Gene Colan is still one of comics’ three greatest artists. You can name the other two. And now one of comics’ three greatest artists is the subject one of comics’ greatest biographies, Secrets in the Shadows (Two Morrows Publishing), the ultimate retrospective on this unique, beloved pioneer of comic art. Portraits, photos, recently discovered wartime illustrations, original art, sketches, and a thorough look-back over a six-decade (and counting) career that has inspired generations of fans and artists and SBC columnists. This is everything The Gene Colan Treasury (Aardwolf Publishing) wanted to be. A monumental book. Something you need to own. A tome for the special shelf of favorites. I wash the feet of author Tom Field and publisher John Morrow.

Like most of the artists I tend to flatter, Gene first came to my attention in 1966 when I had reached the critical age of five. A five-year-old knows what he likes. You can’t sell a bad cartoon or candy bar to a clever little kid.

Now I know some of you are just itching to write me and tell me how dumb your kid brother is and what stinko crapola he watches on the glass teat. Don’t waste the stamp. I believe you. But compare lil brother’s viewing habits with the crap he doesn’t watch, which is specifically skewed for his demographic. Art is subjective. Even to five-year-olds.

The big difference between Gene (and, to be fair, Romita and Buscema, his two best cohorts from those halcyon days) and other fade-away artists is that Gene’s work is just as mesmerizing, just as stand-out twenty and thirty and forty years later. No flavor-of-the-month artist has ever stolen his thunder. Gene’s manipulation of shadow and mood made him the definitive noir artist long before it was heavy to be heavy.

Secrets in the Shadows is miles above your typical art portfolio with obligatory-bio info. Tom Field has a clever construct that I suspect you’ll see again when other folks cop his gimmick: He sets up “live” (phoned-in) three-way interviews between himself, his subject, and one of with several of Gene’s outstanding partners?Stan Lee, Tom Palmer, and Steve Gerber. Then he runs the interviews, hiccups and all:

Stan [to Fields]: Y’know, don’t tell anyone, but we used to fight all the time.
Gene: No, we did not!

Stan: He used to say, “How do you expect me to draw all that stupid stuff you keep writing?” And I kept telling him, “Will you stop ruining my great stories?” We were at each other’s throats all the time.

Gene: [laughing] No, we were not! The only thing I can remember us at odds over was the car chase that ate up about six pages of story (in Captain America #116).

What fun!

My favorite part of the book is the chapter “A Love Story”?the tale of Gene’s marriage to Adrienne, hiccups and all. These warming insights kept the pages turning until I was late for work and the kids were blowing the horn because they were late for school and the dogs had pissed the kitchen floor because I’d forgotten to walk them, I was so gosh-darn caught up in this little chestnut.

Good stuff, Tom & John. Great book. This one’s a keeper. Thank you.

© 2004, Clifford Meth

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