Comic book artist Gene Colan, a “towering figure” and “one of the giants of the comic book industry,” who drew characters from Batman to Dracula to Howard the Duck for nearly seven decades, died June 23 at 84.
Colan drew for the two mainstays of the North American comic book industry, Marvel and DC, as well as others, and worked closely with Marvel’s legendary Stan Lee on characters such as Daredevil; Falcon, one of the first black superheroes; the aforementioned Howard the Duck; and others. Over his long career Colan also worked at various times on Batman, Wonder Woman, Iron Man and others.
Colan’s work was described as different from most comic artists, for he “preferred a realistic look that emphasized texture and fluidity: the drape of a hero’s cape, tilt of a head, the arc of an oncoming fist.”
Comic artist and writer J.M. DeMatteis said Colan’s Howard the Duck and Tomb of Dracula were “two of the greatest comics of the 70’s… Colan at his finest: radiant with mood, texture, humanity and a reality all its own. Gene was totally unlike any other artist working in comics at the time—he was a genre unto himself; in the mainstream but with one foot always outside of it—and there’s still no one who can touch him.” Click here for a lengthy comics fan’s retrospective of Colan’s work, with many images of his art.
Tom Field, co-author of the book “Secrets in the Shadows: The Art & Life of Gene Colan,” said “he was referred to as a painter with a pencil.”
Colan was born Eugene Jules Cohen in New York and raised in Manhattan. He studied at the Art Students League of New York and served in the Philippines with the Army Air Forces in World War II. He joined Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel, after the war, where he drew Captain America, Captain Marvel, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner.
Writer Mark Evanier said fans consider Colan’s work in the 1960s and 1970s on Daredevil, Howard the Duck, Tomb of Dracula, Doctor Strange, Iron Man and others as “the defining versions” of those characters.
Evanier said that Colan was “a charming, self-effacing gentleman who was genuinely moved when fans tried to tell him how good he was and how much joy his work had given them.” In recent years, Colan had glaucoma, and was nearly blind in one eye and limited vision in the other, but continued to work.
Comic book writer Clifford Meth, who helped Colan with his finances and personal affairs in the last few years after the death of Colan’s second wife, offered an emotional elegy to him in a recent blog post: “Gene taught by example the importance of being happy for happy sake. He was what Pirke Avos characterized as a rich man. He was happy with his lot.”
Before Colan’s death, Meth posted excerpts from a conversation he had with Colan at his hospice: “I’m not beyond fear. I’m fearful about death. Everything that you ever wanted to do just goes up in smoke. The idea of being put in the ground or put under the ground is frightening. Most people don’t want to talk about it… But I’ve decided to change my way of thinking. What they’re telling me is not acceptable to me. I’ve got a tumor and it’s cancer. And that’s it. But I’m thinking that whatever you are thinking can come true. If it’s not a selfish thought. I lean heavily on G-d now. I wasn’t always like this. There isn’t anything I have to be afraid of. Love is the answer. And the way to get there is by trying to find good in someone you don’t necessarily like. Prayer can’t be selfish. You don’t pray for a yacht or money—you work hard if you want those things. But if you pray for unselfish things… And if you’re looking for an answer, just ask. You’ll get the answer if the question is worthy of an answer.”