Talking Comics with Tim | Nolan Woodard
Longtime readers of this column know that I relish the chance to interview beyond the typical creative interview dynamic of writers and artists periodically. So soon after I found out SCAD Atlanta Adjunct Professor and Professional Colorist Nolan Woodard was part of the Thrillbent’s Insufferable creative team (along with writer Mark Waid, artist Peter Krause and Letterer Troy Peteri), I reached out to him for an interview. We also delve into his BOOM! Studios work (including Incorruptible, Irredeemable, Planet of the Apes) and other aspects of his creative pursuits
Tim O’Shea: How early in life did you realize you wanted to be a colorist?
Nolan Woodard: I never really sought to specifically be a colorist but it’s been no surprise to anyone who knows me. When I was twelve or so I’d use Windows 3.1 Paintbrush to make digital drawings, lots of Aliens and Terminators. Then in college where I was introduced to Photoshop 3, I ate up the digital courses. By the time I graduated and landed a job in advertising at Wieden+Kennedy, I was learning Photoshop on a scale I previously didn’t know existed, doing retouching and color correction on their Nike, EA and Starbucks accounts. When the time came for me to follow my heart and get back into comics, coloring was a no-brainer.
Are there certain peers that challenge your concepts of what good coloring is?
Oh, man. Laura Martin, Matt Wilson, John Rauch, Dave Stewart, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Bettie Breitweiser and Justin Ponsor are constantly making me reevaluate “good color” because they are constantly evolving the art form. From those that focus on color theory and palette to those who use the depth of Photoshop more completely, they all push me to be better, too.
I always like to ask this of colorists: What are the biggest mainstream misconceptions in terms of the demands with your job as a colorist?
The misconception that coloring takes no time at all can be taxing. (I’m sure letterers have the same issue.) Yeah, we can color a page faster than it takes to pencil or ink one but it’s still not instantaneous. The misconception that Photoshop does all the work compounds the problem, too. Because of this notion our time and art form can be devalued which makes doing our best not always possible in order to meet the ship date, the monster of all deadlines. Granted, a good editor will pad deadlines to help avoid that scenario but sometimes it’s just not in the cards.
When you take on a new project with whom do you discuss the coloring approach you want to take?
The majority of my work has been done at BOOM! Studios, so once they knew what I was capable of there wasn’t much need for discussion on approach. We clicked really quickly on almost everything I colored. The editorial staff there gave me lots of creative freedom and for that I’m eternally thankful.
With Insufferable, Mark and Pete worked the same projects at BOOM! so they knew what I could do, too. They’ve never made me feel limited either. Overall, I’ve been really blessed.
Are there certain artists that you decline to work with, as you think their work would not benefit from your coloring style?
I tend to think of it more in terms of technique than style. I wouldn’t say I have a “style,” but I’d say I know a few techniques and when to apply them for story. The day everything I color looks exactly the same is the day style has become more important than story and I’ve failed as a colorist. So there aren’t any artists I’d refuse to work with for that reason. For the most part, each line artist offers new opportunities to expand my own abilities.
Can you walk through recent artists you’ve worked with — and the qualities you admire about their work?
Damian Couceiro, the line artist who helped us close out Incorruptible, quickly became a favorite of mine to color. He joined the project under less than ideal circumstances yet he rocked both the line art and deadlines. Damian’s ability to be crazy efficient in composition and detail is really inspiring. Coloring him is more like playing than working. His efficiency lets me experiment. I enjoy his work so much I hope one day to see it equally recognized by others.
Peter Krause and I just barely missed working together on Irredeemable so when he and Mark Waid asked me to join the Insufferable team I jumped on it. In Irredeemable he used all traditional materials but in Insufferable he’s exploring digital processes. Seeing him actively working to evolve as an artist is inspiring. In his work I admire that he does what’s best for the story. Pick up some comics and you’ll find it’s not uncommon for artists to have their own stock angles and crops of figures and faces they use repeatedly, sometimes ad nauseum. Pete will move the camera where it best enhances the story at each beat, regardless if it’s an easy angle to draw or not, and it makes his figures look like they are really there in the moment, not voguing, which I really love.
And though I only colored an eight page short for Planet of the Apes over Ben Dewey, his work is alive and deceptively effortless. Anything that seems that effortless is really admirable to me.
How rigidly scheduled is your life, given your SCAD commitments, family commitments as well as your freelance work?
It’s changed now that I’m on summer break and a bunch of my projects are complete but my schedule up until a month ago was nuts. I don’t recall who said I wasn’t just burning the candle at both ends but had also found new ends to burn was right on the money.
With SCAD-Atlanta, course schedules are very rigid. They have to be at any school. So teaching days were locked down. As it ended up, knowing exactly what was going on each day in classes was a nice rock to lean on for those insanely busy weeks.
With family and coloring, it’s a juggling act. Any family man working in comics will tell you it’s incredibly difficult. I don’t want my kid growing up thinking I value work more than him so I make a point of putting it away from dinner until his bedtime every night. But coloring 3-4 projects around teaching was hard and forced me to work most weekends and nights. I’d like to think I did the best I could and it’ll prove to be worth it in the long run. Thankfully, my wife is a saint, sees how important both family and comics are to me, and supports me even when things are near impossible. The axiom “behind every successful man there’s a good woman”? Yup!
When Mark Waid informed you that his two BOOM! titles, Irredeemable and Incorruptible (both of which you colored), were drawing to a close, were you already on the Insufferable creative team? If not, can you discuss how you came to be tapped for this collaboration?
It was around February when I found out both were ending and not long after he and Pete asked me to color Insufferable. It really was that simple. They’d been enjoying my work and wanted me on for their grand experiment. What can I say? I’m a really lucky guy.
I appreciate that Insufferable takes advantage of the digital platform, for example, changing the focus to shift emphasis from one aspect in a panel to another. Does the creative team make requests of you for the digital platform that you do not have to consider in your print work?
Well, in print it’s easy. Have page. Color page. It’s static. One page means one file. For Insufferable we have screens and they are flexible compositions. That means I’ve got to keep track of not just each screen but how each screen changes and it’s never the same. Plus, one screen does not mean one file. Keeping track of that is all new but considering the exciting possibilities it really isn’t a big deal. It’s too cool.
I love how you often offer previews of your colored pages on your blog, but if folks hover over the colored page it will reveal the original line art. In doing that, do you hope to give viewers an appreciation of both the original art, as well as the impact of coloring?
Exactly that! I want people to appreciate the cake and the icing and help them understand the parts and not just their sum by literally showing them. It’s surprising the number of people who have mentioned loving that feature on my blog. It’s really satisfying.
Looking at your recent body of work, is there a scene or an issue that you proudly wish to point out and say: “Everything came together as close to perfect here.”?
Specifically, Irredeemable #33 where Plutonian’s screwed up origin story is revealed stands out. Mark setup a whole slew of coloring challenges in that issue but it allowed me to experiment with a variety of techniques. It could have been a disaster but considering it feels cohesive and enhances the story at the same time makes me quite proud.
In a recent tweet you wrote,”I love coloring but I also want to become a writer … and penciller, inker and letterer. Too much?” How likely is that to occur in the next few years, or is that more of a long-term goal?
Well, pretty soon I’m going to be looking for new color work since three of my four projects have now ended but I also have four creator-owned projects in mind to develop. With a little one at home it’s doubtful you’d see them in the next few years but in the next ten years I better have at least one completed and the others on the way. If I don’t, find me in 2023 and revoke my geek card.