A while back, Josh was over at my place and I was showing him the Secret Wars Omnibus because a.) It’s an awesome bit of bombastic storytelling from our Marvel childhood (i.e. Marvel’s Golden Age), and b.) Because the extras in the Omnibus are fantastic.
One of the things that is featured in the extras were pages and pages of artist Mike Zeck’s uninked and uncolored pages. We marveled (heh) over the fact that Zeck’s pencils were so detailed and full of texture, and yet when you looked at the corresponding finished pages in the book the art was, by comparison, flat and lifeless.
After comparing five or six of the penciled pages to the finished versions, it became clear how much comic book production has come in the past 20 years.
Below you’ll find two examples of old school coloring, taken from the Secret Wars Omnibus, followed by two pages from The Flash: Rebirth #2, which is an example of modern day coloring and production.
The cover to Secret Wars #1 is so dynamic and so iconic that it doesn’t even matter that the coloring style is essentially akin to someone filling in a coloring book.
The coloring book style from the 1980s doesn’t do anything to enhance the artwork. What does end up happening is that the uniform nature of the coloring (i.e. the lack of meaningful shading) helps to create a flat look.
When I think dynamic modern day coloring I immediately think of the work that Alex Sinclair has been doing on The Flash: Rebirth. The yellow lightning constantly crackling around Barry Allen adds a lot to the constant feeling of movement in this book. You can also see that the colorist is the one for most of the background texture, especially in the sky and the water in the above page.
Backgrounds, light sources and shading are where modern day colorists really do their strong work these days and the above page shows that off pretty well. The cave wall and the cave paintings have a unique look and that’s all from the colorist. The green glow of the computer monitor on Robin is also a nice touch.
The purpose of this article isn’t to call out the coloring in Secret Wars as being bad, or to slag off the people who did good work back then. (In fact, let’s thank the Secret Wars colorist for their work — Christie Scheele and Nel Yomtov, thanks!), it’s more to point out the differing philosophies behind comic book production between the early 1980s and today. Comic books were much more disposable back twenty years ago, and the idea of keeping every issue you ever purchased safely sealed away in mylar wasn’t as pervasive as it is now. These days, from the pencils to the inks to the colors to the letters to the cover design and art work, comic books are a first class artistic endeavor because that’s what the modern audience expects and demands.
(You also get what you pay for — each issue of Secret Wars cost $0.75 back then)
We always talk about the penciller and sometimes we even talk about the inker, but rarely does the colorist get talked about these days, and it’s a shame because the colorist is as much responsible for the look of a comic book as anyone else. Sometimes more so. A good colorist can enhance less than stellar pencils and, as we’ve seen lately with Marvel, a bad colorist (or coloring philosophy) can muck up even the best pencils. I’d even argue that the coloring in Secret Wars (and other comics of the 1980s) is better than some of the coloring we see now because while the coloring back then didn’t enhance the pencils, they certainly didn’t hurt them either.
So the next time you’re making your way through your stack of books, take some time to appreciate what the colorist brings to the table.