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CSBG Archive

75 Greatest Batman Writers and Artists: Artists #30-26

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27. Gene Colan

When Gene Colan left Marvel in 1981 after well over a decade at the company, it was a really big deal. Colan was sick of Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, who he felt was overly critical of his work. So he went to DC, who welcomed him with open arms and quickly made him the regular artist on the Batman titles (which were just then trying out an interconnected style of writing by Gerry Conway between the two books). He brought over his trademark dynamic art, as well as his legendary bizarre panel arrangement, like in this story where Batman is trying to prove to Man-Bat that his daughter is alive…

batart27a

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However, while DC was initially very welcoming, they soon determined that Colan’s unique style was TOO unique for the Bat-books, so they ended up giving him a lot of the same criticisms he was receiving from Marvel over his work on the Bat-titles (he also did an odd little run on Wonder Woman, a title that didn’t match is style at ALL).

26. Graham Nolan

Paired with writer Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan had a remarkably long and consistent run on Detective Comics. He drew the title for over five years, missing only a handful of issues along the way. Early in his tenure on the Bat-books, Nolan also created Bane with Dixon. Nolan’s work was mostly known for the expressive features he gave his characters – he was masterful at character-driven work, which Dixon gave him lots of to do. He could also do action well, also, of course. I decided to pick an issue that is a bit different from a typical Nolan issue, only because I just love how over-the-top and dynamic it is, like a big blockbuster film…

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Nolan would be great on a modern Batman book. He just did a rare fill-in for Astro City (which was excellent), so he should draw Batman again, as well!

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43 Comments

I’d say Daniel came on well before “the end” of Morrison’s “Batman” run. He came on 6 months before R.I.P. even started.

Wow Graham Nolan’s art still looks great! I agree he should draw Batman again.

joe the poor speller

June 10, 2014 at 5:13 am

Graham Nolan this low? Seriously? I’m shocked and disappointed.

Your details and timeline for Colan is way, way, way off Brian.

Colan did Wonder Woman from ’82-’83. He did Batman from ’82-’86. He didn’t leave Batman at all to do Wonder Woman, he began doing Wonder Woman concurrently with Batman and then switched to do Batman full time alongside creator owned projects like Ragamuffins and prestige comics like Nathaniel Dusk.

Also: four years on the book is hardly DC not knowing what to do with him!

I also think you’re flat out wrong about Wonder Woman. He was great artist for her and that run is totally underrated but I’m working on an article for you about that! :)

I haven’t read any Jock Batman, but that stuff looks nice.

Gene Colan is a legend – but I don’t really remember his Batman work.

Graham Nolan was great at times (The Death of Batman) and lacklustre at others (Devil’s Advocate).

Nguyen’s good – but no-where near top ten for me.

Tony Daniel is inoffensive I guess.

I loved Colan’s Batman. His work on WW was surprisingly good too, I agree with Graeme.

That Tony Daniels sequence looks great, but bench pressing 600 lbs of loose soil means that they buried him in less than 6″ of soil. Even figuring in leverage and saturation and whatnot, it can’t be much more than a foot. It’s… much less impressive.

I’m designing a floodwall right now or that thought would never have occurred to me.

I’m afraid since I didn’t vote for Doug Mahnke, he didn’t make the list. I know he didn’t do much other than the Red Hood books, but I’d easily place him with Jock and Nguyen and slightly ahead of Daniels.

Nguyen, Daniel and Jock were in my top 10. Love those guys. Sad that Nguyen isn’t doing the regular Batman book anymore, he actually is my favorite Batman artist of all time. Love his work.

I’m not really a fan of Tony Daniel, but even I have to admit he did a great job with Batman rising from the grave. Maybe he works better as a Risso/Steranko/Miller type than the Image style he usually uses?

I didn’t vote for Nguyen but I really think in a few years time he’ll be see as one of the best to the draw the character. There aren’t many that can be so consistent and bring such a fully formed vision to a monthly superhero book.

As an editor, I appreciate Denny O’Neil for putting Kelley Jones on Batman and the diametrically opposed Graham Nolan on ‘Tec in the 90′s, it really allowed the books to stand out on their own. I love Nolan and voted for him, he truly seemed comfortable drawing anything Dixon threw at him, but did lack the “glamour” that tends to put artists in that next level. Nolan, Gulacy, even Tom Grummett…everyone loves them, but they’re never in style.

I will never ever ever understand love for Tony Daniel’s work. Cookie-cutter style, questionable storytelling chops, generic in every way. Baffled to see him so high.

“However, while DC was initially very welcoming, they soon determined that Colan’s unique style was TOO unique for the Bat-books, so they moved him to other titles (including an odd little run on Wonder Woman, a title that didn’t match is style at ALL). Still, despite a relatively short run on the Bat-titles, he made quite an impression.”

Wow. So many details wrong in just this one paragraph. Gene worked on BATMAN and DETECTIVE for several YEARS, from almost the beginning of the Gerry Conway era through the entirety of the Doug Moench era (missing a few issues here and there), right up to the stealth reboot that happened after BATMAN #400. That’s about four years–hardly a relatively short run. And his run on WONDER WOMAN happened at the same time as his arrival on the Batman titles.

I’m really happy to see Gene Colan and Graham Nolan make the list. Both are very talented artists. Colan is usually better known for his Marvel work than for his Batman material, but with the recent release of his stories in collected editions it is fortunately finding a new audience. As for Graham Nolan, he is criminally underrated.

I do not know if I would have rated Dustin Nguyen quite so high on the list, but he is a good artist. And I enjoy the work he has done with Derek Fridolfs. Their Justice League Unlimited stories were really exciting.

Daniels, Nolan Ngyen higher than Garcia-Lopez? Okay, not to be offensive but with Colon being the exception, the others are surprisingly high rated. 5 years is a ling time, but Nolan’s work looks pretty generic, especially the pages shown. I own a few issues of his work, but nothing I have come across makes him memorable.
Daniel can be great, if DC wouldn’t make him work as a Jim Lee clone.

Mike Loughlin

June 10, 2014 at 8:21 am

It’s great seeing Gene Coplan make the list as his Batman work isn’t as well-known as his Tomb of Dracula or Dr. Strange. I’m so glad DC released that hardcover collection recently as that stuff’s been out of print for decades.

Also, his Wonder Woman was awesome.

Tony Daniel… pass.

Graham Nolan was a good meat-&-potatoes Batman artist.

Jock’s work in Detective was very good but I thought Franco Francavilla’s art overshadowed it. FYI, if you like Jock’s art but haven’t seen Green Arrow: Year One, go get it. It’s an awesome book.

Dustin Nguyen’s highly stylized work has a lot of charm to go with his technical chops. Good stuff.

The name of the girl in Jock’s Detective issues is Sonia Branch, not Sophie. I’m glad he made the list, I loved his run.

I too find myself unimpressed by what I’ve seen of Tony Daniels to date.

Nguyen’s one of those artists where even early on, I knew I wasn’t going to regret buying the book and he just seems to get better. Not quite in my top ten, but only barely nudged out by artists like Aparo, Sienkiewicz, etc…

I forgot to get my votes in, but Nolan easily would have made my list. I really like his style, and would love it if he was on Batman again. Or actually, I’d probably prefer he worked on something else, since I’m not a huge fan of the current Batman books. Either way, I’d like to see more of his work.

By the way, if Bob Kane lands in the Number One spot, I’m calling shenanigans! :)

I am mortified that Gene Colan wasn’t on my list. He’s one of my favorite artists of all time. It’s just that I don’t really think of his Batman work when I think of him (despite having the recent collection of it on my shelf).

The others seem nice enough.

Just wondering, does anyone know if Grant Morrison’s “burial of the Batman” idea was influenced by KRAVEN’S LAST HUNT?

Frank Milla Batman Gorilla

June 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

Not really a fan of any of the guys in this batch except Gene Colan to an extent.

Now I’m curious what Shooter was critical about Colan’s work….

And Nolan wasn’t in the “modern era?” Ouch. Feel old now.

Speaking of “modern Batman books,” while there has been (fairly) a lot of criticism that too many of DC’s old, particularly pre-Crisis, art looked interchangeably the same, it seems like you could take most of the artist since Morrison started, and definitely post Nu52, and switch them around and take their names off them and you’d have a hard time telling one from another. It’s all fine art; but the style has again become very similar, like DC has one artist be a success and wants to have all their artists look that way on the titles.

Now I’m curious what Shooter was critical about Colan’s work….

M-Wolverine, I’ve heard other artists comment on this in interviews, and Dave Cockrum specifically mentioned this once during a store signing about his own art when he worked for Shooter. Jim Shooter apparently HATED when a penciler would have any part of a figure or object break out of from inside the borders of panels on a comic page.

Now, anyone with even a passing familiarity with Gene Colan’s work will know that he regarded panel borders as mere suggestions. Look at the Batman artwork on display here. Batman’s foot and cap, Mat-Bat’s claw and face, and various other elements all pop out from a number of other panels. That was Colan’s style, and it worked very well for him.

Well, supposedly this drove Shooter crazy. He apparently demanded that Colan change his drawing style so that everything remained strictly within the borders. And Colan, quite understandably, just could not do it. He was being asked to alter an individual, personal style that had worked very well for him for several decades, and which obviously sold books. So then Shooter, rather than accepting that individuality, fired Colan.

You should read comic book historian Blake Bell’s interview with Gene’s wife Adrienne…

http://blakebellnews.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html

I am not one of those people who demonizes Jim Shooter. I do think he did quite a number of good things during his time as editor in chief of Marvel. But in this case I absolutely think he was much too rigid & inflexible, and that he made a very bad call.

Here is a link to the conclusion of the Adrienne Colan interview…

http://blakebellnews.blogspot.com/2011/07/gene-and-adrienne-colan-love-story-p3.html

And my apologies for the typos in the previous comment!

Those are probably not the best pages of Graham Nolan’s to post. The pencils look phoned in and what little quality remains is ruined by the bad computer coloring. I remember really liking his work on Knightfall, more than Aparo’s. Here’s one of Bane in (essentially) Times Square:

http://media.comicbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/graham-nolan-bane.jpg

Pretty rad, no?

@M-Wolverine: Maybe in terms of DC Nu 52 on the whole, but as far as Batman, you’re way off the mark. The two main Batman titles are drawn one by Greg Capullo and the other by Francis Manapul, two artists with unique and immediately recognizable styles. They also have Pat Gleason doing Batman and Robin, they have Jae Lee doing some of Batman/Superman, and maybe this doesn’t count in your mind, but DC also still does “prestige” Batman artist jam type books, not to mention Batman 66. I’m currently reading zero Nu 52 titles, and have no desire to start, but I will say that Batman is enjoying perhaps the most diverse bunch of artists he’s ever seen in his 75 year history.

Also, Colan is actually my favorite Wonder Woman artist. The only commissioned sketch I own is a Colan Wonder Woman that my (non-comic-reading) wife got for me as a birthday surprise.

Gene Colan on his Wonder Woman run:

“I didn’t like [drawing] Wonder Woman,” he admits. “And didn’t think it was anything I should’ve been doing, but I didn’t want to turn anything down, either. Being a freelance artist, you grab what you can get, so I took it on for that reason and didn’t enjoy it.”

But yes, I was off on how long Colan was on the Bat-books. Still, they did give him a lot of the same criticisms he received from Marvel, which was my main point, that he left Marvel because of criticisms about how his art didn’t fit in with the house style and then got the same exact complaints at DC, as well.

And here I am wearing a T-shirt, drinking from a coffee cup and carrying a cell phone all with the Colan-designed Wonder Woman logo on them, like a sucker.

*sob* *sniffle*

Travis Pelkie

June 10, 2014 at 6:00 pm

We’re not saying you’re a horrible person for all that, buttler….

Actually, yes, we are saying that. You’re a horrible person for liking Colan’s Wonder Woman. ;)

@ Cass, that is rad

Batman R.I.P. is a /very/ pretty book. I’m fine with Daniel here. I’m surprised Nguyen isn’t higher. I /think/ I voted for him?

The fact that Gene Colan did not enjoy penciling Wonder Woman yet he still did very solid, quality work on it speaks of a high level of professionalism on his part. Colan was definitely not the sort of artist who would ever phone in a job.

Nolan, Gulacy, even Tom Grummett…everyone loves them, but they’re never in style.

I don’t. I find Grummett’s work quite pedestrian and positively dislike Paul Gulacy’s art.

Nolan had just enough of a little quirk to his style that on a good day I really liked his art. On his weaker days he could be quite bland.

@Cass- So far we’ve had Tony Daniels and David Finch on the list of modern Batman, both very much into the “want to be like Jim Lee” category, and Greg Capullo isn’t all that different. I think Manapul’s pencils aren’t that far off; it just has very distinct coloring on his work. And Pat Gleason is different, but is very much aping Quietly, with some Nguyen style throw in. Jock comes close to the same feel too.

The fact that Colan didn’t like doing Wonder Woman is irrelevant. His run on Wonder Woman is spectacular, I would argue, precisely because he wasn’t the kind of artist who would normally be drawing it especially in the 1980s. But I should really send you what I’m writing Brian. :)

Thanks for the info Ben Herman! Colan was indeed incredible. It’s ashamed his run with Conway has never been properly collected – as opposed to the artist only book which doesn’t do justice to the story arc. I’ve always felt Colan was the kind of guy who would always be true to himself as an artist no matter what he was working on.

I’ve always loved Dustin Ngyuen’s Batman stuff, and the colors used on his work always mesh so well with it. I bought a Bat-villain print from him once…alas I lost it in a move….

Jock has done stellar work, and Daniel has great storytelling chops. And yes, who would have thought that we already had a Nolan Batman blockbuster before Batman Begins?

@M-Wolverine: I agree about Finch and Daniels, but I’m not saying nobody’s doing the “house style,” on Batman, only that it’s a lot less prevalent than you originally suggested. I also think we just differ on what’s similar to what. Francis Manapul’s art (not limited to: linework, coloring, and – especially for Manapul – page design) looks nothing like the other artists to me.

Graeme: No, no, it’s OK. I accept that I’m objectively wrong to like Colan’s Wonder Woman. I’m just gonna go delete my whole Wonder Woman blog now.

Travis Pelkie

June 11, 2014 at 4:44 pm

It’s about time, buttler.

You put the “idiot” in “idiolect”. Leaving… uh, “lec”. Which of course is Slavic for…

oh, hell, I dunno. I just wanted to have some fun teasing buttler and now I fear that it’s gone horribly horribly wrong! I’m so sorry!!!

:)

@Cass: I probably wasn’t considering page design, which is a valid and very different aspect to art. And putting too much weight on Finch and Daniels being the “headliners” (and those getting the McFarlane treatment of “hey, you draw pretty…you can write your own title too!”). I just think a generation at DC that have grown up wanting to draw like Jim Lee isn’t that much different than the hiring mandate of everyone looking like Curt Swan or Gil Kane or such back in the day. In a visual sense, at least. But I think we’re just on the flip side of a nuance; not that far off in our points, really.

At least you didn’t say you liked Colan’s Wonder Woman. I mean, who would say that, really….?

(In a semi-related, serious note, when I was a kid I couldn’t stand Colan’s art, but now I think it’s pretty brilliant. We always talk about things we like in comics as a kid that didn’t age well, but I wonder how many things we didn’t appreciate when young we’re grown to see the value in….)

Nolan is the first of my choices to make the list.
And the image at the top of page 1 was in my list for the greatest covers
A superb iconic image of Batman from Detective comics 704 with his face in shadow and a “column” of bats rising up behind him

I wondered about Colan but, incredible as his art is, I’m not that familiar with his Batman work.

“Jim Shooter apparently HATED when a penciler would have any part of a figure or object break out of from inside the borders of panels on a comic page.”
So, not a fan of Neil Adams, then?

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