We hardly knew ye

August 23rd, 2016

Comics Catalyst is canceled because it wasn’t a very good idea to begin with. I’m not a comics educator and I don’t know why I thought I was qualified enough to act as one.

How color affects atmosphere

April 21st, 2016

Learning how colors interact is all well and good, but how do you decide which colors to use? Colors have a powerful effect on how readers experience your comic; well-chosen colors can define everything from the temperature of an environment to the emotions of the characters.

Warm vs. Cool

The decision between a warm color versus a cool color is the most influential choice that you face while selecting a color palette. These categories act immediately on the reader’s interpretation of the scene, so they define the first impression.

Warm colors convey a sense of comfort and familiarity. Scenes of home life, fond memories of the past, and moments of closeness between characters are often colored in warm hues.

Cool colors are unwelcoming, creating a sense of disorientation or even hostility. Scenes of treacherous environments, office buildings, and confrontations between characters are often colored with cool hues.

On the left, Mike is alone and depressed, his mood reflected by the cool palette. On the right, he’s no longer alone and in a somewhat better mood, reflected by the warm palette. Source: Mare Internum by Der-Shing Helmer.

Color temperature is also very effective at suggesting the environmental temperature of a scene. We automatically associate warm colors with heat and cool colors with cold, so your choice of colors may often dictate how readers understand the climate of your setting. (Game of Thrones uses this to great effect; the further north a scene is set, the cooler its palette.)

This applies not only to air temperature but also emotional temperature: anger and other passionate emotions easily associate with warm colors, and cool colors imply detachment or depression.

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Once you understand how colors are defined, it’s easy to learn the most common and effective ways to combine them. Most limited palettes are one of three basic types, and any one of them can be used to create an eye-catching and consistent look for your own artwork.

We’re going to be referring to the color wheel a lot in this post, so for reference, here it is:


An analogous color palette is made up of hues which exist near each other on the color wheel. These are particularly useful for scenes lit with colored light. The colors of an analogous palette are equal in saturation and value.

An example of the analogous palette.

The old sea dog again, this time colored with an analogous palette.

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How colors are defined

March 30th, 2016

Choosing good colors has always been something of a struggle for me. I like bright, eye-catching colors, and I often end up using far too many of them in my artwork. The end result of this is typically a mess that looks like unicorn vomit. Colors are treacherous little buggers.

Luckily, almost everything you need to know about colors can be condensed into four basic principles. Learn what these mean, and you'll be well on your way toward constructing your first solid, reliable limited palette.


Hue, put simply, is the "base color" of an object: green grass, blue sky. The hues are easily arranged around the familiar color wheel, which is essentially the color spectrum depicted as a loop instead of a linear sequence.

The color wheel (which we’ll discuss in greater depth next time) is arranged so that every hue appears across from its opposite, which in art terminology is referred to as its complement. Complementary hues are an extremely important concept in palette construction (as we will discuss next time) which makes the color wheel a must-have tool for the artist.

Variation of hues.

A salty sea-dog colored using hue variation alone. A pretty ugly look, as you can see.

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What is a limited palette?

March 17th, 2016

If you can use any color you want to…should you?

The short answer is no. Comic artwork must, above all, be easy to read. That means colors must be chosen carefully to direct the reader’s attention and avoid distraction. The comic page must also be attractive, and excessive colors can quickly become overwhelming and ugly. Color choices are critical to conveying the appropriate mood and atmosphere of a scene.

The limited palette is the key to good color choices. (Palette refers to the set of colors used in the artwork.) To create a limited palette, the artist must choose the colors she is going to use prior to beginning the coloring process. Though this can seem restrictive, in practice a limited palette is more than adequate for most color work, all while keeping it grounded.

Let’s look at a few examples. At the top of each image I have placed swatches that define the colors used in the palette.

Nobody Scores!
This is Nobody Scores! by Brandon Bolt. Bolt is one of the masters of the limited palette; every episode of Nobody Scores! is colored with the same set of primary colors (plus green). This creates a strong sense of consistency across the comic, and gives it a very distinctive look. Note that he uses multiple values (light vs. dark) of each hue, which allows a set of four colors to become a source of many more. A much lighter version of the red becomes a skin tone, a lighter version of the blue becomes a neutral background.

An important thing to keep in mind is that we read colors relative to their context. In the final panel, the skin tone in the the framed portrait is identical to the color of the chandelier in the first. Yet they “read” differently. While a gold-skinned portrait would look odd in most cases, when used as part of a limited palette, the color seems perfectly appropriate. (Note that if Bolt had used the same skin tone he uses for the characters, it would have called undue attention to the portrait.)
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Hi everybody!

March 12th, 2016

Comics Catalyst is just getting started, but please feel free to look around and make yourself at home. If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me, and sign up for the newsletter to be informed as new content appears.

Thanks for visiting, and please stick around! It’s going to be fun.

Review: Jenny Music

March 12th, 2016

Welcome to the Comics Catalyst review series! Let’s kick off the journey with a look at Jenny Music by Eddie Monotone, a mostly-silent but very daring adventure comic. To get your comic reviewed, go here.

Jenny Music

Despite having just four chapters so far, Jenny Music is on a roll. Our title character is an unstoppable spy-for-hire with a ponderous blue ponytail. Her missions invariably take her deep into hostile territory, which provides ample opportunities for some exuberant fight scenes. The comic’s creator, Eddie Monotone, draws with a confident and well-defined line reminiscent of cel animation. Let’s take a closer look.

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Strong characters, solid world-building, and an intriguing premise are all well and good, but without a plot, your story has nothing to keep it moving. Creating a plot may seem an intimidating task, but a variety of predefined plot structures exist, and greatly simplify the task.

Is this cheating? Not really. These plot structures are vague enough that they don’t dominate the story itself, and of course you’re free to diverge from them as you see fit. Using them to define your story just helps make sure that you have a beginning, middle, and end, and that all the pieces work together.

Choose one and see what you can make. If you haven’t started a story yet, this is a great way to let your imagination run wild. If you already have started a story, take this opportunity to make sure you’re on the right track.

1The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey, or “Monomyth,” is among the best-known plot structures. It was initially described by Joseph Campbell, a scholar of folklore who noticed that many ancient hero myths followed the same pattern. The Hero’s Journey became even more widely known when George Lucas used it to guide the original Star Wars. The exact description varies, but here is one interpretation of it.

  1. Call to Adventure. The protagonist is invited to embark upon a quest.
  2. Rejection of the Call. The protagonist says he can’t do it. (He has a doctor’s appointment that day.)
  3. Supernatural Aid. The protagonist meets someone from outside of his world who offers to help guide him.
  4. The Threshold. The protagonist makes a decision that commits him to the quest. Once he’s crossed the threshold, there’s no turning back.
  5. Trials and Temptations. The protagonist undergoes difficult experiences as he attempts to reach the goal.
  6. Mentor. The protagonist meets a teacher figure who provides important knowledge he will need later on.
  7. The Underworld. After more trials and temptations, the protagonist enters the deep and forbidding realm of the enemy. While here, he will undergo a transformation that will enable him to win the day in the end.
  8. Refusal to Return. At this point the protagonist decides to stay in the underworld, either because he has lost the will to continue or has achieved some status there.
  9. Ascension. Something changes his mind, and the protagonist rises from the underworld better prepared to face the challenges of the quest.
  10. Rescue. The protagonists’s many acquaintances from earlier return to assist him in his darkest hour.
  11. Glorious Return. The protagonist is victorious in his quest. He has overcome his physical and mental challenges, and is confident in himself.

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Let’s Make Better Comics.

March 5th, 2016

John W. Allie

Hello aspiring cartoonists of the internet! I’m John Allie, and I’ve been making comics for years. Comics Catalyst is the site that I wish had been around when I was first getting started. Certainly there’s a lot of information out there already, but books are limited and classes are expensive. Comics Catalyst is an ongoing journey, bringing you the best tutorials, tips, and inspirations on a regular basis.

This blog is about what you want to learn. If there’s a subject you’d like to see covered in more depth, drop me a line. To get in the loop, sign up for Cartoonist’s Notebook, my exclusive newsletter.

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Bill Watterson

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