Every week on Snapshot I try and highlight something interesting going on in comic book art that isn’t your usual penciller or writer. We look at interesting uses of lettering, inking or colouring, and this week it’s Matt Milla’s colour work in Daredevil #10 (written by Charles Soule with art by Ron Garney) that’s caught my eye.
This Daredevil book is a big fan of ‘tones’. It’s the sort of thing you might traditionally find in manga, where you’ve got these repeated dot patterns of varying densities and gradations. It serves to give the art a ‘gritty’ feel, like it’s all rough, not clean cut. It works in the same way that old super-8mm film does, degrading the image so it won’t be as glossy or perfect as a digital image would – which is obviously more of the standard superhero comic look. So the book is interesting from the get-go with this effect – and it gives Milla a little something extra to work against.
In his colours in #10, he keeps things pretty muted, and mostly with various levels of colour. Take a look at the page below for an example. It features the body of a thug running away, and you can see those shadows layers onto his arms in the bottom panel, and in the first panel there’s shadows built into his attire, as well. The big middle panel you’ll notice the gradient applied to the clouds, which also happens to the building edge on the third panel. So Milla sets up these mixed levels to various elements in the page, even with Daredevil himself you can see a bit of that on the first panel, that white highlight streak running down his arm. It sets up an expectation for what the ‘style’ of the book is, but Milla decides instead to render Daredevil predominantly in these flat reds. It’s not just that the red is bright and saturated – which it is – it’s that it exists in a world where basically everything else is not a flat colour. That first panel is the exception, really, as everything else regarding that red is solid colouring.
The first thing it does is establish a clean visual element. It means you can bring it to effect in panels like below, later in the book, and it works both as part of the world and as a visual flourish to identify a movement. Daredevil is routinely the brightest thing in the page, and a big part of that is this red. And red and black sit together really beautifully, as the flat blank-ness of black contrasts quite distinctly against the heat of the red – which is often why I find myself pointing out clever colouring in comics that revolves around that colour. It can really pop.
You’ll notice, too, that the suit is almost always heavily brandished white white. I mean, it could just be the world’s most reflective superhero costume, but let’s just assume it’s doing something else. Your eye will always be drawn to the brightest part of an image – that’s a trick they teach you in cinema – and white is the brightest thing you can get. When Milla adds so much white on to Daredevil, it works to offset the large black of the costume, and add to that bright red by always making him a central point of the panels he is in. That’s important, both from a storytelling point of view – he is the main character, after all – and in terms of the overriding theme I’ll mention shortly.
Remember those tones I mentioned earlier? Those don’t exist when it comes to Daredevil’s costume – though they do overlay Matt Murdock when he’s in and out of his costume. When you combine these two elements together they create an interesting storytelling tool that becomes a little bigger in scope than just the story being told. When you leave that out of the rendering of Daredevil’s costume – but not the man wearing it – it makes a point about the suit being different from everything around it. Then when you start to utilise those panels that just show the red and a black background it all adds up to create something intrinsic to the idea of superheroes: myths.
Bear with me, I know that sounds a bit hyperbolic for talking about colouring in an issue of Daredevil, but superheroes work because they’re larger than life, and particularly when we’re talking about Daredevil you’ve got the added element of the costume designed to invoke fear. So when Milla renders him this way, he’s really saying to us that this suit is an icon, a myth in New York. That’s because it feels otherwordly. As far as everything else goes in this world – this suit shouldn’t make sense. It’s like watching a film with lots of grain and noise on it, but one item is really clean, like it’s been digitally inserted. Remember when Star Wars got re-released with new CGI models and it didn’t look right? That’s essentially what we’re dealing with here, but purposefully.
I’ve said it before, but good colouring is more than just deciding what hue to drop in for that wall in the background. Colour is one of the most immediate ways in a comic book to tell us about a world we’re entering. On a regular page, it’s one of the first things a reader will notice, or – if designed that way – not notice. So when Milla does little tricks like this throughout Daredevil, he’s crafting our understanding of the world, and of Daredevil’s place within it.