Choosing skin color in comics



The way this is handled in manga is really interesting, and kind of disturbing. For one thing, dark-brown characters are extremely rare, and always Americans. Brownish characters are always vaguely “foreign,” but usually reflect exactly what the Japanese think of Filipinos - and it’s not nice.


I was thinking about a problem like this the other day while watching cartoons with my kids, but from a color palette perspective.

If you want to draw someone European, you can be pretty lazy. A simple line drawing on white paper, and you’re half way done. Fill with some random light beige color, an everyone will get the idea. Heck, most people in Asia and the America are some variant of beige. A single color can represent a pretty sizable percentage.

Skin is very complex, with any patch of skin composed of translucent layers. But to me, light skin doesn’t have a lot of contrast, so a single color works for an entire body. Crude approximation, but meh.

As skin gets darker, these layers seem to have a more complex interplay with light. Specularity, diffusion, etc are highlighted. A single color is less sufficient. Not to mention that if there are black line drawings, the contrast is reduced.

The examples from classic paintings that Wimberley uses are good examples. Reduced color pallets don’t seem to work as easily with very dark skin. The complexities that are normally present are distorted.

Which brings me back to cartoons. After my pondering, I now have a bit more respect for those cartoonists that don’t take the easy path and just make beige characters.

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For me, the most eye-opening thing with regard to race in manga is that Japanese people as depicted by manga lack the features usually associated with the “Asian race” in Europe.

In most of the anime and manga I have read (and this came up with the casting of the Major in the Ghost in the Shell movie) is that these characters are their own special anime race that doesn’t exist on earth. Depending on the story line, the could be from Japan or Europe, and you really can’t tell by looking at them.

Look at something like Black Lagoon. The four main characters are from America, Japan, China, and America, but only Dutch has a clearly different race. Benny looks the most white, but Revy and Rock could be from anywhere, they are the generic anime race.

There are exceptions, I know I have have seen shows where characters look more clearly Asian.

Back to the topic at hand, I read about this the other day. I dunno… I think the guy handled it well. I got the vibe that the editor was making sure the character matched previous descriptions. But it it’s hard to tell one’s motivations.


It’s a thing.

However, in the more adult horror/mystery genre, everybody tends to look Japanese, except the one villain with white hair, who doesn’t stand out at all.

But then, corporations are less discriminating when it comes to the color green.


Cue a white forum member complaining about this discussion of privilege in 3…2…1…

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I must have missed it. I find that privilege is often confused with overtheedge.

Kind of like real life in Japan…


I’ve seen Chinese depicted as brownish in manga/anime. (Also as bucktoothed hillbilly peasants, so maybe it’s supposed to be a farmer’s tan?)

If he really is this colour

He probably should see a doctor.

In one of Greg Egan’s books, the light-skinned people of Australia addressed exposure from the ozone hole by activating a skin pigment gene. It caused formerly “white” people to be a more sort of eggplant color.

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I see what you did there. You’re talking about the eyes

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