These are from DC Comic’s Superboy comic. I just picked them at random, because I know if I want to talk about how modern comics coloring is dumb as hell—DC Comics are sort of the gold standard for not giving a fuck about the colors in their books. I mean there are a lot of things Marvel does wrong—how they as a company through the years perceive the role of color in comics, is not consistently one of them. Books like X-Force and Hawkeye happen enough that you think there must be someone on staff there who recognizes a company built on a history of bold stand by your colorist moments. But DC—this is pretty standard what I expect to see with DC. They have sort of a house style for coloring, and this is basically it. Sun is red. Jeans are blue. Buildings are building colored(bat books get a little more moody in terms of color but only because they’re trying to live up to a cliche ideal of moody and noir) so on and so forth.
Anyways. This page isn’t colored badly or anything. So I’m not dissing the colorist. As far as I know they are just doing exactly what they are being paid to do. I’m more talking about the aesthetic being presented here and how it works against the other elements at play in the comic.
The First thing, like I said, is that the choices are extremely literal. Jeans are jean colored. Vest is all vest colored. So on and so forth. It’s very boring—particularly when you think about how things change color every second of the day depeneding on light, depending on the color of the things they are next to—color is not an entrenched thing—it’s a wavy thing that is constantly shifting to reflect time around it. One panel superman’s vest could be bright pink, the next it could be blue and orange. Things shift.
But even that—whatever. The thing which is really at play here which is actively making this shit look shittier than it should be—is the lighting effects/gradient filters. Every thing on this page has a fucking gradient on it. Superman’s stupid vest has gradients all through it. Making it look almost metallic in nature. His shirt under his vest looks like a knight’s coat of arms—when I think it’s just a y’know…sweater. By putting gradients all over the clothes you completely rob them of any texture. And the sad thing is if you want to show weird progressions in color on clothes—you can get pretty dynamic and crazy.
Check how Dean White has colored this x-force comic—he’s still presenting gradients—but the color choices of those changes are much bolder and create a much more singular image:
So I’d say that using gradients in this way just exposes your color choices and progressions even more. If you’re not on point with those color choices—you end up with this very bland Superboy looking comic.
But here’s the real problem. Check how the actual linework on those superboy pages looks? There’s crazy textures of ink strokes in the clothes—there’s some really cool dynamic lines on that kids mask—and it is all lost behind the gradients, and the need of the colorist to know better than the artist in terms of how to present light. If you went flats on these pages, and followed the directions of the artist’s linework—shit would kind of look like a comic that a major company put a ton of money in to make. It would look bold and challenging.
Think about Matt Hollingsworth’s work on Hawkeye and how by playing with flats instead of gradients and being on point in his color progressions he is allowing the composition and lineart of Aja to sing and for the most part because of that, the book immedietely went on a lot of top critics lists—almost irrespective of anything Fraction actually wrote in the page.
I mean look at the simplicity of this:
Because of Hollingsworth being willing to lay back in the cut here—Aja can get away with fun page design shit. I mean Chris Ware sees that and is like “duh”. The more shit a colorist puts on a page, the less you will see the lineart—and the less dynamic the composition can be.
When you do colors like the Superboy book up there, you are literaly wasting the reader’s eye’s time on the page by overloading it with mediocre shit, just so you could tell me that oh hey—“Jeans are still blue!” “Flesh color is still flesh color”. Thanks. I totally couldn’t have figure the same thing out if the page were black and white.
Most of my time writing, I talk about the stuff that is done right, and in coloring, I routinely highlight dope shit on that front. But there is I think value in occasionally calling out shit like this. Because I see smaller companies with smaller budges mimicking what DC does because “that’s what sells”—but the truth of the matter is that if you make your books like as bland and boring as DC makes their books—how exactly do you plan to stand out and steal eyes on a cramped shelf space? Especially if you are also telling the same type of played out superhero soap operas as the big two. Hiring a few bold colorists to manage your line for you—is probably the cheapest way to visually win that game. I mean not for nothing, but look at what Mignola has done with his books. He sort of has his in-house colorist in Dave Stewart who maintains cohesion across the line—so you know a mignolaverse book on sight—but he’s also making choices that are different than the ones being made at the big two on colors. There’s some sort of economic formula there in an age where readers are largely ignoring artists and paying attention mostly to the writers. If I were a cynical comic publisher—I’d be putting the bulk of my budget into the hiring top colorists and writers—and then filling the art in with cheap clean lined folk. Why am I even talking about this? I dunno.
Anyways. Gradients are dog drool. Flesh color gradients are theeee worst of the worst.