I just read that comics legend Gene ‘The Dean’ Colan died late Thursday night after being in a quasi-coma state over the last week. For someone of my age (I’m forty) and with my past experiences reading and collecting comics from an early age, this is a loss that reaches deep to my roots as a fan of comics.
When I think of the works of Gene Colan, it is likely no surprise that one of the first characters that comes to mind is Dracula. If you were reading comics in the Seventies then it would have been hard to miss Colan’s long run on Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula book. As a kid I was not a huge fan of the Dracula title but regardless, I had a few issues of the series and they lingered in my collection for a long time. I likely did not collect the book on a regular basis because I didnt care much about Dracula himself as a character. Colan’s art on the book however did grab me; there was just something about his work on the book that caught my attention as a kid and would not let me go until the whole comic had been read. To my recollection that was my first exposure to Colan but over the years there would be much, much more.
As my comic addiction grew and I became more and more aware of the comic book world around me – especially at that time the whole Marvel Universe of characters -I started to collect a larger number of books. As I became a fan of characters such as Daredevil, Iron Man, Captain America and Doctor Strange, I began to not only follow their current exploits but also to collect their past adventures as well, hunting down back issues at comic book shops and at local conventions. As I did this I was exposed to more and more of Colan’s work and started to really gain an appreciation for just how much had contributed to those characters. This was in the late Seventies and into the early Eighties. Around that time I also started to develop a second appreciation for some of the DC comics characters: it was while vacationing in England one Summer that I had the opportunity to buy a few current issues of Batman and Detective which were both being drawn by Colan at the time (reportedly he went over to DC after having some kind of falling out with Marvel). I can still remember being drawn back into the world of Batman by the stories being told in those two books and part of that storytelling was of course Colan’s art. I remember seeing his work in such series as Night Force, Jemm: Son of Saturn, Silverblade, and even an issue of Secret Origins detailing the origins of the Crimson Avenger.
My recalled list of titles is by no means extensive, but it is pretty clear from what I have listed that the man was an artistic powerhouse and that despite his high level of output he never seemed to let his standards waver. You have to remember that he contributed a 70 issue run on Tomb of Dracula and along run on the Daredevil book while at the same time contributing spot work on several other Marvel titles. That is production.
Wikipedia describes Colan’s style as being “characterized by fluid figure drawing and extensive use of shadow,” and that it was “unusual among Silver Age comic artists, and became more pronounced as his career progressed”. I feel that this is a fair description of his style, an approach to storytelling that always seemed more moody to me than many of the other artists that I was exposed to.
As I grew older, my artistic preferences changed and I found myself less interested in some of the artists that had held my attention as a kid. Admittedly, Colan was among those whose work drifted farther from my comic radar over the years, but recently I found myself enjoying his work once again when he contributed pencils to not one but two different Marvel titles that I was collecting: both Blade the Vampire hunter, and Captain America had issues that featured Colan’s artwork (both characters he had some history with). I would assume that this was as a result of the Marvel brain trust coming to the realization that they had an opportunity to once again have the work of a living comics legend grace the pages of some of the books of characters he had made a considerable contribution to before while he could still strut his stuff and that they better take advantage of it.
Gene Colan’s time with us may have come to an end, but there is no question that his powerful body of work will live on as a part of comic book history.