There were a lot of people at Comic-Con's Spotlight on Gene Colan panel, hosted by Mark Evanier and Marv Wolfman. But one person was noticeably missing: Gene Colan.
A scheduling SNAFU led to an odd but fun marathon session, as the Colan Spotlight and subsequent "That '70s Panel merged into a two-and-a-half-hour trip into comics' not-so-distant past. Co-hosts Evanier and Wolfman spent the first half hour or so singing the praises of the missing Colan, who was by then en route to the show. Wolfman, who teamed with Colan on their legendary "Tomb of Dracula" run, had nothing but kind things to say about the artist.
"Gene's storytelling was immaculate," Wolfman said. He also praised the artist's ability "to tell the emotional story you asked for." This allowed Wolfman to make "Tomb of Dracula" a more plot-driven book, confident Colan had the emotional aspects covered.
"It wasn't a horror book," Wolfman said, "It was a character book. Gene's faces made it work."
Surprisingly, it also didn't happen that way, as George Tuska was originally slated to be the artist on "Tomb of Dracula." According to Wolfman, Colan wanted the book "desperately," and was willing to audition for the job. This was unheard for an artist of Colan's statue, and ultimately landed him the gig.
Both Evanier and Wolfman noted Colan's skill with spatial relations, as well as his amazing speed as an artist, as he would regularly draw two to three books per month.
At this point, three members of the "That '70s Panel" joined the conversation: Elliot S. Maggin, Doug Moench and Mike Royer. Moench quickly offered his own thoughts on Colan, who he worked with "Batman," "Starlord" and other titles. "The drawing is genuine but sometimes frustrating," as the artist had a tendency to extend certain scenes. Moench did like the finished work, though.
The panel then shifted to talk about the comics of the 1970s, and how they differed from the books that came before. The relaxing of the Comics Code Authority played a major role, the panel agreed, as it opened the door to more sophisticated fare. This was particularly true of the horror books, which the Code conceded were probably be read by an older audience. The organization was tougher on the superhero books, and Wolfman acknowledged he approached "Spider-Man" differently than "Tomb of Dracula," self-censoring based on the perceived age of the audience. "I think we all thought about the little kids," Moench said.
The panelists, which grew to include Steve Leialoha and Nicola Cuti, also discussed how comics of the '70s differ from today's. Most agreed there was more emphasis on the single issue in the '70s, as there was no expectation that the work would ever be collected into book form. "Plotting was very important then," Maggin said.
Of course, there were examples of long-form work being done in the '70s, with Wolfman and Colan's "Tomb of Dracula" and Moench's "Master of Kung-Fu" being two examples of books with plotlines that would continue for months, if not years.
Leialoha offered a dissenting voice, saying he doesn't see a lot of difference in the content or form of today's comics. Of course, he noted, that could be because he broke in working with Jim Starlin on "Warlock." "Starlin was doing his best to break every rule he can think of."
An hour-and-a-half into the panel, Gene Colan finally arrived to a standing ovation. The legendary artist addressed his recent health problems ("Right now, I'm doing good.") and was thrilled to be at Comic-Con. "I love these conventions. You get to meet all the fans. I become energized. I just love it."
That positive vibe didn't last for long, as talk quickly turned to "he who shall not be named" (Moench later named him: Jim Shooter). Colan talked about leaving Marvel because of Shooter, who was once Editor-in-Chief of the publisher. Colan was part of an exodus of talent that included Wolfman and Moench, too.
But the panel managed to end on an up note, as the group reflected on what first got them into the field. Wolfman summed it up the best: "As a group, everyone of us loved comics."