Reprinted from Women Write About Comics, “4 Colorism” is a primer on printing technologies from the 1970s to the mid-1990s through the prism of the brown skin of Black superheroes. Prior to the 1990s superhero comics were letterpress printed on news-print, often with a palette of only 64 colors. In this period, colors were muted and prone to error across the whole page, but these printing and coloring methods were especially limiting to depictions of brown skin: brown was rendered unsettlingly greenish, inhuman, and inconsistent—especially in contrast to the relative consistency of white skin and the subtlety of whiteness within the same pages. Like photographic technology, letterpress printing on newsprint reinforced a certain blankness and normality of whiteness, while overdetermining brown skin with a hypervisible—and yet inadequate—quantity of ink. Smith combines close readings of her own collection of paper comics with industry and academic sources to understand the confl uence of technology, husbandry, and market requirements that drove the slow progress of the Black comic book character from streaky green to rich brown.


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Print ISSN
pp. 340-356
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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