Most modern comic books make use of a colorist who plays a very significant role in the final art that a reader will see. However, Aliens: The Original Comics Series from Dark Horse Comics is composed entirely of black-and-white images, and uses this to its advantage.
Aliens: The Original Comics Series was published in 1988 and 1989, and tells the story of the characters Newt and Higgs from the movies Alien and Aliens. The series was written by Mark Verheiden and illustrated by Mark A. Nelson. Nelson specialized in black-and-white art done using the now mostly unused Duoshade process. The process involved painting a chemical onto a specially treated paper, and allowed Nelson to create stunning and incredibly detailed illustrations. While other comic books rely heavily on the colorist to create an atmosphere in his or her stories, the black-and-white art of Aliens works heavily to its advantage.
The most effective way that the colorless art helps Aliens: The Original Comics Series is through establishing tone and atmosphere. From very early in the series, it is clear that Verheiden intended the story to focus on the horror aspect of the franchise. By having a black and white color palette, the story is given new depth and allows for tones of fear and suspense to be prevalent throughout the series. For example, Newt experiences several nightmares in the beginning of the series that depict the Xenomorphs, or dream interpretations of the creatures. Due to the Duoshade process and how it allows for incredible detail using black, these dream sequences are drawn beautifully in heavy shadow, helping to make clear the terror that Newt is experiencing.
The black-and-white color palette also assists in developing suspense in areas veiled in shadow, such as those in Newt’s dreams. Not only are many people afraid of the dark, but areas such as this leave the reader in suspense of what horrific beings could be lurking in the shadows.
Perhaps the most important way that the black-and-white aesthetic serves Aliens: The Original Comics Series is through illustrations of the Xenomorphs themselves. As the title characters, it is essential that the Xenomorphs are drawn well, and through the Duoshade process, Nelson can bring the horrifying characters onto the page to life. Since the Xenomorphs in the movies are completely black, nothing is lost in the transition to the page. Also, since the Xenomorphs are black and the humans are illustrated with white and gray tones, they act as a foil of one another. The Xenomorphs represent evil, and humans represent the good. Although humans as good does not hold true for many of the characters in the series, this contrast between the Xenomorphs and the humans is an effective technique that would be impossible if the illustrator had chosen to portray the story in full color.
In all, Aliens: The Original Comics Series is an amazing read, telling the stories of Newt and Higgs after the events of the second Alien movie. While this story may have been removed from the official canon after the release of Alien³, it is worth a read by anyone who is a fan of the Alien franchise. Some may believe that color inherently makes a comic book better, but Aliens: The Original Comics Series quickly dismisses that claim.
Are there other black-and-white comic books that you are a fan of? Let me know in the comments below!