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‘Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula Artist’s Edition’ (review)

Written by Marv Wolfman
Art and Cover by Gene Colan
Published by IDW Publishing
Released 1/17/18 / $125.00

 

I first discovered vampires at age 7 when I talked my babysitter into taking me to see Adam West’s Batman movie, inexplicably double-featured with Christopher Lee in Hammer’s not so kid friendly Dracula, Prince of Darkness!

That was in the early fall of 1966. Right around there I also discovered the Dell comics superhero, Dracula. A couple of years later, Barnabas Collins was all the rage amongst us grade schoolers and then, around 1970, at age 11, I finally saw Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and read Bram Stoker’s original novel (purchased through the Scholastic Book Club).

There are photos of me in vampire makeup with pasteboard fangs, ketchup blood, and a purple cape my mom sewed from the legs and arms of my old Archie Andrews Halloween costume.

All of this is by way of saying that by the time the Comics Code restrictions allowed Count Dracula back into the four-color world at Marvel with Tomb of Dracula in 1972, I was ready for it to be one of my favorite comics and I was NOT disappointed.

For the bulk of its long run, Tomb of Dracula was written by the appropriately named Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan, with inks by Tom Palmer. The Wolfman/Colan teaming proved an excellent one and the two like-minded creators reunited a number of times on various post-Dracula projects through the years.

Likewise, the Colan/Palmer team had already impressed fans for several years by that point on projects such as Doctor Strange and Daredevil.

Gene Colan was always something unique at Marvel—an original. At a company that prided itself on artists whose work aped that of whoever was popular last month, Gene Colan’s soft, romance-style illustrative art gave a special atmospheric flair to war stories or tales of long underwear heroes. He was, therefore, the perfect artist for a series that was all about the atmosphere.

Which brings us to the book at hand: Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula Artist’s Edition. You know the deal with all the books in this series. If you’re a fan, sell your car for this one. In fact, for this particular one, I recommend it even if you aren’t a fan.

You get a lovely retrospective intro from Marv and a half dozen complete, unsequential, issues of Tomb of Dracula, all photographed lovingly and in minute detail from the original art pages. As I’ve noted before, the fact that the books are not sequential is beside the point. These volumes are about the art more so than the story, and Colan’s may well be more fun to just stare at than even Kirby’s!

Colan was tough to properly ink. His more realistic style didn’t lend itself at all to typical comic book inking and while never flashy, his storytelling techniques and page layouts were always attractive. In fact, on a number of his later projects, the printed pages were shot directly from the artist’s uninked pencils, eschewing an inker all together.

Here, though, in spite of the fact that his name didn’t make the title, the real star to me is Tom Palmer. As I said above, Colan could be difficult to ink…but not for Palmer. Using a fair amount of pasted on screens and effects, Palmer always seemed to make the right choices to enhance and mainstream Colan’s ideas without burying them. To look at these pages is to admire the work of both artists, but remember, it’s Palmer’s gorgeous delicate lines and heavy blacks the reader is seeing in every single panel (except for a few uninked pages at the rear), lines that would have no reason to exist without Colan’s pencils having been sharpened first.

Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula Artist’s Edition presents a wonderful tribute to the often under-appreciated artist, but also to his memorable art partner, Tom Palmer, with whom he came together again to give us nearly a decade of creepy comic book vampire adventures that have since been imitated but never duplicated.

Booksteve recommends.

 

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