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. When a “remastered” version of Howard Chaykin’s original Star Wars adaptation was released in 2015, the debate flared up 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 also provided an example more in the Heavy Metal wheelhouse, and one that touches on what might be considered a sacred text of graphic storytelling, here’s a before-and-after of the famous splash page in Moebius and Jodorowsky’s The Incal:
Gholson cited the recolored these Incal pages in his tweets, commenting with a simple frowny-face emoticon. Here are a couple more of his thoughts:
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.
Comics coloring was once a job that was considered the bottom of the comics-art food chain: pencils were most important, inks secondary, and coloring was a final, technical addition to the art. Colorists had to indicate on the proofs what region got what color using codes and notations — to the layman (and perhaps to editors) the job didn’t really look like “art.” Gholson brought up another point:
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.
In an absolute sense, is it bad comic book art? Perhaps not.
But does it even look like Moebius? Not on first, second, or third glance.
What about the stature of the work — are some works holy and untouchable, while others are less so? Is it sacrilege to recolor Moebius’ masterwork but not such a big deal to recolor (to pick a random example), a Rich Buckler Avengers comic from 1974?
To recolor or not to recolor is 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 Bode, Bilal, Caza, Druillet 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):