Kirby’s Color Palette by Steven Brower

Jack Kirby was known for many things but one of the more obscure is his unique sense of color. This is in evidence in the artwork he is known to have hand colored, presentation pieces and personal work.

2010 - Kirby color palate by Steven Brower

2010 – Kirby color palate by Steven Brower

He is also known to have provided color guides to printers for various covers, which also feature the same idiosyncratic range of colors. In question are myriad other covers and interiors that feature the same limited range, but there is no way of verifying his hand.

Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to create a Kirby color palette. I’ve created palettes like this when I’ve redesigned magazines and illustrator friends have their own. I only used as a guide known Kirby colored personal and presentation pieces. Kirby uses a pretty limited color palate, comprised mostly of secondary and some tertiary colors. The absence of primary colors makes me wonder if his approach wasn’t a reaction to the limitations of the CMYK comic book printing, where so many primaries were used.

I started with scanned art and then compared it to printed pieces. There would be a range within a tone, and I picked the middle hue. I was able to boil it all down to 36 colors, although if pushed I think it could be reduced further.

This could be used as a reference guide when trying to discern if something might be colored by Kirby. However one would need to explore whether anyone else at the time used a similar color palette. It also offers yet another aspect of what made Jack unique.

—Steven Brower

4 thoughts on “Kirby’s Color Palette by Steven Brower

  1. Anonymous

    Neal Adams commented in an interview: ”
    NEAL ADAMS: The science of art and the art of science are wonderful things because they don’t mix together all the time, but they mix together a lot and one of the areas where they mix together is the science of mixing colors. You can make millions of colors just by mixing the different percentages. And the question is, “How many colors do you start with?” You start with three: red, yellow, and blue. You make a guide with percentages of colors, and that guide is made up of dots of color. Dots of red, as an example—if they are spaced far enough apart and are small enough—will make an area of those dots look pink. Smaller red dots spread further apart will look light pink. If you add an area of blue dots, you’ll get a light purple, and so on. And, doing comic books in the 1960s, what you had was 25% of yellow, 50% of yellow, 75% of yellow, and 100% of yellow; 25% blue, 50% blue, 75% blue, 100% blue; 25% red, 50% red, 75% red, and 100% red. With these percentages, mixing them together and using them individually you would get 64 different colors to work with.”

  2. Ferran Delgado

    CMY had just three tones, 25%, 50% and 100%. Covers were another thing, because they used gradients even the black ink had tones.


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