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Gene Colan: Ten Years On

Perhaps this was more appropriately posted back in June (the month of his passing), but as September marks his 95th birthday, that’s fine.

It’s hard to believe the great Gene Colan has been gone for ten years. And what a different (but not in the least bit better) world it is today compared to even back then.

Late ’70s Colan cover to DAREDEVIL #154, nicely inked by Steve Leialoha.

Gene’s most famous works surely include his long runs for Marvel Comics on Daredevil in the 1960s and ’70s, and Tomb of Dracula for most of the ’70s, plus Steve Gerber’s Howard the Duck, also in the ’70s, and for DC Comics a terrific on-off run on DC’s Batman titles circa 1981-86, and a couple of years on Wonder Woman during the same period. All great stuff, but maybe I have a particular soft spot for the Daredevil books.

Anyhow, Gene was a great, great comics artist—equal mixes of graceful & clumsy, exciting & languid, moody & atmospheric, and sometimes more than a little bit weird. And while he never quite mastered perfect anatomy, his use of shadow & light was absolutely superb… although, in traditional comic book terms, sometimes damn near impossible to ink properly. Personally, I wouldn’t even try!

I think that the interpretatively sensitive inking of Tom Palmer and Klaus Janson fared the best with Gene’s unique pencils—far more effective than the conventionally literal efforts of people like Frank Giacoia and Bob Smith, where perhaps more of the drawing details remained intact, but the textures were all flattened into solid black.

As printing quality in comics improved in the 1980s, we saw a lot of Gene’s later work reproduced direct from the pencils, with mixed results. The best of it was undoubtedly terrific.

His final comics story was a double-length tale in Captain America #601 (2009).

Captain America 601 Cvr
Cover for 2009’s CAPTAIN AMERICA #601—Gene’s final comic.

While Ed Brubaker’s script was quite serviceable, Gene—in spite of extremely poor, failing eyesight—toiled over the art for more than 12 months, finally turning in a great job… not his best, but definitely a solid effort which benefitted from being shot from the original pencils. The book, which won a 2010 Eisner Award, was published in two editions: a regular edition with Photoshop colouring, and a B&W edition with the raw pencil art. Naturally, I prefer the latter. Below is a comparison I found on the Web.

Captain America 601 8

Gene continued to do private commissions (his main bread & butter in the last decade or so of his life) until just two months before he passed away. Quality was variable (his eyesight really was rotten in later years; the work he did is pretty miraculous), but always interesting—the best ones were very good indeed.

This gives me an excuse to post a couple of commissions I had Gene do for me in 2006. The first was shortly after my mother died. Mom and I were both big fans of Orson Welles, and Gene Colan was actually mom’s favourite comic book artist—her best-fave work of his being the second Nathaniel Dusk series (1985) for DC Comics. So getting Gene to draw Orson and dedicate it to mom seemed like a nice tribute that she’d have appreciated. And it worked out pretty nicely.

Orson Welles Gene Colan 2006

The other commission was a larger piece, depicting one of my demonic characters from a concept/series I originally created back in 1993 entitled Hard Luck City. I’ve never quite got this project off the ground, in spite of various stalled/abortive attempts, but Gene’s contribution is quite a special moment!

Gene Colan - Hard Luck City

Ten years? Gone but never forgotten, Gene.

3 thoughts on “Gene Colan: Ten Years On”

  1. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Gene several times at NY Comic Cons. He was always interesting and engaging. When I mentioned that one of the scenes of Tony Stark walking through a lonely alleyway reminded me of the opening scene of the Fugitive TV series starring David Jannsen, which was on-air the same time as his “Iron Man” stories in Tales of Suspense and asked if that influenced him he exclaimed in the affirmative, noting that he often had TV on in the background while he was drawing, I believe with the sound off and music playing.

    An extremely talented and warm-hearted man who is greatly missed.

  2. Undoubtedly one of my favourite comic artists. Having been scarred by the Marvel UK Dracula reprints, at the age of five, for me his signature work will always be Tomb of Dracula, with Howard coming a close second due to the quality of the scripts. I thought your comments of inking Colan were remarkably insightful.

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