Comics friend Tom Heintjes reminds us that "The Mechanical Monsters," the Superman cartoon on which my new book The Last Mechanical Monster is based, premiered on this date in 1941. To mark the anniversary, I'm sharing A SECRET I DIDN'T TELL MY EDITOR!
As Editor Charlie and I gave our presentation at the Miami Book Fair, there were a couple of times he said, "I didn't know that," or "You never told me that." One example: even though our book couldn't mention Superman, I gave considerable thought to what a world that had had Superman in it would be like. For instance, I figured he, and whatever other superheroes existed, would influence fashion. People would dress like their heroes.
There's a convention in comics that heroes wear primary colors--blue, red, yellow--while villains wear secondary colors--green, purple, orange. There are exceptions--Green Lantern springs to mind--but it's a guide. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Captain America, Thor, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four: primaries. The Joker, Lex Luthor, Galactus, Doctor Doom: secondaries. One of the smart things Jack Kirby and Stan Lee did to define the Hulk as an anti-hero was make him green and purple, a hero in the colors of a villain. [Edited to add: In a comment on Facebook, Editor Charlie attributed the Hulk's palette to Stan Goldberg and offered more insight into Marvel's creative process in the early '60s.]
In my book, the inventor Sparky's tuxedo has purple highlights and his cavern lair is green and purple (as it was in the cartoon). Lillian wears Superman's colors: blue jeans, yellow t-shirt, red shirt. (Superman Blue isn't 100% cyan ink, by the way; it has a bit of magenta in it, which leans it toward purple). Helen the librarian wears Batman's colors: blue, gray, yellow. The boy in the library, who was unnamed in the webcomic but whom I called Dwayne in the book after the late African-American comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie, wears Green Lantern's green, gray and white.
So near the end of the book, when Sparky trades his tattered purple tuxedo for a blue (with a bit of magenta), red, and yellow sweatsuit, it's a subtle signal that a change is afoot. Similarly at the end, Lillian adopts a version of Sparky's purple suit--not meant to hint that she's turned evil, but maybe a little of him has rubbed off on her.
I try to be thoughtful about how I use color. Every book I've done has a different "color philosophy." Honestly, I don't know if it makes a difference, but I have to believe these choices have a cumulative effect on the reader, even if they're not aware of it. Color is a tool that can convey meaning or evoke emotions subtextually. My challenge is to understand that subtext and use it with purpose.