Robot 6

Rich Tommaso on re-coloring the Carl Barks comics

When I heard that Rich Tommaso was re-coloring the complete Carl Barks comics for Fantagraphics’ archive editions, I was curious about how that would work and how it would affect Tommaso’s own work: He shared an Eisner award with Jim Sturm for Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, and he has a rich selection of other comics on his website. Although he was just back from Angouleme, Rich was kind enough to answer some questions about his process and how it is changing his own art style.

Brigid: How did you get this gig?

Rich: For years I had been doing some freelance work in the way of lettering (for foreign books translated into English) and spot illustration for Fantagraphics Books and then, last summer, totally out-of-the-blue, Gary emails me asking if I’d like to try-out for a “secret” coloring gig. About a few weeks later, they sent me about ten pages of Donald Duck comics for me to test out coloring—finally breaking the surprise of what the secret was. Based on my ability to capture—as closely as possible—the look of the original, hand-separated colors on the computer, I got the job.

Brigid: Why did Fantagraphics think it was necessary to re-color the Carl Barks comics?

Rich: In the recent past, publishers who’ve licensed this particular property have done a bad job at recoloring it—using too many modern coloring effects like gradients, highlights, lens flares and inappropriate color schemes to boot. Fanta’s aim is to create a new Barks library that maintains a consistency with the old comics from the 40’s-60’s color schemes.

Brigid: Did Barks do his own coloring, or was there a separate colorist on these?

Rich: He provided colorists with hand-colored mock-ups to follow, I believe.

Brigid: What process do you go through‹how do you choose your palette, and how do
you do the actual coloring?

Rich: I try to keep a sharp eye on the original page scans that Fanta sends along with the higher res B & W tifs. What I try to do besides just matching them, is to mute the colors once I feel that I’ve honed in on the right one—for example: I find something that is a brown, let’s say, made up of a color mixture that is C20, M60, Y80. What I’ll do is maybe tone that mixture down to C20, M45, Y65, or something like that. This helps it to look a little closer to what a shade of color might have appeared like in a dot screen form, not as a flat, solid, 400 dot per inch color, which is what you end up getting with computer color printing.

Brigid: What sort of technical or artistic challenges does this present?

Rich: Well, I’ve hardly done anything of my own in 4-color! Just a couple of times, but it makes me feel as though I could easily handle doing something like that–what with all of the troubleshooting I’ve already dealt with—AND, I should say, Fanta’s helped me with as well. Just little things like creating actions to make set-up on each page much quicker at the start of my day. This job has also made me learn to DRAW with color—as opposed to just lassoing each area and dumping color into that field with the paint bucket. At times I’ve had to actually draw shapes where the artwork is broken (OR, where there isn’t any line work at all—Barks drew with a very relaxed gesture, so a lot of the line work is broken, so not every figure has a closed outline around it) and so, this makes me have to draw the rest of a specific object with the pencil or brush tool myself.

Brigid: How does your finished work differ from the originals?

Rich: Well, I don’t use a dot screen, so for instances where there’s just an open field of color with no black line art to trap it, I’m using a dry brush tool to make it appear as though there is a dot screen of color lying in said field. Other than that, I’d say my re-colorings are pretty spot-on to the originals.

Brigid:Has working on these affected your own work‹drawing, inking, or writing‹in
any way?

Rich: Looking at anyone’s art—who I really enjoy—is bound to have an effect on my own drawing, inking. So yes, I’d say I’ve been seeing more relaxed, open-line drawings in my own comics here and there, lately.

Also, It’s made me a much more efficient colorist, that’s for sure.



I can’t believe that Tommaso didn’t mention Susan Daigle-Leach once. She did a wonderful job of coloring Barks’ work for years at Gladstone, and now Tommaso comes along and acts like no one has ever recolored Bark’s art effectively before.

On top of that he states that previous colorists have done a bad job before he became involved. Yeah, that”s true – Sue was only nominated for Eisner awards numerous times for her work on Barks. On top of that, Barks himself was very happy with her coloring work when he visited the Gladstone offices.

Fantagraphics, as usual, comes in late and acts like there has never been anyone in the room before. I won’t be buying this crap. This guy sounds like he’s just learning to color for the first time anyway. Maybe he should put his crayons away and try looking back at Sue’s terrific work first.

Michael Grabowski

February 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I disagree. I’ve got the entire Gladstone Barks Library in Color, and they were nice to look at when there was no choice and no internet access to scans of the originals, nowadays I don’t really enjoy re-reading them. The colors just don’t look right. Too solid in some places, some odd choices (green ocean?), and particularly tough to stand are the computer gradients. I don’t know anything about comics coloring, but I know what I don’t like looking at. I get that Gladstone was attempting to market their books to a contemporary 90s audience but the results don’t hold up.

Not to say these new editions will by definition be better, but they’ll surely be worth a look. The good news for you is that you apparently have a collection you’re already happy with, so you won’t need to buy these.

Tommaso is trying to be true to the original coloring, which looked great, and didn’t need to be updated. I will definitely be buying these new editions.

I just want to say, not agreeing with what a colorist has to say in an interview is an absolutely bizarre (bordering on nuts) reason to not buy a book. Hardcore fans just look for reasons to get angry and indignant.

Has anyone adapted the old Chemical Color Plate Corp. guide to RGB coloring? (0, 25, 50, 100)

Will the paper stock replicate that of the original comics, or be on brighter paper?

Has the coloring been “shifted” to accommodate for the brighter paper?

JW, don’t be a jerk.

It’s quite possible that Tommaso has no idea who Susan Daigle-Leach IS. I think it’s fairly likely that he meant no slight.

When he references the “recent past” and the bad job that’s been done re-coloring Barks, it seems far more likely that he is referencing the controversy surrounding some of the international editions that have collected Barks in the past decade, where there has been a pretty loud outcry over the computer re-coloring. I seriously doubt that he means the Gladstone run, which, as you pointed out, was well-received.

I don’t know why the Internet brings out the jerkiness in people. “I won’t be buying this crap” etc.

I can appreciate that you want to stand up for someone who did a good job, but JESUS CHRIST MAN there is a way to be a person about it.

What on earth was stopping you from merely POINTING OUT that Susan was nominated for Eisners and Barks liked her work? Something along the lines of “It’s worth noting that…” and then you could say some NICE things, instead of bursting in and tossing around insults.

The way I’m writing this to you now, JW, is almost exactly the way I would speak to you if we were face-to-face in a human conversation. I hope for your sake that the way you commented isn’t the way you deal with people in real life, or else you must get into a lot of unpleasant conversations.

For the record, I LOVED Gladstone comics. They were a godsend for a Barks-loving kid who couldn’t afford Another Rainbow’s hardcover sets at the time. And I’m super-excited that Fantagraphics is “coming in late” to finally bring these great comics back into print in a way that they have never really been available before. JW, what they are doing IS new– no one has done book editions like this before, that will be targeted at a wider and more accessible readership. I don’t know why that would make you so angry, but I hope you either enjoy being angry or find a way to calm down.

Hmm…JW…Jim Woodring…is that you? You sly boots, you!

Rich is one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever seen at trying to remain true to the original source material when working on reprints. He hand-letters French translations, keeping as close to the original intent of the artist, and as a result his contribution to any work he assists with is always to make it far truer to the original source material than I could ever, as a reader, hope to expect. He is an extremely humble guy, and his beg-offs that he doesn’t know much are ridiculous to anyone familiar with his work; he simply holds himself to an impossibly high standard of excellence and, by his standards, NO one knows anything.

The childlike petulance of JW’s post is uninformed and rude. I always assume significant cowardice on the part of anyone who offers such internet gems without using a name.

Daigle-Leach’s colors are fine for catching kid’s eyes and as fine examples of early digital coloring, but are a far cry from source material. The use of a gradient in every background is a problem both aesthetically – it’s just not good coloring, though at the time it was the zeitgeist, so I’ll forgive that – but it displays, intentionally or not, a lack of confidence in the planes of Bark’s art to clearly differentiate themselves based solely on his masterful composition, which of course they can and do. I doubt Rich was referring to her work, and was likely mentioning those big European ones that are hideously colored, but even if he had been he’s justified in his concern that reprints have done a poor job of conveying the tone of the original.

I love the comments here! It’s great to see people standing up against endless whining and moaning. Just last week I was wringing my hands over seeing so many people complaining over a badly drawn book cover (a mild mistake, not a total travesty) and I was the only person who called anyone on their tantrums. It’s great to run into this article and see so many people following up another tantrum with smart, well reasoned comments while decrying whining.

JW, quit being ignorant. “This guy” is hardly learning to colour for the first time. Unlike Susan whatever her name is, he has not only been nominated for Eisner awards (multiple times), but has actually won one. The man has done a stack of wonderful comics of his own and he certainly knows a thing or two about a thing or two.

Matthew Southworth

February 19, 2011 at 11:28 am


I’m absolutely THRILLED to see people fighting back at the needless negativity of essentially anonymous internet postings. Maybe JW is having a bad day or something, but good god–show a little courtesy.

A) Fantagraphics is a national fucking treasure. And I’m not exaggerating. A HUGE number of comics that belong in the Smithsonian were published by Fantagraphics. And that means the Hernandez Brothers, Dan Clowes, Chris Ware. And those are only the tip-top of the heap.

So to say Fantagraphics is “late” to anything is pure insanity.

Frankly, if you’re not a Fantagraphics reader, you’ve got to investigate.

B) Rich Tommaso’s own comics are excellent; I’m a big fan of his MURIEL, PERVERSO!, and 8 1/2 GHOSTS. So I’m pleased to hear he has a regular job making some comics, even if it is just coloring reprints. I’m sure he’ll do an excellent job.

But again, YAY INTERNET! We will wrestle this technological marvel into shape as a means for actual human (and humane!) communication yet!

I personally love what Fantagraphics does with stuff like this, so not sure what JW’s comments mean. Carl Barks is a genius and I’ll be getting this.

I can’t wait to buy this. When is volume 1 available again? Late fall I think?

Sample pages, please!

Nathan Fairbairn

February 19, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Sounds good to me. I wonder what kind of paper stock they’ll be using. I hope they use something matte, maybe with a bit of tooth to it. I think if you’re going to do a prestige collection like this, you want something with more class than flash. I love my Hellboy library volumes, for example, but wish they hadn’t gone with glossy paper stock. The colors come out too saturated.

Anyway, best of luck to Rich and congrats on landing this dream gig!

C. Ratliff,

You mean by being available to a wider audience and more accessible that these Archives aren’t going to cost $40-$50 like every comparable series Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse do? We all know those books usually sell on the order of a whopping huge run of 1500-2500 hardcover copies!

Even Fantagraphics, whose editorial is contemptuous of any company and any person who doesn’t follow their line of thinking, prices to stay in business. That means their pricing really isn’t any different than the other companies.

As far as many of the follow-up posters attacking the original poster for having an opinion different than theirs and calling him ignorant, that just proves that I’m not missing much not going to a comic shop anymore…
It’s pathetic but hey you guys stick to your group-think and believe whatever Fantagraphics wants you to believe. It’s no different than Marvel Zombies, DC Fanatics, or others who believe the independent comics are the last creative niche left in comics. The comics industry is obviously collapsing quicker than ever around you and the rest of the population is quite happy without hearing geek arguments that really don’t matter one shit to the rest of the world… Your points are moot if the rest of us — 99.999% of the population (!) — choose not play in the quicksand pit any more. Doesn’t make you guys better — just more isolated than ever.

George C…you can’t put yourself “with the rest of us 99.999% of the population” if you’re posting on a comics message board about the recoloring of comics from the 40’s and 50’s by an independant comics publisher. I assure you you are with us .001 %. Stating otherwise doesn’t make you any better….and going against the popular vibe of this conversation “that dickish comments on the interent suck” and doing just that….doesn’t make you any cooler.

@GeorgeC: “attacking the original poster for having an opinion different than theirs”

Yes, George, THAT’S the problem people had with his post.

Don’t you love how any time anyone criticizes anyone for acting like a prick on the Internet, there’s always somebody close by to strawman it into “attacking him for having a different opinion”?

George C.

You’ve misunderstood my comment. What I mean — and what I said, if you’ll actually read my comment– is that no one has done “book editions” of Barks like this that would be targeted at a wider audience.

I’ll clarify: the Another Rainbow slipcase editions in the 80s were expensive direct market titles. You basically had to seek them out mail order or get them at a comic book shop. The titles Gladstone put out, likewise, were generally available at comic bookshops, not bookstores. And the Abbeville Press collections, which WERE available in general bookstores, were readable but hardly ideal editions– seriously shrunken, re-composed to fit a lot of panels on a big page, altered, not great coloring, etc. I don’t think it’s in any way a inaccurate to say that this is the first edition of Carl Barks comics collected in a serious way for a mainstream readership, ie people who don’t go to comic book shops.

What’s come before is some Barks stories compiled for hardcore collectors, some things available at direct sales comic book shops, and a handful of things published in books directed only at kids, in which there would usually be one Barks story thrown in with several other non-Barks stories.

You said: “You mean by being available to a wider audience and more accessible that these Archives aren’t going to cost $40-$50 like every comparable series Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse do? We all know those books usually sell on the order of a whopping huge run of 1500-2500 hardcover copies!”

The first book will be $25. I’m sure by the end of the series, the price will go up a little. But that’s significantly cheaper than the “comparable series” you mention.

I know you’re responding to the tone of some of the follow-up comments who were angered by JW’s initial post, but George, I honestly have to say that your sarcastic, combative tone isn’t helpful. Most of the tone of the responding comments has been that people on the internet act like jerks, and that it would be NICE if people started behaving a little differently in their dealings with people online. Yes, some people replied in kind to JW, but you just threw more fuel on the fire. WHY, George? To what end?

I would love to see a sample page! I like the idea of matching the old colors.

“Rich: He provided colorists with hand-colored mock-ups to follow, I believe.”

All of the colors were made by other people than Barks.
He might have made some color notes in the margin when needed though.

Barks tried in some cases to indicate what colors should be used when he thought it was vital to the story working (i.e. a big gold nugget). I think it was in Mike Barrier’s book that he commented that the colorists at Western Publishing invairiably did not follow his intentions. He eventually stopped even asking.

Another Rainbow/Gladstone did do Barks reprints targeted at the wider market with the albums that were in color and included articles (heck, I co-wrote what I think is the best examination from the perspective of a Barks fan of the Chilean book ‘How to Read Donald Duck’) often updated from their apperance in the hardbound library. Those books sold very well–I’m told many comic shops found them perennial sellers for parents looking for gifts, etc. And they were chronological.

I won;t be buying these books, but then I already own the AR hardbound Barks Library and actially prefer the black and white becausae that is the form Carl originally drew them. Yeah, he knew they would be colored but I enjoy the ink lines (his inking is incredible) w/o color. That is just my mileage–yours can easily vary.

I am thrilled these stories are being given a renewed chance to be seen by folks who are not fuddy duddy collector types like me. Hopefully Barks can have a rebirth of interest (things have been rather quiet for Barks fandom since the 80s). What matters is the stories deserve to be seen and read!

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