Slayer Lit

Slayer Lit Interview

heading

GENE COLAN INTERVIEW
Conducted by Shiai Mata

GENE COLAN

To comic book fans, Gene Colan needs no introduction. Entering the business during the 'Golden Age' of comics, he went on to draw thousands of pages over the last sixty years, and his pencil has given us exceptional...and in some cases, definitive...interpretations of such iconic figures as Captain America, Batman, Daredevil, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Howard the Duck, Sub-Mariner, Superman, and many others.

Of course, he's perhaps best known to many as the artist of Marvel's seminal TOMB OF DRACULA comic book in the 1970s. His identification with the vampire lord is what made Gene such an inspired choice to do two of the stories in Dark Horse's TALES OF THE SLAYERS project several years back.

I could go on for many more paragraphs, waxing rhapsodic about the artistic talents and accomplishments of Mr. Colan, but all I really need to do to make my point is to steer fans over to the TOTS graphic novel, and let them see for themselves what this man can do with just a pencil and a blank piece of paper.

But first, I invite you all to enjoy this Q&A with the man dubbed, quite accurately, as "Gentleman Gene".

SlayerLit: Gene, when did you first break into the comic book business?

Gene Colan: In 1946. I just got out of the Air Force and took myself up to Timely (Marvel). Got hired on the spot. Whew!

SL: Your style is often described as “atmospheric,” “moody” and “shadowy,” and it’s most definitely unique. Who were your artistic influences?

GC: Although I loved Milton Caniff and Will Eisner, I was mostly influenced by film. Understand film, frame by frame, is very much like panel to panel. The lighting in black and white films taught me a great deal.

SL: The 1950s were a popular time for horror and suspense comics. Did you have the opportunity to draw those sorts of stories?

GC: Not really. My scripts were mostly Westerns, War and Romance.

SL: It was in the 60s at Marvel Comics that you really came into your own as a popular artist, working on some of the company’s most popular super-heroes. Was there any book in particular you most enjoyed doing?

GC: Daredevil was my favorite and still is!

SL: In 1972, the Comics Code Authority relaxed its previous prohibition on the use of vampires in comics, and Marvel decided to launch THE TOMB OF DRACULA. How did you come to be involved with the series?

GC: When I heard Marvel was doing TOD, I called [Editor] Stan Lee immediately. He told me he'd already promised it to Bill Everett. I wanted it so badly, I decided to draw a full page montage of Dracula in many poses. When it arrived at his office he gave me a call and simply said, "The job is yours!".

SL: Any truth to the rumor that you based your visual interpretation of Dracula on actor Jack Palance? And was there a specific reason why you didn’t opt to make your Dracula look like Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, or some other actor already established for having played the vampire in film?

GC: I knew long before there ever was a TOD script that if I ever had the chance to draw Dracula, I would use Jack Palance. His bone structure is perfect. Serpentine. It's worked out well.

SL: Marvel is famous for what has become known as the “Stan Lee Style” of writing, wherein the artist lays out and draws the entire issue based upon a plot outline…sometimes no more than a few sentences…and the writer then scripts the dialog to fit the art. Do you prefer this method to working from a detailed script? And in the case of ToD, what was the creative dynamic like between you and writer Marv Wolfman in plotting out each story?

GC: I loved working from just a brief synopsis by Stan over the phone. Gave me lots of room creatively to play!

As for Marv, although he wrote full scripts, he was totally open to my interpretation. I mostly did what I wanted with the scripts and Marv simply rewrote around me. He was great with me. I think I brought him the results he was looking for.

SL: You did all 70 issues of THE TOMB OF DRACULA, and another two dozen or so issues of other comics and magazines featuring Dracula over the years. What is it about the character that appeals to you so much, that you return to him again and again?

GC: Simply? Because they offer it to me! That may be a disappointing answer, but it's the truth.

SL: In 2002, you contributed two stories to Dark Horse’s TALES OF THE SLAYERS project, each time working from a story by writer Doug Petrie. Being a television writer, did Doug provide you with TV-style scripts, or did you work off of his plot outline?

GC: I honestly can't remember. But I do remember him writing stories that were clearly understood to me and not over-directing what I do visually. That helped a great deal in my feeling open to creative interpretation.

SL: Did you base the two Slayers you drew…Rachel O’Connor and Nikki Wood…on real people? The character of Nikki had appeared in flashback on BUFFY once before, but your interpretation didn’t seem to be based on actress April Weeden-Washington, who played her in that episode.

GC: I never saw any Buffy shows. I based my interpretation of Rachel based on the 8 year old daughter of a friend. She had the right bone structure and look. I knew I could make her older. People are always guessing at my faces. None but Palance were ever based on actresses or actors. I have a vast reference file and that's where I found Nikki. If I don't find what I want in my files, I'll photograph people I know or I'll go looking.

SL: Were you encouraged to add your own touches to the stories? For instance, on the “Truth” poster seen in “The Broken Bottle of Djinn,” it looks as if you slipped in a caricature of Cary Grant.

GC: Yes, Doug mentioned to use Cary Grant or any of the promininent actors of that time.

SL: And I just have to ask: Dracula versus Buffy…who wins?

GC: Dracula.

SL: Are you working on any projects now you can share with us?

GC: Yes. Several elaborate commissions, most of which can be seen at genecolan.com and more in the works for next month. And currently completing a special 38 page Captain America for the 'Civil War' series. Dave Guttierez is inking and Ed Brubacker writing. Both great! Should be a winner!

SL: Gene, thank you not only for taking the time to speak with SlayerLit, but thank you so much for a career that has been nothing short of legendary!

GC: Thank you, Shiai!

GeneColan.com