Gene Colan: The Bourne Precursor

Gene Colan self portrait, circa 1970

Gene Colan self portrait, circa 1970

The big movie this weekend is Jason Bourne. Like previous entries in the film series, it features a “shaky cam” technique intended to make the audience feel as if it’s in the middle of the action.

However, some of that concept was pioneered by the work of comic book artist Gene Colan (1926-2011).

Colan worked for both Marvel and DC, including a six-year run (1966-1973) on Daredevil as well as brief runs on the title later in the 1970s as well as the 1990s.

In a documentary for the home video release of the 2003 Daredevil movie, Colan described his approach to the many action scenes he drew.

“If there was a fight scene, I would try to do it in such a way to confuse the reader,” Colan said. “Because in real life, very often you don’t see the details. You’d just see action.”

Colan said you would see “arms and legs and people sailing over tables. But you don’t see the details. And very often it’s done in a dark room where you can see even less. But it’s exciting. It’s more dramatic that way…I wanted the story to be mystifying and sinister.”

As a result, Colan-illustrated stories emphasize movement in their action sequences. Colan drawings simulate the blur of a punch or a kick or other mayhem.

With 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Eon Productions embraced the approach of the Bourne film series. Eon hired Dan Bradley as Quantum’s second unit director, where he’d be in charge of the movie’s action scenes. Bradley was a Bourne film veteran.

Here’s how Bradley described his approach, according to a 2008 post on the Commander Bond website:

“One of the things I really believe is that we shouldn’t try and make everything feel perfectly staged. I’m always saying to my crew, I want to feel like we were lucky to catch a glimpse of some crazy piece of action. I don’t want it to feel like a movie, where everything is perfectly presented to the audience.”

Of course, comics and film are different. Colan drew mostly 20-page stories where action scenes took up only part of the story. Jason Bourne employs “shaky cam” for much of its running time, even when actions scenes aren’t occurring.

Still, the notion of disorienting the audience remains a strong one, given the box office reception, so far, for Jason Bourne. It’s just worth remembering others, including Gene Colan, took a similar path before.

Colan, of course, drew more than just Daredevil. CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE to see his take on Dr. Strange, the mystic character created by Steve Ditko. The good doctor will be the subject of a Marvel Studios movie in November.

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One Response

  1. I have to admit to hating the hand held camera technique ,it ruined Quantum of Solace for me, trying to figure out what in gods name is happening. I always enjoyed the action sequences in Bond you can have speed and violence ,etc ,but the concept of confusion in action on the screen is ridiculous!

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