Color and Design in Comics

A while back, Gene Fama put together some essays online that explore the process of effective comics production. I found this courtesy of Ed Piskor’s blog. The process section that I found particularly interesting was on coloring. I would certainly argue that unless making art comix or anything avant garde as a commercial illustrator, your best bet is to respect the principles that Fama puts forward.

Truth betold, No one wants to see the Incal recolored nor does it ever need to be. (Before After)

Here are some morsels to pique your interest.

Computers are wonderful. They’re especially good at reducing the costs that prevent entry into fields of endeavor. People who can’t afford rent on a comic shop can now open an online store with very little overhead. People who can’t handle Dr. Martin dyes can color and “undo” their mistakes with a click of the mouse. The only problem is that the people with the discipline to master Dr. Martin dyes are more likely to be those with the discipline to use good taste.

And another:

If you look at Herge´s coloring in Tintin it’ll look strong and primary, but if you actually try to match his colors you’ll find they’re quite pastel. Similarly, good painters almost never use colors directly from the tube with no mixing. Good coloring is often about finding a shade just outside the primary shade.

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3 Comments on “Color and Design in Comics”

  1. chuckspears says:

    I don’t know if I fully agree. The computer is a tool just like the dyes. If you take time to understand color theory and use photoshop instead of Dr. Ph. Martin’s dyes are still mastering the use of color. I feel it’s really good to go at it by hand first, but I never liked the idea that digital technology makes the artist lazy or less skilled. There are some artists that can use a two dollar set of tempera paint and create absolute master pieces.

    • I think that the argument that is safe to be made is not the war cry, “Computers are BAD”, but rather that because of the ease with which one can choose across a spectrum of hue and saturation it’s hard for people to develop discretion. One can certainly develop these skills in digital environments, nevertheless, the amount of choice that a creator is presented outright is not conducive to developing discretion. More likely, if discretion in terms of color usage develops in digital environments it’s because of choice paralysis. People find something that works and stick to it, not wondering why it works.

      Getting to why it works, when presented with such a huge pool of colors to choose from is a problem that is hard as hell to solve in a logical manner.

      I personally believe that the main reason why I can’t actually read superhero comics from the late eighties up to today is that along with crummy dialogue they have coloring that flails. This flailing is due to too many color relationships appearing simultaneously on the page.

      Color is something that when used by creators can create overwhelmingly strong emotional repsonses (due to association) that interestingly aren’t often noticed by the conscious mind. The effect of this is that there remains a sense of mystery in the creator’s work. When it comes to color, it’s hard to see what’s going on behind the magician’s proverbial curtain.

      I would argue that it’s hard to effectively convey mood in a controlled fashion through color when the web of color relationships on a page begins to have more than around 21 connections (7 colors).

      Chuck, I’ll agree with you that to not use a computer in this age of publishing is dumb. It’s akin to not using a light table in 1913, just because it makes “lazy” creators. To argue that is to say that Winsor McCay was being lazy when he created his animation of Gertie the Dinosaur.

      New tools expand the boundaries of an era, but they also introduce new issues and make creators interact with the their media in different ways. In the case of computers, I simply believe that a side effect of their usefulness and ease is that they make people overlook the delicacy of color choice. With so many colors at hand, it doesn’t seem so critical a decision.

      • chuckspears says:

        I see what you’re saying and fully agree that there needs to at least be a cursory understanding of color theory before jumping in with whatever medium is chosen. I may have come off as defending an argument that wasn’t made HERE, but one I’ve heard many times in the past; usually when it comes to music creation/production, but that’s another can of worms all together.


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