Roger’s Comics Ramblings: Gene Colan 1926-2011

Gene Colan. Wizard World Chicago 2005.

Gene Colan. Wizard World Chicago 2005.


by Roger Ash

Comics lost one of its elder statesmen last night when Gene Colan passed away at the age of 84. As far as I’m aware, news of his death first came from a blog post by his friend, Clifford Meth. It’s a very moving piece and I urge you to check it out here. Gene’s health has not been great the past few years, and he wasn’t young, so his passing wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it’s still shocking. With Gene’s family’s blessing, Meth has set up a scholarship at the Joe Kubert school in Colan’s memory. You can go here to learn more. If you’re unfamiliar with Gene’s work in comics, aside from being amazed, I’d point you to Mark Evanier’s blog post here where he discusses Gene’s career.

Howard the Duck by Colan

Howard the Duck by Colan


As I’ve written about in the past, Howard the Duck was the comic book that starting me collecting and eventually lead to where I am today. To me, Steve Gerber’s writing and Gene’s art were second to none. To have both men gone is oddly devastating to me. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to meet as well interview both men and let them know how much their work means to me.

From Howard, I followed Gene’s work to Doctor Strange, the brilliant Ragamuffins with writer Don McGregor, Nathaniel Dusk, Night Force, Dracula, and much, much more. Gene was a master of mood and could convey so much through shadows and light. You had no trouble believing a walking, talking duck could be hanging out with humans; he made it look natural. The facial expressions on his characters spoke volumes.

Over the years, artists have imitated the work of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Todd McFarlane, Curt Swan, and others, but no one has tried to imitate Gene (at least as far as I’m aware). I think that’s because his work is so uniquely him that no one else can capture it. I’ve heard that his penciling style confounded many inkers but when someone was found who “got” his style, it was magical. Tom Palmer was probably his best match and the one that springs to most people’s minds, but Klaus Janson and Steve Leialoha also did some fantastic work with Gene.

Doctor Strange by Gene Colan

Doctor Strange by Gene Colan


As I mentioned earlier, I got to meet Gene a couple times. The first time was quite memorable and I recounted the story here. Aside from that meeting in San Diego, I saw him at Wizard World Chicago where he did a stunning drawing of Doctor Strange for me. My last contact with Gene was interviewing him about Howard the Duck for Back Issue #31, which was a tribute to Steve Gerber issue. Getting to talk with Gene about Howard was a dream come true.

Stan Lee gave nicknames to the members of the Marvel Bullpen back in the 60s and 70s. Gene would fluctuate between Gene “The Dean,” “Gentleman” Gene, or “Genial” Gene. From my experience, those were very apt nicknames. Gene was always soft-spoken, pleasant, and incredibly nice. He also seemed somewhat amazed at how much people cared about his work and how much it meant to them.

With Gene’s passing, the comics world has lost one its greats. My condolences go out to his family, his friends, and his many, many fans. But his work survives and it’s a fantastic body of work. It’s a body of work that will entertain many for years to come. That’s one heck of a legacy.

God Bless you, Gene. And Thank you.

 

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