Between co-creating, the first African-American superhero in mainstream comics to the heroine that would later spawn the first female-led superhero film to pass the billion-dollar mark, comic book artist Gene Colan made significant contributions to the world of comics across his decades-long career. As September 1, 1926, marks what would have been the creator’s 93rd birthday, now is the perfect time to remember this great man’s history.
Born and raised in New York, Colan began drawing when he was only three years old. “The first thing I ever drew was a lion. I must’ve absolutely copied it or something. But that’s what my folks tell me. And from then on, I just drew everything in sight. My grandfather was my favorite subject,” Colan once said. From there, he would study the work by Coulton Waugh, Norman Rockwell, Syd Shores, and Milton Caniff as he honed his talents. He later attended the Art Students League of New York before securing his first job in comics working for Fiction House’s Wings Comics.
Colan went on to join the US forces in the Philippines, where he rose to the rank of corporal and drew for the Manila Times. By 1946, Colan had returned to civilian life and began working for Marvel Comics’ precursor, Timely Comics. He worked on such titles as Lawbreakers Always Lose, All-True Crime, Captain America Comics, and Captain America’s Weird Tales before freelancing for DC Comics precursor National Comics. Colan assisted on several war titles including All-American Men at War and Captain Storm, while simultaneously freelancing for Marvel’s 1950s forerunner Atlas Comics.
Colan became one of the premier Silver Age Marvel artists, illustrating such major characters as Captain America, Doctor Strange, and his signature character, Daredevil. Together with Roy Thomas, Colan created Carol Danvers, an Air Force officer and colleague of Kree superhero Mar-Vell, in Marvel Super-Heroes #13. She would go on to become Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel and was featured in the record-smashing Marvel Cinematic Universe film Captain Marvel.
Shortly thereafter, in Captain America #117, Colan and Stan Lee created Sam Wilson/Falcon, the first African-American superhero in mainstream comic books. This character has since been heavily featured in several Marvel Cinematic Universe films, portrayed by Anthony Mackie, and is set to star in his own Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in 2020.
During the 1970s, Colan illustrated the complete 70-issue run of The Tomb of Dracula as well as most issues of Howard the Duck. Together with Marv Wolfman, Colan created several supporting characters for the Dracula series, in particular, the famous vampire hunter Blade. This character was also featured in several adaptations, including the trilogy of films starring Wesley Snipe. Blade is also set to join the MCU in an upcoming project with Mahershala Ali.
Colan spent much of the early ’80s providing his shadowy, moody textures to Batman and Detective Comics. Alongside Gerry Conway, Colan revived Golden Age supervillains Doctor Death and the Monk, along with introducing Killer Croc and Nightslayer. Colan later broke into independent comics with Eclipse and Dark Horse before working on science-fiction tiles at Archie Comics. In his later career, Colan penciled the final issue of Blade, the centenary issue of Daredevil, issues of Captain America and was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.
Although he passed away in 2011, Gene Colan’s impact on the comic industry and particularly the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it, cannot be overstated.