Learn How Comic Book Artists Use Color as Subtext

YouTube series 'Strip Panel Naked' is back with another illustrative lesson to focus on color in comics.

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Jul 3 2016, 12:00pm

Spatterings of red in a muted color field. Panel from Pretty Deadly #1, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Emma Rios, colors by Jordie Bellaire. Screencap via

Second only to the inker for the “most misunderstood job in the comics business,” the colorist has the ability to either completely enhance or deflate the mood of a comic with their work. In this week’s edition of comics masterclass Strip Panel Naked, Hass Otsmane-Elhaou looks at Jordie Bellaire’s color work in Pretty Deadly #1, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. According to Otsmane-Elhaou, color work in comics isn’t just about “naturally coloring the world around the linework in the book. There's a lot you can say or do with your choice of palette, and so I wanted to take a look at how Jordie Bellaire does more than just ‘color in’ Emma Rios' linework in Pretty Deadly. I wanted to show how she, crucially, adds more to the story and theme and subtext of the book, things that wouldn't exist without her input.”

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The same clouds give off different vibes in different panels. Panels from Pretty Deadly #1, by Kelly Sue DeConnick, illustrated by Emma Rios, colors by Jordie Bellaire. Screencap via

“A colorist is an artist like any other role,” says Otsmane-Elhaou, “like the letterer, the writer, the penciller, whatever. So yes, the role is to add color and effects to the linework, but really you're making a series of choices in how you want an audience to perceive the world, or the characters. If you rendered a whole page in blue tones, for example, it would create a calming, colder effect than if you did that whole page in shades of red.”

Otsmane-Elhaou says the coloring of Jordie Bellaire works so well because of the way she limits herself and her palette. “If you have a million colors to choose from—as colorists do—and you use them all, they all start to lose meaning,” explains Otsmane-Elhaou. “If you reduce that number to a limited selection, it allows you to tell your audience ‘this is our color space.' Once they understand that, you can start breaking those rules, and throwing in new colors to really create a huge impact. I really love when artists do that.”

For other instances of amazing color work in comics, Otsmane-Elhaou recommends Dave Stewart’s work on Hellboy in Hell, and, of course, “anything at all by Jordie Bellaire. Honestly.”

Watch this week’s Strip Panel Naked below to see how Bellaire utilizes restricted palettes and surprising pops of color.

Catch up on your classwork with earlier episodes on the Strip Panel Naked YouTube channel.

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