Part II (of three): Coloring
(See Part I here)
A month ago I raised the question of when two distinct comic tokens (e.g. two distinct issues) are or are not instances of the same comic type. One natural way to approach this question is to ask whether or not the comic tokens in question are identical (or, at least, relevantly similar) with respect to those properties that are relevant to our experience of the comic as a comic.
Here we will look at another ‘hard’ example – re-colorings of comics. In particular, consider the original 1988 version of Batman: The Killing Joke versus the 2008 anniversary re-release. The original 1988 version of this comic was written by Alan Moore with pencil and ink duties carried out by Brian Bolland and coloring by John Higgins. Bolland had intended to color the comic as well, but other commitments prevented him from doing so. The 2008 version, however, is for the most part identical to the 1988 version except that it has been re-colored by Bolland.
We will ignore Bolland’s anachronistically laughable claim that the new version is colored in exactly the manner in which he wanted The Killing Joke to be colored all along, and concentrate on a different question: If you hold the 1988 version in one hand, and the 2008 version in the other, are you holding two different comics, or merely two instances of the same comic?
As already noted, one way to think about this is to ask whether the two comics are identical (or, again, at least relevantly similar) with respect to those properties relevant to our experience of the comic qua comic. In the present example, this amounts to asking whether the coloring of the two comics is relevant to our aesthetic experience of the Killing Joke.
This example is complicated by the following fact. In the original 1988 version, the coloring does not seem to be important in the relevant way. The fact that the comic is colored is relevant, but the style of coloring itself is not distinctive in any way – on the contrary, the comic is colored in the uniform style used for all superhero comics of the era, and thus adds nothing substantial to our experience of the comic. In the 2008 version, however, the coloring – especially the symbolic use of red in the flashback sequences – is clearly an important aspect of the comic, one that is central to our experience of this version of The Killing Joke.
Thus, the two versions of The Killing Joke are different in a relevant respect. It is not, however, that they differ with respect to some aspect of the comics relevant to our experience of them as comics, however. Rather, they are different in that there is an aspect of the comics that is relevant to our experience of one of them, but not the other.
So, are these instances of the same comic, or not?