Year of the Artist, Day 151: Chris Burnham, Part 3 – Days Missing #2
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Chris Burnham, and the issue is Days Missing #2, which was published by Archaia and is cover dated September 2009. Enjoy!
One of the things you notice after you’ve been looking at art a lot is that so many factors go into it. That might be obvious, but I’m not sure if it is. For years, inkers were able to impose their will on pencils, even detailed pencils, and in recent years, colorists have become much more important to the finished product. One of the problems I have with digital coloring is that it’s seemingly easy to layer on colors without thinking about it too much. We’ve seen this with the advent of coloring studios, some of which are quite good but some of which are somewhat sloppy. Imaginary Friends Studios, which was founded in 2005, did a lot of coloring for a while (I haven’t seen the name recently, but it’s possible I’m just not buying the right comics), and while they weren’t terrible when the artwork “fit” the digital sheen they employed, when the studio was unleashed on someone like Chris Burnham, whose hard and precise lines demand harder and precise colors, the results were not very good. This is why, in the assembly line of comics, when a penciler doesn’t ink himself (which Burnham does) or color himself (which Burnham doesn’t, at least not yet, as far as I know), it’s crucial to get the right inker and colorist. We’ve seen plenty of examples where the inking and/or coloring wreaks havoc with the pencil art, and Days Missing #2 is just one such example, unfortunately.
I don’t know much about the ins and outs of digital coloring (I don’t know much about non-digital coloring, to be fair). It’s one of those things that people who know what they’re doing talk about in jargon, which I don’t understand, and I’ve never had the inclination to do it myself, so I haven’t learned. I know that most coloring today is done on computer, but there are different ways to do it. IFS seems to do it, unfortunately, in the easiest way possible. They throw a color scheme over the pencils, over-render it, and move on. Burnham’s crisp lines are obliterated by this coloring process, as the people in Panel 1 become blobs of shades and the creepy room in Panel 2 is bludgeoned until all the weirdness is leached out of it. Burnham, I assume, drew the leaves and the vines and the stone in Panel 1 and placed all sorts of odd curios in the room, but IFS simply used soft colors on it all and took away anything that gives Burnham’s art an edge. I actually wouldn’t mind it if they colored the outdoors that way but made Galton’s study creepier by leaving it with the sharp edges. That would require thought, though, and we can’t have that! Meanwhile, check out Mary Shelley in Panel 4. Burnham definitely draws women slightly “softer” than men, but her face is so washed out that she barely has any personality. She’s asking a deeply philosophical question about the nature of life, but she looks like she’s about to cry. Perhaps some of this is Burnham’s fault, but the coloring doesn’t add any nuance to her face, making her a blank puppet.
Galton wakes up his monster (the idea of the series is a bit convoluted, but suffice it to say that the dude in the background in Panel 1 eventually turns back the clock and wipes out this day, leaving only Mary Shelley with a vague idea of a scientist bringing a dead dude back to life), and we get this sequence. In these panels, we can see Burnham’s strong lines coming through a bit, especially in Panel 1 with Galton and his corpse. It’s a dramatic scene, and IFS uses digital effects with the lightning in Panels 3 and 4 to good effect – special effects are one of the things digital coloring is good for, when used well. Notice, again, that Burnham’s inking lines are washed out a bit in Panel 2, and in Panel 4, the hard wrinkles that Burnham would draw in around the eyes are instead replaced by rendered coloring. It’s not bad, and in the case of this panel, it really comes down to personal taste. I think that the coloring works a bit better than if Burnham had used heavy lines, but we still see the black lines in his eyes and some nice hatching in the eyebrows. In this panel, the pencil art and the coloring work well together.
This panel is a good example of the coloring not doing Burnham any favors. As I’ve noted, Burnham has a slightly cartoony style, which can work with gore quite well (as tomorrow’s entry will show). However, digital coloring of this kind tends to want to be “realistic,” and if there’s one thing Burnham doesn’t need, it’s “realistic” coloring. The fact that the monster and Galton are colored like their normal selves and IFS doesn’t use violent colors like red or orange in any way and the fact that they once again smooth out the hard lines in Burnham’s art makes this look silly. It’s supposed to be a dramatic moment, but the coloring robs it of that. It’s certainly not the best composed page within the context of the story – David Hine, who wrote this, is trying to make a semi-serious point about creations turning on their creators (not that that’s a unique point, but it’s still a serious one), and Burnham draws this like a B-movie gone wild (which, you could argue, is a tone the script’s issue needs, but I’m not here to argue that one way or another), and it’s somewhat tonally off from the rest of the issue, but the drawing itself is fine if you divorce it from the rest of the issue. But even so, the coloring is awful. It’s too bad.
One thing you can do more easily with digital coloring, of course, is turn things into ghosts, like we see here (yes, it’s a dream, but it looks like a ghost). I assume Burnham didn’t draw “Frank” any differently, although I suppose he could have, but once IFS got their hands on it, they were able to add the glow and the heavy white folds to the clothing. Burnham knew he was drawing a ghost, so he left the background in, but the coloring helps “Frank’s” transparency stand out more. In Panel 3, we see again the bludgeoning of Burnham’s lines, so it’s not like this is a great example of coloring, but the ghost is pretty cool.
I’m sure Burnham might never say what he thought when he first saw this after it had been colored, and maybe he even liked it! But I wonder what artists think when an inker or colorist butchers their work. What did Colleen Doran think when she saw George Pratt’s inks on that issue of Sandman? What did Kirby think when he knew Colletta was going to ink his work? What do pencilers think when they see how some people color their comics? I assume Burnham didn’t have any control over the colorist in this issue, but I’d like to think that later employers, at least, realized they needed to pair him with a colorist who could do justice to his work. That would show some foresight, wouldn’t it?
Sorry for the rant. Tomorrow I’ll check out a comic that delivered on Burnham’s promise, and probably got him the Batman gig. Come back and see what’s what! In the meantime, I’m sure there’s less ranting in the archives!