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The Man Without Fear!

Shivah Stars

Len Small
July 21, 2011
(Seth Kushner/Graphic NYC)
(Seth Kushner/Graphic NYC)

Each week, we select the most interesting Jewish obituary. With our double-fisted superhero coverage today, it seems timely to note the obituary of Gene Colan, the famed comic-book artist who passed away last month at 84. Known as “Gene the Dean” to comics fans, his career lasted seven decades; not even glaucoma could halt it. Colan’s use of the figure in comic books—his renderings of anatomy and noir-ish photo-realistic style—helped move the art of this medium from hack-infiltrated novelty to something that could take itself seriously (while wearing tights). Looking at his renderings of characters including Daredevil, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Falcon (the first black hero to have his own series), and his iconic Dracula, it’s clear to see his influence on Frank Miller, Todd MacFarlane, and Alex Ross—the superhero artists who brought these pulp heroes to the films now making billions of dollars every summer.

Born in 1926 in New York City, Colan went to the venerable Art Students League, and served with the Air Force in the Philippines during World War II before starting his multi-decade career. He was an artist’s artist, to the point where publishers started running his comics in their pencil-sketch form. “Authenticity, for me, was important, because it made the reader feel ‘This is real,’” Colan said in a recent interview “‘This is not just a comic book,’” .

Len Small is Tablet Magazine’s art director.