Gene Colan, R.I.P.
Another legend of my childhood has passed away. Gene Colan died last night after an illness, punctuating his final years which should have been happier than they were.
Gene was 84 when he died and leaves behind a legacy which is thankfully captured in multiple collected editions from DC and Marvel so his work can continue to be enjoyed. The follow is excerpted from a post I wrote back in 2008:
The first time I saw Adam Austin’s artwork, I was floored. It was his second issue of Tales of Suspense and the work was stunning. From Iron Man, I followed him to Daredevil but by then he was using his real name, Gene Colan. Much as I loved his super-heroes, it was his Tomb of Dracula that was amazing. And, at the same time, he made me laugh with the satirical Howard the Duck.
When Jim Shooter chased him from Marvel to DC, I couldn’t wait to see his Batman and boy, he didn’t disappoint. It was back then, in the early 1980s, that comics began experimenting with printing entire stories shot from the pencils only. Gene was perfect for this given the mood his work with shadows, black and white generated. Go back and look at his Nathaniel Dusk for DC or Ragamuffins for Eclipse.
One day, Dick Giordano told me that I was to edit a new Spectre series, which would be written by Steve Gerber. Steve didn’t work out but Gene did so he was paired instead with Doug Moench. I was honored to be working with an artist whose work I enjoyed for so long. He was eager to try a new character and new approach. By then, Gene was really into breaking the rules on page construction so some of our creative give and take usually centered around storytelling clarity. While he didn’t always agree with me, he made revisions and gave it him best effort.
We established a wonderful rapport and he trusted my editorial acumen enough to have me repeatedly address his art classes about the business side of comics. Years later, long after we had stopped working together, we were chatting at a con. I was admiring his original art, spanning the years, and made a comment about not sure which one to buy. Adrianne, his wonderful, sassy wife, said, “Don’t you have any of Gene’s work?” No, I replied. “Pick one,” she said. So, I selected a page from his terrific Captain America run and cherish it to this day.
He is a talented, enthusiastic fan of the form. Among his peers, he had one of the most distinctive art styles that was surprisingly adaptable from war to romance to horror to heroic adventure. Gene the Dean remains a titan of the field and deserves not only our accolades while he can still hear them, but our support.
Mark Evanier noted overnight, “His last decade or so was heartbreaking, plagued by constant eye problems and other illnesses, as well as financial woes. In 2010, his second wife Adrienne was consumed by severe emotional and drug problems. She injured Gene in a physical altercation and later took her own life. Gene spent most of the rest of his life in and out of hospitals as doctors tried to deal with a wide array of injuries and heart failures. That he survived as long as he did had a lot to do with the well wishes and efforts of his friends, especially writer Clifford Meth. (Cliff, thank you.) Given what Gene was going through, I am frankly surprised he lived as long as he did.”