Tag Archives: The Bronx

Jew of the Week: Gene Colan

The Man Behind Captain Marvel

Gene “the Dean” Colan

Eugene Jules Colan (1926-2011) was born in The Bronx to a Jewish family that had changed their last name from “Cohen”. He started drawing when he was just three years old, and spent most of his time afterwards either drawing or reading comics. At 18, he got his first summer job drawing comics. Colan enlisted in the US Army shortly after, and was posted to the Philippines. During his service there, he sent his artwork to the Manila Times, and won an award for it. In 1946, he returned to New York and showed a sample of his work to Timely Comics, later renamed Marvel Comics. Stan Lee hired him on the spot, giving him a job as a “staff penciler” for $60 a week. Colan’s first feature cover was an issue of Captain America. Unfortunately, the comics industry went downhill, and Colan was let go. He did freelance work wherever he could, including at DC Comics, but eventually left the industry. He worked a menial job as an educational illustrator, struggled financially, and went through a difficult divorce. Thankfully things turned around a couple of years later when his second wife inspired him to go back into comics. Colan returned to Marvel during its “Silver Age”, taking over the story line of Iron Man, and introducing his first superhero, Sub-Mariner. He then took on Captain America, Doctor Strange, and Daredevil. In 1967, he and Stan Lee created a popular new character, Captain Marvel, and two years later, they introduced Falcon, the first African-American comic book hero. That same year, Colan and Arnold Drake co-created Guardians of the Galaxy. Throughout the 70s, Colan worked on perhaps his greatest project, the hugely popular 70-issue The Tomb of Dracula. In this run, he created (together with Marv Wolfman) the vampire-slayer Blade. Blade went on to become the first successful Marvel character adapted to film with 1998’s Blade, starring Wesley Snipes. The movie is credited with launching the comic book film craze, leading directly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. In 1981, Colan signed with DC and took on Batman, becoming his primary illustrator until 1986, and playing a key role in reviving DC Comics. He also worked on Wonder Woman, and designed her new logo. Colan returned to Marvel once more and worked on Black Panther, then Blade, and Daredevil, among others. By this point he was nearly blind, yet somehow, amazingly, still found ways to continue his artwork. His last comic was Captain America #601 in 2009 – done when he was 83 years old! It earned him a prestigious Eisner Award, the “Oscars of comics”. Colan was renowned for his absolutely unique style, once described as “painting with a pencil”. Along with many other awards, Colan was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel, based on the original work of Colan (together with Roy Thomas), opens in theatres this Friday.

14 Facts About the Code of Jewish Law

Words of the Week

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.
– Ayn Rand

The film that would lead to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Blade, and the latest film in the MCU, Captain Marvel, are based on characters co-created and first visualized by Gene Colan.

Gene Colan’s cover art for Captain America #136 (1971) and Daredevil #41 (1968). (Credit: TCJ.com)

Jew of the Week: Jerry Wexler

The King of R&B

Gerald Wexler (1917-2008) was born in The Bronx to an immigrant family of German-Jewish and Polish-Jewish background. He graduated from high school by age 15, but there was little to do in the difficult days of the Great Depression. Wexler spent much of his time with a small circle of friends listening to music and discussing literature. It was only after returning from World War II military service that he finally pursued a career in journalism and music. He got a job as a reporter for Billboard Magazine, and soon became its editor. At the time, the magazine had a separate music chart for “black music”, called “Race Records”. Wexler took a stand against racism and came up with a new title, renaming the chart “Rhythm & Blues”. He thus coined the now popular term “R&B”. In 1953, the president of the start-up Atlantic Records (a fellow Jew named Herb Abramson) was drafted to the US Army. Wexler was offered to take his place. Under Wexler’s leadership, Atlantic Records became one of the world’s most successful music labels, and produced some of the biggest names in music, including Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. For bringing the latter to the world, Wexler was named Record Executive of the Year in 1967. (Franklin had struggled to find success in music until Wexler convinced her to join him at Atlantic, and produced her breakout hit song, “Respect”.) The following year, he signed a young group called Led Zeppelin. Wexler would go on to work with other big stars, including Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees, Richard Pryor, Carlos Santana, and George Michael. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Wexler played a central role in ending the era of “race music” (and stopping the practice of white musicians covering songs of black musicians and raking in all the fame and fortune for themselves). He opened the door for more “black music” to enter the once all-white Billboard charts, and has been credited with bringing “black music to the masses”. Not surprisingly, Wexler has been called “a prophet of roots and rhythm” and “the Jewish king of black music”.

Words of the Week

Music is the pen of the soul.
– Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadifounder of Chabad