I could not have asked for a more impressive artist than Matthew Wilson for our first interview with a colorist. Matthew has worked with such publishing houses as Marvel, DC, Boom, and Dark Horse, just to name a few. He is currently working on titles like Wonder Woman and The Fearless as well as coloring covers for Ronger Langridges’ Snarked. I spoke with Matthew about capturing tone through color, working with artists expectations, and what inspires him as a colorist.
First off how did you start working as a colorist for comics?
I studied Sequential Art at SCAD in Savannah, GA. (As a side note to any aspiring artists out there, think long and hard about going to an expensive art school, because the student loan payments are CRUSHING once you get out.) I graduated in 2002, and at the time, the colorist Lee Loughridge also lived in Savannah and had a coloring studio, Zylonol Studios. A few months after I finished school I took my portfolio to Lee hoping to find work at Zylonol, but he didn’t have any openings. Two weeks later one of his main guys, and eventual comics artist extraordinaire, Nick Dragotta got engaged and left the studio. Shortly after Nick’s departure Lee called me up and offered me a spot at Zylonol. I started off scanning artwork and flatting pages for Lee, and over time I worked my way up to coloring covers and full issues. After five years at Zylonol I began to get small jobs on my own from writers and artists I had met at conventions. For about two years those small jobs led to other small jobs which led to bigger jobs, which eventually led to even bigger jobs at places like Marvel and DC.
Color in comics is one the most defining aspects of a series, how do you capture a specific tone for individual projects?
The short answer is, by reading the script and looking at the artwork. I suppose that sounds obvious, but understanding the tone of the story is key to figuring out the best way to enhance the storytelling with color. If the writer has tried to convey a specific tone with the script, and the artist has helped realize that tone with their art style, then it’s imperative that the color hold up it’s end of the storytelling. Is the story fun and light, or dark and moody? Is the art clean and open, or heavy with blacks and textures? All of those factors should inform a colorists approach to coloring a story because the color can really make or break a comic. If you think about how much of the final page is the color you begin to realize how important it is for the colorist to help tell the story.
How closely do you work with a books artist when you are brought on for colors?
That depends. Sometimes I already know the artist well, and we communicate quite a bit. Jamie McKelvie and I often work together, and we usually e-mail back and forth about our books rather frequently. I like to ask artists for notes before coloring a book, to see if they have anything particular in mind for the colors. To me, I’d rather know any specifics ahead of time, because that just saves me from guessing incorrectly and then having to go back and do corrections. Staying with Jamie as an example, he’s very conscious of the clothes he puts on his characters, so he’ll often send me links to the clothing he had in mind when he drew the page. There are other times when deadlines can have an impact on communication. I’ve colored books that are due right away and I hardly had any communication with the artist at all. But more times than not, I’m actually in contact with both the writer and the artist, along with the editors, and they’re all giving me feedback on the colors.
You recently helped Justin Ponsor on issue 6 of Wolverine and The X Men, when helping with additional colors for a comic what steps do you take in order to keep the look consistent?
Well, I’m constantly looking at comics and seeing what other colorists are doing, and there are quite a few colorists that I try and lay eyes on everything they color. It just so happens, that Justin is one of those colorists because he is one of the best in the industry. So my first reaction when I was asked to help on the book was, “I can’t match Justin’s amazing rendering skills, why the hell did they ask me!?!” But after some reassurance from my wife, the editor, and even Justin, I pulled out some books that Justin has colored and got to work. Marvel split the work up into scenes, so I asked Justin what palettes he planned to use on his scenes, and if he wanted me to go in any direction with my scenes.
I will also say that even with all the input from Justin, and the studying of his work, and an attempt to match my work to his, I still tried to “be myself” when coloring those pages. When I’m asked to help out on another colorist’s book I find that if all I do is try match someone else exactly I end up producing a mediocre version of their work. So, I’ll pick an aspect or two of the other colorists work to try and mimic, and then base the rest off of my own instincts.
I’ve been catching up on the BPRD Hell on Earth stuff with the trades, and I’m constantly blown away by the art in that book. I’m always inspired to color after reading just about anything Dave Stewart colors. I’m also currently helping out Bettie Breitweiser on an issue of Winter Soldier so I’m getting a lot of inspiration from studying her colors.
How long does it typically take you to finish coloring a weekly comic?
I try to do four to five pages a day, so that has me finishing a 20-22 page book in a regular five day work week. Some pages require more time than others, so that page count can change, but a week to do a book is a good average.
Any last minute advice for aspiring comic creators and colorist specifically?
I always feel odd answering this type of question because I feel like I kind of stumbled into coloring, almost like I just lucked out. It’s as if my advice should be, “be lucky”. And while being in the right place at the right time can play a large role in obtaining comics work, you have to step up and really deliver when given a chance. I like to say that dumb luck got me in to coloring, but hard work has kept me in.
I can also say that networking is an extremely valuable tool when trying to get into comics on any level. It used to be that the only place to network with creators or editors was at conventions, and I still think going to conventions is a terrific option for an aspiring comics artist. But I also know traveling to multiple shows can be expensive. That’s the great thing about all the social networking sites these days. There is so much more access to creators and editors, and people should really take advantage of that. Don’t be afraid to show your work and then take the criticisms and learn from them.
And for colorists specifically, the best way to get better in my opinion is to study what other colorists are doing, and then put in a lot of hours in the chair. The more you color the faster you’ll get, and the more you’ll learn. Oh, and be reliable. You can be great, but if you can’t be counted on you’ll get far less work than a less talented, but consistently reliable colorist.
To check out more of Matthew’s work you can visit his blog here