Sunday, May 11, 2008

Original Art Stories: Gene Colan, Part II, A Living Tribute

Once I learnt of Gene Colan's situation I decided to see if I could cheer him up somewhat. To that end I made contact with a lot of people, some Gene knows quite well and some he's probably never met, and asked them all just to write a few words, either Gene the man or Gene the artist and his art. As the responses come in I'll post them up here for all to read and also forward the links/messages on to Gene himself. If you wish to contribute then by all means send something down and I'll make sure it gets here.

Just to enhance the comments I'll also be posting art, covers, photos, some you know quite well and some from my own personal collection that you might not have seen before. Hopefully this all serves to lift Gene's spirits some more.

I only met Gene once, in passing, at a convention appearance (he was very gracious). However, he's always been one of my favorite comics artists, and a great visual artist in general (as his website well shows). I loved from an early age the fluid and realistic understanding of light and shadow demonstrated in his work.

Gene, thanks for the memories.

- Norm Breyfogle

Gene has always been one of my heroes. I moved to NYC in 1971 and started renewing my childhood interest in comics at the same time. Wow, was I ever bowled over by Gene's Daredevil. Not only was it brilliantly drawn but he was recreating the city in which I had just arrived. Even channel seven news showed up (Roger Grimsby as I recall). Nobody could draw the city like Gene. For that matter nobody could draw anything like Gene. After I became a comic artist, I tried swiping him but it was impossible. Gene was too one of a kind and my swipes always stood out like sore thumbs but his photographic, low angle, telescopic lens shots were too seductive not to at least give it a try.

In the late seventies I got to know Gene just a little and all too briefly when he and Marv Wolfman incorporated my stage version of Dracula into the Tomb of Dracula comic book. For three or four pages and a glorious cover, Gene drew the Marvel Dracula coming to The Cherry Lane Theatre to see the play ( and of course, practically destroying the theatre.) Seeing those pages in print were one of the biggest thrills of my career.

Gene is a generous, genius gentleman -- an inspiration and subject of my awe. He's both a pioneer and a guy who's always been years ahead of his time.

- Bob Hall

Besides being a wonderful person, Gene was definitely one of my artistic heroes. I also consider him one of the most unique artists Marvel ever used and a great "stylist". When I pencil, I've always visualized his pencils, as a model for the quality I'm going after.

- Brian Postman

Archie Comics, Charlton, DC, Dark Horse, Dell, Fiction House, Marvel and St. John.

The Avengers, Batman, Blackhawk, Captain America, Captain Storm, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Dracula, Hopalong Cassidy, the Hulk, Iron Man, Spectre, the Sub-Mariner and Wonder Woman.

A diverse grouping? Most assuredly. The common thread? Gene Colan.

There's something to be said for having an artistic specialty, but how about the ability to move seamlessly between genres as varied as horror, romance, western, war and superhero? All have been accomplished successfully by the skillful pencils and inks of Gene Colan in a career that has spanned seven decades! His contribution to the medium is tremendous and his work has given awe and inspiration to countless numbers of satisfied readers of sequential art. Gene is the man!

- The Professor

My first encounter with Gene Colan's work was in Tales to Astonish #71 (a Marvel Pop Art production)! I continued to follow his work at Marvel thru Iron Man and Daredevil and especially his murkily brilliant Doctor Strange. I was still a kid learning to draw at the time and I copied a lot of artists' styles, principally Kirby and Steranko. I never tried to copy Colan's work when I was a kid, tho. Reason is the same as most and the reason you don't see any Colan imitators: Gene is unique, his universe is unique, and we've all been very privileged to to be allowed a glimpse inside that shadowy, misty, mysterious realm. I long for another visit to it. Hopefully we'll see Gene's Captain America soon.

I met Gene much later. Before I even got to meet him, I worked over his pencils on the black and white Howard the Duck magazine, the Tomb of Dracula magazine, and the Rampaging Hulk magazine. Working on Howard was my favorite, tho. I identified with the character. I just hope I'm not quite as big a jerk as Howard got to be under Bill Mantlo. I never wanted Howard and Beverly to break up, even tho the story where they did was an artistic triumph for me as an inker.

I finally met Gene when he was in the office reworking a Captain America splash. Cap was in the water, swimming in New York Harbor (yecch!) with a Coast Guard Cutter behind him. Being a callow youth of 26 or so, I presumed to kibitz on his detailing of the cutter. It was missing the shield and racing stripe. Gene, a meticulous researcher, obviously had not been able to get up-to-date photos in that pre-internet age. I'd been in the Coast Guard only a few years before, so I pulled out my lighter with the insignia on it for Gene to work from. He reproduced the emblem perfectly, of course. That wasn't the amazing part, tho.

Gene already had the ship drawn, I think, before he came into the office. I watched him draw Cap's head. I had never seen anything like it. He simply started with an eye and worked out from there. It was astounding. No oval for the head, no crossbars to line up the features, NOTHING. A beautifully detailed head took shape--and form!--before my eyes, as if by magic. Graphite seemed to simply flow onto the page to create the trademark Colan shadows on Cap.

Gene later went on to DC. I wandered all over the place and wound up in the animation biz.

Gene and I re-connected at the first New York Comic Con at the Javits Center. He was wonderful, of course, as was Adrienne. In the ensuing few years we've become closer. The Colans were very supportive of me last year when I had my cancer operation (I'm fine now, thank you). They would have come to the V.A. Hospital to visit me if I'd given them the info of where I was, exactly. As it was they tried to call me but I couldn't be reached at the time since I was in intensive care with tubes stuck in me. Frankly, I felt like a Berni Wrightson drawing and somehow didn't want them to see me like that.

Gene and I had planned to get together for lunch after I completed my chemotherapy program. Somehow it never quite happened.

So hang in there, Gene! You have to finish that Captain America job and you owe me a lunch date!

Happy Trails
- Dave Simons

There’s no way to express my feelings about Gene Colan in a few words in an email communique.
Gene is one of comicdom’s true immortals. He’s not just a comicbook artist; he’s an artist in the truest sense of the word.

Place one of Gene’s incomparable drawings in the middle of hundreds of others and you can pick his out as clearly as if a beacon is shining on it. Gene has his own sense of style and rhythm and layout and story interpretation. He has a cinematic way of illustrating a story and he never deviates from his unique and inimitable style.

When I was Gene’s editor, I could give him any story, about any subject, featuring any hero or villain or whomever and I never had to give it a second thought. Gene’s artwork is never less than the very best, always exciting, always colorful, always highly dramatic and always the finest representation of Art—with a capital A.

On a personal note—Gene Colan is a gentleman. Honorable, dependable and loyal. I’m proud to call him my friend.

- Stan Lee

Gene Colan. Gezz, I knew I loved the guy's work but my fingers are trembling as I type this. Comics have always been hugely important to me. They probably brought me more joy than anything in my life, except for maybe women (and what can compare to women?). And also more pain as I've tried to make my way through this cockamamie industry - that's how much they mean to me - no one hurts you like the one you love.

But Colan ... you go up and down with who your favourite of all time is. Kirby was they guy who took me out of this world and put me in another one after which I never wanted to be anything so much as a guy who created comics. Steranko mesmerised me, Buscema awed me and still does: he became the guy I wanted to emulate. But Colan, Colan, there was something about his work. You couldn't work out how he did it. I wanted to emulate Big John because I thought I could, but Colan, what he did was so bold and yet so subtle. Daredevil was always one of my favourite strips and it was because of Colan. I loved Stan's scripts but Colan just raised it to an entire new level. I used to anticipate the splash! Colan would always give you an extra one. Daredevil on the edge of the Trapster's floating disc, or just sweeping down the side of a building. Foggy and Karen were real people - no one could make a bunch of people having a conversation as entertaining to look at as Colan. And then when you got an inker like Syd Shores or - sharp intake of breath - Tom Palmer - could it get better? Could it get better? I don't think so. The bar has been raised pretty high these days. But the Sixties is the High Renaissance of comics and whoever you think might be Leonardo, Raphael and Michelangelo (and I'm not talking Ninja Turtles) Colan has to be one of them. Colan is a God, an Olympian. It doesn't age.

Kirby, Buscema, Adams, I'm still drawing on their stuff all the time, but I see Colan creeping out every now and then and it excites me no end. I've breathed in the stuff so often I'm starting to breath a little of it out. I don't see it too many places. The man must have a legion of admirers but maybe not that many followers, because, like I say, it's too hard to emulate. Mazzuchelli (there's another genius) did it on DD and I see it in some of the great Tom Mandrake's work. Particularly when I'm trying to do some suited figure in vigorous action I think, c'mon, gimme a little Colan here, that beautiful looseness and the way the cuff sort of flaps about. Colan was one of the few guys who could draw a guy flying through the air in a suit (creamed by Daredevil's fists no doubt) and make it look as interesting as a guy in a costume.

Colan on Dr Strange, with the inimitable Mr P. The layouts, no one has been more innovative! Sub-Mariner, Captain Marvel, Iron-Man. I was a Marvel nut. I loved it all, so I loved Iron Man. Could I love it more? Yep - when Done Heck (no mean talent) was replaced by Colan (Adam Austen) my God! People in comics can draw that good!

Kirby is a God, too. No doubt. He set the Marvel style but, for my money, in the game of dynamics he created, one or two people beat him at it - Buscema, and Colan. Gene could make it come off the page. If he has a peer in that regard, he has no superior. My God look at some of those spreads and covers! Iron Man facing off against the Melter on the cover of Suspense - Bucky holding up a rock over Cap on Captain America (what a run of issues that was!).

I was in Holland with my brother last year - he's an Adam's nut. Adams or Buscema: that's our big debate. But when the conversation turns to Gene there's no disagreement. It doesn't age, he said, like Adams, it's as fresh today as when it was born. And he went to his bookcase full of hardcover slipcase editions of everything from Sin City to The Authority and brought out a book dedicated to Colan -I can't remember the title - a Portrait in Shadows? And then he went off to bed and I sat there and read for half the night. Colan.

When I see a script someone wants me to illustrate, I say cool, good story, but look at the action pages, I want three four panels, max! LOOK AT THE WAY COLAN DOES IT! That's how I want my pages to look and Colan got it to look that way by pacing it himself - so what if he had to cram a little at the end. He knew what he was doing. it was magic. I read with great sadness about the hard years when Shooter was riding Gene's butt about his working methods. Man, it's Colan. Hello? You don't give a master a manual. Sure, Shooter knew his stuff. He is a genius in his own right, but he just got it wrong there. You give a guy like Colan his head and he'll give you something beautiful, every time. You don't lock him in traces and run him around a little track - here we go Gene, see, one foot after the other, cool, everyone knows where we're going, especially me who's holding the reigns - no, you set him free and let him run around the paddock bucking and kicking and he'll put on a show the crowd will come back for time and again. And John Byrne. Pfft! I don't want to rub it in, dude, you're probably old and wise enough to wish you could erase that shameful episode yourself now, but any creator confident about their own position in the pecking order is going to know better than to go up against a Titan. John Byrne is a terrific writer (which is more than a lot of my writer friends will concede) and he's been a restless innovator and worked hard on his craft (as long as I followed his work). I don't take anything away from John Byrne, but he can't be compared to a Colan - when it comes to drawing - and probably never will be on the best day of his life. I love Byrne's stuff, don't get me wrong. On a scale of 1-100 if the average professional is at 50, he's probably way up around 75-80. But you see how he does it. The formula is transparent. It just isn't as inspired. Like a musician who know ever chord and technique and can cobble together a great solo, you sound cool until Hendrix walks in the room. Or Charlie Parker. You can warble well, and have a room on it's feet, but if Stevie Wonder gets up to do a guest spot, you just know you're going to be eclipsed. That's just the way it is. There's great and there's something beyond that and that's what Colan is to me and those who appreciate him for what he is (and maybe that's what burns Byrne).

I'm about to launch into a 5-issue mini series I'm writing and drawing and Gene is in the forefront of my mind - yep, way before I got this email alerting me to his current troubles. Sure, there are other people who I'll have looking over my shoulder, but Gene is one of the elder gods. When I'm struggling for a dynamic layout, dramatic lighting, that bit of extra action in the page, it's his stuff I'll be thinking of.

I better wind this up. I could go on and on about Colan forever, but other people have their thoughts and feelings to express so I'll get out of the way. But I'll just finish with a final anecdote. I had the great pleasure of meeting Marv Wolfman at a recent con here in Australia and I went to show him my portfolio, but mainly I was looking for an excuse to ask him about Gene. I loved Marv's writing on the Titans and Superman and Batman particularly. But I could hardly remember who Marv was and what he'd done when I met him because all I could think about was that he was this guy who'd worked so much and closely with GENE COLAN, and that's all I wanted to talk about to Marv. The poor guy, you'd think he hadn't had a career of his own.

Colan hit me like a cyclone in my formative years as an artist, and the winds keep blowing back ever since, and they've freshened and grown to hurricane level again in recent years. Time does a lot to establish the true worth of an artist and separates that faddish from what is truly lasting. The Marvel stuff from the 60's and seventies is engraved in my brain. And Nathanial Dusk and Nightforce, I'm starting to collect his other DC work now. I Picked up Wolverine Essentials 2 the other day - dominated by the brilliant Marc Silvestri - but nothing thrilled me more than seeing a story I'd never read before that Colan drew and inked himself (and seeing Big John ink himself after years of churning out Conan layouts was pretty cool too).

So all the best to Gene Colan and his family. My God the man has spread a lot of joy through the world with his talent. God bless.

- Jan Scherpenhuizen

Back in the day I had the pleasure to ink quite a few jobs penciled by GENE COLAN. It was a thrill for me, because as a fan, I loved his stuff. He had what actors call a unique "voice." What I mean by that is that his work was not like anything else published then and now. I guess he was most famous for his superhero work, which I loved, but I think Gene was at his artistic best when he worked for Warren Publication's: CREEPY, EERIE, and BLAZING COMBAT. Gene created many memorable stories for Editor/ Writer Archie Goodwin, which he rendered in grey tone wash with an incredible sense of speed, confidence and spontaneity; wielding a brush with the skill of a master swordsman. Check out his Vietnam war tale in Blazing Combat 4. Just great.

I loved inking his stuff, and did so when Gene worked for DC. Hi pencils had lots of black, and it was illustrative rather than cartoon-y, which excited me creatively. Gene's work was also very intimidating for me as well. His penciling style was intuitive and expressionistic, rather than literal and ordinary. Gene's style allowed for a lot of interpretation on my part, and I always hoped that the line I placed in black worked over his tonal drawing. In the end, every ink line for me was a creative choice, and inking Gene really helped me to understand that inking was an
interpretive craft which required a lot of focus and skill. Some days I was up to it, so I thought, and other days...well, I wished I could have had another shot at it. In any case, I rarely had more fun as an inker, and I guess, all there is left to say is...Thanks Gene!

Steve Mitchell

Dear Gene,
I am a fan of yours from Sri Lanka...
I love your pencils... So unique and so great.
I wish you all the best to get well soon...
to be back at the drawing board where you belong...
Atula Siriwardane
from Sri Lanka

And here ends part one of this living tribute. There'll be plenty more to come and as they arrive they'll be posted, so if you want to be part of it then drop me a line and let the world, and more importantly, let Gene how you feel about him.

In the meantime my good friend Clifford Meth is gathering items for a more substantial effort on Gene's behalf. Check out Cliff's blog and get in touch with him as well - let's help Gene with everything we have.

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