The publication of The Rocketeer: The Complete Collection, by Dave Stevens, has provided a new example for the debate over recoloring old comics with new digital techniques (as I discussed back here).
After Chris Sims praised the new coloring by Laura Martin on his Invincible Super-Blog, some commenters politely disagreed. For instance, Adam Russo wrote:
The older, limited-palette, ‘pop art’ kind of look appeals to me and I think it meshes better with the art. Whereas the newer colors are well picked and the scene in particularly is well laid out (the way all the dark blues surround the warm colored centerpiece is a nice and effective way of drawing the eye in), it doesn’t seem the same for some reason.Greg Burgas then wrote of the new pages, while showing some examples:
Like I said, I think it’s a style thing. The older colors are easily recognizable as an old pulp style story. The newer ones, though wonderful to look at, give it a different feel all together. Way more modern in both good and bad ways.
Martin adds depth to the scenes, a very nice 1930s pulp sheen to the book (which, from what I’ve seen of the original, is lacking) and really gives the book a sense of place - New York is very different from Los Angeles, for instance.Back when IDW announced this reissue, the publisher made much of the fact that before his death Stevens had chosen Laura Martin to do the new coloring job using today’s technology. She described her approach for Comic Book Resources:
From what I’ve seen of the original (this is the first time I’ve ever read the comic), it had much more of a bright, cartoony feel to it, and although that works for comics, Stevens obviously had a more pulp vibe going on, and Martin helps create this. The characters look real, too - in the original, they looked more like comic book characters and Cliff’s outfit looked a bit more like spandex, while Martin makes the people - even Betty - more real, and Cliff is obviously wearing actual clothing.
“The art style and the story’s tone are two major leads in the search for a coloring solution. Every colorist should consider these two concepts first when choosing a rendering technique and a palette,” Martin said of her approach to “The Rocketeer.”I think one key to this discussion is Burgas’s remark that “this is the first time I’ve ever read the comic.” He’s therefore free of the question of whether rereading this comic feels just like the first time. Of course, rereading rarely feels just like the first time—all the more so because for many people comics are escapist reading during youth, and therefore beyond full recovery.
“My first consideration will be Dave’s own painted pieces. One can only assume that he likes his own coloring the best, so I’m starting there. Is his work brushy or blocky? How does he handle different surface textures? Does he limit his palette, or open it up? What's his favorite tool — airbrush, brush, marker, etc.?
“Once I get a feel for that, I’ll look at the pulp and strip art from the 1940’s, to see what influenced Dave while he drew these pages. Of course, the fact that ’The Rocketeer’ was previously colored is a major advantage. I can visualize the page in color, and I can use it as a starting point for my own interpretation.”
She said there were challenges particular to this project, as well. “The first challenge is to interpret Dave’s intent through the filter of the the colorists’ final work, while overlaying my own aesthetic. The second is to introduce digital techniques that weren’t available in the 1980s, without it looking too ‘digital.’”
Me, I never read The Rocketeer, either. But I liked the movie.