Colorist Dave Stewart has been nominated for yet another Will Eisner Comic Industry Award. It’s kind of old hat for him at this point. Stewart, who lives in Portland and got his start at Portland Community College, has been honored with the comic industry’s highest accolade eight times in the past 10 years.
When creating a comic book, there used to be very distinct streams of production: writer, penciler, inker, letterer and colorist. These days, with the use of computers, the lines are blurred. An individual might perform multiple roles in this production cycle — and maybe all of them.
Adam Healy, co-owner of Portland’s Cosmic Monkey Comics, was a judge for the 2013 Eisner Awards. He explains that part of Stewart’s recent success in the Eisner’s field is due to his being a recognizable, prolific force in a small field. The other reason is because he’s really, really good.
“I think he’s pursued to color someone’s work [versus the artist doing it themself] because he has command over the work,” says Healy. “Stewart doesn’t obscure the work of artists — he enhances it. He allows it to be seen.”
That’s a fundamental aspect of coloring. Coloring is usually one of the last steps in the production cycle. And it’s the glue that holds it all together. A good colorist can unify the look and feel of a whole comic series, even when the series has a revolving cast of writers and artists. But in order to do that, the colorist needs to remove himself or herself from the work.
Arts & Life talked with Dave Stewart to get a better insight into the world of coloring. He shared a few samples of his coloring and the thought process behind the pieces.
Here’s the work he recently did for the cover art of Shaolin Cowboy, #4.
Stewart explained how color helped shape the piece:
It shows the ability of color to add depth to an image. It is also helping separate the characters from the background. Very subtle color changes in the rocks help bring those details out. Keeping those color variations the same value puts all that detail on one plane, foreground or background. Coloring the line art also helps create depth in the background hills.
Arts & Life: Why is it important to be a good collaborator as a colorist?
Dave Stewart: You’re receiving artwork that a writer and artist have created together. They’ve created a story. You’re joining into this process. There are already ideas about what characters’ costumes might be like. Then more subtly there will be ideas about the tone of the book and the emotional keys that need to play throughout the story. All of that stuff you have to pick up on to continue telling a story well. Part of that collaboration is figuring out what’s appropriate with the artist — what works best with their line art.
A&L: What do you find fascinating about color?
DS: It’s just endlessly fascinating how you can create a time of day, a mood, a tone for a book. I think the combinations and possibilities and harmonies of different colors sort of seem endless.
This is a highly rendered example of his work. In this series of panels for B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth, #117, the color helps bring out the volume of the art:
The approach on this was to create an otherworldly environment controlled by Black Flame, with a surreal psychedelic feeling surrounding everything around him. These panels are precluding a big battle between these two characters. The feeling is meant to set up this quiet, strange moment between the two of them. In the comic, everything was colored a lot more naturalistically up to this point. The contrast creates a quiet unease.
A&L: What is your definition of palette?
DS: Palette is the different colors that are used in a project. What sort of blue are you going to use? When a situation comes up, do you go to those certain colors? There’s a certain night sky blue that [Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy] and I have figured out is the best color for Hellboy, when there’s a dark blue required. Using that same color on other books when possible is the idea of palette. For Hellboy it’s sort of muted colors, a moody sort of palette that’s accented by more vibrant colors here and there.
A&L: Palette is kind of misleading in a way. Because it just goes so deep. You talk about the night sky, but that’s the light source. That ends up influencing everything around it.
DS: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of this stuff is kind of kept in my head. But yeah, it can be pretty broad.
This is an example of Stewart’s more iconic work. Here he’s collaborating with celebrated artist Mike Mignola on a Hellboy comic:
This is almost a European flat painted approach. There isn’t a lot of volume or rendering to bring out shape. It’s a very graphic approach. The shapes are supposed to come out more in silhouette.
The overall tone for the scene is best seen in panel three. It’s very dark and moody. But the action happening brightens up the palette to give the panel a little punch to visually signify there’s something significant and action orientated. The second panel cools off. In the last panel it’s a dark palette, but the guy with horns is burning Hellboy; it isolates the action and helps focus the reader on what’s happening with action in that scene.
A&L: With the more time you spend coloring, how have you seen yourself progress as an artist in this field?
DS: You learn how to make color work at the beginning. As you progress, it becomes a lot more how to make color work inside of sequential storytelling and comic books. How to use color in a way that helps tell the story, helps create a graphic image that’s quickly identifiable. So it supports what the artist has created. Being able to support that story is something that I’ve learned and am still learning. There are so many different ways to approach that. Sort of having that basic framework while being able to determine what makes color work in comic books is something that’s been a big part of my growth.
The 2014 Will Eisner Comic Book Industry Award winners will be announced at Comic-Con International: San Diego in July.