Friday, 29 January 2016

Spacehawk 2 - The Many-Coloured God!

(Before we begin, I should state that everything I'm talking about takes place during the 'Golden Age' of Spacehawk, the first 9 or 10 issues. The later issues will be discussed in 'The Case of the Missing Tires'.)


Colour is the king comic this serves. More than that, it's Wolvertons right hand, as if colour itself were behind him as he drew, coiling in the air, reaching down to touch his pen.

Behind the artist stands a hierarchy of drives and desires, abilities and skills. Like a court of  competing lords, each generating and solving particular kinds of problem in particular ways. My best guess at Wolvertons court of art is this; 

On the left;
On the right;
Queen Invention
Heroism, Otherness
Empathy, Technology,
An arguably-sketchy (depending on what he used it for) Orientalism, and Patriotism.
King Colour
Form, Energy, Expression
Bold Line, Kinesis/Hapsis

When any problem comes up, when any opportunity presents itself, when any question is asked, the prime and first answer is always a duel, or conversation, between colour and invention.

Can I invent something? Can I show it with colour?


There are rules for the way that colour is used. They are simple and strong and probably the most important rules in the comic. They are the comics Constitution.

- Singular. No mixing, shading, feathering or any change within a colour block. The depth or shape of objects is never given with colour, only with line.

- Bound. It must be entirely bound by distinct, strong lines. No flowing of one colour into another, or of one shape into another.

- Primary. Any colour used should be as close the the strongest primaries as possible. Other, less distinct shades should only be used in special circumstances or when the primaries have already been used up.

- Opposed. No colour should be seen against itself. That is, no red against red, blue on blue etc. Colours should be counterpoised so that seeing them against each other produces the strongest possible visual signal.

You can see this re-colouring gets it really wrong.


- Simple objects. Objects tend not to have much detail, instead they have other objects. A wall, for instance, tends not to have panelling, instead it has a vent, machine or mysterious flange.

- Distinct objects. Each object is entirely itself and separate from its environment. What this means is that when you look at almost anything in Spacehawk, you can imagine picking it up, detaching it from its context and carrying it away.

- Everything is an object. Guns and people and space ships are objects, but so is everything non-material. Outer space is an object, it's like a thick blanket of wavy lines. Energy is an object, its a sharp jagged spray locked into the page. The movement of rockets is a white pennant that follows them about like a flag.

- Shape defined by line and nothing else. Each object is usually its own colour. If it has depth, for instance, the curve of a bulkhead or the folds in a jumpsuit, it will be given by short, strong lines or by minimal crosshatching.

                - Subheading, RIVETS. If the shape or curve of any made thing in the story can be defined by rivets, then it will be.

- Haptic. Things are depicted more how they feel than how they would look. 'Fluid' objects like clothes or alien flesh are like clay, or play-dough. Solid 'technological' objects are like smooth, hard, shiny plastic. There are no fine folds or delicate things.

                - Subheading, Faces. All the alien faces look like they could be shaped out of clay. At one point, Spacehawk literally shapes himself an alien face out of a kind of clay. Alien faces should be massively over-expressive in the way that children’s drawings are. Big eyes, big mouth, big nose, big teeth.

                - Subheading, Technology. This might be partially because it’s from the early 40's and real life control systems are not yet highly complex, but in SH any technology, whatever it does, can be activated and very subtly controlled by manipulating a few very simple objects in a mysterious way. Turning a dial or wheel will usually do it. Either it’s a performed physical movement or its triggered by brain waves.


The combination of the boldest possible colour groups, distinctly separated and counterpoised, separated by strong distinct lines with minimal in-block additions or detailing, and the overwhelming simplicity of each individual object, creates what I call 'Spacehawk Stained-Glass'.

Spacehawk is so bright that if you wake up in the dark you don't need to turn on a light, just open the book. It glows.


- NEVER REPEAT, NEVER! NEEEEVEEEEEERRRR! SH and his gear have to remain roughly the same (though they do evolve a bit), otherwise, EVERYTHING should be different from story to story. Never repeat an alien race, never repeat an alien world, never repeat a monster, never repeat a tree - even in the same panel, all trees are unique, never repeat a natural object between stories, never repeat any non-SH technology, never go back anywhere. Always new. Always always always.

- Always invent. If Wolverton can invent something, he must invent something. If he hasn't created anything original on a page then there is something wrong.

- If can be alien, must be. Nothing can be any more familiar than it has to be for people to understand what it is. Its the alien version of a thing, or a new thing. Nothing is from the familiar, experiental world. There should be almost nothing in the comic that you could find in a normal home or on a normal street.

- Always increase, never return. Places, objects, ideas, relationships should always be created new and whole and returned to or reverenced again as little as possible. The world of Spacehawk, both the physical and social world, is expanding endlessly, much faster than Spacehawk can experience it.

- THINGS. If in doubt, draw more things. There are THINGS everywhere. What the fuck is this thing, no idea. What the fuck is that thing, no idea. Nodules, eruptions, objects, THINGS.

Nothing in Spacehawk can be the bad version of what it is because it is the only version of what it is. The only Hornosaur, the only Neptunian Crime Lord, the only Creeping White Death.


- Multiple channels, same message. If two or three different streams of information are being used, say an in-panel caption, a speech bubble and a shown action, all channels must be used to intensify the same message. They don't ironise, break apart or comment on each other. They all say the same thing in a chorus. When Spacehawk hits someone, the hit has no other meaning than the one shown. Caption - "SPACEHAWK LANDS A MIGHTY BLOW". Speech Bubble - "TAKE A NIGHT CAP MY FACIST FRIEND!"

- Emotion. Emotions are always pure and overwhelming, experienced one after another. No-one has more than one emotion in their heads at any one time

- Colour serves reality last. If the background to a talking head is one plain field of clour with no lines, then the colour depends more on the emotional signal of the panel and the general colour composition of the page than it does on any expression of 'real life'.

Anything can change its colour if it needs to, especially backgrounds, especially in the early stories

Same with the sky, it can be whatever colour it needs to be from moment to moment.

- The page is a microcosm. Every page should have a microcosm of the scale of action for the whole story. It should have at least one ultra close-up panel highlighting a particular action and at least one ultra-epic panel of something incredible and widescreen happening (worlds collide, rockets fall from the sky, dinosaurs stampede).

NEVER spend a page at the same scale of action.

- use the paint box. Try to get all the primary colours into a panel, if you can't get them all into one panel, get them into one page.

- Impossible Hero. Everything that everybody says and everything that everybody does exists to confirm the impossible and exceptional nature of Spacehawk


Wolverton works under powerful constraints. Sometimes constraints of choice, sometimes of material, like printing technology, sometimes of culture, many sci fi things haven’t been invented yet.

The tools he uses are the simplest and most direct. The world he creates is the largest, wildest, least familiar one he can envisage. It is the vast range and depth of things to be imagined and the extraordinarily small but powerful range of available techniques that produces INTENSITY.

His ambition and desire is continually overleaping his ability. The inner vision (nearly) outstrips the hand. The true hero is always 'becoming' and the true heroic story is also always becoming.

Mature artists doing things they know well can often produce very good works but its rare for them to have the feverish life inside them of artists with powerful imagination with  pushing against what they can do.

Intensity in Spacehawk is imagination pushing against ability with the force of a Rocket Blast! 


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  2. Enlightned analysis, as usual.
    It kind of remind me of 2000AD and Nemesis the Warlock.

  3. Reminds me of the hideous aesthetic murder perpetrated on Miracleman in the recolouring:

    1. You can really see the failings on that when you look at the whole-page composition.

  4. Yeah it's hard to know where to begin - the decision to fill in the top of the frame on 'A Dream of Flying', that ugly checkerboard effect they use in lieu of solid black, the fucking of the warm-cold palette with all those ugly whites and greys, sterile and unnecessary detail which fucks the whole flow of the eye across page - all this and more comes together to destroy that dreamlike sense the first colouring had. Instead of this weird languid syrupy speed Miracleman looks totally stationary like a fridge magnet. I remember when I read the original I had no idea what was going on with this section, what size things were, how they related to each other spatially - and I don't know if that was any stroke of artistic genius on the part of the colourists, illustrators, but it worked.

    These Spacehawk articles were brilliant by the way! It's so great to see people trying to figure out the internal logic of a piece of art instead of slapping some bullshit Marxist/whateverist framework on top of it.