One of the more common questions I get from folks regarding my comic book, “The Wellkeeper”, is when I’m going to “finish” it. And by “Finish”, they mean “color”. As if the current 8 issues are somehow incomplete in their current form because they are printed in black and white.
But the reality of it, is that each of those issues IS finished. They were conceived and drawn in black and white with no thought ever given to ever being colored. But that doesn’t make the book somehow incomplete. And it certainly doesn’t make it a coloring book. Yes, I’ve been asked that.
As I get older, I find myself being drawn more and more to black and white comic art. I find myself grabbing up more and more of the Marvel “Essential” collections: Cheaply reproduced, phone book sized collections of up to 20 or so issues of a series, all in black and white. These are USUALLY printed on cheap paper to boot, but I don’t give a crap because they’re STUNNING to me.
The first of these that I ever bought was the ESSENTIAL WOLVERINE vol. 1. When this series originally was published back in the late 80’s, I glossed it over. The coloring at the time wasn’t all that fantastic and I felt that this series was handled rather poorly in that regard. But in BLACK AND WHITE, it’s a whole other story.
Suddenly you have the structurally perfect work of John Buscema with one of the greatest inkers ever, Al Williamson, and it’s BURSTING off the page. All the texture and moody atmosphere that was obscured by the color of the period are crisp and sharp as day. I learned more about inking from just staring at Williamson’s exquisite rendering of atmosphere in those first few issues then I had in the last few YEARS of practice and study.
From there, it’s been a flood of brilliant comic art by some of the industry masters reproduced in Black and White. The first 2 volumes of “Savage Sword of Conan" feature the collaboration of John Buscema and the incomparable Alfredo Alcala. These stories are unlike anything I had ever seen before. Alcala’s rendering over Buscema’s best work (In my opinion) are a revelation. Every shaft of light, every fold of fabric, every tense muscle perfectly delineated and light and modeled and toned. Color could do nothing to this work but obscure it.
As a comic artist, I generally believe that if you’re penciling and inking a page, it must be colorist-proof. What I mean there, is that if you ever think to yourself: “Well, the colorist will fix this” then you’ve failed as the artist. Now, I’m not talking about true collaboration, where you and the colorist are in constant communication creating a singular piece of art, planned that way. I’m talking about the more traditional, assembly-line kind of comics where each person in the process is different and rarely in communication.
When you’re drawing your page, it should stand on it’s own. If you can print your comic in black and white WITHOUT the colors and it still works, you’ve done your job.
And for me, that job is complete onto itself in black and white. The Wellkeeper is not drawn with the intention of ever being colored. The lighting and texture are specific and there in the line work. I do not rely on a colorist to make the sky dark purple so that you know it’s night time. That’s MY job.
So if you’re out there thinking that a comic must be colored to be “complete”, think again. Take a look at some of the AMAZING work being done in black and white. Ted Naifeh’s original “Courtney Crumrin" comics. Richard Moore’s lush and stunning "BONEYARD”. Jeff Smith’s “BONE” and “RASL”. Terry Moore’s “Strangers in Paradise”, “ECHO”, and the incredibly creepy “Rachael Rising”. None of these masterpieces need color to be complete. (Of course, in the marketplace, color still usually equates with “REAL comic”, and many of these HAVE since been colored for wide release. Le Sigh.)
Check out IDW’s STUNNING hardcover collections of the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Dive into the first two "SAVAGE DRAGON Archives" by Erik Larsen to see all the beautiful line work and tone that is often obscured by the overly rendered digital colors of the early days of Image. Dive into the the "MODERN MASTERS" art books from TwoMorrows Publishing.
There’s a wealth of incredible work out there, where masters of the craft create complete worlds without ever relying on the skills of a colorist to “complete” them.