To Color Or Not To Color

Should daily comics be in color or black and white?  Until a few years ago this wasn't even a question that was out there. Dailies were in black and white, color was for Sundays. Period.

But things have changed quite a bit in the comics business of late and, while it doesn't get nearly as much press as the "webcomic vs print comic" debate, whether or not dailies should be in color is a huge question. Many many comic artists don't like color dailies. They are a lot of extra work to produce and they can completely change the tone of a strip. They also can be seen to degrade the specialness of the color when it appears on Sunday. A lot of artists draw their comic differently when they know it is going to be in color, they may even choose jokes in which the color plays a role. This is much more difficult to do with a daily as the artists typically has no idea how many people are seeing the daily in color vs black and white. 

So what has changed? Why has this issue even come up? 

One of the first changes happened in print newspapers when, with a decision I assume was designed to increase readership, some of them started to print all of their comics in color everyday. I have no numbers (and would appreciate them if any of you do) as to just how many papers out there are running their daily comics in color, but our local paper was one of the first. I want to say they've been doing it for at least 5 years.

The other change was the decision by syndicates to let syndicated material run on the internet. King Features specifically included color dailies in John's contract. It is probably no coincidence that King was launching their subscription service, dailyink, at almost the same time John's contract would have been being written. I have not checked every single comic King offers online but, aside from the vintage comics, they all seem to be in color.

I have addressed some of the issues of actually creating the color for these two very different mediums of print and web in an earlier post. (Color Conundrums) So, leaving that aside, I am posting a few strips in both color and black and white for your consideration. In some of these I think the color adds a lot to the overall look of the strip. Others, not so much. I will admit that, spending as much time on these as I do, and only seeing them in color every day - both in my local paper and on the web, I am always a little shocked when I pick up a black and white comics page and see the uncolored strips. Especially anything that takes place in the lab, as I use a very specific set or backgrounds for lab strips.


  1. What happened was USA Today, which included color on every page. In the past, papers generally had color on a few selected pages -- usually front, back and center spread. Before the 1980s, most small papers didn't even have that, and got their dose of color once a week from the Sunday funnies and Parade Magazine. But as they invested in larger presses so they could handle the color, it did make sense to ask for color in the comics as well as from their photographers.

    Not, you'll note, that it has saved the medium, but the color decision came well before the Internet was a factor.

    In any case, the creative problem is less the color itself as the application of color by underlings who don't bother to read the comics and will ignore lines like "I love chocolate" and color an ice cream cone purple, or not realize that a character is African-American (notably the police officer boyfriend, a major character in "Stone Soup," who used to change race on a regular basis).

    It's extra work to color your own and I'm sure there's no extra money, but it's better than leaving it to the syndicate's highly trained squad of colorizing chimps!

  2. I've been thinking about this issue a lot as well. I feel so far behind - because I'm HORRIBLE at Photoshop. And even if I was good at using it, I like the black and white look. For my strip - it works. I do water colors on special projects and that's about it.

    I think coloring does ruin the feel for some comics. Especially when it's on printed newspaper. A lot of times in a book, or other medium, the quality is enhanced with good coloring.

    I don't know....

    I'm sticking with good ol' B&W for now.

  3. Well, for instance, in the above samples, I feel the giant corn one really works better in color - it draws your eye to how big the corn is - but the Senator strip is virtually the same either way. The bailout strip actually works better in B&W, I find the color distracting.

    Nate, it doesn't take much photoshop experience - I was a total newbie. You can accomplish an awful lot with only a few of the tools. My biggest complaint is that I use a mouse rather than a tablet - I'm hoping to try a tablet at some point to see if I like it - and I am probably only using about 15% of Photoshop's capabilities. I should probably take a class :-)