28 September 2009

Neal Adams and the New Fall Colors

Yesterday I showed the cover of DC Universe Illustrated by Neal Adams, vol. 1. That frantic artwork isn’t the only new material created for this volume. Adams’s studio also extensively reworked the interior pages starting from his line art. I’d read fans’ debates over what changed from the initial publication in magazine form, but the whole point of comics is that artwork conveys information that words can’t, so I went looking for some actual visual examples.

The following are panels from a larger selection posted by AussieStu at these two pages. First, a look at Ralph and Sue Dibny from Adams’s first superhero assignment. The coloring is obviously improved from an aesthetic point of view. Ralph’s face stands out better from Sue’s sweater, as do other details. The background looks more realistic. Sue’s hair isn’t cut off by the word balloon at top.

Most significantly, modern digital coloring allows for the characters’ faces and other curved surfaces to be “modeled” with shadows and a gradation of flesh tones. Previously, comic-book coloring was basically paint by numbers. The draftsmanship of the time was designed around the limits of the coloring method.

Though Adams wasn’t involved in coloring his drawings then, he had strong feelings about the process. He recalled badgering DC into expanding its palette, for example. So he no doubt was delighted to have the chance to use more sophisticated methods (and, it’s clear from comments on his website, to have DC pay for the new work).

However, sometimes those revisions have come at a cost. Here’s another example from the same book, in a tale of Clark Kent babysitting. The coloring pops more, and the curves of the little boy’s body are softer. But in these panels we can see a bigger change, starting with the word balloons.

Perhaps because the collection has a smaller trim size than the original magazines, perhaps because fanboys’ eyes are aging, Adams’s studio appears to have scanned the lettering and reproduced it slightly bigger, relative to the panel size. That produced new, clumsier line breaks and spacing and, with long speeches, larger balloons. In this panel, the top balloon is so big that it’s crowded Adams’s artwork off the bottom of the panel.

Here’s another comparison from that Clark Kent story. The new coloring is more dramatic. The new lettering is more horsy. There are other changes evident in the DC Universe Illustrated volume. Some sound effects have obviously been recreated digitally. One tale features dinosaurs, and their skin looks like the modern conception of those animals; I suspect the original publication rendered them quite differently, according to the 1960s science.

In sum, this collection doesn’t show Neal Adams’s work as it originally appeared, in the form that made his reputation as a leading comic-book artist. But apparently it shows his artwork as he’d prefer it to be preserved. Which is the definitive version? Well, we can have that debate about lots of artists and writers.

Here are more eye-opening examples of comics that have been recolored:

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