"So You Want A Job, Eh?" - The Gene Colan Interview
A rambling conversation about Timely (and others), mostly from
the 1940s to the early-'70s, with "The Dean"
Interview conducted & edited by Roy Thomas • Transcribed by Jon
Ego Vol. 3 #6
Gene and Adrienne personally handed this brand new, never-published drawing to
Roy T. at this year's San Diego Comicon. All he had to do was stand in _line
at a photocopy stall in the convention center for half an hour to get a copy
made! Some guy in line kept trying to buy it from him, even though Roy explained
he only had it on loan! Daredevil versus The Jester.
Art ©2000 Gene Colan; Daredevil, The Jester ©2000 Marvel Characters,
EDITOR'S NOTE: Gene Colan, as artist of "Sub-Mariner," "Iron
Man," Daredevil, and other major features beginning in the mid-1960s,
is one of the most-loved and best-remembered artists of Marvel's Silver Age.
Earlier this year saw the publication of The Gene Colan Annual: Painting
with Pencil, a trade paperback of more than 100 pages of text and art by
Gene. Having admired Gene's work on "Sub-Mariner" in the months
before I came to work for Marvel in mid-'65, I wanted to talk with him about
this period-and of course about his even earlier work-and Gene was most obliging.-R.T.
ROY THOMAS: Gene, I wanted to start off by mentioning the subtitle
of your annual: "Painting With Pencil." Because that's the way I
and some other people always thought of your work. How did that title occur
GENE COLAN: It was my wife Adrienne's idea. Years ago they didn't
have a good method of reproducing for pencil. Today, of course, with the technology
they have, it can be done.
RT: I've tried to explain to people sometimes about the difficulty
of even a very good inker catching everything about your work on paper, because
you would pencil so many different shades of black and gray on the page...
COLAN: Yeah, I did that, really, just to get into it and feel what I
needed to feel to put it across. I figured if the inker could capture it, fine,
and if he couldn't, well, that will have to be fine, too.
RT: One of the things I most remember about working on your pages-since
I worked with the original art in those days- is that I always ended up having
to wash my hands several times an hour to get the graphite off! [laughs] I'm
sure you did, too, and I'm sure Tom Palmer and others did.
COLAN: [laughs] Oh, yeah. I think all artists should have their work
reproduced from pencils, really I do, because once the inker gets in, you've
got two styles. It's never interpreted the same way the artist had meant. But
I'm slow... and so, because of that, I get a little too nervous inking it.
I'm more at home with pencils.
RT: You did do some inking in the early days. But during the heyday
of Marvel, when you were doing "Sub-Mariner," "Iron Man," etc.,
kind of thing, I don't recall you often telling Stan, "Gee, I'd really
like to ink my own work."
COLAN: No, I didn't.
RT: And yet, back in the '40s and '50s, you inked a lot of your stories.
COLAN: I inked some of them. I inked a lot of westerns, a lot of war
stories. I inked the ones that have my name on them.
RT: There was a lot of black in those stories.
COLAN: Oh, yeah.
RT: I noticed in your annual you do a lot of writing, and you have
a nice turn of phrase. Why didn't you ever talk to Stan about doing any writing
COLAN: It never occurred to me. It really never did. I was so steeped
in the art of it, I never thought about writing. But I enjoy writing. As you
get older, you begin to review things in your mind, and think you might give
this a shot, and so I've enjoyed writing some of these articles in the book.
They're things that pop up in my mind, and I have no answers for them-[laughs]-except
that I know certain things. Like when someone says, "Maybe," that
means "No." "Maybe" is just another way of putting you
RT: Quite often! [laughs] Now, to finally go back to the beginning-you
were born in New York in the Bronx, right? How did you get interested in drawing?
Was it at an early stage?
COLAN: Oh, I started at three. The first thing I ever drew was a lion.
I must've absolutely copied it or something. But that's what my folks tell
me. And from then on, I just drew everything in sight. My grandfather was my
favorite subject. He was very easy to do, and I loved him very much, so that
helped a lot. But I tried my grandmother, it was too difficult. My mother,
who looked so much like her, was also difficult... and my dad, I did my father
once or twice, and he came across fairly well.
RT: So, at a very early stage, you were drawing from life. A lot of
comic book artists nowadays never get to that stage.
COLAN: Oh, they've got to get around to it. Speed is important when
you're drawing from life-because whoever you're drawing, often they don't know
you're drawing them. If it's somebody, say, in the park, you never know how
long they're going to sit there, so the idea is to get it in as quickly as
you can. And then rely on your memory.
RT: Did you go to the park and try to draw people without their knowing
COLAN: Oh, yes. [laughs] Even on the commuter train, from when I lived
in New Rochelle, I would come in with a pad and start to draw some of the people
on the train.
RT: When you were young, I take it you liked newspaper comic strips?
COLAN: Yes, I would copy them, too. I was highly influenced by Milton
Caniff, including Dickie Dare, that came before Terry and the Pirates. Coulton
Waugh continued it. He loved ships. Many, many years later, when I became an
adult, I saw some of Waugh's pictures in a gallery. There were paintings of
ships, and he signed his name exactly like he did on the comic strip.
RT: I understand that you went to the Art Students' League. Could you
tell us a little about what that is?
COLAN: It's a school in which those who are into serious art can get
good, solid background training. Usually famous people run it, or had run it
in the past. I know Norman Rockwell had a finger in it, and Hobie Whitmore.
It's in Manhattan on 57th Street. It's one of the oldest schools around. There's
a modeling class, with live models, and then they have a sculpture class. They
would start out at different levels. It was a great experience for me, and
I got in on it through the G.I. Bill. Actually, I even went to the League a
little bit before I entered the service. Of course, I tried to get work at
DC Comics. When I was much younger, I thought if I worked for DC, it was like
working for MGM Studios.
RT: I think that was the feeling that a lot of people had-including
COLAN: Well, it was "Batman," and "Superman." So
I figured, "Gee, what better could I do?" They were very nice to
me. I must've been about 13 or 14 when I first went up there. I met Bob Kane;
he was in the bullpen, and he was drawing. I remember what he was drawing.
He was drawing a hand. One of his characters was holding a .45, and I remember
the beautiful way he drew it. For some reason, that stuck in my head, because
all the anatomy was there, and I didn't know it.
RT: So you're living proof that Bob Kane did draw, occasionally!
COLAN: Oh, yeah! I got to know him better on a personal level many years
later, but that was the first time. I was just a kid, and I was told I'd better
go to art school. I had some ability but I needed training. So, I didn't want
to do it, but I figured I had to bite the bullet and go ahead and do it, and
RT: Rather than being drafted, I guess you volunteered, because you
went into the Air Force.
COLAN: I enlisted. I tried to get into the Marine Corps, but my father
came down and pulled me out because I was underage. [laughs] Shortly after
that, I enlisted in the Air Force. By that time I was 18 or 19.
RT: What did you do in the Air Force?
COLAN: Everything but fly. [laughs] I was going to go to gunnery school,
but they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, and then everything was over. The War
was over, the Boulder [Colorado] school shut down, and I was in the occupation
forces that went over to the Philippines.
RT: When General MacArthur was the king over there.
COLAN: Yeah. We were stationed right outside Manila. I did some training
in Kesel Field, Mississippi-which is right near Biloxi-and boy, what a hellhole
that was! [laughs] Then, let's see... I caught pneumonia in basic training,
RT: Did you do any drawing while you were in there, for post papers
COLAN: Oh, yeah. I did drawing when we started to go overseas, on the
troop ship. That's when I really started. I kept a diary of drawings. There
was an art contest at one station in the Philippines, and I won it. I think
it was rigged, because I became so friendly with the Filipinos over there,
that they wanted to see me win real bad, and they told me not to worry about
RT: Hey, that may even have been Alfredo Alcala, and Tony DeZuniga,
and all those guys, running around underfoot. They were all young guys back
then. [laughs] Fans don't usually think of you as a Golden Age artist. But,
though you really came into full flower later, you actually were an artist
back in '46, right? When you went to the Art Students' League on the G.I. Bill
after the war, the government sort of paid the way, right?
COLAN: Yeah, they did. I don't know for how long I went. A couple of
RT: That was probably one of the best things that the country ever
did, giving young people a chance to go to college. They deserved something
COLAN: Well, the country was a different place then, where they pulled
together. That's why we won the war, and that's why we lost the war in Vietnam,
because we weren't pulling together. Anyway, it was a very romantic time, in
the '40s, during the War. I remember going back to the base and sleeping in
the men's room, because there was no room on the train anywhere else. Maybe
you've seen pictures of people in wartime, sleeping in Grand Central Station...
just lying on their duffel bags. It was a great time, a great time, so many
marriages, it was a romantic time. Not that they all clicked!
RT: [laughs] Well, they don't now, either. You sound like an ad for
Tom Brokaw's book, The Greatest Generation. Trying to impose a bit of chronological
order on this conversation-I was looking at some of the things in your annual.
You had this teenage strip called "Bill and Bud." When did you do
that? Because it's very polished.
COLAN: I was trying to get my samples up, and trying to make a breakthrough
somewhere. I didn't know exactly how. I was 15, 16...
RT: That's the time of that "Daredevil" page in there, too-the
Charlie Biro "Daredevil," the guy with the split red-and-blue costume.
COLAN: It might've been. Just before going into the service, I worked
for Fiction House. A very small outfit. The office was no bigger than a closet.
I worked there just for the summer, and right after that I went into the service.
A 1999 Colan "Iron Man" commission drawing, painted in pencil, courtesy
once again of Kevin Stawieray. It's also printed in The Gene Colan Annual.
Art ©2000 Gene Colan; Iron Man ©2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.
RT: And when you came out, you went to Timely. Obviously, you'd been
hanging around DC, you'd been to Fiction House.... Why did you try Timely first?
COLAN: I might've tried the other places first. I can't remember exactly,
but I was determined to get a job. I was living with my parents. I worked very
hard on a war story, about seven or eight pages long, and I did all the lettering
myself, I inked it myself, I even had a wash effect over it. I did everything
I could do, and I brought it over to Timely. What you had to do in those days
was go to the candy store, pick up a comic book, and look in the back to see
where it was published. Most of them were published in Manhattan, they would
tell you the address, and you'd simply go down and make an appointment to go
down and see the art director. I got a job right away... Al Sulman, I don't
know if the name rings a bell....
RT: It sure does! He was part of the poker crowd [Marvel production
manager] Sol Brodsky belonged to-and so did I, by the late '60s. It was Sol,
and Al, and John Romita and Mike Esposito and Stan Goldberg, playing poker
once a month. Al Sulman used to just sit there; he'd never talk about comics,
he just laid out newspaper ads and so forth, and later on I discovered he had
done this, he'd done that, he'd written a lot of stuff for Timely... But at
the time, he never talked about it. So I never knew. He passed away some years
COLAN: He was a really sweet guy. He was the one who gave me my break.
I went up there, and he came out and met me in the waiting room, looked at
my work, and said, "Sit here for a minute." And he brought the work
in, and disappeared for about ten minutes or so... then came back out and said, "Come
with me." [laughs] That's how I met Stan! Just like that, and I had a
job. I have lots of files here on countries, and westerns and planes and stuff-and
I was going through my files several weeks ago, and I came upon a scene in
Paris, and it was a postcard, and I turned it over to see who had written it...
it was Al Sulman! He sent me a postcard from there, 'way back in the early
'50s... '50 or '51.
RT: What was your impression of Stan on that day in '46 when Al took
you in to see him?
COLAN: Oh, he was very young. Stan always looked like a kid. He was
always a good-looking guy. He was sitting there playing cards with someone-Gary
something. He was sitting there wearing one of those beanie caps with the propeller
spinning... [laughs] Oh, it was the most ridiculous thing I ever saw! [laughs]
This is the editor of Timely Comics?
RT: And had been, already, for six or seven, eight years by then! Except
that he'd also served in the military for a year or two during the War.
COLAN: You know Martin Goodman was his uncle, so Stan was pretty well-set.
He told me to sit down, and he said, "So you want a job, eh?" [laughs]
That's the way he spoke back then. I said, "Yep," and he said, "Well,
you've got one. You can start Monday." I was on staff.
RT: That's great. Did they buy that war story you'd written and drawn?
COLAN: No, but it was my ticket in. I worked for Timely for a couple
of years. Then, in about '47, I heard scuttlebutt that there was freelance
work available elsewhere, so I decided to not come in one day and see what
I could do on my own. I went out looking for freelance work, and I came home
with an armload of it, from different companies. There was a woman editor at
St. John's publications. I remember at one point I also did some stuff for
Fawcett publications, based on a TV show. Do you remember the title, about
this guy who was a very wealthy man, who owned a Rolls-Royce, and he was sort
of a private eye. It was a television series, and they gave me that-it might
have been in '48 or '49. And then I got some work from DC, at long last.
RT: How did you get in there, finally?
COLAN: I would say it could've been '49 or '50. They put me on the Hopalong
Cassidy series, for Julie Schwartz. Later I worked for Bob Kanigher up there
for a long time on war stories.
RT: Did they like you on Hopalong Cassidy because you felt you could
make the character look like William Boyd?
COLAN: Yeah, I tried to. I found it difficult. I had a lot of reference
material. But I found him hard to do. I couldn't single out any one thing that
would define him, so I just tried to do it line for line. He had a special
necktie on-[laughs]-and that helped define who he was.
RT: He had a soft kind of face, and he was older than most western
stars. You probably liked him, too, because he had all of that black in his
COLAN: Yeah! It made him really stand out. Anyway, I worked with Julie
for a good number of years. I was lucky. Timely had folded their doors on the
staff, and I'd lost that job. But-just a few days before that all happened-I
managed to get some outside freelance work. This was in the late '40s. That's
the first time I know of that Timely went through that. But, even then, I freelanced
for them! I freelanced for anybody, anyone that was on a street corner on Fifth
Avenue [laughs] who would take me. There was Quality Comics; they were right
RT: Right, they lasted through the middle "50s.
COLAN: I did some Blackhawk for them. I never met Reed Crandall, but
I loved his work. I've seen some of his originals...
RT: I've noticed that in the late '40s, early '50s, you signed a lot
of stories either as "G. Colan" or "Gene Colan." So, you
weren't one of these guys who were looking to have a pseudonym, to not let
anybody know you were doing comics. I loved those splashes and various pages
you reproduced in your annual, like the one about "Ploesti," the
air raids on the Nazi oil fields in Romania, with all that black. It looks
like you just spilled it out on the page.
COLAN: I was always very influenced by film. Also, of course, by Milton
Caniff, if you remember his work on Terry and the Pirates-
RT: Of course! That's my favorite action strip of all time.
COLAN: Sure. He always had a lot of blacks on his stuff, but it was
very carefully put in there, in just the right places.
RT: You did a lot of kinds of stories over the years... even romance
comics, and horror comics, a little bit of everything. The original spate of
super-heroes lasted at Timely through 1949, but you really didn't do many of
them, did you?
COLAN: No. But I did a lot of gangster stories.
RT: In about 1957 Timely had that debacle in which Goodman gave up
his distributor, and then the whole company collapsed when American News gave
way. Were you working for Timely then?
COLAN: Yeah. Before Martin Goodman gave it up, I was working for him.
He was a neat guy, he really was. He shared the wealth with the people up there
at the time, and he gave credit to a lot of people for making the books sell,
helping the books sell. After the crash, they were working out of a closet
up there at Timely, and I couldn't get a lick of work out of Stan. There was
nothing around outside of Charlton Press.
RT: Which of course paid very low rates.
COLAN: Very! [laughs] It wasn't even worth doing. I did one story for
them, and I inked it, too. I said, "The hell with this." Oh, I just
hated it, I hated it, so I just did that one.
RT: So what did you do in those several years?
COLAN: Well, I freelanced! I freelanced for DC... I did a lot of war
stuff for them.
RT: You've said that, after Timely virtually folded, you didn't do
any comics for about four years, from 1958-62. What did you do?
COLAN: Well, I couldn't get work in comics, so I figured maybe I could
pick up some illustration work. I did whatever I could do! I went to some of
the magazine publishers and they were really out of my league. They had big-time
illustrators that did full-blown oil paintings, you know?
RT: And the DC stuff, with "Hoppy" and that, it all dried
COLAN: Yeah. I had a falling out up there with an editor, a real tough,
rough guy. I never could get along with him, and he just made my life miserable.
So one word led to another, and I told him off, and that was the end of that.
I lost all my accounts.
RT: But around '62 or '63, you got back in, via the romance department?
How did that happen?
COLAN: I was working for an advertising agency that did film clips.
They were not movies, but they were educational films, they were photographed
on 35mm film, and they were used as a teaching aid. Film strips. I worked for
them for a couple of years or so, and I was just dying on the vine there. I
met my wife, and she says, "You're out of here!" I said, "Where
am I going to go?" [laughs] She says, "Never mind, you're going to
get work. With your ability, this is a ridiculous way to work." So, I
believed it, and so...
RT: She was right!
COLAN: We got married, and I actually started to get work. Very slowly,
Stan came back, and he gave me westerns to do, stuff like that. They weren't
all that great, but I felt more comfortable working with Stan than with anybody
else. Very gradually, things came together again. I was out of work from comics
for several years, I couldn't get a damn thing.
RT: But there was a period there, during the early '60s, where you
were working for DC again.
COLAN: That's right. I did a lot of romance stuff for DC, and a lot
of war things. I remember Ross Andru up there... Carmine Infantino...
RT: But the DC editors didn't think to give you super-hero work?
COLAN: No, no.
RT: They had a very departmentalized company. When I think of guys
like you and Romita being there in the romance department-Stan and I used to
just laugh about that, the fact that they wasted so many artists at that time.
COLAN: By the time I got through inking the work, everything looked
the same. They had a style up there, in the house. It was important-no matter
who the artist was-everyone's work had to look the same.
RT: Gil Kane used to call it the "Dan Barry look." I guess
it eventually kind of took over. Everything had to follow his lead. At the
same time, you did a little work at Warren with Archie Goodwin, didn't you?
On war and horror stuff?
COLAN: Yeah, thanks for reminding me. Archie was the editor there. I
did a lot of wash drawings.
RT: So here you are, working mostly in the DC romance department, doing
a little war stuff or whatever. How did it happen that you wound up suddenly
going over to Marvel and becoming "Adam Austin" doing "Sub-Mariner"?
COLAN: Stan asked me to come over and work with him. I don't remember
how, but I do know that we made a connection, and he asked me, "How about
coming over?" And so, my answer was-I think this was at his house. I had
some work to deliver late one night-it was in the winter time, and I went over
and delivered it-and he asked me to come over to Marvel, and I said, "Well,
what's the inducement? Why should I leave DC and come over to work with you,
unless there's a little something in it for me to do that? I'm not just going
to leave them [DC]." He said, "Well, if you're looking for more money,
there's no point to it." I said, "What do you mean?" [laughs]
He said, "Simply because, sooner or later, they're going to have to fire
you, and you'll have to come over here." [laughs] I smiled, and I said, "Stan,
I think I have to go." And I shook his hand, and I said, "That's
okay, I'll just stay where I am." The next day, I got a phone call from
Stan, because I had asked for more money, and he gave it to me. He tried to
bluff me, and... then I came over.
RT: And you used the name "Adam Austin" to protect the DC
account. Where did that name come from?
COLAN: I don't know. Stan might've helped me with that. That's how it
all began. Actually, the fun of working on comics with Stan was that, although
he put in all the dialogue, he allowed the artists to take a very small plot
he'd give them and build it into a 20-page story. There was nothing to the
plot-it was maybe just a few sentences-but the beginning was there, and you
could do anything you wanted.
RT: When you started on "Sub-Mariner," that was 12 pages,
but it was like an ongoing serial every month. So if you didn't get to a certain
point, well, you just broke the story somewhere else! [laughs]
COLAN: Yeah, well, you know, sometimes I got jammed up in the end, because
there was still more to do.
RT: Did Stan write out plots then, or was it mostly just over the phone?
COLAN: I recorded our phone conversations, and then I would go by the
recording. Other times, he'd send me a letter of a few paragraphs.
RT: You've said you weren't as wild about "Sub-Mariner" as
some other characters you did....
COLAN: I didn't like "Sub-Mariner." It was a boring, tiring
thing. It was Atlantis, the underwater city, and it meant an awful lot of work.
I just didn't like it. I couldn't make him look good, not by my standards.
He had a square-looking head.
RT: I was a high school teacher when you started doing that, and I
remember really being knocked out by opening the page of an issue of Tales
to Astonish [#70, cover date Aug. 1965] and seeing your first splash, which
had the Sub-Mariner swimming very dramatically toward the reader, and it had
this nice, realistic-realistic for comics-and kind of illustrative look to
it. It was a step in a slightly different direction. Stan obviously felt it
was time to branch out and not just have everything look like Jack and Steve.
COLAN: That's right. A style began to emerge somewhere along the line.
RT: What did you think of Vince Colletta's inking?
COLAN: I never liked it. He was too fast, and he didn't put any time
into it. He was simply out for the buck, and as much money as he could make,
and he whipped out that stuff. I liked Vince Alascia, do you remember him?
RT: He was a Captain America inker back in the '40s.
COLAN: He worked a lot with me. In fact, he inked everything Syd Shores
did. Wonderful inker. I wished I would've teamed up with him. I was looking
to team up with someone, but I didn't. Once it left my hands, I never could
get a good inker. I can't remember his name, the fellow who inked for DC that
eventually worked with Stan. He passed away... Italian guy.
RT: Frank Giacoia?
COLAN: Yeah, I loved him. He always made me look good.
RT: Jack Abel inked you on "Iron Man," and Bill Everett inked
a couple of your "Sub-Mariners"; that was an interesting combination.
Syd Shores inked you for quite a while on Daredevil.
COLAN: Oh, yes, yes. Syd was an excellent artist.
RT: By the '60s he hadn't metamorphosed into the kind of action artist
Stan really wanted, but he could certainly draw. In fact, he'd been the main
Captain America artist for years in the '40s. But in the '60s he still kept
busy as an inker, and he did some penciling on some horror stories. Gene, you
obviously made an impression on Stan, because I could tell, when I started
reading your "Sub-Mariner," that immediately, because of the way
you were drawing it, Stan's speeches for the Sub-Mariner got more and more
Shakespearean and noble. I think you were pressing him; you were drawing all
these noble-looking, realistic pictures...
COLAN: It worked only because that's what Stan wanted me to do. He would
act out everything. If he had to stand on top of his desk, he'd do it, and
said, "This is the pose I'm looking for." He would act out everything.
RT: You were one of the first people up there who started doing a lot
of full-page drawings.
COLAN: Yeah, I did that. I'd get tired of these small panels all the
time, and I would try to do something that was action-oriented, sometimes not.
In fact, it was a standing joke with Stan, that I did a whole page of a guy's
hand on a doorknob, opening a door, and whenever he could at conventions, he'd
tell that story.
RT: Did he like that page?
COLAN: At the time, he didn't. He said, "What did you do, waste
a whole page on this guy? It's the most realistic hand and doorknob I ever
saw, but by gosh, why do you waste so much space on something as unimportant
as that!" And he had a point. He was right!
RT: But then, later on, of course, he'd talk about, "Yeah, but
what a great dramatic shot of a hand on a doorknob!" [laughs]
COLAN: I was just trying different things. Remember the film Bullitt?
RT: Sure. I remember you were a big fan of it. I think you came into
the office with tape recordings of it.
COLAN: Well, I think it was in a Captain America story-where a guy from
a criminal collection agency has to make a getaway in a car-and actually, the
whole thing was really on one page, so I made about six or seven pages out
of it. [laughs] Those were the days when I could take Stan's plots, and extend
them, or increase them or decrease them, or whatever I wanted to do with them.
Boy, he got me on the carpet for that! He said, "What do you mean, taking
a whole eight pages out of the book and just showing a car chase scene?" I
was very influenced by Bullitt.
Here's the other, even more humongous spankin'-new drawing Gene and Adrienne
brought to Roy in San Diego! Enjoy!
Art ©2000 Gene Colan; Captain America ©2000 Marvel Characters, Inc.
RT: He thought car chases didn't work as well in the comics as in movies,
COLAN: No, but I got a lot of fan mail.
RT: It was different, and it looks real-and yeah, you have to try these
things. Stan knows that, too. I remember there was one "Sub-Mariner" story
in Tales to Astonish right after I got there-and near the end of the story,
Stan had told you to draw this clawed hand of a gigantic monster called The
Behemoth, tearing up through the bottom of the ocean. And then you drew the
whole next month's story, 12 pages, and sent it in. And I went in to Stan-after
he'd scripted it, because I usually didn't see the art before that-and I said, "Stan,
this is very nice, but what happened to The Behemoth, the creature who was
tearing up through the bottom of the ocean?" He said, "Oh, my God,
I forgot to tell Gene to put him in!" So he had to write at the end of
the story, "Next month, we're finally going to tell you about The Behemoth!" And
the next month, you did. It was sort of the kind of casual way things were
done up there.
COLAN: Well, Stan had so many titles to do that he allowed the artists
to do most of the work as far as spacing it out, and sketching it in, so that
when he'd see the artwork, all he had to do was write the balloons.
RT: You did a long, unbroken run of "Sub-Mariner," except
where Jack Kirby filled in for two issues for some reason. In the meantime,
you started on "Iron Man" with Tales of Suspense #73-and, by a weird
coincidence, I dialogued your very first Iron Man story.
COLAN: You did?
RT: Although Stan re-dialogued it, and it ended up being about 50/50.
It was the one with The Black Knight and his winged horse, and you did a beautiful
cover for it.
COLAN: Yes, I remember the horse. I don't remember anything else about
it. I did that, and Daredevil. I think John Romita did several issues before
RT: Yeah, but he was soon put on Spidey, and you inherited Daredevil.
COLAN: For years.
RT: I remember once, when you were doing an "Iron Man" 12-pager,
you called Stan and said, "I've only got a page or two left, and I can't
get everything in." And he said, "What about the plot we gave you?" And
you said, "Well, I haven't read it all yet!" [laughs]
COLAN: I never read the plots all the way through first! [laughs] I
would simply go ahead and do it. I would take the script, and read each page
at a time.
RT: I remember, in that instance, what he said to do was, "Instead
of breaking it at this point, break it earlier," and then you'd continue
the next issue. It all worked out, because they were all continued stories
anyway. "Iron Man" and Daredevil were the two strips I guess you
were most associated with for several years.
COLAN: Until Tomb of Dracula came along. I enjoyed Daredevil.
RT: I could tell you really put yourself into it, because it was more
of a human, Batman-like character.
COLAN: Yeah, that's right. I remember I wanted to change his costume
to make it black, just with little spots of red showing through it, but Stan
wanted me to leave it open for color, which I thought lost the dynamics of
RT: He thought the black wouldn't show up as well on the page. It depends
on how you use it, I guess.
COLAN: Right, and he wanted it open for just red. But to me, leaving
his costume open for color, made him look almost weightless.
RT: You worked with Stan for a couple of years on that, and then he
kind of lateraled you over to me, or me over to you, or whatever, and then
Gary Friedrich wrote Daredevil for a while. I guess you worked on it for several
years with various of us.
COLAN: Different people at different times... an awful lot of stuff
through the years.
RT: Except for an issue or three in the middle that Barry Smith drew,
you did a solid run of Daredevil for several years, mostly with Syd inking,
but a few other people here and there.
COLAN: Yep. The only strip I really begged for was Dracula. He promised
it to me, but then he changed his mind, he was going to give it to Bill Everett.
RT: It's funny, I don't remember Bill being the designated artist,
but I'm sure you're right.
COLAN: Oh, I said to him, "Stan, you gave me your word I could
have it!" He said, "No, I'm afraid not, Gene. I actually promised
it to Bill before you!" But I didn't take that for a answer. I worked
up a page of Dracula, long before Bill did anything. I just sat there, and
I inked it, a whole page of the character, just sample drawings of him. I fashioned
him after Jack Palance, years before Palance played Dracula on TV, and I sent
it in. I got an immediate call back. Stan said, "The strip is yours."
RT: It probably worked out for the best. Bill was certainly a good
artist, but I don't think he'd have gotten what Stan was really looking for
in Tomb of Dracula.
COLAN: I didn't think so. I thought I was the only one for it.
RT: I remember that he changed his mind about having you ink that first
issue, too. But you had a long phone conversation with him, and changed his
mind. It's hard to imagine anybody else doing Tomb of Dracula with the power,
the intensity, and everything else that you did, especially once you got teamed
up with Marv Wolfman. But you started even a few issues before he did. Gil
Kane did some covers, but when anyone thinks of Dracula at Marvel, no matter
who else drew him, you always end up with a picture in your mind of Gene Colan's
COLAN: I can't get rid of him. I'm still doing that character for a
number of years after that, long after I started to get rid of it.
RT: I know you're going to do an interview later with Jon Cooke for
Comic Book Artist about your Dracula and later work, so I'll just segue back
now to Daredevil. I remember you and I did some nice moody things. I recall
there was a scene on a covered bridge once with Karen Page's girlfriend and
this sort of half-mummy/half-skeleton guy on a horse called Death's-Head that
we made up. And I remember thinking, "This would be perfect for Gene,
because it has a feeling like a horror movie." I made up this sound effect
for the horse that was "KUDDA-LIK-KUDDA-LIK-KUDDA-LIK" [laughs]-and
I just remember I had such a great time! That's when I just saw a picture in
my mind of Karen reaching out and taking off DD's mask at his invitation, so
we did that, too. Those were such vivid scenes.
COLAN: Actually, I think what started it all was my interest in doing
heavy blacks and shadows in scary stories. When I was five years old, I saw
Frankenstein... the original movie... and it traumatized me. My father took
me, in the Bronx, on a hilly street, a little theater there, and I couldn't
get it out of my mind! I couldn't sleep, I was a wreck! From then on, I became
rather fascinated with that kind of thing, and it's kind of spilled over in
my ability to draw.
RT: I notice you've said that, when you saw it later, you didn't care
much for Bela Lugosi's Dracula, because it was a little clunky.
COLAN: Yeah, I didn't think it was all that good. But maybe if I had
seen it first... I know I wanted to see it, but my father wouldn't allow me
to see it.
RT: I did want to ask you a couple of things about Dr. Strange, which
you started doing in '68. Dan Adkins started on it when Doc got his own book,
and then one issue was penciled by Tom Palmer, who was lined up by Adkins.
And then, somehow, you were put on the book, and we sort of got stuck with
this guy Tom Palmer as inker, and I told Stan, "Gee, we don't even know
if this guy can ink!" [laughs]
COLAN: Well, he did a great job.
RT: It turned out, of course, that he was just wonderful, but at the
time, when he started inking Dr. Strange, I hadn't seen-and I don't think Stan
had, either-one single line of his inking. I believe we were just taking Dan
Adkins' word for it that the guy could ink, and it turned out to be just wonderful,
and a great combination, the two of you.
COLAN: Oh, yeah, we were very lucky in that way.
RT: I noticed you never made any real attempt to follow what Ditko
had done on "Dr. Strange," with the kinds of worlds and things. You
had your own view of other dimensions.
COLAN: Yep, I did.
RT: With a lot of smoke.
COLAN: Highly influenced by films I'd seen. Whatever scary movie was
out, I'd see it, and a combination of things, but I always had an affinity
for that stuff.
RT: I'd written a little "Dr. Strange" previously-I even
dialogued a couple with Ditko, and several with Marie, and I may have even
written one with Bill Everett-but the interesting thing about when you started
doing it is, suddenly you started making not just Dr. Strange, but the other
people of the strip really into real people, like his servant Wong, or his
girlfriend Clea from another dimension. All of a sudden, the book could suddenly
have these elements of a soap opera that some of the other comics at Marvel
had, which somehow "Dr. Strange" had never had before-because it
became more human because of the way you drew it.
COLAN: I wanted to bring realism into it, and I think that the character
of Dr. Strange was situated in Greenwich Village... so I'd go down with a Polaroid
camera... and I would use it in the plot to make it even more real.
RT: Did you go down to Times Square to take photos for that story I
plotted that had a pterodactyl crashing into the Times Square Allied Chemical
Tower on New Year's Eve?
COLAN: I always went down anywhere in New York-the Empire State Building,
any landmarks, Radio City, places that people would recognize-and I'd try to
put the characters in there, even if the strip never mentioned it, or called
for it. I figured if he was flying around the city, it'd be good to put him
in familiar places, and I enjoyed the authenticity of it. It became fun. I
think artists have to be inventive.
RT: You also experimented a lot with panel breakdowns, doing all sorts
of weird panel breakdowns.
COLAN: Right. When the excitement became tremendous in the story, I'd
slant the panels. When there was really nothing going on but conversation,
I kept it straight. I figured I'd keep the panels straight, but make the composition
interesting if there wasn't much going on. But boy, if there was hell-raising
going on, I'd twist the panels and do everything I could!
RT: I got very possessive about Dr. Strange. I eloped in July 1968
with my first wife, Jeanie, and came back one day late from what was supposed
to be just a weekend at a comics convention in St. Louis-and when I walk in,
I run into Archie Goodwin waiting at the elevator-with pages you'd sent in
of a Dr. Strange issue I'd plotted-because Sol Brodsky couldn't wait for one
extra day for me to get back! And I marched Archie right back upstairs, and
I said, "That's my book!" [laughs] Archie didn't care; he was just
doing it because Sol asked him to. I said, "I'm not letting go of that
book just because I got married and am one day late!" It wasn't a huge
seller, but Dr. Strange was finally canceled in 1970 when we were selling in
the low 40% range of more than a 400,000 print run, so it was actually selling
a couple hundred thousand copies!
COLAN: That wasn't bad.
RT: But at that time you needed to sell even more. Do you have any
idea why you had so much trouble with those Dr. Strange covers? Goodman kept
not using covers you had drawn.
COLAN: For some reason, my cover work never worked out too well. Once
in a while, yes, but very often it didn't, and I don't know why.
RT: I remember there was one Dr. Strange cover you did with a face
of Nightmare that was made out of electricity or something, and Martin Goodman
said, "I don't know what the hell's going on here!" I have to ask
you one other thing. I want to hear about you and your motorcycle! You had
a motorcycle for about a week or two in the late '60s, didn't you?
COLAN: Oh, I've always wanted a bike, even when I was a youngster.
RT: But you got rid of it real quickly, I remember.
COLAN: Well, I had an accident! [laughs] When I moved to New Jersey,
and raised my children there, I bought my first bike, and it wasn't long after
I had it I got into a very minor accident, but I tore my clothes and everything.
Stan got nervous about it, he didn't like the idea... and my wife took a hairy
fit, so I... [laughs] It didn't stop me, I got another one after that, and
then another one after that, even where I'm living now. I've had about three.
Finally, I gave it up, even up here where I am now.
RT: There were two other books I wanted to ask you about that you did,
just briefly. You did three issues with me on The Avengers, the group book,
but I guess that wasn't really the kind of thing you enjoy.
COLAN: Not really, no. There were too many characters to concentrate
on, and it seemed to me to be an awful lot of work. It was hard enough just
to get one character to sing out, let alone four or five, so I never appreciated
RT: Do you have an opinion of the Captain Marvel Stan and you started,
and then you and I continued? You did seven or eight issues.
COLAN: That's all, and then it died. I don't know why, it just did.
RT: Well, actually, it lasted a good while longer, off and on, but
I think Stan felt you were more valuable on other books, so...
COLAN: It just didn't hold up, and that was the end of that. Who knows
why these things happen-why some books make it and others don't?
RT: Sometime I'll have to talk with you about some other things. For
instance, you and I did a Batman together when we first went to DC... and we
did a few well-remembered issues of Wonder Woman.
COLAN: Yes, yes. I didn't enjoy that, either.
RT: I had a feeling! You did a great Wonder Woman, though. Why didn't
you enjoy doing that book?
COLAN: Because she was a woman, and I related more to the heroic type
RT: I guess Batman's more your type of character, like Daredevil was.
COLAN: Oh, yeah, I enjoyed doing both those.
RT: Thanks, Gene. I know that you and Jon Cooke plan to do an interview
about your work later in the '70s and beyond, on Tomb of Dracula and the like,
so perhaps the best ending of this interview is.... TO BE CONTINUED-by Gene
Colan and Jon B. Cooke-in the pages of Comic Book Artist!
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