TCJ ARCHIVE

The Gene Colan Interview

DRACULA & THE CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT

RODMAN: I have a lot of regard for your work on the 1970s Tomb of Dracula, another of your marathon runs. You were the only penciler on that, a job Stan Lee preferred Bill Everett for, but you basically accosted Stan with finished artwork, beating out your competition.

COLAN: I remained with that book long into the time that Jim Shooter came aboard. I stayed with it the whole time [70 issues].

RODMAN: So, you were still at it when the company changed hands. I know Marv Wolfman came along. Was Tom Palmer along with you one very issue?

COLAN: After the first few. I inked the first one, and then he came along very early on.

RODMAN: It ‘s certainly true that he was the inker most in sympathy with what you were doing in pencil. His own drawing style is less flowing than yours, but he comes out of the same general illustrative tradition.

COLAN: He’s a wonderful painter. He’s done a lot of advertising stuff.

The Gene Colan Annual: Painting with Pencil ©2000 As You Like It Publications

RODMAN: You based the appearance of your Dracula on Jack Palance – after seeing a television adaptation of him in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

COLAN: Palance had the face for it. Very shortly after that, he actually did a television version where he did the character [1974]. My God, if there’s ever been a Dracula, there he is!

RODMAN: When you draw, do you have a sense of the personality of a given character? In this case, did you and Marv ever sit down and work out an interpretation within the historical context of the character?

COLAN: I must have …

RODMAN: You and Marv created such a holistic illusion involving Dracula and his world that I somehow assumed your roles might have overlapped at least a little bit. But, as far you’re concerned, then, Marv was responsible for all the ideas about motivation and personality.

COLAN: He never asked what I thought.

RODMAN: I can see it from your position, but, as a reader, you could end up coming away with the impression that the creative team interacted more.

COLAN: Whatever he wrote, I would just do. If I had a question about it while I was doing it, I’d just call him on the phone, and that was it.

RODMAN: A lot of the fans of the 1970s Marvel era consider those horror books to be pretty notable; they were high quality, but sort of freakish or wild. Tomb of Dracula and Howard the Duck are major examples of the kind of books that are fondly remembered by fans nowadays.

COLAN: The Dracula series was the top-selling book. They had other weird books at the time, but they all fell away. They didn’t make any money with them, but Dracula seemed to be a winner for them, so they kept us on it.

RODMAN: Werewolf By Night and The Monster of Frankenstein didn’t last anywhere near as long as your run on Dracula.

COLAN: We just happened to hit it right. I guess the combination of the writing and the artwork helped it a lot. That’ s what the fans tell me. After a while I got tired of it.

RODMAN: Going back to your training as an artist, I guess once you’ve already done something to the max, its time to move on.

COLAN: Right. And it was just becoming redundant. I did it before, and here we are, saying the same thing all over again. It got to be on the boring side. It seemed that the stories kept repeating themselves. That’s a common failing I think in writing when you’re hanging in with one strip, or one TV show all the time. And when you do a strip for that length of time, then it gets to the point of almost no return, you don’t know what else to do with it to make it different. You get tired of it. You might not even realize it. So I tried to get away from it. I told Marv I didn’t want to do it any more at one point. And then he said, “Well, if you’re going to drop away from it, then I won’t bother with it either.” Actually, we did it again later. I don’t remember the details, but somehow we got back to doing it again.

The Gene Colan Annual: Painting with Pencil ©2000 As You Like It Publications

RODMAN: That would be the Marvel Tomb of Dracula mini-series Day of Blood! Night of Redemption!, which came out in 1991.

COLAN: I didn’t really want to do it then. I figured this thing had seen its day and I wanted to move on, but we did it. And I don’t think it sold well. In fact I know it didn’t. That’ s why it wasn’t repeated at Marvel.

RODMAN: There was also a Dracula miniseries within the last several years.

COLAN: I was given the opportunity to pick it up again. I did it as a job for Dark Horse.

RODMAN: The Curse of Dracula miniseries: You prefer to work with a character over an extended period of time, and this one keeps resurfacing for you and Marv Wolfman.

COLAN: I met Mike Richardson in San Diego and we [he and Wolfman] talked him into doing it. You know, a lot of time had passed, and we figured this might be a chance of getting some work. Mike Richardson thought it would be a good idea to give it a shot again, but it would have to be a completely different Dracula. Not the same-looking character. This one had to be a much younger and better-looking Dracula. So I said, “Well, I’ve got to get a new guy.” Of all people my lawn-boy [laughing] ended up being my model. Someone I knew personally, young and with really good features. I asked him to do the posing and he did. He was just what I was looking for. That’s how it came about. He was a really good-looking fellow. He had the right kind of features that would transfer easily into something sinister. You can look past the good stuff to see what else is there.

RODMAN: We all have our sinister moments.

COLAN: Yeah, though there are some people that never would look sinister. You know, they just don’t look that way.

RODMAN: That reminds me to ask you, did you see the recent movie, Gods and Monsters? About the Frankenstein director James Whale?

COLAN: Yes, I did.

RODMAN: It’s just a coincidence, but he used his gardener for a model, too. [Laughter.] Did that occur to you as you watched it?

COLAN: Yeah, well, that’s where I found mine. He was right in front of me. [Laughter.]

RODMAN: Considering all the different genres you’ve done work in over the years, you’re known as a premier horror artist. There must be a ‘feel’ or attitude you have for things. A certain predilection … You tell a story of seeing Frankenstein, the 1932 version.

COLAN: 1931. Very frightening experience. I was 5 years old when I saw it. My father took me in the Bronx, on a lonely little theatre on a side-street to see this thing. Because he wanted to see it, and I was in his charge that night. So he said “Come on, we’ll go see it.” And let me tell you it traumatized me! It was one of the worst things that ever happened to me! There was another show on television called The Night Stalker. With Darren McGavin.

RODMAN: A Dan Curtis Production. That show came out in 1972, so it was contemporary to your 1970s horror work.

COLAN: Did you ever see it? Well, it was done in a very realistic manner. He was a reporter. Kolchak. Somebody is killing these people and throwing them tremendous distances. But the acting was so realistic and the situation was so believable. The viewing audience was totally taken in by it, thinking that this was just going to be a mystery with a logical solution. But, it turned out to be nothing at all like that. You forgot that you were really watching something quite sinister, until you actually saw the guy. Someone who thinks he’s a vampire. At that point, my jaw was dropping to the ground.

RODMAN: I know it was influential. It was one of the inspirations for X-Files, later on. So you enjoyed that, especially, because of its atmosphere?

COLAN: It took you completely off guard. The same with the film The Thing, with James Arness as the monster. It ‘s all underplayed, with actors that you’re not familiar with. And they all did such a fabulous job, you believed in every inch of the story.

RODMAN: In that film, the style was to present the important plot points and information indirectly, so that things would dawn on you. Did you want that approach to come through in your storytelling?

COLAN: It would have had to be written in such a way that it would allow me to do that.

RODMAN: Of course, you were subject to the outline of the script. In your work with Marv, did you generally use the Marvel Method?

COLAN: It was the Marvel style. He just wrote it his own way.

RODMAN: Then you filled in the continuity as you saw it, and he came back over it with dialogue.

COLAN: He would send me the script, and I’d interpret it. Sometimes I’d call him on the phone, and ask him some questions. Sometimes we’d talk nutty hours. [He was one of the editors at Marvel, but] if he was at home, I’d call him at home. It didn’t really matter to me. I was always staying up late.

RODMAN: So, you burned the midnight oil a lot of the time. I can definitely relate to that. I get a lot of work done after hours. It gets less and less easy to do that as the years pile up, though.

COLAN: Does your wife mind that?

RODMAN: Well, she’s a morning person, which is a horrible state of being as far as I’m concerned. We somehow meet in the middle. She accepts all my eccentricities.

COLAN: This career is a marriage-wrecker.

RODMAN: Believe me, I completely understand how people who are not basically compatible might have trouble with an artist’s timetable. I guess it can be a hassle unless your partner is especially tolerant.

COLAN: Very much so. Because it ‘s such a weird schedule.

RODMAN: I’m sure you’ve pulled untold thousands of all-nighters.

COLAN: And I would listen to radio programs at four in the morning …

RODMAN: There’s something that’s fascinating to me. After-hours TV or radio programs are always so conducive to comic art or writing – or whatever irrational activity – for some reason. It ‘s like the perfect accompaniment to outsider-type behavior. Normal people aren’t up all hours of the night, hanging out, right?

COLAN: Right.

RODMAN: In the days before home video was available, you couldn’t even see great old movies unless it was past midnight. Late night stuff just seems to have more character and individuality to it. It keeps me up even when I don’t have an immediate deadline.

COLAN: Well, do you have children?

RODMAN: No, I don’t.

COLAN: If you have children it’s very difficult. You stay up because your responsibility is great. You’ve got to pay the bills and so forth and so on. If you’re a freelancer, it makes it even tougher. You can’t depend upon a paycheck. Its just what you do to get paid.

RODMAN: You’ve definitely had your ups and downs. I know you’re talking from experience.

COLAN: Oh, boy. Am I! [Laughs, then becomes serious.] I’m not so sure it was worth it. I mean, I missed out on a lot. It ‘s very hard to make a decent living. I think it’s always been that way. If you’re in business for yourself and own a company, then you work horrible hours anyway. If you work for just a paycheck, the day is over at five and you go home.

RODMAN: When you think about it, most people trade away valuable things for their career. I wouldn’t discount your regrets in the least, but you probably would have had to make trade-offs and sacrifices whatever you did. Something else might not have fulfilled you as much. Do you sometimes think you might have done things differently?

COLAN: I might have given it less attention. There are some artists who can sit down and do this stuff very rapidly and make it look good.

RODMAN: I see what you’re saying. You might have spent less time if you hadn’t concentrated so much on the quality of your output.

COLANR: Right. Done it quicker, perhaps, then I would have had a better life with my family. It ‘s very hard to sustain a marriage … I have regrets, that’s all.

RODMAN: I can see where it would beast rain. It’s hard.

COLAN: You need a very understanding partner.

RODMAN: No question. You’ve made many tributes to your wife Adrienne in your literature. That’s very well understood. She keeps your head screwed on tight, huh?

COLAN: Without her, I probably never would have done it.

HOWARD THE DUCK

RODMAN: There was another pivotal series in the late 1970s: Howard the Duck. The title really see me do be right for its time. Did you have a special feeling for the humor in that book?

COLAN: It was just great. Gerber was a wonderful writer.

: Howard the Duck #6 (November 1976) written Steve Gerber, penciled by Gene Colan, inking by Steve Leioloha, lettering by John Costanza ©1976 Marvel Comics

RODMAN: These days there’s a lot more mixing and matching of cartoony creatures and realism. At the time – before Roger Rabbit – that sort of sustained effect strikes me as unique. Howard was quite a novelty, and it was pretty hot stuff for a good while

COLAN: I took it very lightheartedly, because it was a comedy. It was goofy. [Laughter.]

RODMAN: Exactly. You’ve had comic relief characters pop up in many of your steady projects; Foggy Nelson, and Matt Murdock playing his own hipster twin in Mike in Daredevil, and Harold Harold in Tomb of Dracula. Winda Wester in Howard – the comic relifin a comedy Howard’s the butt of all the jokes in the series and is pitted against some freakish super villains.

COLAN: Dr. Bong … [Chuckles.]

RODMAN: A guy with a head that’s a huge bell and claper. Now there’s a super villain that could have shown up originally in Thor or something. Like The Circus of Crime, who did appear in the1960s super hero titles, and then in Howard. Gerber’s writing was essentially a parody of all the Marvel contrivances that were supposed to be taken at least semi-seriously the first time around.

 

Howard the Duck #6 (November 1976) written Steve Gerber, penciled by Gene Colan, inking by Steve Leioloha, lettering by John Costanza ©1976 Marvel Comics

 

COLAN: It was the way the whole thing was written. The entire book was intended to tickle your funny bone a little bit. It was absurd. It was so absurd that it was funny. And, you know, Steve had way out ideas. He really, really did. He was quite good. He was so good at it that they wanted to buy it as a syndicated strip.

RODMAN: Howard did run in syndication for a while.

COLAN: For a while. It was a failure. We worked at it … I didn’t want to lose that one. But syndication is a crap shoot. You don’t know what you’re going to wind up with. It might not work out.

RODMAN: I remember following it for the time it was out.

COLAN: I wasn’t willing to gamble on it. I had my day time job as well.

RODMAN: Are you saying you had to work on the two things at the same time to keep the syndicated strip going?

COLAN: Yeah. I burned the candle at both ends. It damn near killed me.

RODMAN: Everything demands your full attention at the moment you’re doing it. It’s hard to shift back and forth. You know, I would never have known that there were all these forces at work. The Howard subtitle, Trapped in a World He Never Made, could be an apt metaphor for comics creators swimming against the current, or for anyone who takes comfort in fantasy, or uses satire as a weapon.

COLAN: They made a film and it was a disaster. When they got their hands on it, they did something to destroy it.

RODMAN: Did they try to make it too literal, in your opinion?

COLAN: I don’t know what they were trying to do. From what I hear it was terrible.

RODMAN: A blot on Lucas Film’s reputation.

COLAN: Maybe they really should’ve consulted with Steve more.

RODMAN: Well, isn’t that always the case? When the suits get a hold of something, they take it from the hands of the creators and blow it out of proportion.

COLAN: Oh, sure. They’ re the ones that want to make the money; they don’t want to give you a dime.

RODMAN: The dreaded MBAs. The scourge of the entertainment industry. Never mind Dr. Bong! They were the problem with Howard!

COLAN: The business people that put up the backing. They figure that if they do that, they have everything. And that’s what ruins it. They had a good book. And what they succeeded in doing was wrecking it.

RODMAN: But that does make it a prime example of a concept that worked best in the comics medium. You worked with Steve again later on Stewart the Rat. That was for Eclipse.

COLAN: He tried something similar [to Howard] with a different character. Marvel claimed that they owned [the Howard character]. There was a lawsuit.

LABOR & MANAGEMENT

RODMAN: Artists often work in such isolation that it’s hard to get a sense of the people they worked with directly, or have been associated with overtime. You’ve known some really great people throughout your career.

COLAN: Oh, yes. But, you know, artists work like in a bubble. They’re in their own little world.

RODMAN: You’ve collaborated with many people who are considered leading lights in the industry, whether you had much in the way of actual contact with them, or not. You worked for Archie Goodwin at Warren, on Blazing Combat and Eerie, among other things.

COLAN: I did one or two things with Archie. We had a very brief relationship. Then I don’t know what happened. You know, the comic-book industry is like a revolving door. You go in a t one place and out another. You just get the work wherever you can get it. I met Al Williamson a few times … I’ve known Danny DeCarlo, he did Archie for years. He’s left Archie Comics. He had a big to-do up there about a film being put out.

RODMAN: Yes. Josie and the Pussycats. When DeCarlo left, I heard, other staffers were given his old assignments without necessarily knowing that he had been fired over the dispute, and was gone. They closed ranks and just went on, apparently.

COLAN: I blame Silberkleit, you know, the owner of Archie. He didn’t want to give Danny a cut of what they were getting from Hollywood.

RODMAN: It’s not unlike the situation with Marv Wolfman and yourself over the Blade film.

COLAN: It’s all the same.

RODMAN: To back up for a second, did you know DeCarlo well?

COLAN: He was there.

Millie the Model, # 155 (November 1967) written by Stan Lee, penciled by Gene Colan, inking by Sal Brodsky ©1967 Marvel Comic

RODMAN: Oh, right! In the Marvel Bullpen. He did Millie the Model.

COLAN: Right. That one and a couple of other books. He’s about 80 years old now.

RODMAN: It’s harsh, but you guys have to keep working. DeCarlo’s still out there. I think he went over to Matt Groening’s comic book company.

COLAN: Well, you know, we haven’t saved. We just have to keep on working. When I was much younger, it crossed my mind that with actors, when they age, they no longer get the choice roles because of their age. And I’d say to myself, well, in this case it doesn’t matter, because people wouldn’t know how old I am. [Chuckles.] If you’ve been doing the same character all these years, the character never gets any older. They don’t know how old the artist is.

RODMAN: You also did some assignments for Archie Comics not too long ago.

COLAN: Right. I worked for them. It never occurred to me to work for them. My wife said, “Gee, why don’t you? Why don’t you get some work out of Archie?” And I was able to do it because I knew the editors. And Rudy Lapick, who was one of the major inkers up there, and had been working along with Danny and inked all of his stuff all through the years. Rudy basically inked Danny’s work all the time. There were very few other artists that he inked. So, knowing these people helped. I got to know the art director at the time, and I managed to pick up something for two or three years that I worked for them. I even wrote a story.

RODMAN: Speaking of the Archie dispute, you’ve been subjected to a certain amount of editorial friction. How much pushing – using Marvel as the easiest example – would you get to go in a certain direction in the figures or the action?

COLAN: I had one particular editor, he gave me an awful lot of trouble. God, he was a nightmare. To the point where I wanted to throw him out the window. But he was a troubled man. I didn’t know it then. It came out later. I mean, everything I did for him was no good, he’d takeout a blue pencil and go through it: “This isn’t correct, this isn’t correct, fix this, do this over.” Nasty. He had a nasty streak running through him.

RODMAN: This was when?

COLAN: Could’ve been some in the 1970s, it was mostly in the ’60s.

RODMAN: But you don’t feel comfort able giving the names?

COLAN: To name him, no. It wouldn’t be the right thing to do. At Marvel, when Stan left, I had a lot of trouble. And I’ll name him: Jim Shooter!

RODMAN: The other guy must have been horrible if you’re willing to name Shooter, but not him.

COLAN: I wouldn’t want to [wreck] his life.

RODMAN: No, I understand.

COLAN: It was so bad, and I let him have it. I broke loose and pulled everything I could think of he wound up firing me right on the spot. Which I knew would be the result.

RODMAN: According to an essay he wrote for the Overstreet Price Guide about Marvel’s 25th anniversary, Shooter “took over as editor in chief on January 2, 1978.” He gives himself major Credit of any number of creator benefits and reforms. “With those improvement, swe accomplished a major change in the previously hostile relations between the creators and the company. “So, as far as he was concerned he could do no wrong to you guys.

COLAN: Oh, he hated me. I was miserable. It was the worst experience … one of the worst I’ve ever experienced. I had to leave Marvel because of him. I wouldn’t stay, and I … left everything behind. I left a pension plan, everything. I would have stayed, but Shooter gave me such a rough time. In fact, the vice president [of Marvel] had been down in a meeting with me and Shooter, trying to pacify me and get me to stay. And I just wouldn’t do it, cause I could see the writing on the wall, and I knew where Shooter was heading, and I didn’t want any more of it. He loved to be in the power seat. He was a control freak and he enjoyed that very much. [He was] riding high at the time, and took advantage of it.

RODMAN: Well, you’ve had your revenge.

COLAN: I’m not looking for revenge. Right now he’s a nobody. Can’t get a job in the men’s room. I’m not looking for revenge, but some time in your lifetime, you can see it [Laughs.]

RODMAN: Back then, did he appear to be someone who was going to get his comeuppance?

COLAN: He’d hang himself give him enough rope. He hung himself [Laughs.] I knew someone who’d put his picture in his shoe, and every time he walked, he’d be walking on his face. [Laughter.] Which he would have loved.

RODMAN: There’s been a lot of coverage on the Jim Shooter era and then everything he’s done over the years. Nobody’s going to beat all surprised that he made some enemies.

COLAN: Oh, he made a lot of enemies.

RODMAN: It’s a really rough industry. A lot of comic artists are on their own. No health insurance, few if any benefits.

COLAN: Except, well, there was an attempt at it … but nothing that added up. I think John Buscema managed to … I think he had a pension plan with Marvel. And I know John Romita did. They were smart enough to … Yeah. But I wasn’t [able to].

RODMAN: You know, there’s something a little untamed about your stuff I can tell you might have been sort of a square peg. Was Marv Wolfman already at DC, when you moved over?

COLAN: Yes.

RODMAN: That was part of the transition from company to company?

COLAN: They didn’t ask for me; he asked. And I didn’t want to particularly, but … [recalling] I’m not so sure whether it was before or after I had the trouble [with Shooter], but he tried to get me over. He was instrumental. Good thing, because I had no place to go.

RODMAN: It seems reasonable that the transition wouldn’t have been very sudden. And there were obviously people you knew and had been working with for a long time at DC.

COLAN: After Marvel, DC was the next stopover. I did a lot of Batman. I did one called Silverblade. I did Night Force. Then, there was a character that I really thought would take off, called Jemm, Son of Saturn, written by Greg Potter. And he [Potter] was really good. But it didn’t fly.

RODMAN: You’ve said that you don’t enjoy doing science-fiction stories although there are some examples of straight science fantasy and plenty of the super hero stories that have crossed over in to that genre – without visibly taxing your imagination. For whatever reason, Potter’s Jemm was the except in to that, huh? You were partial to it.

Jemm, Son of Saturn #5 (January 1985) written by Greg Potter, penciled by Gene Colan, and inked by Klaus Janson ©1985 DC Comics

COLAN: I enjoyed his stuff. Very imaginative. Very. I liked the strip. I really thought it was so well-written that it should’ve gone places, but it didn’t.

RODMAN: So it was because of the writing in particular.

COLAN: Well, it wasn’t typical writing. It was very unusual.

RODMAN: In Silverblade, 1987, you’re listed as a co-creator, along with Cary Bates. It’s easy to see some of your own themes in this; the character Johnathan Lord hangs out in his screening room, watching his own old matinee idol flicks, and there are movie collectibles which figure in as plot elements. How did that project come about?

COLAN: It was just something that DC gave me. As far as I was concerned, it was just another plot. I didn’t create the whole idea at all. It was all written out. I was just following a script.

RODMAN: Well, there’s stuff in it that reminds me of you, in any case. Like the vintage swashbuckler and adventure-film imagery.

COLAN: I enjoyed doing it, because it had something to do with film. That piqued my interest right away.

RODMAN: A few years before that, in the mid-1980s, you were doing a bunch of projects intended to be seen in pencil. Ragamuffins, Nathaniel Dusk Dick Giordano was essentially the first editor to allow your pencils to go out in a finished book. That would have been the first Nathaniel Dusk series. To back up a moment, Giordano had done some inking on a few of your earlier projects. He had that experience to draw on.

COLAN: Yes.

RODMAN: He knew what it was like to ink your work. Do you think that had any effect on his decision to let the work go out without an inker?

COLAN: No, I think it was Don McGregor, who’s written an awful lot of stuff for me. He wrote Nathaniel Dusk. We were doing it for DC at the time. I think he sort of talked them into having them reproduce the work in pencil. They didn’t have the method down how to go about reproducing it.

RODMAN: It was a little patchy, I think I remember.

COLAN: More than a little. They should never have published it. They wanted to do it on their own, and they didn’t know how to do it. They straightened out the [reproduction techniques] afterwards.

The Gene Colan Annual: Painting with Pencil ©2000 As You Like It Publications

RODMAN: There were a number of projects that ultimately went out in completed pencil form. You did two Nathaniel Dusk miniseries, the Ragamuffins series, all written by Don McGregor for various companies.

COLAN: I did one called Night Wings.

RODMAN: Was that also in pencil only?

COLAN: That was in pencil, but it was colored by a fine painter, actually. Neal McPheeters, that was his name. I have the original art. It was in pencil and they just painted right over it, you know, so that the penciling could show through. He was great.

RODMAN: And, of course, there was the Dark Horse Curse of Dracula. As far as I know, you’re the only penciler who had made a specialty of direct-from-pencil work meant for reproduction in color. Pencil, or wash, artwork intended for blacks-and-white magazines is another matter. Would it best of to say that you’re unique in that regard?

COLAN: It’s possible. There aren’t many. I haven’t kept up, so I really don’t know.

RODMAN: Nathaniel Dusk featured some quite detailed work. It’s a shame that it just didn’t come together.

COLAN: It was penciled very well. But the way they reproduced it, they didn’t pick up on that, until they got to the third issue.

RODMAN: Well that’s the sort of subject matter that especially suits you; gumshoes, gats and gams. Lots of opportunity to draw evocative shadows. So I can see you putting a lot of effort into that. I remember a sequence set in Grand Central Station.

COLAN: There’re subtleties in pencil that ink will never pick up. Ink is such a stark medium. It’s there and it’s permanent. You can’t get the gradations of grays and tones that you can with pencil. With the printing process that they have going for them today [it works out].

RODMAN: The problem with reproducing straight from pencil was that a lot of the detail would drop out, That would also happen with some of the more delicate linework back in the days of newsprint comic books.

COLAN: Yeah, a lot of detail is lost. I might have mentioned that, in real life, you don’t see everything. You just see some of the things.

RODMAN: Well, that’s different. In the cases where you’ve done the pencils unembellished, you can choose to blur the details intentionally. Reproduction straight from the pencils can be a good alternative to conventional methods, considering some of the clunkier inkers you’ve had.

COLAN: When an inker ‘gets’ it, it’s your style and his style. Even if the inker obliterates everything that I’ve put down, the [original[ impressions is there. And if the inker is a very strong inker he can eliminate your style, almost altogether.

RODMAN: I’ve developed a little hierarchy in my mind of inkers who are better or worse at finishing your work. Giordano was one of the better ones.

COLAN: He was good.

RODMAN: You’re an uncommon, in some senses abstract, penciler. You’ve got that distinctive compositional sense and placement of angles … It just so happens that he was good. He complemented you, Neal Adams, and pretty much anyone else who worked within a more naturalist mode.

COLAN: He knew inking very well. He had a feel for it.

RODMAN: He and Tom Palmer both have “realistic” sensibility, without necessarily being all that fluid themselves as pencilers. But it works really well in combination with your pencils. It just occurred to me there might have been a tie-in between Giordano having inked your work and an understanding on his part that is it might be better not to ink your work.

COLAN: I don’t think he card whether it was my stuff or somebody else’s. And I don’t think I was Dick Giordano’s choice up there; that’s just a feeling that I had when I shefted over to DC. But Marv Wolfman was one of their  big writers, and he wanted me over there. So, I guess a little politics were being played, Marv kind of talked Dick into having me come over. The important thing, to me, is that I wound up there. I had conflicts over at Marvel, with Jim Shooter, so that was the next logical place for me to go.

RODMAN: I don’t think about production and keeping up a schedule, and all the rest of it. It’s not the same way as artists think.

COLAN: No. Artists usually don’t think of that. Dick Girodano was into all kinds of business things. And it was balancing thing for him because he was doing some inking. I don’t think I was one of his choices, He inked mine because had to ink it.

RODMAN: Marvel brought you back for a brief run on Daredevil in 1997. I though, “Wow! Gene Colan’s doing Daredevil again!” It was really supposed to be spiffy, with all the new computerized color processes and printing techniques, but I thought the inkers completely botched it.

COLAN: They did.

RODMAN: Back in the 1970s, we all dreamed that one day comics would be on better paper, or maybe that they’d have more up-to-date coloring techniques, but it was all essentially inconceivable to us that it would ever really happen. Look how that turned out. Technicians don’t necessarily seem to know the fundamentals of art, or how to pull things together.

COLAN: No. They’ve got a lot of youngsters working that have no experience. [The books] are full of style, and not much content.

RODMAN: So, I was trying to be upbeat about it; you were back at Marvel on Daredevil. But what a disappointment. The inkers had no grasp of your style of action or anatomy.

COLAN: Well, I mean, they gave me a book where Daredevil wouldn’t appear in costume until almost the end. I tried to put in my two cents and I had to leave.

GENE COLAN: AUDIOPHILE

RODMAN: I was interested to hear you’d been commissioned for something by Rob Zombie for one of his recent projects. There’s a great anecdote about the fact that you had some of his records, so it was a real coincidence to hear from him.

COLAN: I did something for him, it must have been about a 15-page story. Like out of the blue. I got a plaque from him afterwards. In appreciation. It was a wonderful thing that he sent me.

RODMAN: HE’s one of the guys who likes paying homage to his early influences. Zombie’s also commissioned work from the old Famous Monsters cover artist, Basil Gogos – another great veteran horror illustrator. About the music you play when you’re working: it’s very common for artists to use music to keep themselves going. And musical taste definitely tells you something about a person. To be honest, though, the Rob Zombie story is interesting because, well, you’re about my father’s age.

COLAN: I’m 74.

RODMAN: I’d expect someone of your generation to be more into Big Band music or pop standards of the 1940s. You appear to have a pretty eclectic CD collection. I used to work at a record story, and my co-workers would play White Zombie just to torment me.

COLAN: Some of it’s modern. Modern symphonies. A lot of Prokofiev. Let’s see, I’m trying to think of some things.

RODMAN: But you don’t exclude hard rock on occasion?

COLAN: Oh, anything. My son is into that. They have some real psychedelic music. [Laughs.] And I play that, you know. Anything that fits in – with impact – almost all of it fits in. I’ll even play sound effects records. I have sounds of the ocean, trains – stuff like that – planes.

RODMAN: Does it help you with the “movie” that’s going on in your mind?

COLAN: Yeah, if it’s a war film I’ll play battle sounds. [Laughter.] It’s some real peculiar stuff I had a project or in those early years, and I would rent a film and then I would record the soundtrack. We didn’t have tape then. I would record the soundtrack on audio tape, and I’d play back the entire film without actually being able to see it. All I could do was hear it. It was a lot like listening to a radio program. And a lot of a movie depends on what you see, not so much what you hear. During a silent passage, you wouldn’t know what was happening unless you’d seen the film. I had seen every film I ever recorded, so it helped bring it back.

RODMAN: You penciled a story by Steve Skeates called “The Scream from Beyond,” which dealt with an obsessive/compulsive sound effects guy. It ‘s from the Marvel horror anthology comic from 1970, Tower of Shadows [#6], where they occasionally ran stories introduced by the artists, with a framing device of a self-portrait at the drawing board. Your hobby as an audiophile is, in fact, a part of your Bullpen reputation.

COLAN: Early on when I was working for Timely, we’d kid around during the day. We’d fool around more than we worked. But I did a dramatized [recording] where we’d go in and ask Stan for a raise, Stan Lee, and I had sound effects where he’d throw me through the window. I had it rigged so you would hear glass breaking. I had a wire recorder. In those years it wasn’t tape, it was wire. So I would dramatize the whole thing out at home, with the music and sound effects. I brought it in, and everybody got a big bang out of it. Including Stan. I didn’t want to play it for him. I thought he’d throw me out. [Laughter] But the guys in the bullpen said, “Oh, come on. He’s a regular guy. Go ahead and play it for him.” And I did. He got a charge out of it.

RODMAN: Well, he’s known to have a sense of humor.

COLAN: Yeah. Always. He’s still hanging in there.

RODMAN: He’s a presence.

COLAN: He certainly is. In a big way. It’s Stan, that’s all.

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One Response to The Gene Colan Interview

  1. Erik Colan says:

    i loved this tribute! thank you!!

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