Re-Coloring Moebius

Posted by on Monday, October 20th, 2008 at 02:58:51 PM

I saw this over at The Beat and was pretty disappointed. Les Humanoïdes Associeés have re-released all of Moebius & Jodorowski’s L’Incal with a completely new coloring style. Unfortunately, the new style removes much of what made Moebius’s line-work special.

Incal orginalIncal recolor
Colors by Yves Chaland                                        Colors by Valerie Beltran

Make sure you click on the images to see the large versions, at a glance thumbnails don’t tell the whole story.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with Valerie Beltran’s digital color shading style used in these reprints; it’s a style that’s been used to good effect in plenty of books. The problem is that her colors obscure much of Moebius’s line work.

Moebius’s science fiction work often includes baroque set pieces in locations that feel dirty and imperfect, and Yves Chaland’s original coloring of L’Incal emphasized this with flat color design — partly due to the printing and design limitations of the time — that emphasized Moebius’s line-work. The line-work was the major compositional element which created shading and depth. The colors didn’t attempt to create delineation, lighting and shading beyond the original artwork.

Beltran’s coloring style sits above the lines, and Moebius’ subtle shading is buried in gradients, shadows and textures. The compositional elements that existed to draw the eye towards a certain part of the panel now draw it to the opposite part of the panel. For example, in the above picture the negative space around the catapulted boy draw the eye right to the top of the panel. In the new coloring style the eye is distracted by the explosion at the bottom of the panel and by the bright shading of the blue tendrils coming from the floor.

incal_oceanincal ocean recolor

In this page, the problems of the new colors become even further pronounced.

Like most of Moebius’ sci-fi work, L’Incal used a color scheme that could be representational of an alien world and be working on a more thematic level simultaneously. We don’t know if this world has oceans that are literally red, or if it’s a stylistic choice to imply an aggressively oppressive and empty world for our heroes, or if there’s even a difference. The new coloring destroys any possibility of the thematic implications in favor of a realistic rendition.

The characters in the original have ethnically ambiguous skin tones; they don’t appear specifically European, Hispanic, or Arabic. Now we have very pale white people. Even the exotic blue hair has been removed for a subdued grayish black.

This is problematic on a whole other level above aesthetics, but even if Moebius’s original intent was to have Caucasian characters and if the originals were simply printing errors/limitations of the time, changing the skin tones of all the characters is a decision that should be carefully considered. I don’t think this a consciously racist decision, but that’s entirely the problem. How do you look at the original beside the recoloring and not feel as if the characters have been whitewashed? Answer: you don’t look at the original color work.

Going through a few Moebius books I have lying around, there quite a few characters with blond hair and dark skin through these books, such as the preacher in the Moebius/Stan Lee collaboration Silver Surfer: Parable. This combination appears enough in Moebius’s work to make me think that it isn’t a printing error.

The most telling sign of how little attention was paid to the significance of Moebius’s work is how clean the recolored world feels. Look below:

Incal city originalIncal city recolored

This is the artist whose work directly influenced Blade Runner and Star Wars. How many times have you heard, “Moebius’s work was the first time the future had dirt and grime”? The first time Ridley Scott and George Lucas saw grime in the future was Moebius’ work in the pages of Metal Hurlant. However, the new color scheme manages to make the city look cleaner despite using a darker palate. By defining every element of the cityscape so clearly, it loses it’s sense of overwhelming complexity. The eye sees clearly 12 pieces of distinct trash on the balcony, as opposed to assuming a general level of grime.

To add insult to injury, even Moebius’s own distinct lettering style, which survived multiple translations, gets thrown in the bin in favor of a generic font.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of taking older work and recoloring the original art. I loved the new colors in Absolute Sandman and the adjustments in Absolute Watchmen. The difference between those alterations and the new L’Incal releases is that the recoloring of the Absolute Sandman is trying very hard to remain faithful to every aspect of the original work. The original works were limited by the printing technologies of the day, but the new colors stay within the original’s style and function, and the meaning and tone of the original work remain intact.

I believe there’s a financial incentive to have a classic book that gets recommended to lots of kids be redone in the current house style of the sci-fi that Humanoïdes currently publishes, but it’s just in bad taste, and ultimately makes you look bad. I’m just somewhat surprised to see this from a company that counts Moebius himself as a founder go in this direction.

There’s a remake that’s been completely drained of it’s meanings and idiosyncrasies, however anachronistic they might be in the current day, in favor of the style of the day for no particular reason and without a new meaning.

The feeling I get we I saw this recoloring reminded me of a remake from a few years ago.



Here’s something else that’s been completely drained of it’s meanings and idiosyncrasies, however anachronistic they might be, in favor of the style of the day for without adding new meaning.

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