Setting Up Values in a Comic

I want to take a moment to talk about color values and why they’re important to make a comic page not look like a raging mess.

Chris Oatley, character designer for Disney and Paper Wings guru, recently said that value is the container of color. When one composes an illustration, and a comic page is definitely an illustration whose layout requires attention, one has to pay attention to value in order to lead the reader’s eye around the page. The atmosphere on this page is very dark, so in order to communicate to the reader what is important to look at and what isn’t, I use values.



It’s really easy to set up a layer to help you look at your composition in sheer values without damaging the colors underneath. Simply create a layer filled completely with black and set the blend mode to “hue”. This allows me to view my page in terms of values, and I’m starting to do this more and more to make sure my compositions are balanced.


If you look at this page without color and without shading, you’ll see it’s in danger of being very drab. I’m careful to set a light background against characters with a lot of dark tones to them, and a very dark background against well-highlighted characters. (Fun fact: Both Priss and Trey’s skin tones actually have the same value throughout the page, but because of the background pairings, either character pops or recedes.)

Once I’ve sorted out how the backgrounds will be flatted in terms of value, I make sure to add in highlights to set apart some of the darker characters (readers will notice I’m quite fond of rim lights on my characters, also known as backlighting). Also, I threw a really intense light outline around Trey in the final panel, because I thought his hair was getting lost in the dark gutter space above him. In panels 4 and 5 where Priss is going back and forth, texture is what I use to set those characters apart from the background.Overall, I’m trying to pay more attention to composition and I hope these little snippets will help you in noticing these things that artists do, or give you ideas for your own artwork.
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