Colorists deserve their due on covers and in the industry

Colorists deserve their due on covers and in the industry

New releases spotlight the importance of colorists

Each week, Big Issues focuses on newly released comic-book issues of significance. This week, it’s an assortment of titles featuring exemplary work from colorists Jordie Bellaire (Deadpool, Flash Gordon), Owen Gieni (Manifest Destiny, Shutter), and Lee Loughridge (All-New X-Factor, Captain Marvel). These books show how essential a colorist’s work is in creating a strong visual aesthetic, making the case that these artists deserve their names on comic covers and royalties for their efforts.

Creator rights are an ongoing issue in comic books, and in the last year, a large section of the industry has stood up and demanded recognition for their work. On January 24, 2013, colorist Jordie Bellaire wrote an extensive Tumblr post attacking an undisclosed comic convention for refusing to list colorists as guests, starting a discussion that led to the birth of Colorist Appreciation Day on January 24th. That post is required reading for anyone who doesn’t comprehend the importance of the colorist as an integral part of a creative team, and reveals the obstacles colorists face that writers and artists do not.

Bellaire compares a colorist to “the unknown amazing backup singer who makes every track awesome,” but they’re not compensated nearly as much as artists, have no way of selling artwork or originals, and work extra hard to help get comic books in on time when artists are late. This marginalization of colorists isn’t limited to just conventions, though, and the fight for colorist rights heated up last week when Yanick Paquette, artist of Batman Incorporated and Grant Morrison’s upcoming Wonder Woman: Earth One, made a public Facebook post about a major problem he sees at DC Comics. At the end of March, DC sent a survey out to its freelancers asking them to air their concerns, and Paquette copied and pasted the final statement from his survey onto his Facebook page. His statement in full:

For me, above anything else, the quality of my work is imperative. The level of sacrifice required to do this job can only be justified by being proud of its final result. Yet, all my effort as the artist would be insignificant without the care and talent of my most pivotal collaborator; The colorist.

By resisting to align its royalties and recognition policy on Marvel, It has become excessively difficult to secure the best Colorists for DC projects. In this digital day and age, where often the entire comic visual is a two person operation, it seem aberrant that one of the two won’t receive the Royalties or exposure respect they fully deserve.

It’s about time we revisit that royalty pie split. And if we find the courage to slaps some annoying last minute advertisement banner on the cover, certainly adding the colorist name there shouldn’t be that challenging.

Over at DC this week, Batman Eternal #1 has five writers listed on the cover: two writers who actually plotted and scripted the issue and three consulting writers who are part of the weekly series’ rotating creative team. And yet colorist Brad Anderson, whose work is showcased in every panel of every page, doesn’t get cover credit or royalties. It’s no wonder that the industry’s top colorists are seeking out jobs elsewhere, where their contributions will get more attention and their bank accounts will see more growth.

This was a phenomenal week for comics, specifically at Marvel and Image, and a major element of those books’ success is the work of the colorists whose names appear on the cover, a gesture that shows how important they are to their creative teams. The perks of contributing to a book at these publishers means that they have access to a higher caliber of colorist talent, and it’s no surprise that many Marvel colorists are also working on monthly Image titles. Jordie Bellaire is one of those people, coloring Marvel’s Deadpool, Magneto, and Moon Knight, Image’s Pretty Deadly, The Manhattan Projects, and Zero, and this week’s Flash Gordon #1 from Dynamite Comics (where she receives cover credit).

In just a few years, Bellaire has established herself as one of the strongest colorists in the industry, and she continues to impress with her work on Deadpool #27 and Flash Gordon #1 this week. Her name doesn’t appear on the cover of Deadpool, but that’s only because no one’s name appears on the cover for the oversized wedding issue, an image that holds the Guinness World Record for having the most characters on a single issue cover. (At $9.99, Deadpool #27 a big investment, but Marvel justifies the price by including short stories from every major writer to work on a Deadpool ongoing series, making it a true celebration of the Merc With A Mouth.)

Bellaire is an incredibly versatile colorist, and it’s fascinating to see how she changes her technique when coloring Deadpool’s Mike Hawthorne versus Flash Gordon’s Evan “Doc” Shaner. For the more cartoonish linework of Hawthorne, Bellaire uses blocks of saturated colors without much texture, making the art look like animation cels. Shaner’s art is more detailed and realistic but still very animated, so Bellaire applies more texture and shading while still using bright, bold colors to emphasize the fantastic nature of Jeff Parker’s story. (To see just how much Bellaire adds to Shaner’s work, check out this Multiversity interview with Shaner that shows his pages in both black-and-white and color.) In both titles, Bellaire shows a remarkable understanding of using colors to dictate the atmosphere of a scene, a quality that is evident in the work of all the industry’s best colorists.

Over at DC, there’s a reluctance to use more expressive coloring that may not be realistic, but does stronger work evoking a specific environment, mood, and emotional reaction. (There are some notable exceptions, specifically Brian Buccellato on Detective Comics, Marcelo Maiolo on Green Arrow, Matthew Wilson on Swamp Thing, and FCO Plascencia on Batman.) Looking at the aforementioned Batman Eternal #1, Brad Anderson’s work isn’t bad by any means, but it’s very bland, sticking to a drab color palette that is primarily brown and gray except for bursts of warm color when there’s an explosion. When colorists aren’t adequately recognized for their work, there’s less motivation for them to take risks and push themselves, and Marvel and Image have greatly benefited by employing colorists that are aware of the opportunities afforded by the medium and take full advantage of them.

Like Jordie Bellaire, Lee Loughridge also colors two comics this week, and All-New X-Factor #6 and Captain Marvel #2 showcase his dynamic approach. All-New X-Factor is becoming one of the most interesting books in the X-line thanks to its corporate, tech-heavy angle, and Loughridge gives it a distinct visual aesthetic by filtering each scene through a specific, heavily saturated color. This week’s issue cycles through red, blue, yellow, green, orange, and gray as the primary hues, and each shade sets a different tone for each sequence. Loughridge uses a similar technique on Captain Marvel, but turns down the intensity of the colors to match the more traditional superhero story. Entire pages of All-New X-Factor are dominated by single colors, but in Captain Marvel, Loughridge assigns colors to particular locations—space is a deep purple, Carol’s ship is reddish orange, an enemy vessel is neon green—so that when panels cycle through different places on a single page, there’s an assortment of tones that mingle beautifully on the page.

Loughridge’s work shows the value of steering away from realism to create more visually captivating artwork, and more and more colorists are discovering the benefits of heightened coloring. There’s certainly an element of realism in Owen Gieni’s work on Manifest Destiny #6 and Shutter #1, but he understands the importance of incorporating brighter, less conventional tones for extra impact. That’s especially apparent in Manifest Destiny, where Gieni uses neon orange and pink as background colors during key moments, emphasizing those events with hues that rarely appear in the book’s natural setting. Orange is used for action while pink is used for a sequence that blends horror and eroticism, and both of those shades are present in the book’s chilling yet gorgeous final landscape shot, suggesting that there’s still plenty of fighting, fear, and sex in store for Lewis and Clark on their westward voyage.

Gieni’s palette for Shutter is considerably muted to match Joe Keatinge’s more melancholy story, but he does remarkable work adding definition to Leila Del Duca’s artwork and matching his coloring to the book’s shifts from past to present. He incorporates heavier detail for his colors in the present while sequences in the past are more delicate, and he uses vivid shades when excitement enters the dreary current situation of main character Kate Kristopher. At the end of the issue, Kate is attacked by purple ninjas outlined with thin neon pink lines, using color to signal the start of a new fantastic chapter of her life.

Bellaire, Loughride, and Gieni are just a few of the incredible colorists with new releases this week, and other stand-outs include Laura Allred on All-New Doop #1, Kaare Kyle Andrews on Iron Fist: The Immortal Weapon #1 (also written and drawn by Andrews), Jean-Francois Beaulieu on Avengers Undercover #2, Frank Martin on East Of West #11, Javier Rodriguez on Daredevil #1.50, Val Staples on All-New Ghost Rider #2, Matthew Wilson on Secret Avengers #2, and Nolan Woodard on All-New Ultimates #1. Each one of them brings something special to the titles they’re working on, and there’s more motivation for them to bring out their individual styles when they have a bigger stake in the final product.

If a company doesn’t want to credit colorist on the cover and pay them royalties, then they shouldn’t be publishing comics in color. Maybe DC’s next gimmick month should be black-and-white comics so that they can understand how much a colorist brings to the table, because there’s no excuse for one of the biggest publishers in the industry to deny these hard-working artists the recognition and compensation they deserve.   

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