This is going to be a little different than my usual What Did I Learn approach.
A few weeks ago, someone posted a Calvin & Hobbes Sunday comic on their site and I saved it; eventually it wound up in my pics folder. I had noticed some techniques in it and wanted to study it to see what else I could learn from one of the masters of the medium. Now, of course, I realize that the picture must have been named some random alphanumeric title like adflgsdflasdlgfh.jpg because I can’t find it. Google images gave me some other Calvin & Hobbes comics which will have to do.
The thing that stood out to me immediately was one of those obvious things; “duh” if you will. Still, give me a mental drumroll before you read the stunning eureka that I had: Some of the word balloons are colored. See?
I can almost hear you saying “Big deal.” Perhaps those who are comic artists can more easily understand, but I am – by habit – always very careful to keep word balloons a pristine white. I’ve always assumed that was the best way to keep comics easily read. Or maybe it was tradition or something. That’s just the way I’ve usually seen them, so that’s how they are done.
But in the comic above, the attention on the dialog would often have been lost without that color kick. In the fifth panel, it seems the balloon is white because the red E’s are behind it and the shadow on the doorway. In other panels, the balloons are colored differently to contrast the different speakers.
So this keep-them-white habit I have needs to be reexamined. Have I been passing over ways to better present my comics using color (or contrast)? Here’s another comic showing the same point. As the panels progress, there are strong splashes of color to clearly differentiate them. Looking closely, I see there are even spotted blacks put in for the same purpose.
This third comic is a little more sparse in the color department but you can see some effective use of color in the fifth-sixth panel transition. It’s also clear that the sixth, seventh and ninth panels have a strong, fearful emotion to them that the color helps convey.
Another thing that comic artists have to grapple with is making room for both the words and action. Disney artists were taught to mock in the balloons first and then draw the scene. Looking back at these three Sundays, it appears to me that when push came to shove, Watterson let the action took first place and the balloons had to worked in around them. It lends a different feel to the comic – see for yourself.
So I learned a few things that were probably very obvious to some. Likely, there is far more to be learned than the two things I have touched on here.