Gene Colan dies at 84; comic book artist illustrated Dracula, Batman and others

Comic book artist Gene Colan, who during his nearly seven-decade career illustrated the adventures of such characters as Dracula, Batman, Daredevil and the wise-cracking Howard the Duck, has died in New York. He was 84.

Colan died late Thursday at Calvary Hospital in the Bronx of complications from liver disease and cancer, said longtime friend and biographer Clifford Meth.

In developing a style both subtle and emotional, Colan imbued his characters with a vitality that seemed to leap off the pages.

"He was a mighty craftsman, with such a strong style of his own that he avoided entirely working under any of the popular house styles, even the mighty Jack Kirby one that roared through Marvel in the 1960s," said comics historian and editor Tom Spurgeon. "He was his own chapter in the history of comics."

Colan's art was a staple of the Silver Age of comics (1956-1970). His work on "The Tomb of Dracula", written by Marv Wolfman in the 1970s, remains critically lauded for returning horror to the pages of comic books, and for creating the character Blade.

Mark Evanier, a comics historian, said Colan's work on "The Tomb of Dracula" was defining.

"He drew such rich characters," he said, "people who had flesh and blood in them and had recognizable human emotions."

Colan also worked on Marvel's satirical "Howard the Duck," written by Steve Gerber, and did art for other publishers, including DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Archie Comics and Eclipse.

Born in New York on Sept. 1, 1926, Colan began drawing for Wings Comics in 1944 before joining the U.S. Army Air Forces in the Philippines. After his discharge at the end of World War II, he joined Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel, and then drew for National Comics, now DC.

He returned to Marvel in the 1960s during what is widely known as comics' Silver Age. That period saw the revitalization of classic heroes from the 1940s, such as Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern at DC, as well as the creation of Marvel's Fantastic Four, the Avengers, Captain America and Daredevil.

It was at Marvel that Colan became part of the company's famed stable of artists — including Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr. and Sal Buscema — and writers such as Stan Lee.

Colan's work impressed Lee, then editor in chief, and led to his doing artwork for the Sub-Mariner in "Tales to Astonish" and Iron Man in "Tales of Suspense." From there he drew Doctor Strange — Marvel's sorcerer supreme — and more than 80 issues of "Daredevil," the blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who protected New York's Hell's Kitchen.

While at Marvel, Colan and Lee co-created the Falcon, an African American character who was a hero in his own right, working in tandem with Captain America but never as a sidekick.

Colan returned to Captain America in 2009, illustrating the Ed Brubaker-written issue No. 601 titled "Red, White and Blue-Blood" that told a World War II-era tale of Steve Rogers and his then-sidekick Bucky. It went on to win the 2010 Eisner Award for best single issue.

Colan is survived by two children and three grandchildren.

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