This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on August 6, 2014.
Bodies is an ambitious comic. It combines the diversity of an anthology with a shared premise that promises to connect four stories. And these are four very different stories. The art, tone, style, and year of each six page segment is vastly different from that of its compatriots. The only thing that really connects them is the discovery of a mangled body somewhere in London. Although this structure makes it difficult to find a hook for each individual story and their separate protagonists, it does provide an excellent format to examine differences in art.
It’s typically difficult to detect the nuances of a colorists work, especially for readers not interested in parsing out individual contributions to art. In most comics reviews and writing, art is lumped into a pile that includes pencils, inks, colors, and sometimes even lettering. That’s not reflective of the process or work put into these images, but it is how comics are normally ingested. Bodies is refreshing in that it allows readers to easily compare and contrast the distinct inputs from different artists as well as the variation and skill of one artist in particular: Lee Loughridge.
Loughridge has been coloring comics for more than a decade and has contributed to long runs on titles likeFables, Hellblazer, and Gotham Central. His coloring work in Bodies brings a unique mood to each of the four stories that enhances not only the work of the individual artist, but Si Spurrier’s writing as well. It is worth taking some time examine how the coloring work enhances every story in its own unique way. Doing so not only displays Loughridge’s versatility as an artist, but the impact colorists can have on comics.
The first story is set in the current year, 2014. Meghan Hetrick’s art reflects this with a contemporary style that would not be out of place on a creator-owned Image title or a mainstream comic from Marvel or DC Comics. It creates an accessible starting point. Loughridge focuses on modern sensibilities here as well, emulating the same easily palatable style that Hetrick creates. Each character, object, or background is distinguished by its own colors. Everything is made to be faux-realistic with plenty of shading and separate forms. The colors are also true to life. Skin tones, clothing, and vehicles all appear as we perceive them.
There is an almost monochromatic scheme of blue cast over these pages though. It is potentially explainable as the result of an overcast London afternoon, but clearly works to establish a mood through the use of colors. For as modern as the art seeks to be, it simultaneously establishes a unique color scheme that distinguishes this section of the book at a brief glance. Loughridge builds similar schemes into the later sections as well.
In the second section the comic moves to the year 1890, only two years after Jack the Ripper walked the streets. Dean Ormston’s pencil work here is very different, including lots of cross hatching and slightly exaggerated forms and faces. It is reminiscent of Victorian era sketching, also seen in works like From Hell. Here Loughridge opts to focus on the older sensibilities at play and provides minimal colors. Most of the work is defined in black and white, with various shades of red being used for inflection. This approach emphasizes shadows and relies more on Ormston’s inks to color the page, than Loughridge’s limited palette.
There is something to be said for the minimalist aesthetic chosen here. In addition to reinforcing a sense of place by reflecting the period when the story takes place, it creates a palpable mood. The focus on shadows help to build a society where things are seen in black and white, where a conflicted protagonist cannot find any middle ground. Loughridge choice of reds to highlight each panel is purposeful as well. The color casts a grim mood that builds upon the supernatural elements present. The prominence of the color red also helps to establish the theme of each period containing its own color scheme.
The third section moves to the opposite end of the chronological spectrum to 2050. Tula Lotay, recently acclaimed for her work with Warren Ellis on Supreme: Blue Rose #1, backs away from the hard lines of Ormston’s work and provides a more dreamlike quality to her future landscape. In the future, language is being forgotten and the world has become warped, almost alien. Loughridge helps to visually construct these ideas by coloring the pages in a muted, washed out palette. Characters and their surrounding blur together ever so slightly.
This creates the effect of a landscape changed by some catastrophic event, as if the sun moved a few measures closer to the earth. The cause of this change is a mystery, but its impact is clear. The soft colors present here suggest a dreamlike state that may be expounded upon in future issues. It’s easier to understand what may be happening in this post-apocalyptic landscape through the art than the limited narrative. The sequences outdoors take place in a banana yellow wash that provides a cohesive color scheme and once again makes the world of the future seem like a very strange place.
The final stories turns to the 1940s in a noir detective tale. Phil Winslade structures this section to contain plenty of shadows and grit, evoking the feel of this very American genre set in London. Loughridge understands the mood trying to be established and helps to enhance the darkness in this section. Everything feels hidden or, at least, as if it should be. He uses a distinctive set of colors here, more similar to the modern section than the far future or past, to clearly define actors in each scene. Yet here they have a dirty quality to them, brushed with flecks of brown and black like they passed through a cloud of soot.
The color palette here seeks out the shadows that drip across most panels. When an explosion rips through one page, exposing it to light, it becomes clear that this story is set to the color black. Loughridge does an excellent job of juxtaposing light to the darkness and calls attention to the themes of hidden acts and the risk of exposure.
With such a great range of storytelling styles, Bodies #1 is an excellent showcase for artists. Spurrier has written a comic that has very little room to set up four interesting stories. So the artists involved are tasked with carrying the story forward and hook readers on this high concept. The assembled artistic team does so admirably and no one contribution is greater than that of Lee Loughridge. He is capable of discerning the unique needs of the story and art in each plot, enhancing the work and drawing forth the most important elements. In doing this he not only proves his importance to this one endeavor, but the incredible value colorists can add to every comics page.