Last night, reflecting on his most recent posts about how he became editor-in-chief, I was reminded of an incident at the San Diego Comic Con 2009. At a 1970s panel, Gene Colan delicately touched on his reasons for leaving Marvel, never naming any names. After this gracious display, the moderator, Mark Evanier, wondered if his other panelists could share stories like Colan's, encouraging them to be similarly diplomatic. To this, Doug Moench quickly grabbed the microphone and intoned, "I'll say it: Jim Shooter."
I did laugh with Moench, but his behaviour - his evident still-sore feelings towards Shooter - really highlighted what a class act Colan was. The 70s panel was supposed to have been preceded by a Gene Colan panel, but he missed it, leaving Evanier to scramble an ad-hoc "Colan tribute" panel in its place. Colan received a few rounds of applause when he arrived for the 70s panel. I was concerned about his absence, as his health problems were well-documented, but he assured the crowd that being at Comic Con was a tremendous lift to him.
I didn't really take notice of Colan's name until I began digging up back issues of Tomb of Dracula. His art was so important to the tone and consistency of the series and later I found it looked even better in black & white (via the Essentials library)!
I wasn't as crazy about Colan's super hero work; his Iron Man looked so rough, with none of the sleek sheen I expected (having been raised on Bob Layton's designs). But when Iron Man wasn't in costume, I had no complaints about his work on the series. He was meant to be drawing jackets, pants and skirts, not spandex!
My love for Marvel's 1950s Atlas output eventually led me to Colan's earlier work (I have a few coming in the mail, actually). It's particularly neat to see Colan's war stories, which are almost always the highlight of whatever issue they appear in. The full page splashes he used to introduce each of his tales made them stand apart from what his contemporaries were doing and his depiction of military battlefields and equipment were always convincing.
I'm sad for Colan's family to have lost him, but as a comic book fan I feel nothing but gratitude to him for living and producing as long as he did; I think it's particularly great how his health problems a few years ago brought him attention and adulation from most corners of fandom. Gene Colan can't be replaced, but his work will never be forgotten.