Last time we opened up talking about the creators of comics who don’t get as much recognition as the writers and artists do. One of the three jobs I put forward was colourist. In the spirit of that, let’s take a look at one of my favourite things in comics this week… Ryan Hill’s colours in “Stumptown: The Case of the Night That Wouldn’t End”.
It’s not a comic that’s reviewed or written about often, and so I don’t think it gets much of the praise it deserves. This issue, #10 in volume three, is a cool little stand-alone tale that sits apart for a few reasons.
Though what made it work for me was how Hill coloured the issue. It’s predominantly blue and blue-grey, and to get a sense of how it works out I’ve added a couple of examples. You can see it’s all that similar hue, and that makes sense from Hill’s point of view colouring it. The story is set entirely at night in one evening, and blue is naturally associated with night time. So it would make sense for Hill to give it this look.
What Hill adds to this, interestingly, is light. The first most obvious way is from this large motel sign here, which casts an orange-red glow over Dex, our detective. It immediately centers her as the main character but also gives us an insight into who she is as a person. She’s a fiery personality, often hot-headed. So Hill is using this red light to create some additional subtext and response from a reader about her character. He also colours Dex in a red shirt, again another visual signifier. Now – red is important. It establishes Dex’s strong-willed and often hard-headed nature, and it contrasts with blue in three very interesting ways.
The first is in her mobile phone. She’s getting texts from Jimmy – a sort-of love interest – and ignores him, then later lies by saying she didn’t see his texts. In this panel, early on in the story, Hill sets that up. The phone is blue, even though the lighting indicates it should also be red.
Look at the direction of the light, and it even lands on her fingers here on the other side of the phone. Logically, some of that red should naturally be hitting the screen, but we don’t see it. It feels like Hill is saying Dex has one temperament in life, but when it comes to those around her, particularly Jimmy, she can be very cold.
The second way the red interacts with the world is in Dex’s attire. She’s wearing a red shirt here, but has a jacket on over the top. Again, this reinforces character. It implies Dex herself is warm, fiery, feisty – but she has a layer over her in this jacket. Interestingly it’s a leather jacket, something you would associate with toughness. In the often male-dominated world she finds herself in, she’s got literal and emotional protection from everything around her. It subdues that element of her character, and says you need to get past that outer-layer, the coat, to see her proper self. But just like her phone, there is a barrier stopping anyone around her doing that.
And the final way is how Hill uses colour to show motion. He does this a lot with characters moving through a pool of red light he establishes from the motel sign we talked about earlier. Though he also uses colour independently to show story and movement in a clever way. In two wordless panels, you see how Hill renders Dex differently. The light changes. Now, of course, Greenwood changes the shadow position and where Dex is looking, but that huge swath of yellow light Hill adds shows so much to what changes in between those panels, and it becomes obvious what’s happening. A car is pulling up. He makes it so you don’t need captions, sound effects or any other signifiers. That yellow light is enough for you to fully understand the story and actions being presented.
That’s powerful; what color adds to this book is significant. Ryan Hill is doing here what colourists do best: adding texture and layers to story in a book in a way that doesn’t distract you from the actual narrative. All of the elements in a book can do that for you, and this is a fantastic example from this week of how coloring can do that.