I wrote these notes while traveling this weekend. They’re sort of reviews, but really just riffing on color and composition. I’m obsessed with HOW color comics used to be made and want to write about it here for fun.
“The Inheritors”, by Bruce Jones and Scott Hampton
Alien Worlds no. 3
Pacific Comics, 1983
Looks like Kaluta, Wrightson. Reads like an old Unknown Worlds ACG comic but is beautifully painted. Each panel like a small Frazetta fantasy world. And that’s sort of the problem. I like the story, but it’s so serious and heavy and important. No Twilight Zone economy, no pacing, just a slow, laborious plodding. “We were aliens; creatures from another world come to the salvation, not of humankind, but of the planet itself.” A story of immigration, essentially, hacked out by Jones. Tolerable stuff, not great. The art saves it but really it’s just a fairly authentic blend of Frazetta, Wrightson, Kaluta, Vess. Nothing special really but beautiful.
I love the way these old Pacific Comics look. The colors on all the stories are great. All the Pacific Comics back then were done with that crazy process that was called “Greyline”. Steve Oliff actually colored a story in the back, but the Hampton story in the front is colored by Hampton I believe. Anyways, it looks fantastic like some comic straight out of “The Studio.” Plus, I bought it for a quarter. Whatever.
Oh, yes, back to the story. Well, I never finished reading it. I do love this passage (above, bottom panel) however, where a landscape panel has no black-line “overlay.” The landscape is not delineated by black marks, lines that are colored, filled in with paint. The landscape is just pastel colors that recede and allow the inserted black ink’d shadowed image — and the panel itself — to “float” above the color plane. That’s why I bought this one.
Special Forces no.2, by Kyle Baker
I don’t really want to review this comic, I just want to write about the color and how fresh it looks. Plus, I’m such a Baker fan it’s hard for me to review anything of his fairly. I mean, I could give a shit about a war comic but Baker’s approach, his humor and his vantage point (read: not white) on the subject makes it, um, enjoyable. Remember this is the comic whose opening volley was a (black) guy getting his head blown off.
Baker has been creating his comics on computer for over ten years now. They “worked” for me back in the ’90s; I always thought he struck a balance between the generic Photoshop look of all computer “constructed” comics (meaning: no inked panel borders, floating computer fonts and text all arranged in Photoshop). It’s an interesting mix of approaches that Baker has developed. He seems to be using all the same filters and settings that everyone else is in Photoshop, but since he can draw better than just about anyone (uses no photo references for the figures as far as I can tell, has mastered a sort of Aragones-inspired comical realism, plus he has a real eye for movement, no staged “realistic” photo ref’d scenes that jar the narrative flow to a halt, no spending days playing photo-shoot director, dressing up as the characters for “believability.” Nah … none of these games for Baker, who’s got the time? He’s got kids, man. Plus he can draw. Did I mention that?), and since his use of color is so inventive and comic-booky and fresh — it all simply overrides the sensors in my brain that normally dismiss such “computerized” comics. In fact I actually like the economy of the easy-to-read simplistic layouts. I think they allow his drawings & sequences to breathe. There’s a real organic feel to his customized approach that carries the narrative along quite beautifully.
I really just want to write about the color tho’, so here goes: in many sequences, Baker will switch from the “realistic” color of the Iraqi landscape and replace it with “knockout” color in the action sequences. Meaning Baker will reduce entire backgrounds to a single color like blue while figures in said background are, say, red. This was very common in the four-color era of comics, but it’s rather uncommon these days to switch from “realism” to “symbolism” on the same page.
Baker’s “realistic” color is, I think, a perfect example of using the contemporary approach to color (Hyper-realism: everything molded and highlighted, shiny and video game-like), but using it with restraint so that the drawings are not overpowered by the colors. His “realism” is also served by alternating back to knockouts and the use of pure flat color. This approach develops a rhythm that allows Baker to use the symbolic and “the real” within the same sequence to great effect.
Archie no.170, by Harry Lucey
This is an all Harry Lucey issue. You don’t know who Harry Lucey is? He was the best Archie artist. That’s all you need to know. The whole issue is an amazing display of composition, pure drawing, and gag humor cartooning. It’s a fucking clinic, actually. I’ve been doing these warm-up exercises everyday where I just draw from Lucey. I just look and learn.
Anyway, check out the color in this splash page. Stare at it and break it down. Remember this is four-color process, so its simplicity may fool you. For me, it’s the super simple use of the black and green of the girl’s dress in the foreground, which is a darker green and blue, playing off the wall behind her which is a lighter, 50% green and blue behind her. Big deal, you say? Well, look how the shapes unite and allow the central figures to remain on the left of the composition. The lines of the the wall AND the united color shapes create a plane and piece the wall and the foreground girl together in a really pleasing way. It’s a minor thing, really, but these masterful touches throughout each of the 4 stories in this comic all add up to one remarkable reading experience. (For 3 bux.)