Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Waxing Philosophical: On Colourists

Or an economic argument for giving credit to colourists (circa 2014)
Colourists are an integral part of comics. When colouring is done well, colouring works with the pencils and inks to enhance the artwork and contribute to the final look of a comic. When done exceptionally well colouring can add a sense of style or mood or atmosphere that can be a major storytelling component of the comic. Colouring can do things, add effects, that other components of comics can't. Colouring matters.

As such Colourists should absolutely be credited creators on every title. Their contribution to the final product is just to obvious and important to not give them the credit they deserve. It is absolutely the right thing to do.

Sadly, we live in a world where morals often take a back seat to money and where many of the comics being published are made by corporations. Corporations, being economic group-entities that exist solely to create profit, are amoral sociopaths that, regardless of the good intentions of the people who work for them, only really care about what will make them money. But the thing is, I've done some maths, and I think there is economic value in crediting Colourists even for the largest most profit-focused publishing companies.

Now, some readers are going to read Batman regardless of which creators get assigned to the title. But another group of readers care about the creators working on titles. Like, I know that a book written by Matt Fraction or Kelly Sue DeConnick are probably going to be books I enjoy or that a book drawn by David Aja or Jamie McKelvie is going to look amazing regardless of who is writing the scripts. Having these creators on titles, on the cover of titles, and advertised in press releases makes me more likely to pick up a title. From a corporate perspective, involving and advertising these creators is money well spent. 

Even for less well known creators, the way writers and artists are advertised pays dividends. I learned that Ales Kot is a hell of a writer or that David Lopez is fantastic at making his characters just burst with life. I am now more likely to try comics by either of these creators after learning how talented they are. It is, essentially, an investment in the future.

So I thought to myself it would be interesting to actually do the maths on who colours my comics. To that end I went through all of the comics I've talked about so far in 2014 and plotted the colourists for my mainstream and creator-ownederish comics of the year. For the sake of focus, I just left out any black and white comics I read this year.

When I do this I get the above graphs for Mainstream comics (Left) and Creator-ownederish comics (Right). The black regions are comics that are coloured by the same artist doing the pencils. They are already credited and also usually work on one (or maybe a couple) comics at a time. The grey region are colourists who work on only a single title I am reading right now and whose names were largely unfamiliar to me when I started this process; they do not yet have a track record with me that I would actively read a comic because of their participation. The green region represents creators who I'm only reading one book by presently, but who have a track record with me personally such that their participation on a comic would make me more likely to try it. The other coloured regions are colourists who colour multiple books I am currently reading: Matt Wilson (Blue), Jordie Bellaire (Orange), Lee Loughridge (Red), Betty Breitwieser (Purple), Chris Chuckry (Dark Blue), and Dave Stewart (Dark Blue). To kind of put things in perspective the graph on the left has a total of 18 titles and the graph on the right has a total of 37 titles. 

If I stick everything together on a single graph you get this. Aren't graphs fun! But for reals, look at how unevenly distributed the Colourists I read are. 6 Colourists work on about 1/3 of the comics I read this year and 2 of them account for more than 20% of them. Add in the colourists who are also creators I actively seek out and nearly half the comics I read are by Colourists who I actively seek out. And these numbers are even higher if you don't count comics coloured by pencilling artists. 

At this point, and the maths back this up, I am actively seeking out series by my favourite colourists.  For me, certain Colourists have such a track record for doing great work and for working on quality, exciting projects that they are serious draws for me as a reader. When I first tried that fantastic comic Zero, written by Ales Kot and drawn by a series of talented artists, it was the presence of Jordie Bellaire as series colourist that put it over the edge for me and convinced me to actually try the comic. I tried Nu52 Wonder Woman largely because the addition of Matt Wilson meant it was worth a longer look. (Modern edit: I literally tried Vision only because Bellaire was the colourist, and was delighted to find one of my favourite new comics.)  Having a high profile colourists attached to a project is a great way to get me interested in it.

And here is another reality: Colourists can work on more titles than other creators. Generally speaking, a penciller will work on one comic title at a time, while a writer might work on something like four titles at a time. Which means that if I am following these types of creators, that's what, at most four titles per creator. Colourists, by the nature of their work, tend to work on more comics at once, which means that if I am following a colourist, that is maybe up to 6 to 10 titles I'd be interested in trying at a time. This number is even larger when you factor in their past body of work. By raising the profile of Colourists and actively advertising their presence on books, there is a whole other angle to try and attract creator centric readers. 

And really, advertising and obviously crediting and advertising Colourists doesn't substantially change the cost of a comic. Colourists have already been paid, whether by a page rate or by a share of ownership in the project. They are a very real draw for some readers, and like writers and pencillers are value invested in the price of a comic. To not leverage this value by crediting and advertising the presence of a top talent colourist is not capitalizing on money spent making a comic. To not advertise and help build the profile of lesser known Colourists is to not invest in the future value of the Colourist. There is money to be made here!

And you know, it's also totally the right thing to do.

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