Comic Publishers

January 30, 2010

Inside Comics: Colorists as Lighting Directors?

Over the past few years (mostly the past 1-2) colorists have been more and more in the spotlight.  Why is this?  You know about the illustrators (of course), inkers, letterers, and writers.  But the people who really never got any spot light were the colorists.  Well, times are – a – changin’.

To really be honest, I don’t know when the big hype started for colorists, but from what I’ve observed, I think it pretty much started with Peter Steigerwald teaming up with the  legendary Michael Turner.  Of course everyone knew that Mike was the artist and laid down everything on the page: from the characters, buildings, trees, and sunlight…  OH WAIT…..he didn’t put in the sunlight.  Peter did.  So the colorist puts in the light source, special effects, shadows (besides what the inker put on the page) and really makes it POP!

See, it’s laid out like this:

Writers: Well, that kind of goes without saying.  They write the script and tell the story.
Artist: Pencils in where the characters are going to be on any given panel or page.
Inker: Inks the hard shadows and the lines of everything on that panel or page (so you can see it much better).  They even sometimes add a few little touches here and there to make the inking their own style (like cross hatching the background, really thin to hard outlines, and more). “CLEANS up the lines on the page.”
Colorist: We create the mood of the page by the light source, shadows, happy – sad moods, bloody and so on.

For example, the colorist is given a sketch of a character and told to just make it look good.  That’s it!!  Every once in a while, there will be some direction as to how the picture should look and feel.  But most of the time the colorists are given free reign to create.  Now they have to figure out what kind of mood to give the picture and how to create that mood.  Is there going to be a light source from the right to left, top to bottom?, is the character in the water or floating in the air?, and so on.  All those kinds of questions the colorist thinks of.  If they are in the water, is it mucky water so the skin tone will be a little darker?, or is it the ocean and there should be a blueish tint added to the skin tone and hair? Aw yeah, all those kind of details.  It also depends on which character they were given and what kind of settings they’ve been in.  Like you wouldn’t put Spider-Man in a Batman setting with the Bat symbol in the background.  Wouldn’t really work out (unless it was a crossover).  In a way, the colorist can be called the “lighting director.”  And if the lighting is messed up, guess who the editors and artist will go to?  Nowadays it’s a little more than splashing colors on a page and calling it a day.  Much more lighting and visual effects are put into play.  A lot of the time, the artwork will go directly from the artist to colorist and not even hit the inker.  So then the colorist has to do a little bit of inking (kind of), or at least darken the lines to start coloring (unless it’s a digital painting).  WOW, that’s a whole other story.

It’s really cool that all aspects in the comic community are being looked at (illustrating, inking, coloring, writing, and lettering).  There are still SO many people/fans out there who think the artist does everything in a comic.  From the artwork to inking, coloring and writing.  WWWooo!!  That would take a looong time to get just one book out.  Has it been done?  Oh yeah, of course.  It just takes a long time.

Every Tuesday starting at 8 pm, check out my “Livestream coloring” ( where you can see me color LIVE.  Of course everyone is different with their styles and techniques, but at least you can see what I do and think of, with any given picture or page.  There’s also a live chat where you can ask me questions as I go through the process.  You do not have to chat or sign up for an account, you can just sit back and watch the show.  Each session is recorded so you can always go back and check out that session and previous live colorings.

So check it out and don’t forget to visit my website ( where you can add me to FaceBook, Twitter, and MySpace.

Jeff Balke



  1. Jeff, this is awesome. Thanks for the unique peek into this aspect of the industry!!

    • Thanks Andy!
      Someone just the other day was just saying something to me about how the artist does everything in the book (writing, illustrating, inking and coloring). Thats what made me think about this column.

  2. Billy

    Great column about an under-appreciated part of comics!

    • Thanks Billy.

  3. Eli

    This is very cool. I’ll admit that, while the colors of a book have always caught my eye, I’ve never thought too much about the colorists. I’m looking forward to checking out the live coloring.

    • Hahaha..there are a lot of people who look at it that way actually. Most people dont really think outside the illustrator/artist…lol. But I think its really cool that the colorists are coming out from hiding and getting put in the spotlight more 🙂

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