A Journey Through Color in Isola 2

By Spencer Irwin

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Using color to differentiate settings and characters is not new — even television shows such as Heroes or The Defenders have done it — but I’m still amazed by how well Isola uses the technique. It helps that Msassyk’s colors (combined with Karl Kerschl’s crisp, animation-worthy artwork) are so jaw-droppingly gorgeous — they’d take readers on an immersive journey by that merit alone — yet Msassyk takes things to the next level by constantly varying palettes throughout the issue, shifting his color schemes to indicate new locations, introduce new characters (or bring back old ones), and even just show the passing of time. By the end of the issue things look completely different from the outset, making readers feel like they’ve truly taken a journey with Rook and Olwyn, truly spent a night making their way through this lush fantasy world with them.

It’s easiest to see how Msassyk uses color to mark the passage of time; the issue opens at night, in a world immersed in dark blues, and ends well into the morning, in a countryside bathed in sunlight. It isn’t just that Msassyk and writer Brenden Fletcher show time passing, though; it’s when they choose to reflect that. Rook enters a ruined city at night (with the haze filling the city shifting from blue to purple to indicate the change in location), and as she explores the ruins we slowly start to see the sun peeking over the horizon. The sun fully emerges just as Bendix, a fellow soldier and acquaintance of Rook, appears.

I can practically hear the music swelling! This introduction seemingly sets up Bendix for a heroic role, especially when contrasted with the “scrapper” Rook meets on the page prior, who has a more supernaturally, slightly eerie and menacing purple color scheme that follows her throughout the issue, often taking over panels in which she appears. Of course, the opposite ends up being true — Bendix betrays Rook, while the scrapper rescues her — and the colors do a wonderful job throwing readers off the trail of that particular plot point, at least initially.

The city takes on a yellow glow during the day, but Bendix leads Rook to a library with a distinctly green hue. I suppose there’s nothing too special about different settings having different color palettes, but I love Isola‘s use of them nonetheless, because it makes each setting stand out as a distinct area and reminds readers of exactly how many new places they’re being shown. It reinforces that this is a quest, a journey. Within the library, Msassyk also leans on color to reinforce mood.

We’ve got the standard green of the library, but that quickly shifts to harsh yellows and reds when the wolves attack Bendix, and that purple returns along with the scrapper in the final panel.

So in Isola, color reflects the passage of time, the appearance of certain characters, and changes in location. Nothing stays the same for long, and that reflects Isola‘s narrative, which is constantly moving forward towards a fixed destination, constantly introducing new players, locations, and twists. What a smart, beautiful, and effective use of color.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

3 comments on “A Journey Through Color in Isola 2

  1. Saying “even television shows such as Heroes or The Defenders have done it” is weirdly dismissive towards TV, especially for something that you acknowledge is a basic technique. The use of colour as a way to distinguish between location or acts has been a basic cinematic technique for decades. There is nothing incredible about TV using such a simple technique that all colour visual mediums use. Whether it is a Prestige TV show like the Defenders (Defenders wasn’t good, but belongs in the Prestige TV genre) or a network show like Heroes, it isn’t that special. Hell, even Batman v Superman and Infinity War used colours in this way to either represent the shift of the story through each act or to distinguish locations (that’s how you use ‘even…’, you use something like Batman v Superman or Infinity War that is awful enough that the fact that they used the technique at all is surprising)

    That isn’t to say that Isola’s colours don’t deserve special praise for how well they are done – the colours are extraordinary. But you can praise the colours without degrading an entire medium that has produced decades of high quality content

    Also, looking forward to reading Idol’s and may pick up the first two issues instead of doing what I normally do and wait for trade. Looks amazing

    • That’s fair. I think what I meant by that was that you think it would be harder to use this kind of technique in a medium like (live action) television (or film, for that matter) which has to deal with colors that already exist instead of adding in colors from scratch like in comics, but they still use it anyway, hence the “even.” But I worded that poorly, and your interpretation of my words fits what I said much more, even if it’s not what I actually meant. We have fairly fast turn-around time on most of these pieces, and 99% of the time I think we don’t let it show, but every once in a while I look back on something I wrote and there’s something (like this) where i’m just not sure what I was thinking, or why I chose to word it a certain way, haha. But I watch a ton of TV, it certainly wasn’t meant as a slam at the medium.

      And yeah, I like Isola’s story well enough, but it’s worth your time for the art alone. You could almost treat it like an artbook, just flipping through and immersing yourself in the art without even thinking about the story. It’s brilliant on that level.

      • Yeah, I thought that is what you meant. But think it was worth bringing up just to draw your attention so you are more aware of the problem so you don’t let that mistake happen again, even if there will always be another. I certainly understand the risk of fast turn around. My comments are generally editing disasters because I’m trying to write quickly and not giving time to give them the time and attention they deserve.

        And while cinema has some limits of reality on colouring, there is a lot they can do to influence it. Like building sets or thinking of colour as a key element of location scouts. And that is before we get to the power of things like lighting or colour correction. It is amazing how many complex tools there are

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