Monday, June 23, 2014

Last But Not Least, The Colorist

Forty-two years ago to the month, two now-famous names at Marvel Comics were just getting their start with the company. And thanks to a couple of name-dropping responses on a letters page from the Incredible Hulk comic published that month, we get a little bit of first-hand history about them.

(Claremont had reportedly dipped his toes into assisting with plots two or three years earlier, by other accounts.)

Also, I seem to recall a letter response a few years later where another writer had also suggested colorists receive credit along with other story contributors, with the response indicating what a great idea it was--and a few months later, colorists indeed began being so credited. I'm glad the "complications" mentioned were eventually resolved--the contribution of a colorist to a comic book is certainly worthy of recognition.


Murray said...

Letters like the one about colouring always exposed a troubling undercurrent. That most of the product of comic books was done on a wing, prayer and "are the pubs open yet?" Even thought the antagonist of the comic is the crux of the issue that will have someone pay money to buy the issue, it's left to a newbie intern to colour at his whim??

It boggles my mind that there was (is?) so little attention to product quality control that there were no cheat/reference sheets for major characters.

"Oh, the Scarlet Witch. I guess green is the way to go."

But then, your series on "Can you name this villain" clearly shows how much skull sweat these guys really put into some scripts. ie: not much at all. So, scribble down the name "Professor Pooperpants", let the artist figure out what he looks like, let the kid intern colour him in polka dots for all it matters and it's lunch time.

In the same spirit of ranting, I've come to know a few comic artists personally over the years. To my shock, I discovered that when they were hired to draw to title, neither DC or Marvel sent them any sort of info packet. No envelope with a few reference sheets of the characters, or recent issues or photocopies or anything. It was totally left to these artists to plunge into their own comic collections or nip down to the local shop to score something so they'd know what the star character and his cast really looked like.

It's a helluva way to run a railroad...

Comicsfan said...

Those are all fair points, Murray. But I suppose there were (and are) many hands that contributed to a monthly title other than simply those few principals listed in the splash page credits, which translated to many desks where the work stopped along the way and was added to, reworked, and fine-tuned, almost certainly looping back to other desks before hurriedly going to press. In my own mind, it would have been the responsibility of the person whose name was listed as the book's Editor (or at the very least, the Assistant Editor, when that position was established) to check over all aspects of work on the issue before rubber-stamping it good to go; but, not having even a half-hour's experience at working in those offices, I'm probably woefully ignorant of how the process truly worked. At times I'm even amazed that they all got it done in thirty days, given all the titles that must have been shuffled to and fro. Wires are bound to become crossed in such a working environment.

Also, speaking as a former intern (though not in publications), I can tell you that I also had to hit the ground running, while certainly making some screw-ups along the way. But I made a sincere effort and kept at it, and I was grateful that the folks in charge saw that and made allowances. Unfortunately, being human, mistakes are going to slip through the cracks, whatever the medium.

Murray said...

WELL, if you're gonna be all reasonable and fair about it...

I've worked in the art department of a variety of print shops. The pace is indeed a high-pressure steam boiler, and, yes some doozy mistakes get made. It is wonder how comics, especially pre-computers, managed similar deadline demands while putting out a product with far more creativity than magazine adverts and company logos. So, I do have to give kudos where they are deserved. You're quite right.

HOWEVER, it still boggles my mind how these fundamental elements get ignored in comics. I can substitute comparable facets in the production chain I've experienced. I wonder if comics flounder on because they're aimed at "fans" and not "customers". A customer needs precision and will take his business elsewhere if we can't supply it on a reasonable basis. A fan who likes the Hulk has to be a lot more forgiving with gaffes and mistakes and shenanigans because there ain't no other Hulk but Hulk.

Sigh. These comment threads always hit a point where it becomes too involved to keep typing and the participants really need to adjourn to a pub for a proper conversation.


Jon H said...

I think the letter from Helen Richards may be a fake. There is no 78 Butler Ave, Southington, Connecticut. At least not today. There's a 77 Butler Ave, an 86 Butler Ave, and a 62 Butler ave. All the homes are roughly contemporary, so it is unlikely that new construction resulted in 78 being renumbered or assigned to a new cross-street.

Comicsfan said...

It could be that the address was accurate in 1974, Jonathan. At any rate, it appears to Google correctly, so the question is: just what the heck is at that address? (Though Ms. Richards, wherever she is today, may not be as interested as we are!)

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