Thursday, June 17, 2010

Q&A with Paul Little, part 1

Paul Little has big talent.  (DID YOU SEE THAT ONE COMING, PAUL?!)  This prodigiously skilled colorist has not only lent his time to recent issues of Teddy and the Yeti, this Niagara Falls, Canadian artist also works on such titles as Image's Bomb Queen and Dynamo 5.  Paul was kind enough to answer a few questions about his work, the industry, and, rather randomly, one of the television shows I've been catching up with recently.

Below is the first part of the interview - I'll publish the second at a later date.  So, without further ado, Paul Little!

JM: It seems that colorists don't always get the credit they deserve when it comes to artistic involvement - and I mean that literally as well as figuratively. Very rarely do I ever see a cover colorist get his or her name in print, where the pencil and ink artist will always be credited. Why do you think colorists are so late to this party?

PL: There's a really interesting argument brewing over which party is more integral to the look of a given comic book in the modern era: the inker or the colorist. In times past, it was inarguably the inker, but that was largely because a colorist's role in the old days was limited to breaking up the planes of an image into foreground, middle ground and background, while also making sure that Superman's costume was red and blue in every panel. The available process wasn't very sophisticated in the pre-digital era, so the colorist's role wasn't as important or distinctive as the inker's.

Once Steve Oliff came along and kicked open the door to everybody's mind with his digital work on the Epic reprints of Akira, however, all bets were off. Coloring as an art form grew up fast, and it's my opinion that the average colorist today has a much greater impact on a finished page of comic art than the inker. Much of the value or tone apparent in a page of finished comic art is supplied by the colorist, and the most visibly dramatic step a page takes on the assembly line isn't when it goes from pencils to inks, but from inks to colors.

JM: Do you think it's just a matter of time before colorists get their due?

PL: There's a sophistication and attention to detail present in coloring today that would have been unfathomable even 20 years ago, and I thnk that's the main reason why attitudes have been slow to catch up to the times. Preconceived notions are often hard to shake. Things are starting to look up, though, due in no small part to Marvel's efforts.

They've been giving colorists cover credit on most of their books for a few years now, and I believe they're also giving them royalties, as well. Of course, I've heard that DC still groups colorists under the "production" umbrella rather than "creative," so it's clear to me that there's still work to be done and perceptions to be challenged.

JM: A few years ago, colorists coloring directly over uninked pencils seemed to come into fashion - perhaps due to Cary Nord's art on Dark Horse's "Conan" series. Is this a fad, or a legitimate step in the evolution of sequential art?

PL: I think it's a legitimate approach, but it's not one I'm keen on myself. It really adds time to the process, since you're forced to bring a painterly touch to the sometimes messy art and ensure that it looks finished. Artists are creative problem solvers by definition, and I think it's natural to want to combine traditional drawing styles that have been available since the inception of comic books with new approaches to coloring that have been made available thanks to technology.

I've seen some really beautiful pages put together in this style - most recently in an issue of Captain America drawn by the legendary Gene Colan and digitally painted by the great Dean White - but even the pretty ones don't scan as "finished" pages to me. I think a lot of it is down to personal tastes - having spent 25 odd years reading inked comic book pages, things just don't add up for me when such an integral component is missing. My brain kicks up the same sort of fuss when I see fully painted comics by artists like Alex Ross and Dan Brereton. They just don't look like what comics ought to look like. That doesn't mean they're bad by any stretch, just that they don't really meet my own sort of Platonic ideal for comics. (laughs)

JM: How does coloring over pencils affect how you approach your job?

When this style was really coming into its own a few years ago, I was actually really concerned about what was beginning to look like the diminished role of the inker in comics - would there still be a place for inkers in the industry if publishers and audiences agreed that colored pencils were the way of the future? In time, though, we've seen this sort of illustrative work fall by the wayside a little, and I think it's simply because it's been explored pretty thoroughly by a wide range of creators at this point, and some the luster has understandably worn off.

The history of comics is filled with this sort of artistic experimentation, from the old school approach of of hand-cutting rubylith to print faded colors on newsprint, to the painted blueline and multimedia books of the 1980s, to the computer-generated colors of the '90s and beyond. Like every art form, comics is constantly evolving, and I think it's generally a good thing to add another tool to the kit as long as it's used sensibly.

JM: What style of coloring do you prefer - traditional or computer mediated?

PL: I honestly don't think I have it in me to create a page of traditionally colored comic art that is of a publishable standard. I'm kind of ashamed to say it, but I came of age in the digital era, and that's more or less how I learned the trade, apart from a few middling attempts at painting with gouache in college (laughs).
JM: Are hand-colored comics a thing of the past?

PL: It's looking more and more like hand-colored comics have gone the way of the dinosaur, for sure. I think it's a shame, given that there are so many artists out there who are so adept with watercolors and dyes, but most of the top flight colorists working today are able to mimic traditional media with such accuracy and skill that a layman wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

But I think the rise of technology has largely been a great boon to comics - I don't think I'll ruffle any feathers if I say that the average computer colorist in 2010 knocks the socks off most of the guys who were doing this 15 years ago. The software is becoming cheaper, more diversified (although Photoshop is still the industry standard, as well as the only program I use) and easier to run, the styles more entrenched, and the work itself more sophisticated as a result. There are a lot of advantages to working digitally, from being able to make corrections easily and quickly to receiving, coloring and sending files to publishers without even having to leave your chair!

I'll stop there and continue within the next few days.  In the meantime, check out Paul's DeviantArt page at!

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