Gene Colan, a veteran comic-book artist whose work spanned decades, publishers, and genres, died yesterday due to complications resulting from liver cancer and a broken hip. He was 84. Colan’s résumé dates back to 1944, when he started drawing adventure comics the summer before his enlistment in the Army Air Corps. After returning to civilian life, he began working for Timely, the precursor to Marvel, where he met editor and future collaborator Stan Lee. From there, Colan worked on war, crime, and Western comics before the resurgence of superheroes in the early ’60s.
It was during comics’ Silver Age that Colan flourished. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, he drew almost every important character in Marvel’s stable, including Iron Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, The Sub-Mariner, and The Avengers—and he did so in his distinct style, a fluid and supple melding of vivid layouts and dynamic anatomy that broke sharply from the blockier, bulkier style of many of his contemporaries (including the great Jack Kirby). Along the way, he also co-created (with Lee) the first African-America superhero in mainstream comics, The Falcon. But Colan was best known for his character-defining work on Daredevil in the ’70s, a grim and shadow-steeped depiction that set the tone for Frank Miller’s revitalization of Daredevil in the early ’80s. Colan also produced iconic artwork during his runs on two of Marvel’s cult favorites of the ’70s: Howard The Duck and The Tomb Of Dracula.
In the ’80s, Colan moved to DC. There he took over the company’s main Batman titles, Batman and Detective Comics, and he carried on the brooding atmosphere laid down by Neal Adams and Jim Aparo the previous decade. Colan went on to draw everyone from Wonder Woman to Predator to Buffy to Archie. After the turn of the century, his output slowed but never stopped, and he even won a prestigious Eisner Award for Best Single Issue (with writer Ed Brubaker) for 2009’s Captain America #601.
By all accounts, Colan was a perfectionist, a restless stylist, and a man who never lost an ounce of passion for his chosen medium. “I kept [my art] fresh and original by approaching it each time as if it were the first time,” he said in an interview conducted around the time of the release of the movie Daredevil in 2003. “I wanted to be confusing, and I wanted to be complex, and I wanted the reader to think about it a little bit, even though it’s not a thing to take seriously. But I wanted them to take it seriously, because I took it seriously.”