Coloring at Marvel

by Marie Javins

Marvel has three different levels of coloring-bronze, silver, and gold. Bronze comics are printed on the lowest-quality newsprint and the color is simple and flat, with no special effects. Silver comics are printed on better newsprint and have many gradations and special effects. Gold comics are printed on whiter, high-end newsprint or glossy paper and contain endless gradations, special effects and millions of colors.

Colorists work on copies of the finished, black-and-white original comics art pages, reduced to the size at which they're printed. Colorists are actually designing guides which are then interpreted by computer artists who place the colors according to the guides. Thus, each page has two colorists -one is designing the look of the book and the other is applying the colors for printing, or "separating" the page. The exception is when the colorist is computer-separating his or her own book. All the work is then combined into one process, but this takes the individual colorist a lot longer since one person is doing all the work! A skilled computer artist is not necessarily a good guide colorist and vice versa. Both the color designer and the computer separator must have art training, with schooling in both color theory and in drawing. A colorist must often draw in color. Don't be fooled into thinking coloring is easy-the color process is much more intricate than the coloring you've been doing since you were four years old!

Colorists generally use one of three tools-Dr. P. H. Martin's Watercolor Transparent Dyes, markers (water or alcohol based), or Adobe Photoshop. Dyes are applied using standard watercolor brushes, and markers, colored pencils, or gouache may be used to highlight dyes. Guides may be colored completely in marker as well-many colorists use Berol Prismacolor or Tria alcohol-based markers. Experiment to find out which medium you are most comfortable with. Adobe Photoshop is only used by separators and by gold-level colorists who are separating their own pages on the computer. Dyes, markers, gouache, and brushes are all available in many art supply stores.

Bronze and silver level coloring must be coded in CMYK according to the color wheel. Using a color atlas or color wheel (available in most art supply stores), find a swatch to match the color on your guide. Then, look to see which numbers in the atlas go with the color. For example, bright purple would correspond to "100% magenta, 100% cyan." On bronze and silver guides, every color must be given a numerical code. This is a safeguard to help the computer separator interpret your colors the way your intended them. Everyone sees color differently! Note how on examples A and B, there are color codes on every color. Also, note that on the bronze guide, there are no gradations, special effects or airbrushing, while on the silver guide, there are simple effects like gradations, airbrushing and artwork printing in color (colorholds).

Gold coloring should not be coded. Gold coloring is printed on high-quality paper which sometimes has a glossy coat. Inks saturate less on high-quality paper and your colors may appear too light. It is better to let the separator interpret the colors, since he or she has a more intimate knowledge of the printing process. Also, gold color relies on a cooperative effort between the colorist and the separator, both of whom put their own artistic stamp on the work. On the gold guide there are no color codes but there are lots of effects, including lens flares, artwork printing in color, textures, and filters. Nearly every color is gradated and there is lots of rendering on the characters.

The primary purpose of all creative efforts that go into comics is storytelling. Very simply, anything that improves the entertainment or drama of the story is desirable. Anything that impedes, confuses, or loses the reader is not desirable. Colorists should prioritize according to these guidelines.

1) Clarity and depth-A reader must understand what he or she is looking at. Color value can be used to "pop" foreground items from background items and to separate planes within a panel.
2) Representationalism-to create the illusion of reality, colorists should color items in their normal colors when possible. Consider the time of day and the location of the scene. Is it outside or inside? Sunset or afternoon? Exceptions should be made for drama or aesthetics but the end result should never be confusing to the reader.
3) Drama-lighting effects and dramatic color can enhance the mood of the story and aid the storytelling. But don't sacrifice clarity for drama and understand that rendering needs to be done selectively so that all items are not given an equal value.
4) Aesthetics-a good colorist is designing the mood or look of the story. He or she can make the color look good in addition to making it clear and impactful. A clear understanding of color theory can enable a colorist to use the physics of light and emotions associated with different colors to be effective, and can give a colorist a basis on which to break the above rules!

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