Friday, June 24, 2011

Howard the Duck is an Orphan Now... Gene Colan: 1926 - 2011

Robert Boyd

Gene Colan was a comic book artist who mainly worked for Marvel Comics as a freelancer. I just read that he passed away last night after a long period of illness. He's an important figure in the history of comic books, and for me personally, he was an important artist. He was one of the first artists I discovered on my own and knew by name--and by style. I could always spot a Gene Colan page--he was a unique artist whose drawing style ran counter to the popular mainstream comics styles of the day (typified by John Romita and John Buscema). When I was in junior high, I fell in with a group of kids who were into comic books. They (Jim Mooney, Bud Thomas, Jonathan Kessler, Larry Garrett, and John Richardson)  got me interested in comics as well. Despite this, we remain friends. I already liked comic strips and MAD a lot, so it was a natural step. This was the mid-70s. One of the first comics I ever bought on my own was this one:

Gene Colan, Howard the Duck #4

Colan was the primary visual artist on the comic book Howard the Duck, which quickly became my favorite. I would say that he is best known for Howard the Duck, Tomb of Dracula (another 70s era Marvel comic) and Daredevil, a long-running comic (still being published today) that he drew from the mid-60s to the early 70s. This is one of my favorite Daredevil covers by Colan:

Gene Colan, Daredevil #38 cover

Colan was a master of chiaroscuro. A lot of my favorite cartoonists are such masters--Milt Caniff, Chester Gould, Frank Robbins and more. Colan had a particular skewed and dynamic style of laying out panels on the page and depicting the action within. It always seemed to me that his style would have been perfect for straight-up hard-boiled detective fiction, but in the world of mainstream comics with its insanely constricted choice of acceptable genres, Colan had to draw a whole lot of superhero comics. (He was luckier than a lot of his peers in this regard in that he had successful runs on a satirical comic and a horror comic in addition to his superhero work.)

Here are a couple of pages from Howard the Duck--the first comic book I ever loved. Its two main creators, Steve Gerber and Gene Colan are now dead, which is making me feel pretty old today.

Gene Colan, page from Howard the Duck #26

Gene Colan, Howard the Duck #5, p. 31

Rest in peace, Gene.



  1. A nice appreciation of Colan's work, thanks Robert.

    The closest he came to doing the "hard-boiled detective fiction" you suggest were a couple of NATHANIEL DUSK mini-series with Don McGregor for DC. The art was reproduced uninked, directly from Colan's pencils, and it would be interesting to see this reprinted today, with better reproduction standards.

  2. I thought of mentioning Nathaniel Dusk, but I decided to keep it short and to the point. Of course, over a career that spanned as long a period as Colan's did, he worked on a lot of different things. But I think of Tardi's adaptations of Jean-Patrick Manchette's detective novels--just imagine if Gene Colan could have had a similar long term relationship with a decent American thriller writer--it could have been great. That said, I will always treasure Colan's Howard the Duck and Daredevil.