Gene Colan: 1926 – 2011

Iann Robinson remembers the legendary comic artist and the impact he had on the art form we love.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Gene Colan

Gene Colan has passed away.

Think about that for a second; roll it around in your mind. If it doesn’t affect you, if you don’t feel some kind of loss, then I have to honestly question your love of comics. Gene Colan was one of the masters, one of the old school legends who created the universe that so many play in today. He helped create The Falcon, the first African-American hero in mainstream comics, he penciled an incredible 81-issue run of Daredevil, he gave an aesthetic to the brilliant Howard The Duck books, and so much more. His style was distinct, dark and filled with life. He perfected the bizarre and noir edged look of the late sixties and seventies. Colan’s work was gritty, which gave Daredevil a style that would forever become part of his legacy. Even Colan’s pencils on Tomb Of Dracula were so much more than simple horror.

When I first saw Colan’s work, I had no idea who he was – just that he captured the Dark Knight perfectly. Later on, as I became more interested in comic book art, I focused mainly on the late '70s and early '80s; it was the era that spoke to me. Colan’s work stood out historically because of his use of shadow and his more fluid style with the human form. It was a serious contrast to most of what was happening in the Silver Age. People often talk about the look of Doctor Strange, Daredevil and Batman during that time and don’t mention Gene Colan, which is a travesty when you think of him much Colan did to create and innovate that whole era.

Let’s also not forget that Colan helped create Blade, one of the first Marvel properties that became a massive film franchise. One of the biggest travesties of Colan career is how so many equate Howard The Duck with terrible film. The original series was one of the first truly weird comics. While remaining in the mainstream, Howard The Duck was obviously informed by the underground comic book movement and Colan’s art gave it the richness and depth it deserved. Outside of his milestones, Colan did great work on Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Captain America; The Silver Surfer – the list is endless. Every single panel that came from his pencil was a tiny work of art.

Colan was more than just an artist, he was a trend-setter, a silent force that helped pave the way to the more mature skew of comic books. Colan forged his own path, often standing against DC and Marvel when it came to his work. This is a sad day, not just for comics but for the world of art. The next time you’re reading Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, 100 Bullets or any title where the art has a gritty and dark style, where you can feel the street level violence, think about Gene Colan and know that without him, you’d be staring at blank pages.

RIP Gene Colan.

You will be missed.