Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Tribute to Gene Colan: the Cartoon Art Museum

With the original cover for Iron Man and Submariner #1 staring at you from the wall of the Cartoon Gallery, just a foot or two away from the cover to Iron Man #1, and Captain Marvel #1 you come away with three distinct impressions: 1) Gene knew how to put big dynamic figures front and center - they're great covers; 2) Gene definitely wasn't great with knees; and 3) Marvel's production department looks like a bunch hacks given that the printed versions of two of the three covers are not the originals!

Gene himself is a true original, as his one man show at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum will attest. A gracious and talented gentleman, Gene was on hand to soak up the applause last thursday night from the 150 people or so who crammed into the museum to hear testimonials from Steve Englehart, Joe Rubenstein, Steve Leialoha and Stan Lee.

Curated by Glen David Gold, the author of Carter Beats the Devil, who deftly straddles that line between uberfan and actual functioning adult, Glen gave us original art lovers the chance to see some art that, I suspect, we will never see again given that it is all in the hands of private collectors. He also gave us the chance to fete Gene in person, a rare treat.

The scans here are a sample from the catalog of the exhibition, which itself is a nice treat. Great commentary by Gene's peers and collaborators, including excellent reproductions of work that you’re not going to find anywhere else: The original cover to Daredevil #43, which Kirby ended up redoing so that it didn’t appear that Captain America was losing to DD in the ring. For those interested, there may still be more available from the Cartoon Art Museum itself.

Stan Lee didn't come himself, but did send along a video tribute, one that sounded and felt terribly heartfelt. However, it is difficult for me to listen to Stan say:
On a personal note - Gene colan is a gentleman. honorable, dependable and loyal. I always got a kick out of calling him Genial Gene or Gentleman Gene, but most important of all, I'm proud to call him my friend.
Knowing that Stan is in good health, and wealthy enough as the perennial company man that he was, to be able to say these things, while Gene struggled with his glaucoma and no health insurance over the last decade. Once again, Marvel continues to ignore the aching backs of the men that the company was built upon, and it hurts to see.

Given the Gene has no vision in one eye, and limited vision in another, the newer pencilled works here show remarkable clarity of composition and pencil technique. Gene's hand has lost none of its subtlety, and the new work doesn't suffer in comparison to the beautiful two page spreads from Doctor Strange and Tomb.

The best line of night: there are entire schools of Kirby or Steranko or Adams, and yet, there is no school of Colan. There is simply no one with the touch and ability that Gene has with a pencil, nor his idiosyncratic layouts and storytelling approach. In his tribute, Stan uses the word "inimitable". Gene truly define that word, from the ground up.

All the very best Gene, I'll probably never be able to afford a piece of your art for my collection, but I'll never stop trying!

In addendum: the cover for Captain Marvel #1 is completely hacked up, cutting out the Marvell figure and moving it up to change his position on the page. The Iron Man #1 cover has a side note: "after inks - raise up to get IM's head overlap title", which means that the printed cover of IM #1, which has pretty murky line work, is not the result of bad inking by Johnny Craig, but of pasted up stats of the original cover, with some of Colan's beautiful vingettes moved or removed. Craig's line work on the original is actually both bold and delicate and extremely lively.


Anonymous said...

Your comment regarding the Stan Lee comment making you bristle is so annoying, because it's irrelevent and it's totally revisionist fanboy-ish perversion. Lee left Marvel long before it went corporate and the issues of his health coverage would have kicked in. On top of everything, I've interviewed Gene Colan personally for various publications, and he has nothing but awe, appreciation and respect for Lee and for what they created together. You can ask Gene himself if you don't believe me.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

I've not asked gene about it, nor would I. having worked in this industry, and having seen how it does/doesn't take care of its own, (i.e. dave cockrum), I don't think that its revisionist fanboy perversion. Its a simply adult oriented issue of health care, no matter how boring it may be to inject something so mundane into the conversation about art. Given what I know about the practices of this industry from the inside, it is something that i react to whether it colan, cockrum, kirby, trimpe or any of my younger contemporaries.

If it doesn't bother gene, then that is because he's a real gentleman, so if it did bother him, he probably wouldn't consider it for public discourse. But it is something that i react to, and should have the right to do so.

And i would put the information forth that when Cadence bought the Marvel in the early '70's, Stan was the real bargaining chip there, and they wanted the public face of the company to stay in place (1971 or 1972). Stan was made publisher, and you can bet that Cadence had a health plan. Please feel free to send me info that invalidates that hypothesis and I'll correct myself.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first comment.
Look, Stan probably wasn't on a health program for years himself, as was everyone else in the industry, regardless of company affiliation - and it stinks that Gene and others didn't get health care, but 45 million American citizens aren't on a health program right NOW, so what does that mean??!!
People in the industry whine and complain that the industry wasn't perfect (the world wasn't perfect then or now) and try to single out Stan as the root cause of the problem in some way or another -- as if Stan had the clout and the vision to 'cure' all the ills of the comic mag industry by himself!!
It's probably Stan's fault that he didn't get Siegel and Shuster all their creator rights/character royalties and monies owed to them from DC's brass, too!
Since this character attempts to single out Stan as the head honcho for Gene's ills, let him also mention that no other Bullpenner, beginning with Gene, has ever blamed Stan for any health problems they acquired during the '70s by way of Stan's "not fixing" the situation at Marvel during his tenure as publisher.
Stan's certainly not perfect, and he would readily admit to that, but health care comes from the company owners, not their publisher, and Stan was never the owner of the Marvel Comics Group....
-- Andy Duncan

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

Andy - I don't quite know how you got all that out of my comment, but lets pull it back a bit.

The collective fan base and blog-o-sphere has taken Stan to task for years now for all the inequities real or imagined that happened over the last 45 years concerning Marvel Comics. I don't happen to think that Stan is the root of all evils here, and I would not write that.

My hot button issue is how little the industry has taken care of their people, so if I'm going to react to something, I will react to that. On a fabulous, memorable evening to fete Gene, I reacted to one thing that bugs me. Thats it.

I do not, for the record, believe that Stan is the reason that Siegel and Shuster didn't get their creator rights/money, that Stan is the root of the problem, or had the ability to cure all the ills of the comic mag industry.

Sorry that I seemed to hit one of your hot buttons on this. It is simply sad that many of the legends that we revere have, over the years, ended up with sometimes debilitating medical problems. Not anyones fault, just is. Sad.

Anonymous said...