kindergarten.
By the time I was 10, I decided that I wanted to work on my own comic books. What a career! These people get paid money to draw comic books! And they lived somewhere where people worked on creative things, not mining coal or driving trucks or other more mundane pursuits. So I thought, how do I get in on this deal?
So a Batman comic book I was reading — like all comics of the day — had the DC offices phone number and other publisher info at the bottom of the first page. So being naive and not knowing what a “phone bill” was, late one evening I called the number.
A friendly female voice answered the phone. “I want to draw comic books,” I must have said, or something similar. She was not dismissive. She did not say, “sorry kid, I’ve got deadlines to meet.” She seemed genuinely interested in talking to this 10 year old boy with the hillbilly accent.
She told me her name was Adrienne Roy. She was 25 years old, and she was a comic book colorist. “Cool! What books do you color?” I asked.
“Oh, you know…Superman…Batman…Teen Titans…Warlord…” she kept naming titles I knew intimately. I looked down at the credits of the book I was holding and sure enough, there she was, “Adrienne Roy”.
Wow! Here was a lady who was directly involved in the creation of some of my favorite comic books and she was being so nice to me. We talked for a while and she said, “call me back any time!” And I did, probably more often than my parents would have liked. (I think it was about $0.50 per minute to call New York City at the time.)
I also wrote to her…using the pen name “The Lone Scribbler”…commenting on stories and such. She mailed me Christmas cards, pictures, wrote me letters, etc. She always addressed them “John Nagle aka The Lone Scribbler”…it was so great. I was on Cloud Nine. She even sent me 2 sets of original colored pages for 2 Batman comics, where Batman comes to WV to battle the villain Blockbuster, who, of course, had gone to work in a coal mine. She signed them, “To John, colorfully yours, Adrienne”.
Well, little boys grow up, and though I never completely stopped reading comic books (41 years old [at the time this was originally written] and counting!) I did slow down, and eventually lost touch with Adrienne.
Fast forward 30 years.
I was now a self-employed software engineer living in Austin, Texas. One day in 2009, marveling at the ability of the internet to dig up past acquaintances, I googled “Adrienne Roy”. To my happy surprise, I discovered that she was now living in…AUSTIN TEXAS! She was no longer coloring comics…nowadays they use special computer software and better offset printing techniques to produce richer color and smooth gradients and so she decided to change careers and become a hypnotherapist.
So I called her business number, and she answered. I said, “is this Adrienne Roy?”
“Yes it is.”
“Is this the Adrienne Roy that used to work for DC Comics?”
(short pause) “Yes…who is this?”
“Do you remember me? The Lone Scribbler?” Surely not…I must have been such a nuisance. But to my pleasant surprise, after a confused pause she said cautiously, “…John Nagle!?” She was so happy that I had looked her up. She was now in her mid 50’s, she had a daughter going to UT and so had decided to move to Austin to be near her.
We quickly scheduled lunch…and so it was that after more than 30 years since my first conversation with her, I would finally meet her face-to-face for lunch at Mikado, my favorite restaurant in Austin. We had a conversation that spanned those 30 years and it was epic. And wonderful.
We had lunch again a month or so later, and to my surprise she showed up with a bunch of stuff that I had sent her; a picture of me sitting on a bar stool at the local sundry store, a keychain from my dad’s company, and several letters. She actually had kept all of that stuff! I asked her if I could borrow them to scan, and she said of course…”but I want them back! They’re precious to me!”
Well, I scanned them and we corresponded back and forth a bit after that, but we never seemed to have schedules that worked for another lunch. I was traveling a lot and she was busy with a variety of things.
Soon after, to my sad surprise, I found out that she passed away in December just a few months after our last lunch, after a year-long battle with cancer. I was shocked. I had no idea she was even sick, and I’m not sure she even knew at the time.
Obviously when I think of her, I think about my childhood…of how she was so nice to that little 10 year old hick-sounding comic book nerd who came to see her as a lifeline to the outside world. She could have been a typical, busy adult…too busy with deadlines and other excitement in her life to deal with some little kid in southern West Virginia. But she wasn’t, and she made a lasting impression on that boy. I think it’s amazing that our paths should finally cross just before she left this life, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to tell her what an important part of my childhood she was.
I ultimately left the mountains of West Virginia and became a video game programmer, and so I got to work on my own creative pursuits. I still do to this day. I also got to meet her daughter Katrina and also her ex-husband, Anthony Tollin, who was also a colorist for DC. They both came to my birthday dinner at Mikado a few years ago.
When Adrienne Roy passed, an important part of my childhood also died and for that I am sad. But I am very happy that I did finally get to meet her and tell her in person how much it meant to that little 10 year old, starry-eyed dreamer that she took the time to be so nice to way back in 1978.
Adrienne, may your afterlife be as filled with color as was your life on earth.
-The Lone Scribbler