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Secrets In The Shadows: The Art & Life Of Gene Colan by Tom Field

01/04/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Secrets In The Shadows: The Art & Life Of Gene Colan in the USA - or Buy Secrets In The Shadows: The Art & Life Of Gene Colan in the UK

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pub: Two Morrows. 176 page illustrated hardback. Price: about 21.00 (UK) if you know where to look. This one is a limited edition so you might have to settle for the softcover which in the secondary market has actually gone up in price. ISBN: 1-893905-46.2.

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A key problem of being a being a reviewer is finding time to fit in books you buy and fitting in some reading time. I bought the limited hardback edition 'Secrets In The Shadows' last year before the stock ran down, mostly because I was curious to see the colour section that isn't in the softcover edition, which is still widely available. When I scanned the pages then, I wasn't entirely convinced it was worth paying extra but in context with the whole book once read, it is an interesting addition.

For those who don't know or might not have read comicbooks from the 1960s-80s, Gene Colan is a comicbook artist with a distinctive style as much as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, as he was there at the dawn of Marvel Comics. Such was his style that when editor Stan Lee recruited him to the 60s Marvel Bullpen, he was the only artist not to work over Kirby layouts to get the house-style. As Colan admits in this book, it probably wouldn't have worked anyway. It's rather interesting to note that in none of the commentaries in this book explore the emotional content of Colan's work. He brought it into 'Iron Man' in 'Tales Of Suspense' and certainly with 'Dr. Strange' in 'Strange Tales'. There's a lovely scene in 'Dr. Strange # 180' where Clea, new to Earth, is asking what snow is that shows a very sensitive moment that always struck me. Back before I got into the colour editions of Marvel Comics, the splash page of 'Daredevil # 26' showing DD doing a forward somersault as he realises he was late for an appointment was also the first time that I paid attention to who was drawing the art. Although neither example is in this book, it is clear that the material supplied for this book shows similar sensitivity and why Colan is unique. His work is out there in the bound editions of the early 'Tales Of Suspense', 'Captain America', 'Strange Tales/Dr. Strange', 'Daredevil', 'Tomb Of Dracula' and 'Howard The Duck' for you to check out for yourself. Colan was equally at home in scary as he was in ducks.

From the text, I never realised at the time how much Gene 'The Dean' Colan illustrated by not looking ahead in the script to see where it was going and consequently, often had to squeeze in a bit more story in the final few pages. It must have been the quality of scripters, like Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, that you never even noticed this when reading them. Nor, come to that, how much of the Marvel method of letting the artist develop the plot that allowed Colan so much freedom in the story pace. I often felt that his later work at DC Comics was a little stilted in comparison although it was still interesting to see how he dealt with the competitor's characters.

In many respects, this book not only tells the story of Gene Colan but also the history of the comicbooks from the 40s to the present day and the change in work practice and decisions made, some good and some bad. It gives an interesting insight from all perspectives and doesn't pull any punches by allowing all sides some comment on their decisions, not to mention the two main comicbook companies. I always think that's a good sign because it allows the reader to make up their own minds rather than any biasness on one side or the other. If you weren't knowledgeable before reading this book, then you would be afterwards about company practice.

On top of all of this is seeing Colan's work both pencilled and inked and how getting his texture out on the page was difficult and how few did it so well. This is taken from many perspectives again and it's nice to have an interview with inker Tom Palmer, whose name is most associated with his work, on the subject.

This book is a remarkable scrapbook that if you have an interest in Gene Colan's artwork that if you have had any second thoughts about buying should actually own. A real labour of love.

GF Willmetts

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