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Comics Coloring

When asked what I do for a living, I usually respond, “I color comic books.” At its core, comics coloring is a lot like coloring in a coloring book; the line art is already drawn, and I get to fill in the shapes with red or green or purple. But I use really expensive crayons, and I have to know a lot about storytelling, lighting, and creating dimension with contrasts between hues, values and saturation levels. I need to work within a color spectrum that looks good in print, and I collaborate with one or two other artists on a shared vision for each page. And I do it all on a deadline. Here are the four essential stages of coloring comics.

Step 1: The inked line art gets sent to me digitally, either from the editor or directly from the artist. This is the Ragnarök #6 Variant Cover. Usually, I’ll get color notes from the artist or editor; in this case, Walter Simonson specified that the rectangular rocks are crystals, and the hair on the skull on the right is blonde.

Step 2: My assistant Chelsea Sciuto receives the line art file, sets it up in Adobe Photoshop, and uses the lasso tool, bucket and pencil tools to fill in each distinct shape with a color. At this point, the color choices don’t matter; in fact, I prefer that Chelsea chooses colors that I wouldn’t use. What’s important is that each shape is separated from the adjacent shapes.

Step 3: Rendering. I receive the flats, and choose a color scheme based on the story, character reference, brainstorms with the art team, and other factors. I spend the bulk of my time highlighting and shading each shape with various Photoshop tools. My intention is to create separation between the visual planes, to draw the reader’s eye to the main focus of the art, and to enhance the storytelling. Up to this point, I have been coloring underneath the line art; the inked lines are on a separate layer, and remain black.

Step 4: Special effects. These are where the black inked lines are changed to, or covered by, color rendering. In this example, the large crystals, the circle and star around Thor’s hammer, the volcanic fire, and the vertical lines coming off the giant skulls have “color holds” on them; the lines are colored instead of black. I’ve also added a “glow” around Thor’s hammer. These effects show translucency, light, and energy. I love using color holds, but not every inker likes having their inked lines changed drastically. It’s a good idea to consult with your creative team when deciding whether to alter the line art.

Coloring Example Pages by Company