Hello, webcomic friends! This is Gabi and Amy here, today, to talk with you about something we are both very passionate about: color! You might think that we only mean what is designated as “full color” when we say this, but it really boils down to any way that you choose - or don’t choose - to use shade within your work, and how it can be used to communicate form and mood within specific scenes, but also tone of the overall story.
For my comic, The Muse Mentor, I chose to go full-color mostly because I was new to the game, and didn’t realize there were so many smart ways to make monochromatic still work perfectly well for all sorts of subject matter… but I digress! It has turned out to be a great decision so as to help fully illustrate the imaginary and imagination-located (it’s complicated if you haven’t read TMM) city of Santa Astra as well as the denizens within it.
I use color to communicate A LOT, from simple things like time of day,
to slightly more complex things, like mood.
These two scenes are in the same ale house, but a little red versus green can change a lot about how it comes off, and I find it a useful, if not very subtle trick, for showing instead of telling.
One of the things I have also found color most useful for is imbuing a bit of personality into otherwise inanimate things, like environments! I’m not very good at POPULATING environments, per se, so having a way to use colors to communicate is very helpful.
Do I need someplace a little intimidating? Go slightly cooler. Do I need someplace that might be a bit more notably jarring? Go warmer.
Crisper? Darker? More laidback? All of these decisions are informed by how much yellow, blue/purple, or green I can use, or how much hue I use.
Which is not at all to say that this same effect can’t be achieved by black and white! Negative space and shadow play just as much into mood as color can, it all depends on the artist and the subject. For me, though, color is certainly something I depend on in my arsenal, so I try to utilize it as much as I can. It is a good little helper!
When it really comes down to it, a lot of what I do with color is experimental. Sometimes I know right away what palette I want, and other times it is a mystery to be unraveled as I go. In the end, it’s fun to try different things and see what kind of impression I can give, and how far I can play with mood in regards to lighting versus time of day and staging, etc. etc.
If you want to see some artists that I think have a very strong full color aesthetic, check out Juanjo Guarnido (Blacksad), David Petersen (MouseGuard), and Nate Simpson (Nonplayer).
If you’re familiar with my illustrative work at all, you already know I LOVE color. I love using beautiful and surprising combinations to achieve the palette (HA HA!) of effects Amy has already described. However, I chose to conceive my comic H&J in monochrome color instead, for several reasons.
First, monochromatic colors are shades of a single color, achieved by adding more black/grey or white to the base color. For example the four colours employed in H&J are darker and lighter versions of a single pink color:
Obviously, black and white or on the opposite extremes of the scale.
So why use black and white or monochromatic colours? Well, like certain full color palettes can connote certain feelings, so can a limited palette. H&J is a loving parody of old detective stories, so I chose to callback to the black and white movies, photography and illustrations of the time. In short, it gives the comic a “retro” feeling, in conjunction with the bold graphic design inspired linework.
Monochromatic artwork is not necessarily easier to create just because it’s apparently simpler, however - rather, it presents it’s own set of challenges and advantages.
Right out the gate, monochromatic art has a certain appealing visual cohesiveness. It cuts out the color choosing process, therefore the artist doesn’t need to keep track of full color palettes. Depending on the artist’s style, it can even greatly cut down on and even cut out the lighting and shading process. For example, H&J is almost always completely flat color, except for effect.
However, the artist using this method has to pay special attention to visual legibility. They must choose strong values that contrast well, or else the drawing will look flat and uninteresting, and distribute them appealingly throughout a panel to lead the eye, or risk confusing the reader. They may employ repeating patterns and dramatic shadowing more heavily to add visual interest and exploit negative space. The artist must also be a creative problem solver - how do you convey a bright sunny day vs a dark stormy night if you can’t draw a bright blue or a dark purple sky? Or a sense of depth and volume if you’re only using flat colours?
This is second reason I choose to render H&J monochromatically - the challenge. To keep the comic visually interesting and moody, I have to resort to a lot of stylization and crazy paneling. I learn immensely, and the results are often really fun… if not always effective. Like Amy, sometimes my solutions are intuitive leaps rather logical ones, but the ongoing learning process is half the fun of comics making!
For further reading, check out the work of Mike Mignola (Hellboy), David Mazzucchelli (Asterios Polyp) and Michel Rabagliati (Paul). What are some of your favourite monochrome/black and white artists?