Comic Book Artist Gene Colan Dies at 84

By Matt Moore on June 24, 2011

NEW YORK – Comic book artist Gene Colan, whose career spanned seven decades and chronicled 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. Funeral details were not available, but Meth said it would be a private gathering.

Colan's impact on the industry was undeniable, developing a style both subtle and emotional that imbued the characters he drew with a sense of vitality that seemed to leap off the pages.

"He had developed a signature style by the late 1960s that people just loved," said Meth, whose book "Perverts, Pedophiles & Other Theologians" was illustrated by Colan.

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.

"It came to the point that Gene was so involved in that comic, there was something organic about the book," said Mark Evanier, a comics historian. "The moods were set by Gene's skill as an artist. He drew such rich characters - people who had flesh and blood in them and had recognizable human emotions."

In the 1980s, Colan's work on Batman for DC drew plaudits and is sought out by aficionados of original comic book art.

Dan DiDio, DC's co-publisher, called the artist "one of the great draftsmen in the industry, and his work is a fond part of some of my best comic book memories."

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."

Born in New York on Sept. 1, 1926, Colan began working in comics in 1944, drawing for "Wings Comics, before joining the U.S. Army Air Corps where he was stationed in the Philippines at the end of World War II. When he was discharged, he joined Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel Comics and then drew for National Comics, now DC.

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."

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.

Evanier said Colan was drawing Captain America "when they didn't know what to do with the character because he was such an anachronism" when The Falcon was created.

"Gene worked on almost every major Marvel book at one point," Evanier said, adding that his illustrations came alive.

"His characters were more than just costumes, they had credibility. Readers would connect with a Gene Colan character instantly," he said.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.