Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Metal Hurlant, Humanoids and Moebius: Dissecting Colouring

Jog at his blog has a wonderful rundown of the changes in coloring that Humanoids has done to Moebius' material from the 1980's and has taken the time to actually scan a whole bunch of pages for us to look at. (the above image is actually my favorite on the post, by Ladronn, from the Final Incal series, and only because I love the image.)

It brings up a whole host of issues: who has the right or responsibilty to deal with the recoloring or censoring of the artwork? If the artist himself wants to do a "director's cut" on a classic work, should they be allowed to? Or an editor wanting to do a "final editor's cut"? The one that I would love to talk about is the recoloring versus the flat coloring.

There is a tendancy in today's world to over color the hell out of everything, and not only does it destroy the linework, but has shifted the final authority the photoshop user from the penciller and inker. Over rendering every single ab muscle on an X-man's uniform, or rendering the individual light sources on the White Queen's breasts can't be productive to actually allowing the reader to focus on the story proper. While we could search very quickly for examples of horrible off color and poorly chosen flat color, we can also find work that was clearer and far more helpful to the story both in terms of information and readability than the modern computer color.

I've commented on this before with regards to the Masterworks that Marvel has put out: chosing 100%M (full on 100% magenta or red in the printer's parlance of CMYK) on a bright white high gloss paper is a mistake, even if that is the color that was originally on Iron Man in Avengers #4. You have to make allowances for the paper and saturation. And since you're printing from generally bad 3rd generation black plate sources (at best), the line work that you're spotlighting is also degraded, so you're not showing up Kirby or Ditko or Heck at their best.

Moebius, whole linework can be delightfully open and cluttered at the same time, depending on what phase he's in, is an artist that has been recolored more than just about anyone I can think of. From the original Metal Hurlant work, to the pages that came to Heavy Metal in the 1970's and were printed in glorious black and white ("Free Fall", many part of the "Airtight Garage"), to the Marvel editions from the 1980's to more modern reprints, he's been all over the map. And his storytelling and linework are so seductive that perhaps its to his credit taht the work is at all readable with all those different looks that have been given to it. I'm not entirely in love with the '70's pallette, but I prefer it to the over rendering that plagues all the modern coloring. It reminds me of musicians that have the skill to play a million notes, but know when not to. I know that photoshop can do all this amazing shit, but I'd prefer if it was done a little more judiciously.

The Ladronn page at top reminds me of "Free Fall", but more of the opening and closing shots from "The Long Tomorrow" the great Moebius/Dan O'Bannon story that has been reprinted many times. Ladronn's page works because he's designed for it, so we can see how the same shot can work with the full rendering as well as flat color, but it does help to have that settled before going in.

I recall when they switched over a book i was inking from painted color to "full" computer color, only to find that the computer colorists were missing the dual lighting on bodies as much as the flat colorists were. Computers and watercolors: they're just tools and only as good as the artists using them.


Tim Perkins said...

Hi Charles,

I love what DC did with the "Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus" editions, giving us the look of the originals, even if the stock is not as artsy as the Masterworks series.

I agree with you when, like you say, the tools are only as good as those using them.

BTW: Have you heard the terrible news re: Len?


Sandy Carruthers said...

Great article. I have to agree, I find this 'over-airbrushing' in digital coloring rather blahhhh... case in point: the revision of DC's 'Killing Joke' sucked the life out of the story.
Moebius is all about the pop and sizzle of color... that's what makes his work have an other worldly feel to them.
Perhaps a new/old approach is in order for digital colorists.
Personally I miss the pink dots on faces... it had a hands-on rawness to it that appealed to the graphic designer in me. I experimented with this in one of my installments:
I even tinted the 'page' to emulate the aging paper...

Frank Santoro said...

Well said. Steve Oliff has some ineresting stories about the industry changes posted on his Olyoptics site.