The upcoming Neverland: Return of Hook, which features Robby’s coloring.
Zenescope Entertainment: The first thing I noticed about your career was the impressive amount of issues you’ve appeared on. Do you have a fondest memory of working in comics throughout the years?
Robby Bevard: Fondest would have to probably be the most nostalgic. Going waaay back to when I wrote and colored Ninja High School Issue 85 in June 2001 for Antarctic Press. It wasn’t quite the first published comic I wrote, or the first one I worked on coloring, but it was the first time I did the entirety of both, and I was really pleased with how that particular story came out. I worked on NHS for 10 years, and that remained one of my top five issues the whole time. Aside from that, probably coloring Spiderman for the first time, because that’s naturally a thrill and something you can tell people that aren’t big comics fans about that they’ll actually grasp and understand.
I’ve been doing this for nearly twenty years so there have been tons of little moments or particular pieces or issues, or just getting to work with a particular artist, lots of things that stand out when you do so many projects.
ZE: With the diversity in your work also comes a wide array of titles. Some of the books look to have more of a manga style, is your approach to coloring those different than coloring Zenescope books?
RB: Yes, there are absolutely different approaches to both.
As a colorist, you always try to match whatever style is appropriate for a book. Sometimes that’s light rendering, sometimes it’s fully painted, sometimes it’s two-tone animation style. Usually the artist worked in ink but sometimes they’re in pencil, and some artists use super heavy shadows… and any given style is going to call for a slightly different approach and style. Different color palettes for starters, and less use of textures.
Anime/Manga style is generally a much quicker and easier style, but deceptively so. You have to get the selections, colors and shadows just right or it looks weird, while with rendering you can futz with it a bit. There are strengths and weaknesses and things to like about both styles… and then there are other extremes like fully painted style and strong flat colors where the choices become super important, and a lot of things in-between. But I’ve had a toooon of practice at animation style, so I can do it practically in my sleep. So I prefer working in that style generally, but it’s nice to work in rendering as a change of pace.
ZE: Although artists usually get the spotlight, I feel that colorists are equally as important and can make or break a piece. Can you explain what your job is as a colorist and any common misconceptions about the position?
RB: A colorist’s main job is to set mood and try to pull a piece together, emphasize and focus on whatever is important on a page, and to enhance the storytelling. For instance, if a scene is set at night, an artist typically has to add super heavy shadows to indicate that…and some styles just don’t gel very well. So the colorist makes the scene blue, and uses some darker shades that aren’t quite black, to help push that idea. Or if a scene is angry you put some red to it. If there’s a weird sci-fi thing going on you can do green underlighting to make it look creepy and unusual. Or even if the script doesn’t call for it, you put an action scene to a sunset so it can get really violently red at the climax and then organically cool down afterward. It’s all about enhancing the work the writer and artist already did.
Sometimes a colorist can elevate bad art or hide anatomy mistakes (which are going to happen when you’re doing 200 drawings per issue), but a bad colorist can ruin a piece by being too muddy or garish or obscuring the lines. And sometimes the art is so strong you hardly have to do anything at all.
I think historically, the importance of colorist has been downplayed because prior to the advent of digital coloring about twenty years ago, the color separations were just guides using the same 64 colors, so you always saw the exact same shades for skin tones and blues and reds. As a result, unless they were a real auteur, using very unusual color choices, the work of one colorist was generally fairly indistinguishable from the next, especially when the colorist was basically doing guides that the printer then followed, so there wasn’t much art or skill to be perceived in it. I think coloring is a much more recognized part of a book now than it was, as it’s largely become industry standard to see colorists credited on the covers now, and there are so many amazing colorists in the industry now it’s hard to not take notice.
The really invisible jobs are inkers, letterers, and editors, because if those jobs are done right, they’re completely invisible and easy to take for granted. Even though a great inker can make or break an artist (the same way a colorist can) and lettering is exceptionally deceptive and difficult to do well. There’s a part of making comics that people just assume computers make easy (and they do!) but good lettering is its own art form too, and I could talk endlessly about that.
ZE: Switching gears a bit, when you’re not coloring what do you enjoy doing with free time?
RB: Free time? What’s that? I do two or three books every month!
But when I *do* have time I relax by doing the standard stuff. Spend time with my wife, watch movies, read books, play video games, the usual sort of thing anyone who works in comics is going to be doing…I’m a big fan of RPGS though they tend to take me months to get through anymore.
ZE: You’ve done work for pretty much every publisher under the sun, so would you be able to give some insight on working for the big two versus independent publishers?
RB: As far as actual production goes, there’s not much difference between any given comic company really, big or small. Some treat their creators better than others and some are better and worse about paying, but any studio you go to is going to be pretty similar in the broad strokes.
I guess the main difference is at Marvel and DC it’s much easier to be a cog and get lost among the hundreds of other creators there. If you don’t have an editor or creator fighting for you specifically that remembers you, you can be left without a job and then not have another way back in, even if you’ve done a hundred books at the company. Indies you tend to end up being a bit more in charge and often it’s your responsibility to push a book to get done, even if you’re not the editor, because it’ll just be a team of two or three people. The smaller companies also tend to only have a staff of a dozen people or less, so you end up knowing everyone personally.
What’s really different is working on a European book, as they have much longer timetables and demand a lot more time being put into reference. A single 48 page European book can take four or five months to do, when that’s typically the output of a single month of American comics.
But the overall environments and feel of a place tend to be pretty similar…it’s actually pretty striking how if you visit any comic company, you’ll see similar sorts of people and similar amounts of clutter and reference books and toys anywhere you go, and you’ll inevitably find that half the guys at one place are a lot like the guys at another.
Though if you’re working from home and just emailing pages the distinction gets lost some…it’s definitely way more fun to go up to an office and be able to hang out and feed off everyone’s energy in a community environment…though setting your own hours is nice too.
ZE: You write as well as color. Have you ever favored one over the other or do you like both equally?
RB: They’re both rewarding in very different ways. Writing is almost definitely more satisfying creatively. But with coloring you’re the last stop and it’s easier to look at and show off and realize “Yeah, I did stuff!”
Professionally, it’s also easier to do freelance as an artist, be you a penciller, inker, or colorist, because an editor can look at a portfolio quickly, whereas writing takes a long time, and getting a job as an editor takes even longer. So for anyone just starting out, it’s generally easier to get work as an artist.
I used to consider myself a writer that did coloring on the side, but for the last several years it’s been the other way around, most of my work is coloring nowadays. I still enjoy both.
ZE: What has been your favorite Zenescope project to work on and why?
RB: That would probably be the book I’m working on right now actually, Helsing vs the Werewolf. Mostly because it’s been the first full miniseries I’ve done for Zenescope, so I’ve been able to really establish a mood and setting, and a set of reference photos and a pallet and get used to the artist…and it’s *always* nicer to be doing an ongoing rather than a one shot, because the first issue is always the hardest of any book.
Of the one shots I worked on, probably the GFT 2016 Annual because the nature of that story let me do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but never managed before. I made that entire issue a rainbow. The story started out red, then went orange and yellow with some fire effect pages… and then a creepy green and a moody blue and then ending in a bright vibrant purple. And that was a really fun thing to do. The script didn’t ask for that, and I was subtle enough about it I don’t think anyone would be jarred and go, “gah, it’s a rainbow!” but it was something I saw I could do, so it was fun to run a subtle theme throughout.
Grimm Fairy Tales: 2016 Annual, featuring Robby’s colors on Chapters 2 & 3.
ZE: If you weren’t in comics, what would you be doing?
RB: There is no “if I wasn’t in comics.” It’s what I’ve always wanted and needed to do since I was five. There was no other backup career. But if not this, it’d be one of the sister industries. Animation, writing novels, something in video games maybe? I’ve never given it serious thought or pursuit, it’s always been comics.
ZE: If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life what would it be?
RB: Well, my favorite movie of all time is Miyazaki’s Castle of Cagliostro…but if it was really going to be just one film forever… I guess I’d want to pick out something that was a lot longer…so I’ll cheat and say the Lord of the Rings trilogy, complete with four commentaries and bonus features.
ZE: If you could work on one book on shelves right now, what would it be and why?
RB: Oh that’s not fair, most of the books I like I actively like the creative team already on the book, and I like actually being surprised. There’s some TV show and game tie-ins that would probably be fun because I like the properties, but to keep it specifically to comics…I guess I’ll say Usagi Yojimbo. Because Stan Sakai has been rocking that series for 30 years and it’s never really been in color except for a couple specials. So that would be a fun project.
ZE: Thanks for your time, is there anything else you’d like to say to the fans?
RB: Thanks for reading! So long and thanks for all the fish!