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Interview: Comfort Love and Adam Withers Chat About RAINBOW IN THE DARK

Creators of RAINBOW IN THE DARK chat about their book and their work.

RAINBOW IN THE DARK is a colorful and captivating book that recently got released as a complete saga. It was nominated for three Harvey awards and two Shel Dorf awards. It's creators, Comfort Love and Adam Withers, are a married couple working in the industry with a lot of love for their craft. The two took some time to answer some of our questions about the series and their work as a whole.

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Comic Vine: What is RAINBOW IN THE DARK about?

Adam: Rainbow in the Dark is an urban fantasy story about a world of color and a world of black-and-white that are at war over what gets to be reality - but the people who live in the gray world don’t know this is happening.

Comfort: It’s a book about reality and how we define it; how much of the world is what it is because we decided that’s what it was going to be. You can make up your mind to change your reality, and all of us together can collectively change reality for everyone. It’s a question of how and to what end.

Adam:All that wrapped up in a package that reads like a rock opera without audio.

CV: What is the Gloom?

Comfort:The Gloom is the gray world. It’s a lot like ours, but we intentionally left that a little vague. The idea is that life in the Gloom is very controlled. Not overtly, but it’s the subtle control of social expectations.

Adam: So you live the life people expect you should live. You do the things society says you must do. You are defined by the small box they put you in and that’s all your life will be. The Gloom is a place where success is defined by what property you own, what possessions you can buy, what labels are on your clothes--the surface level of life is what people in the Gloom hold as valuable. “If I have these things, I will have a good life.”

Comfort: We don’t like using the words “Conformity” or “Non-Conformity” because, firstly, it makes you sound like a neo-hippy d-bag, but also because the idea of non-conformity itself can impose its own strict controls and limitations. The idea of conforming to non-conformity has been overplayed, but it’s true. The point of the Gloom is that it likes to label you and hold you to that label.

Adam: And that there are very few acceptable labels you can be given.

CV: Who is Donna?

Comfort:Donna is our main protagonist. She’s a girl born into the Gloom who feels totally out of place. She sees her family living lives defined by a checklist mentality - do I have this thing? Do I have that thing? She feels like her life is meaningless, and wants to do something important. She just doesn’t know how.

Adam: There are no examples for her to look at. She’s dealing with this heavy guilt for hating her life so much, even though there’s nothing technically wrong with it. She should be happy, she has everything you’re supposed to want in life, but she isn’t. She sees the cracks and problems in life in the Gloom, but she’s afraid there’s nothing she can do about it.

Comfort: Until she’s walking home and sees this wild group of rebels tearing ass through the streets in tricked-out old hot rods, being chased by huge monsters. But she’s the only one who can see this happening, and because she can see them, she becomes a target and has to be rescued away by the rebel band to discover the secret conflict that’s been going on all around her.

Adam:The choice she makes next is really just the beginning of the story.

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CV: Who are the Veratu?

Adam:The Veratu are the beings guiding and shaping the Gloom. They’re a large group of nameless creatures collectively called “Veratu” that sit in invisible towers and watch over the gray world they’ve made.

Comfort:They have packs of monsters that hunt down anyone who gets free of the Gloom’s control, and these henchmen called the Cleaners who are like the janitors of the Gloom. They go through and, if any color starts to break through, they get rid of it.

Adam: The Veratu are the executive board, the Cleaners are for maintenance and upkeep, and the monsters are the hunter/killers of last resort, just in case anyone fully escapes and threatens the stability of the Gloom.

CV: How did this book originally come about?

Comfort: It actually began as a challenge by our good friend and mentor, Bryan J.L. Glass. We were working on our comic The Uniques at the time, and he challenged us to pitch him three radically different concepts in a week’s time.

Adam: The idea was that this project was supposed to be something completely different from The Uniques (our first series) in every way. It was a long-form superhero story aimed at a more mature 17+ audience, so our new idea had to be a short, all-ages (or broader age-targeted) story that had nothing to do with superheroes.

Comfort: We came up with our three ideas, but we knew none of them quite had the magic we were looking for. It wasn’t until we were all out of initial ideas that we had to start digging deep and getting really creative. One of us (and we don’t remember who) suggested the idea of doing something like Rainbow Brite crossed with Mad Max.

Adam: We both latched onto that idea immediately as hilarious, but also awesome. Shortly, Rainbow in the Dark completely left the inspirational sources behind and became its own thing. It also got a little longer and a little more serious, but we find we have a hard time not having deeper meanings, seriousness, and sentiment in our stories.

CV: What themes did you want to hit in this book?

Comfort: We were kind of careful to leave this a very open story. We want the audience to be able to bring their own feelings and ideas to it, in a way.

Adam: Yeah, it’s obviously a lot about community and the power of people working together, and it’s fairly obviously anti-consumerism, but at the same time we are big believers in the idea of applicability. That it’s important to let the audience read the story and take from it what’s most important to them.

Comfort: So we worked hard to leave room for them. People can come into this book with an open mind and find, in a sense, whatever they most wanted or needed to find. I remember how important it was when I was younger and reading the first stories that made me think in a different way about things--

Adam: Or just think at all. It’s a huge moment.

Comfort: Yeah! And you sit back after you finish the story and just let your mind run. We wanted a book to get people thinking, especially younger people. What ideas and thoughts they come to in the end could be whatever, but the act of thinking is a good thing in and of itself. We have a lot of metaphor and analogy in this comic, but what those things stand for - what it means to us might not be what it means to others, and that’s okay. So long as people can take something from it that makes them think or consider their feelings for a while, that’s all we want.

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CV: How long did it take you two to finish this saga?

Adam: Longer than we meant it to.

Comfort: Yeah, this was supposed to be a quick, simple, year-and-a-half project. It’s been almost twice that, now. It was a story that kept building and building, and we’re always willing to take on more work for ourselves if the story needs it to be its best. The story is the most important thing.

Adam: To be fair, our issues are really big. It’s one of the only advantages a self-publisher has - you can make an issue as big as you think it needs to be. We average around 30 pages per issue, but frequently go over. Then our 9th issue finale exploded out into this hulking 58-page behemoth...

Comfort: Almost three-times the size of a typical Marvel or DC comic. So, yeah, it’s small wonder it took us so long. We don’t skimp on quality. We feel like our fans will be okay with the time it takes if the final product is good enough to be worth the wait.

CV: The art seems to have some influence from manga and anime. Were there any particular books or films that influenced the art of this book?

Comfort: Overall our collective artistic style pulls from a lot of places. We’re children of the 90’s (in a good way) and that means we grew up with both American style comics as well as whatever manga and anime that were available to us. Adam Hughes, J. Scott Campbell, Takeshi Obata, Masashi Kishimoto, Disney movies, and animes like Samurai Champloo made us who we are today.

Adam: Specifically though, with Rainbow in the Dark, we drew a lot more from the iconography and style of music than we did from comics or anime. Rainbow is a heavily musically-inspired story. We wanted to make a comic that made you feel while reading it the way you feel when listening to a really good stadium-rocking anthem.

CV: Color is just as important as pencils and inks on this book. How much time is spent on colorwork alone, compared to line work?

Comfort:Color still takes a lot less time than penciling, but we’re able to spend more time on our color than most professional colorists who have to crank out an issue in a couple days.

Adam: Color is really important to us, and not just because of the role color plays in the storytelling of Rainbow. We feel like a lot of comic color is done almost as an afterthought, sadly, and who can blame them? They get a tiny fraction of time to do their work in, and are frequently having to juggle multiple books at once.

Comfort: I’ll generally be able to finish my part of the color on 2-4 pages in a day. That’s providing I don’t have any other work to do in the day (the dull business stuff of email correspondences and administrative stuff that comes with self-publishing) or conventions to prep for or stuff like that.

Adam: And I can finish my part of the color on those pages around the same speed, give or take. Obviously, some sequences are much easier and faster while others can get very, very complicated and take a lot more time. There’ve been scenes where I could crack through 12 pages in a day, and scenes were just a few pages take me a couple days to get done to the level we want them.

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CV: Why did you two decide to focus so much on color, not only as just art, but also as a major part of the story?

Comfort: Because color has a lot of power in comics. On the printed page, good color can hit you so hard. The emotional impact color can give if it’s used right can’t be overstated.

Adam: Color was an easy metaphor for us to settle on for the Gloom vs. Free Rebels conflict, but it was also perfect as a way to subvert the ease of that metaphor. Not to spoil anything, but there are characters who transition into color in ways totally contrary to what you’d expect, and characters you’d think should have crossed into color who don’t. It let us play with people’s expectations because it’s easy to think color means one simple thing when it’s a lot more complicated than that.

CV: What are some of the advantages and disadvantages you two have come across working together, as a married couple?

Adam: The biggest advantage and disadvantage is the same thing - you can’t get away from each other. On the up-side, it forces you to learn to communicate and to compromise, and we usually find that our compromises turn out to be much better ideas than what we wanted beforehand. The down-side is that we can get stuck in intractable arguments where, if we could just get away and have some space, maybe it wouldn’t take us as long to calm down and work it out.

Comfort: A writing partnership is great because you’re always having another voice to compliment and challenge your ideas. It never becomes an echo chamber, and you can’t trick yourself into thinking your ideas are all gold. The other person is always there to ask questions and offer suggestions and together our writing is so much better than it would have been without that help.

Adam: We keep each other going. Like a lot of artistic types, we can hit roadblocks where we get discouraged or feel down about our work, but we’ve always got a partner to lift us back up and help get our momentum back. Or even just to carry some of the weight while the other person recovers.

Comfort: It makes things more fun when they could become exhausting and tedious. Which isn’t to say we don’t get tired or stressed out or even bored, sometimes. Making comics can be a lot like working on a factory line at times; a very mechanical process that doesn’t engage your brain and causes some repetitive-motion strain. But having your best friend there with you every day makes it so, so much better.

Adam: And that’s the big thing, I think, is that other married couples might have a lot more negatives than we do. We’re just such good friends and we so enjoy being together all the time that this works for us where it might be a disaster for others.

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CV: This book has been nominated for a few awards. Can you tell us about those?

Comfort: We’ve been nominated for four Harvey Awards (three for our work on Rainbow in the Dark) and three Shel Dorf Awards (two for Rainbow). It was really unexpected. We try and promote both awards every year, because they’re nomination and voting-driven, and you get better and more representative nominees when more people participate, but we didn’t think we’d be personally be serious contenders for a long time.

CV: What was your first reaction when you heard the book was nominated for a Harvey Award?

Adam: I almost cried. I still remember, we were working our table in the Artist Alley at Anime Expo in L.A. back in 2011. We got a phone call from Bryan Glass, who I don’t think could have been happier to have been the one to break the news to us.

Comfort: We were nominated for two awards - Most Promising New Talent for Rainbow in the Dark and Best Anthology for our work editing and producing the Uniques Tales anthology series. We never expected we’d get nominated for anything at all, but to receive two nominations in the same year? It was unbelievable.

Adam: I had to step out of the convention and get some air. I’m not somebody who hopes for much, so when really, genuinely great things happen for me I’m usually taken by surprise.

Comfort: I think, though, the nomination we got the next year was even more important to us. There are a lot of people who get nominated for Most Promising New Talent and are then never heard from again. For us to immediately come back the next year with a nom for Best Cartoonist (for Rainbow in the Dark), to me, was even greater validation. We’re self-publishers, and for us it’s so, so much harder to get the wider comics community (readers and pros alike) to take our work seriously and consider it “real comics.” Being nominated a second year in a row - now three years in a row - has helped us personally feel like our work is vindicated. It counts. We deserve to be here.

CV: Where can people pick up RAINBOW IN THE DARK: THE COMPLETE SAGA?

Adam: You can find Rainbow at finer comic shops across the country! And in Amazon, or at In Stock Trades. It’s 368 pages of awesomeness and you should totally go pick it up! People interested in buying digital copies can do so through IndyPlanet.com or DriveThruComics.com.

Comfort: And you can find more information about the book, about our other comics, or just check out our art and stuff at our personal website, ComfortAndAdam.com

Thanks again to Comfort and Adam for taking the time out of their schedule to answer a few questions and make sure to pick up RAINBOW IN THE DARK at the above mentioned places!