Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Fifty welcomes Gene Colan, and some thoughts on Dr. Strange artists

I collect Dr. Strange related art. (As I just typed that a sudden epiphany occurred - if I am moving away from convention sketches and commissions I will be less tied to the good Doctor, and that may be a good thing!) As I sometimes relate, I once read an article in Arts & Antiques magazine that said 'try to have a collection and not an accumulation'. I liked that advice and at that point focused on Grendel, Starman, and Dr. Strange. Grendel has sadly fallen by the wayside, as has the property itself over the years. VIVAT GRENDEL! And while Asgardian Storm was around these parts for a while, jack Kinght and Stephen Strange continue to reign supreme at chez Sean.

Now my Dr. Strange collection first got some internet attention in the 1990s and many collectors know I am a big fan of the Master of the Mystic Arts. But what I do not talk about too much is the fact that I do not favor the more legendary creators among Doc's creators. I have had quite a few people ask me when I am going to get my Ditko. Now do not get me wrong, I would looooove a Steve Ditko Doc page, especially if it had some mystical dimension stuff. That would really be a grail for me. But I am not a huge overall fan of Ditko's art. The Asian Stephen Strange look doesn't do it for me and and I never read those comics until this century. The figures are small and the backgrounds often wonky. When marvel Comics artistic gods are discussed I never understand Ditko's place there. I think he is a lot like Derek Jeter in that the things he brought to the page are hard to quantify but translate to success. His Spider-Man work is primitive to me as well. It packs a certain punch, surely, but why I cannot tell. Nevertheless, Steve Ditko is not an artist where I would stare at the page and marvel at the linework or brushwork. Unless it is a crazy extradimensional scene, then he wows me every time. Steve Ditko is at his best when the art conveys abstraction in my opinion, but on the more mundane scene he can be mundane as well.

So who do I like among Doctor Strange artists. Paul Smith. Frank Brunner. Those two are my guys. Michael Golden (back then but heaven forbid not now). P Craig Russell, if only he would do more or had a regular run on the title. Kevin Nowlan. When I was reading issues off the newstand Jackson Guice was the artist and he was just fine with me. Same with Mark Buckingham, whose redesign on the costume was sublime but too much of a bitch to draw for the other artists to adopt. And Tony Harris took on the good doctor as well, marrying my favorite modern creator and favorite character. (I always say that but Spider-Man is off the table for that. It sounds better, but really Spidey will always have the #1 spot in my heart from childhood. Superman as well, idiot big blue boy scout and all. Childhood fedres loves those two so much.)

What about Gene Colan you may ask? well Gene Colan is someone I still haven't made up my mind about. His midsections just drive me crazy. Ribs to knees this guy is the worst artist every paid to put pencil to paper. That bothered me for a long time and it still haunts my perceptions of his work.Figures as Gene Colan draws them, often at key story points, look to me like the midsection is well behind the top and lower parts of the body. The head, shoulders, and arms will be thrust at the reader and the legs will be similarly angled. Then the midsection will be darkened and somewhat compressed, giving a really weird bend to the figure. It is like Gene focused on the key body parts and rendered them so dynamically that the rest of the body was shoved in at the last minute. The important parts are rendered clearly and are well-lit by Colan while the unimportant and less visually dynamic aspects of the scene and character get less play, rendered darkly and in shadow and often with only vague suggestions of a line drawn by Colan.

That was always hard for me to take.

I like a clean thin line best. Think Moebius. Barry Windsor-Smith. Geof Darrow. Even Kevin Nowlan. Or new guys like Nate Simpson and Nick Pitarra. I love that thin clean line, and even better if there is a slightly thicker line on the edge of each figure. I love that shit. Love it. I eat it up.

And Gene Colan could not be further from that thin clean line that anyone else with a pencil. gene drew with the edge of the pencil i would imagine, and he probably smashed the tip after sharpening it too. So it was hard for me to like Gene's work analytically. Oh, I loved Gene's work when I read the comics. Tomb of Dracula anyone? That stuff was wonderful, and Gene's shadowy and vague line worked beautifully in that type of story.Street level Daredevil? Gene would draw the hell out of that story. You would feel the grime on you as you read the comic. Mood and the texture of a scene is what Gene Colan drew. His art perfectly melded with the story to draw you into the world of the comic. And he could convey the changing reality of a magical spell with that same vagueness in line and mastery of shadow. I own the only page ever penciled by Gene Colan and inked by Walt Simonson. Walt pitched in one day when pages needing to be inked and did one; Wendy Pini did 2 or 3 I think. But when I bought it I reached out to Walt on Facebook and Walt said that inking Gene was difficult for him as it was not a matter of following the lines but a matter of "values".

So my intellectual/analytical appreciation of Gene Colan's art was a long time coming. Unfortunately I bought and sold a few Colan pieces in the meantimes that I wish I had kept. But then something odd happened around 7 years ago or so. I was selling art with a table at a comic art con (there is one today as well in fact and I am going later on!w00t!w00t!) and sitting around doing nothing all day essentially. I sold two pieces to other dealers. But I looked around alot. And I saw that Bachara had the complete issue 44 of Tomb of Dracula. This issue was a crossover with Dr. Strange 14 that saw Dracula and doc battle it out, with both dying in the issues! Wong gets turned into a vampire as well! These babies had it all and I remember reading them in the 1980s (published 1976 I think) in my room in Pine Beach NJ as a teenager! I loved those comics and still recall the emotional punch they packed. But Bechara was not beaking up the book. At least not then. But a year or three later he did! And I got to buying. I now have three pages from ToD 44 and one from Doc 14. And I love them. They are my new obsession. In fact I am looking at one on my wall right now.

That's right. Gene Colan and Tomb of Dracula 44 are in The Fifty!

but this has gone on too long already! The page unveiling will have to wait! Until next time true believers!

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