Monday, March 07, 2011

Color Commentrary

In addition to writing the occasional gag for Dan Piraro's comic Bizarro, I recently started assisting him by taking on the duties of coloring the dailies (Monday through Saturday).

I've completed four weeks so far, and should be starting on the fifth week in a day or two. Dan does the art several weeks ahead of publication, so the comics I colored just started appearing. The first week's results are sprinkled through this post.
It's turning out to be a challenging but rewarding learning process. In late January, I spent a couple of days looking over Dan's shoulder, understanding the details of the syndicate's file formatting requirements, and absorbing as much as I could of his unique visual vocabulary.
I've long admired his color work, which is unlike anything else on the comics pages. He colors his cartoons like a classically-trained painter to achieve a subtle, moody look. My usual digital coloring technique owes more to 1940s cel animation, with a bit of texture in the backgrounds and bright, flat colors on the characters, so studying Dan's style has been a welcome stretch for me.
Like just about every cartoonist in the world, Dan and I both dabble in music, and adding color to his work feels a lot like learning music written by another band member, and playing a creative but supporting role, while honoring their intent as an originator.
Naturally, as I stumble through the early stages of this new project, Dan has to tweak my first stab at most of the panels. This usually involves toning down areas where I've chosen oversaturated colors, or simplifying places where I used multiples colors when a limited palette was the more effective choice. Overall, we're making good progress, and developing a smooth system for efficiently getting the work done.
In recent weeks, I've colored a couple of comics featuring gags that I wrote. In those cases, I experienced the visual equivalent of a screaming feedback loop, watching the ideas bounce back and forth, progressing from concept sketch to finished grayscale art, and then from preliminary to final color images. I will, of course, post these multilevel collaborations as soon as they're officially published.
It's been nearly two years (!) since my first gag for Bizarro appeared, and thus far Dan has reviewed many dozens of my half-baked ideas without clawing out his own eyeballs, and I've developed a healthy tolerance for cigar smoke and Scotch. So, I think we're both benefiting from the ongoing collaboration.

As always, tune in here for breaking news. 

If you're a Twitter user, be sure to follow both Dan Piraro and Wayno®.


  1. The Heaven and the Rally cartoons look really nice. I've also appreciated the collaborations you guys have done before. Glad you're developing this skill and looking forward the future work from you two!

  2. I think they look really great, keep up the good work. I don't have much of a "visual vocabulary" but I know what I like! :-)