We are saddened to report the passing of artist Gene Colan, one of my favourite all time cartoonists. September 1, 1926 June 23, 2011.
I regret to announce that my friend Gene Colan died at about 11 PM on June 23. Gene spent this last week in a quasi-coma state following a broken hip and complications from liver disease. He was 84, Colan's friend, writer Clifford Meth, posted on his blog on Friday, June 24, 2011.
I am terribly saddened to lose Gene. He was a gentle and deeply spiritual man, a bright light in every context, and those who knew him at any level were enriched by his warmth and generous nature, Meth said.
Known for this moody, evocative work on Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula, Doctor Strange, two Nathaniel Dusk, Private Investigator mini-series, and a Detectives, Inc. graphic novel, among many other projects, his career started with Wings Comics in 1944 and he won the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue for his work on Captain America #601.
Colan was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2005.
Born in The Bronx, New York City, New York, the son of parents who ran an antiques business on the Upper East Side, Gene Colan began drawing at age three. "The first thing I ever drew was a lion. I must've absolutely copied it or something. But that's what my folks tell me. And from then on, I just drew everything in sight. My grandfather was my favorite subject". He attended George Washington High School in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, and went on to study at the Art Students League of New York. His major art influences are Syd Shores, Coulton Waugh, and Milton Caniff.
He began working in comics in 1944, doing illustrations for publisher Fiction House's aviation-adventure series Wings Comics. "[J]ust a summertime job before I went into the service", it gave Colan his first published work, the one-page "Wing Tips" non-fiction filler "P-51B Mustang" (issue #52, Dec. 1944). His first comics story was a seven-page "Clipper Kirk" feature in the following month's issue.
After attempting to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II but being pulled out by his father "because I was underage", Colan at "18 or 19" enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Originally scheduled for gunnery school in Boulder, Colorado, plans changed with the war's sudden end. After training at an Army camp near Biloxi, Mississippi, he joined the occupation forces in the Philippines. There Colan rose to the rank of corporal, drew for the Manila Times, and won an art contest.
Upon his return to civilian life in 1946, Colan went to work for Marvel Comics' 1940s precursor, Timely Comics. He recalled in 2000,
"I was living with my parents. I worked very hard on a war story, about seven or eight pages long, and I did all the lettering myself, I inked it myself, I even had a wash effect over it. I did everything I could do, and I brought it over to Timely. What you had to do in those days was go to the candy store, pick up a comic book, and look in the back to see where it was published. Most of them were published in Manhattan, they would tell you the address, and you'd simply go down and make an appointment to go down and see the art director". Al Sulman, listed in Timely mastheads then as an "editorial associate", "gave me my break. I went up there, and he came out and met me in the waiting room, looked at my work, and said, 'Sit here for a minute'. And he brought the work in, and disappeared for about 10 minutes or so... then came back out and said, 'Come with me'. That's how I met [editor-in-chief] Stan [Lee]. Just like that, and I had a job".
Comics historian Michael J. Vassallo identifies that first story as "Adam and Eve Crime Incorporated" in Lawbreakers Always Lose #1 (cover date Spring 1948), on which is written the an internal job number 2401. He notes another story, "The Cop They Couldn't Stop" in All-True Crime #27 (April 1948), job number 2505, may have been published first, citing the differing cover-date nomenclature ("Spring" v. "April") for the uncertainty.
Hired as "a staff penciler", Colan "started out at about $60 a week. ... Syd Shores was the art director".[ Due to Colan's work going uncredited, in the manner of the times, comprehensive credits for this era are difficult if not impossible to ascertain. In 2010, he recalled his first cover art being for an issue of Captain America Comics; Colan drew the 12-page lead story in issue #72, the cover-artist of which is undetermined. He definitively drew the cover of the final issue, the horror comic Captain America's Weird Tales #75 (Feb. 1950), which did not include the titular superhero on either the cover or inside.[
After virtually all the Timely staff was let go in 1948 during an industry downturn, Colan began freelancing for National Comics, the future DC Comics. A stickler for accuracy, he meticulously researched his countless war stories for DC's All-American Men at War, Captain Storm, and Our Army at War, as well as for Marvel's 1950s forerunner Atlas Comics, on the series Battle, Battle Action, Battle Ground, Battlefront, G.I. Tales, Marines in Battle, Navy Combat and Navy Tales. Colan's earliest confirmed credit during this time is penciling and inking the six-page crime fiction story "Dream Of Doom", by an uncredited writer, in Atlas' Lawbreakers Always Lose #6 (Feb. 1949).[
He would rent 16 mm movies of Hopalong Cassidy Westerns in order to trace likenesses for the DC licensed series, which he drew from 1954 to 1957.
While freelancing for DC romance comics in the 1960s, Colan did his first superhero work for Marvel under the pseudonym Adam Austin. Taking to the form immediately, he introduced the "Sub-Mariner" feature in Tales to Astonish, and succeeded Don Heck on "Iron Man" in Tales of Suspense.
Shortly afterward, under his own name, Colan became one of the premier Silver Age Marvel artists, illustrating a host of such major characters as Captain America, Doctor Strange (both in the late-1960s and the mid-1970s series), and his signature character, Daredevil. Operating, like other company artists, on the "Marvel Method" in which editor-in-chief and primary writer Stan Lee "would just speak to me for a few minutes on the phone, tell me the beginning, the middle and the end [of a story] and not much else, maybe four or five paragraphs, and then hed tell me to make [a 20-page] story out of it," providing artwork to which Lee would then script dialogue and captions Colan forged his own style, unlike that of artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, whom Lee would point to as exemplars of the Marvel style:
[W]hatever book he thought was selling, he would have the rest of the staff try to copy the same style of work, but I wouldn't do it. I'd tell him if you want Stevie Ditko then you'll have to get Stevie Ditko. I can't do it, I have to be myself. So he left me alone. ... He knew I meant it and that I couldn't do it and there was no point in trying to force me to do it. Stan recognized something in my work from the very start, whatever that was, that gave my first big break. And I always got along very well with Stan; not everybody can say that but I did ... so he let me do pretty much what I wanted to do.... [T]here was always some little change here and there, but basically he left me alone. ... And I was intimidated by Stan. I didn't want to go into his office, it upset me a little bit, but he was very nice to me. He left me pretty much alone because I was able to deliver pretty much what he was looking for, so we never had any trouble.
Colan's long run on the series Daredevil encompassed all but three issues in an otherwise unbroken, 81-issue string from #20-100 (Sept. 1966 - June 1973), plus the initial Daredevil Annual (1967). He returned to draw ten issues sprinkled from 197479, and an eight-issue run in 1997. Colan admitted relying upon amphetamines in order to make deadlines for illustrating the series Doctor Strange.
In Captain America #117 (Sept. 1969), Colan and writer-editor Stan Lee created the Falcon, the first African-American superhero in mainstream comic books. The character came about, Colan recalled in 2008,
...in the late 1960s [when news of the] Vietnam War and civil rights protests were regular occurrences, and Stan, always wanting to be at the forefront of things, started bringing these headlines into the comics. ... One of the biggest steps we took in this direction came in Captain America. I enjoyed drawing people of every kind. I drew as many different types of people as I could into the scenes I illustrated, and I loved drawing black people. I always found their features interesting and so much of their strength, spirit and wisdom written on their faces. I approached Stan, as I remember, with the idea of introducing an African-American hero and he took to it right away. ... I looked at several African-American magazines, and used them as the basis of inspiration for bringing The Falcon to life.
Dracula and BatmanColan also in the 1970s illustrated the complete, 70-issue run of the acclaimed horror title The Tomb of Dracula, as well as most issues of writer Steve Gerber's cult-hit, Howard the Duck.
Colan, already one of Marvel's most well-established and prominent artists, said he had lobbied for the Tomb of Dracula assignment.
When I heard Marvel was putting out a Dracula book, I confronted [editor] Stan [Lee] about it and asked him to let me do it. He didn't give me too much trouble but, as it turned out, he took that promise away, saying he had promised it to Bill Everett. Well, right then and there I auditioned for it. Stan didn't know what I was up to, but I spent a day at home and worked up a sample, using Jack Palance as my inspiration and sent it to Stan. I got a call that very day: 'It's yours.'"
Back at DC in the 1980s, following a professional falling out with Marvel, Colan brought his shadowy, moody textures to Batman, serving as the Dark Knight's primary artist from 19821986, penciling most issues of Detective Comics and Batman during that time. He was also the artist of Wonder Woman from early 1982 to mid-1983. Helping to create new characters as well, Colan collaborated in the 1980s with The Tomb of Dracula writer Marv Wolfman on the 14-issue run of Night Force; with Cary Bates on the 12-issue run of Silverblade; and with Greg Potter on the 12-issue run of Jemm, Son of Saturn. As well, he drew the first six issues of Doug Moench's 1987 revival of The Spectre.
Colan page from The Tomb of Dracula #40 (Jan. 1976). Inked by Tom Palmer.Colan's style, characterized by fluid figure drawing and extensive use of shadow, was unusual among Silver Age comic artists, and became more pronounced as his career progressed. He usually worked as a penciller, with Klaus Janson and Tom Palmer as his most frequent inkers. Colan broke from the mass-market comic book penciller/inker/colorist assembly-line system by creating finished drawings in graphite and watercolor on such projects as the DC Comics miniseries Nathaniel Dusk (1984) and Nathaniel Dusk II (198586), and the feature "Ragamuffins" in the Eclipse Comics umbrella series Eclipse #3, 5, & 8 (198183). All these were written by frequent collaborator Don McGregor.
Independent-comics work includes the Eclipse graphic novel Detectives Inc.: A Terror Of Dying Dreams (1985), written by McGregor and reprinted in sepia tone as an Eclipse miniseries in 1987, and the miniseries Predator: Hell & Hot Water for Dark Horse Comics. He contributed to Archie Comics in the late 1980s and early 1990s, drawing and occasionally writing a number of stories. His work there included penciling the lighthearted science-fiction series Jughead's Time Police #1-6 (July 1990 - May 1991), and the 1990 one-shot To Riverdale and Back Again, an adaptation of the NBC TV movie about the Archie characters 20 years later, airing May 6, 1990; Stan Goldberg and Mike Esposito drew the parts featuring the characters in flashback as teens, while Colan drew adult characters, in a less cartoony style.
Back at Marvel, he collaborated again with Marv Wolfman on a new The Tomb of Dracula series, and with Don McGregor on a Black Panther serial in the Marvel Comics Presents anthology.
Later life and careerColan did some of the insert artwork on Hellbilly Deluxe (released August 1998), the first solo album of Rob Zombie, credited as Gene "The Mean Machine" Colan.
In the 2000s, Colan returned to vampires by drawing a pair of stories for Dark Horse Comics' Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.
At various points, Colan taught at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology, and had showings at the Bess Cutler Gallery in New York City and at the Elm Street Arts Gallery in Manchester, Vermont.
He penciled the final pages of Blade vol. 3, #12 (Oct. 2007), the final issue of that series, drawing a flashback scene in which the character dresses in his original outfit from the 1970s series The Tomb of Dracula. That same month, for the anniversary issue Daredevil vol. 2, #100 (Oct. 2007), Colan penciled pages 1820 of the 36-page story "Without Fear, Part One"; the issue additionally reprinted the Colan-drawn Daredevil #90-91 (Aug.-Sept. 1972).
On May 11, 2008, Colan's family announced that Colan, who had been hospitalized for liver failure, had suffered a sharp deterioration in his health. By December, he had sufficiently recovered to travel to an in-store signing in California. He continued to produce original comics work as late as 2009, drawing the lead feature in Captain America #601 (Sept. 2009). Subsequently, he won an Eisner Award for Best Single Issue (together with writer Ed Brubaker) for his work on that issue.
Colan died on June 23, 2011, following complications from liver disease and a broken hip received in a fall.