Interview With Gene Colan
(May 1998)

By Kevin Hall

Here's an interview my good friend Kevin Hall, of the Daredevil Resource, had with legend Gene Colan. He was kind enough to provide a copy of the interview to archive on my site. I hope you enjoy the interview.


Gene Colan
chats with Kevin Hall

Gene Colan has been in the comics field for over 5 decades. He was one of the original Marvel Bullpenners. In 1969, Gene Colan was penciling Daredevil, Dr. Strange, and Captain America. He's worked on dozens of titles for a number of companies including Marvel, DC, Archie, and Dark Horse. In addition to his highly characteristic theatrical style and heavy use of shadows, Gene Colan pioneered the use of coloring over pencils with no inks. This summer Dark Horse will be publishing The Curse of Dracula by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan.

Gene Colan now lives in Vermont with his wife, Adrienne, and their two Golden Retrievers. I recently had the rare privilege AND pleasure of interviewing Mr. Gene Colan. I found him to be extremely gracious, quite professional, and VERY patient (my recording machine hung up on him twice during the interview!). I also had the pleasure of corresponding with his wife, Adrienne, prior to the interview. She was kind enough to send some commentary of her own prior to the interview. I've included these comments within the interview in the appropriate places. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation even a fraction as much as I enjoyed being part of it.

Background/influences

KH: This is quite an honor!
GC: It is for me, too.
KH: First of all, the one thing I did want to ask you, since I'm a little bit "wowed" talking to you, is when you were first getting started in the industry, do you remember if there was anyone who "wowed" you?
GC: Oh, yes. Reed Crandall. He did Blackhawk at the time. That's in the very early 50s, and I had the privilege of seeing originals of his stuff laying about on the editor's desk. He worked for Quality comics in Manhattan. I never, unfortunately, had the opportunity to meet him. But I saw his work, and I would just pore over the stuff. I was delivering work myself: I was working for them also doing a strip called Shannon. It was a detective story, and I don't remember the first name of the character, but I really picked up on [Reed Crandall's] work. I saw the illustrator in him, and I wanted my work to look like his. So, you know, artists pick up from one another, so do musicians, composers, there's always...we take from one another ... we steal from one another.
KH: To go even further back, when you were growing up were there any comics you particularly enjoyed?
GC: Yes. Dickie Dare. I got an old comic strip that appeared in a newspaper that was publishing in NY at the time called the Sun. And that's like the 30s, starting in the 30s , early 30s, I began to see this. I loved the work. Of course, there were a lot of heavy blacks in it. I think Milton Caniff used to do it, and then it was passed on to an artist by the name of Coulton Waugh. W- A-U-G-H. He also signed his name in a box like Milton Caniff. So I followed this strip. It became an obsession with me as to what would happen to Dickie Dare next. I would always wait for my dad to come up out of the subway so I could grab the paper out of his hand and see "did he make it" or "didn't he make it", you know, that kind of thing.
KH: What kind of strip was it? Was it a sort of an adventure/detective thing?
GC: No, no. He was just a kid with his little dog. He was being menaced in a sailboat out at sea. I remember that part of it. I followed it religiously. I loved the drawings, and I just enjoyed reading it. I liked other strips too: there was Wash Tubbs which became Captain Easy [a classic adventure strip by Roy Crane]. Are you familiar with any of these?
KH: No, but I'm going to start looking some of them up now.
GC: Well, they're ancient history now. I read those, and Don Winslow of the Navy. {chuckle} ...a lot of stuff like that. There was also an artist...Noel Sickles. He did, during the war: WWII, he did a lot of artwork for Life magazine in the sort of style that Milton Caniff had created, but he went even beyond that. I admired his work tremendously. Most of it was always in B&W, in fact, I guess all of it was, 'cause Life magazine printed up just about everything in B&W in those years. I just enjoyed the action and the shadow effects that Noel Sickles would do. There were other artists. There was another artist called Lee Elias who imitated, I thought he imitated, Caniff's style to a key. I mostly remember...I mean I remember all these people, but I think Milton Caniff with Terry and the Pirates sort of got me going.
KH: Since you've gotten into the industry, do you find it an occupational hazard when you look at a strip now to not be able to read it or look at it because you analyze how the artist does things?
GC: I don't read the strips. I just really look at the artwork: [to see how] it comes out. I'm kind of ancient now in the field. An awful lot of people I don't know anymore. A lot of the people that I grew up with in the business have either dropped out or passed away. There are a lot of newcomers. There's an unfortunate part of the business: the artists never really seem to get together. The only time you ever meet them would be at a convention, and even then, they're all very young, and I don't know any of them.
KH: Adrienne, can you tell us some of the effect(s) you've had on Gene's career?
AC: When I first met Gene, it was 1963 and a total dry spell for getting work in comics, at least for him. He was working at a small art studio doing film strip art for educational purposes. Basically, stick figures. After showing me his paintings and other original artwork done for his own pleasure, I was horrified at what he was doing for a living. Plus he was yawning all over the place at work because they never let him embellish any of the artwork he was doing...it was so cut and dry. I TOLD HIM TO QUIT. HE LISTENED. AND HE GOT RIGHT BACK INTO COMICS, one job at a time and within a year, his career was in full bloom. It was a very exciting time for both of us. He's my hero.
KH: How has your wife, Adrienne, been a part of your work? Does she help critique sometimes? Does she try any artwork herself?
GC: No, but she's very artistically inclined. She loves theater, she loves film, and she critiques my work quite heavily. And I don't always like what she says, because it either means that it's too late to redo, or I don't want to do it over {chuckle}, but when she's right, and most of the time she is, I just go ahead and redo it not a whole story, then it's too late. But, panel to panel, if there's something in the panel that she thought that I could have portrayed better or put something else in it or take something out, I would do it. Not LIKE it... but I would do it. {chuckle}
KH: A little bit of the artist's...?
GC: Yeah, you know: you hurt...my ego has been injured.
AC: I have no ability or interest in drawing. However, I critique Gene's work because he sometimes asks...and sometimes I plain volunteer! I have to say I influence the final outcome of the work he's done over the past twenty years in that I consider myself "Jane Everybody" ...if I like it, most fans will like it, if I don't understand what I'm looking at, most fans won't understand either. If I criticize something about the artwork in a given panel or page, Gene will really bellyache and get all defensive, but he always corrects the work and winds up thanking me! He's the funniest and sweetest guy. We get along great cause we kid one another a lot.
KH: What do you think about Gene's career? A comic artist isn't exactly your typical 9 to 5 accountant.
AC: We've been married 35 years, and the worst part of it for me has been the hideous amount of hours Gene has spent at his drawing board. It's taken a pretty bad toll on me and our family life, and we've both missed out on a lot of stuff in life because of his devotion to his work and quest for excellence. But he wanted to create powerful moving images, and he wanted those reading comics to sit up and take notice...AND THAT THEY DID. It's been tremendously rewarding to witness the pleasure and praise his fans have shared with him all these years. He had hoped, but never imagined he'd become known the way he has. He told me just the other day sort of wistfully, "I think I dazzled a few...". I thought, boy, did he say a mouthful... He made his life into something extraordinary through his art, and I've been so proud to be along his side, truly.
KH: The comic industry had definitely had its ups and downs over the decades; how have you and Gene made it through the rough times?
AC: How did we get through the rough times??? Who says we're through them? Ha, ha. Seriously though, Gene and I have turned to God for everything. Life is scary, very scary and sometimes mean, very mean and sometimes heartbreaking, very heartbreaking...so we pray and hold one another, then we cry and then giggle, then we fight and catastrophize many situations and then calm down and return to prayer and declaring the oneness of God's universe...a good God...and we go from there to pick up the pieces of this life's inconsistencies and challenges. The life of a freelance artist, at least for Gene, has been extremely rocky. At the foundation of how we get on with his career when he's dealt a blow, is I remind him of his talent and that there will always be a market for excellence. That gets him cookin' again and we both get busy poking around, looking for work.
KH: Gene, you've worked for a lot of different companies over the years. And not just different companies, but doing different styles of comics. Is it difficult to switch gears from something like Archie to Tomb of Dracula to something else? Or do you like being able to do that?
GC: I've never had a problem with it for some reason. I've recognized that I've been able to do it. It's never been hard for me. I can shift gears. Actually, I could spend half the day on something highly illustrative and realistic and spend the rest of the day on doing a cartoon thing.
KH: It sounds like you enjoy it actually.
GC: Yes, I do. Of course, it's a change of pace.
KH: Do you have to put yourself in a certain mindset?
GC: Yeah, you have to. You have to visualize...you have to erase anything that's real looking and start to think of things in a funny way. What I remember, what I think about: "How would Disney handle it?" That helps me get a jump start. For detail and artistry, I look at Disney's older films, particularly Pinocchio. For action: Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, and Tom and Jerry. And I've been influenced by other cartoonists, the way they draw the feet and the hands, and I introduce that into my work, too those are the little stealings from other people there. But I enjoy it. It comes easy to me. Why? I don't know. In fact, when I was doing Daredevil, I tried to lighten things up a bit by drawing Daredevil in a sort of a comical way -- something like Will Eisner would do. The spirit is really a detective story, but he hams it up a lot, and it makes it even more interesting because of it. I enjoy that aspect of it. I like to do a little cartooning every chance I get. I don't get an opportunity to do it that much.
KH: Even little doodles and things?
GC: No, I don't doodle...with it. If I'm making up a birthday card for a friend or something, I'll do a cartoon. Once in a while, I'd get something from Marvel to do I did Not Brand Ecch for them some years back. Of course, Howard the Duck. But Howard the Duck was a mixture. He was the only cartoon character in the strip.
KH: {chuckle} Everybody else was real.
GC: Yes. But you know, Steve Gerber, who wrote it, is such a funny guy. He's such a damn good writer that I would sit there, at my desk, and just ROAR at some of the things he'd have Howard doing or saying. He was really a funny, and still is, a very funny guy.
KH: I'd never thought of that before, when you have something hit your desk for the first time it could be challenging, it could be funny, any number of things could be coming at you.
GC: Right. It was a good training ground. I never turned down a strip because I felt it was too difficult to do. I never...I felt I had to do it. These were...now you're going back some years..I felt that it was necessary to do it. This is what they gave me. This is what they're paying me to do, and it's my responsibility...
KH: And in the long run it probably makes you a better artist...
GC: Oh, it does. It really does. I didn't think of it in the way of making...of being a better artist. I thought of how good could I make it, and where am I going to get my information from.
KH: A number of artists over the years have done a lot of other artwork: paintings, book illustrations, greeting cards, things like that. Have you done some art outside the comics field? Have you ever done any strip work?
GC: No, I just did Howard the Duck as a syndicated strip, but I did have a chance, along with Stan Lee, to do some illustr... to do some drawing for a film called the Ambulance. Are you familiar with the film?
KH: No.
GC: Eric Roberts was in it. James Earl Jones and Red Buttons. Three big heavyweights then. I had a chance to meet them and be with them. In fact, they were going to... see Eric Roberts played the role of a cartoonist, and he can't draw. So, they were going to have me do the drawing like a camera over my shoulders, pretending to be Eric Roberts doing it. But, you know, they come up with these plans of what they're going to do when they make a film and so much of the time they don't follow through with it. But I did meet these people and it was an enjoyable thing. I did do some artwork for them about this ambulance that is prominent in the plot -- showing the ambulance. I had to sketch it out in 3 or 4 different stages: one is just a light sketch, and then one a little bit more finished, until it was totally finished. That way they could photograph Eric Roberts drawing it, but you'd be looking at the back of the pad, not at the pad, and then you'd see the first stage that he was at. The camera scene would switch to that. Actually, there were 4 drawings that I had to do to establish that, so that's what I was doing.
KH: Sort of the ol' Galloping Gourmet pull the finished product out of oven type thing.
GC: Yeah, right. {chuckle} It was just all by movie magic. But I enjoyed...the whole experience was wonderful. My wife was with me on the set. It was in the summer, it was hot as hell, and we were shooting down in the Soho district of Manhattan. It was great. I had the time of my life.
KH: Since we were talking about strips, I had a number of people who knew I was going to interview you that wanted me to tell you that they thought you would be great for a detective strip daily. Something they could look forward to every day.
GC: The closest I came was Nathaniel Dusk. It came out of the 40s... it was supposed to have taken place in the 40s. I enjoyed that. It was a nice series. But that was when DC was trying to reproduce the stuff from pencil, and they didn't know the first thing about it. It took them several issues before they got the hang of it.
KH: Are comics an avocation for you or just work?
GC: No, I don't spend time on comics as a hobby...when I'm through with my day's work, I'm through.
KH: So, what other things do you enjoy?
GC: I love film a lot. I used to collect movie film years ago. Thing have changed. The technology is all different. So, there's no need for a projector anymore. If you have a good VCR and a big-sized screen, you're all set. An awful lot of stuff is on disk. I'd rather have it on disk than on tape. But, anyway, that's one way...what I do to keep myself busy. I also put in a SurroundSound system in the house. I never had one before. Oh, boy! What a sensational effect that is. You'd think you were in Carnegie Hall. Of course, the amplifier can do different things: it can create the effects of a large auditorium or a small supper club, and it's nice. It enhances everything. Just like the movies, same thing.
KH: In some other interviews, you've talked pretty fondly about working with Stan Lee at Marvel.
GC: Stan Lee reminds me a lot of Jack Lemmon. He always did. I would even tell him that. I don't know whether he was insulted or liked it {chuckle}, but I did tell him that. You know, Stan couldn't draw a line, but he knew a LOT about art. He influenced me a lot. When we were doing Daredevil he said, "Make the characters vulnerable, occasionally give them a cold. Make them like real people so that the readers can relate to them better." I had never thought of that. I figured, gee, I just kept on drawing them the way I always did, and I figured this is a new twist. And occasionally I'd put in the bad weather which you'd never see in the comic unless it was pertinent to the story. So, I would do those things. But Stan really sort of got me on that track. He also once told me how to draw a pretty girl. It was very simple. I would struggle over it for years, and then one day he said this is how you do it, it's so easy, and then he told me, "Draw the eyes a little closer together in a teardrop shape, shorten the nose a bit, and don't draw the lips too far from the nose." And it works.
KH: So, he couldn't draw it, but he could tell you how?
GC: Yes, he could. He was wonderful. Actually, he gave me my start in the business. If it weren't for Stan, I would have never got... I don't know, I might have gotten my start with someone else, but the only other place I went to and tried to get into was DC, and I couldn't get past the front door.
KH: In one of the annuals there was even a sketch of the two of you working up an issue. He basically gives you a one sentence plot and tells you to go with it. How close is that to correct?
GC: Oh, that's the real thing. That's what he did.
KH: Do you like working that way?
GC: Love it!
KH: ...with sort of a minimal plot. Or do you like a writer who tries to give you as much as possible?
GC: No, no. The less they give me, the better I like it. Because that gives me a lot of freedom to do what I want. As long as I tell a story. I'll embellish, I'll add things that he doesn't maybe have in there... to.. liven it up...things like that.
KH: That's got to be different with different writers?
GC: Well, it creates a creative problem. I can understand that, being an artist. I mean...writing is an art also, coloring is an art, lettering is an art, so when you infringe on someone else's territory and begin to tell them how you're going to do it and take away their rights of writing the printed word, naturally they're going to get their hackles up over it. If I'm going to do something different, I used to call them and speak to them on the phone...kind of like getting their permission to do it or talk them into it. I just don't bother any more, I just do it and let the chips fall where they may.
KH: In one of your other interviews you talked about the large size of the original pages being intimidating, but later the industry moved to a smaller page. Did you like that?
GC: I loved it! It seemed like the work would go quicker. The panels were smaller. When you have a large page, you tend to work more. You tend to put more things in the panels, because the panels are bigger. And you're intimidated by that. You figure I've got to fill in all the space, see? But when the panels are smaller you tend to think in a smaller way: it's hard to show a calvary charge when you've got a little panel to work on. But as you go through the years working at the small size you begin to...you kind of can compensate for it, and draw in a better way to fill in the spaces. You get used to drawing that way. Like you would get used to drawing large and felt you had to draw everything. Then you get used to drawing small, and you can still put in almost everything. It's just...it's a quicker way of drawing, I think. It's more comfortable. You get to see everything all at once. It's right in front of you, and it's a compact version of what you're doing. Maybe you can design the page better because you see it all at one shot.
KH: How big is an original page?
GC: It's about 18 inches long...about 10x18.

The Gene Colan style

KH: Let's talk a little about the Gene Colan style of art. You're very well known for your shadows, and you're also known for your theatric style. What films and filmmakers do you like to draw your inspiration from?
GC: I love Scorsese, Martin Scorsese. I love the way he tells stories. I don't know whether it's as good as it used to be. He's joined up with Universal Pictures now. He's not an independent. I imagine it was more profitable, I guess, for him to do that, rather than to try and constantly get the money up himself for his own projects. I love Raging Bull. I love the drama he puts behind it. I love Brian DePalma's work very much. He's very artistic. He did Carlito's Way and a few other things.
KH: Any chance we might see you do some work in the Shadows and Light title? Are you familiar with that?
GC: No, what is that?
KH: They've had 2 issues of it so far. It's all black & white. Marvel's been putting it out. It seems perfectly suited for you.
GC: No one's mentioned it to me. It's news to me.
KH: That's one I'd LOVE to see you do a story in. It's absolutely ideal for you.
GC: Hmmm...well, I haven't heard anything about it. Who's handling it at the moment?
KH: I'm not sure. I'd have to check.
GC: Is it a black & white book?
KH: Completely.
GC: Well, I haven't heard. My plate is so full right now, I'm not even sure if I'd have a chance to do it.
KH: You've mentioned a fondness for certain inkers in the past. Being a penciller, that's got to be a pretty close relationship. Could you talk a little bit about how it is to work with a particular inker, or what makes an inker and a penciller a good combo.
GC: Tom Palmer I loved his work very much. I LOVE Al Williamson's work because he captures, and so did Tom, he captures an awful lot of what I do. They could instinctively read what I was trying to do. My work is not the easiest stuff to ink, the pencils are complex. Very few inkers... either they don't want to do it or they're afraid to tackle it because I have half-tones in there. I'm not a linear artist: I put in shading and stuff like that that takes time to do. And inkers, you know, the pen and the ink and the brush is a different tool altogether, and you cannot capture those in between greys unless you take the time and trouble and know how to do that. Al Williamson does. He's a great penciller when he has been pencilling, but he sort of gave that up. Why? I don't know. But he's concentrated for the last, I don't know ... what, ten years or so, on inking. And that's all he does. He did something...it might have been Star Wars. I think he did some pencilling for that, I'm not sure of it though.
KH: You sound like you're a bit of a fan of his pencilling as well as his inking.
GC: Oh, I think he's great. He's kind of like from the Alex Raymond school: Flash Gordon. He's very accurate and draws beautifully. I think he had a strip too in the newspapers for a while [Secret Agent Corrigan]. But things have changed. The industry's changed, everything's different now.
KH: As part of your theatrical styling, you utilize a lot of unusual angles and perspectives. Do you consciously strive to do this?
GC: Yes, I do.
KH: ...or does this just happen as the scenes unfold?
GC: Well, I read the script, and I see how interesting can I make it. And being so influenced by film, especially in the 40s when everything came out of Hollywood in black & white, and Warner Bros. films you never see a Warner Bros. film without a storm, without a rain scene in it somewhere. Always with wet pavements a highly dramatic noir type of storytelling. [My style] was influenced by a lot of that stuff, and I tried to put it into my work. Actually, my work is better suited for black and white than color.
KH: While you're better known for the shadow work and theatrical styling, the thing that amazes me more than anything else is the way you convey motion: you don't just use swoosh lines, you put in blurs, ghost images, vibrations, movements in other objects nearby...
GC: Makes it move!
KH: Do you consider this to be a forte of yours? What are your fortes and foibles in your own mind?
GC: Well, you know, you'd be surprised how much information you can get from a Disney film. Did you ever watch the Disney characters move about that way with the double images and the blurry aftermath of the speed lines when the scene is moving fast? I've used that. I've incorporated that. Because it makes it look like it's really moving. And I want the reader to feel the action, I want to put him off balance if I can. Even though it's not mentioned, I very often slant the panels. Instead of making the panels straight up and down panels, I slant them. Because if there's a moody or a dramatic presentation on that page, it gets the reader dizzy. It dazzles them a little bit, and that's what I try to do. When there's nothing on the page that's all that important, if there's a lot of talking heads, then I generally straighten out the panels cause there's nothing exciting about it. I try to, within the drawing itself, do something interesting. The only time I really slant them is when there's action or something very brooding is about to take place, something mystifying is about to take place, then I set the reader up for that.
KH: Do you find anything particularly difficult artistically?
GC: Every day I hope I can get through it and be happy with the work. I'm never sure of how it's going to come out. I always hope that it comes out good.
KH: So, it's not any particular thing, it's just looking back at the work and trying to get it the best you can.
GC: That's right. I struggle at it. I'm not fast. There are some artists... John Buscema is very fast...and he's very good. I've always admired his work. Because I've watched him in action, I've seen him work. He can sit back, with a cigar in his hand, carry on a whole conversation, and before you know it a page is done. And it looks so damn good {chuckle}. That's the thing. He's like Robert Mitchum to me, that laid back demeanor and swagger. When the comics came to the house in the 60s and 70s, it was only John's work I'd run to see, just to torture myself. It was so good!
KH: Do you enjoy working in any medium besides pencils?
GC: I've done some painting. It has nothing to do with comics though. For enjoyment. I have some ideas I'd like to sooner or later develop...hopefully sooner. I've painted pictures of my family, some interesting scenes, boys sleighriding in the winter. Not in totally full color either. Sort of muted almost like sepia colors. But they were done a long time ago when I had an opportunity to do it. And I haven't done anything like that since. I have some plans in mind. When I have a chance to do it, I'll do it.
KH: There are people who try to emulate Ditko or Kirby, etc. Is there a Gene Colan school of art? Do you see younger artists ever try to emulate things you've put into your comics?
GC: I've heard that there were. But I don't see that there is. One time..one time I think a long time ago, I saw someone try to draw in the same manner, and this fellow was pretty darn good on his own! I've imitated styles of other people or tried to be like them Syd Shores was my mentor in the early bullpen. That's how you learn. But what happens is that ... it's like handwriting I always say this: that you can't hide the way you write your name, and you can't hide the way draw a picture.
KH: I've heard that Stan Lee would often use Gene Colan pencils on young inkers wanting to try out. Is this true?
GC: I don't remember that ever happening. {chuckle} Oh, God help the people that have to get my work to audition on. It would be a horror! It's difficult.
KH: You've said before that you modeled the Dracula character after Jack Palance. Who do you model your supporting characters after? Friends, family, something else?
GC: No. Through the years I've collected different characters. I have a huge filing situation here at home covering just about everything and anything. And then I even have folders on characters: people, old people, young people -- and I draw upon that. Anyone with an interesting face that I can use, I'll use it and put it in the comics.
KH: So, you'll see a photograph somewhere...
GC: Or I'll take my own pictures very often. I'm doing a Dracula story now. They didn't want to repeat Jack Palance's look because they felt, Dark Horse and Marv Wolfman who's writing it, because they felt they might run into some legal problems with that. Their idea was to come up with a , which was a good idea, to come up with a different looking Dracula, a young version, a young Dracula, an up-to-date one, so I was sort of wondering who in the world I could use. I thought of Hurd Hatfield, the actor, something like that. I couldn't think of anyone offhand that I might be able to use, and as luck would have it my lawn boy real good looking fellow and he's got just the right look for Dracula. That's who I used. Right in front of me, and it couldn't be plainer than day. So, I used him.
KH: Do you have any favorite drawings or panels over the years that are special to you?
GC: Oh, yes. When I was doing Nathaniel Dusk I did some old New York scenes the Flatiron Bldg. was in it. And then there was a scene in Grand Central Station where the detective is being hunted by a killer, and he has to leap off the platform onto the tracks as there's a big gun battle going on and the train bearing down on him. That's one of my favorites. I happen to have some of these hanging up in my house. One is of a telephone conversation between Nathaniel Dusk and his girlfriend. And instead of using panels to show the conversation, I sort of designed the page by open pictures of all closeups on the telephone, but each one's different, and it follows a pattern you could easily separate them without a box by going from the top of the page, a little bit to the right, then it zig zags all the way down to the left like the letter "Z" , and then it finally winds up at the bottom of the page when the conversation's over. That was fun to do. Sometimes these inspirations come to me, and I'll play up on it, take advantage of it. It doesn't happen often, but once in a while I get these strange layouts. I noticed an awful lot of art today is "designing art". The artists are trying to design a page more than it used to be. And I think that's good.

Daredevil/Dracula

KH: You drew more issues of Daredevil than any other artist has and helped to define the character.
GC: I had an opportunity [to define Daredevil] cause I stayed with it.
KH: What would it take to bring Daredevil back to the popularity enjoyed during the Lee/Colan or Miller/Janson, Miller/Mazzuchelli years?
GC: I was with Marvel recently for a short period of time. I thought it was going to develop into a longer period of time, but it didn't. And the reason is that I didn't care for the writing. I thought that they were missing the boat where they would send me a script, and Daredevil wouldn't even be in it. Matt Murdock would be in it, and all about how he became Daredevil which was done to death. I mean anyone who's followed the strip should know what his background is. They don't need a whole book to tell it. You don't get to see Daredevil once in the whole bloody story, and so I complained about it. Somewhere along the line they began to show a little more of Daredevil, but still not enough. The title itself tells you that if you've never picked it up to read it this has got to be about a costumed figure called Daredevil, and if you see just everyday people in civilian clothes, then you begin to wonder what's happened.
KH: This wouldn't apply to Nathaniel Dusk, of course.
GC: Well, that's right. That's a different situation. Daredevil is a costumed figure. Captain America is a costumed figure. They want to see... I would think the reader would want to see these characters in action, not in everyday clothes. Or show up at the end of the story the last few pages in action and in costume. They seem to be concentrating on stories that read like soap operas and not enough like it really should be. That's what sells these books: It's these characters in action fighting other weird characters in costume, and it's that way from beginning to end. Daredevil pops right out of the page on usually the first page or the second page and right to the bitter end. But not any more. So, that was one of the issues that I had, and of course I complained, and a little bit too loud and too often, and it got to the point where it was impossible to get along with them: the editor and all this business. And I left.
KH: Do creative differences like this happen a lot in the comic industry?
GC: Well, when I was younger I would swallow an awful lot of stuff because I felt they would never listen to me, so it didn't matter anyway. But I'm older now, I'm in my 70s, and I feel that...you know Marvel and I go back so far, when I see something wrong or what could be better, what would help the sales, I open my mouth, I say something. But they have different feelings on the subject, different ideas. They evidently feel I'm wrong, and they don't want to hear what I have to say. But that's okay...
KH: Well, Marvel today isn't exactly the same as Marvel yesterday.
GC: None of the business... neither is DC. There's not enough really solid editors around for one thing. That's just my opinion. I'd like to see more of the Stan Lee type of editors, but he'd certainly never go back to doing that. He was great, Stan. He allowed the artist a lot of freedom. He would tell them right from the start what he was looking for. It wasn't beyond him to stand up on his desk and actually illustrate by moving about like a superhero would, right on the top of his desk. He'd climb right up there and say, "This is how I'd want the character to stand when he's about to leap from one building to another." It psyches the reader. "In your face" stuff.
KH: Then he didn't completely give the artists freedom it sounds like he had specific things he wanted to see in the art.
GC: Oh, yes. He did. He once gave me a Captain America story where he had written an automobile chase in it, and I portrayed practically the whole book with this car chase. I took liberties with it, and he really raked me over the coals for it. He said, "My God, you could have shown at the most 4 panels of a car chase. What did you do? You ate up half the plot just showing that." I was very influenced by the film Bullitt, and I wanted to have a go at it myself. So, I had fun with it, and in fact in the letters to the editor -- the fans loved it. So, I had a good time and maybe that's the only time I think I ever proved Stan to be wrong. {chuckle}
KH: What guest stars, villains, or supporting cast in Daredevil did you enjoy drawing the most?
GC: I've always enjoyed Foggy [Nelson] ... you see doing Foggy is a comedy relief thing, and I was always looking for that. So, I enjoyed that aspect of it. And even Matt Murdock would get a little cocky at times and that would put some humor into that. I think that was my favorite strip really. I never enjoyed the Sub-Mariner, because that represented strange cities, super sort of science fiction type of background, and I'm not good at that.
KH: Hard to relate to?
GC: Yeah, I just couldn't. He was a difficult character to draw to begin with. He had a flat head, and at the same time I had to make him look good, good-looking. Once I had to deal with that flat head, I couldn't do it.
KH: The Curse of Dracula will be coming out in July by you and Marv Wolfman. What was it like doing it after all these years?
GC: It was fun. It was very nice to go back to it. Of course, we've all changed a little bit. Marv puts more into it than he did then. It's good. It's just a different Dracula all together. So it's not like doing what I had done in the 70s. It's a different character all together.
KH: Long time readers of a title will often begin to think of the characters as "real" people that they know. After working as a creator on a book for many years (eg Daredevil or Dracula), do the characters become "real" people?
GC: No. The way you can develop a character is to stay with it and work on it for a long time. And then it does get to a point where you kind of like to as an artist move on. And that's what happened with Dracula. I didn't want to really continue doing it, and I had threatened to leave it a few times even when Marv and I were doing it. Things had changed in the industry, new people had come aboard, and I don't know, I sort of just lost interest in it. And then Marv felt that he didn't want to do it either. If we couldn't keep it together, there would be no point in him staying in it as well.
KH: You also said before that you enjoy a little variety...
GC: Yeah. We did it for about 12 years. And I just wanted to move on. I didn't want to get into the niche that Bela Lugosi got into or Boris Karloff...that's all they ever did. I wanted to move on to other things more present day things. Of course, I moved on then to Dr. Strange which was a little better, a little more different. I loved doing that because that was during the psychedelic years, and everybody was into drugs and all kinds of wild stuff. So, I had an opportunity to create some wild backgrounds that went with the era. It was fun. It was a lot of fun doing. I don't know what happened...why I discontinued doing it. I think Howard came along then, and somebody else said I couldn't do both. And then someone else had to pick up with Dr. Strange. They even made a film of it. They made a film of Captain America too. They're going to do something with Spider-Man too, I think.
KH: I'm still hoping for a Daredevil movie, but I have mixed feelings depending on how well it's done.
GC: They're going to have to put big bucks into it to make it look right. But if they could do it with Superman or Batman, they could certainly do it with these characters.

The comic industry today

KH: We were talking before about how the industry has changed quite a bit. What is different about the industry?
GC: I think that they're looking too much at the numbers and how much books are selling. When I was working with Stan, it never seemed to factor in that I was aware of. If a book didn't sell well, an artist was put on a different book. I never ever concentrated on how I could draw this book so that it would sell, I just drew it to have fun.
KH: It sounds like the stories used to create the market, and now the market creates the books.
GC: I think the comic book industry has been contaminated by the film industry a little bit, because now they're looking at money: how many books can they sell, how colossal can they make them, and how much can they get for each book that they sell.
KH: Which doesn't necessarily give you the best product.
GC: No. The books are TERRIBLY expensive. And I can tell you from where... I live in Vermont, and the books up here...the kids can't afford five and six dollars for a comic book. They can't afford three dollars for a comic book. Comic books used to sell for 12 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, something that was manageable.
KH: The way they're sold has changed, too. Comics used to be something you could find on the newsstand while you were getting other items at stores...
GC: That's right. The whole business has changed, and it's never going to go back to the newsstand. It's going to stay where it is. But I think that if they could make the same product and sell it for less, they'd make more money in the end. That's how I feel. That way they could reach more of the market. Make it affordable. But they're out for the money...grab as much as they can.
KH: Do you think the companies are concentrating too much on the trading cards, action figures, etc.?
GC: Yes, I do. But it's just another way of making a buck. Whether it's trading cards or whatever they do out there, there's nothing wrong with that. It's just what they charge to get them. I'm talking strictly about the comic book itself. I even thought that the format of comics might change, might not be in a book form. I had a discussion with Stan once about it, and his opinion, and I believe it's true, it's the simplest form of entertainment: a person anybody, anywhere could take out a comic book and read it. There's nothing to plug in, there's nothing electric about it, they simply open it up and read it.
KH: You said you thought the format might change how so?
GC: Because of television. I thought it might now be seen more on TV than in the comic book. That way they can not only keep the characters moving about, but they can eliminate the balloons and have sound effects and music and people talking and all. It would be like a film.
KH: What about artists nowadays as opposed to many years ago?
GC: Well, compared to how the comics used to look, they're very dazzling looking today. They really are. Whether the anatomy is correct or not doesn't seem to factor in. More of a design, more of a style than accuracy. I have to admit that accuracy in the illustrative style tends to freeze on the page, but when you're...
KH: But you're a master at surpassing that.
GC: Yes, but I think an awful lot of stuff is covered up by an artist that doesn't know too much about anatomy. I may be talking out of turn here, but it's just another way of drawing a character and making him look good even though it's not correctly drawn because there's a zippy style to it. The kids, they love it. They're not complaining. They're buying the books.
KH: At the same time, you miss the hand reaching for the door or the real detailed...
GC: Some artists put it in, some don't. I think the presentation of comics is better certainly it's printed up better it's all done with laser printers and computers now, which is a far cry from how comics used to be printed: dull looking on cheap paper, pulp paper, and now they put it on slick paper. The whole industry has changed a lot and for the better. Yes, there are some artists that aren't as good as others, and the same with writers, but it's just changed a lot. I don't always approve of what I see, but it isn't going to get any different. Just a new generation will come along and maybe make it better or get at some ideas where it'll become a better presentation for the newsstands, but it's not quite like it used to be. I was always told when I broke into the business, "You have to know something about anatomy", and I didn't want to bother with that. I just wanted to draw the little cartoon pictures that I saw, but it is important to know something about anatomy. I didn't really know very much. I went to the Art Students' League for a while didn't learn a heck of a lot there because there were no schools to teach comic book work. That's a whole different style in itself. Now, they have the School of Visual Arts in New York where they teach comic book styles of drawing, or they teach the students how to think in terms of telling stories... not so much... there's some very bad artwork out there, but if you can tell a good story with bad artwork then that's achieving something. So many of them can draw pretty damn good pictures but can't tell a story. You've got to have a combination of the two.
KH: The technical ability and the creativity.
GC: Right! You've got to know how to tell a story. I've taught at that school. So, I'd try to tell the students to see as many films as they can and study the frames on the screen -- see how the director directed it, how he told us his story. Since I'm highly influenced by film, I figured that maybe I could get them interested too.
KH: Are there any writers that you'd really like to work with?
GC: There's Chris Golden. I did one story that he wrote for Marvel somewhat recently called Blade. That was the last Blade story I did, and then right after that I left. He's a very good writer his imagination... I'd like to be able to do some work with him, but that doesn't mean I'll be able to. {chuckle} I'm working with Dark Horse now, if he gets signed up with them, then I'll have a chance. I've tried to bring him in and introduce him in there, I don't know what's happened. I think Don McGregor's a very good writer, wonderful writer, and we did Nathaniel Dusk for quite a few issues, and a few other things too. I would like to work with him again. He did one called Ragamuffins. It was something so completely different from what you would generally see in comics. Very nostalgic kind of strip. It's about young kids growing up in a small town. I don't think it has tremendous interest for dyed in the wool comic book fans, but I loved it. It reminded me of some of the things I grew up with. There was a writer too, by the name of Potter who did Jemm for DC, and I illustrated that one. Thought he was a great writer. Had sort of a science fiction style.
KH: You've worked in horror, superheroes, detective stories... are there any projects or genres you'd like to do in the future?
GC: I like to do serious things...a good detective story I'd be interested in. I don't know how well that would sell. I still think it's the guys in the bathing suits...tight-fitting costumes that are going to sell. I wish it weren't that way. I'd like to see the industry change for the better, and it just may. It depends how the presentation is..I think that Don McGregor would be great for that!
KH: For a detective style...?
GC: For a detective story or almost any other kind. He once wrote a real frightening story that I flipped for. I happened to illustrate it. I don't read to far into the story. I don't read the whole story and then illustrate it, I generally read a few pages and then like to be surprised.
KH: Do you read any comics nowdays?
GC: No. None.
KH: None? Do you look at some for ideas?
GC: Yeah, just to see what the new artists are doing. And I see a lot of artists that are pretty damn good. Some not so good.
KH: But that's always the case.
GC: Yep. That's right. But there are some out there that are wonderful. I'm thinking of one artist who's done some work for DC: Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. Very realistic, magnificent work. Also, Dan Brereton. I like his style: he knows anatomy and composition, and it's great to look at.
KH: Well, I can't thank you enough. This has been absolutely wonderful.
GC: Thank you very much for the interview. And that you took the time on a Sunday to spend talking with me. I hope it goes over well for you. This is always a wonderful opportunity for me anyway. I'm flattered that you even wanted to interview me in the first place.
KH: I can't tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time. I'm really looking forward to meeting the two of you when you come down to Worcester.
GC: I'll be there! I'll be there for the day. Adrienne will be with me, she's my right hand. So, we'll get to meet you.
KH: That sounds great! Thanks again, and take care.
GC: You, too. Thanks for calling.

Once again, I'd like to thank Gene Colan for letting us take a brief peek inside the world of a comic book artist. I'd also like to thank Ken Carson (of That's Entertainment), Kuljit Mithra, and Bill Koenig for proofreading this interview after I transcribed it. And I'd like to invite everybody to come meet Gene Colan in person on July 11, 1998 from 12:00-4:00pm at That's Entertainment in Worcester, MA. I hope to see you there!


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