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A Friday Memorial to a Master

How’d I find out? When Julie woke me up last night to tell me, “Honey, I’m so sorry, Gene Colan passed away.”

Normally my wife would not wake me up for something like that, but Gene Colan was on the short list of comic book artists that Julie has actually conversed with; she’s not really a comics person, so she knows them as people she’s met, rather than by their work. And she remembered Gene as one of the nicest, which of course he was.

We weren’t pals with the Colans, or anything like that. Just fans. We’d only seen Gene Colan at a couple of the San Diego Cons, before we quit going to San Diego. He was always delightful, a real gentleman, and I’m glad that I at least got to meet him and let him know how much I’d appreciated his work over the years. And Julie just liked him because he was so nice.

I only have one Gene Colan story, but it always makes me smile to think of it.

This was about ten years ago; I think it must have been the 2001 Comic-Con. Mark Evanier had conspired to throw Gene Colan a surprise birthday party. With the entire SDCC convention staff as co-conspirators, he’d set Gene up to think he was going to be giving a talk on erasers (no, really, it was in the program schedule) and then the panel would be Gene’s surprise party, including cake. Evanier even somehow got all this on the internet without Gene knowing and invited all Gene’s fans to the panel, so EVERYONE was in on it.

I had told my cartooning students about this and they loved the idea. They knew who he was because I’d used a couple of Colan pages in class, and of course they all knew about Wesley Snipes in Blade and I’d made sure they knew who the original artist was on that, too.

So anyway, I’d told the kids in my summer class that I was going to the Con next week and there was going to be this surprise party, and they wanted to make some cards for Mr. Colan. Several of them wanted to know what he looked like and I told them older, white beard, usually with a baseball cap. So the kids had done these hilarious drawings of Gene, complete with white beard and baseball cap, being wished happy birthday by giant bats and such. I had promised to somehow try and get them into the hands of Mark Evanier before the party (the nice thing about that is that since Mr. Evanier invariably hosts lots of panels at San Diego, I was pretty sure I could get to one that was scheduled before the party and make the handoff then.)

Except I didn’t. There was some trouble that came up– late flight, something, I forget, and I ended up not getting to the convention until long after the birthday party was over. (My friend Kurt Mitchell, a lifelong Colan fan, made it and he assured me it was awesome, they’d actually let Gene Colan talk about erasers for a couple of minutes before wheeling the cake in and springing the surprise, and it was indeed a huge surprise.)

I still had the cards, though, and I finally was able to get them to Gene Colan the following afternoon. Getting to hand them over in person was almost better, at least for me. He was transported. He just grinned from ear to ear and posed for a picture holding the cards so I’d be able to show my kids that Mr. Colan had successfully been wished a happy birthday.

There’s always the work he did, of course. That stuff has already won huge accolades and it will continue to stand the test of time. But when I think of Gene Colan I always think of that moment, how thrilled he was that kids were still seeing his work and loving it.

He also wrote them this note. It was the second entry in the student scrapbook I’d just started that year.

And that really sums it up.

*

Here’s the Colan work I’ll always remember. This isn’t supposed to be any kind of “best of” list or anything… they’re just my favorites. The ones that have stuck with me for decades.

Dr. Strange #10.

Everyone talks about Englehart/Brunner on Doc, but Englehart/Colan was EVERY BIT as good.

That was the first part of a four-parter that blew my little 13-year-old mind. That Steve Englehart-Gene Colan era is still my favorite run on the book; people always talk about the Brunner stuff from that time and it’s brilliant, yes. But the better Englehart stories on Doc were drawn by Gene Colan and he did them proud.

It was the crossover with Dr. Strange that led me to the Wolfman-Colan Tomb of Dracula, as well, and of those my favorite story was Hannibal King and Blade versus Deacon Frost in Tomb of Dracula #53.

This plotline was actually a great example of the old-school serialization, where you'd see something as a subplot for a couple of pages a month over a period of time, until finally it came forward to be the lead story and pay it all off. I wish comics still did that, it's what makes monthlies fun.

Mostly because it had such a great build. Wolfman kept us all on the edge of our seats with that subplot for about a year before it finally paid off. It was worth it.

You don’t normally associate Gene Colan with Superman but I thought his work on Steve Gerber’s Phantom Zone was genius.

It irritates me hugely that this wasn't included in DC's PHANTOM ZONE trade collection. It deserves a high-end reprint.

I know Gene Colan did a lot of Batman work while he was at DC and it is justifiably praised as great — but, really, this is my favorite thing he ever did at DC. I loved the weight he gave everything; especially since Superman stories were usually so bright and airy back then. More, he drew my favorite version of Clark Kent ever, I think.

And of course I think my favorite Gene Colan pages of all time are the Black Widow stories he did for Amazing Adventures.

Those did get the high-end hardcover treatment a year or so ago and I urge you to seek it out. It’s brilliant stuff.

*

I could go on and on, but, really, it would just be repeating myself. Gene Colan was a brilliant artist and a really sweet guy. That’s all anyone needs to know.

I know that this last decade was a rough one for Mr. Colan; he had all sorts of medical and family troubles and I don’t think his passing came as a surprise to anyone who knew what was going on with him. But we can take some comfort that he DID know how much we all appreciated him and his work, and through the tireless efforts of Clifford Meth and others we were even able to translate that into tangible financial support to help him get by. I hope that, at least, brightened his days somewhat over these last few years.

Rest in peace, Gene; you certainly deserve some peace after all the turmoil of the last five years. You’ll be missed.

36 Comments

Kurt Mitchell

June 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm

How come when you click on the words “my friend” immediately preceding my name, it takes you to a page for Dove beauty soap? Are you trying to tell me something, Greg???

Seriously, words can’t express how sad I feel about Gene’s passing. I only met him the one time at SDCC (and yes, the surprise party was a hoot and a half) and it was immediately clear why Stan Lee nicknamed him “Gentleman Gene.” What a lovely man. The world of comics is poorer for his passing.

How come when you click on the words “my friend” immediately preceding my name, it takes you to a page for Dove beauty soap? Are you trying to tell me something, Greg???

Oh, God. That’s not something I did — that’s Jonah’s auto-advertising-google-match-somethingorother widget, it’s all over CBR. We can’t control it or even turn it off, I’m afraid. But I think it’s triggered by the word ‘friend’ and not your name, honest.

It’s not his superhero stuff that I associate with Colan; I’m aware of it, of course, but it was a little before my time. For me, it’s the non-superhero stuff he did; Tomb of Dracula, of course, but also Howard The Duck, Night Force, and the second Detectives Inc story. He was such a wonderful storyteller. I never got to meet the man, but everything I’ve always heard about him indicated he really was as good a man as he was an artist, and that’s saying something.

(I was happy to see you include the Phantom Zone series on your short list – that’s one story that gets mostly forgotten today, but Gerber and Colan really knocked it out of the park with that one)

Largely forgotten now but, folks, find yourselves copies of the two Nathaniel Dusk miniseries. Great, great stuff.

Very sad to hear; Gene’s lines were some of the smoothest ones in comics, and his women were some of the most graceful and beautiful in the business. He fought really hard against his illnesses, and he will be missed.

Very Sad News. Also, Peter Falk’s passing as well. Not a great day for legends….. :-{

I’m greatly disappointed I’ll never get the chance to meet him. But I agree with you about Doctor Strange. Englehart/Colan is amazing stuff.

I believe it’s that Doctor Strange four-parter that has one of my favorite two-page spreads. Along the top is Strange’s story and along the bottom is Mordo’s story, with them meeting up in the exact same place in the final panel at the bottom-right of the spread. So fluid and well-crafted, not sacrificing information for the sake of making that layout work. Great stuff.

Not many of the old guard left…

Largely forgotten now but, folks, find yourselves copies of the two Nathaniel Dusk miniseries. Great, great stuff.

The art on Nathaniel Dusk is indeed amazing but I really hated the coloring on those. Not Mr. Colan’s fault, certainly, but it does take them off my ‘favorite’ list. I’d have much MUCH rather just had them give us the straight black-and-white pencils.

But yeah, I could have gone on and on. I forgot the indies, too– Stewart the Rat, Ragamuffins, The Spider, all that stuff, and Perry already mentioned Detectives Inc. (recently re-issued, along with the first one by McGregor and Rogers, in a nice omnibus hardcover from IDW.) He was just always good, and when the technology finally arrived to let us see the pure pencil work, he was AMAZING.

Leave us never forget Gentleman Gene’s possibly greatest co-creation, the tragic hero Pstun-Rage, in the Battle of Battle Creek, February 2019, “Something Worth Dying For,” my favorite of all the Killraven stories.
A virtual vancouver no-prize to the first person who knows what “Pstun-Rage” really means.

Wow, February 2019 isn’t that far away anymore……

I envy all of you guys who actually got to meet Colan. Like I noted in Brian’s RIP post, everyone who knew him, colleagues, friends and fans, always describe him as just the kindest, sweetest person imaginable. Thanks for the lovely story, Greg; that photograph of him beaming with the birthday cards almost brings tears to my eyes.
And I definitely agree that that Phantom Zone mini was one of Colan’s (many) masterpieces. He and Gerber really hit that one out of the park, and it’s mind-boggling that it’s never been reprinted.

“The art on Nathaniel Dusk is indeed amazing but I really hated the coloring on those. Not Mr. Colan’s fault, certainly, but it does take them off my ‘favorite’ list. I’d have much MUCH rather just had them give us the straight black-and-white pencils. ”

True. The second miniseries looks a lot better than the first. I’d love to see those get a modern day coloring over pencils like, say, some of those Dark Horse Conan issues drawn by Cary Nord.

Kurt Mitchell

June 25, 2011 at 7:29 am

“Pstun-Rage” = “Grape-Nuts”

That was really lovely Greg.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Colan, but I was such a huge fan of his work.

From Daredevil, through Nathanial Dusk and Ragamuffins, he just got better with age.

Colan never really gets the accolades he deserves, but he certainly had a legendary amount of talent– probably the best “Bronze Age” artist.

Dawn Moriarity-Holley

June 25, 2011 at 10:15 am

Very nice tribute, Greg. I had been looking forward to seeing Colan at DragonCon a few years ago, but that’s when his health took a turn. Though he was slated for an appearance a year or so ago, it wasn’t a surprise when that didn’t happen either.
Perry sums up a lot of my thoughts…it was a sad breakfast for us yesterday morning. Says something that when an aspiring artist friend of ours the other night asked who could we recommend among comic artists for them to study, Colan was one of the first ones we mentioned. I wasn’t nuts about the story on the Spider project that he did, but *love* the art. Liked his stuff long when I was too young to appreciate who did what art on what comic.

When I think of Gene Colan it will be for the work he did on Iron Man. Other than Kirby, he was the only artist who made that hunk of junk interesting.

Gene was the first comic book artist I was a fan of and I got to meet him at a con in the Meadowlands way back in the summer of 1976. What a sweet guy. He even smiled when I saw him walking down the hall and leapt up to take his picture paparazzi-style. (Hey, I was young.)

Also, he was one of the only comic artists that actually knew how to draw kids! I mean the way kids REALLY look. Way too many others draw them as a slightly-off looking adult with a small body and big head.

And it still amazes me that his art worked from realistic stories, to superheroes, to gothic, to farcical. The guy had some range. Gene never lost his artistic touch. There’s never been anyone to even come close to his style, and I hope there never will be.

It’s to bad he didnt do more captain america issues.Next to Romita sr. he was one of the original run artists.I liked his 1966-1975 era best.I wish I could have met him.

Best Comic Book Dracula…ever!

this is one of the best sites i’ve seen yet posted about my father. thank you!!! <3 love Erik Colan

looking back at classic l artwork in the era of bold primary colours Colon`s art is one of the best at capturing the iconic characters he worked with

Thanks for sharing this. That handwritten note sums up Gene perfectly.

Mike Loughlin

June 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I met Gentleman Gene over 10 years ago. He did a signing at That’s Entertainment, a fantastic comic book & record shop in Worcester, MA. I told him about my first contact with his art:

Don Glut had written a book called The Dracula Book in the ’70s. It was an exhaustive study of Dracula movies, with some information on Dracula appearances in other media. I got it out from the library at age 13. There was one Colan page reprinted in the book, and it knocked me out. The shadows, moodiness, and power in that one page turned my idea of what made good comic book art on its head. As I told Mr. Colan, I thought McFarlane & Jim Lee were the be-all and end-all of comics. After seeing that one page, I knew hoe good comic art could really be.

Mr. Colan was visibly moved, and said I had “made his day.” Of course, that made my day. To this day, I regret not being able to stay to get a sketch by the man.

He was one of the best, and I’ll never forget meeting him.

[...] #13 (May 2001), page 55. Artist Gene Colan died this past week at the age of 84; tributes are here and here. See other posts about: Doctor Strange, Gene Colan, Off-Panel, Tom Palmer, Tomb of [...]

a nice tribute to a true Legend greg especially love Gene reaction and joy to the birthday cards. sad the comic world now has a hole that can never be filled with Gene now gone.

It’s just over the past year that I really learned about Gene Colan’s work, and how much of that work I have encountered. The first comic book I ever read was a Colan Daredevil, reprinted in Jungle Action #23, which featured Daredevil and the Black Panther. It captured my imagination when I was 6 years old and amazed me with its quality when I reread it over 30 years later.
For the past few months I’ve been picking up his some of his classic works like: Amazing Adventures #5 and Marvel Super Heroes #18(reprinted in Astonishing Tales#29).
He has a lot a great work out there. Condolences to his family and friends.

Well sad news, I will miss Gene Colan, never had the pleasure to meet him , but enjoyed his work for many years, particularly on Daredevil and Batman, he was a unique artist, he was so great he has no imitators. His legacy shall live on, long live Gene the Dean.

Clifford Meth

June 25, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Thank you Greg. He was special.

A legend, up there with Kirby, Williamson, and so many others as truly great craftsmen. What a great body of work he leaves behind.

His batman was damn good. Dr death, mad monk, man bat.
Great stuff. A comic legend.

[...] Gene Colan gick bort häromdagen. En fin minnesruna hittar du på Comic Book Resources här.Plocka fram dina gamla Tomb of Dracula, Batman, Captain America m fl tidningar som Colan bidrog [...]

Bring Back Zot

June 26, 2011 at 6:43 pm

If you love Gene or his work, there are a few things you can do. Cliff Meth is setting up a Gene Colan scholarship at the Kubert School, and you can make a donation to the school in Gene’s name. Also, buy a Colan book (Tomb of Dracula, Daredevil, Doc Strange) and donate it to your library so others can appreciate the work of this master.

Very well said. You summed up in so many ways what all of us Colan fans feel in the wake of Gene’s passing. Thanks for taking time to share your reflections.

My regards to Gene’s family and friends at this time.
I never met the man but loved his work. Aside from all the ones already mentioned he did some hysterical stuff in the original run of “Not Brand Ecch” but I really loved his black and white stories in Creepy and Eerie. A standout was the story to Frazetta’s Sea Witch cover, a true gem. Look up the Warren magazines work.
He’s in good company with the giants like Kirby.

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