Tuesday, 1 March 2016

O Colour, Where Art Thou?

I’ve been really, really, really struggling with the colors in my comic book. I suck at colour. I’ve lost sleep over colour. I wish colour would just die. But then I found this comic book that exploded my brain and helped me get my colour back on track.
When I started working on the colours for “Heroes Rising”, my solution was to ‘borrow’ [read: copy] the style of one of my favorite artists, Francesco Frankavilla. The only problem was he’s a genius and I’m not. If you’ve seen my “Heroes Rising” preview pages, then you’ll understand where I started in terms of color. I saw Frankavilla’s work on “Afterlife With Archie” and was blown away, so I wanted to make my book look as dark and atmospheric as he made “Archie”.

Problem was I had no clue what I was doing. As I began to tackle the other 14 pages of issue #1, I realized I was in big trouble. I just sort of fudged my way through each sequence, not really understanding what I was doing. My big problem was mixing and matching appropriate colours. Frankavilla could pick and choose from a palette he had in his head, and it all worked. When I tried to construct a palette, it fell apart. I didn’t have the colour sense to make it work. But I pressed on, not really happy with the result, but what else could I do?

Then this weekend, at my local comic book store, I came across a re-released issue of “Outcast” #1 by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta. The cover really grabbed me, because it reminded me a lot of Frankavilla’s work.

It’s a fantastic book, and the art is amazing. But the unsung hero of the Outcast series is Elizabeth Breitweiser. http://elizabreitweiser.tumblr.com/ I was blown away by her colours in this book! I feel she took some of Frankavilla’s sensibilities and made them more grounded in reality, something that really spoke to me. I was unconsciously trying to do the same thing but didn’t grasp what I needed to do. I wanted moody shadows and noir-esque lighting, and Breitweiser showed me how to make it work without going too bold and graphic-y, something I struggled with when using Frankavilla’s style. I can’t make characters purple! I just can’t sell that convincingly! Frankavilla can, but not me. More Outcast images:

So I looked at Breitweiser’s work closely, and it made me re-evaluate not just what colours to use, but how I was colouring. I realized I was trying to create a palette out of my head, and it wasn’t working. I wasn’t using the power of the computer, with its layers and transparencies, to help me. So basically my mind finally exploded in a Eureka moment and I totally changed how I approached colour.

My Colouring Method

The following is a rundown of how I approach colouring a panel. I’m using Clip Studio Paint [aka Manga Studio]. This is by far the best program for drawing a comic I’ve come across. Its word balloon functions alone are worth the purchase and just blows Illustrator out of the water. And the feel of the pen tool is just awesome. I work at 1200 dpi so my artwork is at the highest res possible for output. (I use Photoshop CS6 to scale the final artwork down to 300 dpi. Photoshop uses a better algorithm and gives smoother re-scaling results I’ve found.)


So each panel starts with a rough thumbnail. This is purely for staging and shot angles.


Rough clean up

I then do a rough clean up pass to figure out all the structure of the characters and backgrounds.



Final ink over the roughs.


Base Colour

I colour the character with a base colour. I approach this as if the character is in full sunlight, so all the colours are bright.

Tone Base

Then I add a transparent layer to tone the character (in this case bluish). The tone depends on the lighting of the scene.


Then I add another transparent layer to add shadows. I use pure black and make the transparency around 50%.



I add the highlights above the tone layer to give them a brighter contrast.


Final Touches

In this panel I added some glow (just white watercolour brush) to give it that hazy sunlit look. The glow goes above the ink layer to give it that soft look.

So there you go. I’m much happier with the result, and I have way more control over the palette thanks to the use of transparencies.

Of course, once I figured this out, all my previous colouring started to look like crap. So I’ve begun revising the colour on all my original 10 preview pages. Sigh! But I’m hoping the end result will be worth the effort.

Happy colouring!



  1. Great Article
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