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Slush Exclusive:
A Conversation With Gene Colan
By Raymond Neal

05.20.03


Previous Page


RN: One thing I think is acting to ďsaveĒ comics is the explosion in trade paperback and hardcover collections. I think thatís going to be the direction everyoneís going to have to go into instead of monthly 32 pagers. Case in point Ė your recent Spider.

GC: Yeah. How do you think that bookís going to go?

RN: Spider?

GC: Yes. Whatís your opinion?

RN: I have it. I bought it a couple of weeks ago. Beautiful artwork...absolutely beautiful artwork [laughs].

GC: Thanks. What did you think of the story?

RN: I normally like Don McGregor but this one didnít really grab me. The plot wasnít bad but it seemed like he could have used a stronger editor.

GC: Well, he was his own editor.

RN: Thatís what I figured.

GC: Also he wanted to destroy the Statue of Liberty at the end and that was just after 9/11 and I refused to do that. I thought it would be very bad to do that in a comic book or any other magazine. Telling the story, even though it was just a story, to deface the Statue of Liberty right after 9/11 I think the Wrath of God wouldíve come down on us.

RN: Yes it may have. Vanguard (the publisher) certainly would have gotten noticed.

GC: Yep and he fought with me over I, I fought back with him over it and since he wouldnít change the story, I did it. I changed it. I made it appear if spider didnít capture the villain Ö these were just thoughts that he had, nothing that took place. He was thinking of what could happen to the Statue of Liberty. Itís nothing that takes place in the story; itís just a thought, like a dream sequence where youíre thinking of the most horrible things that have not happened yet. And thatís the way I got around it. I tried to minimize it as much as I could. We sort of parted company over it.

RN: That is a shame since you have been a good team in the past but to tell you the truth I havenít been able to even finish it.

GC: Too much writing.

RN: Yes.

GC: I tried to tell Don that heís overwritten it and to try to conserve some of the writing.

RN: There are points where itís almost more an illustrated novel rather than a comic.

GC: Yep. So anyway, thatís over with. Itís very hard to get work now in the business. Fortunately Iím getting work, but not from the publishers. The only publisher I'm getting work from right now is Dark Horse and thatís very spasmodic. The rest of the time, Iím doing commissions for fans whatever they ask me to draw. I make out pretty good doing that.


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RN: I saw some of the samples on your site and the thing that hit me the most was: how have you never drawn the Flash comic? It was wonderful. You caught the sense of motion, speed so well in that. It seems a crime that you never have had a stint on that book.

GC: No, I was never offered that book. I was offered so many other things but not that one.

RN: Thatís not one I would have thought of as a match so maybe thatís the same logic others were operating on but after seeing that piece.

GC: I didnít do it in the conventional way. Way back when in the 40s comics were pretty straight on. Panels were straight on, built like postal stamps Ė one right next to the other. Somewhere along the line, I tried to make it more interesting and branch out a bit. I changed the angles of the panels Ė they werenít all square. Sometimes they were triangles, sometimes they were crooked. I did crazy stuff with it trying to get the reader in for a good ride. Throw the reader a little off balance. But thatís nothing new- I didnít invent that, its been seen before I just picked it out of what I've seen before and used it for myself.

RN: Are there any current guys youíd single out as new favorites?

GC: I donít follow the artwork anymore. I donít get the books from the companies. They used to send them to me by the truckload. I live in Vermont and most of the youngsters here can't afford a comic book Ė thatís another thing. They used to be 10 cents, a quarter, 12 cents...now theyíre a few dollars. These kids canít afford that!

RN: When I started they were 40 cents. The lowest prices at Marvel and DC are $2.25 a pop and thatís only the biggies: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man. Most of the others, the base price is $2.95.

GC: A lot of it is computerized, a lot of the art some of it is done with lasers, airbrush. The whole face of comics has changed a lot. In many cases, theyíre very bright and very colorful and the art is not too bad.

RN: Often the colorists get carried away with the computer coloring and effects.

GC: Yes. Colors up a lot of stuff that the artists canít do. This fancy coloring, manipulating their tools and getting special effects is all well and good but you have to be a good draftsman to begin with and I donít see too much of that. The styles are very weird very way out but some of it is very good. Alex Ross is very good. Very realistic artist, beautifully done. One of the outstanding ones that I can think of. Frank Millerís very good in his own way. A little more cartoony.

RN: Especially the last couple of years.

GC: Yeah but he can tell a heck of a story. Heís very good at that. What I donít like is him changing some of the superheroes in a way that the handle of superhero doesnít belong to them anymore. If Batman at one time was a fall-down drunk at some point in his career, to me that shouldnít sell books. Youngsters idolize these characters and they shouldnít want to hear that they were that way at one time Ė that takes it out of the realm of what its supposed to be.

RN: I read somewhere that the average age of comic buyers is mid-late 20s now.

GC: Theyíre catering to a more sophisticated group now.

RN: At least an older group if not more sophisticated.

GC: Well older, then. Right. Not children. The children deserve better. I think if the publishers would concentrate more on decent stories Ė it could be adventure stories too. And maybe intro a few new super characters that havenít been done before. New ideas should be uppermost in their mind, not doing the same old stuff over and over again.

RN: I think you hit something on the head there: Every time thereís a big boom in kids buying comics, it coincides with something new creatively. Go back to the Ď30s with Superman, Batman, Cap, comics took off, things started slowing down until the Ď50s and then DC revived their older characters, brought in new ones, Marvel did their thing and things took off again.

GC: Yep. I think itís about time that they got rid of these superheroes and got into some other kind of character. Develop new characters.

RN: The way things are the Japanese stuff is really taking over now. Some of the manga books are far outselling anything from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse or anyone else.

GC: In this country?

RN: For the past few months out of the top 50 selling graphic novels, 45 or so have been Japanese.

GC: I havenít seen those graphic novels that the Japanese are putting out. Are they like animated cartoons?

RN: Some are. Thereís a wide variety of stuff. The things that are selling the most are things based on the TV cartoons like Dragonball, Pokemon, YuGiOh, things like that. Then thereís SF stuff, Dark Horse has re-released Lone Wolf and Cub, samurai stuff, AkiraÖ Itís all over the map, but there are hardly any superheroes to be seen.

GC: Buffy's one book they do. Iíve done a couple, three of them, but Iíve never drawn Buffy, just spin-offs. Iíve never drawn her. Thereís another artist there that does her. But theyíre trying different things I imagine but I havenít had a chance to do them. I get too few and far between. Iíve had to do something else. Iím actually doing fine arts now. It has nothing whatsoever to do with comics. Iím trying my hand at that. Iíve spent enough time in comics. Iíd kind of like to branch out into some other area of art. Not that itís any easier to do.

RN: Are you going at painting or drawingÖ?

GC: Painting. Some drawings, eventually. Depends on how successful I am at it. Up where I live, thereís the Southern Vermont Arts Center here where if you belong to it youíre allowed to show at various times during the year - no more and no less than three paintings. You can put them up for sale at the gallery. Itís a big place. So Iím a member and I had a exhibit all on comics this past summer and next time around I'd like to get some paintings hung there and just see what the effect of it is.

RN: What (medium) are you working in?

GC: Acrylic. Itís better than oil only because it dries quicker.

RN: If you had the chance, is there anything in comics youíd do differently or just not do?

GC: I have done pretty much what I wanted to do. I was given that opportunity by Stan. He never wrote out a full-blown script. He would just give me a few sentences, and I would take this over the telephone of what the plot was about and he left all that stuff up to me. And other artists as well Ė it was a very wonderful setup to illustrate a story where you plot everything yourself.

RN: I remember one Daredevil that was just the two of you working on the story.

GC: It was a very simple plot Ė really nothing to it. It was always between the hero and the villain and of course, the hero wins the day. And he just had it kind of separated into three parts: the beginning, the middle and the end. Sometimes I would screw it up so that I put in too much somewhere along the line and I didnít have much room in the end to finish it off properly. [Laughs] but he managed somehow or another to write around it Ė thatís how Stan was able to handle so many different titles. He never had to sit down at a typewriter and type out a full-blown script. He would just talk to the artist, tell him what he was looking for and left it all up to them.

RN: I would have loved it if someone had gotten some of his performances on film. I heard they could get pretty wild at times.

GC: Oh, yeah! Well he was very much the young boy at heart, still is. He always reminded me in a way of Jack Lemmon. He kind of had that boyish quality to him and he thought nothing of taking on a pose so that the artist would get the idea of what he meant. Heíd do all kinds of stuff to put across his idea to an artist. That was always fun to see. He was one really good-humored guy that youíd seldom have any problems with.

RN: He always came across as your favorite crazy uncle.

GC: Yeah, thatís right! [Laughs] Thatís for sure. Very bright man and he knows how to handle himself. Heís a wonderful entrepreneur. He can talk his way into and out of anything. Thatís why heís so good where he is out in Hollywood as a producer now.

RN: That really does play a big part in all the Marvel characters coming to the movies now.

GC: To have to resort to comic books to sell a film, jeez! [Laughs] Well, what do I know? I mean its making money for them and thatís the bottom line.

RN: As long as they have that, theyíll keep going with it.

GC: There was an artist by the name of Coulton Waugh. Ever hear of him?

RN: Yeah, he wrote a book called The Comics.

GC: Well he was an artist and in the late 30s/early 40s he did a strip with his son for a NY newspaper that no longer exists called Dickie Dare. Milton Caniff drew it prior to him. I followed that comic strip religiously. I took it very much to heart. And when my father would come home in the evening in the wintertime, 5, 5:50, Iíd meet him at the subway station and grab the Sun right out of his hand to see what happened to Dickie Dare from the previous installment.

I followed it religiously Ė I loved the drawings. I really got swallowed up by the whole idea. I could see a certain similarity between his work and Caniffís. He would sign his name in a box like Caniff used to do. He was my very first exposure to comic book art that I loved so much. I also remember the early days of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster Ė Superman. They did another strip called Slam Bradley. It was drawn just like Superman - same style, everything the same. That was going on at the same time that Superman was. Those were the scripts that I loved so much. There was one called Don Winslow of the Navy, Wash Tubbs.

RN: Roy Crane is one of my all-time favorites.

GC: Wasnít he something? He would round off the panels on the corners like a movie screen. Some of the movie screens in the theatres would have rounded corners and so he did that. He also put in a tone to his artwork, little gray tones. I think theyíre called craft-tint. He would put it on the areas of the art that they wanted to have tone on and they would just peel away all the stuff around it so that the tone would remain on the art.

RN: Did you ever try using it?

GC: I did. Itís too time-consuming. You have to cut it outÖ

RN: Itís the devil.

GC: Thereís also a paper that you apply a transparent liquid to it and that would change the paper to a tone.

RN: I always wanted to try that but it looks like they donít make it any more or if they do itís really hard to find.

GC: Yes it is. I havenít looked for it in years. I used it a little bit but I didnít stick with it. Eventually I just didnít bother with it. I did very little of my own work in ink.

RN: You did some stuff in ink wash for Warren?

GC: Yes. That right. It seemed like they could reproduce it pretty well then.

RN: Howíd you like that?

GC: I loved it. I did a submarine story once that way for Warren. I think I did it for Archie Goodwin.

RN: Blazing Combat maybe?

GC: Yeah, thatís right. I think he did some writing in that book, some crime books. Remember Reed Crandall?

RN: Oh yeah Ė Blackhawk.

GC: Yep. I took that strip over for a while too. Just for a while. Quality Comics turned that out. He worked for Quality Comics. I never met him but I would go up there because I worked for them and when I would leave a story off, sometimes Reed Crandallsí artwork would be laying around. I tell you my eyes would bulge out of my head it was so beautifully drawn. All in pencil, you know. I aspired to draw like him. I just wanted to capture that smooth, professional look that he had. That was a struggle but I felt I would eventually be able to do it. It just took a hell of a lot of years to reach that point. Just great. He knew how to draw the human figure beautifully. You know what happened to him?

RN: No.

GC: The last I heard he became a security guard.

RN: Youíre kidding me.

GC: Nope. He left the business, became a security guard and eventually passed away. Thatís sad.

RN: Yeah, thatís a crime.

GC: A man of that talent would do that...that never should have happened.

RN: I remember seeing some retrospective articles on him fairly recently but I donít recall seeing mention of that. Thatís a shame.

GC: It is, it really is. If I were doing a lot of comic art these days I probably would be pausing and thinking "Jeez, my whole life has been this way," you know? You can make money out of it but there has to be more to your talent than just making money. I think thereís got to be a point where you do something else with it. The money will follow if youíre really good, even if you have to change horses mid-stream. Itís always good to experiment, stretch yourself and see what else you can do. Certainly at my age, Iíve got nothing to lose [laughs].

RN: I think youíve proven yourself pretty well in comics.

GC: Yeah, through a lifetime of doing it. I donít regret it. Iíve had a great time doing it. Wonderful experiences, some not so wonderful. But I would imagine that no matter what business I would be in there would always be that aspect of it. The good parts and the bad parts. Iím sure that even with your work there are some people you can deal with and others you canít.

RN: Most definitely. Fortunately, Iím in a good place with good people. Thanks for the interview.

GC: Youíre very welcome.

Slush

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