The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 283 | The comics recoloring debate, revisited

Leaving Proof 283 | The comics recoloring debate, revisited
Published on Wednesday, October 14, 2015 by
This week: We go over the common arguments for and against the recoloring of old comics intended for reissue. Check out the examples after the jump and make up your own mind.

bigguyr2edWith this week’s release of a new edition of Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s The Big Guy and Rusty the Robot (featuring new color art by nine-time Eisner Award-winner for Best Colorist Dave Stewart), we should probably expect to see the public debate over the practice of recoloring classic comics waged yet again with renewed vigor by proponents of the opposing arguments.

It was earlier this year that actor and screenwriter John Gholson posted a series of images on Twitter highlighting what he felt was the deleterious effect of recoloring on reprints of classic comics.

The outcry against recoloring generally has to do with the concept of artistic integrity. In cases where the colorist is a different person from the primary illustrator(s), it is argued that the recoloring, when it is done by someone else, trivializes the contributions of the original colorist. Recoloring, even when it is done with the consent or even the participation of the original artist(s), can also be seen as undermining a published comic’s secondary purpose as a historical record of a work created at a specific point in time, with all that entails as far as the creators’ then-current skill level and the limitations of tools and technology available to them.

A particularly notorious case often held up as an example of comics recoloring taken too far is Valerie Beltran’s work on recent reissues of Jodorowsky and Mœbius’ The Incal. Below are side-by-side comparisons of pages from chapter five of The Incal, featuring the original coloring by Zoran Janjetov on the left (reproduced from the English-language edition published by Epic Comics in 1988) and the newer coloring by Beltran on the right (reproduced from the 2004 French-language edition published by Les Humanoïdes Associés):

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Judged solely on its own merits, Beltran’s coloring looks professionally done, great even. But the palette change from the original—and the addition of new textures, lighting, and background elements—is so radical that it is fair to ask if it is even the same comic in terms of its overall visual make-up. And while Beltran’s color choices may be more naturalistic, one has to wonder if this is actually a virtue in a work that trades in fantastical, alien imagery.

Not all instances of comics recoloring are so drastic, however. Below are side-by-side comparisons of pages from Walt Simonson’s Star Slammers, featuring the original coloring by Louise Simonson and Deborah Pedler on the left (reproduced from Marvel Graphic Novel #6, published by Marvel Comics in 1983) and the newer coloring by Len O’Grady on the right (reproduced from the first issue of the “remastered” Star Slammers reprint series published by IDW in 2014):

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O’Grady’s updates to Star Slammers’ coloring are subtle and largely meant to take advantage of the wider array of tones and hues available with the use of digital color separation and modern printing technology. The resulting changes include smoother transitions between colors and an increase in color detail but the color composition remains faithful to the original.

Of course, the recoloring of a previously published comic is often motivated by marketing concerns as much as creative ones, and that’s perfectly valid reasoning in the commercial arts. A new coat of paint, so to speak, might just be the type of thing that will convince someone who already owns the original volume to spring for a new edition. Younger readers who’ve grown up reading comics in the digital coloring era might be more likely to give contemporary-looking reprints of old comics a chance.

Still, whether or not the new coloring job by Dave Stewart represents an upgrade over Claude Legris’ work in the original edition of The Big Guy and Rusty the Robot will probably come down to the reader’s personal preferences and aesthetic philosophy. Look at the sample pages below—the Legris original on the left, the Stewart update on the right—and come to your own conclusions:

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