Over the weekend, remembrances, and tributes continued to flow for Gene “The Dean” Colan, who died on Thursday.
The most complete obituary we have is Tom Field’s at TCJ, which covers his entire career, the triumphs, the problems with editors, and the artist’s early embrace of the internet. While beloved of some writers and editors, Colan’s style was not a natural for Marvel:
Indeed, Gene Colan never would be mistaken for anything less than what he was: One of comics’ unique stylists. He wielded his pencil like a brush to capture the toned subtleties of action, emotion and lighting. He brought a cinematographer’s vision to comics storytelling, and his stories were instantly recognized by fans, treasured by scholars and appreciated enviously by even his most accomplished peers.
While delighting his fans, Colan often frustrated his writers. He was notorious for never reading scripts in advance, so he often ran out of pages before drawing the end of the story. Meanwhile, he would devote half a page to a hand turning a doorknob, or three pages to Captain America merely walking down a street. His indulgences were accepted in the 1960s, when Lee put the artists in charge of pacing the stories. But Colan encountered resistance in the 1970s, when the writers gained influence, and especially in the 1980s, when the editors seized control.
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.
Despite the travails, Colan remained a friendly, likable presence at cons — tribute after tribute recalls how humble and modest he was when meeting his many admirers at shows. (I would number myself among them — I’m sure I had the required gush the first time I met him.)
Evan Dorkin has a tribute that touches all the bases:
Finally — R.I.P. Gene Colan. I was a fan from childhood, first from his work on Daredevil and Iron Man, then Dr. Strange, if I remember correctly, eventually falling head over heels with his work on Howard the Duck. He and his wife were super-nice to Sarah and I when we met them at a local convention and bought a page of artwork a ways back. Sarah had a cough and they gave her a throat lozenge while we talked. He seemed like a great guy. He definitely was a superb artist with a unique style that prevailed at Marvel and DC seemingly against all odds, considering what the prevalent house styles were like. He was good enough to not be told to draw like anyone else, and he didn’t. There is no mistaking a Gene Colan-drawn comic, they’re like dreams on paper, real yet surreal, glimpses to a world only he could provide access to. Wonderful, just wonderful.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.