Sunday, April 1, 2012

Eisner creating Spirit's four color world!

In the late 30's Superman hit the scene in Action Comics #1 and comic books became a huge business. To fulfill the need for new material, sweatshops like the Eisner/Igor studio popped up and created new comic pages in an assembly line process.

They were made cheaply using a pulpy newsprint paper and an efficient method of reproducing color called the four color process which used 64 colors mixed from four inks; yellow, cyan (blue), magenta (red) and black.

Because of the limited color pallet and the fact that the fast passed industry emphasized speed over quality, the comics printed in this system often used garishly bright colors with high contrast to distinguished one panel from another panel and one object from another object. 

In this early Spirit strip from 1940 notice how the deep blue in the Spirit's suit and the the more neutral tan of Dolan's suit contrast with the brightly colored background. This bright pallet of primary and secondary colors contrast greatly with the main characters suits making them stand out. The background colors are haphazardly placed and almost interchangeable with one another. The reds could be easily switched with another color that would equally clash with the suits of the main characters.

While this page of the Spirit does have more naturalistic colors like the brown of the tree trunk, the colors are still used in a way that contrasts them with each other to separate the various objects from each other as can be seen in the 6th panel and the way the purple/red wall and hill contrast with the yellow/green of the road, and also in the use of the strong red background in the last panel. The colorist could have easily used a much more naturalistic dark brown behind the Spirit  to make his face stand out rather than the garish red that was used.

By the mid 40's Eisner seems to have gotten much more sophisticated with his work not only with his page design but also with his use of color.

In this picture Eisner begins to use a more sophisticated color scheme while still working within the 64 flat color limitations.We see a nice use of analogous reds in this picture. The strong red of P'gell's dress blends nicely with the pinks and purples of the page. Her red dress visually connects the viewer to the red title of the page and Eisner also smartly alerts the viewer to Spirits presence behind the curtain by placing the same red in the Spirit's tie.
To compliment this strong red, Eisner uses a pink in P'gell's skin, which is reminds one of the red of the dress only lighter, and it visually frames the scene by placing pink in the sky on the left of the page and in the Spirit's face on the right, effectively framing it. Eisner also places P'gell on a analogous light purple pillow that harmoniously accompanies the reds and pinks and ties them together with the deep blue in the Spirit's jacket and P'gell's hair. All this is done using the typical limited flat colors of the time. Though the old habit of using high contrasting, dissonant colors still does creep up in the garish green of the water and the couch.

In this page Eisner uses a much more sophisticated color scheme covering the scene in a light blue to give the appearance of a late night while throwing in spots of yellow to indicate street lights and showing the focus of the scene with the strong red of a trolly in the center of the page. This is a much more subtle and controlled  use of the technique of using contrasting colors to highlight the main focus of the page.

 In this May 1946 page  a kind of complimentary color scheme is used, with it's use of a blue/purple and yellow/orange color scheme. I say kind of because it's not a true blue/orange or purple/yellow scheme but rather a light blue with hints of purple in the ship, life raft and in the grays of the ship doors and floor and more of a yellow and ocher on the walls but still it has the same effect as a complimentary color scheme would have. And though The strong yellow contrasts greatly with the rest of the colors, it is mellowed by it's prolific use on the page. Also, in this page, we begin to see a more subtle and naturalistic use of color where the water is blue and the peoples clothes are not made of bright primary colors..

Well though I planned on getting to many more artists and their use of color, space and time limitations are pushing me to end it here for now. Hopefully this brief review will help you to appreciate color in comics more and lead you to see and understand it's uses better. If you are interested in color in comics I recommend you to also check out some great colorist in some of this blog's entries like Kevin Nowlan's amazing colors in his Green Lantern story; Richmond Lewis's innovative colors on Batman, Year One and Art Spiegleman's ingenious dissection of the 4 color process in his Two-Fisted Painters.

There are also some great articles on the web as well. Here are a few I found fun and informative.

history of comic colouring part 1

Comics Color 

 Basic color theory

Color Contrasts


  1. And the disregard for creators continues to this day. Prophetic words, Mr. Eisner.

    1. Yes, well to make comics takes not only talented people, it takes organization and money. And just like comic people know how to make a comics, people with money know how to make money, and just like a money people may not learn how to make comics, comic people may never learn how to make money. Most talented people hope to work for the big 2 because that's where the money is, but to work for them means putting yourself under demanding and unsympathetic editors and investors. Ideally the editors and investors will be respectful of their creators abilities but this doesn't always happen. In some cases it does, like with Joe Quesada, Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis but in other cases like Alan Moore's it didn't.

      I adore Alan Moore and his work and as much sympathy and regret I have for Alan, I also think he was naive to assume that people would be respectful of creator's talent and pushy that he thought he and the artist community could change the way people in the business were/are. I think a smart guy, rather than trying to mold the industry into what they want, would rather accept the way the industry is and try to find sympathetic people within it to aline themselves with and build something with these people. No, the industry is not perfect, but if you really want to work their, you've got to try to find a manageable situation within it.