SDCC: Color Design in Today’s Top Comics

Michele Brittany writes for Bleeding Cool:

Color design is probably the furthest from your mind when reading your favorite comic book title. When done well, color becomes a seamless component of your reading experience, but when done badly, will stand out and yes, look bad. As a person interested in better understanding the use color and decisions made with it comes to color, I was anxious to hear what the artists had to say.

Color Design 1 Color Design 2Writer of Eisner Award winning book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (2008), Douglas Wolk moderated the panel Color Design in Comics and assembled four colorists working in mainstream and independent comics today who do it right.

Spanish artist Jose Villarrubia is a fine artist and photographer, but also a comic book colorist whose has colored Promethea, Trillium, Sweet Tooth, X-Men: Legacy, and Batman: Year 100. You might recognize his incredible color in Litle Nemo in Slumberland and for this title, Villarrubia studied not only the original Windsor McCay work, he turned to American artist Maxfield Parrish, whose paintings capture the warmth of light in vibrant colors.

Villarrubia 1 Villarrubia 2 Villarrubia 3Villarrubia took a different tack with Ghost Rider and I would say with Trillium where colors are deliberately used in contrast with each other. As he stated, he “challenges complimentary color tones,” in particular reds and blues, to create memorable and powerful pages. In all instances, Villarrubia is inspired by either the original source material, if that exists for the title he is working on, and/or by the works of fine artists.

Attention grabbing color combinations that contrast conventional mixtures describes Sloane Leong’s color strategy. Her method is to use flat solid colors for the background then accent with inks, resulting a jarring and disquieting presentation of color. Her color work is found on titles such as Change, Clutch, and the recently announced From Under Mountains (Image).

Sloane 1 Sloane 2 Sloane 3I was happily surprised by Ryan Hill’s colors which I have seen before: he is the colorist to artist Ulises Farinas’ Judge Dredd: Mega City II. In this series, Farinas has created pages with so much detail I know I thought I was trying to find Waldo. Hill said that in order to create a tacky atmosphere, he used bright, hot colors to bring out Farinas’ details. However, with these pages, Hill said it was very challenging to try to keep to his 4 to 5 pages a day schedule he has to keep. That said, Hill stated he liked working on IPs because the color schemes were already determined.

Hill 1 Hill 2 Hill 3Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand colorists Ian Herring rounded out the quartet of colorists. Herring explained that for this IP title, artist Ramon K. Perez set rules and together Perez and Herring used swatches of colors to complete this Eisner winning title. More recently, Herring has been working on Marvel Comics Ms. Marvel and the new Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (Dynamite Entertainment), where he admitted working on rainy scenes are kind of tough – a fact that the other colorists nodded in agreement – but he liked winter scenes.

Herring 1 Herring 2 Herring 3It was apparent that all four colorists are inspired by the techniques of their favorite artists, old and modern, not unlike the apprentices of the Renaissance master artists. As a result, our own reading experience is enhanced and expanded by the art and culture of distant lands and periods of time.

All panel photographs by Michele Brittany.

Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer and editor of the forthcoming title James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company). She regularly posts reviews and analysis on the spy/espionage genre on her blog, Spyfi & Superspies.

About Dan Wickline

Has quietly been working at Bleeding Cool for over three years. He has written comics for Image, Top Cow, Shadowline, Avatar, IDW, Dynamite, Moonstone, Humanoids and Zenescope. He is the author of the Lucius Fogg series of novels and a published photographer.