This week’s Underrated originally ran on Ramblings Of A Comics Fan in October 2015
This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Colourists.
When it comes to the names attached to comics usually you know who the writer and artist is, whether that’s because of previews, or even just general talk around the Internets water cooler or your local comic shop. Recently I’ve noticed that there are some very good comic book contributors that don’t get the same level of attention as those who write or draw the comics, such as the colourists.
A few things before we start; firstly, there is no way I’ll ever be able to list every talented colourist out there. Just no way. Secondly, if you take nothing else from this post, at least be aware of just how much colourists add to a comic. Thirdly this post will only contain a select few examples of some great colouring work from comics released within the not too distant past, or stories that should be easy to find in trade format. It is not meant to be an exhaustive, or complete, list of great colourists, and there will only be a select few examples here (and even then, only covers).
Because, frankly, if I tried to do that I would miss too many.
Sometimes a colourist can make an already great comic book into something that’s truly a work of art, where the same comic in black and white would feel incomplete, hampering the enjoyment of the reader. As an example of this, take a look at the work of Clayton Crane: Rai #10 and #11 from Valiant. Although Rai may not be your cup of tea story wise – an android samurai from the year 4001, but you cannot deny that the artwork of Clayton Crane is something special here. He does full duties here, but it’s the colouring that really helps this comic stand above the others. The story in the two issues I mentioned takes place between a utopia and a barren planet, and just look at the way the colours allow you to tell which is which without even thinking about it.
The thing is, colourists are almost always unappreciated, but if it weren’t for their contributions to a comic some scenes would be borderline unintelligible.Zachariah Thorn‘s Robert Reichert is an example of this. The opening scene from Indigo Comics first publication has a brilliant dreamlike quality to it that would fall completely flat if not for the way the colouring brings out the detail (if you want to check it out, you can read it for free at their website.
There are occasions where the colourist will capture the feel of the comic so well that it’s almost uncanny. Lee Loughbridge did just that in DC‘s Batman #44. In what was probably the best comic featuring Batman released this year (certainly that I have read), the art was provided by guest artist Jock, and as talented as Jock is, it’s the colours that really make his artwork shine elevating the comic to the next level (although credit should also go to letterer Deron Bennett, too, but that’s another post for another day). Batman #44 is an example of the creative team firing on all cylinders, so it can be easy to overlook the at times minimalist colouring work.
And that brings us to another point.
Colourists are often overlooked because their work can be so integral to a comic that you often don’t even notice how great it is. Now I’m not intending to say anything negative about black and white comics here, some of the best comics I’ve read are black and white, but there’s a difference between an intentionally black and white comic and one that’s missing the colour (Maus is an excellent example of a black and white comic that would probably not work quite as well if it had colours added). In a time when adult colouring books are seeing a stratospheric rise in popularity as people use them as a relaxaton method, maybe it’s time we stop taking the work of a comic book colourist for granted.
There we have it – an all too brief homage to an underrated art form that can sometimes make, or break, a comic. Are there other contributors to comic that are also underrated and under-appreciated?
For that reason expect a second or third part to this post in the future. In the meantime, Underrated will probably return next week to highlight more comic book related stuff that either gets ignored despite it’s high quality, or maybe isn’t quite as bad as we tend to think it is.
Until next time!