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ME, MY FATHER AND GENE COLAN

I started reading comic books when I was very young. I’d get so wrapped up in the stories I would often spend the entire afternoon quietly reading in my room. This made my parents very happy as you can imagine. I’d read them over and over, cover to cover. I could tell you what a character said on each page, what Stan Lee had said in his Soapbox column and of course, I knew every creator involved in all the comics I owned. One of my favorite comics was Daredevil (still is to this day) and my first favorite artist was Gene Colan.

I was too young to explain why I liked Colan’s work. Words like ‘fluidity’ and ‘ethereal’ were not in my still growing vocabulary. I just liked the way he made Daredevil and Black Widow look. But there was something else. This was only the second person I had ever come across named Gene. That was the same name as my father!

I already thought of my father as somehow being loosely tied to the comic industry. He was a printing press operator and I knew comics got printed on a press. The fact he made boxes for things like Farmer John Bacon and California Coolers didn’t matter to me. I knew that if need be, he could print comic books and that was way cool.

Colan, like many of the artists of his day, worked insane hours producing multiple pages a day so he could keep food on the table for his family. He would take projects under pseudonyms so he could work for more than one company at a time. As an artist there was no sick time or paid leave. Vacations came out of your own pocket.

This was a work ethic I had only seen one other place, from my father. He never took sick days. I don’t mean rarely, I mean ever. And he saved his vacations for when a major project around the house needed to be done. He worked whatever shift they needed: days, swing-shift, graveyard, and took any overtime offered. Some nights he would leave for work before I got home from school and arrived home just as I was leaving the next day.

I became a writer because I knew I could never draw like Gene Colan, but I wanted to tell stories that had the same kind of effect on people today that Daredevil had on me as a kid. And I knew from watching my father that success would only come through hard work and dedication.

I got to meet Gene once, briefly at a convention. I told him how much his work meant to me and how I’d always think of Daredevil as drawn by him. He was gracious and friendly and almost uncomfortable with the praise. I let him move on to his other fans, and there were many.

When my father retired my brother and I had the silly idea of throwing him a roast. Most roasts you see on television have a dais half filled with ringers to make the night go well. We had no ringers, what we did have was person after person wanting to get up and tell a funny story that involved my father. And those who couldn’t make it out sent letters with tales for my brother and I to read to the party. How many non-famous people do you think could be the subject of a successful roast?

As Gene got older, his health began to fail and his ability to work diminished. An organization called the Hero Initiative stepped in to help him as they have with many other creators. Since learning of them, I have done a handful of things to help raise money for their cause. It seemed like a sincere way to say thank you to Gene and the other creators that so influenced my childhood. I hope to do more.

On June 23rd I was nervously sitting at my computer failing to get any work done. My father was in the hospital for the fourth time this year. He had developed issues with his heart and now they were saying he had a minor stroke. I wondered how any kind of stroke could be called minor. While waiting for a phone call to tell me his status, I saw the first tweet with bad news. Gene Colan had died. I felt the floor drop out from under me. In my mind alone, Gene and my father were linked. I had just lost one of my heroes and it made me realize how soon I may be losing another.

The comic industry has moved on from mourning Gene to talk of Comic-con. My father has been home a few days and is improving. Both of them have been in my thoughts a lot lately. I know I wouldn’t be who I am without their influence. I won’t get to see Gene Colan again, but I’m trying to come up with something new to do for the Hero Initiative in his honor. I can spend more time with my father though. When I saw him last, I told him I’d be back in a day or two. He smiled and said: “Don’t worry about it, I know you have work to do.”

Dan Wickline
7/14/2011

Thank you for reading. If you liked my writing, you may be interested in my new novel. Click the link below to find out more.




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