Making The Pacifiers Comics: Part 2 – Color

Today I want to share with you some of the thoughts that went into the coloring of the Pacifiers comics. Here’s the color version of the page from the last making-of update:

You might have noticed a certain retro quality to The Pacifiers. As for the colors, I’m using the same 64 colors that were used during the “silver age” of comics (1956 to ca. 1970). You can read more about this at the CO2 Comics Blog. The Photoshop palette I downloaded for free from Neil McAllister’s webpage. I even added a worn page texture to make the colors less bright, like you’d get in the yellowed down pages of old worn comic books. For the printed comic book I used yellowish paper.

So why use only 64 colors when modern technology gives you access to an unlimited palette? The reasons are several:

  • Limitation breeds creativity. With these 64 colors you can achieve everything you can do with a zillion colors, you just have to think a bit extra about which ones you pick, why you pick them, and for what. I went for clean and simple, but also for atmosphere and drama, as much as I could muster.


  • The palette are made up of colors that work well in print. If you’re not an expert in printing technology (I’m nearly illiterate in this field), picking random colors from an infinite color spectrum might produce unwanted results on paper. For instance the 64 colors contain no black. Colors mixed with black work fine on screen but tend to look dirty in print.
  • In the old days, coloring comics was a tedious job done by hand. Because of this there was always economic thinking involved when adding color to a page. Comics with a million tiny details simply couldn’t be colored with a unique color for each detail. It would take too long, and the color separating process (which transferred the colors to patterns of dots) would make everything look messy and hard to read visually. Therefore you often see whole chunks of a picture in one color. For example you could do the foreground in purple, the middle ground in light yellow and the background in pink, and maybe the characters bright red in the middle. Boom! Your eye will read the panel in 0,1 seconds. I love that! 

Two reasons for loving it:

1) It makes the reading experience so much more pleasant. You get more flow when you don’t have to stop to dissect an inferno of color to understand what the hell is going on in the picture. A lot of modern comics (especially super hero comics) make me dizzy. Every single panel tries to outdo the other. I focus on the way it was colored and drawn instead of the story. And comics should be about telling a story, right? Not about the drawing and the coloring themselves. When the philosophy of the coloring is “make it look cool”, what you often get is too much of everything. It gets in the way.

Have a look at these beautiful old Star Wars comics (early 80s):



See how few colors are involved? Yet they’re full of atmosphere and drama, and super easy to “read”. This is of course also thanks to great compositions and great artwork. The colors are there to help rather than to show off.

2) Economy of colors seems to encourage a more artistic and interesting way of coloring. We already know what the characters look like. We know that grass is green and skies are blue. You don’t have to tell your reader that over and over again. We can move away from it and make things a bit more exciting. How does it feel rather than how does it look. That’s what the colorists of the previous era did. Some still do, but often I think of it as a lost craft. Maybe I’m not reading the right comics.

More Star Wars:

And some Transformers:

The colorists probably picked the colors they did, not because they were eccentric narcissists, but to alleviate the reading experience (less is more), and to make things look good together. You’d get a few panels with “proper” colors, then the colorists would move away from those colors and think about the pages and spreads as a whole instead. Balance is key.

I feel this kind of coloring makes the comics a little less obvious, a little bit more adult if you like. Even in kids’ comics they used to do this. All of a sudden a character is yellow. We know it isn’t really, but it looks good with the blue background in that specific panel, and on that specific page, so we accept it. Doing the “grass is always green and skies are always blue” is like patronizing your reader. No need for that if you ask me.

So anyway, I was influenced by this school of coloring when coloring The Pacifiers. That together with a cartoony drawing style influenced by 50s and 60s animation (and the rehash of it in late 90s cartoons) I think is what gives The Pacifiers a unique look. But in the end, these are just influences. You look at something, then you filter it through yourself and you end up with something else:



I could go on about these things forever, but I won’t. Next making-of update will be about the drawing style of The Pacifiers (whenever I can find the time).

Yesterday I got an e-mail saying the comic books are ready to pick up from the print house. I’ll go and collect them first thing on Monday. So excited about this! Remains to be seen if all the theorizing about color worked…

Peace and love

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