2011 July: Daredevil volume 3 #1 is released. Its final page contains this tribute to recently deceased artist Gene Colan from the book's creative team.
1948: Gene Colan, then 21 years old, creates his first story under the auspices of editor Stan Lee for Timely Comics, later to become Marvel Worldwide, Inc.
1950: Colan is laid off from Timely during a period of recession for the comic book market. He spends much of the following decade freelancing for various publishers.
1957: Colan is blackballed from industry leader DC Comics following a confrontation with editor Robert Kanigher. After over a decade of work in comics, he drifts away from the field, eventually taking a position as an artist for a company that produces educational film strips.
1963: Colan marries his second wife Adrienne, who encourages him to return to comics. The industry, in the midst of a miniature renaissance brought on by the superhero revival taking place at Marvel and DC, finds a place once more for Colan, who picks up work at both companies as well as a handful of others. Like many journeyman artists Colan picks up as much work as it is physically possible for him to handle, submitting himself to a demanding two-pages-per-day regimen for many years to come in order to support his four children with his comics income. Later Colan will admit to having relied on amphetamines to maintain his '60s output of three finished issues a month.
1966: Colan does his first work on the Daredevil character, one whom his dramatically physical chiaroscuro visual style continues to define. Colan's run on the character lasts eight years. His impact on the approach to the character taken by subsequent artists, from Frank Miller to David Mazzucchelli to current Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, is vast, as is the debt owed by the 2003 Daredevil film to Colan's renderings. Colan receives standard page rates and no creator ownership for his Daredevil work, as dictated by the contractual system in place at Marvel at the time -- one whose validity and legality have been brought into question time and again in the intervening years.
1969: With Stan Lee, Colan cocreates the Falcon character, whose adventures are still published today. Often cited as the first African-American superhero, the Falcon is a minor watershed for mainstream comics and their Marvel-led move toward real-world relevance. The character's first appearance is in Captain America #117, for which Colan received page rates and no creator ownership.
1972: Colan cocreates the Tomb of Dracula comic. Over 70 issues, mainly with writer Marv Wolfman, Colan turns the schlock-horror title into a bastion of quality in a singularly dreary time for mainstream comics. It still stands as one of the finer examples of the form during its mid-'70s period of hibernation. Over the course of the comic's run, Colan receives page rates and no creator ownership.
1973: Colan cocreates the Blade character with Wolfman in Tomb of Dracula #10. In 1998, the Blade film, again highly indebted to the rich atmospherics and dynamic action of the Colan pages that spawned it, originates the look and tone of the wildly successful Marvel films that continue to be released today.
1976: Colan joins writer Steve Gerber on Howard the Duck, a minor classic of superhero comics, as well as one of the first mainstream books to make a concerted attempt at engaging the avant-garde. Once more, Colan's sleek style and visual flair become qualities that remain associated with the property. For his work he receives page rates and no creator ownership.
1980: With Adrienne's encouragement, Colan quits Marvel, pushed out by then-Editor in Chief Jim Shooter's dislike of his work. As might be expected given the acrimonious nature of Colan's departure from Marvel, he is given nothing but his walking papers. The page rates Colan survived on during his most fruitful years with the company are the only acknowledgment he will receive for his massive contribution to the Marvel media empire. Colan subsequently signs a contract with DC, where his work meets with little enthusiasm. After the contract's expiration, he freelances for early independent publishers like Eclipse and Dark Horse, picking up smaller jobs from DC where possible.
1989: Still working as a freelancer, Colan returns to Marvel in the wake of Shooter's departure. As remains the case today, if an artist with a family to support and bills to pay needs work whose financial reward is worthy of their time and effort, Marvel is one of a very few options. Colan, 63, has a heart attack this year as well. As a freelancer, he has no employer to provide him with health insurance. Given Marvel's policy of total company ownership, he also lacks any kind of cash nest egg to prop him up as he enters the last quarter of his life: no money for Daredevil, none for the Falcon or Blade or Howard the Duck. Only page rates, spent decades ago.
1990s: Colan develops glaucoma. His artist's eye decaying, it becomes impossible for him to produce the pages that keep his finances afloat with the same meteoric speed he once did. That point, however, is more or less moot: Colan's style gets more and more "old school" with every passing year. Though superhero comics are the only ones that pay, their insistence on flavor-of-the-moment novelty is cutting down more and more severely on the amount of work one of their most notable elder statesmen is given to produce.
2000s: Colan's early adaptation to the world of Internet art sales and commissions enables him to survive a near-disappearance of regular commercial comics work. Though he still picks up work from them on occasion, the companies that Colan did so much for in return for cost of living-level support in decades past have more or less forgotten him. His fate is now more or less in the hands of fan community that supports him by paying for sketches of the corporate-owned characters he worked on in years past; a community that ironically tends toward viewing creators in search of remuneration for characters and concepts they created in years past as selfish has-beens.
2008 May: Colan is hospitalized with liver failure. An impassioned open letter from Adrienne on her husband's tenuous health and finances is met with a wave of support from fans and fellow comics creators alike. Auctions are held, items of value are donated.
2008 September: Marvel, the entity both most able and most obligated to financially commit to keeping Colan in good health, makes a gesture toward doing so with A Tribute to Gene Colan, a one-shot pamphlet comic reprinting old Tomb of Dracula and Daredevil stories among others, the profit from which will be donated to the artist. It's a curiously hollow gesture given the amount of money Marvel has derived from Colan's work over the years. The comics market Marvel sells their comics with uses a catalog-order system, offering retailers items for purchase at a heavy discount to then sell to customers for cover price. By offering the Colan tribute book though this system Marvel effectively places even the small amount of responsibility for Colan's finances they have assumed on the comics-shop network. The number of copies the small business owners of America order determines the amount of money Colan gets. Given the realities of the comics market -- realities of which Marvel Comics is more aware than anyone -- an all-reprint one-shot with low production values isn't likely to make the top 300 selling comics for its month of release. And as if that weren't enough, Marvel raises the price of the tribute book after its solicitation, further cutting its appeal to the retail community.
2009: Colan draws his final full-length comic, Captain America #601. The following year he wins an Eisner Award, the industry's highest honor, for his work on it. Beside this small metal statuette, Colan receives page rates and no creator ownership for the comic.
2010 May: After a domestic incident resulting in Colan's hospitalization with a shoulder injury, Adrienne Colan is barred from contacting her husband or any third parties connected with him.
2010 June: Adrienne Colan passes away in undetermined circumstances. Rumors continue to circulate about her death today.
2011 June: Gene Colan dies at 84. He never receives money or official acknowledgment from Marvel Comics for the creations he gave them during his years of service.
2011 July: Daredevil volume 3 #1 is released. Its final page contains this tribute to the recently deceased Colan from the book's creative team.
2011-: It isn't the tribute itself, which is a touching example of hearts in the right place and even carries traces of what seems like genuine emotion at points. It's what it stands for: a tiny gesture of remote pity by an immortal giant watching the lives of the people who built it pass more quickly than they should. It is a hypocritical expression. A lie.
This is what happens to the lives that give themselves to the world's most beautiful medium. This is what working in comics does to people.
Something is wrong.