Every Comic Book Movie (Ever): Doctor Strange (feat. Some Thought on the State of the Comic Book Film)

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There is another Marvel movie out, in case you had not heard, and while Andrew and I will discuss Doctor Strange in depth on the next episode of the podcast, I wanted to use this space to write about the film as it relates to the larger world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This will be a sort of diagnosis (ahem), if you will.

In case you are sensitive to this sort of thing, there will most assuredly be spoilers.

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Where are we now?

It has been eight years since Iron Man stormed movie screens and kicked off what was then the risky, uncertain endeavor of a universe of connected, but parallel films. The gamble has more than paid off for both Marvel Studios, and their parent company, Disney. One can argue over many things concerning these films, but it is impossible to deny that they have been hugely successful and that there has never been anything quite like this. The idea of launching groups of “solo” films which would then connect in The Avengers remains ambitious, and despite the many copycats, and my own relative ambivalence toward the Marvel films, no one has pulled the idea off more successfully.

In fact, no one else who has tried has really pulled it off yet. Sony had an ambitious interconnected universe planned around the success of The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel, but the disappointing box office of the latter has led to a partnership between Sony and Disney to bring a new Spiderman into the MCU fold. The X-Men films have never quite branched out in the same way the MCU has. Despite a convoluted time-travel plot to try and simultaneously launch sequels to the X-Men films of the 2000s while rebooting them, the franchise has yielded only a few Wolverine-centric entries and Deadpool, whose success may push the franchise into MCU territory, or may prove a blip on the radar. Then there is the Fantastic Four universe which exploded on the runway. And to keep with the metaphor, we have DC, who, after backing the successful and often audacious Batman films of Christopher Nolan, has had to hit the reset button and build the plane while it’s in the air with Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and the upcoming Wonderwoman and Justice League – which may be the DCU’s last real hope to compete at Marvel’s level.

I am not even saying most of these Marvel films have been particularly good (they haven’t, in my opinion), but the fact that the whole enterprise, eight years on, continues to grow and expand and remains successful financially is impressive, and a testament to the model that Marvel has built. This model is a kind of hybrid of the way Marvel’s comics wing operates, and the Golden Age of Hollywood studio filmmaking. I will be the first to admit that responding to my broadest criticism of these films – that they lack a distinct aesthetic vision from film to film and bring nothing new to the art of cinema – would likely make them a less successful corporate endeavor. But with Doctor Strange, it appears that Marvel may, at least, be searching for a middle ground – a way forward.

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The Doctor is in: Doctor Strange as remedy

The thing about perpetuating a franchise for nearly a decade is that ten years is a very long time – actors age or drop out, technology changes, sequels start to yield diminishing returns. One of the benefits of the Marvel system is that, while they have produced 14 films up to this point, they are not all direct sequels. Marvel can tell new-ish stories that sort-of stand alone while still tying them into the brand. For a while, these stories were all Avengers-centric, but in an effort to expand, and potentially modulate its universe, Marvel, beginning with Guardians of the Galaxy, started expanding its (already large) cast and plot strands. Next came Ant-Man. And now we have Doctor Strange. And while each of these films orbit the Avengers, they also try to inject some new blood into the years long saga of the Avengers Initiative.

On one level, Doctor Strange accomplishes this task – it introduces a new hero who, thinking purely in terms of plot, is the type that could lead an Avengers film at some point (Robert Downey Jr. isn’t going to stick around forever). But much like Guardians of the Galaxy introduced more hard sci-fi elements to the MCU, Doctor Strange introduces a new dimension of sorcery and magic which has been essentially untouched in the MCU.

And the film really rips the viewer right into this world. The first fight scene has the dual qualities of being both interesting to look at, and not overstaying its welcome. There is no expositional dialogue explaining exactly what is happening. Just a theft and a chase. Here is a villain. Here is a hero. Here are some buildings getting folded.

As interesting and effective as this sequence is, it is completely dwarfed by the first interaction between Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One and Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular Doctor in which she removes Strange’s soul from his body and sends him flying through multidimensional space and the astral plane. The film is a surrealist, mind-melting trip. Director Scott Derrickson flexes his horror chops here, bringing genuinely memorable, and grotesque, images to the MCU. There is nothing in any of these films like Cumberbatch’s damaged fingers growing more fingers which continue to grow more fingers. It is a fascinating and show-stopping sequence in a world of films that could use much more of that. And while I have seen much stranger things on film before (pick any David Lynch film you like), it struck me while watching in the theater that most people who watch these films have not. For that alone, I am grateful for this film.

While Doctor Strange stretches some of the visual boundaries of the MCU, it also seems to make some oblique nods to the problems and critiques levied at past films. The climactic sequence contains the two most notable. First, instead of a city-destroying ending (of which we have, by now, seen more than enough to make them boring), Strange reverses the damage wrought on Hong Kong. In backwards-motion, the city is slowly put back together, until it is stopped mid-stream, allowing for some interesting shots of civilians frozen in time before the moment of terror. The sequence is a welcome reprieve from the expected endings of comic-book cinema fare.

Second, and this may be entirely unintentional, though no less notable for it, Strange uses a bizarre, Sisyphean method of saving the day. He traps himself and Dormammu, the film’s barely-defined villain, in a time loop in which they must relive the same ten seconds or so of Dormammu destroying Strange. The time loop is meant to eventually wear down the villain and force him to bargain as, in the loop, he cannot commence with world conquering, and must be content to merely crush Strange over and over, hoping for a different result. One could cynically read this as the way in which Marvel slowly grinds down audiences, delivering essentially the same scenario film after film until we wear down and give into the whole enterprise. Less cynically, one could read it as the director’s hopeful vision of breaking away from the relentless Marvel style of filmmaking and trying to craft something more personal and cinematic.

Doctor Strange cannot help but get tripped up in the Marvel net, however.

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The Doctor is out: Doctor Strange as symptom

The first sign of trouble was when Edgar Wright left Ant-Man so late in the game over “creative differences.” Ideally, these are the kinds of difference you resolve (or don’t) before shooting begins, when a director and studio are forming a joint vision for what the film should be. Marvel choosing an offbeat and well-respected director like Wright was a good sign that they would be expanding the ways in which these stories could be told, parting ways with him was a sign that Marvel/Disney, as a corporate entity, still could not resist calling some major shots even on a smaller off-beat entry like Ant-Man. Ant-Man ended up being fine, I guess – at least, it performed to expectations at the box office, which left Doctor Strange on the horizon as the film that could potentially shake things up.

But the film is tasked with doing so much that we have seen before. It’s an origin story after all.

So we have Strange as narcissistic but genius surgeon, brought down by his own hubris, unable to save himself. Here is the motive. He gets in a car wreck. Here is the inciting event. He has a vague love interest in Rachel McAdams’ character who is so poorly drawn that she is almost invisible in the film. Popping up now and again as a plot convenience to motivate or challenge the hero. Like Tony Stark (or, at times, Bruce Wayne), Strange is not particularly likable. I am still not convinced that Strange, with his High Laurie-in-House accent ever quite crosses the threshold into endearing self-absorption, like Stark – and I certainly never once found myself hoping he would find a way to fix his hands.

There is so little time for him to have a satisfying arc in this new and magical world which, despite the amount of time spent explaining the way the magic works, remains vague and borderline nonsensical. There seems to be no particular reason why these people can bend the world into Escher-like contortions (or Inception squared, if you prefer) other than that it looks cool – and the boring orange sparks the conjure out of thin air which form their portals and weapons do not even have that luxury – which would be perfectly acceptable if 90% of the characters’ dialogue in the middle act of the film was more than just droning on about how all this stuff is supposed to work and what it is supposed to mean.

There is also a persistent visual problem which the MCU (and really, most comic book films) has yet to solve. The long history of most of these characters gives a wide range of visual representations to choose from, but they are all, of course, two-dimensional. The trick is in translating these (often iconic) flat, static images into cinematic and dynamic ones. Marvel’s default response has been to simply render these classic images in 3D, mostly avoiding any radical redesign. For some characters, this approach works well (Iron Man) for others, the silliness which is less apparent in a drawing on a page becomes absurd when exaggerated into reality and placed on the body of a living, moving, breathing person (Loki’s helmet). This tactic is popular outside of Marvel as well and usually results in all kinds of useless fabric geometry from which few heroes have been spared – Captain America, Spiderman, Superman, Batman, and Black Panther have all fallen victim. Then there is the issue of masks. Cowls in particular. These look fine in comics – movies are another story. It took Nolan three films to get a cowl that didn’t make Christian Bale look like he was in a neck brace; Captain America is more persuasive as a hero when the mask is off; and I cannot even make it through commercials of CW’s The Flash without laughing at that supremely dumb mask he is wearing.

Doctor Strange opts for kaleidoscopic, Dali-esque surrealism in the early sequence I have already lauded in the space of this piece, but when it comes to staging the final confrontation with the film’s big bad, Dormammu, in the Dark Dimension, the film loses its nerve. The design of the Dark Dimension draws inspiration from nebulas and visual representations of neurons, but fails to convert these interesting touchstones into compelling cinema. The result is a sea of muddy blacks and blues with occasional neon bursts. There is also a geographic problem in that the characters never have any tangible relation to the ill-defined world around them. There is never a moment where Cumberbatch does not look like he is on a big soundstage surrounded by green screen. The close ups draw a stark line between the real fabric of his clothes and the computer simulated fantasia around him. The long shots turn him into a CGI blob amidst a sea of other, larger CGI blobs.

Consider these four shots from inside the Dark Dimension:

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Now consider this single panel from the comic:

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Whereas the film opts for nebulous blobs, the comic goes for more geometric psychedelics. And the colors in the comic may be more subdued, but they are better defined and, in fact, help to define the impossible space of the dark dimension, making them more effective visually. In the illustration, we can place Strange firmly within the space, even if the limits of the space itself fade into impossible orange. We can trace a path along distant strands of green and pink over a cut and paste background of stars and tracings of orbits which render our three dimensional galaxy as two dimensional wallpaper in the theoretically four dimensional space of the Dark Dimension. Despite being a static image on a page, the illustration is more interesting because it gives the eye so many possible paths to take while it simultaneously establishes the heroes place in all of it. It is a tough thing to do, but frustratingly, the film mostly does it in the first sequence between the Ancient One and Strange, and descends into visual blandness at its dramatic climax.

There have been creative and beautiful solutions to the problems of translating comics to cinema. Whether it is Guillermo del Toro’s intricate, handmade Hellboy films, Christopher Nolan’s nü-noir Batman, or the brilliant choice of putting Hugh Jackman in a white tank top instead of bright yellow spandex. One of the most interesting things Marvel has done of late is give the new Spiderman a classic, flat look to his costume that looks straight out of the comic. While it is incongruous with the copiously over-textured Power Rangers look of the Avengers, it is preferable and memorable. It draws directly from the iconography of the character. It is a literal translation, but one that works as cinema.

And that is what I want more than anything out of these films: good cinema. Comic book adaptions aren’t going away anytime soon. If they are going to stick around, they should push at the boundaries they have erected for themselves. There are some signs of that.

It’s odd, I went into the theater the other night hoping that Doctor Strange would provide the sign. It ultimately did not. But I did get my sign. And it came crashing in wearing a white tank top with Johnny Cash playing in the background:

New Comic Book Day Top 5: Oct. 26th

Hello Revuers! It’s Tuesday which means it’ time for another edition of New Comic Book Day Top 5. Where I pick my top 5 most anticipated books that are coming out this week. This Wednesday looks to be especially exciting with many new series’ starting from major and indie publishers alike. As always feel free to tell me what you think of the list in the comment section below, and please tell us what’s on your pull list. We love to hear from our readers, plus I love finding out about new series’ that people are enjoying. Without further delay, let’s jump right in.

 

5: The Skeptics #1

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The Skeptics is a new series from the fantastic Black Mask Studios features the talents of Tini Howard (Writer) and Devaki Neogi (Artist). The story is summed up as follows: “A stylish, political adventure about a pair of hip, clever teens who fool the world into believing they have superpowers. It is the 1960s. The Russians have the A-bomb, the H-bomb, and now the most terrifying weapon of all: a pair of psychically superpowered young people.” The story then focuses on the heads of the USA military looking to find equivalent super powered beings from America to be on Par with Russia. The preview art for this series looks amazing and the premise promises to be a wild ride.

 

4: Batgirl #4

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Batgirl #4 is a continuation from issue three. Batgirl realizes that she has fallen into the trap set by The Teacher. She realizes that in order to save Kai she will first have to come face to face with this new mysterious villain. Writer Hope Larson has delivered an interesting and compelling plot so far this series. I think the title overall benefit from being on the slower once a month schedule. This allows the artist Rafael Albuquerque and Color Artist Dave McCaig time to really build a beautiful and rich world around Hope Lasron’s world. Batgirl is still one of the best titles from the overall spectacular DC Rebirth initiative.

 

3: The Prowler #1

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Confession from me. I have been a big Spider-Man fan since I was 7. In fact Spider-Man was/is my favorite superhero. The Prowler was also one of my favorite Rouges in his gallery (Mysterio is my favorite [maybe I just really love purple and green color schemes for villains!?]). So when I heard they were planning a Prowler solo series I was pumped. I had already been excited about him getting more of a role in the new (NOW!?) ASM series. Writer Sean Ryan and Artist Jamal Campbell have a lot on their plate but the preview art makes it look like they have delivered. I can’t wait until I can read this one.

 

2: Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #1

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This new Dr. Strange series arrives two weeks before the release of the Marvel Studios film. Coincidnece? I think not. Do I care? NO! Robbie Thompson is set to write the series which means it’s going to be fantastic. I love the way he tackled Silk and Spidey, so I can’t wait for him to take on Dr. Strange. The art will be by the amazing Javier Rodriguez, who has recently been on the Spider-Woman series. If there’s one character that I think working on a Spider-Man series before hand would benefit you it would be Sr. Strange. There’s a lot of room for humor and sarcasm just like in Spidey titles. I am also intrigued by the team up aspect of it. The idea of Dr. Strange in a mentoring role is hilarious to me.

 

1: Bloodshot USA #1

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Bloodshot USA comes to us from Valiant Entertainment. It features the all star level talent of Jeff Lemire (writer), Doug Braithwaite (artist) and Brian Reber (Color Art). The story is set in New York where a criminal organization has released a biowarfare weapon that has turned the population of New York into blood thirsty zombie like creature, and it’s up to Bloodshot to ensure the contamination doesn’t spread. This title just sounds like plain fun, shoot em up comics to me with no shortage of action. The preview art looks incredible. Especially the color art work by Harvey nominated color artist supreme Brian Reber (wow, that was quite the run on sentence). I haven’t read too many Valiant series’ but this one looks like a real winner.

 

So there you have it! Did your most anticipated books make the cut? Tell us in the comments below. We would also love to see you list of most anticipated comics!

 

-Andrew Horton

 

 

 

 

Deja.Revue Review Episode 1

Hello Revuers, episode 1 of our new podcast, Deja.Revue Review, is live on Soundcloud. That will be our temporary host until we make the move to iTunes. In  this episode we talked about San Diego Comic Con and the trailers that dropped. We also discussed X-men, Defenders, CBS All-Access, Star Trek, and the sustainability of the Superhero genre. Please check it out and give us some feedback. We would like to know your thought on it and what you liked and didn’t like. Below is the link:

 

If you liked the episode then please subscribe!

Tales From the Pull List (04/06/2016): A Widows Peak

Hello Revuers! Its time for another edition of Tales From the Pull List. After several quiet weeks in a row, this NCBD turned into an embarrassment of riches. In fact of the last three years of religiously participating in NCBD this may have been my favorite week ever. Such tremendous talent and titles! So who won this week?  Well it was super close but in in the end only one title can be chosen as Pick of the Week. Read on to find out which one it was!

 

Pick of The Week

Black Widow #2: In what many might call an upset, this weeks Pick of the Week is Black Widow #2 by Matk Waid, Chris Samnee, and Matthew Wilson. Issue number two flashes back to one week prior to the last issue. Here we are given a funeral scene of an unnamed agent with Maria Hill and Agent Elder discussing the circumstances of the agents death. We find out that the Black Widow is at least party responsible. Then in a breath taking succession of pages and panels we see the Black Widow protecting Hill and Elder from a would be assassin team. In the end it’s Widow vs. a lone assassin. It’s then that she discovers the assassins true purpose at the funeral. No spoilers though so go out and get your own issue (if you haven’t done so already). This series is the creative team of Waid, Samnee, and Wilson’s second series together after a legendary run on Daredevil. I can honestly say that I can’t think of a better book for them to be on (Ok maybe Amazing Spider-Man, but I’m probably biased because Spider-Man is my favorite). The artwork by Samnee perfectly captures the feel and aesthetic of the world Waid has created for the Black Widow. The color work done by Matthew Wilson is spectacular, like it would be anything else, as it always is. Wilson is perhaps the greatest, most prolific color artist I have ever seen. Just this week alone I bought two titles colored by him (both were fantastic). All in all a great issue that builds suspense, reveals some of the Black Widows motivations for doing what she did last issue, introduces a new villain, and lets us watch the Black Widow single handedly take out a team of assassins. A very good issue indeed. Rating: 9.5/10

 

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Black Panther #1: A great first issue on a much hyped debut. Ta-Nehisi Coates was under heavy pressure to perform and I must say he slayed it. If it hadn’t been for such an amazing issue of the Black Widow, Black Panther would have been my Pick of the Week. The artwork by Brian Stelfreeze is breathtaking. The color work by Laura Martin does a fantastic job of accenting and world building. Black Panther truly delivers this week and I can’t wait for issue 2. Rating: 9/10

The Wicked + The Divine #18: It’s back! And so is someone else. A great return for my favorite creative team in the business. Gillen, McKelvie, Wilson, and Cowles deliver a unforgettable issue full of action and destruction. In the letter at the end Gillen described this arc as “Taylor Swift’s Bad blood video for 6 issues”. I can’t wait for more of that. Rating 8/10

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #2: In this issue we learn more of the Rita’s grand scheme with the green power ranger. We also get more action that was lacking from the last issue. The page art of the dinozord underwater was some of the coolest art I saw this week. Fantastic! A great installment in this series that keeps me wanting for more. Rating: 7/10

Spider-Women Alpha: The first issue in this summers Spider family event. It sees Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen, and Silk team up to take on crepes, Er I mean creeps, brunch, ball pits, clowns, o yeah and villains. We see them travel through inter dimensional space, fight adaptoid robots, and wind a sitter! This issue was a fun beginning for this cross over event and for the first time in recent memory actually has me interested in a cross over event. Rating: 7/10

 

 

Tales From the Pull list (Jan. 27th): Rebs running wild again

Hell Revuers. This week was a lighter week for me with only three books coming out that were on my pull list. That being said the three that I ended up with were all great. It was a close race for pick of the week but in the end the old tried and true team of the Jason’s (Aaron and Latour) won it. Without further delay here is my Tales from the Pull list

Pick Of The Week

Southern Bastards #13: Everything about this issue was a win for me. On the surface it was a simple tale of a homecoming football game, but on  deeper level it was about what it means to be a REB. Fight, determination, and a whole lot of language. The issues dives in after the suicide of Boss’ closest confidant and companion (because the Jason’s like to kill everyone we like). It’s homecoming and the REBs are down, for the first time in a long time. The pressure is on Boss like it’s never been, Can he handle it without his most trusted ally, can he inspire the boys to come back from a 20-3 deficit at half time? Well if you want to find out, go buy the book. The art continues a strong showing from Jason Latour. Who also colors the book. The colors that are used are all earth tones with varying shades of red, brown, grey, and some muted green thrown in. The colors really establish just what kind of place Craw County really is and sets the tone for the issue (and the series as a whole). The cover art is really what stands out. The earth tones I spoke of earlier have always been featured in the covers. Always muted and earth toned. This issue the cover is sky blue, which happens to be the color of the Runnin’ Rebs arch rival the Wetumpka Warriors (who they are facing during the home coming game). Could this cover be an indication of what is to come? Maybe…….Rating: 8.5/10

 

BUY

Cry Havoc: The marketing has stated that this series is “It’s not abut a lesbian werewolf going to war except it kind of is”. It turns out that that is exactly what it is. Sorta. The story is set in three different time periods: The Beginning, The middle, and The End. This is emphasized by having three different colorist coloring the three different sections. Not only does it have three separate colorist, all three of them happen to be elite colorists (Nick Filardi, Lee Loughridge, and Matt Wilson). This device helps the reader stay immersed in the story and helps them understand what section they are currently reading. Without this device Cry Havoc would be confusing and frustrating. With this device it turned into a surprise enjoyment and an intriguing mystery.

All-New All-Different Avengers #4: This was a simple filler issue that served to do some character building. Being as that’s what it was it was successful. The last mini arch was so action filled it was hard to get a sense of what the team was and how it would function. After this issue it’s more clear what roles each of the members play. Plus the added a layer of secrecy that could be the driving point of the next arch. Overall a successful, if slightly dull, issue. Rating: 6/10

Tales From The Pull List (01/06/2016): My Spidey Sense is tingling

Hello Revuers! It’s the first Tales from the Pull List of the year! It’s hard to believe how quickly last year flew by. 2015 was a year of great comics and I hope that 2016 continues the greatness. If this weeks pull list is any indication then I’m not worried at all.

 

Pick of the Week

Spidey #2: This series sees the return of Peter Parker to high school. Writer Robbie Thompson does a great job of making this step back actually feel like a step forward. With old faces seeming fresh and old story’s seeming new. In this issue we see Spidey in a fight with Sandman and a tutoring session with Gwen Stacey (Stacey rules Mary Jane drooles). At the beginning of the issue we see Peter talking to Aunt May about his upcoming tutoring session and she tells him to “Just be yourself” which leaves our hero to ponder “Which version of myself” At first all the versions of himself seem bad, as like with most teenagers, he struggles with self-esteem. Spidey slowly realizes over the course of the issue that in the right situations all the things he thinks are bad about himself (nerdy, geeky, etc.) are actually strengths (except for being broke, that’s not a strength). This realization gives him confidence (and the inner monologue that works though this gives the reader plenty of opportunity for laugh out loud funny moments). Not only that but he finds out that his secret crush knows who Gandalf is, so…..that’s a win. The art by Nick Bradshaw is beyond perfect for this series. His version of the Sandman is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. All in all Spidey is a fresh and fun take on Spider-Man that the other more dramatic Spider-Man (Amazing) is missing. Rating: 10/10

Buy

Doctor Strange #4: What grave peril is threatening the Sorcerer Supreme of all the dimensions? What can kill magic and old books? What’s the Chloric intake that Doctor Strange needs to command the mystical? All these questions are pondered in the fourth issue of this fantastic series (ok, maybe not that last one). Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo gift the reader another action pact and visually stunning book. If you aren’t reading this series you really have to ask yourself why? Rating: 8/10

Invincible Iron Man #5: This issue continues where number four left off. A stand down between Iron Man Madame Masque…….and Doom? That’s right Victor appears to be on Tony’s side in this one. Although appearances aren’t to be trusted. Speaking of appearances, I wonder what caused the appearance change for Doom? Perhaps something from the end of Secret Wars? Rating: 8/10

Amazing Spider-Man #6: The other Spider-Man title that was released this week saw Peter Parker doing more Tony Stark things half way across the world. Be that as it may the return of a surprise villain and an interesting appearance of a fabled team of super heroes made this book interesting to read. Although a bit heavy for what I like in a Spider-Man book. Rating: 6/10

 

Coloring Between The Lines: Jason Lewis

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.