When you think of the best colorists in the industry, your mind often turns to one who is stylized. You may think of the great Jordie Bellaire and her award style of coloring flat, bringing about beautiful pages like in Rebels. Or Dave Stewart, another modern award winning colorist. He has a beloved penchant for expertly using orange hues in much of what he colors. It is practically a signature. Or perhaps yet you think of John Higgins and his neon and psychedelic glows in dreary scenes, his colors so influential that people recreate entire trailers in his style. Certainly these colorists are masters of their craft and should be applauded as such, but I've been thinking about another name lately who may need to be added to that list. That name is Brian Reber.
Reber is a colorist for Valiant Comics (Don't worry. This isn't another piece telling you to read Valiant... though you should.). He has been coloring various titles in the Valiant universe for about five years now and was recently signed as an exclusive colorist during Valiant's artist hoarding announcement of 2016 (alongside David Baron). It is common practice for a publisher to lock down a writer. Less so an artist. But a colorist? It is practically unheard of.
What makes him so special? Well let's take a look at some images:
Here we have Brian Reber's colors in three different books, A&A, Ninjak, and BloodShot: Reborn. Some may not find this all that special. There is nothing hyper-stylish about most of it, but if you're only looking for a personal style then you are missing just what it is that Reber is doing.
In these three images we have three different artists and, consequently, three different artistic styles. David LaFuente's violent cartoon, Doug Braithwaite's dusty action, and Lewis Larosa's hyper detailed pencils. In each of these books we have a different approach to colors. A&A features slick and playful flats for a goofy toner. Ninjak presents muted and dusty glows to accentuate the terrain. Finally the Bloodshot pages utilizes shading to obtain a lifelike appearance, while glows further the cinematics of the artwork.
Why the different styles? Well let's back up and look at pencils. Below is an image of the finished inks for A&A next to the colored.
In the uncolored image we see clean lines and large white areas. The image is drawn to appear friendly and fun. So when Reber is handed this page he assesses the style and uses the a coloring method not to show his personal talents, but to accentuate the talent of the artist.
Now compare this to Reber's work in Bloodshot: Reborn. In this book Lewis Larosa has not left a lot of room for the colors. His style is one of detail and depth which requires him to take the space for shading and detail. So when Reber gets his hands on these pages he does the same thing as he does with A&A. He assesses the style of the line work and then approaches it with a coloring method that accentuate the artwork.
In this particular instance Reber incorporates the dark swirls and lets them shadow the colors for him. If you compare the two images you can see that he does shading of his own as well to further the hyper realistic feel of Lewis Larosa's artwork. The sheen off of Ninjak's armor further adds to aforementioned cinematographic feel, and is empowered Reber bleeding the shine off of the armor.
Finally let's take a look at his work alongside Doug Braithwaite in Ninjak. Braithwaite's style is a little fuzzier on the line work because his pages are not as darkly inked as others'. His work is highly detailed but can perpetuate uncertainty through a visual means, which is perfect for a story like Ninjak: Operation Deadside, wherein the titular assassin visits the, darker realm of the Valiant universe.
Here Braithwaite draws the reveal that the island Ninjak and Punk Mambo are on is actually a large creature which grows an entire forest on its back. Reber here takes a look at Braithwaite's pencils and mutes his colors just slightly, giving the feel that this was recorded and is now being presented to the reader in a found footage manner, wherein the shot and lighting are not necessarily perfect. Also take note of the dust clouds. While some are illustrated in the initial pencils, Reber extends what he's been presented and extends the dustiness to nearly the entire image. This style is unlike the previous two we've looked at and further exemplifies the ways in which Brian Reber adapts for the artwork.
I am not saying here that other colorists are bad or lesser than. Far from it. I enjoy the stylized colorists just as much as anyone. There is a comfort to seeing Bellaire's name on the cover of a book because you it will look great. Same for Higgins, Stewart, and many other colorists who toil to little praise. I am also not saying that other colorists are not capable of adapting their styles, they do adjust style, just not to the same extent.
What I am saying is that there are unsung heroes in the colorist world who set aside personal style to bolster and support the line work in the way it speaks. Brian Reber is one of them. His adaptive style should be applauded far more than it is. Regardless of what conspiracy you hold around the Harvey nominations, it is hard to say that Reber's Harvey nomination is not deserved.
Note: An earlier version of this piece credited Rafael Roberts (a misspelling of the writer's name) instead of David Lafuente, the real artist on A&A, because I am a total dumbass. It has been corrected to reflect this... the artist part. Not me being a dumbass.