The Colorist As a Professional Vs. The Colorist As An Artist: E. Eternal 1999

Maybe this will be a stupid tangent, or will end up in some incomprehensible puddle of whatever at the end of whatever.  But I was talking about colorists as professionals vs. colorists as artists last night a bit on twitter, and was kind of interested in putting some of those thoughts down before I forgot them.


These came about because I was reading the pretty excellent Cloak and Dagger: Spider Island comic that Emma Rios drew and Javier Rodriguez colored–and I was really struck by how Rodriguez was using blue on this one page(on this 80s anime cyberpunk kick–so blue is interesting right now to me)–and really in general how he was navigating color in that book was really beautiful.  So I was like “hey I’d like to see some more of this” so I fumbled through comixology hunting for books he colored, and most of them were not what I saw in his Cloak and Dagger book.



And it occurred to me that this is something you see a lot with colorists, even the highly regarded ones.  For every dope Batwoman or Hellboy colored page Dave Stewart has done, I can find ten shitty Conan pages that don’t even look like they’re from the same dude.  Like I’d say what Stewart does best as a colorist is he knows how to set his palette up so a specific color on a page will absolutely pop.




This is what being a professional colorist looks like right now I think.  Because the pay is so low that you have to try and be able to take on as much work as you can get, if you want to pay your rent as a colorist, you have to be almost chameleonic in terms of what you can do.  This is because a lot of times it seems when companies or writers, or artists are hiring a colorist, they are hiring them to execute what their aesthetic taste is.  Follow the recipe type of work.  

And so a lot of colorists you don’t really get to see explore coloring, get better, take chances, try and advance the medium.  As a professional they are not in a position to make that move.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for colorists to toss off directions from artists and writers.  What I’m more thinking about is how we see colorists, and how writers, artists, and publishers see colorists.  

The colorist is a co-equal collaborator, and has as big an influence on how a book works as the artist or writer do.  Great color can make art and a story absolutely sing.  It can make a book go from just being the same old same old thing on the shelves, to being something that stands out.  But the colorist is not viewed in this way by the industry as a whole.  Their contributions and instincts as an artist are not really being given room to grow or express itself.

Right now the mark of a great colorist seems to be the one who can get the most work, no matter how they have to subvert and ignore their own impulses and strengths and vision to do so.  The value right now in comics is toward professionalism in the colorist, not their creativity and vision.

But what I would say is that if your creative team says “hey I want to hire such and such colorist”–then surely the reason you are picking this colorist vs. any other colorist is because on some level you trust their vision and instincts.  Instead of trying to close off that space with too much direction–and in the case of publishers the enforcement of a house style of coloring–why not let them work?

I feel like you can tell which creative teams are approaching colorists as co-equals in the comic, and which ones are approaching them as an employee to do what they say.  And some of that is that a lot of writers and a disturbing number of artists have ass taste when it comes to colors, and are more interested in getting something that looks like everything else on the shelves, and huddling around mediocrity like its saying something–than actually pushing the medium to it’s limit.  Trying things that sometimes don’t work.

It would be condescending to hire someone like Sloane Leong to color a book, and then tell her how to do it.  But one of two things are happening–either people with no taste are stifling colorists from not making shit decisions, or there are a llooooot of shitty colorists.  It is probably a combination of both things really.  But I do think what we’re looking at in coloring across really several mediums: film, comics, anime–is a systemic issue of top down dictation of how color should work, not as a creative decision, but as a business decision.

I don’t know what the answer is.  Or even it’s something that needs an answer.  It just is how it is.  It’s annoying, because while I think the approach of a colorist to be able to sublimate their shit to get the job, to do the job–I understand it, I also think there’s so much ground in coloring to explore in comics, that you are wasting your own time to play it like that.  Do you have something to say, or are you just about collecting a check?  Are you a part of the background of a scene, or do you have a voice in the scene?

Everything I say, it’s like it’s gotta be some kind of revolution.  I don’t mean it like that.  I know how it sounds.  I sincerely am just following a train of thought.  The baseline of all of this was that Javier Rodriguez rocked the shit out of those colors in Cloak and Dagger–And neon crazy shit flowing under Emma Rios art is aallllll kinds of ridiculous.

Plus I know I’m shit at coloring or whatever.  But I’m not shit at understanding color.  And with practice the latter will fix the former.  Which I only say because I know the move is to see something you disagree with from an artist, look at their art, and then measure what they say against that.  I see you.  You small fuckers who basically chased Matt Seneca out of criticism, when he was one of my favorite critics.  Briiiing it.

Whoa.  That got way defensive.  I’m fundamentally nice.  And I’m just saying that.

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