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Old Comic Book Art Styles Revisited – When I Get Older, Losing My Hair

January 19, 2012

Good morning, Macketeers,

I just spent a little time posting on an old thread at a website I used to frequent quite a lot in the early days of the internet, over a decade ago when I was still thin and pretty.

The thread in question was about an artist whose style on X-Men Forever in 2009 had noticeably changed and gotten far less impressive than his classic run on the Uncanny X-Men back in 1983; Paul M. Smith. I talked about how the big villain in that scenario is the modern colouring technique, which editors insist can replace classic finished inks. A great modern colourist can do incredible things with digital colour that greatly diminish the necessity for solid blacks, hatching, ink washes and stipple effects, areas that classic inkers could do incredible things with.

There’s this misconception that the old inkers have lost their touch, but one glance at the deviantArt page of Richard Friend, perhaps the strongest inker of his generation shows quite the opposite. There are still a number of modern inkers who work in brilliantly rich finishes, and some classic inkers that haven’t lost any of their finish. But for those who tried hard to get work through the lean years, their style changed with the times and they lost some of that classic finish that took years to develop, and it’s hard to turn back the clock on something like that.

On top of this, I’ve only seen handful of modern colourists whose styles impress me so much that I genuinely want to see them drowning ink with rich colour saturation… and the best of them can still work with strong finishes. I particularly like the work of Laura (DePuy) Martin, who set the standard for modern colour techniques over bold, beautiful ink finishes working with Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary on The Authority and JLA. I still haven’t seen much better than that, although Warren still has a gift for hunting down artists who can really bring it home, even a decade later. J.H. Williams III did amazing things with Mick Gray and Jeremy Cox on Promethea, and is doing stellar things with Jose Villarrubia on Batwoman. So it can be done, folks.

Which brings me back to Paul Smith on X-Men Forever. Timid colouring. That’s what happened there. Too much room given to a colourist who didn’t take the bull by the horns and bring it home. Even flat colours with a more solid finish would have made Paul’s more streamlined style look more solid than what we got there. Editors are supposed to have some art directing skills on top of everything else, and really have to pay attention to what’s lacking in an art team. You can’t let timid, inexperienced crew drag a book down.

No offense meant to the colourist, whose name I forget because I haven’t read those books in a little bit. But when you have an inker like Terry Austen, you don’t waste him like that, and you don’t make Paul Smith’s art look flatter than it did back when comic colours were all flat moire patterns. I know modern colouring can work over Paul Smith’s art with classic ink finishes. I’ve done it myself. Maybe I’ll show you the results some day, when I finish the page I was working on.

Anyhow, that’s what was on my mind today. As you were.

Eddie.

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