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Slush Exclusive:
A Conversation With Gene Colan
By Raymond Neal

05.20.03


Previous Page


RN: Speaking of movies and Stan, like you said, youíre a big movie fan. With all the comic-based movies coming out lately, you have a connection to quite a few of them. Youíre maybe second to Stan and Jack with characters youíre associated with Ė Daredevil, Blade - theyíre working on a Sub-Mariner movie, and even Brother Voodoo. How does that feel as a comic pro and movie fan?

GC: It dovetails, you know. Comics are like movies because youíre dealing w/ sequential art, to a degree. Every artist is different with and carries it thru differently so there is a strong relationship. To me each panel is like a movie screen as I said before and I try to tell a story and enfold that plot almost like you would see it on the screen. And maybe Iím a frustrated director or moviemaker. Iíve taken my craft and tried to develop it as realistically as possible and give the impression that itís a screenplay.

RN: With the way that you donít rely on a grid panel, the way your art has more of a flow, you definitely get a more cinematic feel from your artwork.

GC: Yeah, I try to carry the action thru almost movement-by-movement at times. Iím not the only one thatís ever done that. I think that Harvey Kurtzman started that years and years ago. Those war stories Ė they were superb. And John Severin who did so much of it. He taught me to be accurate with what I did. He was wonderful. Whenever he did a war story, every nut and bolt and button on a uniform was right in place and very real. Including all the weapons. In fact, he recommended a book for me to get dealing with United States weapons, German weapons, and thatís how I managed to get the reality into it. It became a passion with me Ė to be realistic.

RN: How is it that you never ended up working with EC?

GC: I tried. Harvey Kurtzman was running it them and he didnít feel that I would fit in I guess. I made several attempts there but I just didnít get past him.

RN: One of Harveyís mistakes.

GC: [Laughs] NoÖ

RN: I think you wouldíve been a perfect match for a lot of the genres that they worked in.

GC: I donít think I had come along at that time like I am now. Perhaps if he had seen what I do now it wouldíve been a different story. At that time I was still learning a lot and I just didnít meet up with his criteria.

RN: Well with his track record I guess you can say fair enough.

GC: Very fussy editor. He handpicked every artist. Wally Wood worked for him too and he was very good too, excellent. Never knew him personally but his career ended rather abruptly.

RN: And unfortunately. Really bad timing too other than just the normal tragedy of a loss of life Ė it seemed like he was making a comeback, experiencing a personal renaissance. It seemed like he was putting more and more out and he was starting to get that Wood magic back.

GC: Yes, yes. He had a very realistic approach, too Ė wonderful to look at. Iím sure he was influenced by Hal Foster who did Prince Valiant and Alex Raymond who did Flash Gordon. I mean we were all influenced by these artists, and of course Milton Caniff, with the heavy blacks. Thereís a wonderful imitator, several people have imitated Caniffís style to a T. Lee Elias (Flash) drew very much like Caniff. Biggest compliment that anyone could give you (laughs).

RN: Iíve been interested in seeing how many guys started out influenced by Caniff like Infantino and Toth and then they went off in their own direction after that.

GC: Wonderful artist, very original.

RN: He [Toth] went and took MCs style in that next direction, the kind of thing that MC would have done if he wasnít constrained by the strips. Just those rigid spaces he was confined to.

GC: He did everything within a border, a straight border. Everyone in those years did it that way too. I started out doing it that way. After a while, I noticed that you could get more action in it if you changed the shape of the panel or eliminated them all together.

RN: I noticed that you use that quite a bit in action scenes, fight scenesÖ

GC: Yeah.


Article continued below advertisement


RN: If you wouldnít mind talking about it, what led up to your leaving Marvel for DC?

GC: Stan headed to the west coast and he had to leave his end of things his art chief of the Marvel co as far as the artís concerned in charge with someone else and that was a very hard pick because other people have tried it and found it very difficult. So he picked one fellow who I didnít quite get along with. I just feltÖ you know sometimes you get an inner feeling about something and I felt he was going to be trouble for me. I could spot this a long way off. Iíve had enough of it in the business and once youíve been exposed, to it youíre kind of sensitive to it and you know when thereís trouble and when there isnít. So thatís what Ė he presented a big threat.

RN: Would that have been [Jim] Shooter?

GC: Yes. He found fault with too much of what I did whereas prior to him coming aboard nobody found fault. I mean occasionally Stan would correct something but it was so occasional it was hardly worth mentioning. But this was a different story and I could see it coming. I had to go out to Connecticut once with him for a radio broadcast and we drove, he drove the whole way and I just knew that by his absolute silence in the car and the same thing coming back that he was not a friendly fellow.

Then of course it escalated once Stan left it escalated into bad stuff and finally it came to the point where I felt like I had to make a decision about staying on or not staying and I decided with my wifeís help certainly to make that decision to leave. They called me down to the office, the VP, Shooter, and myself to try thrash it out. The company wanted me to stay but Shooter was in charge of the art dept. He was the Editor-in-Chief and I knew that he was not going to let go of his point of view he was pretty dogmatic about it. And although he said little at the meeting, hardly anything, I just knew that he was not going to change or make my life any better than it was. His very silence at that meeting proved that. I decided to make that jump. Fortunately there was somebody over at DC, the writer of Tomb of Dracula who had Iíve been associated with for quite a while he called me over to DC because he was no longer working with Marvel and he asked me over. So, I got over there. I literally walked across the street for another job.

(Laughs)

RN: Itís great when that can happen.

GC: This business is like a like a revolving door. People can come and can go. Thatís what the freelance field is like anyway. So, I jumped at the chance.

RN: Well at least it led to some good opportunities there at DC with Batman and Night Force and everything.

GC: Sure I had a good run there for a while. Oh eventually things started to boil a little bit. Iíve been in and out with DC ever since I started my career. And so itís never been a consistent run with them. It has been better with Marvel because I started with Marvel. Stan was around for so many years. I knew him so well. And it was a very comfortable position for me to be in until those changes came about. You know, thatís life. Things never stay that way all the time nothing stays the same, things do happen.

RN: As long as you can emerge relatively unscathedÖ

GC: Yeah it was good in a sense I guess I gained something from it. For the life of me I donít know what. Maybe if I thought harder on the subject I might come up with an answer. [Both laugh] But it was so distasteful at the time that I prefer not to dwell on it.

RN: Thereís a part of your career that as big a fan as Iíve been I somehow missed. Late Ď80s youíre working on Spectre for DC, Black Panther for Marvel Ö and at the same time youíre working on Archie comics. How did that happen?

GC: Oh, just looking for work, I think. That was an area that I never tapped. You know itís very difficult, the freelance business to keep yourself busy with different publications, and so that was one area that I never even considered because basically Iím an adventure artist. But my wife suggested it: ďWhy donít you give Archie a try? See what happens.Ē I knew a few people that worked there. So I did and I did get work! I stayed with them maybe three years and then I left. I started out with Dan DeCarlo in í46. We were all in the art room together. Even the inker, Rudy Lapick who did a lot of the inking for Dan all through the years.

RN: Was that back at Timely?

GC: Yes, we were all together back at Timely. Dan did Millie the Model and several other things. Good cartoon strips that they were also putting out books like that at Timely. It wasnít just adventure or crime. They were putting out comic books for young chick kids, you know, children, girlsÖ thatís where Archie came in. But Archie was not part of Timely. They had their own books and Danny did all of those drawings and when the bottom dropped out and the staff was eliminated about 1950, Ď49 or Ď50, everyone had to branch out and go their own way and Danny wound up working at Archie Comics. I remember he never stopped. He was with them all that time.

RN: It ended up being a good fit.

GC: Yes it was. For him it was wonderful. He was their top artist

RN: Inkers have said that youíre a challenge to ink. Judging by what we see with the artwork shot directly from your pencils I can see why. So other than Tom Palmer, who do you think has handled your pencils well?

GC: Al Williamson was very good. I loved his stuff. And Frank Giacoia when he was around (heís gone now) he did a wonderful job with my stuff. I think out of them all Tom Palmer was excellent and Al Williamson was just great.

RN: Iíve never seen Al Williamson turn in a bad job on anybody.

GC: No, no. He was a wonderful penciller in his own right Ė he just didnít want to continue penciling.

RN: Thatís a shame. I really miss seeing his art on a regular basis.

GC: He made out better inking than penciling. He, like me, took forever to pencil. He wasnít a fast penciller and I think I heard him mention once it was more difficult to lay out the composition and do all the pencils first so it took him so long, like myself. We couldnít make the money that we could have been faster with it that we could have made. But you know you have to be true to your craft. If youíre a serious artist you want to turn out the best possible piece of work that you can because after all thatís whatís on the paper and thatís what theyíre buying.

RN: And thatís whatís going to get you your next job.

GC: Yep, yep, at least I thought so! [Both laugh]. The industry now is upside-down.

RN: Yeah, itís crazy. Its like theyíre groping around trying to find something to save the industry in one swoop.

GC: Well, I think itís better stories and better art. That will always do it. There are too many Ö a lot of the artwork is good certainly far better than when I started, I think. Many instances but most of all there are very young people in it and there are very young people running the business end of things. You know, youngsters have taken over Marvel.

RN: I remember how shocked I was when Quesada was going to be EIC. I had just talked to him not much longer before at a convention and he didnít seem like he was much older than me.

GC: You know, Iíll tell you the truth. As you grow older all these young people look like babies to you. When I started, I was 20 and Stan Lee was 23. So there you go. It didnít strike me that way then because I was younger than he was. And we were almost in the same league as far as age. 23-20 is not old. I didnít think about it that way then, but now that I look back on it all these kids, and to me theyíre kids, are running the business and it wasnít any different then when I started. Iím missing a point somewhere. I donít know. A lot of them donít have any education in journalism, they donít know how to write all that well and the storylines are horrible.

In many instances like the last time I was working for Marvel I was doing Daredevil pretty regularly, it was run by some kid who didnít like certain things I was doing. Also the storyline was ridiculous because most of the story took place without Daredevil even in costume or running around doing what heís supposed to do. I complained to Bob Harras, the Editor-in-Chief then. You couldnít get to first base with him either. So I complained to him about the plot: here was a Daredevil story that only the last 2 or 3 pages did you see him in action, and in costumeÖ I said thatís not what the reader buys the book for. He got nasty with me and that was the end of that. I just didnít want it. He says to me, youíll either do it our way or you donít have to work here so I said to Hell with ya and left. [Both laugh]

RN: It took them quite a while to recover, so that shows them!

GC: Well, I really shouldíve kept my mouth shut. It would have been better but I didnít.

RN: Sometimes itís just best to get out of a bad situation.

GC: Its really better Ė what you do say than what you donít say half the time. Just swallow it and forget it, because of course it could mean your job. People donít like to be corrected, especially those that are running the business and thatís the way it goes.

RN: If itís any consolation, it got worse.

GC: Well itís going to get better again, but I donít know what form itíll eventually take. Everyoneís watching TV nowadays. Everythingís electronic. Maybe comics will not be in book form, but maybe on the screen I donít know if thatís an advantage in any way like how are they going to sell at that point.


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