Colorists Are The Unsung Heroes Of The Comic Industry, And It’s Time To Pay Attention

Share
Ad failed to load

It’s no secret that there are serious problems in the comic book industry, but some are more apparent than others. A comic colorist’s job is absolutely crucial to the tone of a book — their work can make or break the reading experience. But colorists are dealt a pretty difficult hand by their peers.  

They’re often brought on to a project the very end of development, sometimes leaving them with little to no say in creative direction. They’re at the end of the production timeline, which burdens them with rigid deadlines even when writers and fellow artists deliver their parts late.

And until recently, they’ve been virtually ignored. Thankfully, though, that’s changing.

Ad failed to load

So what do colorists do? A colorists’ job is to add color and life to the work of the penciler — the person who draws the book— and the inker — the person who gives the pencils depth and definition. Literally anything you see on a comic page that isn’t black and white is because of the colorist. They set the mood of a comic and their contributions often add to the iconic looks of characters, settings, and comic series in general. Some are traditional painters and some color electronically, but they all bring something vital to the stories they tell.

These days, colorists are almost always credited on the cover of a book they’ve collaborated on, and many creators regularly praise the colorists they work with. My Chemical Romance frontman and comic book writer Gerard Way, for example, makes it a point to include colorists on convention panels for his imprint, DC’s Young Animal. When asked about colorists working in the industry, he specifically calls out Tamra Bonvillain, who colors Way's book Doom Patrol, and Kelly Fitzpatrick, whose work on Shade the Changing Girl — a book published by Way’s imprint — transforms the book into a psychedelic adventure.

“Treatment in the industry has gotten better,” Fitzpatrick tells Bustle. “Companies are starting to notice that colorists are artists. I’m notoriously loud-mouthed about colorist credit and representation.”

Ad failed to load

Shade The Changing Girl, Vol. 1, $11.55, Amazon

Fitzpatrick says she would love to see more colorists on panels at conventions and acknowledged in reviews, PR announcements, and best-of lists. She even designed an enamel pin in support of colorists and donates part of its proceeds go to the Alliance of Hope.

Ad failed to load
“Companies are starting to notice that colorists are artists.

One of the many factors keeping colorists in the margins, she says, is the poor printing quality of the past, which didn’t showcase colors properly. Photoshop — a tool that is essential in the work of a colorist — fixed that problem, but the stigma stuck.

Photoshop is also the reason for colorist June Chung’s signature dark, moody style. She says that when she was first learning how to use the tool, everything came out a little darker than she wanted. This made her work perfect for projects like Wolverine and the current run of Batman.

Ad failed to load

Chung agrees with Fitzpatrick that there’s a problem with treatment in the medium. ”I think colorists in general, male and female, all find their work under-appreciated.” she tells Bustle. “Colorists now have such strong and contrasting styles, that they play a key role in the art team.”

More and more people are realizing this, though, and colorists are showing off their signature styles.

"Colorists now have such strong and contrasting styles, that they play a key role in the art team."
Ad failed to load

“It’s really a newer side of the industry in terms of being an individualistic artist’s game,” Fitzpatrick says.  “I feel like we are the tastemakers in the industry.”

Fitzpatrick got her start working as a flatter for renowned colorist Jordie Bellaire. Flatters are artists that assist colorists by putting art into pre-established palettes, setting up files, and more. They’re necessary to the process, but have to be paid for out of the colorist’s pocket — yet  another challenge to being a colorist.

Bellaire’s impressive resume includes Eisner awards and nominations, and her work ranges Pretty Deadly, to Batman, to Redlands — a witchy, feminist book that she both co-writes and colors in a warm, lush palette inspired by her experience living in Florida. Even with all of her success, she experiences her fellow colorists’ woes, as well. “The work of a colorist can feel pretty niche and sometimes thankless,” Bellaire tells Bustle.

Ad failed to load

Redlands Vol. 1, $9.99, Amazon

She brings up the same point as Fitzpatrick — that colorists are often ignored in PR releases and announcements, making them almost invisible to some — and adds that colorists (along with inkers, designers, and the like) are also left out of the “credit and royalty pie.”

Ad failed to load
"The work of a colorist can feel pretty niche and sometimes thankless."

Tamra Bonvillain has also chimed in on this topic many a time. “I think that adding color changes so much about a drawing that many people don't often consider,” she tells Bustle. “Even if they know that fact, they don't really get to what extent. It's why I have tried to start sharing before and after images more to make that distinction more clear to people.”

Ad failed to load

She explains that color can layer, change, or enhance the mood of a piece, and it can even tell a reader where to focus their eye. “All colored lineart, for good or bad, alters the piece, and those contributions should be recognized," she says.

Even though Eisner-winning colorist Laura Allred, Allred’s work can be seen in Bug! The Adventures of Forager and iZombie, hasn’t personally experienced many of these issues, she still acknowledges them. She says that she is, “very happy to live in a time where many wrongs are being righted and fair treatment is more common than not.”  

It appear as though the majority of colorists are women, however, no studies have been done on the subject.

Ad failed to load

Fitzpatrick believes that about 12-18% of colorists at major comic companies are women. The indie publishers, she says, appear to be doing better.

“There are so many talented women and gender-queer folks working in the indie scene, though, that gives me hope that the culture is changing,” she says.

Many of the artists interviewed for this story point out that these issues — not receiving proper credit or royalty compensation — are not unique to their field. The creators listed below the writer and “primary” artist are often overlooked. Women who are writers and pencilers face their own set of challenges and hurdles, as do people in the LGBTQI+ and POC communities. (Bonvillain says her identity as a trans woman hasn’t affected her career, but that’s possibly because colorists’ lives aren’t as public and scrutinized as the lives of other creators.)

Ad failed to load

The problems with the industry aren’t always obvious and they can’t be fixed overnight, but one thing rung true with every one of these artists — fans acknowledging and supporting their work makes a world of difference to them.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

7 Signs Your Partner Is "The One," Even If They Have Commitment Issues

There's nothing better than finding that one person you could actually see yourself spending the rest of your life with. However, realizing that your partner has commitment issues can put a damper on things. It may even have you questioning whether o…
By Kristine Fellizar

Bustle's Editors On Jennifer Aniston + Adam Rippon

We've made it to Friday! It's been a pretty hectic week, and the news that Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux are splitting up might have put a damper on your weekend. But, if like many people you have Monday off, hopefully you can sit back and enjo…
By Rachel Simon

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

19 Things Your Parents Told You Were Illegal In The '90s

Kids say — and think — the darnedest things. We have overactive imaginations, adults like to mess with us, and we don't always understand everything we hear. That's why some kids call strawberries "straw babies" — a boo-boo so adorable, you don't eve…
By Megan Grant

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

I Never Want To Write This Essay Again

I don't know where you were when you heard about Wednesday's high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I don't know what you were doing, or how you tried to process the news. I do know this: you thought to yourself, not again. And yet, again. Of cou…
By Jenny Hollander

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

Here Are All The Terms You Need To Know If You’re Watching Olympic Ski Events Right Now

Every four years the Winter Olympics rolls around to remind me that A) there are so many important Winter Olympic sports, and B) I know virtually nothing any of them. And I know for a fact, I'm not alone, I bet most people don't know what the differe…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

Kate Middleton Made Sales Of This $1 Secret Accessory Spike & She'll Turn You Into A Believer

There's a royal epidemic going on, people. It's one that causes any and everyone to obsess over the royal family's wardrobe and beauty routines, even if it means breaking the bank to look like them. So a frenzy was expected when Kate Middleton report…
By Summer Arlexis

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
via Romper

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale

17 Moms Reveal The Most Disgusting Part Of Their Pregnancy

Pregnant bodies do weird-ass things. Weird-ass, gross things. I mean, my pregnant body did (twice), and I have long-suspected I'm not alone. So I asked other moms to share the most disgusting part of their pregnancy and I learned that, not only am I …
via Romper