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Joss WhedonJoss Whedon - "Astonishing X-Men" Comic Book - Laura Martin Sequentialtart.com Interview
Jennifer M. Contino
Monday 13 March 2006, by Webmaster
An Astonishing Colorist : Laura Martin
Award-winning colorist (and Sequential Tart’s Art Director) Laura Martin sat down with us to answer a few quick questions about her upcoming plans for world domination - both in and out of comics.
Sequential Tart: You’re working on, among other things, one of the highest profile comics that Marvel currently puts out, Astonishing X-Men. As someone who, generally, likes to be kind of a private person, how does it feel to be working on something like this that has everyone talking, voicing opinions, and, probably, asking you a million questions at conventions, in email, and through other sources?
Laura Martin: I’m loving it! I admit that I don’t read a lot of the press, except for the letters in the back of the book, but every once in a while a review will catch my eye and I blush at the praise - not just for me but for Joss and John and for the characters. The truth is, I just love this book, and would pick it up even if I wasn’t working on it, which is high praise indeed as I don’t read much superhero stuff anymore. So all the buzz over it is well deserved, in my oh-so-very humble opinion. Me? I’m just happy to be here!
I don’t mind answering questions about the work I do. Since I don’t hang out on messageboards as much as I used to, and I’ve cut down my convention attendance - I don’t get sought out that much. Which is nice, because then I can take the time to chat with the few people who do seek me out. :)
ST: When you work on several different projects at one time - as you’re usually spending your days, nights, and every other waking moment doing, how do you differentiate the pallette between them? What factors determine your color style for each book?
LM: Overall, I’ll adjust my palette a certain way depending on the story. Take a look at the three Cassaday books I’m on - I Am Legion is a grim thriller set in World War II; Planetary is a modern-day detective tale with supernatural overtones; and Astonishing X-Men is a straight-up superhero story. So each book has a specific overall palette, even though it’s the same artist on all three books. I wouldn’t use X-Men Yellow in a WWII setting, for instance, nor would I use such an earthy palette in X-Men.
Beyond that, I try to differentiate each scene by its color scheme. I like it when each scene is noticeably different from other scenes in the book. You’ll notice that especially in Ultimates, where we’re spanning numerous locations, from the Triskelion to characters’ homes to the streets of New York ... each location has its own palette, but it still corresponds with the story and mood.
ST: Have you ever colored a project straight from pencils - like some comics are being created now? If so, how is that different than working with inks? If not, is it something you’d like to attempt in the future?
LM: I colored some Ultimate Fantastic Four colors over pencils; on the first two or three, I had a hard time, but I eventually got the hang of it. The approach is looser, sketchier; I use the pencil or hard brush tool to create deliberate strokes, and don’t even touch the gradient tool, which is what I use quite often in my regular work. It does require a lot more attention to detail and therefore a lot more time. When it comes out right, it’s totally fun; when it doesn’t, it’s excruciatingly frustrating.
The Serenity miniseries was also colored over pencils, but that was an odd situation - Will Conrad drew the pages as if they were going to be inked. For instance, rather than creating different values of shading with the pencil, which I could have then tinted, he crosshatched all of his shadow areas. All I had to do was darken the pencils, and suddenly it looked like it had been inked. I was caught in a conundrum: do I darken the pencils and color it "straight" (as if it were inked), or do I obliterate most of Will’s work and create my own shadows to make it look "painted"? Eventually the deadline dictated what I did. I really think it was my least successful project, ever, and a big part of me wishes I could go back and take the other path. Especially since I loved the TV show Firefly so much.
Would I do another project like this? I really don’t know. I think I’d have to powwow with the artist first to see how he or she is approaching the art, and hopefully share my own ideas and approaches. Digitally painting a book should be a collaborative effort all the way, even more so than with standard coloring.
ST: As someone who probably gets offers on a daily basis to color one series or another, what factors - aside from the payment of course - influence whether or not you really want to take on another assignment?
LM: The biggest factor is time. I’m notoriously bad about overextending myself; as you mentioned before, it seems like I’m always working. So I have to take great care in predicting whether my schedule can handle the extra work. Especially since I’m in school now, and homework has to take priority on occasion. Sure, the art and the story have their influences, but by and large it’s the time factor that will make or break my decision.
ST: If one of our readers is thinking about possibly coloring comics as a career, where would you direct him or her to learn more about this and to find help that would let them make an educated decision whether to pursue the career or not? What do you think are some of the best resources to help in cases like that?
LM: Probably the best primer for a beginning colorist is Mark Chiarello’s The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics. (2004, Watson-Guptill Publications) It’s a great handbook for everything from color theory to troubleshooting strategies. It assumes a general basic knowledge of Photoshop, which any colorist student should already have, although the steps are clearly described even for a beginner Photoshopper.
Another great resource is GuruEFX’s How to Color for Comics (2004, Antarctic Press) series. The series goes into greater detail about technique and style. This should be within reach of any new colorist’s Wacom tablet.
Beyond that ... there are tons of discussions on Gutterzombie.com about all sorts of specific issues, plus critiques and feedback from some of the industry’s best and most prolific colorists. There are also discussions about the less savory side of coloring, such as the heinous deadlines, the constantly-shifting page rates, questionable contracts and shady publishers. When it comes to actually making a living in this industry, that’s your best bet for a "street education".
ST: How, in just the time you’ve been a colorist professionally, do you think the industry has changed the most?
LM: I’ve noticed two major and interrelated changes: One, there wasn’t much manga available in comic stores in 1995; now it’s paying the rent in many stores. As a result, female fans - particularly of the teen and tween variety - have also increased exponentially. Girls don’t come to the conventions just to accompany their boyfriends; now it’s the boyfriend who gets dragged along in the fangirl’s wake. It’s good to see girls in comics stores, although I don’t know if they’re even looking at the American books ...
Those are huge changes, but the biggest change by far has been the Internet. In 1995, the Internet existed, but modems were too slow to handle large graphics. The consumer-level broadband modem provided a delivery system capable of publishing comics on the web. Online comics grew into their own category. Fans could interact more directly with their favorite creators and publishers. Reviews could be published the day the comic hit the stands. Dozens of comics journalism sites cropped up. Books could be ordered from online distributors or directly from the publisher. Excitement or apathy about a particular project could spread quickly and could make or break that book’s future. People have access to books that aren’t available in the U.S. - including manga. The impact on the market is HUGE.
ST: When you think about the future, is coloring comics something you think you’d be happy doing until you "retire" or do you have dreams of doing something else - either in comics or another field?
LM: There are so many things that I want to do that I can’t even list them all here! Every time my interest gets piqued, I start dreaming about launching myself off in a different direction. In fact, I’m going back to college, contemplating a major in visual effects or animation. I do know that I’d like to do more digital painting on my own, maybe expand into illustration or matte paintings (backdrops for film) ... maybe learn how to make maquettes ... who knows where this will lead me?
So what I’m trying to say is, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. :)
But I always come back to comics. I like my career; it’s been extremely good to me. I would have a very hard time giving this up, and will probably keep one foot in coloring as long as I can - and as long as my pencilers and editors want me!
ST: Where can our readers see more of your work?
LM: Before you ask: No, I don’t have a gallery website. The closest thing I have is my Livejournal Scrapbook which contains some portfolio pieces, as well as personal and school projects. In print: Keep an eye out for Astonishing X-Men, The Ultimates, and Planetary; also, the English version of I Am Legion Vol. 2 should be hitting the racks any time now! And if you just want to chat about colors, stop by Gutterzombie. I’m there at least once per day. See you on the Intarwub!