Sunday, October 6, 2013

ON MATTERS OF (RE)COLOR

PART ONE: COMMON SENSE
I love Marvel's current collected editions department. Really, I do. They put out quality books with top-notch production values and graphic design work. I'm proud to have their products on my bookcase. So when I go off on my rant here, just remember that I'm railing on one relatively minor aspect of something that I otherwise love pretty much unconditionally.

Left: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #238, 1983
Right: SPIDER-MAN: ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN TPB, 2011
However: There's one practice in Marvel's collected editions which drives me up the wall, and that's their tireless, relentless dedication to making sure that any coloring mistakes present in the original comics carry over to the reprints. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I seriously can't think of a word to desribe how preposterous this notion is. If, in 1976, a colorist gave Wolverine a yellow arm rather than the correct flesh tone, why on Earth would you want to preserve that error? It's sheer idiocy to do so. The asinine notion that everything must be preserved, warts and all, is something only the most die-hard anal retentive fan would insist upon, and which any editor in their right mind should push against.

Strangely, this practice only seems to apply to coloring mistakes, too. I know that Marvel has corrected missing word balloons and fixed out-of-order pages in some of their collected editions. To me, a coloring mistake is just as egregious as either of those other issues, and should be just as readily fixed. To do otherwise makes the finished product look sloppy.

But then, sometimes I wonder if I'm not quite of the same mindset as much of the fandom. I lurk at the MarvelMasterworks.com message boards on a daily basis, and the majority of what I see there are fans who want every issue reproduced as faithfully as possible, right down to the last glove that was accidentally colored as a bare hand. These aren't archive editions, folks. They're mass-market paperbacks and hardcovers for any Joe-off-the-street to look at in their local Barnes & Noble. And guess what: when that guy sees a mistake in a book which is in no place identified as an archive, it reflects poorly on Marvel.

Yes, it can be argued that all comic trades and hardcovers are niche products, but if your goal is to bring new readers in, don't you want your books to look professionally edited and assembled? I'm not calling for George Lucas level re-jiggering of every issue, here -- but fixing production mistakes which were not part of the original creators' intent should be the goal in any collected edition. It's what any reasonably sane reader would expect, and what any reasonably competent editor should do.

PART TWO: MODERN STYLE RE-COLORING
That said, I would be perfectly happy if everything was re-colored in modern style. Not from scratch, mind you, but using computer separations, gradients, etc., with the original colors as a guideline, would make the books look better and more appealing to myself and to that afore-mentioned casual reader. When the Marvel Masterworks line first launched, they did just that. And though the modern Masterworks are far superior in almost every way, I greatly prefer the coloring in the original editions from the late eighties and early nineties.

A couple years ago, Marvel released the THOR BY WALTER SIMONSON OMNIBUS, which, with Simonson's input, was completely re-colored by Steve Oliff, with breathtaking results. Heck, I'm even a fan of the re-colored NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. trade from 2000, reprinting Jim Steranko's original run, which seems to be universally loathed by fans for its re-coloring at the hands of a European publisher. To me it looks beautifully lush, and I greatly prefer it over the S.H.I.E.L.D. BY STERANKO trade that Marvel just released last month.

If all classic reprints were re-colored well (not overdone) in a modern style, I'd be all for it. I suspect the casual fans out there would be, too. It's only the hardcore archivists in the fanbase who would complain, and Marvel shouldn't even be catering to them in the first place. But at the very least, correcting color mistakes should be an editorial no-brainer, should it not?

In closing, a handful of examples where I think modern coloring enhances and improves upon the original product:

Left: S.H.I.E.L.D. TPB, 2013, re-colored faithfully from the original sixties comics.
Right: NICK FURY TPB, 2000, re-colored in a modern style.
Am I nuts for vastly preferring the subdued but still exciting hues on the right over the garish colors in the original??

Left: UNCANNY X-MEN MASTERWORKS vol. 3 hardcover, second edition, 2004, re-colored faithfully from the original seventies comics.
Right: UNCANNY X-MEN MASTERWORKS vol. 3 hardcover, first edition, 1993, re-colored in a modern style.
To me, the one on the left works well enough -- it's hard to knock Glynis Oliver -- but the one on the right adds a mood and atmosphere totally lacking in the original.
(Though I fully admit that changing a day scene to night goes against my preference of maintaining the original creative vision.)

Left: THOR VISIONARIES: WALTER SIMONSON vol. 1 TPB, 2000, re-colored faithfully from the original eighties comics.
Right: THOR BY WALTER SIMONSON OMNIBUS, 2011, re-colored in a modern style.
Can anyone truly argue that the one on the right is not vastly superior?

But again, I'm not proposing blind modern coloring across the board. The colorist needs to be skilled at their craft. Here's one last sample, showing modern colors done wrong:

Left: SPIDER-MAN: ORIGIN OF THE HOBGOBLIN TPB, 2011, re-colored faithfully from the original eighties comics.
Right: SPIDER ISLAND: EMERGENCE OF EVIL one-shot, 2011, re-colored in a modern style.
The colorist has totally overpowered the artwork, knocking out blacks and turning the whole thing into a drab, muddy mess. If you're going to invest in modern color, Marvel, at least get someone who knows what the heck they're doing.

8 comments:

  1. These aren't archive editions, folks.

    I wonder if the people on that board are considering the Masterworks to be archive editions (accurately or otherwise)?

    I'm anal-retentive enough to see the appeal in keeping a record of something as-it-was, warts and all, but I also agree there's nothing wrong with sprucing something up, especially in terms of correcting obvious, unintentional mistakes, in a commercial product like a trade reprint aimed at a wide audience.

    If Marvel wanted to, say, designate the already-ass-expensive Masterworks series as an archival series, geared at nitpicky, hardcore fans, while reprinting the same material touched up in other, more affordable volumes, I'd have no problem with that.

    I wonder what Marvel's re-coloring process for Marvel Unlimited is? Reading some of the older issues, I swear they've touched up the color in places (which would also account, in part, for the slow rollout of some series/issues), but at the same time, it could just be a difference caused by the lack of old paper and the panels being internally backlit by my iPad.

    As for your specific examples, I agree with you in all cases except for the Nick Fury panel - the updated coloring looks too muted and repressed relative to the original.

    But maybe I just expect my Steranko Nick Fury stories to be too bright and bombastic.

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    1. Well, I suppose technically the Masterworks probably are archives. I guess I'm really talking about the the more mainstream collections, the trades and such, which you can grab at your local bookstore (I know some bookstores stock the paperback Masterworks, but I've never seen the shrink-wrapped hardcovers in one).

      Marvel definitely does new separations on all their reprints, as well as the Unlimited stuff. I don't have an Unlimited subscription (yet), so I'm not sure about the interiors of the issues, though I have occasionally seen covers that look totally re-colored in my browsing.

      Since Marvel finally released an Unlimited iPad app this year, I plan to subscribe, but I'm waiting to see if they do a Cyber Monday sale, like I think they did last year. If they don't, I'll pay full price. But I probably shouldn't be announcing that publicly. I'm sure Marvel reads my blog, after all.

      The Nick Fury panel is probably my least favorite of all those re-coloring jobs, but I still like it. I think if it was brighter, but still in those colors, I'd like it better.

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    2. Yeah, I finally hoped aboard Marvel Unlimited when they released the iPad app (and offered a subsequent discount on the annual subscription), and I haven't been disappointed. The random gaps in runs that appear sometime are frustrating, but they seem to do a pretty good job of releasing older stuff alongside newer issues every month, so it seems like they're trying to get a full catalog out there.

      In fact, it's really curbed my trade buying of newer stuff (as opposed to older stuff I've never read or want collected). There will always be certain series I buy in floppies, but I've converted to trades for a lot of stuff. And now, even buying it in trades seems silly when I can just read it on my iPad whenever I want.

      Which...well, in this case, hopefully Marvel DOESN'T read your blog. :)

      And yeah, I think I'd like that Fury panel more too if it was brighter.

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    3. I've been thinking the same thing. I would use Marvel Unlimited to read the more modern stuff that I really have no interest in buying either as individual issues or as collections. My main collected edition attention goes to trades and hardcovers of things I either read and loved as a kid, or things I never read but have always wanted to. There's a certain sense of satisfactiont to be had from seeing big, fat hardcovers of the Claremont X-Men (or even the Lobdell/Nicieze X-Men) on the bookcase.

      I've noticed that if something comes out in a collected edition, chances are good it'll show up through Unlimited as well. But then there are odd exceptions, like certain collections which don't exist in Unlimited, and full runs that have never been collected but are available digitally. In the latter case, I tend to hope that means some of those runs will receive physical collections at some point. But who knows...?

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  2. Since you are a fan of Steve Oliff, ( And if wondering, yes I'm the Snowkatt that lurks on "Not Blog X" as well. That's how I got here. )
    im wondering what your take is on his recoloring of Miracleman.
    ( now there is a sticky subject ) and his color work on Epic Comics' Akira run. ( He was hand picked by Otomo himself. )

    About the recolors: what annoys me most in the examples you provided is not the color difference, but the fact that Glynis Olivers name was REMOVED !
    Which strikes me as insulting.
    I know the comic was recolored, but why remove her name ?
    The Thor issues were recolored, but Roussos'name wasn't removed so why Olivers * ?

    But I'm the type that usually mentally adds " and Finger !!" when the "Batman created by Bob Kane" credit flies by in a movie or series. ( And it seems that Finger is finally finally getting that long over due credit. )


    (* She is credited as Wein there but I believe she uses her original name again these days . No idea if she divorced Wein or not .)

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    1. Thanks for the comments! I do think it was absurd to remove Glynis Oliver's name from those old Masterworks volumes. I guess I can understand it somewhat since she was no longer the "colorist of record", but it still seems kind of unprofessional/petty.

      (Incidentally, I'm pretty sure she and Len Wein divorced some time ago, as I believe Len's current wife has a different name.)

      I actually haven't seen the MIRACLEMAN reprints from Marvel. I've heard great things about Miracleman for many years, but I've just never been curious enough to check it out. Someday, though. As for AKIRA -- well, I've never been a huge manga person in the first place, with a few exceptions (such as GUNDAM: THE ORIGIN, which I've been covering here each January/February for the past couple years), so I haven't seen that either.

      But just in general, I really like Steve Oliff's work, especially when he gets to stretch and move beyond simple "four color" comics. He did a lot of the MOON KNIGHT stuff I covered earlier this year, and that looked amazing.

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    2. It's not just unprofessional and petty to remove Olivers name from those X-men credits, but its ludicrous as well. George Roussos is still listed as the colorist in the recolored pages, so why should Glynis Oliver be replaced ?

      Miracleman is worth reading, but be forewarned this is a realistic take on superheroes. There is nothing feel good about it. It's an representation of what might happen if superheroes were real.

      Issue 15 is legendary in it's brutality.
      But the series looks exceptional, from Garry Leach, to Chuck Dixon to John Totleben.
      And the colors by Steve Oliff are pitch perfect.

      at least the moon isnt purple in this one

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    3. I think removing Oliver's name was the philosophy of the times. The X-MEN MASTERWORKS page I showed above was from 1993, while the THOR OMNIBUS page is from 2011.

      Someday I'll look at Miracleman... not sure when, but I don't doubt I will check it out eventually. I do love my Steve Oliff colors. I think I raved a bit about him when I covered the early Moon Knight stories earlier this year.

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