Industry legend Gene Colan passed away on June 23 at age 84. Marvel extends our condolences to his family and friends.
Gene Colan photograph by Luigi Novi
By Jim Beard
Marvel Comics sadly notes the passing of one of the most unique and dedicated artists of the Silver Age, Gene Colan. Known for his stylish and atmospheric illustrations, he cemented his place in comics history as a multi-faceted artist adept in several genres.
Born September 1, 1926 in The Bronx, New York, Colan first expressed his artistic tendencies at the tender age of three, which led him to a visual arts education at George Washington High School and later at the renowned Art Students League of New York. It was 1944 when comic books beckoned and the young artist landed at one of the founding comic publishers, Fiction House. There, Colan earned his wings on short features in Wings Comics and then found himself enlisting in the Army Air Corps where he furthered his art career on “The Manila Times,” in the occupied Philippines after World War II.
After his stint in the service, the artist gravitated back to comics and approached pre-Marvel Timely Comics for work. His somewhat-experimental attempts at washes in his art caught the eye of Timely editors Al Sulman and Stan Lee, leading to work in LAWBREAKERS ALWAYS LOSE #1 and ALL-TRUE CRIME #1. It was 1948 and Colan earned $60 a week as a penciler on several books, including covers for CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS.
The 1950’s brought Colan assignments on war stories for both DC Comics and Atlas Comics, another precursor to Marvel. It was during this time that the artist’s attention to detail and accuracy in everything he drew truly developed. This dedication to his craft would serve him well as the Silver Age of comics dawned in the 1960's.
|DAREDEVIL #38 cover by Gene Colan|
Working under the pseudonym “Adam Austin,” Colan once again impressed Marvel’s editor-in-chief Stan Lee as an artist with an eye for moody atmosphere and who expressed his own style in his work. Lee quickly assigned him to pencil the Sub-Mariner strip in TALES TO ASTONISH and then the Iron Man feature in TALES OF SUSPENSE. Fans began to identify Colan as a stand-out illustrator and Marvel gave him free reign to tackle such major headlining characters as Captain America, Daredevil and Doctor Strange. It was on DAREDEVIL, beginning in 1966, that the artist accomplished an incredible run of over 80 consecutive issues, a landmark in Silver Age comics.
But it was not only on super heroes and their flights of fancies that Colan made his mark; he also gravitated towards the darker and more off-beat corners of the Marvel Universe. In 1972, he and writer Marv Wolfman sent chills down the spines of readers with the legendary TOMB OF DRACULA series, on which Colan illustrated the entire 70-issue run until 1979. The artist also joined with writer Steve Gerber on many stories in HOWARD THE DUCK, proving to Marvelites everywhere that even water fowl and vampires were no match for Gene “The Dean” Colan.
In the 1980’s, the artist further honed his skills at companies as diverse as DC, Dark Horse, Eclipse and even Archie Comics. Colan soon became one of the few comic book artists who worked in graphite and watercolors and whose beautifully lush pencils would often be printed without inks.
|Self-portrait by Gene Colan|
Remembering his own art education as a child and a teenager in New York, Colan taught illustration at the Manhattan School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology. He has received numerous awards over the decades, such as the Shazam, the Eagle, the Sparky and the Sergio. In 2005, Colan found himself inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.
Despite ill health and failing eyesight later in life, Colan’s final comic projects brought him full circle at Marvel, with work on BLADE and DAREDEVIL in 2007, and on CAPTAIN AMERICA #601 in 2009. The latter earned him and writer Ed Brubaker the coveted Eisner Award for Best Single Issue.
Gene Colan will be remembered as one of the real visionaries in the field of comic book illustration and a true gentleman to his family, friends and fans alike.