COLORING, PRINTING, AND AN X-MEN RANT
I love JMS’ work. I really do. I’ve had great fun this past week watching BABYLON 5 again, on Sci Fi. (Even if the widescreen is a bit iffy from time to time, it’s still really cool. Hopefully, they’ll get all the little problems straightened out before they ever release the series to DVD.)
RISING STARS has, thus far, been an exercise in frustration. The story has been really good, but the art has been lacking, to put it mildly. The ninth issue was really well done, mostly due to the formatting, which changed the comic into a newsmagazine. Because of this, there was a limited amount of sequential art in it.
The tenth issue came out this week. It gets my award for the worst coloring job in a comic that I’ve ever read. It’s unreadable. It’s worse than just being dark. It’s dark and monotonous and tediously earth-toned. It’s like reading mud while wearing water-soaked glasses and holding the book at arm’s length. The book was difficult to read because I was squinting through half of it to see who was talking. Christian Zanier’s inability to make the two lead characters look different didn’t help, either. At one point, Randy and Jason are having a verbal argument. Although they’re two different characters, they look an awful lot alike. Even when I could see two of them in the same panel, I wasn’t sure which was which.
I’m afraid any cover scan I could do for this book would be equally tedious, but I’ll give it a shot.
I’m hoping this problem is poor reproduction, and not the intended design.
A similar problem happened in TELLOS #9 this week. The book just printed too dark. Paul Mounts, the colorist, verified this on the Tellos message board. However, the book is still readable. It’s a lot easier to see what’s going on when reds, yellows, and greens print darkly, as opposed to browns, tans, and taupes. As a result, the trip through Hin looks darker than it should, but is still easy to follow. Mike Wieringo knows how to draw. The dark coloring is not so much of a problem in the final scene, though, when –
Well, that would be telling. Let me put it to you this way: TELLOS #9 floored me when I read it on Wednesday night. I didn’t read any more comics that night. Nothing was going to beat it, so why even try? Todd DeZago and Mike Wieringo did an excellent job of pulling the rug out from under our feet at the eleventh hour. No, the idea is not original to TELLOS. There’s one prime example of something like this happening in a 1980s television show. (Nope, not Bobby appearing in the shower in DALLAS, either.) It came so far out of the blue, though, that I think it’ll surprise you, too.
The great thing about it is that it isn’t a cheat. It doesn’t rob the reader of anything. It only adds an extra layer to the story and a whole new page to the mystery. You’ll see everything in a new light now, and will ponder what it might mean for the next month until the tenth issue comes out and explains the rest.
Back to coloring and printing now:
On the other side of the spectrum, you have the new MARVEL BACKPACKS. I picked up the X-MEN one, which reprints issues 167-173 of UNCANNY X-MEN. It’s done in glorious black and white, on solid white paper. The reproduction quality here is absolutely stunning. The lines are crisp and clear. There’s no blotchiness. There’s no blurred lines, no pixelation, nothing to distract you from Paul Smith’s artwork — or Walter Simonson’s or John Romita Jr.’s, for that matter, who both fill in for an issue.
Many of the issues reprinted here were also reprinted in the FROM THE ASHES trade paperback. I pulled out my copy of that for comparison’s sake. Despite the fact that it was in full color and full size, I much preferred the look of the Backpack.
When these issues were originally printed, all monthly comics looked alike. They were printed on newsprint and with a limited color palette. Computer coloring wouldn’t be established for another decade. The colors were always laying flat on the page. There wasn’t much in the way of highlighting going on. There weren’t any gradients. There was no sculpting. And, depending on the reproduction values, the colors could very easily extend outside the black lines, or print off-register completely. (The off-register problem still happens occasionally now, but seems much less frequent. The last time I can recall seeing it regularly was during Gladstone’s second Duck run.)
Quite honestly, when viewed from the eyes of someone who didn’t start reading comics until 1989, those colors from the early 1980s and earlier are often just a distraction. This isn’t to absolve computer colorists from any sort of fault. There is ten times as much worse coloring now than back then, based solely on what little I’ve observed of those earlier comics. It’s just that the reproduction qualities today give the colorists a better chance of looking more attractive.
The issues in this book are down mostly by Chris Claremont, Paul Smith/Bob Wiacek, and Tom Orzechowski.
I never understood the thrill of Paul Smith’s art before this book. Yes, I loved his stuff on LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. But my first experience with his art was a fill-in of UNCANNY he did around the time Jim Lee started on the book. It was ugly. I figured he had just honed his style between then and LITC. Seeing this art now, unencumbered of the splotchy-looking coloring (once again — the fault of the reproductions and not the colorist), I see something entirely new. This is wonderful, crisp, clear, fine line art. It ranks right up there with Michael Golden’s artwork. There’s a certain kinship between the two art styles, as a matter of fact.
Another realization I got from reading these issues – Claremont’s current X-MEN run is crap. You look at the simple, linear, multi-pathed stories from back then. You see how easily they flowed together, and how easy everything was to keep track of, and you’re in awe. You see the stuff today that’s just convoluted, as if Claremont is trying to outdo himself at every turn, and you just have to shake your head and sink back into the “olden” days for cover.
I don’t want that to take away from the glory of his original run. The entire run of Claremont’s original UNCANNY X-MEN was phenomenal, and the blueprint from which many writers derive inspiration, and yet still fall short. There’s such an ease to those issues that you wonder how he made it look so easy.
Of course, I also wonder if part of the downfall came from the new wave of artists. Once the straightforward grid-storytelling style of Smith, Cockrum, and Byrne went out the window, the complaints about Claremont’s stories started to surface. It started with Silvestri, I suppose, and only got worse with Jim Lee. I like both of their art styles; But in retrospect, I wonder if they just weren’t suited for Claremont’s authorial pace. I can’t imagine Claremont writing for Madureira. We’ve already seen what happened with Leinil Francis Yu. Adam Kubert’s more imaginative panel layouts, while still roughly grid-based, might also have thrown things out of kilter.
But I’m far astray from the point. Heck, I’ve completely lost it. So:
Let’s take a minute to look at the marketing intent of the book. It’s meant to be a cheap vehicle to introduce kids to comics.
Marvel picked a pretty good batch of issues to introduce young readers to the X-MEN with. For one thing, Kitty Pryde plays a prominent role in the issues, anchoring the series for younger readers. All of the characters from the movie are in here — including Wolvie, Rogue, Storm, Scott, Jean (sorta), and Professor X.
I imagine some of the on-going plots of the time might throw new readers, but they’re the kinds of things that one would hope the kids would seek out the other books to learn about. For example, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” is always in print. (And if not, it’s generally easy to find at a comics shop.) The ESSENTIAL books would work great to lead up to this backpack.
The book is small enough to fit in a backpack without worries, and costs $7 for the seven issues it reprints. Yes, I would have preferred a $5 price point, but it’s still only a buck an issue, which isn’t bad. I think five issues for five bucks would have sold better. It has nothing to do with actual mathematics, but everything to do with preconceived value. Seven bucks will buy you a mass-market paperback novel. I don’t know what the Harry Potter paperbacks are going for, but I betcha it’s close, and parents would rather spend seven bucks on something with perceived literary merit rather than comic books.
Greg Horn provides the cover in his photo-painting style. I don’t like it all that much, to be honest. If Paul Smith hasn’t disappeared off the face of the earth again, it might have been nice to have him draw the cover. Instead, we have Rogue with really tiny fists balanced out by really large breasts. Kitty Pryde is remodeled after Victoria Grace from JUDGE, i.e. Horn’s girlfriend. Ororo’s head is just trying to get out of the way of her chest. There are seven characters on the cover and only one foot is visible. The beam coming out of Cyclops’ visor just doesn’t fit in well at all. It’s too flat. Wolverine and Nightcrawler look pretty good, though.
Finally, I’m really getting to like these smaller-sized books. I don’t know what it is, but they’re fast accumulating here at Pipeline HQ, and they’re some of the most enjoyable things I’ve read lately – GON, LONE WOLF & CUB, FORTUNE AND GLORY, and a couple of others.
There’s also a Spider-Man Backpack available. It might be worth a read, too. Marvel really hit a home run with these books. I just hope they sold well enough to justify making some more. If I remember correctly, they aren’t planning to print things in chronological order, but I’d love to see some more of this era of UNCANNY X-MEN in this format. I think there’s a run or two of Marc Silvestri’s time on the book which is fairly well self-contained. Certainly, there are some good Claremont/Byrne sagas.
I WANNABE A WRITER
Like anyone else who’s read way too many comics for his own good, I’ve periodically come up with ideas for comics stories. Some of it I’ve written down, some of it has stayed locked up in my mind. Others have actually been written out in full script. I’ve mentioned this here before, most recently in Friday’s column.
But ASTRO CITY: THE TARNISHED ANGEL really got the writer side of me kicking in again this week. And it’s not because I want to write a long story just like this. It’s not necessarily because I envy Kurt Busiek his writing prowess. (I do.)
It’s because someday I want to be able to put out a book in this style with my name on it. I want there to be a hardcover book collecting six or eight comics that I’ve written, with an Alex Ross dust jacket, a bunch of extras put together by Comicraft, and an introduction from Frank Miller. What could be cooler than pulling such a book down off the shelf and saying, “I made this”?!?
Ah, well. I’ll just wait until Simon and Schuster calls to ask about a Pipeline collected edition. I think Alex Ross might prove to be too expensive for it, though. 😉
THE CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT
First, the big blunder of last week: Carlos Barberi didn’t draw that cover to SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL. Humberto Ramos did. Thus, my entire point was invalidated.
Uhm, whoops. It was just a crappy cover from Ramos. Barberi’s style still needs some refinement, but that’ll come with time and experience. I just used a really bad example.
Also, BERLIN is up to its seventh issue, with an eighth coming next month. And the journalist fellow is not American, but actually German.
Thanks to James Lucas Jones, Alex Jay Berman, and Norman Hardy for being first to point out various portions of the above.
And to those who might have taken exception to my playful teasing of the Belgian flag last week – “De Blieck” is actually a Belgian name. That’s where my grandparents came from on my father’s side. It was all done with love. To both of the people of Belgium, I can only offer my most Eddie Berganza-esque “perdon.” ::duck grin run::
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