My next step looking into the comics industry is the colorist. I recently caught up with Christopher Sotomayor, founder of SotoColor Graphics, Inc., to ask him a few questions about being a colorist in the comics industry. Sotomayor strongly believes that a solid understanding of the fundamentals is essential to being an arist and that technology is more of a skill that can be acquired later. He described when he looks at potential hires,
Even if you’re not amazingly talented at drawing or painting, understanding the concepts are very important to doing this kind of work. That’s the first step, more than even knowing how to work a computer. Matter of fact, I run an illustration studio, and I’d rather hire someone who can draw and paint as opposed to someone who’s great at using a computer.
It’s interesting to see the strong demand for fundamentals and core concepts in the industry. Below is the rest of the interview:
How did you become interested in coloring, and how did you hone your skill?
I got involved as an intern in an artist’s studio after my first year of art school (I attended SVA in New York City), and did some inking, background pencilling, and coloring. I wanted to break into comics as a penciller, but soon realized that despite my (modest) illustration career, I could not manage those kinds of deadliness. After dabbling in all the different disciplines involved in typical comic book production, I realized that coloring was where I felt the most comfortable. Of course, this was before digital coloring, so I actually started out doing blue-line coloring and color guides. When I had the opportunity to learn digital coloring, I obsessed over it and did a ton of research. The appeal of digital, aside from the fact that I saw it as the future (thanks to guys like Steve Oliff and the books that Image was producing), was that I could have more control over what was on the printed page and all the different subtleties and effects I could get.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect in being a colorist?
Well, it used to be getting the respect and understanding of what my contribution to the artwork was, but many publishers and creators are coming around. You can tell that a publisher or creator (on a creator owned book) gets it when you see the colorists name credited on the cover. Nowadays, it’s just all the competition! There are so many amazingly talented people doing some wonderful things with digital comic book coloring. It’s inspiring, really.
What’s your opinion on work that is colorless? What sort of statements do you think it sends to readers and other colorists?
I really don’t think its’s bad for a book to be black & white. There’s really nothing wrong with that, and some of my favorite creators do amazing things in black & white. Bernie Wrightson, Frank Miller, Al Williamson, Lee Weeks, Tony Moore- all have done amazing things sans color. I think it makes it special. And as long as it’s special, it makes sense. On the business side though, I think that there are probably times when it’s recognized as a cost saving measure, and that can doom a book. If it’s not a special thing, I think fans will respond to it and vote with their dollar. Professionally, I don’t look down on black & white books though. Not as a whole. I’ll either buy them or I won’t, but it’s always based on whether or not I think the book is good, not simply because it’s black & white. I shudder to think that maybe some readers are making their purchases based on whether or not a book is in color. That would seem a little narrow minded to me. Imagine all the great books you’d miss out on.
Do you use any special tools?
Since going strictly digital (coloring), my tool of choice is Adobe Photoshop in conjunction with a Cintiq on my laptop (MacBook Pro). When I started digital coloring, I first used version 1.5 of Photoshop, and I’m now using CS3. I’m slow to upgrade because I’m a creature of habit at times, and I like to maintain control. Can you tell I’m a control freak?
What would you say is the most rewarding part being a colorist?
Ha! I actually have a list! First, I love that I can work from home, and be with my family. I have 3 kids, and I’ve been able to watch them grow and almost never miss a school play, team sporting event, recital, or concert. Second, I’ve wanted to work in comics since I was 5 years old, so I love the idea that I’ve contributed to the legacies of some of my favorite characters and work for the likes of Marvel Comics and occasionally DC, and other publishers with creators I grew up reading, or whose work I admire. And finally, even after working professionally for the last 16 years, I still get a kick out of seeing my name on a book. That’s an incredible high for me.
What sort of things do you look at to help learn and improve your work?
Well, I look at what other people are doing in digital coloring. There are quite a few people pushing the envelope, who I admire. Also, I try to brush up on my painting skills, and read different books about art, and learn what specific artists do. I recently watched a Drew Struzan film, where he breaks down his entire process while working on a Hellboy movie poster. It was fascinating! That stuff is invaluable. More so even than looking at other comics and colorists. Studying art and learning from artists is far more educational.
How would you say your methods or mind-set set you apart from other colorists?
I don’t know if this sets me apart, but I have very little self confidence, especially about the work I do. I think that keeps me looking to get better and better. I don’t rest on my laurels because competition is so fierce, and I know someone else is looking to take my job and upset my wonderful life. That’s why I’m constantly reading art books, and studying my craft. As you can see, aside from being a control freak, I’m also a little paranoid. It’s a fun combination.
Is there anything you wish to share about your experience as a colorist in the industry and possible lessons learned?
Well, I would hope that other colorists know how to draw and paint. I know the colorists I admire and respect know how to do those things. I hope anyone aspiring to be a colorist would pick up those same skills. Even if you’re not amazingly talented at drawing or painting, understanding the concepts are very important to doing this kind of work. That’s the first step, more than even knowing how to work a computer. Matter of fact, I run an illustration studio, and I’d rather hire someone who can draw and paint as opposed to someone who’s great at using a computer. Teaching someone how to use a computer is relatively simple, but building drawing and painting skills can take a lifetime. And a lot of this is what I teach in my online coloring class at www.ComicsExperience.com. I teach coloring as an art, and the computer as a tool. I also teach some of the business side of things too. Because this is, above all, a business. Publishers have to get books out (with or without you) and managing deadlines is a serious skill that needs to be developed. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go because they couldn’t meet a deadline or manage their workflow. They don’t teach that stuff in art school. You learn that stuff the hard way. Treat yourself as a company, and make decisions on what’s best for your company.