I discovered comic books when I was ten-years old. The first comic book that I even bought was “Conan the Destroyer” #1, in 1985. I didn’t know what to buy and my budget was small; my brother, Mike, was buying a “Wolverine” comic and he suggested Conan for me. I took the book home and I read it over-and-over again. I copied the cover art and my favorite pages until I could draw it without reference. I discovered comics.
A week later, with allowance in hand, I returned to the comic book shop to buy the second issue of Conan. I didn’t understand publishing schedules, nor that I would have to wait until March to read the second installment of the series. It was a setback that changed my life forever. I had made the trek to the comic book shop, I had my money waiting to be spent and I wanted more.
Conan the Destroyer #1
I wandered around the comic book shop for ten minutes, maybe more, looking for something that would occupy my time until I could buy and read “Conan the Destroyer” #2. In my search I found the quarter bins. Every book was a quater, or you could take home five for a dollar. Many of the books were old superhero books, but none of them interested me. Instead, the book that sparked my imagination was a book about Dracula.
The art was amazing: It was dynamic, it was dark, it was about vampires. I bought five issues on the spot, the earliest being the first that I saw, “Tomb of Dracula” #4. In the following weeks, I cleaned out the comic books shop’s entire inventory of “Tomb of Dracula” comic books, between forty and fifty issues in all, and I never did see how “Conan the Destroyer” concluded.
Tomb of Dracula #4 (Cover by John Romita)
Last weekend, I went to the Cartoon Art Museum, in San Francisco. There, they were featuring the art of Gene Colan, the man that illustrated every one of those “Tomb of Dracula” comics that I read and loved as a kid. The exibit was called, “Visions of a Man Without Fear,” and it featured about forty examples of Gene Colan’s work, mostly from Marvel Comics.
What I didn’t know about Gene Colan was that his pencil work was nearly production ready. His pencil control and his attention to detail exceeds anything that I have ever seen in comics. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about most of his inkers. Tom Palmer, the inker for most or all of “Tomb of Dracula” is the exception to this.
It was good to see Gene Colan’s art. It put me in touch with something from my childhood, something that shaped a lot about who I am today. It also reminded me that a true artist is a master of his craft. A true artist does not rely on technology to hide what he cannot do, nor to skip the steps necessary to create art. It’s inspiring in many ways.
The Tomb of Dracula #6 (Page Art), by Gene Colan