“Lighten Up” Explores Comic Coloring

Lighten Up by Ronald Wimberly

Comic artist Ronald Wimberly put out The Prince of Cats through Vertigo a couple of years ago. He’s also drawn and colored some pages for Marvel, an experience he powerfully illustrates in “Lighten Up”, a comic posted at The Nib today. While working on the comics, he was asked by his editor to lighten the skin tone of a Latina character, and he writes about the thoughts that resulted from the request. Wimberly tackles institutional racism and comic coloring in a direct, illustrated fashion, and the use of comics to make his point is a perfect choice. You should read this.

Lighten Up by Ronald Wimberly

You can see more of Wimberly’s art at his Tumblr.


  • Mike

    Well, I’ve read his comic and would say that no, the editor’s question may not have been racist. There’s any number of reasons why an editor would request a colorist to change something. Here’ s what’s not said in his comic– how has the character been represented in the past? Perhaps the editor was interested in continuity with previous versions of the character. While it’s true that colors change under different lighting situations, characters are often presented in the same range of hues most of the time. We don’t know because we’re not told.

    Furthermore, the editor is not adamant about what color the character must be. She states that she has “heard” what the character’s ethnicity is, and she is making a decision based on her impression of what someone has told her. She did not say “I don’t care how she’s been described in the past; this character is now latina and white.” THAT would be racist. Obviously, the colorist has opinions based on color, and that influences how he chooses to add color to characters. if the editor heard latina, and that called to mind a particular image, then she is merely going through the same process the colorist went through. We don’t know what her experience has been with latinas in the past. There may also have been some other aesthetic reason the change was requested. We have very little information to go on.

    The most telling fact that this is not racist is that the colorist made no change and no one cared. If this was an issue of racism, then the art would have come back with instructions to change the color, making the color an important issue. The author of the cartoon would like to read some other reason into it, but more than likely it didn’t matter and no one pressed the issue. Sometime people just make comments because they feel they should to be doing their job. If you look at the message in which the editor identifies the character as latina and white, before that, she says that the art has to get to the printer quickly. So that probably had more to do with the decision to not worry about a non-issue more than white guilt about editors suddenly realizing they should never have said anything about a character’s color.

    I only respond to this because, while I agree that there should be diversity in comics and that there is racism in the industry, as there is in society, no one benefits from splitting hairs to the point that any distinction about recognizing the difference in culture or skin tone is taken as racism. The fact is that the character is a hispanic female. That is diversity. Arguing about how dark she should be to *really* be diverse comes the across as nitpicking that makes petty and undermines actual concerns about these issues. The fact that there are few if any black editors is a more salient point to argue.

  • He does say in his comic how she’s been represented in the past — the editor replies to him that “Melita’s changed over the years”. You’re also mistaken in calling him the “colorist” — he’s an artist who does his own coloring. I also think you have a different understanding of institutional racism than others do.

    While having a hispanic female character (who to my knowledge doesn’t appear any more) might be “diversity”, if she looks the same as the other women in the comic, it doesn’t help. And in my opinion, preferring “continuity” over diversity is why comics is such a mostly-white place.

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