20th Century Fox and Harper Design
October 25, 2016
Die Hard: The Colouring and Activity Book is pretty good. Mostly great, even. It’s not quite perfect though, and its flaws are common to adult colouring books: too much white space and not enough ink.
Illustrator Doogie Horner apparently worked from memory to recreate some of the film’s most memorable scenes, including Hans falling off the roof, the teddy bear in the limo, and John McClane turning thieves into Christmas ornaments, walking over glass, crawling through ducts, weeping, calling—or should I say cursing—for backup, and weeping. Because of this, Horner’s work is faithful but not slavish; it’s like those scenes from the film that every Die Hard fan remembers, but not exactly like them. Things are simplified for the sake of cuter and cleaner lines, and to make the colouring experience more fun. Recreating every single detail in an illustration is boring, and in a colouring book it’s bad. There is a point where a complicated but soothing mandala tips over into nightmare material for perfectionists and insecure hobby colourists, and Die Hard, thank goodness, doesn’t come close.
Where it does go wrong is in backing the book with page after page of double page action spreads. There’s a reason comic books save these for climactic action sequences or scenes where, by necessity, the illustrator needs to pack a lot of information into one spread. They’re a lot of work, even when they’re light on detail, heavy on dramatic clouds of smoke and grizzled closeups. For the hobby colourist, double page spreads mean a lot of white space to play with, but also a lot of white space that must be filled. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but Horner’s spare illustration style means that it’s a lot of white space with very few guides on just how that space should be filled. What should I do with an empty background that takes up three fourths of the page? Solid colour? A shitty, pencil colour gradient? Maybe draw in aliens? What what what do I do? These kinds of spreads can be fun but for colourists who want to relax while colouring within the lines, it’s, well, less than relaxing. it’s a problem. Without ink to guide them, hobby colourists who want to “do a good job” may find this book off-putting —most adult colouring book fans don’t have any training in art, after all, and may not want to carry so much of the weight of the piece. On the other hand, hobby colourists who want permission to not give a fuck may find in Horner’s spacious illustrations permission to run wild with their pencil crayons.
If you’re doubting me on just how much white space there is to fill on these pages, check out the above featured image, a spread in from the book that I photographed when only about halfway coloured. That spread is one of the most detailed in the book; the majority of pages are much simpler.
My personal colouring philosophy is a mix of both. Sometimes I’m very concerned with producing pretty pictures; the process of colouring with the lines and the pretty product are almost meditative. Other times I’m more interested in expurgating emotional whatever through ink and colour; sometimes, to be honest, I angry colour without GAF about what the finished product looks like, and that’s a different kind of relaxing. (When I want to make something pretty and the colouring book is just not up to the task, I’ll sometimes go over the lines with my own pens until the ink is just where I want it.) That mixed bag of colouring impulses is probably reflected in my tools: anything, really; whatever feels right at the time. Die Hard felt like a Crayola pencil crayon kind of book to me, so that is what it got.
As fun as the colouring pages are, the best part of this book are the activities. How are there not more colouring and activity books for adults, is my question, because they were a perfect compliment to the colouring. The activities require you to be a bit more consciously tuned in than does hobby colouring (unless you’re a perfectionist), but not too tuned in—they’re the profane equivalent of the kinds of activity book tasks you might remember from childhood. Connect the dots, fill in the blanks, match the shapes, solve this puzzle. None of them are particularly complicated or difficult. The trick questions are funny when you realize the trick—just more pain for John McClane. The fill in the blanks game asks you to creatively censor the film—something longtime Die Hard fans should be simultaneously infuriated and delighted by, considering the many bizarre TV cuts of the films. The activity pages, even more than the colouring pages, are where I really got into this book and where I really stopped caring about “doing things right.” A page that asks you to draw in Karl’s face, after he discovers that McClane has killed his brother, had me thinking “does Karl really deserve a face or just some raw pencil crayon emotion?” Permission was granted for me to suck and I happily took Horner up on his offer. Yippee ki-yay Angel Catbird!
Die Hard: The Authorized Colouring and Activity Book came out on my birthday, and it’s obviously a gift just for me, but with that said, I also give you permission to gift this to the Die Hard fan in your life. The best Colouring and Activity Book based on the best Christmas action movie of all time? Welcome to the party, pal!