Friday, June 24, 2011

RIP: Gene Colan 1926–2011

Gene Colan with a recreation of the iconic cover art
from Iron Man #1

Faithful Bloglodytes, please forgive this interruption in the blog programming. The conclusion to “Northern Exposure” will appear in the ensuing days. But I wanted to take a brief moment to pay my respects to one of comicbookdom’s greatest artists, Gene Colan, who passed away last night.

Gene may not have laid the foundation for the Marvel Universe, but he was certainly influential in helping make the company the success it is today. His Marvel debut came in 1966 on the Iron Man series in Tales of Suspense #73 (ToS) under the pseudonym Adam Austin (Good friend Mort Todd reminded me that “the Genial One started at Timely-Atlas-Marvel in 1949 on Captain America’s Weird Tales and did loads of horror through the 50s.” The company, however, was not Marvel Comics at that time, and Colan did not gain prominence until his Silver Age return.). This pen name was short-lived and merely to hide his relationship with The House of Ideas from DC with whom he was also working at the time. But Colan’s work was so unique that even Homer Simpson could have figured out Adam Austin’s alias.

Colan held long distinguished runs on the Golden Avenger’s aforementioned original adventures in ToS and the first few issues of Shellhead’s eponymous title thereafter; Sub-Mariner; Daredevil; Dr. Strange and Howard the Duck. But it is his work on Tomb of Dracula for which he is most revered.

Colan created the look of Blade the Vampire Hunter, introduced in Tomb of Dracula

Surprisingly, I was initially not a fan. Colan’s style was unlike anything I’d seen as a young’un. My artistic taste buds had yet to mature. But Colan’s rich, detailed pencils; the fluidity of his actions; the atmosphere of every panel; quickly won me over and proved to be instrumental in developing my love of Surrealism and artistic visions far outside the norm, like the stylings of Bill Sienkiewicz, Jon J. Muth and Skottie Young.

Colan returned to DC in the 80s, working on such series as Night Force, Jemm, Son of Saturn and Silverblade about a B-movie actor who can become the roles he used to portray; an obvious favorite of mine. This full-page splash from issue #9 is a proud addition to my collection.

Sadly, I never had the pleasure of meeting Colan during my days gigging in the Personal Appearance Department at Marvel. It was only many years later that I met the man at a Big Apple Convention. I was actually working the show so was able to fawn all over the artist without fear of the show’s security escorting me out of the building.

I introduced Wondrous Audrey to Colan when she stopped by to see me, telling her how much I loved his work and showing her examples from the stack for sale on his table, which I forlornly flipped through, knowing I was in no position to buy anything. Not that his stuff was insanely priced—it was mind-staggeringly cheap, considering the source—but I had recently lost my job and could ill-afford to buy coverless copies of the individual comics whence the art came, never mind the art itself.

Imagine my delight and surprise, when I received a piece of classic Daredevil #34 art from The Wondrous One that Christmas. She’d purchased it right under my nose at the convention… sigh

A few more years later I met Colan again at the second annual New York ComiCon. I was in a better position to purchase something but hadn’t brought enough cash or my checkbook. Fortunately, Colan was kind enough to agree to set aside the Howard the Duck Magazine page I wanted with the stipulation that I send him the check the week following the show.

He also offered to send me an autographed copy of the newly released—and gorgeous—Secrets and Shadows: The Art & Life of Gene Colan by TwoMorrows Publishing for twenty dollars (The book retails for $44.95!), which he would send with the artwork. he didn’t even ask for postage & handling, but I added additional money to cover those costs.

Despite failing health and increasingly poor eyesight—he was down to one working eye and that just barely—Colan continued to do commissions without a hint of his talent waning.

I think tonight I’ll read Secrets and Shadows.

Colan would’ve liked that.

1 comment:

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