Monday, November 25, 2013

Norman Witty

A few days ago, I was apprised via emal that my old friend Norman Witty had passed away this week.

Norman (I never called him -- or heard him called -- "Norm") was a collector of and dealer in comics, records, books, magazines, and original artwork, among other things, operating out of his building on upper Main Street in Northampton, MA. I met him during my college years, when I would occasionally come over from Amherst to Northampton to shop for second-hand comics (the ones I could afford, that is) at his store, Omega Books. I remember that Norman was an admirer of Jack Kirby's work, and this led me into conversation with him. Eventually, I guess Norman thought I was smart enough to work for him on a part-time basis as a clerk in Omega Books, which was kind of a dream job for me.

I learned a lot from Norman in those years about comics, and comic art, and things collectible. I remember him showing me old magazines he would buy and sell to collectors, pointing out the beautiful painted artwork by illustrators such as J.C. Lyendecker. The first comic book convention I ever went to was in New York City, and I went there with Norman to work at his table in the dealers' room. I think it was at that convention where, with Norman's assistance (he pointed me in the direction of the dealer who had the art), I got my first piece of comic book art, a page from "The Mighty Thor" featuring artwork by Jack Kirby (inked by Vince Colletta), a page which I still have and still treasure.

I think I worked part-time for Norman for a couple of years, and during that period I would occasionally do drawings for him to be used in advertisements for Omega Books. Norman encouraged me in my pursuit of an illustration career, though he was always frank about when a drawing of mine was substandard, and I appreciated that.

One thing I remember doing for Norman during those years was helping him make the store sign for Omega Books which hung on the facade of his building. At the time, I still had access to the wood shop over at UMass, and I used that access to the power saws there to cut large letters out of masonite, letters making up the words "Omega Books", which would be mounted on a long strip of masonite and painted. (If memory serves, the "O" in "Omega" was actually the Greek symbol for Omega, Ω.) I think that sign stayed on the outside of the building for several years, and I remember looking at it from time to time and wishing I'd been more precise about the cutting I'd done around some of the letters.

When I moved away to New Hampshire and then to Connecticut, I lost touch with Norman, but when I moved back to the Northampton area I would occasionally run into him in town. He was getting increasingly hard of hearing in his later years, so it was harder to have a conversation with him, but it was always worth it, as Norman always had something interesting to say. -- PL

P.S. The photo above is of Kevin Eastman and Norman at a San Diego Comicon, probably in the mid-1980's. I apologize for the poor quality and wish I had a better one of Norman, but that's actually the ONLY one I have of him, as far as I know.


BL said...

Sorry to hear about Norman. I kind of remember that name, and the store...sounds like you really knew him and learned a lot from him.
I wonder what ever happened to that guy from the old book store in North Adams where we would go after church? I remember him as always being busy and running around and almost annoyed a bit when we spent our 25 cents or so after poking around a lot.(nice memory though)

Anonymous said...

I met Norman at college-Northwestern-and we were close friends. We both moved to
NYC after school and we spent a
lot of time together at a lot of movies many of them double features on 42nd street. He gave me 1960-62 copies of Film Culture mag. I visited him in Mass. and he took me to Walden Pond. He is responsible for my taste in film and my avid interest in movies. I have thought of him
often over the years. Learning
of his death today has been quite a blow.

Robin Deck

Lou W said...

I'm also sorry to hear about Norman's passing--I was just thinking about Omega Books and your Little Used Book Shop today. I went to school at UMass from 1976 - 1978, and would go into Northampton every Saturday on the bus to shop at Omega, and later, your bookstore in the side of the stairwell (where I used to tell people that if two people wanted to shop there, and get by each other, both would have to go out into the stairwell to change positions). I purchased many a used comic from you (Metal Men, and other old DCs) while I was at school there, and at Norman's I bought Star*Reaches and undergrounds (and passed on a chance to buy a Grey Morrow Perry Rhodan cover sketch for $15 at the time--thinking it was too expensive for me when I was only making $20 a week--and then when I had the money, it was gone).

Those were some of the happiest days of my life.

I've purchased your comics over the years, visited Words and Pictures many times, and was happy that when you made it big, you never forgot your roots and gave back to the Comics Community.

I remember how Norman was losing his hearing, and when I was attending shows in the Boston area back in the late '70s and '80s, I would run into him from time to time. He still remembered me by sight, and was always friendly.

It's probably been 30+ years since I last saw him, and I always wondered if he were still around. I hope he had a great rest of his life, because he was a great guy.

Rest in Peace, Norman.

Lou Wysocki