Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Late Great Gene Colan

Legendary comic book artist Gene Colan, know for his work Marvel's Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck, passed on 23 June 2011 at the age of 84. The cause was complications from cancer and liver disease.

Gene Colan was born Eugene Jules Colan in The Bronx on on 1 September 1926. He grew up in Manhattan. He studied at the Art Students League of New York. He began his career in comic books in 1944, working on Fiction House's Wings Comics. He tried to enlist in the Marines, but withdrawn from the Corps by his father as he was too young. Once he came of age he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served in the Philippines.

After demobilisation in 1946 Gene Colan went to work for the company later known as Marvel Comics. There he worked on Captain America Comics and other titles. When the company let much of its staff go in 1948 due to a decline in sales, he went to work as a freelancer. He illustrated many stories for National Periodical Publications' (now DC Comics) various war titles, including Our Army At War and All American Men at War. As a freelancer who would continue to work on war titles for the company that would become Marvel Comics as well.

It was during the Silver Age of Comic Books (roughly 1956 to 1969) that Gene Colan came into his own. As a freelancer at National Periodical Publication he worked on many of their romance titles. At Marvel Comics he was the initial artist on the revival of The Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish and took over from Don Heck on Iron-Man in Tales of Suspense. He would work on many of Marvel Comics' best known superheroes, including Captain America, Daredevil, and Dr. Strange. While other artists working for Marvel Comics would try to emulate the styles of Jack Kirby or Steve Dikto, Gene Colan developed his own style. A fan of motion pictures for his entire life, he had a very cinematic style, very much influenced by film noir.

It was while at Marvel Comics that Gene Colan would make history twice. The first time was in 1969 when he and Stan Lee created The Falcon, one of the earliest African-American heroes, in the pages of Captain America. In 1972, with inker Tom Palmer, Mr. Colan went to work on The Tomb of Dracula, which placed the legendary vampire in modern day America. Mr. Colan would remain the critically acclaimed series for most of its run. He also illustrated most of the run of the legendary series Howard the Duck.

In the Eighties Gene Colan would go back to work for DC Comics. From 1982 to 1986 he was the primary artist for the "Batman" feature, illustrating it both in Batman and Detective Comics.  At DC he would also work on Wonder Woman, Silverblade, Night Force, Jemm Son of Saturn, and The Spectre In the Eighties Mr. Colan would also work for Archie Comics and the independent Eclipse Comics.

Gene Colan would return to Marvel for work on a revival of The Tomb of Dracula, Blade, and Captain America. He also worked for Dark Horse Comics on the Buffy the Vampire series and did some of the insert artwork for Rob Zombie's album Hellbilly Deluxe.

Gene Colan had an inordinately long career, starting in 1944 and ending in 2009. There can be no doubt for the reason for. Mr. Colan's long career. Quite simply, he was among the greatest comic book illustrators of all time. A stickler for detail, Gene Colan modelled his artwork on reality, using actor Jack Palance as his model for Dracula (this was before Mr. Palance was cast as the vampire in the Dan Curtis television movie) and actually going to the police once so he could look at a .38 for the illustration of a handgun. Beyond his attention to detail, Gene Colan had a highly cinematic style of artwork. Influenced by motion pictures, his artwork tended not only to be realistic, but very flowing as well. He was obviously a student of film noir, as he manipulated light and shadow as no other artist had before him. This made him ideal for his work on The Tomb of Dracula, which in his hands looked like a Hammer horror film on paper. While Gene Colan would influence generations of artists to come, his work remains unique to this day. Unwilling to adapt to the styles of others and having created own distinct style, Gene Colan remains one of the greatest comic book illustrators of all time.

1 comment:

J. Marquis said...

My God, that's a long career.

I enjoyed his Marvel stuff a lot when I was a kid, especially Daredevil.