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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Carlos Lopez

I teach Eve Ewing’s 12-issue 2018-9 run of Ironheart: Meant to Fly in my first-year writing seminar, so I’m especially pleased to see Ewing scripting the new Monica Rambeau: Photon series. Cover-dated February 2023, #1 was released last December, and the June #6 is already on stands now (I find the increasing gap between cover dates and release dates odd, but the fact that I still think in expressions like “on stands” is probably part of the problem).

I’m even more pleased to find that Carlos Lopez is coloring. Lopez is not a well-known name in comics, but I discovered the new series while googling him. He colored the 1994 Captain Marvel I discussed last week.

I assume the character has undergone significant revision during the three-decade gap (especially since the MCU Rambeau is now linked to the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel in ways that the 1982 character was not), but I’m more interested in changes in comics color technology and how they altered the decades-long norms for representing race and ethnicity in the comics medium.

A lot changed in the 90s as four-color processing gave way to experiments that culminated with Photoshop redefining coloring norms by the end of the decade. Though working with essentially the same limits as all of the previous colorists of Sons of the Serpent stories I’ve been looking at (1966, 1970, 1975, and 1991), Lopez’s work reveals changes in visual representation.

On the opening page, Lopez assigns two Chinese characters identical skin color, a light yellow-orange rendered in two tones to suggest naturalistic shading not indicated by the line art.

During the previous three decades, Asian characters were typically assigned the same skin color as White characters — an improvement over the literally yellow skin of the World War II and the Korean War periods. The characters are being chased by two Sons of the Serpent who, when arrested and unmasked, have paler faces.

Though at first Lopez appears to be continuing the norm of using skin colors monolithically as racial and ethnic codes, he instead emphasizes variations between Black characters.

Rambeau’s skin is a dark brown, but not as dark as FBI Agent Freeman’s.

Individual skin color is also not permanent. In a later panel within the same scene, Lopez assigns Rambeau a darker brown than Freeman, followed by Rambeau in the next panel with a brown identical to Freeman’s.

Lopez varies hair color too. Instead of the standardized blue for Black and Latino hair, Lopez assigns a dark red for the non-black areas of Rambeau’s cornrows, while an additional brown highlights or caps Freeman’s hair.

The intent is presumably naturalistic, as later described by colorist Ronald Wimberly changing a single character’s “hue depending on whim and light source” (2015). M. D. Bright and McKenna’s line art alters impressions of skin color too. Breaking with the more simplified style of the comic and the genre generally, one rendering of Rambeau’s face includes unusually detailed stippling that alters the shade of Lopez’s brown.

Lopez assigns Freeman’s nephew Ray Washington an additional shade, reminiscent of the non-human taupe used for Black characters before 1968. Washington’s hair is also blue, a further throwback to earlier racial coloring norms.

Because Washington is first introduced in a photograph, I considered whether Lopez was suggesting that the less naturalistic skin tone was a photographic distortion accented by Rambeau’s dark brown hand in the same panel. But a figure within the photograph has the same coloring as Rambeau, reducing the possibility.

Lopez later assigns Washington the same taupe in person, contrasting both Rambeau and an unnamed Black police officer.

Lopez also extends color variations to other racial and ethnic groups.

A crowd of students includes two shades of dark brown skin, but also two shades of orange skin, one repeating the Asian characters from the opening page, but the redder brown of two background faces are more ambiguous because of the absence of blue in their hair. The emphasis on visual differences within group identities aligns with McDuffie and Coye’s narrative of multi-cultural diversity growing stronger through “I’m of me” individualism.

McDuffie’s Milestone Comics, however, was already advancing further. “The company,” reports Justice A. Whitaker in his 2022 documentary Milestone Generations, “revolutionized the way comics were painted and printed by creating the Milestone 100-process to better represent the richness and variety of real-world skin tones.” Instead of acetate color separation, Milestone colorists such as Noelle Giddings used colored pencils and watercolors to create color art that was reproduced directly.

As co-founder Denys Cowan tells Whitaker: “there isn’t one Black skin tone” and “we were able to show the full range.”

Lopez appears to have had a similar goal — though Marvel’s color technology remained a barrier. I’m not sure if Lopez was limited to the 64 colors that Marvel had been using for decades. Marvel published their color chart in 1984:

Or if by 1994 Marvel had expanded to 124 colors — the range that had been available since 1973 but had largely gone unused since the darker colors printed poorly on comic books’ cheap paper stock. Eclipse had started using the wider range by 1983:

Neither was designed to represent the naturalistic tones of human skin. I’m guessing Lopez prefers the range of digital colors he’s using in Monica Rambeau: Photon.

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