Rob Liefeld: Re-colored


"Everything we care about is important, and everything we don't care about is stupid. It's essentially all that separates us from humans." -- Merlin Mann

I saw that tweet, coincidentally, just after I had visited a comic book message board thread. You know the kind of place I'm talking about. While there are some perfectly sane boards -- see the link for the Pipeline Message Board at the bottom -- there are those that wind up being the uncouth collection of anonymous trollers and unknowledgeable know-it-all blowhards. I don't visit many of them these days. I did my time in those trenches. I don't need the wars in my life. I'm happy to live in ignorant bliss.

Though, let me help those boards out: Not every comic is meant for you. Not every creator will be your favorite. And not everything works out for the best. The inner most machinations of places like DC and Marvel (read: office politics, and the reality of dealing with creatives) are things you will never know, and will affect things in ways you won't like. That's life.

I honestly believe at least half of the things people complain about on-line are most easily explained by some variation of office politics that the comics reading public will never know about, and not some personal vendetta a creator has against you or your favorite character.

So I visited one of those boards. I knew what to expect. While there are exceptions, it's mostly the stereotypical arguments you'd expect to find there. BleedingCool had an image from a re-colored cover of "X-Force" #1 by Thomas Mason. (He did other re-colorings of that era of work for Marvel, including the re-colored "X-Men" #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee.) Knowing the vocal internet comic fan conventional wisdom when it comes to Rob Liefeld's work, I bet myself that someone would use the phrase "gilding a turd" in the comments section. Then I clicked through to see if my worst thoughts of humanity would come true.

It only took five responses in less than an hour before someone went with "polish a turd." Close enough. When the message boards become that predictable, there's no point in jumping into the mud.

This will also be my new drinking game: Guess the cliche someone will use to belittle a creator in a thread responding to a news story. For bonus points, guess how many posts it'll take to get there, or how many minutes.

I was slightly more interested in reading the responses from those who liked the idea of the coloring versus those who didn't. The conversation veered away from whether the re-coloring looked good or not, and mostly focused on whether the idea of re-coloring a pre-Photoshop work for today's computer coloring world was a good idea. The reality of the topic -- again, here comes the office politics -- is that such a thing happens infrequently due to expense. Collected editions are affordable because the work is already paid for. There might be some royalties owed, but that'll be a fraction of the original cost of creation. The most expensive part of putting the book together (pre-print stage) is in getting the original materials in good enough shape to reprint. That can be meticulous, time consuming work, depending on the state of the original art, the absence of the original film, etc.

After that, repeating the coloring stage won't come cheap. It might be cheaper than coloring something from scratch. I don't know. Using the original work as a color guide might lower the rates. Maybe. But you're still paying a creator to go back over every page again.

As much as I can be a purist, I'm finding myself more pragmatic as time passes by. I like these re-colorings. I think they add to the art. I think they'll look better on modern paper. I think a modern audience will appreciate them more. A re-coloring on this scale might not work with all art, but I think it would be great across all of the Image Founding Fathers' original Marvel art, for example.

I just picked up the Omnibus edition of Todd McFarlane's "Amazing Spider-Man" work. It's an impressive book, and getting all of that material in one place is invaluable to me. But looking back on that work today, there are lots of pages that would look completely different -- and improved -- by a modern coloring style. Honestly, some of it would look better with another colorist's eyes. All of those flat purple and yellow backgrounds get tedious after a while.

Looking at that sample, you can see how much improved the final image is with the new coloring. Gone is the solid purple background that obscured the line work and made all the figure work in front of it muddy. The brighter more primary colors are dulled down a bit to keep them from being too garish. A little bit of modeling is employed to add depth, without looking forced and photo-referenced.

Sadly, though, there is no planned re-colored Omnibus. Liefeld has already pointed it out, but while Marvel is working on a single book edition of that work, it won't be re-colored. Part of me is happy about that, since I just picked up the three hardcover collections of it a few months ago.

In my perfect little world where budget is not an issue, though, we'd see a lot more re-coloring being done, but only after the budget was blown in finding the best version of the original art to do reprints from. Too many collected editions look like bad color photocopies. The pages in this McFarlane "Amazing Spider-Man" book are amazing. It's much better than I could have hoped for, to the point where I think I prefer this edition to the original comics, themselves. The reproductions hold up that well. They're better than the trade paperback collections of recent years.

I'm not so sure I'd re-color Jack Kirby's work, though. That just seems wrong.



I've been pondering lately how much more organized my comics collection would be if I threw out all the comics in my closet (which is about six feet by 5 feet) and just lined the walls with bookshelves filled with the collected editions of all those comics. Then I shudder at the thought of ditching all of those comics. Ah, well. I'm trapped by my own collection!

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