This is a pretty basic decision to make when you’re starting your next comic. Whilst each writer/artist probably already has their own preferences when it comes to this, I thought it might be useful to list some of the advantages of making your comic in colour and some of the advantages of making your comic in greyscale and/or black& white.
(As a point of clarification, “greyscale” refers to drawing using black, white and all of the various shades of grey (all fifty of them LOL!) – whereas “black & white” refers to just using these two colours. Although the two terms sometimes end up being used interchangeably and I’ll probably use them in this way in this article.)
There aren’t really any fixed rules with this and it’s totally ok to make comics in both formats but it’s probably best avoided within the same comic series (eg: the second episode of my “CRIT” comic is in colour, whereas most of the rest of it is in greyscale. Whilst this kind of ruins the consistency of the comic, I couldn’t really imagine drawing the second episode in anything but colour.)
I should probably point out that the two formats tend to work best with different genres (eg: B&W works excellently with “Film Noir”-style comics and colour artwork often works well in fantasy comics and some types of cyberpunk comics) and if you’re totally unsure, then it’s probably best to err on the side of caution and draw your comic just in B&W without using any grey – you can always add colour or grey later if you think that it works better.
Likewise, I’ll mostly be talking about traditional drawing here – using pens and pencils. However, most of this also applies to digital drawing using a graphics tablet too.
So, what are the advantages of drawing your comic in B&W?
1) It’s quicker: It sounds fairly obvious, but it’s true. B&W is generally more suited to slightly simpler backgrounds which only really include the key elements of a particular scene – everything stands out a lot more, so brevity is important. This also means that it’s often quicker to draw things in B&W than it is to draw them in colour, which can be useful if you’re producing a longer comic or are working to a schedule. For example, it’s also one of the reasons why cartoonists in newspapers often draw in B&W (although the limitations of the printing technology may have also played a part in this too).
However, I should point out that, if you’re writing the comic as well, then the difference in speed isn’t really as huge as you may think, but it’s still noticeable. Plus, you also have to be more careful about selecting colours too – since you only really have three basic colours to work with (black, white and grey), which means that you have to be very selective when it comes to making sure that things look different enough to stand out from each other at first glance. However, using things like cross-hatching can be quite a useful way to differentiate between two objects of the same colour which are fairly close to each other.
2) There is more emphasis on the writing: Because both the text and the art are in B&W, it means that the writing and the art are on equal terms. This can be something of a double-edged sword though: if your writing is great – then it will be more noticeable. However, if your writing is terrible – then it will be more noticeable too. Your readers are less likely to be distracted by the artwork too, so the writing matters more.
3) It’s atmospheric and it just looks…honest! Dammit!: I’ve mentioned that B&W art is pretty much essential for some genres of comics, but it can also add atmosphere to a lot of other genres too if it’s done properly. Not to mention that, unlike films, it can look the absolute opposite of pretentious if it’s done correctly.
A lot of colour art in mass-produced comic books can look slightly too stylised and “professional” and (with a truly talented artist) sometimes almost photo-realistic and often with lots of fancy digital effects too. In reality, it takes a hell of a lot more effort, talent and practice to produce this kind of art and it’s almost always drawn digitally – but, well, there’s a lot of it out there and your reader might think that it looks mass-produced or whatever. Kind of like the difference between an art movie and the latest blockbuster with multi-million dollar Hollywood special-effects.
However, with B&W art, it’s a lot easier for your writers to imagine you, the artist, sitting there with a pen and a pencil and drawing the whole thing by hand. It just gives it a certain honest and unpretentious quality, which can be quite appealing. However, I’ll let you in on a secret, you can still draw it using a graphics tablet (if you really want to) and you can still edit it digitally (and add effects) after you’ve finished it. You can digitally edit traditional art too after you scan or digitally photograph it. Plus, it’s easier to make any digital edits look less noticeable in B&W art than it is with colour art.
4) It’s easier for it to be taken seriously by readers: See the previous two points on this list.
5) You just need a pen and/or a pencil: In one way, it’s the ultimate form of low-budget art. You don’t need lots of coloured pencils or watercolours or anything like that. Just a pen and a pencil. Although, personally, I find that using a pen to draw the lines and using coloured pencils for the black and grey parts of a drawing tends to work best (since ordinary pencils can smudge quite easily if you aren’t careful).
6) It just looks cooler: Pretty self-explanatory really.
Ok, now let’s talk about the advantages of drawing your comic in colour:
1) Realism: It’s a simple fact that, unless you have monchromacy , you experience the world in colour. Colour art is inherently more realistic, in the same way that colour films and photographs are. Whilst this isn’t essential for immersing your readers in your story, it helps to add a sense of realism to a comic – even if the colours you use are fairly simple or garish.
2) There is more emphasis on the art and the writing: Colour art stands out a lot more. It’s brighter and it grabs your attention a lot more than B&W does. This can be useful if your comic is more about the art itself than the writing (like my “Somnium” comic).
However, unless you’re Delerium of The Endless, speech bubbles in comics are in black and white – so, there is also a fair amount of contrast between the writing and the art. This means that there is still a fair amount of emphasis on the writing too – but it isn’t always quite the “make or break” thing that it is in B&W comics.
3) There is a lot more contrast: Because you have a whole range of colours to work with rather than just black, white and grey – it’s a lot easier to distinguish between all of the different details in a drawing at first glance. This means that you can make your backgrounds a lot more detailed without worrying that the reader may just see nothing but a sea of grey. Everything just looks more easily recognisable, so you can add a lot more detail.
4) If you make your art digitally, then you have a much wider range of colours available: In fact, you have every possible combination of red, green and blue – even on MS Paint (which I still use for digital drawings), there is still a colour selection/custom colours tool which you can use to choose any possible colour which you want to use(as well as the “Pick Color” tool, which is essential for editing scanned traditional drawings) .
5) It just looks cooler: Pretty self-explanatory really.
6) Childhood nostalgia: On a subconscious level, colour comic books help to appeal to this in your readers. Yes, comics are a serious art-form now, but most people probably started off with reading superhero comics or The Beano or The Dandy or whatever. All of these comic books tend to be quite brightly-coloured and garish. So, if your comic (even if it’s a serious one ) is in colour, then it may well subconsciously appeal to this sense of childhood nostalgia and fascination in your readers, which may make your readers more interested in reading it.
Ok, the fact is that neither format is “better” or “worse” than the other – however, some formats are more appropriate for some comics and, with other comics, it doesn’t matter as much. There are no hard and fast rules here. Just go with whatever seems to work with your particular comic.