Artist Gene Day, a MASTER lost much too early

Every year I go to Lake Havasu City, Arizona with my wife to visit her parents. Contrary to the stereotype, I really like and enjoy this trip. As you’re reading this, I’m driving back to my hacienda in Southern California, listening to Howard Stern on my Sirius Satellite Radio. If you’ve come expecting Miscellaneous Monday, unfortunately (for the 2nd time in three weeks) I have to apologize. My big silly fanatic Miscellaneous post won’t be ready until Wednesday. 

This page and post may take some serious time to “load” today because I’ve decided to remind everyone one of the reasons to REALLY love Marvel’s MASTER OF KUNG FU title. It had good times and it had weaker times, but one of the highlights was the emergence of inker Gene Day as a penciller of extraordinary talent and storytelling ability. Just oogle these pages … see the power … the innovation … the attention to detail … the superb panel-to-panel continuity. Gene Day died in his sleep in September 1982, he never reached his 32nd birthday. What a colossal lose.

Following is the cover and five pages from Master of Kung Fu #115. Just so no one is confused, all this stuff is trademark and copyright Marvel Comics.












I don’t think its nostalgia. I think it is AMAZING. These pages still thrill me all these years later. We lost the master talent of Gene Day far too early.

That’s my version of the story.

      — Dave Olbrich (DWO) Mon. Feb. 16, 2009



Filed under Fanatic General

21 responses to “Artist Gene Day, a MASTER lost much too early

  1. Cory Strode

    Loved his work, and when I look at it now, I’m shocked at how fast he was getting better…some of those MOKFs you can see improvement from page to page. It’s a damn shame Marvel can’t reprint them, and introduce his work to a new generation.

  2. Have to agree with you about Gene Day. He was so talented, just taking off when he died. I was stunned when I read about it. Doesn’t make sense for it to happen to someone so young!

    Doug Moench was also very talented, but he had the great fortune of working with Paul Gulacy, Mike Zeck, and Mr. Day on MOKF.

  3. I worked with Gene on a number of things at Marvel (including a Master of Kung Fu fill-in, Marvel’s only Western in almost 20 years [Caleb Hammer], and a science-fiction strip (Silhouette) for Bizarre Adventures.
    Gene was one of those people, that no matter how ambitious you got in asking him to illustrate thing, would come back and top you, giving everything you asked for and two or three extra things.
    The strip he had on his drawing board when he died was Warp Special #1, for First Comics, which I had plotted. Even though he loved working for Marvel–hell, so did I–I never thought he was well treated by the company. (then again, who was?)
    His death took all of us who knew him by surprise, and we all became awre of out own mortality. We were comic book people! We were supposed to work 40 hour days, never get any exercise, and exist on a Pepsi-and-Twinkies diet! And we were suppose to get our hearts broken by the industry!
    Thanks for putting those pages up, Dave. I miss him, and it still makes me feel just a bit angry, thinking of the great work Gene was about to do.

  4. Tom Mason

    Every day should be a Gene day. Great stuff. More posts like this, please. He was really ahead of his time. And Doug Moench was no slouch either – I got totally wrapped up reading the story. Can I borrow this issue next time I see you?

  5. Dave Olbrich

    I’m pretty nutty about the greatness of Master of Kung Fu, so you never know when you might get another Fanatic dose of Shang-Chi and company.

    When the history of comic books from that era is written, the tragic loss of Gene Day at the height of his storytelling power needs to be included. It would only add to the tragedy if he was overlooked because he never broke sales records, inspired a movie or worked on any of the MAJOR characters.

    A special “shout out” to Peter B. Gillis (didn’t we carpool from San Diego to Los Angeles one year?) for including some more background information on Gene. You might want to add some of that information to his Wikipedia listing, which also gives additional great information about Gene’s relationship with Dave Sim.

  6. Gene was one of my favorite artists — MOKF was amazing, and I liked his Star Wars stuff a lot.

    Whenever people ask why I don’t think online versions of printed comics match the feeling you get looking at the original, I often think of Gene’s spreads from MOKF issues like this one. He was always aware of the page — and working to try to make it more than just disconnected panels. You have to look at the entire page at once — and usually the whole spread — to see everything he was trying to do.

  7. Dave Olbrich

    John- I’m gratified and honored to have you stop by and comment on my humble, but fanatic little blog. Needless to say, I completely agree with you about Gene Day.

  8. Robert Haines

    Gene Day certainly was a force in the comic scene, and to reflect his contributions to the self-publishing boom the Joe Shuster Awards (Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards) have created an award in his honour: The Gene Day Award for Self-Publishing.

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  11. Dane Strassman

    Thanks again for reminding us about Gene’s genius. My hope is that posts like yours will reawaken interest in his work. It would be wonderful if other storytellers out there would start to pick up on Gene Day’s unique use of page design, panel design, drawing and inking chops that he used to tell his stories in ways that couldn’t be executed in any medium other than comic books! His style is still fresh to me and new details are evident each time I see his pages. In the Arts, where almost everybody imitates the Masters in some way to develop their art, Gene Day goes on surprisingly ‘unimitated’. The new guys should check out Gene for inspiration. Then he’ll be the next Big Thing!

  12. I’m late to this, I know, but MOKF has always been, in my 30+ years of reading comics, THE title I always go back to.

    Only last night I was re-reading part of Day’s glorious run and it’s still a thing of beauty.

    I just wish, like you all do, that he’d had more time.

    Thanks, Mr Day.

  13. Tina Grant

    My brother Ray who owned Beaver Comics passed away June 23, 1991 was a huge fan and collector of his art work. If anyone has information to help put me in contact with some collectors, please let me know. I just came across a box of Gene Day’s fan mail, dating back to 1976,77,78,79, 80. I started by googling Gene Day and found this site, I can only assume that my brother was part of the fan club?? Any help would be appreciated

  14. I just thought I’d add a few comments. Gene and I were friends, and I use to periodically weekend at his house in Gananoque, and he would stay with me in Toronto. We’d talk on the phone a lot. On one occasion I actually “ghost” pencilled a Master of Kung Fu page for him (issue #110 – pg 19) because it was Thanksgiving. My visit, plus holiday events, were pushing him off-schedule so I decided to pitch in. Part of the deal was I made him give me the page after publication. I also have another Master of Kung Fu page original art page. He once gave me a page from MOKF #104 (page 18 – the big staircase page…) and signed it over to me because he knew it was a favorite of mine. Its framed in my studio along with one of Gene’s actual pencils & brushes that I got from the family immediately after Gene’s death. The page & drawing tools have hung in every studio I’ve owned since Gene’s passing.

    A couple of corrections: Gene didn’t die in his sleep. He was out walking and collapsed. He was taking a break from drawing. The doctor who examined him said he had never seen such a massive coronary in such a young man before and that Gene was likely dead by the time he hit the ground.

    The final thing Gene was working on at his death was an issue of Indiana Jones (#3). I attended Gene’s funeral and was at the house afterward. The pages were literally sitting on his table. He had pencilled the cover & 10 interior pages. The issue was published, although neither his cover or splash page were used. The issue was completed by artist Richard Howell.

    He had also just quit Marvel and was about to become the new regular penciller on Detective Comics for DC. He had completed his first cover (#527) and had the script but had not started drawing the issue yet. In the end Gene’s younger brother, Dan, drew that single issue.

    He had commited to several other projects including the above mentioned Warp Special and a graphic novel of the Shadow for Fantagraphics. Of course, he was still working on a number of self-published projects as well, as he always had.

    I miss Gene terribly and often go back to his work for inspiration.

    —Ronn Sutton

  15. Peter

    He´s was one of the great comics geniuses. His work remembers me the best Steranko´s works.Sad to know he died at his edge !

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  17. Wow,i am just blown away with all your kind comments of Gene,i am his brother in law,his art was so much to him,but also a great musician and never too busy to put down his pencil for his family.It truly was a great tragedy to see him go at such a young age.Thanks so much for this web site it seems to ease the pain

  18. Carl Clark

    I was a huge MOKF fan back in the late 70’s and early eighties… Gene Day, to me… is the grand master of that book… and I’m happy to have been there every month just getting lost in the art. Amazing layouts, architectural precision and grace, fantastic expressions and cinematic action sequences were guaranteed to transport you deeper into the stories. Gene was such a great artist and a huge personal inspiration to me.
    Thank you for this tribute page for Gene!

  19. Rob Fester

    I just discovered the loss of Gene. I have been out of the writing loop for some time and am in the process of getting busy with it again. In the late 70s, I published a small press magazine called “Weird Adventures”. Only three issues were ever published. In issue #2, I was blessed to have a fantastic Gene Day cover that illustrated a story Gene himself contributed called “The Sentinel of Kahil”. This was a weird fantasy set in the British Colonial days of India. SUch a shame to lose not just a great artist but a great man as well.

  20. Shang Chi, MOKF fan

    As a kid, I was a huge fan of MOKF back in the early ’80’s – I was introduced to the title via the Gene Day-drawn issues. Gene’s art was stunning & sublime – he remains my all-time favorite comic book artist, and I’ve been reading/collecting comics off & on for over 30 years. It was a huge tragedy that he passed so young – very sad.

    As most MOKF fans know, Marvel has finally straightened out the licensing/copyright issues with the title & are now reprinting the entire series in a set of Omnis. The first two are already out, and the next two will be out in 2017 – I suspect the bulk of Gene’s issues will be in Volume #4 – truly looking forward to this, especially since my individual floppies have been gone for years.

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