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Coloring Between the Lines (Sometimes) on “Omega: The Unknown”

by  in Comic News Comment
Coloring Between the Lines (Sometimes) on “Omega: The Unknown”
“Omega: The Unknown” #3 on sale this week

The third issue of Marvel Comics’ retrofitting of “Omega: The Unknown” comes to stores Wednesday, and readers still don’t know why young Alexander was raised by robots posing as his parents, who exactly Omega is, and what, if anything, connects these two star-crossed heroes to one another.

But that doesn’t matter to many “Omega” fans because, along with Jonathan Lethem’s spectacular dialogue, artists Farel Dalrymple and Paul Hornschemeier are delivering month in and month out one of the most remarkably offbeat mainstream books in ages. CBR News spoke with Hornschemeier about “Omega: The Unknown” and how a Pulitzer Prize winner may have helped the multiple Harvey, Eisner and Ignatz award nominee land the critically acclaimed gig.

While he is credited as the colorist in “Omega: The Unknown,” Paul Hornschemeier has also contributed some pencils, as well. “It’s just straight old bullpen, division of labor, assembly line,” laughed Hornschemeier when asked how he and Dalrymple divvy up duties. “Farel does the pencils and inks and I color. I’m doing a bit of drawing for one of the issues, and I’ve determined the colors for the characters and made notes on little things I catch here or there in the artwork, but for the most part I’m just a colorist on this. I think I may work on designing the collection when we get to that point, but we’ll see how things work out.”

Page from “Omega: The Unknown” #3

While Farel Dalrymple told CBR News last month that he tries to make the kind of comics that he would like to read, Hornschemeier is far more submissive than that. “My style of coloring, and art in general, is to always be subservient to the story. The story is what really matters, it’s the boss,” explained Hornschemeier. “This story is very realistic in its voice, though it’s obviously dealing with rather surrealistic/sci-fi imagery, and Farel’s artwork is a continuation of that plainclothes reality. So I try to keep the coloring directly in line with that. Flat.

Straightforward. I only use lighting techniques and shadows where the setting, and story, demands it.”

Hornschemeier says Lethem, whose book “The Fortress of Solitude” referenced “Omega: the Unknown” specifically, gave he and Dalrymple a lot of freedom and trusted their judgment in illustrating his text. “He’s a great collaborator that way,” explained Hornschemeier. “But if he has a specific vision for a scene or character, he’s great at articulating that as well. I usually go over the scripts several times because he’ll have a little note here or there about the specific light in the room or the color of this paint or that building, but for the most part he just lets us have at it.”

Page from “Omega: The Unknown” #3

Before beginning his work on the project, Hornschemeier had no previous knowledge of the original landmark “Omega: The Unknown” series, created in 1975 by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes. “I only knew about it because Jonathan and Farel had told me about it,” laughed Hornschemeier. “I grew up with very little exposure to comics, out in the country of southern Ohio, so more obscure characters really passed me by. I really only managed to get old reprints of Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man books. And an issue of a wild west ‘Godzilla,’ which really screwed me up.”

Now having worked with the characters, Hornschemeier is convinced he, Lethem and Dalrymple are onto something. “[The characters] couldn’t be any more perfectly made for Jonathan’s writing,” said Hornschemeier. “They all have this strange quality to them where they seem to be simultaneously themselves and metaphors for something else. There are multiple levels to these characters and to this story. It’s just a really well-drafted universe and the sort of thing comics, particularly mainstream comics, needs more of.”

Page from “Omega: The Unknown” #3

Hornschemeier says he made a “very conscious decision” to not go back and look at Jim Mooney’s original “Omega” artwork for the re-imagining. “I don’t want to look at any of the original artwork or story until we’re done,” said Hornschemeier. “I don’t want to be informed by anything accidentally and then feel I’m trying to be faithful to different stories or two different art styles. But I’m very much looking forward to looking at the original once we’re finished, mainly to see how far off the beaten path we ran with this thing.”

Hornschemeier says he and Dalrymple didn’t set out purposely to create such a unique look and feel to the book, it just kind of worked out that way. “Again, for me it’s all about the artwork servicing the story. And if stories are truly unique, as one would hope they would be, you’d expect to see really different looking books out there. I think you see that variety a bit more in the independent world, whereas in mainstream comics it tends to be a bit more homogenized, out of commercial necessity, I suppose.”

Page from “Omega: The Unknown” #3

In explaining his arrival on “Omega: The Unknown,” Paul Hornschemeier told CBR News, “As with most things, I can’t seem to scrape together a single coherent answer for this. I’m just not sure.  I know Jonathan saw a story I’d colored that Farel Dalrymple drew and Dylan Horrocks wrote for DC’s ‘Bizarro World,’ but I don’t know when he saw that. I also think Farel might have pushed for me to do the coloring, since we’ve been friends for years, but seldom have the opportunity to work together.

“But then I also recall having lunch with Michael Chabon and other contributors to Dark Horse’s ‘The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist’ anthology series, for which I did some writing, drawing, and, more often, coloring, and Michael said something about recommending me to Jonathan. So I have no idea. It was probably just my mom. She’s always putting in a good word for me.”

Page from “Omega: The Unknown” #3

Hornschemeier has worked primarily in independents over the years, on such titles as his own “Sequential” and “Forlorn Funnies.” He is also currently working on finishing up his next book, “Life with Mr. Dangerous.”

“The story’s been serialized in Fantagraphics’ anthology ‘Mome’ and it’ll be collected at the end of next year by Random House,” said Hornschemeier.

When asked if he’d make time for some more “Omega: The Unknown” should sales and praise warrant a second series, Hornschemeier said, “I can’t imagine having time in my schedule for it, though if it meant working with the same group, I’d be sorely tempted. You couldn’t ask for a better writer than Jonathan or a better artist than Farel to work with.”

“Omega: The Unknown” #3 hits stores on Wednesday from Marvel Comics.

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Marvel Comics forum.

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