Coloring techniques (Flights into Fantasy)

Coloring techniques (Flights into Fantasy)

Source: Flights into Fantasy (1981, by Fershid Bharucha), pgs 184-187

…The more they like your technique!

Richard Corben has always had a very personal style. Earlier in his career when he was rendering a “line,” he used a brush or a pen or Magic Marker or scratch board. He then introduced a new tool to the comics industry: the airbrush. People sat up and took notice. There seemed to be an inhuman persistence behind this man and the way he mastered each process. And just when it looked perfect, he’d switch to something else. He had to discover things for himself – make mistakes, learn, invent – alone.

In 1971, Richard did the first underground story in color and was very pleased with the results. Photomechanical color-separations from full-color artwork had always been exorbitant and hand-separations, flat and boring. “Cidopey” achieved hues and effects that weren’t possible with either. Richard had found a new toy: color. And the possibilities are so great that, to this day, he has not tried of it. The level of sophistication that the “Corben color process” has reached, deserves a closer look.

Let’s begin at the beginning. From a short synopsis, the script is broken into a page-by-page sequence on typing paper, with panels drawn in, figures roughly indicated and dialogue written into balloons. Then comes the artwork: first a very light, rough pencil layout, then panel borders are inked and balloons placed. In the case of major characters, Richard draws from photographs. Contour lines are drawn with a Rapidograph and black areas are filled in with a marker. The pencil lines are erased and basic grey tones are laid in with markers. The modelling and blending are done with grey Prismacolor pencils of different intensities. The artbrush is used for graduated backgrounds and subtler modelling. White paint is brushed on to bring up the highlights and to correct contours. At this point, the keyword is ready for perfect line and halftone reproduction in black and white.

Richard then punches register holes on the side of thin “continuous tone” black and white page and, over it, registers four acetate overlays for each primary color. (5) Let us follow one color through its various stages. Each of these four levels represents a percentage of that particular color. For example, in the case of cyan, the first overlay could represent 90 %, the second 60%, the third 40% and the last 20%. Richard then works on each individual overlay, starting with the first, and outlines all the dark areas of cyan with a Rapidograph pen. Then, he opaques out these areas. The airbrush now comes into play, and he graduates the areas that have to blend into a different intensity of cyan or of another color. The same principle is followed for the second, third and fourth levels and for each of the other colors. There are no overlays for the black plate. When the 12 overlays have been completed, the artwork is “camera ready.” Richard uses a copy-camera that reproduces positive to positive (Photo Mechanical Transfer). Two “bump” exposures are made, one with the artwork without any overlays and one with the first overlay in register. Then the appropriate screen is placed over the negative and varying exposures are made for each of the levels and base art to achieve the right intensity of color (longer exposures for light and shorter for dark). The last exposure is a short “flash” (with a piece of white paper over the art). Seven exposures in all, on one piece of film. The length of the exposures depends on the color: yellow being weak in intensity has to be more saturated than the magenta and cyan, which in turn have to be darker than the black plate. The black is shot from the original art only is the lightest of the four films. These four films once printed in their corresponding colors give us the Corben magic. (Phew!)

I wanted my copy-camera to be a creative tool, not just an assembly line tool. I wanted it to be an extension of my art, through the camera. So I spent months and years developing this technique. I don’t think it’s a great technique. It was just done to fill a need.

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Created: March 23, 2020. Last updated: March 23, 2020 at 23:33 pm

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