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Friday, June 24, 2011

RIP Gene Colan, Best Dracula Artist of All Time

Gene Colan, American artist, has died. I discovered Gene Colan in a grocery store in Oklahoma. Not the kind of grocery store we have today, the kind that takes up multiple city blocks, but the old kind, with linoleum and a small magazine rack.

I discovered Gene Colan and his unique vision, those pencils like no-one else's. Colan re-imagined comic book art as something visceral and alive. His pencils were the medium and the message, so much so that eventually no-one dared ink over him.

Where did your fandom come from? For me, it came from this Colan piece-- Tomb of Dracula Magazine #6, cover date August 1980.

I'm sure I had seen Dracula before-- I was 9 years old-- but this was a riveting rendition of the Count, drawn in black and white by Gene Colan in a script by Jim Shooter.

This Dracula that Colan drew was not the Lugosi Dracula who in 1980 still showed up everywhere on Halloween masks. But this comic-- with its cruel, princely Dracula-- captured my imagination instantly. In the main story inside, Dracula travels across the ocean to be with a Southern Belle he has become obsessed with, and for her hand, offers his military savvy to the Confederacy. (Isn't that great? Dracula in the American Civil War!) And that's not all-- there's a backup story starring Lilith, Marvel's daughter of Dracula, and a feature about vampires from around the world.

I mean, look:

This was the last issue of the magazine. The heydey of black-and-white mags was passing. I had not read the long Tomb of Dracula comic series, and I wouldn't be getting any more of the old Marvel Mags for many years. But the stories here were the beginning of my long obsession with the many facets of Stoker's long-enduring character. It was also the beginning of my appreciation of Gene Colan, who would later be my favorite Batman artist of the 1980s, drawing Doug Moench's street-wise, serious stories.

By the way-- it's easy now. You don't have to go to the grocery store, and anyway, grocery stores don't carry comics anymore. If you want to read *all* the issues of the Tomb of Dracula Magazine series, they're reprinted in an Omnibus version (Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 4) that-- since it's black and white-- exactly captures the original.

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