Cartoons, Dammit!/The Drawing Board interviews comic colorist John Rauch
John Rauch is an American comic artist. He is an illustrator and a colorist who has worked for several comic companies including Marvel Comics (Hyperion vs. Nighthawk, X-Men Annual Vol.2). John has been kind enough to give us some input into his work as a colorist.
Keep a tab on his work by visiting Retro Aero Blog. His Toon Zone/Cartoons, Dammit! user name is "EraserX" and he's showcased work on the Drawing Board.
JAMES: John, first off, what's your artistic background? Did you come into comics via an art education, or are you self taught?
JOHN RAUCH: I'm pretty much self-taught. I started coloring comics in high school at a studio a couple blocks from the school after job shadowing for extra credit. They showed me the basics tool in Photoshop like the lasso, brush and gradient, but that was about it.
JAMES: Would you recommend for an amateur colorists - or even artists in general - to try and do the same; look for work and experience beyond school?
JOHN: I think a person who wants to learn can learn anywhere and a person who is content with their skill level as it is probably won't excel, no matter where you put them. I think art school could be a great thing, but it could also slow some people down. No comic book publisher is going to decide to use you based on where you went to school, so if you're good enough now, start trying to get work now. You'll learn faster on the job than in any school.
JAMES: Your coloring is very computer orientated - What are the pros and cons from using software to coloring and do you prefer coloring this way?
JOHN: Well, I use Photoshop primarily because it's the industry standard. It's compatible with everything I need it to be and the set up works very well for maximizing my time. Working on paper or canvas for comic book coloring is more time consuming and not very cost-effective, not to mention how difficult it is to get your scan to actually print like your original.
JAMES: Can you take us through your process when it comes to coloring a piece of work?
JOHN: It really depends on the style of the person drawing the piece and the subject matter itself. Typically, I'll start by dropping in all the flat colors I need, then I'll start thinking more about the mood of the page and make whatever adjustments necessary to my color palette. Then, it's just a matter of painting. I tend to go back and forth between painting shadows/darks and highlight areas. When working on more realistic art, sometimes I'll do some grey toning to enforce my light/dark contrast and keep myself honest with the light sources.
JAMES: Does coloring someone else's work create any different issues to the process? Do you have full control over the palette? Is the process of working on someone else's work more enjoyable than on your own?
JOHN: Really, it depends on who I'm working with. Most artists are content to let you do your thing if they trust you can do your job. Occasionally, I'll work with an artist that drew a piece with a specific thing in mind and I do my best to accommodate that. No one wants to work with a colorist who makes an issue of every request given to them. As far as what is more enjoyable, it's hard to say. I typically get a little more involved when coloring my own work and I do enjoy the freedom to do whatever I want. I usually feel a little more like I accomplished something when coloring my own work. It feels more like mine.
JAMES: So how much of your understanding of light sourcing and palettes comes from your knowledge of comic art and how much from real life?
JOHN: I'm not really sure. I used to try very hard to keep my coloring and palettes close to how the real world actually works, but the more I color and paint, the more I want to push it and go past that. I don't think making things look realistic is a major part of the job description as a colorist or artist of any kind. Art exists, comics and otherwise, to tell a story, so my first priority is story-telling. I don't really read a lot of comics, and I'm not trying very hard to mimic real life, so it's hard to say exactly where I draw influence from.
JAMES: Do you look beyond the genre at all when it comes to coloring a piece of artwork?
JOHN:Sometimes I'll get a notion in my head about a color scheme or lighting I saw in a painting or something and use it as a starting point until I run into something that suits my own tastes. I used to think about these things a lot and now, more often than not, I just try to let things happen and see where it goes.
Tell us John, any colorists you have admiration for?
Colorists...man, there are so many who are so good, I know I'm going to leave out a ton that deserve recognition. I'd say Dave Stewart, Justin Ponsor, Steve Firchow, Dave McCaig, Arnold Tsang, and Bill Crabtree are all colorists who have such distinctive styles. That's what I respect more than anything, is a colorist who's work you just recognize instantly.
JAMES: Any artists you would very much like to work with?
JOHN:As far as artists go...I dunno...when I color other people's art, I really like to mix it up and work with people who have totally different styles, to keep me on my toes. I've done some work with Mark Brooks that was fun, because there was so much room left for me to take the colors in whatever direction I wanted. Then again, I've also worked with guys like Paul Gulacy, who put so much ink down on the page that it forces me to rethink my approach to coloring and the general light/dark balance of a page and that's a lot of fun too.
I was also lucky enough to fill-in coloring an issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four over Pasqual Ferry and that might be the most fun I've ever had coloring. His art already had so much texture and life to it, yet there were still so many opportunities to leave my own mark as well. I'd say if I could pick the next artist I'll be coloring over, I'd want to work with someone who works in a really un-comic book style with some really organic, scratchy, looser art. I'd like to try something really out there and expressive. I think it would suit my color sensibilities well and it's something I've never really had the chance to do much of.
JAMES: What tips have you got for any people looking to work as a colorist? What is the biggest mistake you see artists make when they come to coloring?
JOHN: Hmmm...it's hard to say, but one thing that bothers me a lot is to see beginner colorists looking to "filter" their way out of their job. It can be done right, but it's really rare to see a beginner colorist using these tools to enhance their work. Typically, it's just something they do to avoid that actual coloring work. Other than that, just be persistent and never stop trying to learn something. Look for honest critiques and try to identify your own weaknesses. The sooner you know what your doing wrong, the sooner you can start trying to fix it.
JAMES: Could we look at a specific piece of your work and maybe go through it in detail a little? Your choice! (Images open in new window)
JOHN: I think one of my favorite coloring jobs so far was actually not a job at all, just something I did for fun.
A while back, I came up with a little five page story about Thor and Stan Lee facing off in a Matrix spoofed scenario.
I wrote it, drew it, colored it, and lettered it all myself.
It's not literary genius by any means, but it was a fun little gag. On the positive side, I think most people could tell right off the bat what I was trying to spoof by the color scheme. On the negative side, I know a lot of people don't get into moody lighting in comics and prefer to see everything in super-bright technicolor.
It's a difficult balance for me personally, because my own tastes lean more towards the dramatic, over-the-top, scene dominating moods, whereas a lot of people want their comics bright and colorful. I suppose it's not a bad thing, but it does seem to be a reoccurring issue with my work.
JAMES: What is the hardest thing about being a colorist?
JOHN: Uh...paying the bills? Seriously, it's a decent job once you know what you're doing. Like everything, it has it's ups and downs.
JAMES: Anything new coming up?
JOHN: Well, I'm illustrating a graphic novel called "This Hollow World", but it won't be in stores for months yet!
Thanks to John for this brief insight into his world. John will be back to give us a talk on his skills as a penciller later this year.
For further information on John's coloring process, I recommend this link, in which John describes Photoshop coloring for comics in greater detail at HowToMakeComics.net
Last edited by James; 10-16-2007 at 05:41 AM.