There are comic creators who have had long and busy careers — think of Jack Kirby, Alex Toth or John Wagner, to name but three — and then, there are creators whose careers are so wild that they have somehow spun out of being fully recognized for just how talented they actually are. Arguably, one of the best examples of the latter is writer, penciller, inker, letterer, colorist, and all around absolute talent powerhouse, Colleen Doran — the person responsible for what are surely some of your favorite comics, even if you didn’t necessarily even know it.
To say that Doran has extensive comic book experience is an understatement; in a career that has seen her constantly working since the 1980s, it’s almost unbelievable that she’s not been lionized as an iconic creator who should be considered an example for others to strive towards. Perhaps we could turn this into another argument for the many ignored women that have been prevalent in the comics industry in previous decades, but in Doran’s case, that almost seems like the smallest thing possible to focus on. We could, instead, bring up how Doran began her professional comics career at the age of 12 after creating her first series, A Distant Soil — a story centering on the heir of an alien dynasty — which remains an ongoing series that has been released by a number of companies, including Image Comics, which took over publishing in 1996.
Part of Doran’s initial success comes from being a part of comics during the Wild West era of early independent publishing, where contracts were shaky, mentorships were key (such as the one she had with sci-fi artist Frank Kelly Freas), and the business model for the working artist was not always above bar, which might explain Graphic Showcase’s Tom Long hiring Doran at age 16 to draw a revival of 1940s character Miss Fury — a project Doran quit after seeing just how adult Tarpé Mills’ latex super-heroine could be.
Even without Graphic Showcase, though, Doran’s career was on the rise. A Distant Soil went from fanzine publication to “real” comic through Elfquest publisher WaRP Graphics, owned by Wendy and Richard Pini. Despite the seeming perfect meeting of interests and aesthetics, the partnership of Doran and WaRP did not exactly live up to expectations, however; she would quickly leave the company after only nine issues, due to a dispute with the Pinis over just who owned the material she was creating. With hundreds of pages down the drain, Doran set to work soon after re-drawing A Distant Soil from scratch, initially for Missouri based publisher The Donner Company, and later as a self-published project, before landing at Image, creating a 1000+ page story with a fan following that spans entire comics eras and continues to this day.
The triumph of a creator standing up for herself and her work, and continuing to do so for decades in the face of institutional opposition would be enough for many creators, but Doran is far from the average creator. While A Distant Soil continued in the background, Doran’s career also took a skyrocketing turn after being scouted by none other than Justice League International and Ambush Bug creator Keith Giffen, who brought her to DC Comics to work on projects such as Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, Legion of Super-Heroes, Christmas with the Super-Heroes, and several other series. And let’s be clear — to say that Doran’s work on Legion is good is like saying that Superman is a pretty decent sorta guy.
That 1980s DC work was the start of a career as a mainstream comics illustrator that has also included work for Marvel, Dynamite Entertainment, Valiant Comics, and Dark Horse Comics, amongst many others; her work for the latter including multiple adaptations of Neil Gaiman prose short stories, continuing a collaboration that started when she worked on issues of Sandman in the early 1990s. To say that Doran’s resume as illustrator is diverse would be to significantly undersell things — outside of celebrated work on Wonder Woman, Shade the Changing Man, and Spider-Man, she co-created a Little Nemo sequel with Alan Moore for defunct webcomics portal Electricomics, collaborated with Stan Lee on his 2015 graphic novel autobiography; and was the artist on one of the comics seized by authorities from Illinois retailer Friendly Frank’s in 1986 for suspected obscenity, leading to the creation of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
As far as activism in comics goes, Doran hasn’t just stopped at making sure that the CBLDF got its start either. A champion for creator rights, Doran has also worked as a lobbyist in Washington DC and served on the advocacy committee of the Graphic Artists Guild; not to mention her unwavering support of the #MeToo movement as it came to light in the comics industry in the early 2000s, voicing her experiences with sexism and harassment within the industry over the decades alongside Killer Princesses creator Lea Hernandez.
More than anything, Colleen Doran is proof that there are some people in comics that are lifers. For someone who has dealt with more than her fair share of shit from the comics industry, she just keeps returning better than ever and with more vim and vigor than any bitter critic could ever tear down in any number of articles. Ultimately, the best part of sitting back to admire the career of Colleen Doran is that it’s not one singular thing to behold, but an admiration of the multifaceted talents that a single person can wield.