Thursday, February 12, 2009

Coloring is to Comics as a Musical Score is to Movies

This is a half-formed thought, but I want to throw it out into the blogosphere and see what everyone else thinks about it: the coloring in a comic book basically acts as its musical score.

This may be blatantly obvious to some people (I'm sure this isn't the first time anyone's mentioned such a thing), and it may seem completely deranged to others, but hear me out. First, this coloring=musical score notion struck me this week for two reasons: (1) Because Dean Trippe mentioned that he and I are the only two reviewers who talk consistently about colorists (which isn't exactly true, but he's a coloring damned expert, and I sure do gripe about bad coloring whenever I feel the need), and (2) Because I was showing "The Departed" in my cinema class this week, and that Dropkick Murphys' music is oppressive as hell (in a good way).

Since comics don't have musical accompaniment (and though I've had friends who listen to music while reading comics, I've never been able to do that without getting annoyed), what do they use to establish a strong emotional impact? What do they do to cue the reader on how he or she is supposed to feel?

Color.

Obviously, this notion doesn't make sense for black and white comics, but the spotting of blacks does provide a rhythm, a beat, around which the narrative whirls.

So when the coloring is wrong for the comic -- like David Curiel on the Atlas arc in "Superman" or Frank D'Armata on "Captain America" or all of the "painted" color on the "Project: Superpowers" nonsense -- then it's like taking out the Dropkick Murphys and replacing it with late career Billy Idol. It's like taking John Williams's "Star Wars" score and putting in Queen. It changes everything.

Thus, color is to comics as musical score is to movies, and if it doesn't fit, then the whole thing is ruined.

Am I wrong?

16 comments:

Matt Jacobson (formerly Ultimate Matt) said...

I wouldn't say it can ruin the whole thing, but that's because I just don't feel as strongly about it as you. I see what you mean though, and I can see how over-rendered coloring can ruin a comic. I think the coloring on the first 4 issues of The End Leage come pretty close to that for me, and the weird sepia-toned look of Sceret Warriors #1 jarred a bit much with the art.

Chad Nevett said...

Hmm... I must reflect on this before agreeing or disagreeing. I really don't mind Frank D'Armata's colouring on Captain America (I think it really helps in maintaining the visual look of the book despite artist changes), but it was fucking AWFUL on last week's Invincible Iron Man.

If I'm not sleeping or watching stuff, I'm probably listening to music. I don't necessarily associate specific music with specific comics or books, but sometimes I do. Like, when I was rereading The Invisibles, that was when I began listening to Radiohead from the beginning.

Ben Villarreal said...

Hmm...I think I'd say that the colouring in a comic is like the colour in film ;-)

You make an interesting case, but I too will have to think on it further...

Jamie Lovett said...

I can see what you're saying, but I see where a lot of the other comments are coming from as well. If anything I think coloring in a comic is like a score in a film in that, while poor coloring is certainly detracts from a comic, its not necessarily a deal breaker for most people.

I've always thought of a comic book writer and artist as the equivalents of, respectively, the screenplay writer and director of a movie. So if the colorist is the equivalent of the composer, what does that make the inker?

Guglie said...

I think you're right Tim.
I don't know about the samples you mentioned because i din't saw the books, but I think the amazing work Sean Pilliphs is doing on Criminal/Incognito and Risso on 100B is enriched in several way (tuning the pacing of the board, helping the reading, setting the mood) by Val Staples and Patricia Mulvihill amazing colours. The same when you see the Fegrado pages of HB.

Scott said...

I can see where you're coming from on this. When the coloring is great, it really adds something to the experience of the comic. I think the best example of this is Val Staples on Criminal and Incognito. In the last arc of Criminal, Staples coloring reflected more of the emotional tension of the scenes rather than the physical action of the story.

Vanja said...

I think that color is an essential part of the composition, and it should go without saying that a complete artist should be able to both pencil, ink and color his work.

Which is why some of the black and white comics work so well - the artist controls the whole look of the comic. I'd guess that many artists don't think about how their work will look in color, and pencil it to function perfectly well without it.

Timothy Callahan said...

I don't know if I agree with that, simply because if we continue the movie analogy, I think we can still call someone a filmmaker even if they don't provide the musical score for their own work.

Chad Nevett said...

I'm going to say no, if only because colouring is FAR too consistent throughout a comic to be compared to something as varied as a musical score.

Lieutenant Ken Frankenstein said...

I dunno, I think D'Armata's coloring on Captain America is just about perfect and a huge component of the book's visual success. What is it that you don't like about it?

Timothy Callahan said...

Chad -- look at the newest issue of Incognito. The colors don't change from scene to scene?

Lt. Ken -- I really think D'Armata is terrible, and an analysis of why deserves a full post. I'll work on that!

Chad Nevett said...

Colour is more dependent on setting than anything else, whereas music in film isn't dictated by setting, but by emotional mood and tone... Colouring can adapt to meet those needs, too, but matching the setting and sticking within the verisimilitude of the world is the primary concern--a concern not shared by film score.

Kyle said...

Jamie: In this arbitrary inter-media analogy, inking is cinematography.

Bill Reed said...

Star Wars would've been 100000 times better had Queen done the soundtrack.

Timothy Callahan said...

I think of the arbitrary inter-media analogy this way:

Comic Book Writer = Movie Writer/Director

Penciller = Cinematographer

Inker = Camera Operator

Colorist = Composer

Letterer = Audio Recorder/Sound Designer

Editor = Producer

Matt said...

I'd say Jim Steranko's work (self-colored, though he wasn't credited for that aspect of it) is a great example of what you're talking about. Whether it's his pale pinks in love scenes, his halftone blues for flashbacks, or the increased brightness in action sequences, his coloring certainly fills the role a musical score would in movies. There are comics where the coloring simply doesn't matter, though -- a look through a mediocre superhero book from any era will go to show this. In a lot of cases, though, coloring can act as cinematography, directing the reader's eye to certain details in the absence of a zoom or deepening as an object 'comes into focus'. There's also symbolic coloring -- Geoff Klock has a good note on Jamie Grant's symbolist hues in All-Star Superman up on his blog. I think colors can definitely function as a score, but it isn't always so. I'd like to see a few examples of comics you think have good 'chromatic scores'... anybody got any?