Coloring Comics Retro Shoujo (40s-80s) Style!



Oh boy! This month's tips are about two of my favorite topics: landscape and coloring comics. Since I'm making a comic now, we'll start with coloring first. And we're gonna color comics the way I know best: Lots of glittery galaxy eyes, curly blond ringlets, and defined noses and lips as far as the eye can see. In other words, retro shoujo manga! Three ways, no less!

Do note that what mediums used are based on educated guesswork and may be wrong (the medium used to color a 1970s shoujo manga may be human blood, for all I can tell), so take this with a grain of salt.

A Bit of Insight Into Manga

It is accepted that manga is traditionally a black and white medium. In fact, here is a general chart showing the percentage of colored manga pages in a manga:

This doesn't sound like much, and it isn't. This is because black and white manga is quicker and cheaper to produce than colored manga. Coloring is usually reserved for the manga cover and for certain occasions, such as the first few pages and one off issues.

If someone does want to color in their manga, nowadays they either use alcohol markers or color them in digitally. However, both of these weren't commercially available until at least the late 80s. So what was used back then? Well...

Colored Manga, part 1: Dots, Dots Everywhere!

From the 1930s to the 1960s, a typical colored shoujo manga page looks like this, with a few exceptions:

This drawing will be used for demonstration:

Before we begin, I recommend reading this article for more information on Ben Day Dots and on how to make your own retro halftone brushes:

In seperate layers, all set to multiply, I first add cyan.

Then magenta:

And finally, yellow:

By now, you should have something like this:

That's it! Just paint the dots with the colors cyan, magenta, and yellow. Just be wary about the placement of dots!

BONUS TIP: If you REALLY want to get experimental with this style of comic coloring, try coloring in various shades of yellow, magenta, and cyan:

Coloring Manga Part #2: Softer and Bolder

Before the 1960s, watercolors and colored inks were used specifically for covers. Once shoujo manga's target audience have gotten sick of seeing Ben Day Dots in their manga, many shoujo mangaka began coloring their manga pages with these two mediums, either entirely in watercolors, entirely in colored inks, or both. Here is an example of a page painted in both watercolors and colored inks:

Back to the demonstration. Here, I start with watercolors for her skin:

One layer is used for base skin, the other is for shading:

BONUS TIP: If you want to paint quickly in a certain spot of your comic (ie skin, eyes, etc), the quick mask tool is the quickest way to do so.

I also did the same with the lady's hat:

And the sky:

Now, on to the colored inks. They tend to offer more vibrancy than the watercolors and also dry on paper much quicker.

I made three brushes that best resemble colored inks, one that is 1/4 diluted for transparent painting, one not diluted for sharp detail, and a 1/2 diluted brush that is in between the two.

For the 1/4 brush:

And the 1/2 brush:

And finally, the non diluted brush:

To finish this off, I added a shading layer to the lady, except where light will hit her:

And of course, eye shines!:

Here is the end result:

BONUS TIP: What does a mangaka from the Showa era do when they want color in their manga, but is limited by time and resources? They usually do the art of Nishoku, or coloring with two colors, usually red and either black or a very dark blue. Since modern manga doesn't rely on Nishoku anymore, it is a surefire way to date your comic.


I do hope that these tips will help you. And of course, any feedback is appreciated!

For more information about retro shoujo manga, I recommend checking out this tumblr blog:

Until next time...



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