Creating Comics: José Villarrubia’s incredible colour restoration on new “Absolute Swamp Thing” collection surely makes it a “must buy”

Absolute Swamp Thing Hardcover (2022, DC Comics)

DC Comics has just released a stunning new hardcover Absolute Swamp Thing collection featuring new, carefully restored colour by award-winning artist José Villarrubia – and his work on this project looks absolutely amazing.

José first revealed he had been asked to create a digital colour restoration of Absolute Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson back in April, this edition collecting issues 1-13 of the book in an oversized hardcover format.

“I am following very faithfully the original colours by Wrightson himself, Glynis Wein and, in the last issues, by Nestor Redondo, and Tatjana Wood,” he teased. “You can imagine how excited I am about this… It is a labour of love!”

Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, colour restored by José Villarrubia
Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, colour restored by José Villarrubia

There have been at least five collected editions of the Swamp Thing stories by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson, so you may be wondering why DC has done a new one. Well, as José pointed out earlier this year, in the 50 years since the first issue of the series was published, “the comic has never been reprinted with its original colours.

“Instead, they have used as guides a recolored version that appeared in 1986 and was then digitaly interpreted decades later,” he noted in a Facebook post in June.

The new Absolute Swamp Thing collection recaptures the original colors, which were mostly done by Wrightson himself, and the examples of the restoration work José is now able to share tease just how much work he’s done to give us the best collection of these wonderful stories to date.

For this and other restoration projects he has worked on, José digitally recoloured the pages from scratch, using the original as a reference.

Below, you can see two images offering examples of the recolouring that are featured in all the collections until now. On the bottom left are the original series colours and the last one is José’s recreation, mostly working from line art provided by DC Comics, many pages newly-scanned scanned from original art.

In a second set of examples, José shared an unretouched scan of his copy of Swamp Thing #5. Next to it is his restoration.

“I followed the colours very faithfully, accounting for the fact that in the past forty years, the newsprint has yellowed and the colors have faded slightly. I scanned fresh sheets of newsprint to add the slight grey/cream tone of the original paper and the tooth of the paper.”

Below is the recolouring for the 1986 reprint, the colour that has been used since then, as in 2017.

“It is amazing the subtle effects that colourists, in this case probably Wrightson himself, could get out of the old technique on newsprint,” José noted recently.

In addition to ten issues of art by Bernie Wrightson, this new Absolute Swamp Thing also reprints three issues, about thirty pages, by Nestor Redondo.

“Unlike the rest of the book, these last stories were never recoloured,” José notes. “In the previous reprint, they got the harsh colour treatment that is standard in the industry. The colouring by the great Tatjana Wood was practically erased.”

Here you can compare how the comics looked, fairly yellow with age, on the left, the previous restoration from the Bronze Age Omnibus, and on the right José’s new restoration. As an indication of the work José has gone into recapturing the closest look he could to how the strip was originally supposed to have been published, the orange original captions on top of the page were actually supposed to be pink. This volume corrects these small mistakes.

Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Nestor Redondo, colour restored by José Villarrubia

Here for comparison, too, is the cover of House of Secrets #92 as featured in the previous Bronze Age Omnibus collection, with José’s new version on the right. Further evidence, as if it were needed, of his terrific work.

Side by side House of Secrets #92, as featured in the previous Bronze Age Omnibus, and the newly restored version by José Villarrubia
Side by side: House of Secrets #92, as featured in the previous Bronze Age Omnibus, and the newly restored version by José Villarrubia

Comic industry professionals and fans have, rightfully, responded warmly to José’s work, which he kindly gave us permission to feature on downthetubes earlier this year, and we’re doing now, now the time is right. It truly is remarkable, and worthy of highlighting.

“Marvelous work!” enthused artist Jan Strnad. “No wonder Corben held you in such high esteem.”

Kurt Busiek summed up the deserved praise in one word. “Gorgeous”.

Harvey Award winning artist José Villarrubia is internationally known for his comics colour work and editing. He has also been nominated for the Eisner Award twice and regularly works for all the major American comic publishers (Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dark Horse Publishing, Image Comics) as a colourist and digital painter.

His fine art photography has been shown internationally in over 100 exhibitions and is in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Inter-American Development Bank. As an illustrator, he is best known for his collaborations with Alan Moore (Promethea, Voice of the Fire and The Mirror of Love), Richard Corben (CAGE, Starr, Conan) and Paul Pope (Batman Year 100, 2007 Eisner Award for “Best Limited Series”). In 2010, he worked on the story featured in Unknown Soldier issues #13-14, with Joshua Dysart and Pat Masioni. The story won the prestigious Glyph Comics Award for Story of the Year. He also won the 2017 Carlos Giménez Award for Best Spanish Colourist.

José also coloured the first five issues of America, the first LatinX LGBT+ Marvel superhero, written and drawn by an entire Hispanic team that included two members of the LGBT+ community, the writer Gabby Rivera and Villarrubia. It was nominated for a 2017 GLAAD Award. Also, in 2017 he worked with writer Sarah Vaughn and Filipino artist Lan Medina in Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love. It featured the first non-binary African-American character in a DC Comics publication. It was also nominated for a GLAAD Award.

The new edition of Absolute Swamp Thing would not have been nearly as good without the generous help of several fans and collectors. The only image in the book not by Wrightson or Redondo is the fantastic cover for issue 11 by the wildly underrated Luis Dominguez. “The line art that DC provided was not just very poor, but also wrong,” José has revealed. “It was used in the Bronze Age Omnibus (on the left). Chris Palmerini has the original art, and sent me a good-quality scan, making possible the image on the right, which is how it appears in the new Absolute.”
The new edition of Absolute Swamp Thing would not have been nearly as good without the generous help of several fans and collectors. The only image in the book not by Wrightson or Redondo is the fantastic cover for issue 11 by the wildly underrated Luis Dominguez. “The line art that DC provided was not just very poor, but also wrong,” José has revealed. “It was used in the Bronze Age Omnibus (on the left). Chris Palmerini has the original art, and sent me a good-quality scan, making possible the image on the right, which is how it appears in the new Absolute.”

José recently worked on another restoration project, an oversize new edition of Bloodstar by Richard Corben, for French publisher Delirium, scanning and digitally restoring the pages, which looks superb! “It has my highest recommendation,” he enthuses.

If you like what you see on this new edition of Absolute Swamp Thing, you may also want to make a note check out José’s work on an all-new historical fiction adventure, Dead Romans, a new Image Comics six-issue mini-series by writer Fred Kennedy and artist Nick Marinkovich, lettered by Andrew Thomas, launching in March 2023.

Dead Romans #1 by Fred Kennedy and Nick Marinkovich, coloured by José Villarrubia, lettered by Andrew Thomas
Dead Romans #1 by Fred Kennedy and Nick Marinkovich, coloured by José Villarrubia, lettered by Andrew Thomas
Dead Romans #1 by Fred Kennedy and Nick Marinkovich, coloured by José Villarrubia, lettered by Andrew Thomas

Dead Romans is a love story set amid the most devastating defeat in the history of the Empire. If you love HBO’s Rome, or just have a thing for brutal violence and unrelenting heroics… this sounds like the book for you!

Absolute Swamp Thing (2022 edition) by Len Wein, Bernie Wrightson and Nestor Redondo, colour restoration by José Villarrubia (AmazonUK Affiliate Link) | ISBN: 978-1779517302

A Man! A Monster! A Legend! Lein Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s monumental and chilling take on the Guardian of the Green is collected in one giant Absolute Edition!

He has become a modern legend, this mysterious creature of the Louisiana bayou. Feared as a monster, hailed as a god, by turns wonderfully benevolent and pitiless in his wrath, the Swamp Thing has carved his unique niche in the American Landscape. Writer Len Wein and legendary horror artist Bernie Wrightson, the original creators of the most complex creature in comics weave a haunting tale of man and monster in one impressive Absolute Edition!

Collects House of Secrets #92 and Swamp Thing #1-13

Dead Romans #1 will be available in comic book shops on Wednesday, 29th March 2023

Cover A by Marinkovich – Diamond Code JAN230037 | Cover B by Marinkovich – Diamond Code JAN230038 | Cover C by Cary Nord – Diamond Code JAN230039 | Cover D by Adam Gorham – Diamond Code JAN230040 | Cover E by Marinkovich – Diamond Code JAN230041 | Cover F Blank Sketch cover – Diamond Code JAN230042

Dead Romans will also be available across many digital platforms, including Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, and Google Play

The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Explorer (previously known as Star Trek Magazine) and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of "Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies" for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.



Categories: Comic Art, Comic Creator Spotlight, Comics, Creating Comics, downthetubes Comics News, downthetubes News, US Comics

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1 reply

  1. I really really wish DC had restored the colours on the Alan Moore Absolutes with the same level of fidelity and skill.

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