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This Artist is Good – Frank D’Armata

I feel weird using a term like “underrated” to describe Frank D’Armata, as he certainly isn’t underrated IN the industry, as Brian Michael Bendis asked for him specifically when beginning his Avengers run. However, when the list of “top colorists” get bandied about, D’Armata is rarely mentioned, and I think that’s a shame, for I think he is one of the top colorists working in the industry, as I will hopefully point out to you folks here, if you didn’t already know.

D’Armata made his debut working at Top Cow. If you did work at Top Cow as a colorist in the 21st Century (and your last name was not Smith, Isanove or Haberlin), you were likely working in the shadow of Steve Firchow, whose influence is evident in Top Cow’s colorists since Firchow became the main man at Top Cow for coloring. This was the case for D’Armata as well.

It was while working at Crossgen a few years ago that D’Armata began developing his own unique style that he maintains today. If you look at Crossgen’s colorists, you can see how much of a priority the company placed upon coloring, because their stable of colorists reads like a Who’s Who of colorists, with both well-established colorists like Laura Martin and Justin Ponsor as well as young colorists who made their mark at Crossgen, who may have had profiles before CrossGen, but by the time they were done with CrossGen, their profile was much higher. Besides D’Armata, there was Morry Hollowell, Jason Keith and Caesar Rodriguez.

Since he first began at Crossgen, D’Armata had worked with penciller Steve Epting, but just as Epting began to try new things as an artist the longer he was at Crossgen, the same could be said for D’Armata. The culmination of this pairing was evident in their last project together at Crossgen, the pirate comic book, El Cazador.

From an interview with Greg Thompson at the time the first issue was released, here are El Cazador writer Chuck Dixon and Epting talking about D’Armata,

Thompson: How important would you say the colorist’s job is in establishing the mood of El Cazador?

Dixon: Extremely. Frank D’Armata is really adding to the illustrative quality of Steve’s art. The world of El Cazador is a real one; not a superhero or alien environment. Frank has to make certain that the lighting and textures remain true to our world. That’s tougher than it sounds.

Epting: The colorist – in this case Frank D’Armata – is hugely important. We have had long discussions on the approach we wanted to use for this book. Frank is doing a sort of painterly style in an effort to evoke the feeling of classic pirate art in the vein of Howard Pyle and Frank Schoonover. It is an ongoing experiment for him and he keeps getting better and better.

Their compliments are on the money, which is evident in these sample pages from the first issue…

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Look how lush those pages look! Epting and D’Armata really did an amazing job on those issues (it is a shame that the book ended so soon).

This lush, “realistic” style is the same one D’Armata developed and brought with him when he stayed with Epting, as the two moved to Marvel, with Captain America.

Here are sample pages from Captain America #6.

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The look they are going for in Captain America is that “action movie” feel, and Epting and D’Armata pulls it off beautifully.

Also, on Captain America, a secondary bonus of having D’Armata is the amazing consistency his colors bring to the book.

Now Steve Epting had already been working with the great Jackson Guice at CrossGen, as did Mike Perkins (who inked Guice at CrossGen), so both Perkins and Epting had a bit of that Guice vibe to their work on Captain America, so it was not like the title was throwing together two disparate artists (like, say, going from Epting to Humberto Ramos or something like that), but whatever differences the two artists have in their styles were blunted by D’Armata’s colors, which help the book maintain a consistent look.

For example, check out these sample pages from a Perkins illustrated issue of Captain America, #16…

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I find that remarkable.

Perhaps what I find most remarkable about D’Armata, though, is his recent work on Daredevil. It is the same lush/realistic style, but much more “pulp-y”/”noir-y” style. It is done so well – right off the bat! Usually, you have to build up to this sort of thing (as D’Armata did on his Cap style over at CrossGen), but D’Armata had the style down pat from the first issue.

Here are some sample pages from the most recent issue of Daredevil…

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I’m really impressed.

At the same time, D’Armata is still able to use a clean, Firchow-esque style, when that is called for.

When he began working on Avengers: Disassembeld, D’Armata got a lot of crap for the colors, which I think is a bit unfair (and yes, I thought the idea of coloring everything red was odd, too, but I understand that it wasn’t HIS idea), as D’Armata was specifically told to color the scenes like that.

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Yes, this coloring was weird, but look at the pages where he WASN’T specifically told to color it red!

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See?

Just a standard Firchow-esque coloring style.

This is the same style he brought over to New Avengers, as seen in this page from New Avengers #4.

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By the way, as a testament to D’Armata’s talents, look at how the colors have lagged a bit on New Avengers since D’Armata left, and his replacement is one of the coloring greats, Dave Stewart (Stewart only lasted a few issues on the book, so perhaps he just wasn’t feeling the book)!!

This Firchow-esque style (which makes sense, as Finch came from Top Cow, so he’s Silvestri-esque, so it only makes sense that his colors be Firchow-esque…hehe) continues on his current Uncanny X-Men, which helps to make artist Billy Tan appear more like David Finch.

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These pages don’t stun the audience, like his Captain America or Daredevil work does, but it is still solid work.

All in all, I think that Frank D’Armata is one of the best colorists in the business, and I hope this little bit helped to demonstrate his talents.

13 Comments

Okay, you might be onto something with the pirate stuff, but I’ve never seen the guy as a great colorist… his New Avengers stuff just makes the art feel even muddier, and those X-Men pages suffer from having light reflecting off everyone and everything. The DD stuff ain’t too bad, I guess…

My choice for primo colorist? Probably… Joe Villarrubia. Off the top of my head.

And by that, I mean, Jose, of course. I can’t type.

While I agree that Jose Villarubia is an amazing colorist, there’s no reason to dismiss D’Armata, mostly because of his versatility. The Captain America work has a strong emphasis on character, separating and spotlighting Nick Fury’s face from the muted starry background, but the background is still a beautiful sea. The other Captain work shows a strong emphasis on character, spotlighting Captain America’s face and masking jsut as much as the starry conversation, but the setting is a ruined castle in mid day.

In Daredevil, the shadows blend more together with the figures, lending everything a muted feel, because the setting is almost always subdued or depressed. I felt the first couple issues did have an overlay of gloss on them, and made Lark’s work look indistinctive compared to Epting’s because of the coloring, but he’s gotten much better at setting as Daredevil has progressed.

The thing about D’Armata is he has an authorial vision. Anyone’s pencils under D’Armata look similar to the other D’Armata work, a rare achievement to a colorist, hence the esteem. He does amazing work at capturing settingm but still focusing on character.

Villarubia as the best colorist? Maybe, but he’s much more psychadelic and, dare I say, artistic, to do straight up superhero work like D’Armata’s work in New Avengers or Captain America. They hit two different styles, and while Villarubia may be the better colorist, D’Armata is no slouch.

I love Jose Villarubia’s work. I just think that (perhaps due to his work on Promethea), that Villarubia isn’t exactly lacking in the vocal admirers category to the same extent that I think D’Armata is.

I don’t like the overly-toned computer coloring. I prefer the classic flat coloring and I think the arwork above would look even cooler with someone working old-school on it. Just think how great Mazzuchelli’s work looked with flat colors on Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again (I know there were some attempts at three-dimensionality in those works as well, but check out the panels without those attempts–they look damn good). I think D’Armata is by far the best with the new technology, true, but it still looks gaudy to me. I looks artificial.

While I think he’s talented he’s not really to my tastes andI think he’s horribly unsuited to Lark’s art. The first page here is good but he usually interferes with the line work too much, that might suit the line style of some but it really hurts Lark’s for me. Also theres a massive over indulgence in effects, do Marvel pay per glow or something.

That’s a good point about D’Armata bringing consistency to the art on Captain America. I still prefer Epting (though Perkins is also very good), but it’s no exaggeration to say that D’Armata is the dominant influence on the art for that title.

I didn’t read Disassembled, but I don’t see any problem with the coloring in the page you excerpted. D’Armata is simply using stylized (and unrealistic) color as a way to strike mood, which is common in film and fine art.

Ultimately, that’s the direction coloring is going in comics. Technological and economic restraints made coloring an afterthought for decades; the most important job for colorists was to get the characters’ costumes right. Even though we’ve had better coloring technology for about 15 years now, it’s just now that we’re seeing colorists taking a more dynamic role in producing art. I’ve often been annoyed by coloring which seemed to work at cross purposes with the line art, but that’s not the case with D’Armata. Part of the credit should go towards Epting for treating D’Armata as a collaborator rather than another step on the production assembly line.

It’s telling that more line artists are wanting control over the coloring process as well. Frazer Irving and Daniel Acuna both color their own work, and I expect more artists will join them. It just doesn’t make any sense to treat drawing and coloring as two separate steps. I don’t think they were ever treated as such in Europe, where the better paper quality allowed for more detailed coloring at an earlier stage.

Ewww! Everything looks shiny and photoshopped. :(

Gotta say I agree with David Blackshore to the extent that coloring and is now technologically advanced to the point that it can properly fulfill its role as a vital part of the artistic process. What that generally means to me is that different pencillers or stories need different sorts of colorists. D’Armata, for example, works quite well with the noirish pseudo-realism of Lark and Epting, but not so much on the exaggerated art of Finch (especially in the Impressionistically colored scene from Dissassembled reproduced here).

At the same time, there are some artists who do better with the primary/secondary heavy palette of, say Tom Smith, who seems to use a modified flat-color aesthetic rather than an effects-heavy one as does D’Armata. Similarly, you need a Laura Martin to work on someone like Hitch or Cassaday, where the sensibility is more that of a fantasy/sci-fi CGI blockbuster movie than an action thriller of the sort that Brubaker writes. But then Martin might rank with Lynn Varley as one of the more flexible colorists working in comics, someone who seems capable of taking on a number of different styles as the project requires. I don’t see that with D’Armata here; his choices seem to reflect a particularly cinematic aesthetic.

The best analogy for comics is usually cinema, and I’d say this is no exception. Coloring does for a comic what the color design component of cinematogrpahy does for a film. Whatever you think of a film like American Beauty, its color sense was brilliant. Likewise, whatever you thought of Van Helsing I think it must be admitted that the bizarre use of color leaching in so many of its scenes was a serious detriment to what was written as a colorful set piece. And comics are much the same, I think — I’ve seen otherwise well-executed stories damaged by terrible coloring decisions and otherwise badly-executed stories enhanced by wonderful color choices.

You’ve also got folks like Steranko and Starlin among the the realm of “pencillers who color their own work.” I know that the earliest examples I’ve seen of things like sepia-toned flashback sequences and high-contrast “fifth ink” effects in American comics were in their work. Of course, Starlin and Steranko were also among American comics’ second generation of self-trained production wonks/auteurs. (The first generation’s big names, I’d argue, would be Harvey Kurtzmann and Bernard Kriegstein, but neither of them had the kinds of printing technology or access that Steranko did.)

That’s a good point, Omar, about flat coloring suiting some artists better than heavily-rendered coloring. The great thing about the current technology and printing formats is that flat coloring is now one option among many. Heck, there’s probably some application to the old four-color process beyond using it as a visual shorthand for Silver Age-style comics.

Then again, I’ve said I would trade in computerized coloring if inking were better across the board. How about a salute to one of the great, unsung inkers in the industry? One Tom Palmer is worth fifty Jim Lees.

Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson, Terry Austin, Dick Giordano, Mick Gray, and Bob Layton — all fantastic inkers.

It’s a pity, to my mind, that digital ink or pencil-shot coloring are eliminating inking almost entirely — some of these guys, Austin and Palmer, most notably, lend a wonderful illustrative quality to pencils; and Janson and Palmer are among the very best where stylized mood and texture are concerned.

But then, “illustrative” is not a fashionable style in American comics these days — hyperrealism dominates the superhero genre, while Impressionism and surrealism the autobio/drama indies. Manga encompasses a wide range of art and story styles and arguably isn’t a genre of comics so much as a national-origin marker or a publishing format, but I’d say that a fine, illustrative line characterizes the foreground figures if you think of the stereotypical “manga look.” (Of course, coloring doesn’t come into the equation where manga is concerned.)

Oh, another question on coloring — what’s to be said about photrealist painting, both as a substitute for pencilling and a finish for it?

Who colored those pages to make everything look greasy and washed-out and grimy? It completely ruins the drawings.

The artist is okay, but he needs to learn how to portray action rather than merely illustrating a scene.

I know I’m about 4 years late but…

I love D’Armata’s work
I think that some artists may not like his work because his colors kind of steal all of the attention
but i think he really builds up on the picture
The large amount of contrast and his placement of highlights makes the art jump off of the page

I personally don’t love the Daredevil pages, i know he’s setting a mood, but i like his high contrast less muddy-looking work ( The Avengers Pages)
I especially like his work with Marc Silvestri and Billy Tan

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