One of the things I complain way too much about is that the contemporary style of comics coloring where the colorist is doing a lot of the rendering of line art–is robbing us of some of the brilliant and beautiful textural things that you can get from line art, and in doing so it is robbing some of the personality from the page. From Alberto Breccia through to Seinkeiwicz there’s a personality that comes through in many artists, beyond their figure work, or the movement of their line–the way they render light and shadow is at times an idiosyncratic identifier and a space for artistic expression–taking that away from the page robs comic artists of yet another tool of expression. And the tradeoff for pages which can be filled in more cleanly with heavily rendered gradient plasticness is one that lessens the personality of comics overall, and creates a more impenetrable sameness–and in an era where the comic artist is as invisible as ever, it seems foolish to cede that ground.
This is why I lean so heavily on the Spanish and Argentine masters of the 60s and 70s, at this point in time, their work and techniques are almost becoming alien. Alberto Breccia, Fernando Fernandez, Jose Gonzalez, Victor De Lafuente, Esteban Maroto, Gonzalo Mayo and many more. To see their work is a breath of fresh air given how out of place their styles have become against modern comic art. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t artists freaking it out. But the preponderance is not nearly as adventurous. And no where is this stark fatal shift more apparent than with the book Vampirella, which today looks like this:
It used to look like this:
Something has been lost here.
This is from the Vampirella Archives #6, from the Magazine issue number #42, and as it says is a horror story by Gerry Boudreau and Luis Garcia. Luis Garcia is a fascinating artist for me, I have only seen the few shreds of stories he’s done for Vampirella, and while I think Around the Corner is the best one, his scratched up photorealistic style presages dudes like Sienkiewicz and Maleev by a long shot. A lot of the Spanish artist in Vampirella have elements of this scratchy-ness, but Garcia’s is the heaviest. And in around the corner the effect is at it’s most expressive.
I think this style was always really effective for telling gothic horror tales. It allows the shadows to have a weight on the page, and the way light is scratched and clawed for by the artist, gives the images a really great intensity. In the above panel, the two lovers are really just a fading band of violent marks and scratches, and that effect creates a kind of ghostly distancing, particularly against how concrete the foregrounded image is by contrast. Also cheekbones.
This is the page though. The top right panel is one of those images that has always stuck with me. I actually quoted it in one of my short stories from Hecate Snake Diaries. For me, when I think of dark and dangerous and witch in comics, that’s the image that is my starting point. Something I also dig about that panel is that the face itself is very different from the kind of faces you see now in comics and media. It’s not yet another image of some white girl from Victoria’s secret–her fuller lips and round face–are themselves a stark relief from…the current set of three white girl faces that dominate mainstream comics.
The bottom left panel is another highlight as her dress sort of violently forms down, and her hair starts out of the panel moving into the forest background below. And then the last panel on the page you get these barbwire water ringlets layered on top of each other. They evoke the famous paintings of Ophelia, but with their own razored sensibilities.
This is a panel from an early Auraleon Pantha comic, and as you can see…he’s using the same model as Luis Garcia, maybe even the same photo. But check out that of ink behind her head, and then the cutout inky wires of the background dude to the left is standing in front of. And then the characters are filled in with that ropey almost thatched kind of cross hatching that was in vogue with a lot of these artists. I’d like to see that hatching style return because I think that ropeyness allows for an elongation of characters, which can add dynamism and tension to images within comics. See Also: Estaban Maroto drawing circles around everyone ever.
We see more of this style of hatching in this image, as well as more background depth. Instead of a standard gradient filled background that is more orderly, this chaotic brushed in background creates some of the awkward imbalances that really charge this kind of image. The way Auraleon has hatched this, with the ropey hatching in all but the girls face, brings extra focus to her blacked out face. Which is a good example of how these kind of textural elements allow for greater compositional control and emphasis. What’s more is this kind of thing lessens how much a colorist can screw up in terms of how a page is supposed to read.
Here we get more of these beautiful lines on the far right door. There’s a sense of the room opening up to Pantha as she walks into it because all of the white space of the panel is positioned in the middle of the room–that couch couldn’t look more inviting.
This sequence where Pantha and Kimble knock boots is kind of amazing(if you block out all of the “yo Pantha, I think you just want to fuck me because I look like your dad”-ness) And again, a lot of this beauty is wholly textural. If you dropped the textures out of these two sequences the images wouldn’t be nearly so special. I like on the second page the first panel all of that heavy angular hatching in the bottom left of the panel, lessening as it gets closer to their faces, and the speech bubble. Again, there’s an added emphasis to the compositional elements here because of the texture. And then the last panel on these two pages, that eye opening in the background is incredible. As well as the swirl of inky lines for the bed sheet.
The great delusion in comics currently is the notion that a colorist with a few filters can at all equal that level of artistic image making. Great coloring has it’s own power–but when it comes to this particular game, unless you’re painting on the lineart–you’re not even coming close to this. Fake plastic bullshit, you all need to be gripping that grain.