NEW YORK CITY.- Comic book artist Gene Colan, whose career spanned seven decades and illustrated the adventures of characters like Dracula, Batman, Daredevil and the wise-cracking fowl Howard the Duck, has died in the Bronx at age 84. Longtime friend and biographer Clifford Meth told The Associated Press that Colan died late Thursday at Calvary Hospital from complications of liver disease and cancer. A private funeral will be Sunday. Colan’s impact on the industry was undeniable, developing a style both subtle and emotional that imbued characters he drew with a sense of vitality that seemed to leap off the pages. His work drew him the nickname Gene “The Dean” Colan.
Best known for creating characters such as Daredevil, Howard the Duck, and illustrating Iron Man and Batman, his career spanned 70 years touching virtually every genre in the comic book world. Even fans who aren’t familiar with comics instantly recognize his illustrations for its moody, organic, cinematic style that give his characters life. They just leap to life off the pages and embody such real human emotions. Several of the comics he worked on have all since made it to the big screen.
Colan first started his career back in 1944 at the age of when he landed his first job illustrating for Wing Comics. Shortly after, he enlisted in the military until the end of World War II where he returned in 1946 to work at Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. He later picked up freelance work at DC Comics, back then known as National Comics.
Over the next several decades, he drew hundreds of stories for both DC and Marvel. His illustrations would later become the quintessential style for the Silver Age era of comics in the 70s, with memorable characters like Captain America and Doctor Strange. His signature character, however was Daredevil who Ben Affleck managed to butcher in the big screen adaptation.
His series, Tomb of Dracula in the 1970s still remains a classic for it’s reintroduction of horror to comics. For non-comic readers, you would know Colan for co-creating vampire hunter Blade that later became a 1999 big screen hit starring Wesley Snipes, spawning two sequels and a short-lived television series.
“He was a mighty craftsman, with such a strong style of his own that he avoided entirely working under any of the popular house styles, even the mighty Jack Kirby one that roared through Marvel in the 1960s,” comics historian and editor Tom Spurgeon told AP on Friday. “He was his own chapter in the history of comics.”
Colan’s art was a staple of the Silver Age era of comics, and his 70-issue run on “The Tomb of Dracula” that was written by Marv Wolfman in the 1970s remains critically lauded for returning horror to the pages of comics, along with creating the character, Blade.
Wolfman told AP that Colan’s art work was stunning and that Colan was “maybe the only artist I know in comics who nobody else tries to mimic. Everyone tries to do superheroes like Jack Kirby or war books like Joe Kubert or Spider-Man in the Steve Ditko style.” With Colan, though, “they simply cannot do it.”
Mark Evanier, a comics historian, said Colan’s work on “Tomb of Dracula” was defining.
Colan also worked on Marvel’s satirical “Howard the Duck,” written by Steve Gerber, and did art for other publishers, including DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Archie Comics and Eclipse.
Jim Lee called Colan a unique artist and unrivaled in his generation. “His ability to create dramatic, multi-valued tonal illustrations using straight India ink and board was unparalleled,” said Lee, also DC’s co-publisher. “The comics industry has lost one of its true visionaries today.”
He returned to Marvel in the 1960s as the industry entered what is widely known as comics’ Silver Age. That period saw the revitalization of classic heroes from the 1940s, such as Superman, Batman and Green Lantern at DC, as well as the creation of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Captain America and Daredevil.
It was at Marvel that Colan became part of the company’s fabled bullpen of artists who included Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr. and Sal Buscema, among others, along with writers such as Stan Lee. “He was part of a small group — he, Romita, Buscema and Kirby — who were the pillars of that Marvel age,” Meth said. “They were defining the characters in the terms of the way they drew them, investing a lot of emotion into the characters.”
Colan’s work impressed then editor in chief Stan Lee and led to his doing artwork for the Sub-Mariner in “Tales To Astonish,” and Iron Man in “Tales of Suspense.” From there he tackled Dr. Strange, Marvel’s sorcerer supreme and drew more than 80 issues of “Daredevil,” the blind lawyer Matt Murdock who protected New York’s so-called Hell’s Kitchen. “He made the Marvel age of comics what it was,” Evanier said. “Gene worked on almost every major Marvel book at one point. His characters were more than just costumes, they had credibility. Readers would connect with a Gene Colan character instantly.”
While at Marvel, Colan and Lee co-created The Falcon, an African-American character that was a hero in his own right, working in tandem with Captain America, but never as a sidekick.
Colan returned to Captain America in 2009, illustrating the Ed Brubaker-written issue No. 601 titled “Red, White and Blue-Blood” that told a World War II-era tale of Steve Rogers and his then-sidekick Bucky. It went on to win the 2010 Eisner Award for best single issue.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.