Luke Cage History: From Hero for Hire to Hollywood
TV, Comic Books
To think there are people in the present-day comic book industry that fail to respect colorists is hard to believe. Yet, as we noted late last month, colorist Jordie Bellaire wrote about her work being minimalized when an unnamed convention refused to name colorists as guests. The post resulted in an impromptu #ColoristAppreciationDay on Twitter as well as a larger conversation about the important value of colorists.
In the wake of that discussion, I chatted with Bellaire about the post, as well as her work as a whole. The timing turned out well, as despite her busy schedule, she was able to do an interview. It seems as if every week there’s a new comic released that features her as colorist. This week it’s Captain Marvel #10, while next it’s the debut of The Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror miniseries written by Roger Langridge with Bellaire coloring artist J. Bone. Bellaire saves the best for last in our Q&A, revealing that she hopes to get back to illustrating — and that she has dabbled in writing.
Tim O’Shea: In all of the reactions from your initial Tumblr post in praise of colorists, what pleased or surprised you the most?
Jordie Bellaire: The response itself was extremely surprising! I didn’t expect anything to really come of my angry little blog post. I try to keep my “internet persona” pretty humorous and silly. I don’t really get “for realsies” worked up over anything online (unless it’s something Star Wars-related). When I posted this at 7 a.m. on hardly any sleep (I was in a tough deadline week, of course), I expected maybe three people to see it and those would have been just friends. Somehow, though, the letter spread fast. I was just thrilled. Given, keeping up with the response during the day totally killed my productivity, I was too busy watching the internet explode in the name of colorists.
Had that post been mulling around in your head for awhile and the encounter with the convention was just the final straw? Or did you just compose it inspired by the convention organizer’s ignorance?
I think I can get frustrated, much like anyone in whatever job they have, but normally I just complain to my boyfriend Declan Shalvey. I tend to keep my woes to the studio because it’s all just work, anyway. I guess when that convention just so blatantly “snubbed” Matthew Wilson and myself (I also found out other well respected colorists were turned down years ago as well) I kind of lost it. Things that had definitely been on mind finally surfaced. I was coming off a very horrible deadline week and was so excited about my trip to the con … so getting that curt e-mail was just the last thing I wanted.
Have you heard back from that particular convention since that post went viral?
I received an apology, but really, it only explained the “rules” and still stated why I wasn’t permitted anything. Not really much of an apology to me.
One last question on the Tumblr post. You wrote: “Colorists work hard to help get comic books in on time.” How hard is it to enjoy your job when it is seemingly so stressful (under the gun, trying to help get a book out on time)?
I think if you care about your job in comics, you’re probably stressed out at this very moment or you can get easily stressed out. There are lots of people who are super relaxed and amazingly zen about the entire job but I definitely sweat the small stuff. It’s not an attractive quality but I try and take my work seriously. I recently made a promise to myself to just relax though. I have a great job and I guess I get so worked up about somehow possibly ruining my good fortune and opportunities, but I have to remember that I’m just so lucky and I should definitely enjoy it while I have it!
As I said when I contacted you for the interview, I had wanted to interview you even before you wrote your Tumblr post, given that within the span of one week two artists (Ming Doyle, Valerio Schiti) had praised your work in discussions with me. My first question is a simple one: How the heck do you juggle all the monthly books that you color?
It gets pretty hectic. I don’t get to do everything I wanted to do, I recently really wanted to sign up for a screen printing course in the city just to flex my art muscles … but realized it would conflict with deadlines. I think taking on too much work is easy for me because I like it but then when the reality of everything sinks in it gets pretty gruesome. No drinks out in town for me pretty much ever! And Fridays..what are those? I’m also very fortunate to have an assistant, Jordan Gibson. He’s a talented artist himself and really helps me get books out on time. He helps me flat pages, flat last-minute pages or covers, color-corrects using my older issues or color-corrects “rainbow flats” from a flatter — he’s just great. Normally, if I’m working on a book that’s coming in last minute he’s pulling all the same late hours I am to help prep the pages for coloring.
For folks not in the know about the creative process, what does it mean to “flat pages”?
Flatting a page is basically separating shapes in the lineart with different colors so a colorist can grab each item/shape individually. So, jeans would be flatted blue and a jacket would be flatted brown — I can easily grab a jacket and change its color to red and the pants to gray if I’d like. Flats stay underneath the lineart layer and are never merged until the finalization of a file so a colorist can always rely on these basic “seps” to help speed work along. Rather than say, painting an entire page or cover and finding a really hard time “grabbing” those jeans or jacket to recolor.
You color a variety of artists. When taking on assignment how do you go about deciding the best way to approach a certain tone or palette? Do you see input from the script or from the artist or the editor (or is it a combination of factors, depending on the assignment)?
Whenever I get a new title the very first thing I do is contact the artist. I like to figure out what the artist hates, likes, loves, what they thought about when they drew the issue, what movies or photos they were looking at, etc. I take all this on board and grab whatever resources I can from their ideas. After that, I read the script and check for any color notes from the writer. I pay attention to the setting and tone of a book and hope that the color work is expressive of that. I also just try to think about movies when I color. I talk about film a lot and also do a small Tumblr post, whenever I have down time (I originally wanted to do one once a month) called Hey, Nice Palette. I break down a film in a few palettes and then explain maybe why the filmmakers made the color decisions they did. Once you start thinking of that type of stuff, thinking about color and noticing color in everyday life, it just becomes more natural to try and imitate all those same nuances and care. I just want to bring that kind of thoughtfulness to my work on each project for variety.
In your response to getting named one of the best colorists of 2012, you wrote a post naming your favorite colorists: “Dean White, Bettie Breitweiser, Matt Hollingsworth, Matthew Wilson, John Rauch, Dave McCaig, Dave Stewart, Nolan Woodard, Nathan Fairbairn and Bill Crabtree.” Without asking you to spell out what you love about each of them, what are some of the elements or qualities you admire about these folks’ work?
Wow! Great question. I love all these dudes. Dean White, for his amazing painting skills. Bettie B. for her ridiculous, always-perfect moody colors. Hollingsworth is simply legend and extremely sophisticated. Matthew Wilson was my mentor when I began, so I just love everything he could ever do. John Rauch, such tone and flavor, love it. Dave McCaig, another legend I really shouldn’t have to explain, he’s amazing. Dave Stewart, GUH! Nolan Woodard has really got some magic going on. Nathan Fairbairn is so elegant but down to earth with his color choices, I love it. BILL CRABTREE, let me try to summarize … I want to marry his color work on Sixth Gun. And a few other awesome folks, Rico Renzi and Javier Rodriguez — wow, wow, those dudes are like the dreamiest of colorist dudes.
Is there a comic or a page in a comic that you look back upon and say, “Wow, that is some of my best work”?
Guh, it’s hard for me since I hate pretty much everything I do (sorry artists, I still don’t understand why you even like me) but I’m REALLY happy with the stuff I just did on Ultimate X-Men with Mahmud Asrar. We’re doing a small run on the book with Brian Wood writing. It’s great, Mahmud and his great inker Juan Hernandez are so talented I don’t think I could even hurt the work if I tried. I also love Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom and Rocketeer: Hollywood Horror (Hollywood Horror comes out at the end of February) but again, Chris Samnee and J. Bone are so talented, I just don’t think anyone could even hurt their stuff.
Many colorists at times have branched out and pursued writing or drawing opportunities (in parallel with their ongoing coloring wor k– a herculean task in and of itself). Do you have any interest in that regard?
I’m actually writing a few things myself and I have an illustration degree which I’m not even putting to use these days, which is pretty horrible. I’ll begin drawing again one day … when I stop getting offered such great books with great artists that keep me too busy!