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Secrets in the Shadows, the Life and Art of Gene Colan

SecretsInShadowsHi, Folks!

I just finished “Secrets in the Shadows, The Life and Art of Gene Colon.”  If you are a fan of the old, so-called Marvel Bullpen, this is a book well worth purchasing.

Gene Colan has always been an odd artist to me. Unlike some, I didn’t care for a lot of his superhero work, but I thought he was absolutely freakin’ brilliant on “Tomb of Dracula” and “Howard the Duck.”  This is not to say that his art looked any less odd on ToD or HtD, but that it perfectly fit the dark, quirky nature of these books.  Later on, I was exposed to much of the material in Gene’s “Daredevil” run, and I changed my opinion at that time and decided his art looked fine on superheroes too.

Stan Lee wanted all his artists to draw like Jack Kirby.  That was the Marvel style, as he thought of it, and all the greats were given the chance to pencil over Kirby breakdowns and study the King’s technique.  Not Gene Colan.  Stan never asked him to draw in the style of anyone else.  It wouldn’t have worked anyway.

Colan’s style is really hard to pin down.  On one hand, his art has elements of photo-realism, and the characters’ faces and expressions are far more nuanced than those of most other comic artists.  Gene’s use of black lent his work real gravitas, and he used all the wild angles, non-standard framing, and intuitive storytelling of his peers.  Where Colan’s art differed, however, was that there was always some distortion in the drawings, and often the character’s proportions were a little “off.”

Personally, I think Colan had the ability to conjure scenes in his imagination and hold them long enough to do life drawings from that image.  His drawing was not a mathematical technique, laying out the character in 3D space.  I believe he drew exactly what he saw.  He didn’t put down a character first without clothes, and then fit the clothes to them.  He saw the character in clothing, and he drew what he saw.  If there was wavering or distortion in his imagined scene, it equated to wavering and distortion in the resulting drawing. That’s my theory about Gene Colan’s technique, in any case.

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Of the Marvel Bullpen, there is no arguing on the pre-imminence of Jack “the King” Kirby.  Just below him were the other “greats,” including John Buscema, John Romita Sr., Gil Kane, Steve Ditko, and the like.  Gene Colan belongs in this group.

The fact that Gene is still alive, still working, and apparently enjoying a bit of a career Renaissance, is our good fortune.

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