The Comic Book Collectors Club is sad to report the death of long-time Marvel and DC artist Gene Colan Thursday. Colan was known for his exceptional use of perspective, shadow, composition, and dynamic anatomy on such strips as Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Tomb of Dracula, and Howard the Duck. He died from complications resulting from liver disease and a broken hip received during a fall. He was 84.
Colan, born in the Bronx September 1, 1926, began drawing at the age of 3. After attending the Art Students League of New York, he entered the comic book industry in 1944, drawing aviation strips for publisher Fiction House.
Following World War II service with the Army Air Corps, Colan began working for Marvel predecessor Timely Comics in 1946. He worked under art director Syd Shores, who influenced his early style. Colan’s early work included crime comics like Lawbreakers Always Lose and some of the last issues of the original run of Captain America.
An industry downturn in 1948 hit Timely’s staff, and Colan went to freelance for National Comics, better known today as DC. At National he drew war comics, crime comics, Westerns, and romances. His meticulous attention to detail led him to rent 16mm films in order to trace the likeness of Hopalong Cassidy for National’s licensed adaptation of that series.
Colan returned to Marvel in 1963, drawing as a freelancer under the name “Austin Adams” while still working for DC. He contributed to a back-up strip in Tales of Suspense 39, which also featured the first appearance of Iron Man, drawn by Don Heck. Colan succeeded Heck on that title’s Iron Man series in 1966, redefining the character’s mask to give him a wider range of expression. By that time Colan was also drawing Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish. In 1969 he would help Stan Lee introduce the Falcon, Marvel’s first black superhero.
Colan’s shadowy, moody style lent itself naturally to noir characters like Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and Dracula. He became noted for a long run on Daredevil from 1966 to 1973 which redefined the look of that character. Colan redesigned Daredevil’s costume to give the character a darker look. He actually wanted to make the character mostly black with spots of red showing through, but Stan Lee insisted on more red; Gene still effectively got his way by adding extra shadow. He also studied reference films of acrobats and used blurring techniques in order to give Daredevil’s movements a sense of cinematic dynamism.
When Colan took up the mantle of Doctor Strange in 1968, he had a tough act to follow, arriving in the wake of Steve Ditko. Rising to the challenge, Colan strove to accentuate Strange’s psychedelic side with experimental layouts using angled panels and open borders.
On Doctor Strange, Colan’s pencils found their perfect complement in outstanding inker Tom Palmer. Palmer would bring out the best in Colan’s drawings for many years on Strange and other strips like Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck. Colan’s work on the latter two strips won industry acclaim, landing him the Shazam Award for Best Dramatic Penciller in 1974 and the Eagle Award for Favorite Humor Comic Book in 1977 and 1979.
During the 1980s Colan returned to DC, where his dark moodiness made a perfect match for Batman from 1982 to 1986. He also worked on Wonder Woman and rejoined Tomb of Dracula writer Marv Wolfman on Night Force, among numerous other projects.
From the mid-80s to the early 90s, Colan also lent his talents to independent publishers Eclipse and Dark Horse and to Archie Comics. He returned to Marvel in the 1990s to work with Wolfman on a new Tomb of Dracula miniseries that captured the spirit of the original. He continued to contribute to the vampire genre for the rest of his career, drawing the Buffy the Vampire Slayer adaptation Tales of the Slayers for Dark Horse in 2002 and wrapping up Marvel’s final issue of Blade in October 2007. That month he also contributed several pages to an anniversary issue of Daredevil.
Following liver failure, Colan’s health began to deteriorate sharply in 2008. He and his second wife Adrienne moved from New York to Vermont, where Adrienne passed away on June 21, 2010. Gene joined her almost exactly a year later on June 24, 2011.
Gene Colan was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2005. He will always be remembered and missed.