Monday, 2 March 2015

Uncaging Bitch Planet #3

Or a look at the use of old fashioned colouring in Bitch Planet #3
by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, Robert Wilson IV, Cris Peter, and Clayton Cowles; Image Comics

Bitch Planet #3 is the first of the character-centric issues that feature artwork by a guest artist. This issue focuses on Penny Rolle, the big, shit-kicking member of the Non-Compliant ensemble who is The Best. The comic pits her against a panel of judgemental men who, against the backdrop of her tragic backstory, decide if she can be made to Conform. It's a pretty great issue of comics that manages to somehow be simultaneously infuriating and delightful. 

Bitch Planet #3 is also noteworthy in how it uses antiquated colouring techniques to differentiate the contemporary portions of the story from the flashbacks. Which is maybe worth some discussion.

There will be *SPOILERS* for up to Bitch Planet #3 below this point.

Bitch Planet #3 uses two different approaches to colouring. The modern portions of the story uses modern printing techniques to create even blocks of rich colour that fill drawn regions. Additionally cel shading is added to create regions of highlights and shadows to give the artwork additional depth and shape. In these parts of the comic, the colouring is consistent with how contemporary comics look. The flashback regions of the comic use a much older colouring technique. Instead of using saturated colouring, the flashback sequences use a from of spot colouring, Ben-Day dots, I think. This form of colouring uses spots of mixed colours to create the shade of a region and then uses the space between the dots to control the darkness of the shade. This was apparently a popular approach to colouring because it used far less coloured ink than modern methods. The use of this technique in flashback sequences makes them look like a comic published thirty or more years ago. 

Bitch Planet #3 also uses background page colour to further emphasize these effects. The current sequences of the story are printed on white glossy pages giving the colours a clean vibrancy and the gutters a clear, eggshell white glow. The flashbacks have a slightly brown background colour. This bleeds into the spaces in the spot colours and gives a brown colouration to the gutters in the page. This also adds a sense of age to the flashback sequences: old comics, including those made when spot colouring was popular, where printed on cheaper newsprint paper. Newsprint paper will yellow and brown with age, so the use of a brown background colour in flashbacks, replicates the patina of aged dot printed period comics. 

Effectively what this does is to give each region of the comic a discrete feeling of period. The modern colours in the current regions of the plot give them a feeling of now-ness, a story happening in a brand new comic. The flashback regions with their dot colours and brown faux-patina lends these sections of the story the feeling of a closet-aged vintage comic, which gives the portrayed events a certain historic feeling. Basically, the flashbacks look and feel old. This gives the modern and flashback portions of the comic their own unique visual and emotional identity which helps differentiate the interspersed sections and increase their resonance with the reader. It's a great choice.

It's also not the only time spot colours have been used in Bitch Planet to create an interesting visual effect.

Hell, it's not even the only example in the above pages.

If you look closely at the men on screens, the esteemed douchebags of the patriarchy, you see they are also coloured with Ben-Day dots. These spots are much smaller, finer and closer together, so they are much less obvious. This means they don't stand out and create a sense of historic printing like in the flashbacks, but instead add a certain grainy pixellation to the telepresence screens. This works to help sell that the faces are being projected on monitors and to help differentiate the in-the-flesh Penny from the telepresence jerks. It's a subtle choice but very effective at what it does.

We've actually seen dot colours used before in Bitch Planet. Bitch Planet #2 used Ben-Day dots in the holodeck-esque solitary prison cell that Kam is thrown into.  Here the large colour dots are used to give the moving screen elements of the holo-cell a highly pixellated look which helps differentiate the projected elements from the real, in-the-flesh people and objects within the cell. It is literally a background choice, but it really helps keep everything straight and sell the holo-cell concept.

Spot colouring has showed up in this great multi-planar layout design from Bitch Planet #2 in the giant fitness video screens in the background. Again, the large dot colouring lends the screens pixels and gives readers a way to quickly separate the human characters from the on-screen projected ones. This is especially critical for this sequence because it really demarcates the depth of the page and the division between background and the other storytelling planes. This allows for a really complicated page with a busy background of fitness videos. Which in turn allows for the absolutely delightful juxtaposition of brawling Non-Compliants against the pink background of fitness warden-barbie. It's smart stuff.

Uncaging Bitch Planet #2
Uncaging Bitch Planet #1
Surviving Bitch Planet #1

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