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Creators Open Up About Their Works as Colorists

Brian Buccellato, Rod Reis, and Gabo discuss their past work as colorists

In the past decade, mainly because of readily available technology and software, the color work of comic books has become a very important art for in comics. Coloring for comics has exploded into its own complex art and is slowly getting the recognition it deserves from fans and publishers alike. Most recently, DC announced some changes in payment and credit for their colorists.

From left to right: Brian Buccellato, Rod Reis, and Gabo
From left to right: Brian Buccellato, Rod Reis, and Gabo

What is life as a colorist actually like though? How do they feel about the art and what's happening in the industry. We talked to three different colorists that all had one thing in common: they transitioned from colors to be either an artist or a writer. We talked to Rod Reis, who colored AQUAMAN before becoming the main artist of the Image book C.O.W.L., Gabo, who was a colorist on ALL STAR WESTERN and ELEPHANTMEN before drawing Thrillbent's ALBERT THE ALIEN and Oni's THE LIFE AFTER (on sale this week), and Brian Buccellato, who worked on a Pre-52 volume of THE FLASH and HELLBLAZER as a colorist, but now co-writes and colors DETECTIVE COMICS. We wanted their perspective on all of this as well as knowing what it is they love about coloring.

Gabo became a colorist after meeting Moritat, the artist on ALL STAR WESTERN. He learned to color in more of Moritat's style, broadening his portfolio. It was during this time Gabo really learned what it was like working at one of the big publishers and how color can compliment style. "[Moritat's] His world needs to be desaturated, gritty and bloody. Dark, dried ketchup looking blood. He promised me the sun and the moon, and he delivered them."

Variant Cover to C.O.W.L. #1 by Rod Reis
Variant Cover to C.O.W.L. #1 by Rod Reis

Brazilian artist Rod Reis wanted to pursue a career in comics and studied drawing. His dream was to be a penciler for comics in the United States. However, Reis started working with digital colorization and became a go to artist for digital coloring. Although it wasn't where he wanted to be, Reis felt it gave him a lot of creative control. "I like how the colorist have the freedom to try new things, new styles, new ways of working, as each magazine brings something new. I like working the mood of the story and how to tell the story with the colors... When you are responsible for the colors of a comic, you are responsible for much of the immersion of the reader." After years of coloring, Reis started to study painting. This lead him to draw as a hobby, which, in turn, eventually became a job on C.O.W.L. from Image Comics, written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel.

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Brian Buccellato got into coloring comics back in 1994, when his brother, Steve, offered to teach him how. Brian moved to LA and learned how to become a colorist. "It's a lot like painting AND it's comic books, so let's be honest -- it's a cool way to earn a living" states Buccellato. To him, there's one thing that stands out in a good colorist though: "I think color choice is the number one thing. Coloring is like comedy or fashion... everyone THINKS they are funny and have good taste, but we know that's not even close to the truth. Things like funny and good taste are tested in the court of public opinion. When colors looks good on a page... we just know it."

Colorist haven't always gotten the credit they deserve, especially in this new digital-age, in which artists can create a much more complex pieces of art to compliment the pencils and inks. "I think in [the past] 5 years now fans have noticed the work of colorists and realizing how important [they are] in the creative process" says Reis. Things are changing, but it is a slow transition. "I think that's mostly because the average person doesn't really know how much colors impact the overall storytelling" explains Buccellato. "In a lot of ways, colorists are like umpires or referees. You don't notice them unless they screw up. A great colorist can save terrible art and a terrible colorist can ruin great art."

Some fans are slowly noticing stand-outs within the industry though. There are stand-out colorists making waves like Jordie Bellaire (MOON KNIGHT), Justin Ponsor (MILES MORALES), Marcelo Maiolo (GREEN ARROW), and FCO Plascencia (BATMAN). "Colorists who know what they’re doing and show that in their work are praised" explains Gabo. "Unfortunately though at the end of the day, 50% of the love is gonna go to the writer, 40% to the artist (sometimes thats vice versa) and then the colorist will get 5-9% while the letter and anyone else gets their slim pickings. It’s a shame, but things won’t change until OUR culture changes."

What they all can agree on is that there have been positive steps made towards giving credit where credit is due. When discussing the recent changes at DC, Reis, who worked on AQUAMAN, said "This is a big step for colorists within the industry." What other companies are doing with their creators, as far as royalties goes and other specifics, is unknown, but Marvel has been giving cover credits to their colorists for some time now. " I think for the comic’s world to remedy this we need to start creating a bigger culture around the creative TEAM. Not just the colorist, but also layout design and lettering etc" explains Gabo. "These people are integral parts of putting together book and I think once the fans start to realize that, those people will be praised for their work. I hope to one day see colorist doing signings at shops that bring in the same amount of fans as the artist/writer."

What makes Reis, Gabo, and Buccellato stand-outs in their field is that they transitioned, proving they have an extreme amount of talent in other aspects of creating comic books. With two issues of C.O.W.L. already on comic shelves, Reis is pleased with his transition into doing the art all himself: "I'm very happy with this opportunity. It's been a learning process and I know I'm going to change much in the process." Reis loves coloring and told Comic Vine that he does not want to stop doing it completely. With Gabo, he also happy with his work on THE LIFE AFTER, with writer Joshua Fialkov, and looks forward to continuing to work on colors, while continuing to draw books.

THE LIFE AFTER #1 Cover by Gabo
THE LIFE AFTER #1 Cover by Gabo

Brian, however, has always been passionate about writing: "As an artist I am physically limited by my ability to control the pen/pencil/paintbrush/stylus. And to be honest, while I love to draw and I love comics and art, my limitations are too frustrating for me. I knew very early on that I was never going to be as good as I wanted to be as an artist because of those limitations. When writing, I honestly believe that I have NO limitations." While Brian's heart is in writing the one thing he won't seem to miss is Photoshop crashing on him and losing his work: "I'm sure most colorists have made the mistake of NOT saving as they go, only to lose hours of work. I HATE doing work over again, so I try to be obsessive about hitting the "command+S" keys. But guaranteed, any time I forget to do so... photoshop will crash on me." Expect Buccellato to focus more on writing rather than art in the future.

Coloring is slowly getting the respect it deserves from both fans and company, but it's still a long way to go. It may be hard for many people to understand the process and how colors really create a strong, fuller world. The digital age has really changed everything about color work in comics. It is great to see stars come out of the artistic community for their color work, and while not every colorist wants to be an artist or writer, these experienced creators do have an understanding of where colors were and where they're going in the future.

Make sure to check out C.O.W.L. from Image featuring the art of Rod Reis, THE LIFE AFTER from Oni Press, with the art of Gabo, and DETECTIVE COMICS, co-written by Brian Buccellato.