Hello Revuers! When I came up with the idea for this segment I had no idea how big of a success it would be. I am truly excited to see that others care about great color in their comics!Being a Color Artist can be an overlooked profession, however in recent times a lot of progress for the recognizing of Color Artist has been made. This feature will continue to add another voice to the clamor and appreciation for excellent color in our comics.
This month we have the very talented Jason Lewis. You might recognize him from Morning Glories, Drive, or Hell Yeah. He has a very distinctive and strong palette. We here at Deja.Revue are grateful to Jason for sacrificing his time to answer our questions.
If you want to check out some of his work check out his Tumblr: lewisjasonr.tumblr.com
Or his twitter: @lewisjasonr
- Hello Jason, thanks for agreeing to this interview! How long have you been a colorist?
About seven years.
- Was it what you wanted to be when you were a kid?
Being a freelance comic colorist really didn’t exist when I was a kid. Up until the mid 90’s coloring a comic was a job of the publisher’s production department. Back in the really early days the printer would sometimes choose the colors.
When all the independent publishers rose to prominence and computer coloring became a thing in the 90’s, each company had their own in-house coloring department. From there people broke off and formed their own coloring houses like Liquid and Digital Chameleon. When Crossgen and few other indies imploded in the early 00’s the market became flooded with untethered colorists and for the most part the coloring houses went away. So in the long history of comics the freelance colorist has only come into being in the last 15 years or so.
I wanted to be a comic artist as a kid, but when I got to college I realized I wasn’t quick enough and was too dependent on reference to make it as a penciller. Instead, I trained to be an illustrator. I also studied desktop publishing and after graduation I found work as a graphic designer.
When the economy crashed and ate my graphic design career I suddenly had a bunch of time on my hands. I decided to get back into painting and revamp my illustration portfolio (I never really cared for graphic design, honestly), but all my old painting supplies where in storage at my parents place and I didn’t have enough cash to re-buy them. I did, however, have my computer and all the programs i used for graphic design. Rationing that whatever I painted I’d have to scan into the computer anyway I decided to investigate how to cut out the middle man and learn how to paint with Photoshop. I used an Amazon gift card I got for my birthday to buy the cheapest Wacom tablet I could find and a couple of basic books on computer coloring and got to it.
I got hooked instantly and began spending my days practicing and researching online how to color comics. Finally, I had found my place in the comic industry. I began networking with professional colorists and about four months after I bought that first Wacom tablet I found myself re-mastering old comics for Marvel full-time.
- What’s the first comic book series you really got into?
The first comic I ever bought was an issue of Iron Man as a small child because I’d just seen Star Wars and I thought he looked like C-3PO. Shitty as it may be to some, the first Secret Wars from the 80’s will always be my favorite series.
- Do you prefer superhero comics or other genres?
I like all comics, but Superheroes are where the real money is so I like Superheroes a lot.
- Who is your favorite superhero?
Whoever they’re paying me to color currently.
- What’s your favorite series that’s not a superhero series?
I dipped out of comics while I was in art school. They didn’t vibe with the arty, emo punk identity I was crafting for myself. I got a subscription to Wizard as a gift so I was always up on what was happening, but if it wasn’t for Sandman and then Preacher I wouldn’t have made the trip to the comic shop every month for years. So those two.
- Whats your process like for coloring?
Wake up after taking a a three hour, unintentional nap. Check my email and social media to see what fresh, new hell the day has in store for me. Gab some coffee and stress about how i’m going to fit in basic life responsibilities with all my deadlines. Turn on music/podcasts/Netflix then work for the next 20 or so hours stopping briefly to attend to unavoidable biological necessities. Take a break to pet my cat and accidentally fall asleep for the next three hours. Repeat.
- How do you choose a color palette?
First I find what ‘s there. What’s the environment? What time of day is it? What are the costume colors? Then I look at the script to figure out what the emotional core of a scene is. Is it a fight scene? If it’s a conversation what is at stake?
I don’t know if you’ve seen the Youtube video where they strip the music out of the end scene of ET, but it’s astounding how flat and boring it is without John Williams score. Comic coloring is like adding sound to a movie. We color in the emotion.
- What’s your favorite project you’ve ever worked on?
The first issue of Hell Yeah. It’s a horrible abomination of embarrassing coloring by anyone’s standards, but at the time it was a younger me super stoked to have a gig coloring my first superhero book, just throwing it all out there like a hyperactive toddler who doesn’t know any better. All inspirations and whims where pursued to their upmost extreme, art and logic be damned! As an artist I’m super excited about whatever I’m currently coloring and suicidally embarrassed by stuff i did mere months ago, but Hell Yeah #1 always makes me smile. It’s like discovering a picture of yourself from 9th grade. You’re immortalized as 15 years of baddass attitude wrapped in awful haircuts and awkward clothes and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Do you have anything coming out soon that we should keep an eye out for?
Drive. Mars Attacks. Brigands. Drive part 2. Other things I can’t mention yet. Stay tuned!
- Who are some of your favorite colorists in the industry today?
My former mentor Dean White as my all-time favorite. He’s the the Jimi Hendrix of colorists. The shit he did on Uncanny X-Force is so next level that he made the rest of the industry look like they were coloring in black and white.
Outside of Dean my go too’s are Dave McCaig on Nextwave, Daniel Acuna on Uncanny Avengers, Justin Ponsor on the Miles Morales Spiderman, Laura Martin on the Joss Whedon X-Men and Val Staples on Incognito. Lately I’ve really dug Tomer Hanuka’s work on The Divine. Kristian Donaldson’s work on a book called Supermarket is a big influence on how I color Drive.
- Is there anyone you draw inspiration from?
Painters mostly. Ron English, Jerome Witkin, JC Leynedecker, Drew Struzen, Malcolm T Liepke, Robert McGinnis and Phil Hale to name a few. Really I’m looking everywhere for inspiration. Mondo prints. Old movies. 80’s Skateboard Graphics, Heavy Metal album Covers, Video games. Advertising from the 60’s. Japanese toys. Fetish photography. Nature. Everywhere. The first season of that terrible show Hemlock Groove on Netflix has amazing color schemes. I’ve watched that season three times on mute. Amazing!
- I’ve personally really enjoyed your work on Drive. How did you pick out the palette for that book?
My editor Justin told my when I signed on to approach the book like I was adapting the soundtrack instead of the movie. I’ve tried to go super impressionistic with the book and describe the emotion of the panels rather than how everything would look in nature.
Although out there by mainstream standards, Drive’s colors are pretty tame compared to what a lot of under, underground comic artists are doing. I think I assimilated a lot of that by osmosis when I lived in Portland and funneled it into Drive.
- Did the movie heavily influence your choices? Or were you able to branch out a bit?
Enter The Void by Gasper Noe and Vertigo by Hitchcock were bigger influences on coloring Drive than it’s movie. There’s a few things here and there that I took from the movie, but for the most part I tried to go my own way with the book. The comic is based on the novel not the movie so a lot of that wouldn’t fit anyway.
- Where’s your favorite place to pick up a burrito when you’re at cons
I always opt for cheapness and convenience when choosing my burrito, which is difficult because you’re always bleeding money in the ass-end of a strange town at cons. Chipotle and it’s bastard offspring Qdoba and Baja Fresh work the best. My favorite burrito however is the Talapia Supreme from La Bonita in Portland, OR.
- What’s your favorite convention?
When I go to one of the big cons about 70% of the reason I’m there is to network. Emerald City and Heroes Con are the best for meeting other industry folks that I’ve found. Hanging out in the right hotel bar almost becomes as important as the con floor when you’re trying to meet the right people.
As far as enjoying a con recreationally I like the small, one day cons that have been popping up in tiny towns all over the place. There’s no celebrities, or creators you’ve heard of, just people in homemade costumes buying old toys and musty comics from mom and pop vendors that look to be one bad life decision removed from carnie folk. They remind me of the kind of ragtag cons I went to growing up in West Virginia. Just nerds hanging out with other nerds rejoicing in their nerditude , except now there are entire families of nerds in attendance.
- What would be your dream collaboration?
Redoing the entire first Secret Wars from the 80’s with Frank Quitely on pencils. Realistically, Joe Eisma and I on a Spider-book or Marcio Takara on an X-book. Doing a Bat-book or revamping Strikeforce: Moritori with Brian Level would be fun. Reviving Nextwave: Agents of HATE with Juan Gedeon would be heavenly. I could keep going on like this forever…
- If you weren’t a comic book artist what would be your career?
Punk musician or homeless man.
- What’s the biggest difference between working for the big two and on your indie titles?
Things run smoother at the bigger companies. They give me the pages, tell me when they want them back and for the most part leave me alone to do what I do. After I hand the pages in I can expect my money within about 30 days. My editors are usually super busy so as long as everything looks good and is on time everyone is happy.
90% of self-publishing guys are nothing but headaches. They mean well, but spending money they don’t have for me to color their life long passion project which they unrealistically believe will launch them into comic stardom turns them into annoying stress monsters.
They’ll have arbitrary, unrealistic deadlines and demand a bunch of nitpicky corrections and send constant, nagging requests for updates, only to realize they don’t have the money to pay me when I’m halfway through coloring their book.
Some times they’ll push for me to ape Dave Stewart (I love you, Dave!) rather than use my own coloring style. Often times they’ll add me on Facebook and send me 50 urgent update requests when I happen to post that I went outside that day, like some kind of unholy hybrid of needy, jealous girlfriend and overbearing truant officer.
The problem is that the little guys think that because they’re paying me what for them is a lot of money that, that makes them my boss. In reality I have many bosses. When deadlines loom and I have to prioritize I’m going to choose the entity which can provide me with more income in the future, which is always the bigger companies. No one likes to hear they’re number two. Even when things do go well with the self-publishing guys its rare that they ever get to a second issue, even if they had originally pitched me a 50 part mega-epic. It’s like they evaporate after that first issue.
- What unique challenges does remastering have compared to coloring new titles?
None. That was what was great about them. I’d wake up at noon, pour a glass of Vanilla Coke, turn on some Slayer and color comics I had as a child until the wee hours of the morning. If I could somehow incorporate playing Sega with Tony Hawk while getting a back rub from Debbie Gibson I would have been living out my ultimate 14-year-old fantasy life.
There were only 64 colors I could choose from, and out of those about a third were never used. My whole job was matching the colors to the scanned comic pages they sent me. It was sublime. If only it payed a little better and there was an inexhaustible supply of old comics to re-color I would have done that forever.
- Who are some of your favorite artists to work with?
I prefer artists with more of an open style and minimal use of blacks. Too many heavy shadows, or hatching, or use of greyscale just gets in my way and often hampers my ability to color a page. It’s hard to find an artist with an unclutterd, clean style who also has a strong sense of structure without becoming cartoony. Mike Allred, Chris Samnee and my collaborator on Brigands, Nick Barber, are pretty close to ideal.
- Who’s your favorite character to color?
Again, whoever I’m currently paid to color is my favorite. While doing warm ups I prefer to color female superheroes.
- Thank you for your time Jason, I’ve enjoyed talking to you. Looking forward to your great work in the future.
No problem. Check out my Twitter: @lewisjasonr and my Tumblr lewisjasonr.tumblr.com. Now I’ve got to get back to work.
If you’d like to purchase some of Jason’s work you can check out his page on Comixology: https://www.comixology.com/Jason-Lewis/comics-creator/5533?ref=c2VhcmNoL2luZGV4L2Rlc2t0b3Avc2xpZGVyTGlzdC9jcmVhdG9yU2xpZGVy
Don’t forget to ask your local retailer about Drive.