by Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design)
“Genial” Gene Colan (1926-2011).
It’s only been about six months since Gene Colan’s passing, so it would be somewhat difficult to pen another summation of Gene’s career and recount my brief chance to have been able to work with him twenty years ago. Suffice to say it shall remain a great regret for me to not have had another chance to work with one of my Silver Age of Comics (“collectorese” for the period 1956-1969) heroes. My former employer would never, ever consult me on comics talent when he was using comic artists as illustrators on a certain series of projects (and yes, he knew my background and what my industry knowledge was—both in so-called mainstream Comics—and talent like Colan or Herb Trimpe, or Steranko—or in Comix—and the likes of Pete Bagge, Gary Panter, or perhaps even Kim Deitch), alas.
That’s not to say he didn’t make good choices—he made some outstanding choices—but I am saying his repertoire would have been broader. My current situation has been even more limiting. Sadly, even were I actively working in comics, the prevailing trends and editor’s preferences would’ve been as frustrating to contend with. Things are changing ever so slowly, but the Silver Age greats aren’t getting any younger, especially artists like Colan whose work had not lost it’s confidence, it’s facility, even in his twilight.
But if you are of a certain age, and had been able to enjoy the work of Colan in his glory years, from the Silver Age of Comics into the Bronze Age (1970-1983), it was scintillating—whether you enjoyed his work on various war comics or romance books in the 1950s, or his exceptional turn on Doctor Strange, his transcendent work on Daredevil, The Man Without Fear, and his late-Marvel tour de force, Tomb of Dracula. Never mind the pathetic trade paperback reprints, where the benday-dot color has been replaced with awkward attempts at computerized colorizing with the line art diminished by the bleaching required to erase the original printed color (Oh why can’t they just leave it all alone, the screen colors were just fine—unless they’re actually springing for an enhanced, painterly treatment). Look at an old comic book, and you have a sense of Colan’s power and nuance, bad newsprint printing notwithstanding.
Hard to imagine now that Colan had to lobby Stan Lee for the gig:
“When I heard Marvel was putting out a Dracula book, I confronted (editor) Stan about it and asked him to let me do it. He didn’t give me too much trouble but, as it turned out, he took that promise away, saying he had promised it to Bill Everett. Well, right then and there I auditioned for it. Stan didn’t know what I was up to, but I spent a day at home and worked up a sample, using Jack Palance as my inspiration and sent it to Stan. I got a call that very day: ‘It’s yours.’”
This is one of my prized possessions, not being a big-time art collector like some of my friends—an original page from Tomb of Dracula. A crossover storyline with another of Marvel’s 1970s horror titles, Werewolf By Night.
Original art page
Tomb of Dracula, issue 18, page 15
Marvel Comics, March 1974
Pencils: Gene Colan
Inks: Tom Palmer
JMR:I think the supervillain characters were always the faves of the writers—they could expound on their proclivities for malice in innumerable ways and give the writers (in this case, the appropriately named Marv Wolfman) the chance to do likewise. Doctor Doom, The Red Skull, The Green Goblin, Galactus, Dracula… Pixar’s The Incredibles lampooned this, as you may recall, “You caught me monologuing!”