Friday, June 24, 2011

Gene Colan 1926-2011


On behalf of the Colan family, I regret to announce that my friend Gene Colan died at about 11 pm on June 23. Gene spent this last week in a quasi-coma state following a broken hip and complications from liver disease. He was 84.

I am terribly saddened to lose Gene. He was a gentle and deeply spiritual man, a bright light in every context, and those who knew him at any level were enriched by his warmth and generous nature. Below are some thoughts I cobbled together when he slipped from consciousness earlier this week.

I leave the historical perspective and details of Gene's significant career to my friends Tom Spurgeon and Mark Evanier. For now, I mourn.

Clifford Meth

------------------------------------
My Friend Gene Colan

When I was in Morristown, New Jersey, in the early 1990s, there was a girl of about 12 or 13 who lived around the corner. Every time I saw her, she was out walking a German Sheppard puppy. I'd spot the pair every two weeks or so. But as the years passed, I realized the puppy hadn't aged. My young neighbor was blossoming into a young lady, but her little dog was like Peter Pan, or Jefty in Harlan Ellison’s story. Eventually, I inquired and learned that the young lady received her young dog from the Morristown Seeing Eye. After six months of house-breaking and bonding with the little dog, she returned it when it was ready to be trained to help the blind. And then she’d get another puppy and start over again.

It must be heart-breaking, I thought, getting to love something the way taking care of it will allow you to love, only to say goodbye so quickly.

I recall this as I sit to gather my thoughts on what it’s been like working with Gene Colan these past 12 months. It was a year ago tomorrow, on June 21st, that we received word that Adrienne, Gene’s wife of 45 years, had been found dead in their apartment.

Since Adrienne’s passing, I’ve managed Gene’s business affairs. It was really just an excuse to spend more time with my friend; I funneled commissions his way and reminded him what was on the agenda; arranged signings and occasional appearances and that was it. These tasks had been Adrienne’s.

Following their mother’s passing, Gene’s children and I concluded that the best thing for Gene was to keep him as busy as possible. But we needn’t have worried; Gene knew instinctively what he needed do to survive with dignity. He mourned his wife daily but never allowed himself to become depressed. Instead, he labored at his art board as often as he could, losing himself—or perhaps finding himself—in his work. At 84, with one blind eye and the other eye failing, Gene Colan continued to create art at its highest level.

Sadly, that ended a few months ago. Two tumors on his liver, which appeared more than a year earlier, had grown much larger. Gene phoned me one night literally gasping for breath. He was hospitalized and a few weeks later taken to Calvary, a hospice in the Bronx. Gene wouldn’t go home again.

But Gene never lost hope. He continued to talk about his plans for the future. Mind you, this was not a feeble-minded man. An occasional short-term memory loss notwithstanding (and who doesn’t have those after high school?) Gene was clear-thinking and real-world oriented. He just wanted to go home. And he believed that wanting to was enough. This had been a recurring theme in his life. Gene wanted a career drawing comics. He wanted to work for Marvel. He wanted to be the best artist in his field. He wanted to marry Adrienne the minute he laid eyes on her... Gene believed that if he wanted something badly enough, focused and stuck to his guns, he’d eventually get it. And he usually did.

“There isn't anything I have to be afraid of,” Gene said in his final interview. “Love is the answer.”

Each time we spoke at the hospice, Gene discussed what he was going to do when he got out. He remembered every promised, unfinished piece of artwork. He thought about moving back to Vermont. And there was still that livingroom wall he wanted to paint horses on. He wasn't deluding himself; he understood instictively the sublime magic of possitive thinking.

I didn’t speak to Gene on Saturday. Then Sunday was Father’s Day and my entire family was home for a change. I figured I’d catch up with Gene on Monday.

Today is Monday. On the Hebrew calendar, it’s my father’s yahrzeit, the anniversary of the day he passed. Art is long but life is short. And this morning Gene’s daughter Nanci told me that Gene fractured his hip over the weekend.

Gene had already been declining rapidly. Now, with this fracture, he was sedated into a sleep state and would not likely waken again. Without drinking, his already fragile kidneys would fail. His family and doctors decided there was no point hydrating Gene intravenously because if he did awaken, he would be in terrible pain and the morphine necessary to alleviate that pain would just put him under again.

“Seven to 10 days is the usual,” Nanci said. “Could be sooner or later.”

Newspaper people are in the practice of writing obituaries long before well-known people actually pass away. That’s the demand of the trade. My grandmother would have considered that an ayin horah. I guess I do, too. But I know that when I get that call, I won’t be able to write a blessed word for a long time. So I’m writing this now.

This is not a eulogy—it’s some thoughts about a man I always liked very much and grew to love; a pal I spoke with nearly every day because he needed help. Now, at the end of the road, I realize how much he’s helped me.

I knew this day would come but it came too quickly. It's been a rare pleasure working with Gene. He knew who he was—how valuable his contributions to the world of comic art have been—how prized it remains by so many. Yet he never felt less than grateful to anyone who’d even read a single panel that he’d drawn. Until he was too weak to hold a pencil, he put his whole kishkes into everything he drew—whether it was a $5000 commission or a small drawing for someone’s child. And he was never satisfied with his artwork but always eager to learn a little more, do a little better, try something new. At 84.

Gene would look at artists like James Bama and says, “Now that’s really something. Oh boy, can this guy paint!” He was a kid again looking at Milt Caniff renderings and floored by his friend John Buscema's work.

My pal Gene was generous and funny and kind. He was exactly the type of man who should be drawing superheroes for young people to marvel at. Exactly and precisely. I’m richer for having known him. He was truly an original.

Seven to 10 days. It’s heart-rending growing to love someone that you know you’ll be saying goodbye to so soon, but worth every moment.

Clifford Meth
4:30 pm, June 20, 2011

42 comments:

Asi es la vida said...

I am so sorry for your loss. He sounds like he was a wonderful man. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

wishlish said...

I met Gene Colan at the first NYC Comicon a few years back. He treated me (and everyone there) like *we* were the comics legends, not him. I'm so sorry he passed, but I'm glad we all got to be touched by the man and his work. Rest in peace, Gene Colan.

wishlish said...

One other thing, Cliff: You've done a hell of a job representing Gene for the last few years. I know you're in pain from his passing, but you should be proud of the work you've done to get him the respect he deserved in his later years.

demoncat said...

you have my deepest sympathy for the loss of your friend. for Gene is and was a one of a kind legend. at least he is no longer in pain . though the comic world will be darker and have a void now that Gene has passed.

Drake Tungsten said...

Thanks for letting us know, Cliff, and for everything you've done for and with Gene in recent years. Gene was a unique individual, and I feel like I owe him a lot, although I only met him once.
Best,
Sean Clarke

Mauricio Cosío said...

Dear Cliff,thanks a lot for being such a good friend for Gene. God bless you, man.

Best regards from Mexico.

Anonymous said...

Omg, Gene died. A great designer has just left us.
His best work for me has been Tomb of Dracula. RIP.
JLparker033
FRANCE

Maurizio said...

A giant is gone. Hello Gene, say hi to Jack, and John...

Jesse Hamm said...

Jeez, I hadn't heard of his coma. I just cited Gene's work to a studiomate several hours ago, as an exemplar of a painterly style we're striving for on a current project. His legacy is timeless.

Jason R. Tippitt said...

Clifford, my condolences to you and to Gene's children. He was a truly magnificent artist and, from what you write here, every bit the man we like to think our heroes are. Thank you for sharing this.

Peter Bangs said...

Oh Hell. Another great gone. My heart and prayer go out to Gene's family and friends. If I feel this lousy losing someone I only knew through his consumate craftmanship, I can't even begin to imagine how they're feeling now.

Thanks for letting us all know Cliff, and for sharing your memories of this great man. Gonna go read my tomb of dracula now.

Pascal said...

His work has enchanted my youth. I hope he found peace.

Jahhdog said...

I remember growing up visiting the store to pick up some comics and always being drawn to the books that had Gene's amazing sweeping strokes.

His work had a vibrancy and feel that most could not come close to
duplicating.

Gene sounds like much the same person.

My condolences.

Scott Bruns said...

Clifford:
So sorry about Gene's passing. He was one of the true greats and one of the kindest men in the business. Just know that he is out of pain and not suffering anymore. While he will be missed, he won't be forgotten by any of his fans, friends and family. Thank you for your updates as well. It was nice to know that he was helped by you and taken care of in his final years. That was class and what a true friend would do. Take care.

jon haward said...

so sad today my thoughts go out to Gene's family, friends and fellow fans,

thank you Cliff for being there for Gene for your support , friendship and care.

thank you Gene for giving me so many wonderful adventures through my life time via your art.

Peter Bangs said...

Wishlist is right... You did good by Gene. Thanks for that.

Ian Craig said...

This is truly a heartbreaking, powerful piece of writing; your love and devotion to Mr Colan really shines through. As a journalist, I can only dream of one day being able to write like this.

I didn't know his wife had died but I knew he'd been through some rough times in the past few years, I'm glad we have his legacy to remember him by. I didn't know Mr Colan, but I imagine that's what he would have wanted.

Sadly missed.

Marc McKenzie said...

This is a great loss. Gene Colan
was simply one of the truly great talents in the field of American comics.

Nearly twenty years ago, I went to a large convention in New York. While there, I met Gene.

Or should I say, I stood with great trepidation, unwilling to interrupt a conversation between Gene and a fan. But Gene, ever the gentlemen, halted the conversation, and signed the comic I had (the classic Batman issue "The Night Of Thanks, But No Thanks!" written by Harlan Ellison and drawn by Gene) and to me, that was just one of the greatest events in my life.

I am glad, though, that he had the chance to talk about his part in the IRON MAN universe, when he appeared in the featurette on the history of the IM comics on the first IRON MAN DVD.

My condolences to his family and friends, and if you can forgive the thoughts of a lapsed Catholic, I pray that he is at peace.

Ryan said...

I am so sorry to hear about Gene's passing. My family has loved his work for the past 30 years. Our thoughts and prayers to his family.

Scott McCloud said...

The first comment I received on my note on the blog suggested that for him, Gene Colan's artwork seemed "...the way I imagined people moved in dreams."

It's a sentiment I understand and share.

Thank you for looking after the man behind such beautiful work in his last days.

Mike Moran said...

I have always been a huge fan of Gene's art and his genuine kindness and honesty. May his spirit live on in the treasures he left behind for us to discover.

alxjhnsn said...

Cliff,

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend.

Though I never met G&A in person, I did exchange e-mails and he did a wonderful commission for me.

I'll miss him, too.

Best,

Alex

IronFan said...

Gene Colan was my favorite all-time comic book artist. I had the privilege and thrill to meet him as a fan, interview him as a professional, and commission two amazing pencil sketches from him that hang proudly on my living room wall. He was a kind and decent person and a consummate artist in the truest sense of the word. I will always cherish his memory and revel in the beautiful work he left behind for us to enjoy.
My deepest condolences to his family and friends.
Sincerely,
Bennett Neuhauser

Jeremy Radisich said...

The world has lost one of its great artists--Gene's singular, one-of-a-kind artistic vision will forever be missed.

Cliff, thanks for being the bridge between us fans and Gene, and for all you've done for him and his family.

Andrew A said...

Thank you for this moving and inspiring tribute, Cliff, and my condolences to you and Gene's family and friends. He was my favourite artist. I'm looking at 4 pieces of Gene's art on my wall in front of me as I write this. Even though I never met Gene - something I regret - he put his heart and spirit into everything he drew, and when I look at his art I can feel his presence. That's great art.

Mark J. Hayman said...

Cliff,

My condolences on the passing of your friend. Gene was a master and will be sorely missed.

Regards,

/mjh.

AbeF said...

BD"E. Cliff, Thanks for the moving tribute, truly worthy of its subject. Alas, you were right about that ayin hora...

If Gene had only known he could have invented a new character called, "Evil Eye." Now what might that have looked like!

John Sisson said...

Thanks for helping Gene have the time he needed to draw. Thanks for your support of his fans by giving us the news so we could cherish him while we had him. Peace and love.

John Sisson

surly hack said...

When I was pup I once ordered a large box of comics through an ad in the back of a Marvel comic. The biggest chunk was a long run of Gene Colan's Daredevil, along his some of his other books at Marvel. It was a mind-boggling collection of work, showing how his art evolved over many years. Colan was gestural in a way no one else in comics was, full of life, motion and expression. Such an amazing and unique talent.

Thanks for being there for this giant of inspiration.

Virginia said...

It's just too sad to lose someone who has so greatly influenced you personally and professionally, but that you were only able to speak to just one time. My stammering praise was undoubtably inadequate and contained too little of the love I felt for his work. Gene's artwork was magic-as much of a discovery to me now as when I was a small child. It filled my world with sweeping vistas and dreamy ideas. It also pushed my hand along to create places and people of my own, always striving to include the depth and feeling that I saw in his work. I had hoped to meet Gene again and to communicate my gratitude to him. I had also hoped to see years more of his artwork- the layouts, the atmosphere, the faces. His faces contained all the emotion and information a young artist will ever need going forward. I'll miss his work forever now, but am so grateful that there is so much to see and revisit.
My heart and thoughts go out to his family and his friends for their deep personal loss.
My thoughts are also with his fans and admirers. We all loved his work and, instinctively, the soul of the man who made it. We lost our hero last night.
I'm so sorry to not be able to say this to you personally, but--
Thank you so much, Gene Colan.

Max Gottfried said...

Ha-Makom y'nachem et'chem b'toch sha'ar aveilei Tzion v'Yerushalayim

Pinkadelic Kitty said...

Farewell to the other side dear colleague, we do our best to continue your work and keep the spirit alive <3

Skyhawk said...

My condolences to you and the Colan family. R.I.P Gene.

Chris Seminara said...

You will be missed Gene. I am happy to have met you. Thank you for all the childhood memories.

benton jew said...

Gene was truly a giant in the comics industry. The naturalism in the figures, the moody lighting and inspired layouts. Definitely one of a kind. Hope folks will seek out the broader scope of his work ( I give a little taste in my blog ) as he did some great work in addition to Tomb of Dracula and Daredevil. His long career showed a wide variety of work. I'd love to see a book in the future that showed the breadth of his work.
He was really a wonderfully talented artist to the end and will be missed

Jay said...

I'm devastated.

Rich said...

Well spoken as always, brother. I'm sorry for your loss. Love from Cape Cod,
Rich

Brent McD. said...

Cliff,
Thanks so much for everything you did for Gene. May this gracious gentleman finally rest in peace. My thoughts and prayers go out to all his friends and family at this difficult time.

Mark Staff Brandl said...

Hi Cliff, I just got back from a week in Venice to this sad news. I'm brokenhearted. I am so glad I got to know Gene so well personally, to tell him and show him repeatedly how important he was to my art. I thank you for all you did for Gene. Please give my deepest sympathy to Erik and the family. May the Lord bless Gene's soul. I don't think Gene will rest in heaven, he will be restful, but also be graced with a youthful energy and will still be making art and inspiring us all spiritually. יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ.

Alex Saviuk said...

Dear Cliff--
I offer my deepest sympathies for the loss of your dear friend Gene Colan--I can understand that pain having just lost my loving father in a similar fashion three months ago... all things considered physically for men of the same age living with some particular ailments both were mentally sharp, full of life, yet unfortunately falling victim to a health-related incident, a hospital stay and then hospice in sleep from which there was no hope for recovery.
They were artists and also kind, gentle, loving men who touched the hearts, souls and sensibilities of all those around them. Although I still miss my Dad tremendously I have a warm feeling in my heart knowing that he will finally get to meet Gene and sit with him smiling at the rest of us.
My heart goes out to you and to Gene's family.
All the best,
Alex Saviuk

Marcus said...

Gene Colan was my teacher at the School of Visual Arts for two years back in the '80s. I think of him every time I draw. This hurts. I learned so much from him and cherish those memories. A great artist who did paint with his pencils. I will miss him and his work. RIP, Gene.

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