Gene Colan, 84, worked in the industry nearly 70 years and influenced countless artists with his legendary work on series like Daredevil, Doctor Strange and Tomb of Dracula.
“Gene Colan was like no other artist of his generation," said Jim Lee, artist and co-publisher at DC Entertainment. "His ability to create dramatic, multi-valued tonal illustrations using straight India ink and board was unparalleled. The comics industry has lost one of its true visionaries today."
"Gene is one of those rare breed of comic book artists that invent their own idiom," said Tom Brevoort, executive editor and senior VP of publishing for Marvel Comics. "Colan’s work never looked like anybody else’s—he was a true originator, a one-of-a-kind visionary. In terms of both tenure and quality of work, it would be hard to point to many peers who had a career the equal of Gene Colan’s. Beyond that, he was a gentle pixie of a man, sensitive and almost childlike in the glee he took in old black and white movie, and, of course, the work."
“Gene Colan is a one-of-a-kind artist whose style is as synonymous with my early comics-reading experience as that of Jack Kirby, Neal Adams or John Buscema," said Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief at Marvel. "When you read a comic book that Gene illustrated you are transported into his world. When I think Dracula, the first image that pops into my mind is Gene’s rendition. I’m sure I’m not alone."
"Gene Colan was one of the great draftsmen in the industry and his work is a fond part of some of my best comic book memories," said Dan DiDio, co-publisher at DC Comics.
As so many creators are sharing their memories of the artist, we decided to let Gene's work do the talking for the vast number of people in the industry whom he influenced. So we asked comic creators the following question:
What is your favorite Gene Colan work and why?Neal Adams
We haven't found a way to measure the value of a talented man or woman. There are so many categories. There's the work, of course, and I have watched it evolve, and I recommend viewing that evolution. There's inspiration. Who was not inspired by Gene Colan? I was. I would search for his work whenever it popped-up, long before he became established at Marvel. Then there's the artist that could add the finishing touches to less finished charters, like Ironman, and Daredevil, making them suddenly real, and almost alive. I read every book he drew.
He ought not to have gone. I have more to learn.
From the age of nine, when I discovered Marvel Comics, I was a fan of Gene Colan, on Daredevil, and Iron Man as well. He was an amazing talent, who drew things bigger than life, and had an output that puts most of us to shame!
The one somewhat amusing memory I have, specifically tied to Daredevil #29, my first Daredevil purchase, was the cover image of him being unmasked by some thugs! My child's mind wasn't overly bothered by the fact that Matt Murdock wore his dark glasses under his DD mask! The image was so alarming and compelling to me that I just accepted it. Gene's work was like that for me-- his use of real
Manhattan settings in Daredevil, as the hero swung past on his line, made me believe it was possible. That he had such an enduring career, and that he touched so many iconic characters, for many companies, is a testament to his craft. The guy could make this stuff believable. He has passed from the mortal plane, but his work lives on.Dale Eaglesham
Gene Colan was a titan of the Silver Age of comics. His beautiful Golden Age-worthy rendering flowed seamlessly with his use of jarring, dynamic camera angles. I always thought Gene was ahead of his time with those dynamic layouts and fearless P.O.V’s. Works of his that stand out to me are Captain Marvel #2 and the battle with the Super-Skrull. I loved this comic as a kid and like many of Gene’s stories, his versatility as an artist is on full display here.
Doctor Strange, issue 16, vol. 2 is a masterpiece of fantasy and an issue I have long treasured. Gene had the raw artistic talent to to tackle any genre convincingly and with plenty of style. I loved that he could create such bombastically great superhero scenes and then spin on a dime and give us refined emotion and humanity.
Gene Colan was a pillar of the art world, a true great of the industry, and his memory will live on in all the wonderful art he gave us over the years.Ron Garney
I remember Gene's Dracula work with Tom Palmer more than anything else. Thats not so say that all of Gene's work is nothing short of incredible but at the time in the early to mid-seventies it was what had the most visceral impact on me. Hammer films were prominent at the time and I still connect with Gene's rendition in the
way he sort of depicted him as a cross between Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. I connect with those films and Gene's version more than any other interpretation.
He was a master of layout, lighting, form and story and knew how to push boundaries in ways that were ahead of his time. I'm glad I was able to meet him at NYCC a few years ago and express my gratitude for all that I learned and enjoyed from him.
Mike Deodato Jr.
Gene Colan may be best remembered by some as "a master of light and shadow" whose amazing run on Tomb of Dracula has recently been collected and reprinted by Marvel in their Omnibus editions. But for me, that's too obvious. I look for the fascinating jobs he did where he seemed to be "cast against type" -- a guy who drew all soft, curvy, side-of-the-pencils stuff drawing a hard, sharp, metallic character such as Iron Man for so many years and making it his own. Lots of shadows and contrast? Interesting angles? Some of us were influenced by him in ways we don't even realize, until we think about it.
I never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Colan, but like many comic fans of my generation I loved his work. His seminal work on Daredevil was amazing...he was one of the few guys at the time really bringing and abstract sensibility to his use of anatomy, shadow and page layout. As a kid, and an aspiring comic artist I was in awe of his work...still am.
Daredevil Annual #1 - I found this gem while seeking reference for Daredevil's billy club. I'm a sucker for these kinds of comic pages: part advertisement, part diagram, pure design. And while it could serve as a style guide for the character, it might as well be an instruction manual for how to draw the human hand. Remove the red (and, perhaps, the seams), and you could find this hanging at the Met as a quintessential example of Renaissance mastery.
The master actually paid me a visit at the 2009 New York Comic Con. I have the pictures to prove it. Why I'm just sitting there behind my artist alley table (and not standing and/or kneeling) bothers me to this day. He was so kind and encouraging—he seemed to genuinely like my work—and there is truly no greater compliment I could receive. This was long before I was to pencil Daredevil, but I'd like to think I have his blessing. Either way, my take on the character owes everything to his vision.
I never had the pleasure of knowing him, but I had the distinct pleasure of knowing his work, and as a lot of other fans would agree, that was plenty. I was a '70s and '80s kid, so I knew his '60s and '70s Marvel work mainly through reprints and compilations, and I was somewhat more familiar with Tomb of Dracula and obviously Howard the Duck. I was way more aware of his later DC work, mainly his extensive run of Batman stuff in Detective, as well his Night Force with Marv Wolfman, J'emm, Son of Saturn, and especially Nathaniel Dusk, which looked unlike anything I'd seen before. Amazing work, that last one, all shot from his pencils and very unusual for the time. Inked or not, I always admired that ethereal fluidity in his work that could still knock your teeth out when he wanted it to. His work looked like no one else's, and his storytelling was clear as a bell, without fail. I could go on for hours.
As much as I loved all of Gene's stuff -- Batman, Dracula and Daredevil at the top of the list -- I think my favorite of his work is Nathaniel Dusk, which was a DC mini from the '80s, a period detective story. The art was printed directly from Gene's pencils, no inks, and I think it was the first time I'd ever seen unvarnished pencils printed. It was a revelation for me, just beautiful, expressive stuff.
It'd be too easy to just say Tomb of Dracula, but it's nearly as easy to pop open any issue and find something worth fawning over. This page from #43, the Kolchak tribute issue, so to speak, gives us a fairly rare nearly-silent sequence, creepy and weird and strangely paced. The snow is excellent, but if it were a summer night we'd get a beautiful, curvy Colan girl. This page shows Gene's love of cinematic storytelling, with the bit on the middle tier, the girl running right in to the camera. His Dracula was more Hammer than Universal, but on this page we have to make due with a bare knee. Look at the way the tombstones head the girl off in panel 3. She couldn't help but run straight into that hole! I love the lack of any attempt to give us a clean, iconic bat silhouette. That would be too easy for Gene. He wanted shapes that move on the page.
As a former student of Gene's, for me the work that I think of when I think of Gene is 1991's Tomb of Dracula series that I was lucky enough to have lettered. It was at that moment I felt like a pro. I worked on pages of my teacher and the man who got me into the comic book business.
I'm going to avoid the more obvious choices -- everyone knows how great Tomb of Dracula and Dr. Strange are -- and suggest fans of Gene check out Ragamuffins, the project he did with Don MacGregor. Like Nathaniel Dusk, it was shot from and colored over Gene's pencils, but rather than playing to his long established aesthetic of deep, expressive, nearly anthropomorphic shadows, Ragamuffins was all about light. I mean, the shadows were still there, but the light was alive, like actual daylight playing over the characters' expressive faces and figures. The shadows were the same ones you'd find in a family snapshot. Also, the book featured children as protagonists, not superheroes or monsters, bringing Gene's gift for naturalistic rendering to the fore. The story's pretty great, too.
One of the first "jobs" I got inking was assisting another artist on the Howard the Duck magazine published in the '70s , which was drawn by Gene Colan. I knew I was way over my head at the time, but there was no way I would pass up a gig like that and I really did the best i could. But it just didn't compare to the way it looked penciled. Looking back, I want to get into a time travel ship and go back for a second shot at it, to make Gene proud.
The reality is that I would probably just tell the company to scan his pencils and print them, which was something Gene eventually did and boy, what a treat it was to see that art that way. Gene to me will always be the artist that made comics with real people in them, and with Daredevil especially, he made that character one of my favorites growing up. No one comes close and no one ever will. We lost one of the greats today. Rest in peace my friend, your work will live forever with all of us.
Gene Colan absolutely terrified me. And that's a huge compliment. His work on Tomb of Dracula was the first comic books that really spooked me as a kid. Scary, moody work. His images and innovative storytelling were instantly and uniquely identified, they stood out from all the rest. Classic illustrations with distinct page designs and layouts. Tomb of Dracula stood tall next to every great work of its time. There has never been another talent like his, he remains a true American original. I recommend to any reader not familiar with his work to pick up the Tomb of Dracula collections as well as his work on Daredevil, Iron Man, Night Force and Batman.
Thanks for the great memories Gene. My condolences to his family.
Favorite Gene Colan work? The cover to Detective Comics #546. Sure, it's not one of his most famous pieces, but I've always appreciated that Gene told a fantastic Batman story in one image, and he uses your brain to do it. "Why is Batman 'Wanted: Dead or Alive?' Who's on the other ends of those guns? What's Batman going to do? Who took that picture of Batman that's on that wanted poster, anyway?" You see that cover and not only do you want to pick the book up, you want to know what that story's about immediately.
People have called Gene Colan "an artist's artist." I'm no artist, but I definitely hold him in those high regards. Night Force and Jemm, Son of Saturn were other great Colan works for DC Comics, and his Marvel work on Daredevil, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Captain America is unparalleled. I'm sad Gene's no longer with us, but he's left an incredible body of work behind.
I think Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula, with Tom Palmer, was his masterpiece — a high water mark in comics horror — but I also had a great love for the issues of Daredevil he did, especially those inked by Syd Shores, whom he told me was one of his favorite inkers (maybe even his favorite, I don't specifically recall). I can't put my finger on why I like it so much, it just felt real and noirish and perfect for the gritty big city streets.
I also loved his black and white stuff... that's where his "painting with a pencil" technique really stood out. I once got him to sign an issue of Blazing Combat #3. He asked, very graciously and politely, if he could look through it — which of course I felt he didn't need to ask — and then he pointed to a dead G.I. in one panel, looking vacantly at the reader with a bullet hole in his head, and grinned and said, "That's me." He'd looked in the mirror and used himself as the model. A lot of artists might balk at drawing themselves with a bullet hole between the eyes, but Gene thought it was funny, and though I certainly didn't know him well at all, that seemed to me to reflect his approach to life...he didn't appear to sweat the small stuff and always seemed to enjoy what he was doing. I remember him sketching for hours not long after eye surgery, and even though it obviously was tough on him, he pressed on bravely - to please his fans, of course, but it appeared to me as well that he genuinely loved doing it. He was a brilliant, gentle man and he'll be missed
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