Friday, 30 July 2010

She's A Rainbow

Now that I'm coloring my comics for the first time (save two covers) I've been looking for tutorials on coloring comics. There are pretty much none as far as actually painting them, but there are thousands on how to color comics using photoshop.

This is the best one I've found:

Aside from learning how to do this and looking at thousands of examples, I've become dismayed at the state of comics coloring. There seem to be more incredible artists than ever before, yet their artwork is smeared in the gaudiest didital color palettes and horrible effects. I'm scared of an "injury to eye" just by reading some.

Why is it that old comics look so much more appealing, despite the blurry colors, the crackling, grayish black, the cheap color being soaked into even cheaper, yellowing paper? I'll tell you why. One simple reason: they KEPT IT SIMPLE!

Color was once a luxury. Color was complex. It meant so much more than it does today. Back in the day, you had to actually paint, mixing colors as you went according to a formula. In the separations, some unnamed, unacknowledged person had to make plates for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). These would be printed on the pages, layering on top of each other in different amounts, creating different mixtures.

Because of this, as well as deadlines, comics had more simplistic palettes. And the printing process got worse and worse. Marvel was the biggest culprit, some of their titles from the "copper age" look like blobs of tone dots over smeary blobs. As soon as digital coloring was feasible, it was implemented. And as soon as it was implemented, it was exploited. Lynn Varley, one of the greatest colorists of all time, used it in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. After the beauty of The Dark Knight returns and the weird beauty of Ronin, this pixelated vomit gets in your eyes... and your eyes will never fully recover.

Lynn retained her color sensibility and palette, so the results weren't always totally bad...

But the hideous trolls that followed in her wake had no suck background to save them:
After this, every arm band gleamed, every breast became a sphere, every field became a gradient and every shadow leaked into three of four shadows. No one would call comics subtle, but without an appreciation for painting by hand, I don't think any colorist can understand how to color work.

And it was this very labor-intensive process that made sure A) color was always used purposefully, always adding to the art, never overtaking it, B) the K was the most important part of CMYK. The inks were foregrounded, the art was first, and C) the artist delineated the shadows and the space, which made better artwork.

As a sort of side note, the one company that actually improved color reproduction in the eighties and early nineties was Eclipse. Their color reproduction is so beautiful and lush. No wonder P. Craig Russell released his opera series through them. If you are interested in what hand coloring really looked like, find some old Eclipse comics and soak in some Tom Luth, Quin Supplee or pull out Watchmen and bathe in John Higgins' gorgeous work in Watchmen. Lynn Varley's work on Ronin is incredible and Tatjana Wood's work on Swamp Thing (and Animal Man when they had better printers) is unsurpassed.

Lastly, Asterios Polyp uses color in a psychologically interesting way, it is exactly the kind of coloring the artwork deserves (of course done by the artist!). It is really the best colors I've seen in years: simple, beautiful and emotionally deep. Also notice how there is no black in the entire book...

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