Remembering Gene

How do you write about someone you barely knew, but had a greater impact on you than people you’ve known your whole life?

Most people came to know Gene Colan on the vibrant four-color comics of their youth. I met Gene in a dingy, dimly-lit classroom on 28th and 7th in Manhattan. It was the Fall of 1988 and I was studying graphic design with a minor in illustration. Secretly, I was hoping to be a cartoonist. I had a choice whether to take a fashion illustration course or another one called, “Graphic Storytelling.” I chose the latter.

I had not grown up reading comic books as so many of my peers have. I was into Peanuts and Bloom County, not Spider-Man and Daredevil, so this was a bit of a departure for me, but one that seemed closer to my passion than drawing fashion. He normally taught at the School of Visual Arts, but was now also teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, the students he had that semester where not the future comic legends a teacher would hope for.

The fact that combined, the entire class had less talent than Gene had, didn’t matter to him. He loved story and loved showing others his passion. I will always remember that passion based on one event that I still think about to this day. In order to teach us visual storytelling, one class he brought in To Kill A Mockingbird on videocassette. He prefaced the viewing by informing us that it was his favorite movie and he watched it once a week and had been for a very long time. Towards the end of the movie, Gene was so moved by the film that he started to cry. He left the classroom and returned a few minutes later. That story that he watched every week still moved him to tears. I was amazed. Gene was passionate…especially about story.

As most people now know, my art is very cartoony. I would draw pages in that cartoony style and he would just shake his head. “No one buys that style of cartooning these days, you know.”, he’d say to me. I’m sure I was another lost cause to him, but he still was passionate about teaching story—even to me.

One day during that semester, I was informed that I needed to get an internship somewhere as a requirement of my college workload for my final semester. That night, Gene told us that he was taking us on a field trip to Marvel Comics. A couple days later, we went and it looked like a fun place to work…and maybe intern at. So, I sent in an application and was accepted. That began my long career at Marvel.

A few years later I was offered a job lettering a Dracula mini-series that Gene was penciling. I jumped at the chance. I got to work on pages that Gene drew and Al Williamson inked. Somewhere out there are original pages where I got to share my time with greatness. It was that book that I got introduced to Al. I would always letter with a paper towel under my arm, so as to not smudge the pencils. Al appreciated that, especially with Gene’s soft pencil lines which easily smudged.He thanked me.

A few years ago, while I was working on Franklin Richards, I ran into Gene at the New York Comic Con. I reminded him of the class, the field trip, the Dracula story and the fact that I would “never get work drawing cartoony.” I then handed him a copy of Marvel Comics’ Franklin Richards and he burst out laughing. I told him I took to heart his lessons from all those years ago. I thanked him for my career and wished him the best. I hope I made him proud.

I didn’t know Gene that well, but without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Rest in Peace, Gene and thank you for teaching me to love story like you.

nU Beppo

DC comics is planning a reboot of their core titles. I think it’s a brave move and I hope they find success trying to attract new readers. In one promo image, Superman is shown in a new costume, which appears armor-like. Some people freaked out, but I say, try anything. So, I just had a little fun drawing Beppo, the Super Monkey in his new armored costume.

Bat Mite

Just because.

Tease

A little tease of the book Nate Cosby and I are doing. More announcements to come.

Flash Family

Want to do this book.

Digital Download

Recently, I started selling my first Misery Loves Sherman book as a $2 download and it did remarkably well, so I’ve now completed my second collection which I am now offering as a digital download as well.

You can check out the website to see some of the strips, but this digital PDF that you download collects them in an easy-to-read format that’s great for iPads, iPhones or even on the computer!

Give them a try!

MISERY LOVES SHERMAN BOOK 1

MISERY LOVES SHERMAN BOOK 2

Ack

Admiral Ackbar: The Early Years

The Team-Up I wanna do

Puck from Alpha Flight and Atom from the JLA!

Legion of Super Brats

Something Nate and I have been laughing about. This is Ferro Brat.

The Kids are All Right

(This is a post originally posted at miserylovessherman.com)

Working in the comics industry for 20 years, I’ve learned that the creators and fans tend to be some of the most open, progressive and inviting people on the planet. They are not quick to judge people and always seem open to new ideas…except when it comes to their comics.

For some reason, when it comes to their comics, most of today’s readers, and frankly creators, want to keep the status quo. Anything new is viewed with caution or, sometimes, outright dismissal. Anything that is not directed at their particular tastes is derided and summarily dismissed. Not always, mind you, but I’ve noticed a very conservative tilt when it comes to people’s comics. I’ve read super hero comics, I like them and think they should always be around, but comics can’t make that the end-all/be-all.

As an industry, we’ve been forced to steer most of our product to the same demographic. Comic books in the direct market are non-returnable, so that puts the retailer in the position of taking the chance in ordering comics. If they order incorrectly, they end up with product they can’t sell and have to eat that cost, so they usually play it safe and order the top-sellers for the most part. I don’t blame them.  If I was given the choice of selling X-Men, which I know will sell through, or another less known commodity, I’d chooseX-Men. So, then the publishers see that and provide more of what the retailers want. It’s a vicious circle and diversity is lost.

You may say to me that there is a ton of diversity out there, but I mostly see an appeal to the same type of reader. Why else would it be news when comics geared at women are released? We have shrunk our medium to a very small group. In a world of billions, it’s telling that the top-selling book sits at around 100,000 copies sold. And those numbers are dwindling. Why? When a survey comes out saying that 25% of comic readers are over 65, don’t we see the answer?

As Whitney Houston once sang, I believe the children are the future. (Yeah, I’m old.) We need to get more children into reading comics. Now, I’ve heard it said that there are plenty of comics out there for kids, and there are. A lot of them happen to be super-hero comics cleaned up, but I think we need to radically change the kinds of comics we do for kids as well as where they are distributed.

First up: the type of comics. I know that there are plenty of all-ages comics out there at the smaller comics companies, but as I said, they’re not being ordered by shops.  I’m looking at the big comics publishers who must lead the charge moving forward. They have the resources and giant multi-media parent companies. So, while super hero comics are well and good, we need to expand that. We need to do comics that, like a Pixar movies, can be about lots of other things and other subjects and other genres. We can have adventure stories, fantasy stories, or anything else we want. But, and this is key, these books need to break from the monthly format. Marvel and DC need to offer up 120 page graphic novels that can be read in one sitting or with their parents a little at a time at night before bed or whenever. I look at the passion my kids had when Diary of a Wimpy Kidcame out—they gobbled the books up. We need to make comics for them fun, exciting and something they want to read, just like movies. The movies that seem to consistently do well are those aimed at all-ages audiences in whatever genre they may be.

The next important thing is getting those books into their hands or, more likely, into the parents’ hands. They are not coming to us. Parents don’t head out to comic book stores because there either aren’t any, they don’t know of any, or their dreaded preconceived notions of comic shops. We need to get these books into the major bookstores, right next to other children’s books. We need to run a pilot program that offers these books to schools where children, teachers and parents can read them firsthand.

I have experience with this. I started Franklin Richards, a comic I wrote and drew with Marc Sumerak, when my kids were in second grade. I offered copies to the teachers, which they seemed to like. The children loved them and then the parents started approaching me asking where to get the books, because the kids loved them. I always cringed at the responses when I told them they could get them at comic book stores. They usually didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then when the trades came out, I told them that they could get them at bookstores, but the bookstores didn’t stock them. I think there was a fear of the unknown in both the parents and booksellers. They didn’t know what this book was. But, I think when there are enough of these type of comics out there, they become the norm and accepted. Eventually, the teachers told me that the Franklin books became a great motivator. The children all wanted to read the comics, so the teachers would let them read them after they completed an assignment or read a prose book. It was a treat to them. We need to make comics a treat for kids again.

I recently read a study that children prefer reading books digitally rather than dead tree versions. I’ve seen it first hand. My kids have read more comics on my iPad than they ever read before. They aren’t giant comic book readers, but they seem more intrigued. I would love to do a digital comic along the lines of the Alice in Wonderland app when things happened as you read—things moved, popped out, etc. Another idea was a flash comic I saw once where the page stayed static and each time you touched the screen, it flipped to the next panel or completed an action in the panel. Whatever type of digital distribution is utilized, it can only help.  However we do it, we need to get these new type of books into their hands. We need to go out and get them, because they aren’t coming to us.

I know a lot of people who look down their noses at all-ages comics and they have the right to their opinion, but I think to dismiss the idea or to think they aren’t real comics should really look at the bigger picture. Numbers are dwindling. The amount of devoted comics readers is going down and if it continues, the books that you love may disappear with the readers. So, we need to build back readership and that means getting them when they’re young and maybe the next survey will say that 25% of comics readers are under 10 and we’re growing the industry.

Like I said, we need to turn comics into a treat for kids, but also let the parents know it’s a treat for their kids, but maybe also for themselves. Don’t look down on kids comics.  Make them, distribute them, celebrate them and maybe, just maybe, they’ll pick up a copy of X-Men when they get older and see what it is about comics that you love so much.

Special thanks to Josh Flanagan over at iFanboy for the edit

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