It’s my opinion that great color work goes unappreciated in the comic community. Often times Color Artists names are left off the covers of trades (such as Rico Renzi being left off of the cover of the Spider-gwen trade), while art can be great on it’s own, color adds such a depth and pleasing aesthetic if done correctly. It was out of my passion for color that I decided to feature a color artist every now and again on my blog so that hopefully I could give others the same appreciation for the art form as I have. A few months ago I attended Cincinnati Comic Con. While there I had the please of meeting Colorist extraordinaire Michael Garland. You’ve seen his fantastic work in The Dying and the Dead, Secret, The Fiction, Big trouble in Little China, Cluster, and most recently The Violent. I was familiar with his work on The Fiction (a great indie book with a clever story and fantastic art all around). Graciously Michael agreed to have an interview with me about his process, his favorite superheros, and his inspirations.
Hey Michael, Thanks for agreeing to this interview!
Sure thing! Thanks for asking.
So How long have you been a colorist?
2010 was my first professional gig – a friend brought me on to do colors for the web comic tie in to AMC’s (thankfully forgotten) remake of The Prisoner, which he was editing.
I’ve been coloring on a consistent basis since 2012, when I started doing Secret at Image and working for Boom! Studios.
Was it what you wanted to be when you were a kid?
No. I mean… maybe there’s somebody out there who said “I want to color comic books!” as a kid, but he/she was probably a weirdo. I didn’t really know what coloring was until college, which was when I got back into comics in a major way.
I’ve always drawn, though. When I was a kid, I was notorious for always carrying a sketchbook around with me. But I was actually a Writing major in college. I decided I wanted to write comics — and realizing how impossible finding an artist is — I started drawing my stories. I was also getting into both traditional and digital painting at the time, so I figured I should learn to color them as well. Eventually, somebody paid me to do that part. And, miraculously, they still are.
What’s the first comic book series you really got into?
Originally it was Cone Saga era Spider-Man. I will forever ❤ Ben Reilly.
When I eventually acquired taste, it was probably Ultimate Marvel. I had read a number of “grown up” books in high school – DKR, V for Vendetta, Whedon’s X-Men – but I was handed a huge chunk of the Ultimate U in college and that was when I got sucked into the drama of the superhero soap opera and, by association, comics fandom.
Do you prefer superhero comics or other genres?
I’m an equal opportunity reader. But recently my pull list has shrunk mostly to Image titles. Which I think is due both to the quality of Image — many of my favorite creators have defected there in recent years — and my exhaustion with the perpetual second act storytelling of the Marvel/DC Universes.
I will always love Marvel and DC, and there are a ton of great books they’re putting out. But If you read them long enough, I think the fact that nothing ever really changes wears you down. And you can either diversify or become one of those people who complains that John Byrne was the last guy to get those characters “right.” Which I guess would make you John Byrne.
Whose your favorite superhero?
It’s a toss up between Batman and Spider-Man. Depends on what day you catch me on. On this day, I’ll give the nod to Spidey.
What’s your favorite series that’s not a superhero series?
Of all time? Planetary and Casanova. Though those are both arguably super hero books.
Whats your process like for coloring?
A poor one, probably. I love what I do before I start and after I finish, but there’s a whole middle part where I hate everything I’m putting down until it finally feels “right.” But I think that’s true of most artists. When people say “your job must be so fun!” I shake my head. But at the same time, it’s comics. And comics are awesome.
To be less existential and more technical, the first thing I do is sit down with the pages and the script. I go through that to get a sense of the tone of each scene, as well as specific beats within it. Stories are about emotional crescendos – be it an action sequence or a conversation – and that impacts the storytelling choices I’ll make with color. Through that I’ll usually get a general idea of what kind of palette I want to bring to each scene.
Once I figure that out, I’ll lay in in basic flat colors on all of the pages. (Either myself, or I’ll pay somebody – called a flatter – to do this for me to save time.) Then I tweak those colors until I’m happy with them. This where I’m really building the palette. If I have time, I might paint a quick color rough on a separate layer that I can refer back to while I’m coloring. From there, I render everything out, depending on what is required. I’ll usually save lighting effects or textures for the end, if the page requires it. And I’ll often go back and tweak various elements to make sure the color is properly balanced.
How do you choose a color palette?
Like I was saying above, a lot of it is reading the feel of a scene and applying color theory. I start with the setting and local color, which is to say, the color things are. A red firetruck is red for instance. Or if it’s night, you usually want a bluish over tone because that’s how light works in nature. Those things are locked in to an extent, but they can be interpreted very differently. Mainly, you’re building off the scene as written. An action sequence or an argument works best with hot colors, like reds and yellows. A moment of loneliness or desolation works best with blue or desaturated colors. And then you sort of play those off each other. Warm vs cool color, saturated vs desaturated color, and using various established color schemes can all bring contrast, focus and a sense of emotion in different ways, both within a scene and between them. And the job of a colorist really does boil down to those three things I think: contrast, focus and emotion.
The Dying and the Dead is an exception, as those palettes we worked out ahead of time. But the thought process is similar. I’m just using a rigid set of colors.
If you’re interested, I recommend picking up COLOR AND LIGHT by James Gurney for an excellent overview of color technique.
What’s your favorite project you’ve ever worked on?
Secret and The Dying and the Dead – the books I’ve done with Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim. Those books have been some of my closest, and therefore most fulfilling, collaborations.
Do you have anything coming out soon that we should keep an eye out for?
THE VIOLENT is a new crime series I’m doing at Image with Ed Brisson and Adam Gorham. The first issue is just came out (call your retailer!) and I think we’re all leveling up with this one. I’m really excited for it.
Who are some of your favorite colorists in the industry today?
Dean White, Bettie Breitweiser and Matt Wilson are probably my holy trinity. But there are so many great ones out there. We live in a golden age of comic coloring. Which is not intimidating at all. He said sarcastically.
Is there anyone you draw inspiration from?
All of the above people for sure. Not counting other colorists, iconic illustrators like Maxfield Parrish, NC Wyeth and a bunch of others. Paperback illustrators, Robert McGuinness being chief among them. Lots of directors/DPs/all the other people who help construct a shot in a movie. Observation is a big one too, just paying attention to how light and color happen out in the real world and filing it away for future use.
I’ve personally really enjoyed your work on The Fiction. How did you pick out the palette for that book?
The Fiction was an interesting (and very fun) exercise. The world being primarily set in unreality gave me permission to kind of go bananas. Again, the thought process is no different – I’m trying to accomplish the same things as any other book. But I tried to push it in hyper bold and saturated directions.
Thank you for your time Michael, I’ve enjoyed talking to you. Looking forward to your great work in the future.
If you are interested in checking out some of Michaels work you can hit up his website:
Or check out his online portfolio:
If you are interested in picking up some of his previous work buy it on comiXology:
Also, don’t forget to ask your local retailer about The Violent!