Your Modern Color Palette Talks a Lot But It Ain’t Sayin’ Nothing: A Consideration of the Miracleman Re-Color job

Augie De Blieck wrote this article on CBR Tuesday, in defense of specifically Marvel’s re-coloring of Miracleman, but in general a defense of the modern palette and rendered sensibility.  

He said: “The hand lettering and the limited color palette make for comics that look like something someone might photocopy, staple, and sell at a hotel ballroom type show. [..] Flat purple backgrounds should remain a thing of the distant past with today’s technologies. “

Here is the page he was addressing:

First the caveat, that I don’t think Miracleman is a strong example for the power of these coloring techniques.  On this page my immediate criticisms are that 1) Dude’s face is purple because of the planet behind him, but his costume and everything else is still the same shade of blue.  That’s dumb and makes no sense, and visually, it’s not very strong because that shade of blue is pretty wank on top of purple, to say nothing of that yellow.  Furthermore, the green grass on the left panel is wildly unimaginative.

Compare all of that to this:

That’s a page from Enric Sio, from a comic he did for Dracula magazine.  Purple looks considerably more powerful on this page, and as a whole, it is a much more dynamic piece of art.

That said, I don’t think the re-coloring effectively addresses the weaknesses of the original Miracleman page, more I think that it just replaces them with other weaknessess.  In the original colored page, there is a compositional element in the coloring where the purple buildings diagonal up to the purple planet which draws focus to Miracleman’s face.  That is completely lost in the recolor job.  The panels are now more separate visually, the only thing holding that diagonal line now is the position of Miracleman’s body in the two panels, which wasn’t that effective on it’s own because of the way his body bows backward and up in that first panel.  

And while replacing the green grass was a smart move, replacing it with the same exact color as the nearby building destroys what little depth that image originally had.  At least before you had these sort of expressive blocks of color orientating themselves.  Now it’s just cold grey blah.  It is a good example of how making something more realistic looking doesn’t make it a more compelling piece of art.  Sometimes a panel’s strength is entirely that it is this color element on top of this other color element–and the new coloring job just completely removes that idea from the equation.

Moving onto the planets–there wasn’t anything wrong with the purple planet earth.  It was all spacey and weird–I do think the orange moon was a problem in the original page, because it bled his boots into the background too much.  But by going with a “realistic” palette here, the page has become less dynamic. And I mean that objectively in the sense that 1) movement on the page via the colors has been completely stripped and 2) the impressionistic qualities have been completely removed.

Compare that to this:

This is a Dean White page from X-force.  It is also rendered, like the Miracleman re-color–but notice that it didn’t do so AND abandon an expressive and dynamic palette.  That orange and the way Archangel explodes through the blue glass into the more mud colored room–you get movement there tracking archagangel’s gleaming teal wings bounce across that backdrop.  And then because you’re tracking his wings, you bounce over naturally to the left on the last panel, and it’s this stunning image of two suns, that orange haze, the blue delicate gradiations of blue and white reacting to that light source, and playing off it in an impactful way.  That’s the case for rendering a comic.  But to say that the miracleman shares a similar strength over older techniques is I think a poor case, even if the original Miracleman colors weren’t the strongest.

In fact, I’d conclude that if you can’t improve on the original Miracelman colors–it is a sneering indictment of all re-coloring jobs, because those Miracleman colors are at times just flat out dumb–and yet they still have objectively more weight than the modern technique.

Also what’s the point of re-coloring something so dramatically, that people haven’t had the chance to own in it’s original form yet?  Also, someone is going to have to explain to me how the modern lettering is an improvement on the old hand-lettering.  Looks basically the same to me.

8 comments
  1. In panel one, that isn’t grass – or, at least, it doesn’t look like grass in Garry Leach’s black-and-white artwork. It’s the rough texture of a (concrete?) rooftop. So I’d have to say both colorists did a terrible job with that – the original colorist by putting in grass that shouldn’t be there, the new colorist by (as you say) making the rooftop blur into the buildings in the background.

    Just as storytelling, the recoloring seems better to me. Crucially, the recolorist is following cartoonist Garry Leach’s lead, rather than going in a different direction.

    Garry Leach obviously intended for both of MM’s hands to have a glowing nimbus, but the original colorist missed this completely on MM’s left hand. The original colorist lost huge chunks of the motion lines by not coloring them white, turning them into a puzzling pattern and losing the motion everywhere except around MM’s left elbow. The modern colorist correctly colors the motions lines so that they form full unbroken arcs – which is to say, in the way that was (again) obviously intended by Leach’s linework.

    As a cartoonist, I want a colorist who collaborates with me – not one who vetos my work and obliterates elements I’ve put in. I’d much rather be colored by the recolorist than by the original colorist. And I think most readers want a colorist who cares about the intentions of the cartoonist.

    And although I’m not at all a fan of the gradients everywhere, I like the more dynamic use of white in the recoloring, especially on the clouds in panel 1 and on MM’s backlit body in panel 2.

    I do agree that the purple planet earth is a more dynamic choice than the blue/white earth was. But to me, this one small advantage of the original coloring doesn’t make up for its huge flaws.

    And ironically, none of the flaws I’m complaining about in the original coloring job had to do with the old coloring technologies. The colorist just didn’t do a good job, as you said. So the improvements aren’t really old tech versus new tech; they’re bad coloring versus competent coloring.

    In the original colored page, there is a compositional element in the coloring where the purple buildings diagonal up to the purple planet which draws focus to Miracleman’s face. That is completely lost in the recolor job. The panels are now more separate visually, the only thing holding that diagonal line now is the position of Miracleman’s body in the two panels, which wasn’t that effective on it’s own because of the way his body bows backward and up in that first panel.

    With all due respect, I don’t understand this analysis at all.

    First of all, in the original, the purple buildings are not going “diagonal up to the purple planet.” The diagonal line is headed from the lower right to the upper left – not at all in the direction of the purple planet. (If anything, they form a big curve paralleling the curved line of the planet).

    Second of all, and much more importantly, reader’s eyes don’t require the kind of guidance you’re calling for.

    Seriously, look at the recoloring – do you really have ANY trouble locating and focusing on MM’s face? Would any reader? It’s almost dead center on the page, and the pink flesh tones pop out easily from the surrounding blues and dark reds. (Something that the original colorist, with the bewildering choice to make the head the same color as the planet, lost). Plus, it’s a face, which is an EXTREMELY easy thing for readers to notice – readers are strongly predisposed to notice faces.

    • It’s a subtle emphasis which may not break a page, but it lessens it. And I did say, I wasn’t a huge fan of either coloring job, just that the newer version completely loses elements of strength that were in the older version. Whether you think the reader needs that or not, it certainly is an enhancement in terms of guiding the page that is completely dismissed in the new version. I don’t think the new version is as cohesive visually. And it is certainly less dynamic.

      Also yeah, the grass/concrete thing was weird. Neither solution is very good, but I’m always going to lean into the one that at least has a point of view–and the green/purple combo there has a point of view at least.

  2. Josh said:

    I love the old colouring, because the limitations made the colourists work harder, But it was a limitation.

    That limitation isn’t there any more, and they’ve looked to modernize and restore it like a great painting. While some classic works (like watchmen) were drawn to suit that style of simple colouring, it works because the illustrators knew what the limitations were. But a lot of older comics really benefit from the updating when reprinted with more modern printing processes. ‘Saga of the Swamp Thing’ is (to me) hard to read because the colours are so ugly. There’s big chunks of ‘The Killing Joke’ that are so badly coloured that it betrays the crispness of Brian Bollands art.

    And if I had to guess why they re-lettered, it’s so they could make small changes throughout, without making it obvious where the changes were. Also, it opens it up to the possibility of translation.

    • Yeah I don’t think the re-lettering was for aesthetic reasons.

      As for classic works being limited–I disagree. I think all that needs to be done on this cases is making the colors crisper on the page. Think about how good those Kirby Comic Reprints are with those lovely vibrant colors.

      A lot of the modern rendering techniques in color introduce a margin of error that because of time and maybe skill, don’t lend themselves to a very powerful color aesthetic. Also sometimes just because you can throw a filter on something, doesn’t mean you have a good color palette, or know how to read a piece of someone else’s art. The good thing with the flat approach is that it’s much harder to mess up beautiful lineart that way. And I think as a rule, most of the budget on a comic is going toward the writer and artist–so why you’d allow someone you’re not paying very much, and clearly don’t have much regard for, to make critical decisions that undercut what the other two are doing…it’s a bit strange.

  3. This is interesting: A blog post showing four versions of that page. The original black and white version, Eclipse’s original colors, the recolored edition Eclipse did (which I think is the best of the colors), and Marvel’s version.

    • I think I still prefer the original colors, though I’m surprised Marvel just didn’t use the re-colored edition–that’s the one that is pretty much the compromise, and it looks like that’s the one that influenced a lot of the decisions in the re-color job.

  4. BVS said:

    using an example featuring only 1 kind of shitty originally colored page,featuring the art of only 1 of several miracle man artists as an example doesn’t tell me much. what do they plan on doing to the John Totleben pages? hopefully not blast ugly and unnecessary gradients all over them. I would argue his Miracle Man work is best of his career. Unfortunately I best this is all part of the marketing plan, release the shitty new colored version first for all the people who have been hungrily awaiting this for years, then a year of more later do a over sized and over prices slip cased edition featuring the original coloring, and maybe even the name changed back to “marvelman”.

    • I was responding to an article that used that example, which said that coloring change between those specific pages was a good change. I have no idea about the rest of the book, and have zero interest in the project as a whole. Marvelman isn’t a favorite of mine.

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