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Should Old Comics Be Recolored? Ever?

The Incal by Moebius recolored

“The Incal” by Moebius — original on the left, recolored on the right

The debate over whether comic art should be recolored has been with us for a long time, and is somewhat similar to the debate over colorizing black-and-white films that came before it. Today, it’s flared up again on Twitter in a series of posts by comics writer John Gholson that drew numerous replies and spurred an io9 post on the topic.

Gholson provided several before-and-after examples (see below) and you can use Google Image search to find more (like the big Moebius one at the bottom).

The argument in favor of recoloring has to do with advances in the medium. One io9 commenter explains:

The bright colors of the original comics were necessary because the newsprint that comics were originally printed on naturally dulls the colors because it is a little gray and the rough texture absorbs light. … Once you start reprinting those comics on high quality paper stock that is more white, the bright colors become garish because the better quality paper is whiter, smoother, and more reflective.

Where it gets dangerous is when a comic is recolored with some intent of not only adjusting for the better paper but actually improving the art. It can be done — Gholson likes the tweaks to Simonson’s Thor work — but moderation is key. It’s hard to see how anyone would prefer the recolored version of Moebius’ art from The Incal.

It’s an interesting question for any comics publisher, especially one like Heavy Metal, which was publishing some of the world’s best comics art (including many Moebius stories) in the ’70s and ’80s, using the materials and technology of the era. Imagine those Heavy Metal classics by Corben, Bode, Bilal, and yes Moebius — if they were to be published in handsome deluxe modern collections, how much monkeying with the colors is justified — or is any?

Here are the examples Gholson provided (plus one he didn’t, a many-page example from The Incal):

Killing Joke Brian Bolland recolored

“The Killing Joke” art by Brian Bolland, recolored by the artist himself. Original on the left, recolored on the right.

Thor Walt Simonson recolored

“Thor” by Walt Simonson; recolored on top, original on bottom

Thor Walt Simonson recolored

“Thor” by Walt Simonson; recolored on the left, original on the right

Killing Joke Brian Bolland recolored

“The Killing Joke” art by Brian Bolland, recolored by the artist himself. Original on top, recolored on the bottom.

Thor Walt Simonson recolored

“Thor” by Walt Simonson; original on the left, recolored on the right

The Incal by Moebius recolored

Many pages of “The Incal” by Moebius, colored vs. recolored — click to enlarge.

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Published on: April 8, 2015

Filled Under: News, Top News

Views: 26735

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15 Responses to Should Old Comics Be Recolored? Ever?

  1. Tim Jones says:

    Longshot by Arthur Adams needs to be recolored.

  2. Tyler Howard says:

    if it was done in a traditional style not the photo/illustrator easy way out in my opinion this way of coloring comics kills the art-form aka lets slap a gradient on everything.

  3. Yes., if you are trying to sell old comics to a new younger market, you must update those comics to a standard acceptable by the new market. Without income, you don't have a business.

  4. Just like with the RAY HARRYHAUSEN Colorizations, things look and work better if the original artist is involved (as with "The Killing Joke" by Brian Bolland). Doing it without direct input from the artist is "Total TURNER-ization" (for example, Turner's infamous KING KONG Colorization in 1986–yea, I got the VHS to prove it, too!!). MOEBIUS, for instance, had this Neon-type drawing and coloring style which is what made me a fan ever since I first picked-up HEAVY METAL in the early '80s. To alter ANY of his work is WRONG.

  5. Comics are a collaborative effort. Old versions do not disappear, they are still there if people want to get them.
    If John writes the comic, Jack draws it, Jill inks it and Susan colors it, any of them can be replaced. (Well harder with script writer, and if you replace artist you have to get new ink and color).
    I don't see a problem with situation like that, when comics are updated for the new audiences, when comic was work for hire anyhow.
    When artist is also did the inking and color, then its a much bigger problem. Because he didn't just do the art and then pass it on, he had to have been thinking on finished work. Then recoloring makes no sense, unless they hire him to update his work.

  6. Marko Raos says:

    All of the original examples are waay better, without exception.

    I don't know what is wrong with today's graphical tastes. I simply detest all the photoshop ramps and "normalized" look of most of today's comics. They all look the same to me.

    It's a particular shame in the case of Moebius comics. The original colors are so bright, so hauntingly super-real they are sheer pleasure to look at on their own. In fact, once you change the coloring for the standard PS look, you even begin to question Moebius' pencil genius…

  7. Luis Diaz says:

    If the idea of recoloring is by killing the the nice atmospheric lighting and making it a dull unexciting computer flesh gradient than no. Even if the technology is better the colorists in general have gotten worse.

    Old comics sometimes can be brought out more, but making line art into realistic gradients makes most of the work look bad. I think the coloring of comics should be thought with the same sense of design and experimentation as graphic design. Bold colors and interesting tones not FXs and too volumetric renditions. It's a waste.

    The INCAL should not be touched. Although the last 2 stories (Incal #3 from Epic Comics) both artistically and coloring wise are less than par from the former 4 stories (First two Epic Comics books). The coloring of the original is excellent. The new colors doesn't had anything to the story except make it more dull. The magic of those books was the excellent watercolor and airbrush treatment which exceptional taste in color choices. The new ones are bland and uninspiring.

  8. Luis Diaz says:

    You are on the mark my friend. Terrible colorists today. Not artists at all. Coloring flesh with flesh is not flesh.

  9. This is complete rubbish. Would you also demand to repaint the Mona Lisa and give her some piercings and maybe a facial Tattoo, hip sunglasses and so on? Apart from this rather weird logic of yours there is a far bigger acceptance Problem: The Story itself. There are no mobiles, no Laptops, no Internet, just phone booths and stuff. Should we Change all These bits and insert mobiles into the Panels just to make a Comic book "acceptable". Anyone who cannot accept that a Story from the 70's Looks like a Story from the 70's has no appreciation for the medium itself.

  10. Erik Nelson says:

    Putting my toes in this debate, I would say what is wrong with both. The original publications have been printed and most are out of the reach of the general public. When the recoloring is done, especially by the original artist, (which brought me here) I look at it as another copy to enjoy.

  11. Erik Nelson says:

    I would also ask the naysayers that if a musician rerecords their original song i.e Clapton and Layla or if a different musician covers a song ala Tori Amos covering Neil Young's Heart of Gold, do you feel the same way? The other version did not go away and you are not forced to listen to it, are you?

  12. No improvement at sight, quite the opposite, at least in the present examples.

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  14. Sean Martin says:

    Most of these are the result of better printing technology, pure and simple. But in a couple of cases, like the Moebius at the top, the new colourist doesnt seem to get the concept of the illustration, and it looks like a mosh compared to the original.

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