Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spotlight On: Gene Colan

Doug: Welcome back to another creator spotlight. Today the brightness falls on Gentleman Gene Colan, perhaps best known for his Silver and Bronze Age work on Daredevil. Others may recall his tenure on Iron Man or Dr. Strange, or over at the Distinguished Competition as the penciller for Batman or Wonder Woman. Colan has been somewhat well-traveled, leaving a memorable trail wherever he's gone.

Doug: As I've said in the past, I really haven't delved into Marvel's Tomb of Dracula. Like a lot of great comics, it's somewhere on the to-do list. I will say this about it, however -- from what I have seen of Colan's output on that title, there may never have been an artist more tailor-made for a character and his/her mythos than Colan was for that book. I really think Colan is best when he's allowed to work in the darkness. As the TwoMorrows biography of Colan was entitled Secrets In the Shadows, Colan was a master of the blacks. Now, having said that, it may seem odd that he would have been successful during his tenure on Iron Man or Captain America, or even Wonder Woman. All of those titles lend themselves toward brighter settings, and perhaps this is where some readers will part ways on Colan's work on the "more standard" superhero books. What do you think?

Karen: I don't want to ruin Doug's flow here, but I did want to throw in my two cents. I've never really been a fan of Colan's super-hero work simply because it is so shadowy. However, on Dracula and Dr. Strange, I think it works really well -the moody quality is quite fitting.

Doug: Flow? You are too kind to the ramblings of this middle-aged commentator...

Doug: During his run on Daredevil, the book was most often pretty straightforward in the hero genre. Yet I think that the pinnacle of Colan's work was perhaps in DD #47, "Brother, Take My Hand". That story was reprinted in Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, where I first read it. DD befriends a blind man, and the best part of the story is a fight where DD battles some thugs in the dark. The setting is perfect for Colan's art.

Doug: So give us a comment or three -- what do you like or not like about Colan's style? I remarked in an earlier review that I thought he could be overly frenetic; in a review on the Two Girls... blog I commented on his panel lay-outs. What's your reaction to Gene's version of dynamism, and to his stretching of conventional page-looks? As always, thanks in advance for your thoughts!


Dougie said...

The other week I commented that Colan would be my artist of choice on my moody West Coast Avengers fantasy mini-series, tapping into the occult/underground movie scene in LA.
I was just reading Giant Superhero Team-up today and it's Colan's DD (and Tasha) I first picture. Murdock's physique convinces me he's a heavyweight champ's son. I also like the realism of his Iron Man pages (the Freak is scary!)
If you only read one TOD, make it issue 12, which haunted me as a kid! (I should have bought that Night Force reprint last week. Damn it.)

J.A. Morris said...

This might sound simplistic, but when I think of Colan's DD issues in the 60s, the first word that comes to mind is "Fun!".

When I started collecting back issues,his DDs were among the first I ever bought.
Yes,Matador,Leapfrog and the Unholy Three are dopey villains, but the fight scenes were so much fun to read(I almost typed "so much fun to watch" because Colan's work has such a cinematic quality). Even scenes that feature nothing but DD swinging around lost in thought are exciting. Sure,his work declined a bit,starting in the 70s. But he's still one of my favorite artists based on his 60s work alone.

As most of you know, he had a health scare in April, here's a cute photo feature Colan and a new friend:

Anonymous said...

I really liked his work on Iron Man and Daredevil and eventually came to enjoy his Captain America, though I really didn't at first. His stint with Batman was actually pretty good, too, but it took some time to grow on me. I agree that he was perfect for Tomb of Dracula.


Edo Bosnar said...

Generally I'm a pretty big fan of Colan's art, although I agree that he's much better suited to 'darker' stuff like Dr. Strange, Dracula, etc. And I can't praise enough that Phantom Zone mini - Colan was the perfect artist for Gerber's wonderfully creepy story. In fact, now that I think of it, Gerber and Colan collaborated quite well on Howard the Duck, too.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Let me second Edo on the Phantom Zone miniseries - It is a mostly overlooked classic, well worth digging up. Colan was the perfect choice to portray the creepy twilight world of the 'Zone and Gerber's surreal tale.

Colan was at his best in projects that took place in horror and film noir settings. Anything that was stepped in the world of shadows. His Batman stuff is very underrated in my opinion.

One caveat: I have been never been able to get through the Tomb of Dracula Essential (Vol. 1) that I have. Everyone says the series is great, but I think Colan's stuff loses more than other artists' when reduced to black n' white.

Fred W. Hill said...

One of my earliest memories of Gene Colan's artwork was the introduction of Whiplash in Tales of Suspense -- I must have been only 5 or 6 and I read it at a barber shop on a Navy base in Japan, but even though I didn't own that comic, the story stuck with me, mainly due to the tension built up in that shadowy artwork -- I really feared for ol' Shellhead! I have no memory of the accompanying Captain America story at all, although years later I bought the Marvel Double Feature reprint. Anyhow, for my adolescent self, Colan was the definitive artist on both Iron Man & DD (Frank Brunner had already taken that title for Dr. Strange, as far as I was concerned, but I certainly enjoyed Colan's work on that title as well). Later, I also really loved his art on Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck. Since those titles bit the dust, however, I haven't really followed his career -- his work didn't shine so much on the late '70s Avengers, and I didn't collect any of his DC material so I can't really comment on that.
That "Brother Take My Hand" DD story is a classic and I caught that in Son of Origins too; possibly Stan's best DD tale, at least of those I've read. Stan seemed to take a mostly whimsical tone on DD, with a tone far more lighthearted than Spider-Man tended to be, but Colan's art added some gravitas to the proceedings, even when it got a bit ridiculous with the Mike Murdock subplot. I'm sure the moody atmosphere Colan's artwork lent to the series provided at least some inspiration for Miller's take on DD, when he took the crimson hero even deeper into the shadows.

Fred W. Hill said...

I've read many comments of praise on that Phantom Zone series, which I've never read myself but I will have to go seek it out eventually.

Edo Bosnar said...

Fred doesn't mention it, but that Whiplash story was also included in Son of Origins. It's interesting that Lee chose to include both it and the extra Daredevil story in that volume. Both are great and they really highlight Colan's talent.
And the Phantom Zone mini is really worth tracking down; I think it can be found rather cheaply, although it's kind of unfortunate that it was never collected.

david_b said...


Interesting lead off comment on WCA.. If Gene would have had his mojo workin' around the mid-80s, that would have been a great twist (MUCH better than Milgrom..).

No difference of opinion here from everyone's comments, definitely his style on IM and DD were TOPS.. It's like he brought more layers of suspense and depth to any villain he drew.., as mentioned, even making a Type-B nasties like Whiplash and Freak seem ominous and tense.

Not the most memorable in light of DD, Dracula, and Howard, he did offer a lot of character to Cap's mag, and I'd actually rate his work nearly as good as Steranko and Buscema.

Not sure if I'm presenting this idea right.., but much of Gene's work on Cap is synonymous with that '69-'71 mood of storytelling: dark, single-issue stories, almost 'filler-writing', until Romita stepped in, then Sal.

I know Gene did some late-70s work on Cap and other Avengers pieces, but to me, his art just screamed late-Silver Age, which had a dark style all it's own.

jefsview said...

As a child of the Bronze Age, I never really cared for Gene Colan on the superhero books, but boy could he work the horror story.

I came to appreciate the fluidity of his work, even his hero work, later in life. Not all of it is fantastic, but when it works, it works really, really well.

His later Avengers work suffered from stress, but I really liked his Batman run, and Bob Smith's inking; same with Night Force.

Over at Marvel, there weren't many who could ink Gene well, except for Tom Palmer. Those 2 were magnificant together on TOD and Doctor Strange.

The Dark Horse Dracula, printed from Gene's pencils is like a waking nightmare beautiful to behold.

Kid A said...

I will just echo most of the others' sentiments and state that Colan was a genius. His "painting with his pencil" style is very unique and cinematic. His style was definitely tailor-made for the darker stuff, but he didn't keep getting work in the business over the span of 5 decades without having some versatility. I would take a moment to plug my own bronze age comics blog and mention I wrote a review/summary of the first issue of that Phantom Zone series. I've only read #1 so far, but it was good.

Fred W. Hill said...

Concerning that Whiplash story, Edo, Stan must've been pretty impressed with that story too to have included it in the Son of Origins collection, considering that it did end on a cliffhanger (and Stan made sure to tell us not to worry about ol' Shellhead when he continued his text). I think by the time Son of Origins came out, the story had already been reprinted in Marvel Double Feature so I'd already seen how Iron Man got himself out of that fix.

Anonymous said...

I seem to be late to the party, but I'd just like to mention that Colan edges out Ditko for my favorite Silver/Bronze age artist. Colan's art strikes me as "dark Kirby," with all of Kirby's energy but moody and atmospheric.

His Dr. Strange run is absolutely classic, and DD #47 is a personal favorite of mine. The only ToDs I have are the issues with Dr. Strange (#44-45, I think), which are very much in keeping with the Dr. Strange issues. And don't forget his Howard the Ducks!


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