Deeper into the Strange! Head Lopper #7
One of the most pleasant surprises of 2016 was Andrew MacLean's Head Lopper, which redeemed some fairly standard sword-and-sorcery stuff with some magnificent storytelling. A key part of that has been the exemplary coloring of Jordie Bellaire. Amazing as she was for "Head Lopper and the Island" (#1-4) she really stepped it up for "Head Lopper and the Crimson Tower" (#5-8).
The story involves Norgal the Head Lopper and his companions venturing into the tituar tower, only to be thrust into a variety of cunning traps and strange mystical environments. Bellaire renders the world outside in a naturalistic color palette, but gives each section of the tower its own thematic palette - a trap room with a astronomical theme is all deep blues and purples; a swamp inhabited by harpies is all muted olives and teals; a mystic arctic hellscape is all cool blues and weird lavenders. The most effective use of color, though, is in this fight sequence from Head Lopper #7...
Norgal has journeyed into a verdant forest world, only to be sucked into a mystic pond where he must do battle with a mysterious eye-in-the-pyramid beast known as "Black Alpha." Let's take a look at how the color tells a story here.
The forest is rendered in green tones to suggest verdancy, but oddly in olive and jade hues that seem a bit off. The lair of the Black Alpha is rendered in garish orange hues that at first seem to contrast with the surface world. Then, when the Black Alpha begins to steal Norgal's life force and share it with the forest, the flowers begin to bloom with the same orange tones and you realize that this is not a forest world with a monster lair in it - the lair and the world are one and the same. And indeed, the orange tones of the Black Alpha's world do not contrast with those greens at all. They are, in fact, only two or three steps away on a color wheel.
These tones suffuse everything. There is no naturalistic color on these pages at all, everything is taken over by these garish, hungry colors in a way that makes the scene intense and otherworldly.
Fortunately, Norgal's companion Agatha (the disembodied head) comes to the rescue, unleashing a blast of green fire that destroys the beast. The lime green color is one of Agatha's visual motifs, and Bellaire is careful to make sure that nothing else in the sequence comes too close to it in hue and intensity so that it truly stands out. Here's where another clever trick comes into play. By setting the base color of the page to an off-white newsprint color, Bellaire is able to add in pure white as necessary to pull the eye and create dazzling moments of brightness that give this scene a little extra oomph.
Once the Black Alpha is defeated, the color palette begins to fade over the next few pages. At first, everything is still in the repugnant orange color palette, only darkened several shades to change the atmosphere from heat and hunger to one of rot, burn, and decay. Only the creature's vile slime retains the truly intense orange colors, and it's used sparingly to suggest how its life is ebbing away.
Once Norgal returns to the surface, everything is back to a more realistic palette. The magic of this world is gone.