Comicon’s 8 Best Colorists Of 2017

by Hannah Means Shannon

Welcome to Comicon.com’s inaugural Best of the Year Awards, gathering the best comics and comics talent of 2017. This year we will be awarding in the following categories: Best Original Graphic Novels, Best Comic Series, Best Single Comic Issues, Best Writers, Best Artists, Best Cover Artists, Best Colorists, Best Letterers, Best Webcomics, Most Progressive Comics, and lastly, Comicon’s People of The Year: 2017.

Contributors to Comicon’s Best of the Year Awards this year include: Alan Stewart, Alex Schumacher, Brendan Allen, Gary Catig, James Ferguson, Kieran Fisher, Oliver MacNamee, Noah Sharma, Rachel Bellwoar, Tito James, Angel Carreras, and Hannah Means-Shannon.

The following are Comicon’s 8 Best Colorists of 2017.

 

8. Matt Herms for The Archies (Archie Comics)

Though Herms has worked on a number of Archie Comics titles, it’s been a pleasure to see his work on the new ongoing series The Archies featuring a fledgling rock group comprised of the kids from Riverdale as they take to the road to tour. His ability to jump between the more reassuring upbeat colors of daily life in Archie’s world to the magical, slightly more dangerous colors of music venues and acts underway take a great deal of thought and virtuousity from Herms. Likewise the idea of transitioning the physical energy of a rock band performing into visual energy on the page. As The Archies continues to add guest appearances from real-life bands, Herms’ skills are going to be in even greater demand, but we have no doubt he’s up to the challenge.

7. Matt Wilson for The Wicked + The Divine (Image Comics)

Matt Wilson has been so much a part of The Wicked + The Divine that he’s basically part of the Pantheon itself at this point, but a key feature of long-running comics is the way in which they change over time, and what those changes mean for members of the creative team. The story in the series has progressed past the youthful, violent springtime of our gods into an age of dissolution and destruction, where boredom leads to murder and excess becomes less charming. Wilson has had to tackle those shifts while remaining plugged into some aspects of the original aesthetic of the series, calling out idealistic youthfulness in certain behaviors and scenes while suggesting darker undertones in others. There is no one single color aesthetic at this point in the series, but a rollercoaster plunging in and out of tunnels, with plot twists and turns for Wilson to keep pace with. But he still brings us those moments of elevated states of mind and being that remind us of the astonishing reality these characters inhabit that now strike with even greater poignancy against the growing darkness in the series.

6. Dee Cuniffe for Redneck (Skybound Entertainment)

Dee Cuniffe provided his color talents to several awesome 2017 titles, including The Wicked + The Divine (Image), Gravetrancers (Black Mask Studios), Paper Girls (Image), and Boom! Studios’ WWE ongoing series. What really made me sit up and take notice was his work on Redneck (Image/Skybound). Cuniffe’s inspired palette on Redneck breathes life into an already amazing story, elevating the linework and the script to a level of a masterpiece.

5. Matt Hollingsworth for Infamous Iron Man (Marvel Comics)

I’m not saying that Infamous Iron Man would be a terrible title without Matt Hollingsworth. But it certainly wouldn’t be anywhere near as dynamic. Hollingsworth’s use of bright, neon color makes Alex Maleev’s art in Infamous Iron Man pop so much, making flashy superheroic abilities, movement, and action seem natural and fluid, without losing the stolid normalcy and weight of urban landscapes, depicted in more neutral colors. His colors add magic and energy to the everyday metroplex, making the worlds depicted within the comic book page seem real and vibrant and alive.

4. Tamra Bonvillain for Doom Patrol (Young Animal/DC Comics)

The tradition behind Doom Patrol was always an unusual hybrid composition of the absolutely fantastic and outrageous with very defined linework, and colors that fell somewhere in the middle, able to shift toward outrageous premises and cosmic-level threats, but also to settle in to more soap opera-like interactions between characters. In resurrecting the series at Young Animal, artist Nick Derington picked up the tradition of very clear and elegant linework, while Bonvillain appears to have given the series great thought in picking out a very wide color palette that nevertheless consistently strikes leveling tones, touching base on essential elements every page. To put it more simply, no matter how far and wide the colors seem to range, they circle back to core components frequently enough to keep the story feeling consistently grounded. In a fantasy story as absolutely untethered, narratively, as Doom Patrol, Bonvillain’s work becomes the basis of internal consistency that’s absolutely essential to creating a sense of continuity in the series and encouraging the reader to feel at home in the midst of an otherwise challenging narrative.

3. Kelly Fitzpatrick for Shade the Changing Girl (Young Animal/DC Comics)

Shade the Changing Girl has been a comic that made bold visual and narrative statements from its first 2016 issue onwards, and the psychedelic tones of this story about an alien entity inhabiting the body of a teenager whose mind is in a vegetative state have been grounded in suggesting the alien and the unknown, as well as certain elements from comics and pop culture of the 60’s and 70’s. Kelly Fitzpatrick brings out the boldness of that premise–suggesting the familiar and alien in every panel–through intricate color choices in almost every panel. There’s also the added element of the invasive “madness” depicted in many panels, where Rac Shade’s madness jacket exudes whirling eye-like and rainbow colored circular motifs. Fitzpatrick blends them into almost any surface, shows them floating, blending, and interacting with action in masterful ways that suggests zany, and never-quite-safe-poetry in motion. In 2017, the comic has moved on from Shade’s time in high school and takes her on the road for a journey of startling discovery. Seeing Fitzpatrick take on settings like Gotham, the Southwest, and Hollywood, has been a real treat, since with the changing of the light, we get new evocations of mood and new ways to suggest the underlying madness filtering through the universe.

2. Dave Stewart for Shaolin Cowboy (Dark Horse) and Maestros (Image Comics)

If you think there’s nothing new to say about Dave Stewart’s crushingly influential work in comics, you haven’t read Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop The Reign? and Maestros that released this year from Dark Horse and Image Comics, respectively. While one might be tempted to associate Stewart’s work most closely with work in the Hellboy Universe, bringing us those crisp tones so suggestive of a world of light and shadow, seeing him cut loose on a series like Geof Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy is a real wake-up call to his versatility in handling more neutral shades and pastels. You have to keep stopping and reminding yourself that coloring Darrow’s line work is a task that only a master colorist could take on, or probably endure, as even Darrow would probably admit. The intricacy of Darrow’s linework leaves only tiny spaces and fissures in which to inject color, and Stewart goes far beyond simple workmanship into craftsmanship to create a perfect blend of both a zen and an absurdly violent world for the Cowboy to move in.

Then there’s also Maestros, a new Image series created by Darrow’s compatriot Steve Skroce, and while Skroce’s line art is not quite as exacting as Darrow’s, it goes way beyond most comic artists working today in filling in background details, in-jokes, and playful additions that simply vent Skroce’s teeming artistic mind onto the page in this satire-flavored high fantasy series that also veers toward extreme violence, however tempered by extreme wonder in a realm governed purely by the power of magic. Stewart’s colors on Maestros are such a beautifully designed set of visual principles that no element of the narrative, however wild, ever challenges belief. Instead, we bask in the glow of an unpredictable, gorgeously opulent reality on every page. Stewart handles both these books with tailor-made sensitivity that has a great deal to do with the success of both titles in reaching and capturing the imagination of readers.

1. Jordie Bellaire for Redlands (Image Comics)

It feels impudent to award Jordie Bellaire Best Colorist of 2017 for Redlands, a book that she actually co-wrote and created with Vanesa Del Rey, and yet skip past those facts to focus on the colors. But she must take some small part of the blame for doing something so strange and interesting with the colors on Redlands to make us wonder: is this what happens when a colorist co-owns a book? Do highly original and bizarre things happen in the realm of experimental colors when that kind of freedom is involved? Possibly. We’ll leave that to you, readers. At any rate, Redlands is a horror series set in a “red state” down South where occult elements are in play, and local authorities have become hapless enough that a coven of “killer witches” decides to take over.

Our very first few pages of the first issue of the series is lit solely by the flames of a tree burning down. Wait, let me repeat that and you’ll understand what I’m saying about Bellaire’s work on this comic. She decides to light the opening pages of the comic in a red-orange glow as cast from a tree burning down, even when we follow the action of the page away from the tree and into a house. And yes, we also see a big old confederate flag, also red, by that glow.

If we thought that was it for the “red” motifs and experimental lighting for the comic, we really underestimated Bellaire, who proceeds to make the entire sky blood-red at another point. That’s not even pictured below. The second image below represents further action where characters are lit, while inside a building, from the light of a blood-red sky. That’s right. And it is beautiful, odd, and unsettling. This is the behavior of colors in Redlands–the colors leaps out and direct action, emotion, tone, and atmosphere in a pronounced way that makes you wonder why they have not played an even bigger role in other comics. Maybe we just had to see Redlands first.