richard corben’s use of colour

richard corben is not at his best drawing traditional comic book black outlines filled with solid colour, + whenever he does the colourist is usually terrible (even if it was him)

his fully painted artwork on the other hand can hit an exponentially higher standard because of his ability to use colour to show the effect of light on whatever he’s depicting, + the way he both lights + colours picture elements in certain panels to differentiate those elements from each other

the best way to demonstrate these assertions is by starting with something basic + layering up the complexity before getting to corben’s work itself. the reasoning goes like this:

1       B+W

if you’re only working with two tones (black + white) light areas have to be white, shadows have to be black, + the shadows fall depending on where the light is coming from (even rob liefeld knows this)

using solid black + white can be hugely effective especially if the story is about people hiding in shadows, peering into the night, squinting into bright lights, etc

(c) rebellion 1991

the example above is by dave d’antiquis from brigand doom – an issue-based strip with a different supporting cast for each topic explored, in which anyone who may have misappropriated tax payers’ money or been involved in people trafficking etc gets compelled to undo any harm they’ve caused by a dead highwayman. when the writer (presumably) ran out of issues for his hero to put right the strip ceased publication (+ if you used to read it in the 90s it’s one of those that isn’t as good as you remember)

      if an artist eschews b + w in favour of the rest of the spectrum he or she has a more complex task in front of him or her when showing the effect of light on whatever they’ve drawn. the shade of the colour alters depending on how brightly it’s lit + shadows are not necessarily shown by using solid black – they might be a darker shade of the underlying colour or made up of that colour plus grey, as evidenced by the human character in the image on the right below + the aliens in the one on the left

(c) street + smith publications 1935 + 1934

the images above are by howard v brown (don’t pretend you’ve heard of him) sourced from David Saunders’s (don’t pretend you’ve heard of him either – no one has) site the Field Guide To Wild American PULP ARTISTS (+ you didn’t know he had a website either) – check out virgil finlay’s b+w interior illustration art as well while you’re there

so far so obvious

3        moving on to rich corben, the artistic skill we’re getting closer to hearing a definition of starts to manifest itself in his use of reflected light, where the colour of the object beneath is either replaced by a secondary light source or blended with it

basically what would be solid shadows in a lot of other people’s artwork are filled with light from a less bright source than the main one + coming from a different direction to it

in corben’s work this may be light reflected from a surface which is also illuminated by the key light + which sometimes appears in the frame, but more often than not the light is from an entirely fictitious reflecting object. in this respect he differs from the majority of comic book artists, + the technique is used regularly enough by corben for us to classify it (along with the techniques covered in points 4 + 5 below) as a major component of the network of aesthetic traits through which we recognise + appreciate his work

when the source of the reflected light is actually shown corben usually goes for blue or purple surfaces so he can use that colour for the fill light on the characters

(c) corben 1978

4        light passing through something transparent + coloured eg green as in the instance below (from the mutant world strip in number 1 of 1984) also tends to appear in corben’s art + when it does it’s never motivated by an actual coloured glass window – it may just be a light effect he ended up with from a life modelling session which he decided to keep in, or more likely something he thought of in post production when he was doing the colour separations for the printer. note this may be unique to richard corben: if it is, that’s probably because no other comic book artist would go to the trouble of rendering a difficult light effect like this if they didn’t have to

(c) corben 1978

you can tell the same light illuminating dimento’s top half is passing through a filter because both light sources are coming from the same direction + casting the same size shadows

5        finally corben was also expert at combining different colours, light directions + intensities in the same image. the following frame featuring one character in the foreground lit differently to two characters sticking out from the background despite being lit similarly to it is not the best example. obviously someone sneaking along close to a wall / hiding to the right of a statue is doing that specifically to blend in with the environment, but corben has a different agenda to his characters (using colour to tell a story) + renders the scene as shown below

(c) corben 1977

light effects in this image are as follows: the stone surface is lit as if it were outdoors at dusk (out of context it’s difficult to tell if this is an interior or exterior scene); the substantially brighter (yellow?) light source used to illuminate the character in the foreground may be near enough (judging from the relative sizes of the characters) + bright enough (assuming he is not normally bright yellow) to illuminate +/or cast shadows differently on the background; the character furthest back from the camera’s face seems to be lit differently to den’s despite the fact that they are pressed up close to each other. corben has customised the light conditions to differentiate significant picture elements from one another + generally speaking get the picture to look more interesting, attractive, etc than it otherwise would do, especially regarding the statue if this turns out to be an interior scene

note there’s a miles better example out there somewhere of corben differentiating the characters from the background + each other featuring four or five people all of whom are different colours + lit differently. also, use of colour in the image above is not far off what howard v brown was doing earlier
as this is the main one of the techniques mentioned at the start of this article, + the one which it has been working towards, in case it’s still unclear from (possible ambiguities in) the example above (which was the best available at time of publication), visual information to demonstrate the technique being described beyond doubt will have to be provided using a clearer cut example from another artists’ work. thus it can only be time to

refer to ron turner

+ carry out a close inspection of his use of light (according to comments received neither of the previous posts on turner explained this in sufficient detail). an examination of an image from earlier in the article about the possible influence of propaganda on his work (one of the panels featuring one main colour (blue) at the end of section 1) follows

(c) city magazines 1966

the dalek in this panel is lit as if it’s in a very dark environment, with a distant spot light on its front + a dim fill light coming from the opposite direction. the light source shining on its front is the screen, which is large wide bright + apparently close, + thus would not have the effect of a spot light, it would illuminate the dalek from multiple directions. even if we are intended to read the bright white circles as appearing consecutively, if the centre right one were the only light source the control panel would cast a shadow over the operator from its sucker arm down. alternatively, assuming the surroundings are intended to be resemble a cinema, everything apart from the screen would be expected to be in silhouette

this image is a composite of differently lit picture elements, functioning similarly to the composites in the propaganda identified elsewhere in the original article from which this panel has been extracted: the screen, the control panel + the dalek have been lit + coloured the way they have in order to differentiate the three elements from each other + to attract the reader’s eye with a visually striking composition (imagine if it was just a plain photograph)

the example of rich corben doing this in point 5 above looks like an even worse choice after all that, but nevertheless note odd pieces of his colour art which use different lighting arrangements etc in the same frame can also be viewed as composite images in the same sense as was defined in ron turner + early 20th century propaganda posters (which should open in a separate window when you click the link if you haven’t already – the point made about an image of lenin ought to be the quickest to both locate + read)

if anyone reading this gets what is being said here + has a better example of richard corben utilising these aesthetic options in his signature style now is the time to email a copy of it to the address on the home page of this site

but before we part – having just read back through the text above the following thing needs to be written

appendix: retrieving the reputation of black + white artwork after implying it to be inferior

an extreme example of differentiating characters from backgrounds appears below with auraleon using silhouettes etc in a b+w sequence from pantha in a similar way to the usage of colour + light described but not exemplified very clearly above

(c) warren 1974?

this is reproduced here in case you thought b+w art was necessarily some sort of primitive option incapable of nuance or complexity. panel 1 establishes the spatial relationship of the characters (they actually have an eyeline); panel 2 puts one of them (only) into their environment; panels 3 -> 5 are basically text + profile sketches (eyeline broken, expressions more difficult to read from the side) against alternating patterns

in the light of these last three backgrounds the grey rectangle in panel 1 is presumably there just for compositional reasons + not intended to represent or stand in for the shape or position of any actual object

the result of all this: a tentative relationship, with each character keeping the other at a distance, is established visually

while we’re on this subject, differentiating foreground elements from background ones is usually done in b+w artwork by changing the width of the pen or brush used, or even, as in the example by carlos ezquerra below, by drawing an outline round the character intended to be nearest to the camera

(c) rebellion 1978

although in comparison with this auraleon’s technique looks even cleverer, it shows you can still produce a great comic book page without reinventing the medium

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