Hulk Splash!

As much as I love old comics -- the actual physical items, I mean -- the decades-old paper and staples, the classic ads, the fascinating letters pages -- I have to admit I often prefer reading the stories in the “Essential” format, i.e., in glorious black & white. I find the vintage coloring jobs to be distracting, more often than not, and quite frankly, the scenes usually look much better in my mind’s eye than they do on the printed page.

For example, let’s take Incredible Hulk #4, since I have it out. When reading the story in Essential Hulk v.1, the main panel of the splash page looks more or less like this in my imagination:

But when I read the original comic book from 1962, what I see is this:

While I mean no disrespect to the issue’s uncredited colorist (either Stan Goldberg or one of his assistants), who actually did quite nice work overall on this story, still the coloring jobs of this era were necessarily crude, slap-dash affairs that favored bright primary colors over mood, atmosphere, or realism. Here especially, the dark tone of the story -- a tale of desperation, fear, and risk -- is ill-served by the over-reliance on yellow and white as background colors.

The fascinating intricacies of the machinery Jack Kirby drew are all but lost when the whole thing is colored a uniform gray. But the primitive color-separation process of the time -- sometimes described as a room-full of old ladies with X-Acto knives -- did not allow for much detail. Highlights and shading were basically out of the question. In essence, the simpler, the better. So, the colorists at Marvel did what they could within the limitations of the technology.

But when I want to immerse myself in the Original Marvel Universe, it’s often easier when the bright, sloppy colors are stripped out and I can imagine how the scene looks for myself, based on the line art alone.

So bring on the Essentials!


At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Lobstah Johnson said...

I see your point about the colour, but when I tried to read the Fantastic Four in B&W it just seemed so flat to me. I'm reading the TPB versions of the Marvel Masterworks series now.
On the other hand I really prefer reading the "House of Mystery" and "House of Secrets" in B and W for the exact reasons you stated in this post.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Tony said...

Some artwork certainly lends itself to B&W moreso than others. I thought Gene Colan's work in Tomb of Dracula looked fantastic without color. Somebody like Don Heck, on the other hand, tends to suffer from the loss. Much of the artwork in new comics would look awfully threadbare without the coloring.


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