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Set aside Daredevil, Doctor Strange and Dracula. This man could make A FIREPLACE visually compelling. – The Gene Colan Treasury

August 28, 2012

What you see before you is a rather hard to find little gem from 1996. The Gene Colan Treasury was created to help that at the time financially strapped artist, who had been laid low by health problems. Indeed, the magnificent cover that you see above was created especially for this book, and because of glaucoma that was robbing him of his sight, Colan had to sketch it with the aid of magnifying glasses. It’s humbling (and somehow cheering) that he could create something while half-blind that’s light years better than anything my fumblenut hands could ever scratch out. EXCELSIOR.

It doesn’t seem like a year+ has gone by since his passing, yet here we are. Let this serve as yet another cord on this blog’s bonfire of Colan praise.

Though it also has black and white contents, the Treasury lacks the thick, expensive-feeling paper of the Flash Gordon Heritage fanzine. That said, the eclectic selection of unseen oddities within are utterly fantastic, and, for Colan devotees, they’re a playground, more than compensating for any presentation sizzle deficit. Unpublished newspaper strip idea from the 1950s? Check. Elvis? Check. Archie? Check. Stunning sketches of anonymous people? Check. Perhaps the best of the old-timey treasures — you can almost catch a whiff of an attic smell rising from this — are several pages from Colan’s military service, when he was stationed in the postwar Philippines did illustration work for the Manila Times. Here’s one:

For me, the high points are unpublished character sketches from Night Force, Colan’s mostly forgotten (but not here) ’80s DC horror title. And it wasn’t the characters themselves that stood out — though the distinctive Colan fluidity was everywhere. Instead, it was two architectural studies. The first is an exterior:

I want the demon/gargoyle things for my front door.

The second, the show-stopper, is an interior:

That second one — Mama Mia… Where do you start, you know? Where the hell do you start? The fireplace? The ceiling? The drapes? The settee? Where?

What I said before about half-blind being 100 times better than my best? I wish I could crawl into that sketch and read a book on that settee. What the heck, maybe The Gene Colan Treasury.

[Tips figurative cap.]

There’s also a fairly meaty interview within, one conducted by Clifford Meth, who put together this book and helped Colan pull through his financial straits. There aren’t any great revelations within that you couldn’t find these days on Wikipedia (well, there is Colan’s youthful/creepy fascination with — and brief stalking of — Gary Cooper). One snippet though, concerning his admiration for Jack Kirby’s abilities and the important advice gleaned from one encounter with the King, I found interesting (with a bonus Namor-t0-Captain-Marvel haymaker):

I’ve always had this mental image that the folks working at Marvel in the 1960s were like some Algonquin Round Table. Even Ditko. That they’d all sit around the bullpen, at their typewriters and drawing boards, ribbons and ink pots at the ready, bantering back and forth as they bent to their work. Occasionally pinching Flo Steinberg on the bum when she walked by. Then getting together when the whistle blew at a local restaurant or bar to gab until the wee hours of the morning. That sort of thing. This fancy has long ago fallen by the wayside, but that Colan had so few interactions with Kirby surprises me. But I have to say, he got some good advice out of the limited contact. Words to live by.

I’m still sad about Colan’s passing. He was an artist whose prime I missed out on, but I’ve grown to admire his work more and more as I get older. It’s reassuring to know that there’s a lot of material of his out there for me to stumble into. This book was like a little mother lode.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Thelonious_Nick permalink
    August 29, 2012 2:18 pm

    Gene Colan is behind only Ditko on my personal favorites list. Coincidentally, just a couple weeks ago I picked up the first three issues of Night Force.

    There’s a great interview with him and other Daredevil artists on the bonus features of the Daredevil movie. If you can find the deluxe edition of the movie real cheap somewhere, might be worth picking it up for that.

    I also have a longish interview of Mrs. Colan in the book “I Have to Live With This Guy” (which is a collection of interviews with wives of famous comic artists.). I have to say, he comes off a little prima donna-ish in the various accounts of him, such as his wife’s description of his quitting Marvel after Jim Shooter asked him to redo some pages (how dare a whippersnapper like him criticize my work, basically), but the man could draw.

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