Color: Subliminal and Powerful

The first aspect of a comic that most people notice is the visual artwork. In polychromatic comics, color usage is a significant component in engaging the reader and effectively communicating key features of the story.

One of the important functions of color is to identify characters and distinguish objects from each other. In comics, the fictional world exists in panels. By ‘assigning’ specific colors to each character, the visual transition between panels is smoother. It becomes easier to recognize details.

Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man
Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (1976)

To engage an audience, the connections must be instantly clear. The use of color helps the reader to detect differences between scenes and among characters. In this scene, there are several characters in a small space. Clark Kent is depicted in an electric-blue suit. The specific shade of his suit remains the same throughout, making him easily distinguishable.

The purpose of color in comics is not restricted to simply acquiring and maintaining the reader’s attention. It is also used to evoke an emotional response from the audience. I read an interesting tutorial about drawing comics through the use of color theory. The author points out the fact that we associate colors with feelings, and feelings with temperature.

Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man
Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man (1976)

Certain arrangements in a story can establish the mood. Cooler tones, like blue and purple, indicate feelings of sadness or reflection. On the other hand, warmer hues, like red and yellow, suggest high-energy emotions like anger or excitement. For example, this fight between Superman and Spider-Man is full of warm colors. The scenes of Superman re-evaluating his strength are presented in front of a pale orange/yellow background, indicating urgency in the setting. The vibrant yellow rays from Superman’s punch emphasize the intensity of the fight.

Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man
Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man (1976)

Another interesting point was that of subconscious themes in superhero comics. Many well-known superheroes are dressed in primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) and popular villains are often dressed in secondary colors (orange, green, and purple). This color strategy influences the reader to believe the superhero is dominant. The ability to affect the reader’s interpretation simply by color scheme is fascinating to me.

I am quite uncultured when it comes to graphic novels. As an audience member, I am drawn to color. I feel that it is an effective tool in establishing tone, depth, and drama. However, I realize some may feel that color detracts from the value of the drawing. Monochromatic work is seen as higher quality by many artists. I believe this is because in order to achieve the same emotional response, more detail and skill is needed.

Color is a beneficial tool when used effectively. Bold hues have the ability to engage readers, illuminate important details, develop the mood of a scene, and evoke an emotional response from viewers. Successful usage relies heavily on experience, style/subject matter, and desired audience.

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