From the TCJ Archives

The Gene Colan Interview


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.


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