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A Comic Book Color Artist Explains the Psychology of Pigments

In the latest episode of Strip Panel Naked, color artist K. Michael Russell explains why choosing colors for comics is harder than you might think.

Giaco Furino

Giaco Furino

Panel selection from Judge Dredd #26. Screencaps via

When readers think of the people behind the scenes of a comic book, they often think of the writer and the artist. But there's a whole world of people in different positions working to make a comic look great, feel right, and tell the perfect story—from inkers who define the depth of the comic, to editors who manage an entire comic slate, to the color artist who brings the world into bright, saturated life. This week's episode of Strip Panel Naked, the mini-comics masterclass, is a conversation between host Hass Otsmane-Elhaou and color artist K. Michael Russell, talking specifically about his color work on IDW's Judge Dredd #26.

Colors help distinguish a character's place in the scene. Panel selection from Judge Dredd #26

The video starts by showing a scene where Judge Dredd walks through a city, while another character, situated in a completely different reality from him, communicates back-and-forth with Dredd. To help clarify the spatial relation of the two characters, Russell explains his coloring technique. "It's a quick way to say 'Okay, these are two different locations.' Even though these panels are all mixed together, if I had colored her in the same way that I had colored the rest of the environment that Dredd is in, than it wouldn't have been obvious that she is not in the same place that he is, or in the same reality."

Later, the video goes on to talk about how Russell chooses colors to add feeling to a scene. "I was thinking that green feels a little sickly, and off, and something bad might happen here… and then it does." He goes to explain how a overall shading of a certain color over hard black lines can create a richer scene: "It's a way to create some depth. As things go further into the atmosphere and further into the environment, things get less saturated and less contrast usually… it's a good visual cheat or technique to say that this is further in the background."

To hear more from K. Michael Russell and see his color work in action, watch the video below:

To see more, visit the Strip Panel Naked YouTube page, check out its Patreon page to support the series, and pre-order Hass Otsmane-Elhaou's first volume of PanelxPanel, an in-depth online magazine of comic theory, criticism, and celebration.

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