November 03, 2022


World of Color: A Journey of Coloring Challenges. By Kerby Rosanes. Plume. $16.

     Some of the best pages in Kerby Rosanes’ latest book are not by Kerby Rosanes – at least, not entirely. The first 16 pages of Rosanes’ latest elaborate coloring book for adults feature Rosanes art that has already been colored in – or, more accurately, there are 12 pages of colored-in art, plus four pages crediting the colorists and explaining the effects of their chosen handling of the original black-and-white material. The dozen colored-in pages are more than just a guide to possibilities – they are, in and of themselves, fascinating forays into the fantasy worlds created by Rosanes with his usual intricacy, showing specific ways those worlds can be brought to vibrant life through specific color choices, using one coloring medium or another (traditional methods and digital ones, for example, either used separately or combined).

     The point of Rosanes’ coloring books is to provide visual engagement while stimulating readers’ (or, more accurately, viewers’) thoughts about how the black-and-white art could look if colored in one specific way or another. What makes the dozen examples at the start of World of Color so involving is the way they skillfully showcase possibilities without foreclosing the color-focused thinking of anyone who looks at and studies them. For example, the most striking two-page spread in the “already colored” section shows two gigantic, monstrous beings: a werewolf looking to the left on the left-hand page and an extraordinarily evil-looking demon looking to the right on the right-hand one. The werewolf page is dominated by colors in the red spectrum, reflecting the wolf’s reddish-brown coat and carrying through to some of the buildings shown below and behind the wolf – and even carrying into the sky. The demon’s color palette, on the other hand, is all purple and blue, a combination that somehow makes the already frightening creature’s pose even scarier and, again, carries through to some of the buildings over which it towers and even into the sky above the scene. Effective in themselves, these colorings will also provide ideas for viewers of World of Color to use on their own. For instance, someone seeing the werewolf/demon pages might wonder about creating a page in which the foreground creature was contrasted with its surroundings, thus emphasizing its differentness, instead of blending into them, thus becoming part of a larger, frightening world.

     There are plenty of opportunities after the initial 16 pages to put one’s own imprint on Rosanes’ creations. The werewolf/demon two-page spread and other already-colored illustrations from early in the book are offered later in black-and-white, along with entirely different sorts of elaborately constructed fantasy scenes that are often but not always horrific. Some of Rosanes’ illustrations are nature-focused, such as one of a giant, gentle-eyed gorilla looming over a forested land and gently cradling an entire grouping of trees, and one of a realistic-looking wolf – again, a giant – carrying an entire wolf pack/family on its back and loping through mountains of its own scale. An open-mouthed, roaring tiger with butterflies flitting all around it is a fascinating study in contrasts, while a violin-playing water spirit with gentle-looking face but with bones (including a skull) floating nearby provides a strong contrast of mood and intention.

     Readers/viewers of previous Rosanes books will recognize many of the illustrations that have appeared in his other coloring books in the past – and will welcome them if the originals have since been colored and put on display or kept for future enjoyment. Because the illustrations in World of Color come from multiple places, it is unlikely that anyone but a longstanding fan of Rosanes will have seen all of them before; so there is a good variety of material to be enjoyed and colored here, both for those new to Rosanes and those familiar with him. The more-surreal pages are especially intriguing, such as one showing three candle-like buildings whose top floors appear to have been melted by the flames burning on wicks sticking out of their tops – or are those “flames on wicks” actually trees growing out of ancient, ruined temples that are still being visited by the camel-riding human figures (small, faceless ones) seen at the bottom of the page? Rosanes has real skill both for creating weird worlds and for rendering them in art that is attractive in and of itself while also inviting all sorts of potential colors to enhance (or at least alter) the pages’ original appearance. World of Color is particularly effective for inviting the creation of one’s own world of color while looking at some of the worlds of color that other people have found to be lying within Rosanes’ intriguingly and intricately drawn black-and-white originals.

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