Friday, June 24, 2011

Colan and semi-Colan

Friday Comic Book Extra.

In honor of Gene Colan's death I am reposting one of my more complete posts about this wonderful artist. I always thought his work in the fifties was underappreciated and have given it a lot of attention. I have looked for and found many of his unattributed works in the earliest years of that decade and written about and compaed his work for DC and Timely at the end of it. I have said that I think he was his own best inker, which some of my regular visitors have chimed in on. I have reprinted their comments here as well, after the post.

Gene Colan's development as an artist in the late fifties is a remarkable and rarely noted part of his career. As I said yesterday, I have written an article about this turbulent phase of his life and am waiting for Alter Ego to find room for it. But since we have broached the subject of Colan's early work here, I would like to share with you some of the relevant artwork.

Somewhere in 1956 Gene Colan started using full page splash pages in all his stories. Although it later became the norm at Marvel, it still was a daring and unique thing to do, undoubtebly born from the need to give the artist less work for his rapidly dwindling page rate, as the comicsindustry was experiencing a downturn that would lead many artists to leave the field. Colan looked for work at DC and found it, although they soon started assigning him inkers that would slick down his very personal art style. Over at Timely/Atlas/Marvel Stan Lee had another approach. He valued Colan's work so much that he let him do the full page splash pages and allowed him to work on a smaller sized paper. And he was allowed to ink his own work, allowing him to pencil quicker and earn an extra buck with the inking. The result, in my opinion was striking. Fpr three years Colan did some of the bst work of his career, his stories often used to open the book by Stan Lee (who recognized quality when he saw it).

The stories I am showing here, show the progress of his style. I had no problem picking them. Apart from pencilling a full Hopalong Cassidy book every month from 1954 to 1958 as well as contributing single stories to House of Mystery, House of Secrets and other books at DC, I recon he managed one story every week for Stan Lee as well. Although some of them are more rushed then the rest, all of them are impressive and deserve a closer look.

This first signed story shows an early appearance of the full page splash. When he got the chanc, Colan often tried to approximate his pencil style with an overworked feathered approach, which didn't really work. By the midfifties he had all but abandonned that approach, but traces of it remain.

Marines in Battle #10:

Not much later (we still are in the H job numbers), Colan drops his signature. It's around this time that he starts working on a smaler size paper. Maybe the two are connected and maybe he felt that he hasty work he did for Stan Lee wasn't worth his signature.

Battleground #11:

But it is here that we start seeing his growth as an inker. He drops the impuse to overwork the feathering and adopts a lush chiascuro style, that suits his pencils really well. It's a pretty open style, that's har to color, though. Colan's stories, more than others seem to ask for impressionistic rather than realistic coloring. I wonder how these stories would have done with the more painted modern computer look...

Battleground #12:

Somewhere in 1956, he hits his stride and knocks one out of the ballpark every time. It's a shame that none of these splash pages have been saved, because thy would have done great in any art gallery.

Marines At War #5:

Marines At War #6:

Marines At War #7:

His last stories for Sta Le appear in 1958 and 1957, but looking at the job numbers I wouldn't be surprised if they were all drawn in 1957. The one story appearing in 1959 has a job number only one digit away from the last one in 1958, a year earlier. The job numbers started their life with the scripts, so their approximity doesn't mean anything artwise, but it seems like too much of a coincidence. Still, they could be later as well. This story (toward the end of Colan's run of job numbers, after which he doesn't appear for a couple of years) shows a delicacy that isn't typical of his late fifties style. Maybe a different inker was involved?

Kid Colt Outlaw #79:

From Strange Tales #97:

From Strange Tales #102:

For comparison: this is the sort of work Colan was doing at DC in 1957. Inked by one of DC's house painters, er.... artists.

Hopalong Cassidy #102:


Jeff Overturf said...

Gene Colans work in this period and on this subject matter is absolutely gorgeous. I found his later work the the 60's on superhero titles hard to take and by the 1980's and beyond a real eyesore.

Could be his illustrator-bent work was just beter suited to this more "real world" stuff of westerns and war stories even the horror stuff he did in the 1970's...his super hero stuff is just plain ugly. Maybe why he never became a big super-star, but also why he'll always be regaurded as one of the finest artists to ever hit the comic book scene.

The Seditionist said...

Gorgeous, gorgeous.... Weird how Colan's inks are nearly the opposite of his pencils yet work beautifully. Not only was he one of his best inkers but the reason in part was he knew better than just about all how to ignore his own pencil work. (Unless if he knew he was going to ink himself, maybe the pencilling was a lot more limited when than when he was going to be inked by someone else.)

Smurfswacker said...

This is an excellent overview of some of Colan's best work. Nobody seemed able to ink Colan "right" but Colan himself. I say this even though I find some of his inking too sketchy. You want to see some weird inks, check out the romance mags he pencilled at Quality! Yecch!

My favorite obscure "inked-Colan" job: the one short story in Two Fisted Tales where he was inked by John Severin.

I get the feeling someone else inked that last Atlas western, but I can't imagine who. A capable job. It could be Colan using a different style, I suppose, but in the close-ups the noses appear twisted...something that often seemed to happen when someone else inked him (maybe he didn't pencil noses clearly. He inked them just fine!).


Doccomix said...

Someone mentioned an EC collaboration between Gene Colan and John Severin. The idea intrigued me, but the only Colan EC story I found was "Wake!" in Two-Fisted Tales #30, and that was inked by Gene. Is there another EC story I missed?

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Yeah, that struck me as odd as well. Could you explain, Ron? Did you mean the story looked as if Severin inked it or is there an actual misattribution?