Talking Comics with Tim | Elizabeth Breitweiser
Colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser‘s work can be seen in any number of Marvel comics these days. In fact this week sees the release of writer David Lapham and artist David Aja’s Wolverine: Debt of Death one-shot, featuring Breitweiser as colorist (Be sure to enjoy CBR’s preview of the one-shot). Regular readers of What Are You Reading? know how much of an unabashed Jeff Parker/Gabriel Hardman’s Hulk booster that I am–and it is that series where I really started to appreciate Breitweiser as a colorist. This email interview was an effort to discuss her work mostly in general terms, so admittedly I did not discuss the Wolverine one-shot, but focus on some of her ongoing series work. My thanks to Breitweiser (who can also be found on Twitter) for taking the time for this discussion, despite her continually heavy workload. I am also deeply appreciative, that when our conversation led to her discussion of recent specific work, she was kind enough to provide examples of the pages for us to use.
Tim O’Shea: What are the biggest misconceptions in terms of the demands with your job as a colorist?
Breitweiser: Probably just in people not taking my job seriously or not viewing it as a fulfilling way to make a living. Many tend to think of what I do as “easy”. Coloring to them is just an afterthought and not seen as an essential part of the storytelling. I’m pretty sure most of my family and friends still do not understand what it is I do and how I can make a successful living at it. Professional colorists in general seem to almost always be overworked and overstressed. A lot of it has to do with us being at the end of the production line, but it also has to do with people having unrealistic expectations due to an incomprehension of the effort it takes to successfully tell a story with color.
O’Shea: When did you first realize you wanted to be a colorist–and what first attracted you to the work?
Breitweiser: I really just stumbled into it a few years ago. I was teaching art lessons and working as a painter when I began dating my now husband, Mitch Breitweiser. He was working as an illustrator for Marvel and slowly started integrating me into his world of comics. We spent a lot of those early days traveling to conventions, meeting professionals, and comics enthusiasts. Until I met Mitch, like most people outside the industry, I had no clue you could make a viable living coloring comics. I really grew to appreciate the medium of visual story telling and wanted to become involved. After evaluating my strengths and weaknesses as an artist, it felt very natural to transition myself from fine arts into coloring.
O’Shea: Back in March, I interviewed artist Gabriel Hardman–and he said (of your work): “A colorist can have all the technical skills in the world but if they don’t have taste in choosing colors that work with the storytelling it could sink the book.” How did you reach a point in knowing what colors to use (and how to utilize light to the colors effectively)?
Breitweiser: Gabriel is right, being successful boils down to having good taste. As it is with many artists, part of that comes intuitively, but I did spend a great deal of my formative years studying color theory, design, and composition. I would like to think I had a competent grasp on these ideas before I dived into the comics industry and that is what set me on a successful path. I try to use that same foundation in fundamentals to get across the point as simply as possible using solid color and value choices and as minimal of rending as the art will allow. It is so incredibly easy to abuse Photoshop and all its fancy tools. A colorist really has to step back and make sure they aren’t hurting the illustration with too much rendering.
O’Shea: When working with artists like Butch Guice and Hardman, can you talk about what it is about both of their respective art styles that enable you to be an effective colorist for their work?
Breitweiser: These boys bring out the big guns. They very clearly know what they are doing and are masters of story telling. That is what really makes it for me. They are so good at visual story telling that all I really have to do is find the simplest way to accent the illustrations and help guide the reader though the story. It’s all about respecting their artwork and finding the best way to compliment their aesthetic without overrunning it. It’s a lot more challenging to work with an artist who isn’t quite as skilled in storytelling. A lot of the heavy lifting ends up in the hands of the colorist.
O’Shea: Do you ever look to the scripts or other clues from the writers when seeking on how best to approach an aspect of a scene?
Breitweiser: I always, always, always read the script. That is a must. The script provides so much information on the setting, time of day, emotion of characters, etc.. It really is essential that a colorist reads their script before starting. If possible, I always prefer to be in direct contact with both the writer and the artist so that we work together to get the best product possible. The last thing I want to be responsible for is destroying the vision of the creators. If I am working on an ongoing or a miniseries I always approach the writers and artists first to see if there is a specific rendering style they are looking for and if they have any specific notes. After that it’s a process of me finishing the page then, if needed, going back and forth until we get just what we want. That’s one reason I love working with Jeff Parker so much. He is very involved and I think our stories are all the better for it.
O’Shea: A March 2011 CBR/Doug Zawisza review (for Hulk 31) said of your work: “Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors … bring out the emotion in the characters and settings.” How do you go about using color to convey emotion?
Breitweiser: Before I begin any project, I sit down to read the script and make notes of each scene; what kind of atmosphere and time of day is it? who are these characters? what are they doing? what are their motivations? What emotion and mood is the writer wanting to convey? where do I need to create focus? These are the kind of questions I ask myself before I start any of the coloring process. After that, it’s just a matter of utilizing color, lighting, rendering, and texture to convey the answers to my questions. Color can have a huge impact on the human psyche. I really try to play on that knowledge so I can help immerse the reader more deeply into the story.
O’Shea: Not everyone gets to collaborate with their spouse, as you and Mitch did on Captain America 615.1–do you two enjoy a rapport that allows you both to be more ambitious when you work together?
Breitweiser: There is nothing better than getting to work with your spouse on a project. It’s a hugely fulfilling experience and one that I wish happened more often! Since Mitch is right there in the studio with me, we really can sit down and hash out a wonderful product. When I first started in this industry I only worked specifically with Mitch. Now I’m lucky if I can squeeze him in between my monthly ongoings. Our ultimate goal is to flip things back around to where we can be more ambitious with the work we do together.
O’Shea: Can you recall a recent issue you worked on, where after you finished a scene or a page, that you took off your creator hat for a moment/forgot it was something you were involved in creating–and allowed yourself to just be lost in the beauty of the page? With me, for example, in Hulk 39, the opening scenes (in Western New Hampshire of 50 years ago) have a bucolic vibe to them–made all the more jarring/effective when it shifts forward to modern day and has Thaddeus Red Hulk Ross standing amidst all of this.
Breitweiser: Considering the guys I work with, it’s easy to see how that could occur quite often! It happens a lot just in my initial reading of the script. Especially when I work with talents like Ed Brubaker, Jeff Parker, Karl Kesel, Butch Guice, Gabriel Hardman, Chris Samnee, and Mitch Breitweiser to name a few! I could list at least a hundred of my favorite episodes from these guys, but maybe the most persistent in my memory is from the opening scene of Hulk #32 set in modern day India. It’s easy for me to look past the panel boarders and imagine myself pouring down the street through the bustling haze.
I’d be amiss not to mention Captain America #617 and #618. As morbid as it may sound, I felt incredibly drawn into the miserable, icy atmosphere of the Gulag and the unsettling collages of terror. [Click on the images for larger views of the Hulk and Captain America pages]
O’Shea: Sometimes I see you listed as Bettie, other times you’re listed as Elizabeth, when working professionally do you prefer one name more than the other, or is it a non-issue for you?
Breitweiser: haha, yeah, it probably appears I’m having an identity crisis to my readers. I’ve also been listed by my maiden name, Elizabeth Dismang, which I originally wanted to keep (and still do use for gallery work). Production kept crediting me as Breitweiser, so I gave up. Bettie is just a nickname my husband calls me. Elizabeth Breitweiser is such a monster of a name that I decided to shorten it in credits to Bettie to save space. Occasionally production will send it through as Elizabeth, but it’s really not an issue for me. After all, Elizabeths are accustomed to being called a million and one different nicknames.