Thoughts on colouring

Since I’ve been spending the past week or so colouring pages, I thought it might be worth putting some thoughts about colouring down into words (instead of floating around in my head). So first of all, I know I don’t read a ton of comics – so maybe I’m skewed by the ones that I do read – but lately I’ve been noticing that colouring in comics seems to be moving away from the heavily overworked attempt at 3D realism and more towards that old fashioned “comic book” look from before computers when stuff was printed on newsprint. What’s maybe a little different about this “throwback” colouring trend is that colourists are using the atmosphere and mood of the colour to help add to the story. It’s also interesting to see that maybe the attempt at realism just wasn’t working for comic pages.

Hellboy theWake PrettyDeadly
Here’s three good examples of what I’m talking about: Hellboy coloured by Dave Stewart, The Wake coloured by Matt Hollingsworth and Pretty Deadly coloured by Jordie Bellaire.

I do think (and I’m probably not too far off base saying this) that there are a couple of colourists that are doing a really amazing job (see the images above for some example of what I’m talking about) and have used this approach/style of simple, moody colouring and maybe that’s influenced others. It’s also not like some of these colourists are working this way suddenly either. Dave Stewart’s colours on things like Hellboy are very similar over the course of that series of stories and they’ve been coming out for quite a few years at this point. But I do think it’s interesting to see how the same fundamental approach of using atmospheric colours and limiting the over rendering has spread into more mainstream comics. I think this is why the current colouring on a comic like Batman is successful and works as well as it does. The combination of atmosphere and adding details to major elements on the page really work well with the overall art. The colouring (usually) ends up adding the to art and story instead of distracting from it.

Atmosphere is definitely more important to me than making something look “real”. What I think is kind of interesting is that back when I started OTV, colouring was definitely all about that “attempt at realism” still. But over the course of the past three years, that’s changed. I’m thinking that I’m much more comfortable with how the coloured pages in OTV look now than I was in the past.

I’m not saying that I started colouring my stuff the way I have because I could see a trend coming. I mainly started working the way I do as an attempt to combine my ink drawing with my painting and that meant a limited colour palette with toned down colours. But I also wanted to use subtle shifts in tone depending on what is happening in the story as well as add some shading (or modeling) to things.

Anyway, colouring is one of those things that I’m never really sure if I have a handle on. I know I like how the finished pages look. I like the way the inked art combines with the colouring, textures and effects and how that combines with the lettering. But it’s just one of those things. Since I’m not working in that mainstream comic colouring style, I wonder what people think. Is it working or do you hate it. I guess being an indie creator has its benefits, right?

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

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