Talking Comics with Tim | Laura Allred
There’s a list of creators that in my estimation are not interviewed nearly enough, one such example is colorist Laura Allred. You can find several interviews with both Mike and Laura Allred together, but few rarely focus on Laura solely. So I recently crossed my fingers and shot off an email to Laura seeking to do an email interview. Much to my sheer delight, she was game for a discussion of her career as a colorist. Jamie S. Rich, long-time Allred associate and friend of Robot 6, was kind enough to share his perspective on Laura’s body of work, which helped me shape some of the topics covered in this exchange. Obviously, a huge thank you to Laura for giving so selflessly of her time. As someone who enjoyed Art Adams’ Monkeyman and O’Brien years ago, I plan to dig up my box with those issues, just to appreciate Laura’s work on it, given how highly she speaks of it in this interview.
Tim O’Shea: The life of a freelancer is never easy–and in your house, it’s extra challenging as both of you make a living either through one of the independent publishers or work through DC or Marvel. Granted at this point in your career, there is a certain brand and reputation that your work carries, still freelancing is a challenge even for successful folks as yourself. If you don’t mind me asking, how much has your faith served to buoy your spirits when the hardships of freelancing blindside you?
Laura Allred: It seems when we simply try to do our best in all our efforts, everything always seems to work out. We work hard, though Michael refuses to call it working, but we also try to make time for family and friends. So, I’ve found that my secret weapon for hardships is to just crack the whip and we get back on track. I’m only half kidding.
O’Shea: As a married couple, you understandably have a rapport with Mike that is stronger than any you share with other collaborators? When you first started coloring Mike’s art, how did you discuss his color desires for the pages, given that you two see color quite differently due to his colorblindness?
Allred: He started by showing me work he liked. A lot of European books from artists like Moebius and Daniel Torres. I took those influences and found inspirations of my own, and then it was just a matter of finding what we were both happy with. Now it’s mostly second nature. Instinctual.
O’Shea: When selecting to color the work of someone other than Mike, are there certain qualities you seek in the art to consider accepting the assignment?
Allred: It’s almost always been a friend or someone we both are fans of. So it’s easy to find what they are wanting as well as approaching them with what I’d like to try.
O’Shea: I’m always surprised at how some consumers of comics fail to understand the vital role colorists play in storytelling. Not to put you in the awkward position of bragging about yourself, but looking at the before and after of a page–do you see how much an artist’s work benefits or is bolstered by colors?
Allred: Absolutely! I’ve seen a good colorist make a mediocre artist look good. And a subpar colorist destroy a great artist’s work. We feel that the line art should stand on its own and the color should provide an extra dimension. Usually, the simpler the better.
O’Shea: Over the years of coloring art, how has technology helped to make your job either easier or more effective in terms of your technique?
Allred: Oh, it’s like cavemen getting electricity. There are no limits, which can be very tempting at overdoing something. But the time-saving is night and day. I used to water color photocopies of the line art and then have to draw a code on every single individual color. And then it would get sent off for someone else to do the separations. Now, I have cintiq where I color directly on a screen. Zap! It’s done.
O’Shea: With a project like The Golden Plates, how frustrating is it that while it was successful, as noted in this 2009 interview it was “not big enough to sustain us financially given the time needed to do it right. So, we simply have to find time to do it when we can. We’re confident once we manage an efficient schedule that it will pick up steam.” Are you closer to finding the time and managing an efficient schedule? Have you considered producing future installments online first and then publishing?
Allred: To be honest, every day feels less and less likely to complete it. I handle the finances, and we would have to win the lottery or have a bag of cash dropped regularly on our doorstep to complete it. Michael would need to immerse himself in it the way he did with the first three volumes and put off every other aspect of his career to do it right. We literally used up our savings to complete those first three volumes and I was the one who had to tell him he had to stop and find paying work immediately. He spent more time studying and referencing than he ever did actually drawing the book. He knew the kind of scrutiny it would have, as well as the level of respect he had for its audience. We both feel that, completed, it would be a work of such significance, if not curiosity, that would pay for itself over and over again and stay in print. We almost had our house completely paid off and had a nice nest egg from our Marvel Mutant money. To continue would have meant going in debt or looking for financing which we weren’t comfortable doing. But we’re extremely happy with what we did accomplish and haven’t ruled out the possibility of completing it someday.
O’Shea: When a collection like MADMAN ATOMICA! is released which covers a great deal of your respective work and includes “many now out-of-print one-shots, plus a huge pile of extras, pin-ups, and rarities”–what pieces out of the extras and rarities stand out some of your favorite?
Allred: I love it all. I just love the idea that almost 20 years of work is in two huge beautiful books.
O’Shea: In the past, you’ve expressed your admiration for the work of the Hernandez brothers. Given your respect for their work, how enjoyable was it to color Jaime Hernandez for Strange Tales?
Allred: Thrilling. Michael wouldn’t have started making his own comics if it wasn’t for them. He was so excited with the joy of creating in their work and that spilled over on me. In fact, their covers were classic examples of simple flat colors enhancing without distracting from the wonderful line art. A big influence on me. I just colored new Madman strips form all three, Jamie, Beto, and Mario, for the upcoming Madman 20th Anniversary Monster!
O’Shea: Among your other non-AAAPop collaborations, which rank among your favorite assignments?
Allred: LOVED coloring Art Adams’ Monkeyman & O’Brien comics! Love him and his wife Joyce too. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and his work is as much fun to color as he is to listen to.
O’Shea: Speaking of non-AAAPop work, how do the collaborative dynamics change when you and Mike collaborate on iZombie, a series in which Chris Roberson is the writer?
Allred: Not at all. Except our dearest and oldest friend in the biz, Shelly Bond, throws in her two cents as my editor. I just have more people to please and make changes for in the process. But that rarely happens.
O’Shea: In this 2008 iFanboy interview with you, you noted of the printing process “We’ve never been completely satisfied with any printed work. We’re always looking for ways to make it better.” Do you think you will ever be completely satisfied with your printed work–and does the partial shift to digital comics make quality improvement of your work more or less challenging?
Allred: It’s easier, and we are both currently happier with the final result than ever. We’ve been playing with our process constantly. You can look through the books and see the changes. In fact, we tried at least three specific different ways in iZombie alone to make the colors more organic to Michael’s art work. You’ll see where the printing got quite “muddy” and then we had an epiphany and found the perfect recipe. So simple. It was in front of us all the time. Now I can model Michael’s figures in shadings to his specifications in layers and change and adjust them instantly until we are both happy. And now it prints almost exactly how we see it on the monitors. I think it was around iZombie 6 or 7 when everything finally clicked. And we’ve used the process since in the new Madman stories as well as a Rocketeer 8-pager for a new Rocketeer anthology series.
O’Shea: Given that his career ended long before it should have, not many folks can say they colored Seth Fisher’s art. What do you recall of working with him on Happydale?
Allred: It may be the most difficult project I ever worked on. Seth was still getting his footing. The scans weren’t the best and being such a heavily detailed artist, it was extremely challenging. But the hardest jobs are often the most gratifying, and that was the case when working with Seth Fisher. So sad.
O’Shea: In the 2008 iFanboy interview, you spoke of your affinity for the art of The Wyeths (N.C., Andrew and Jamie). Could you explain if there are certain qualities about each artist that catch your interest, or is it the family’s body of work overall that earns your respect?
Allred: All wonderful, but it’s NC Wyeth that really excites me. His work feels timeless and dreamy. Lush, classic, graphic and artsy all at the same time.
O’Shea: Is there anything about your craft or projects that you’d like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Only that we always want to take every opportunity to encourage people to embrace and dig into the comic book medium as much as possible. There is always something new, special, and unique for anyone to discover.