Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Artful Obsessions: Gene Therapy

Posted by Don MacPherson on November 13th, 2016

The late Gene Colan is definitely best remembered and honored for his work on Daredevil, Howard the Duck and, perhaps most notably, Tomb of Dracula. However, because I was exclusively a DC devotee in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I came to discover his work on such books as Batman, Wonder Woman and Night Force. As a kid, I wasn’t all that enamored of his style, to be honest, but over the years, I’ve definitely come to respect and appreciate his craft. His style is incredibly distinctive, and I’m pleased I’ve finally managed to add a sample of his work to my collection of original comic art.

The original comic art board I recently acquired is Page 18 from Jemm, Son of Saturn #6. The 12-part Jemm series is a rather obscure footnote in Colan’s career (though the title character did show up briefly in a villainous role in the first season of the new Supergirl show). A little online research reveals it was originally intended as a Martian Manhunter book before DC editors nixed it (as J’Onn J’Onzz was about to return in the pages of Justice League of America in the early 1980s).

I picked this page up through an eBay auction win at a very reasonable price, but I have to acknowledge it’s not a prime representation of Colan’s skills. The panel layouts here don’t quite work for me, notably the distracting white space below the “CRASH” sound effect. But there’s also a lot to love about this vintage board from 1983. (Note: You can view a high-resolution scan of the page by clicking on the image.)

The expressiveness Colan instills in Superman in Panel 3 and Jogarr in Panel 5 is fantastic, and it shows how Colan could easily bring humanity to superhuman and otherworldly figures with seeming ease. I also appreciate how he made the final panel stand out. The bold, black border and off-kilter layout makes that pivotal moment of action seem like a snapshot, a moment frozen in time, emphasizing the impending shattering of a peaceful moment in the story.

Other vintage traits I cherish about this board include the use of Zip-A-Tone to create shadows in Panel 1 and cloud cover in Panel 6, blue-pencil editing marks, streaks of whiteout in Panel 6 to convey the motion of the jet/spaceship, lettering right on the page, the copyright stamp on the reverse (see image at right) and other corrections. The page is also signed by Colan and inker Bob McLeod at the bottom, and while this is Page 18 of the story, a mark at the top right indicates it was Page 23 of the final, printed product, including ads.

Adding this Colan page to my collection (especially for a price just shy of $100 US) was a bit of a coup for me. It’s always fun to win or find a board or two, but when it’s crafted by a legend of the comics industry, it’s quite a thrill. To see my entire original art collection, visit my gallery at ComicArtFans.com.

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