Monday, 1 December 2014

Deep Sequencing: Secretive Colours

Or a look at the atmospheric effect of the colouring in Secret
by Jonathan Hickman, Ryan Bodenheim, Michael Garland, Rus Wotoon; Image Comics

Secret is a comic that is doing some interesting things with colours. I'm not entirely sure what, but I have some theories, several theories. Well, it's more like I HAD some theories. After more thought than is probably rational I was forced to reject each of my theories one by one until I am left with no discernible pattern of what the art team is trying to do. There is something going on, but I cannot figure it out well enough to present it to you. All I know is that Secret is doing some interesting things with colour.

But even if I can't tell you the logic behind what the creative team of Secret is trying to do, I can delve into how I respond to the unorthodox colours in Secret.

There will, as always be *SPOILERS* herein.

Secret does not follow any obvious rule of colouring. At first, we are presented to a black and white world where points of violence and emphasis are coloured bright red. So maybe red means violence? Except in other scenes a woman's dress or finger nails are bright red. And other times just a computer screen. In other scenes the world is black and white except for points of illumination. On some pages all of the artwork is coloured in sepia, or orange, or green, or purple. On other pages the colouring jumps back and forth, panel to panel, from grey to a colour or between colours based on some set of rules I haven't pinned down. Or maybe no rules, just aesthetics. One character's suit is left white on a page that is overwhelmingly coloured in greyscale. A few panels have colours that approach, but do not quite reach true colours, and I have no idea why. Secret is a roiling, inscrutable colour machine.

Secret never quite conforms to a realistic colouring scheme. It comes close a few times, but never does it really use a palette that reasonably reflects the colours of reality. And so, for me, everything feels a little false.

Everything feels disingenuous, like the comic is lying to me, or maybe that I don't have the whole picture. Like I haven't figured out the Secret yet. It's like the colours are telling me that I'm only seeing a portion of reality, just the orange beam of light split by the prism of the comic instead of the complete spectrum. Which I would argue creates a sense of mystery and dishonesty about the comic. It makes it feel like Secret has a secret.

Secret also is wildly inconsistent in its colouring; it is constantly changing its palettes and the rules governing the applications of colour. As a result, Secret feels unmoored from a fixed position or reality. Secret feels unstable.

Let me try to explain. Say I tell you that there is an apple on a wooden table and that the apple is red. What if someone else now tells you the apple is green and the table was aluminum. What if you got to see black and white video showing a greyscale apple sitting on a greyscale table. Or a painting of that scene depicted in psychedelic colours on an oil painting that the artist swears is realistic. What if you saw the apple with your own eyes but saw that it was red, no wait green, no wait yellow, no wait blue. You'd start to feel unmoored from the fixed reality of the apple on the table right?

Secret is constantly showing us the apple in a constantly shifting variety of colours.

As a result, I would argue that Secret posses an emotional sense of an unfixed reality. That what we are seeing and the understanding we are gleaning from the page is unfixed, liable to change at a moments notice. It's like the comic trying to tell us that we are just moments away from a perspective altering revelation, which of course plays into the idea that the comic is lying to us. 

I spent all of Secret waiting for the next big revelation, twist, and colour change for when it all came together and I'd see the world with true colours.

Secret is being governed by inscrutable colouring rules. The comic clearly has unnatural colouring that is obviously trying to do something, to emphasize some page elements but not others. There is clearly a system of some sort in play within each individual panel. But whatever rules are being used are constantly changing between pages, between panels, which implies that there is a system or logic governing this as well. Which implies that the entire comic has some sort of overarching colouring strategy with rules that ought to be followed. Which, for me, leads to trying to figure out what those rules are.

Except these rules, whatever they are, are not obvious.

Which leads to a sense of paranoia. When reading Secret I was constantly developing ideas about the colours and theories about what the rules might be governing them. One theory would be contradicted and then another, and as I rejected my theories, I'd develop more outlandish ones only to have those disproven too. But I was still sure that there had to be a bigger pattern, some governing system, so I kept trying. And kept rejecting. Theorizing and disproving until, here I am, ranting like a nutter on the internet. All because of colours in a comic book. 

The brilliance of Secret is, I think, that it's turned the colours in the comic into a machine that mirrors the experience of reading the plot. The comic presents a secret, a mystery and as a reader the object of the story is to, along with the protagonists, solve the mystery. This involves, at least for me, devising a series of theories based on the narrative information on hand and testing it against future events, rejecting broken ideas as I progress. In a comic like Secret I assume that at least some of the characters are being dishonest and do not trust the creative team, who have an interest in making the mystery convoluted, to be completely honest brokers. I read with the understanding that I am being lied to, that the reality of the comic may unexpectedly change with new information, and that there is some thing for me to figure out. Secret has a colouring scheme that actively engages that same experience of being deceived in an ever shifting reality that strains against casual understanding. It presents colours as an additional mystery on top of the mystery of the plot.

And the synergy between the two is emotionally effective, Secret had me on the edge of my paranoid, theorizing seat the entire time.

But I have no idea if this was intentional, or if it is just another paranoid colour theory that is ultimately wrong, or if I still just haven't quite figured out the real rules of Secret's colours. 

All I know is that this is how I experienced Secret.

Post by Michael Bround

So I Read Secret
Deep Sequencing: Secret Author

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