The Labyrinthian Colors of Brendan McCarthy in Freakwave, Rogan Josh, and Paradax

I cannibalized the bulk of this from some tweets I made about McCarthy like an hour ago, which I quickly realized made no sense without some accompanying pictures.  I added some extended thoughts.  So on, and so forth.  I would class McCarthy’s coloring as one of my comic icon things.

What I enjoy with McCarthy is that he draws with color. Not in the sense that someone paints–but in the sense that his colors are of…the same sensibility as his linework

It’s something Druillet did a little bit too. And it’s something I did in my Dysnomia comic quite a bit, particularly with trees


I like that aesthetic. I like how it cuts up the colors on the page and it feels more personal.  It’s like this color noodling thing.  Like you have your art, and now you’re going to draw on top of it.  


Like in some ways some of the best McCarthy pages are more about the spatial orientation of blocks of color, than per se figure


He composes so much with his color, moreso than any other element

There’s a liberation in his usage of color, the sort of knowing nod that it doesn’t reaaaally matter what colors you use, and you can use all of them–there are just certain principles in terms of how color alters the depth of the page, there’s that cool thing on the bottom of the page where he’s both using bright colors to foreground Paradax’s face, even as he is using darker colors from that woman, and the blunt edge of white, to thread her from the background into the foreground.  It makes you dizzy almost to look at.  Particularly when it’s at page size in your hands.


It should also be noted his use of color, isn’t always there for your ease of reading, or even really enjoyment


His 80s work has a sneering punk sensibility and aggression to it’s use of color

Like “I didn’t put these colors here to make you comfortable reading this comic”


Some of the pages in Rogan Josh and Freakwave are almost impenetrably dense because of both color palette, and application

This page from Rogan Josh is kind of amazing to try and look at.  It takes you a second to see that flower dude on the bottom right panel because there’s so many colors and his skin color is blending into the white background.  It’s like a noise band but with color.

Like the way in Freakwave you can’t really see that dude in the bottom right corner until you are actually staring right at him, because he’s leaching colors from the focal point of that panel, and the purple and black border around the page.  If you try to read that page that, and then the middle panel are both hard for your eye to focus on, and see, even if in terms of the layout of the page, it’s logical to move through them.  It’s like color wars.  Or how there are hidden panels, there are hidden colors.  It’s hard to see orange and purple next to each other.  Particularly in the shimmery way he’s painted them in.  And I love those red strokes which again, takes some time to even see them.  It’s really disorienting, but I love it.

Another thing I like is the pure color of art behind the actual panels.  Instead of just a blank white page behind the panels, or more lineart–it’s literally pure color and shape.  And the way it interplays with the panels creates this really weird soupy effect of sequence, time, and light.  He does this in a lot of his work, and it’s something I wish I could see more variations on in comics, rather than just static white backgrounds behind the panels.  It seems like a missed opportunity sometimes.  McCarthy is using every square inch of this page.


*these images are all from the Best of Milligan and McCarthy book that Dark Horse put out.  It’s even more amazing to read these comics in that, because I’ve never seen some of these stories at such a large size, and the actual size of the book makes the colors even more disorientating, because your reading distance to the book is such that you can’t see the whole page at once like you can on this blog–so to read a page you have to move your head, which is like a fine art experience–but more than that, it allows you to get lost even more in the strange shapes and colors of McCarthy’s imagination.

  1. Really well put, and some lovely examples there.
    There’s a kind of Modernist conservatism at large around the idea of minimalism/legibility that would see these pages as all wrong – but there is a difference between legibility and “readability”, a gap which McCarthey bounds back and forth across as his muse requires. The experience we are given is, as you say, disorienting, which helps to make it immersive. Immersive because, to find the nature of this graphical/literary world one has to explore it and discover its character (in the sense of a complex, dynamic, reflexive, unified yet self-contradictory quasi-system, rather than in the sense of a glyph) from a vantage-point deep within its sonorous forest, not from an abstracted position above/away like a person reading a diagram or a map.
    McCarthy’s colour-performances express a variety of interior language as well. I love his penchant for having certain shades of red shot through with hard-edged white highlights – and that combo of 2d patterning with textural tangibility which produces an affective ambience both unsettling and appetising, perfectly complementing and accenting the peculiar milieu of settings and actors which serve as infra-structure for those whimsical, loose-limbed and melismatically elegant narratives.
    Milligan and McCarthy were such a great partnership. I hope circumstances bring them together again sometime.

      • tony gorton said:

        Uh, what did Briany just say? Dat’s having you on!

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