Thursday, Apr. 24, 2014

Bustin’ Makes Him Feel Good! A Chat With Comic Colorist Andrew Harmon

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March 26, 2013

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Bustin’ Makes Him Feel Good! A Chat With Comic Colorist Andrew Harmon

If there’s something strange, in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Don’t say Ghostbusters, because they’re trapped in another dimension! In IDW’s The New Ghostbusters series, a ragtag group of newcomers, including former secretary Janine, are taking up the proton packs and bustin’ some ectoplasm. Today, we’re hangin’ with up-and-coming colorist Andrew Harmon to discuss his work on the series, what it takes to color comics, and how not to stay cool in the summer.

Thanks for stopping by, Andrew! Are you excited about The New Ghostbusters, and do you think fans will embrace the new series?

I am very excited for the creative team behind The New Ghostbusters. Writer Erik Burnham gets to play with new attitudes and perspectives with some similarities to their original counterparts, along with penciller Dan Schoening providing his always incredible artwork. With colors provided by Luis Delgado, it’s a really fantastic mix of talent to continue the tale with a new set of Busters. I think fans will definitely enjoy the new team. With the team dynamic favoring the ladies there’s a lot of awesome scenarios to put new Buster Ron Alexander in.

Who is your all-time favorite Ghostbuster?

Hands down it has to be Bill Murray as Peter Venkman. He’s like the sly Bugs Bunny of the group to me. Venkman may come off as aloof, sloppy and careless but in the end he saves the day and all with a “I knew I could do it” attitude even if he may have thought otherwise. I love the cockiness.

batman-trifecta-colors

I was glad to see that Janine is a Ghostbuster now. Do you have a secret crush on Janine? (I do.)

I think I’m leaning towards (New Ghostbuster) FBI special agent Melanie Ortiz.

Right, let’s get down to business. How did you get your start in coloring?

I love telling this story so I apologize if it’s a bit longwinded but it’s amazing to me how it happened. In 2008 I think it was, I met Star Wars sketch card artist Tod Allen Smith at one of the Pittsburgh Comicons and we kept in touch. During a Steel City Con, he introduced me to Jay Fife, a fantastic fantasy and horror illustrator, to whom I gave my card which had tiny samples of characters I did and Jay’s reply was, “Where is your table?” I just laughed and said that I’m not ready for anything like that and he just kept asking me why.

newGhostbusters-colorsThat started me seriously thinking about actually doing something akin to what these guys were doing. So at a third show I attended, I befriended another artist, sketch card artist, Don Pedicini Jr. whom I told about Jay Fife’s insistence that I get a table at the next Pittsburgh Comicon. Don, having seen samples of my work, was whole-heartedly behind the idea even though I was still hesitant. Let me just say, at this point, I hadn’t done anything closely related to comic book work. The samples I had were just cartoon ideas I fleshed out based on things my kids and I had come up with along with some sketches.

Then, through DeviantArt, I found Dan Schoening. I asked if I could color some of his DC sketch work and he gave me the go-ahead. He liked what I did and as a result, Dan gave me his blessing to pretty much color anything I wanted that he had in his gallery; a real carte blanche. Not only that, I was allowed to sell them as prints at shows. I was floored.

So because of the encouragement of Tod, Jay and Don along with Dan’s immense generosity and kindness of heart, I finally attended my first Pittsburgh Comicon as an artist in 2009. If it weren’t for those gentlemen, I highly doubt I would have done what I’ve been able to do thus far.

Where do you look for inspiration when you’re working?

Hands down, Dan Schoening is my biggest inspiration. When I color his stuff, I feel like I know exactly what he’s doing with his lines of the characters. I just get him with his lines and it is so much fun because Dan draws like I’ve always wanted to draw. Getting to color his work is the next best thing.

ds-stay-puft-colorsAs for colorists, Nei Ruffino is the lady who indirectly convinced me that coloring is what I should try. Her coloring on J. Scott Campbell and her run on Green Lantern opened my eyes to the world of colorists. I was able to meet her at a show and tell her that she was the one who was behind me getting into coloring.

Other artists that I admire immensely? I’d have to say the artists at Warner Bros. who created the Looney Toons world. As a kid, they had me wrapped up and committed to cartooning/animation as a profession. It didn’t exactly work out as I imagined but that love has never faded. Then there is the gamut of artists such as J. Scott Campbell, Adam Hughes, Chuck Dixon, Neal Adams and SO many more.

What are some of your favorite comic book characters or series?

Barry Allen as the Flash was my first comic book superhero and probably the one superhero I invested a lot of memory to. The Flash Facts at the end of the book actually taught me science. I can still remember that the speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. I think that’s awesome.

My favorite series that had me absolutely enthralled and spellbound was Crisis on Infinite Earths. That 12-issue series just blew me away, no matter what it was trying to accomplish by condensing a confusing comic universe. I was hooked, and it was the bible in a sense. I ate it up and wanted more. I wanted to know who all these characters were and what this was all about. Plus it featured the death of my hero (who remained dead for decades) as well as Supergirl and just made me hungry to see what would happen next. I even got my twelve issues signed by artist George Perez twenty years to the month those issues came out.

What are some of the tools or methods that you use in your work?

RGB-psa-colorsWhen working with other artists, I simply take their lines (rough or polished) and in a sense redraw them in Illustrator. My niche however is that I try to eliminate the lines during the redraw. In other words, I try and interpret their line work through color alone. I make sure artists know this up front because it is their line work. The important thing for me when doing this method is that folks can look at the piece and still recognize the line artist and so far, they always have.

If I happen to do the whole she-bang, I’ll draw something quick, scan it and then run through my method in Illustrator. If any of the work needs FX or some special background or lighting, I’ll take it into Photoshop and finish it there. The thing about working in Illustrator is that my method means that nearly every shape you see is its own layer. For one piece I worked on I believe I easily had over one thousand layers. It blew my mind.

The colorist has a unique, and perhaps overlooked, role in bringing a visual story to life, how would you describe the importance of that role?

I’d have to repeat that if it weren’t for me seeing some of Nei Ruffino‘s colors on Green Lantern, I might not have ever appreciated what exactly a colorist does for a book. Reading her journals on DeviantArt really put it into perspective that colorists are even sometimes called on to fix a page by reworking the actual artwork. I also think the technology available for comic coloring has caused a huge explosion in the colorist department. Restrictions are now, for the most part, left to the colorist and editor. It’s amazing how much a good colorist can affect the page of a comic.

One side-story to highlight… I was asked by Jay Fife to color one of his illustrations for the cover of the Pittsburgh Comicon. He let me do it, however I added in a certain detail I gleaned from my research, and for Jay it was something he hadn’t thought about until he actually saw it in color. That was a nice way to see that color can really enhance something for the better that wasn’t originally envisioned.

ds-superfriends-colors

Do you have any other cool projects in the works?

For Halloween last year, I was asked by Dan to help him with his annual 13 Ghost Spooktacular where Dan draws up 13 ghosts from Ghostbuster lore as a countdown to Halloween. It was crazy trying to color up that many ghosts in the time we had, but it was crazy fun. Comic-wise, I finished helping out on three pages from The New Ghostbusters #1 about a month ago and I’m hoping they might consider me for coloring a cover or something down the road.

Currently I’ve been working with Alpha Dog Studios and lettering issues #2 of both their Techlore and Gun Ghoul titles. Lastly, I helped my wife create a superhero group of food to help with my wife’s nutritional presentation on super foods for kids.

Speaking of helping kids, tell everyone a little about The Dynamic League.

harmon-dynamic-teamThe Dynamic League is a little thing I’m trying to do to help raise funds and awareness for children with Type 1 Diabetes. Our youngest son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes and we came to understand how hard a disease like that can be on a family. When David was released from the hospital we were given a starter pack to help us along the way. The one thing we didn’t have though was a medical ID bracelet which we feel would be a very good thing to have. So with the encouragement of my wife and blessing from my son, I created the Dynamic League, a virtual superhero group to help promote the cause.

Through a percentage of my sales at conventions I attend and donations, not only have we been able to get ID bracelets made and sent out to families across the country, but we’ve also been able to donate medical supplies to the Diabetes and Endocrine department of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. We have a website where folks can get a bit of information regarding Type 1 Diabetes, donate money if they wish, as well as allow children to create their own superhero to be included as members of the Dynamic League which we post on the site.

Before we wrap up, what would you say to anyone out there who wants to break into the comic biz, specifically colorist?

You hear it all the time: practice, practice, practice. And while there is absolute truth in that, it never hurts to add studying to the list. Learn all that you can about color. Color has a great impact both subliminally and directly. I highly advise people interested in the colorist profession to break out the traditional paint brush and crack open those tubes of paint and really get into the mixes and relationships color has within itself. Respect the profession as something more than filling in the lines. Color has purpose and has it’s own system of operating within story telling.

But yes, practice AND study. Lastly, have fun. If you can’t have fun while you are doing this kind of work (and it is and will be work) then find something else you might enjoy. But please, have fun learning!

Well, Andrew, thanks for taking the time to hang with us today. One final question: What was the Strangest thing you did as a kid?

dc-heroes-colorI was alone during the summer as my mother worked and it was just God-awful hot one day and I got the bright idea to blow up an air mattress and fill it with water (to make a pool). When it was time for my mother to come home, I quickly started to deflate the mattress, only I had forgotten to empty the thing first. Water started pouring out everywhere. So I got the bright idea to use the vacuum cleaner to sweep up the water.

Water started filling up the bag and bubbling out of it, so I turned it off. Well, bagged vaccuums weren’t meant to pick up and hold water so it naturally backwashed into the deflating mattress, bringing along all the dust and dirt that had been in the bag. A visit from my uncle ensured a better cleanup but my mother had wondered why a fan was blowing on a somewhat moist carpet. While it may not have been the strangest it was one of the stupidest things I’d ever done.

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About Author

Sean McCauley

Sean McCauley is an unabashed child of the 80's, growing up on Star Wars, Nintendo, and Happy Meals. Sean makes his living as a graphic designer and illustrator, and writes retro video game news and reviews at the world famous Power Pak Blog.

  • ababyatemydingo

    good work and great interview, thank you for that. cool to see other illustrators using Illustrator to colorize artwork.

    • http://www.seanmccauley.squarespace.com Sean McCauley

      Agreed! I’m a big proponent of Illustrator, and worshiper of the Pen tool, but I assumed digital colorists were all using Photoshop or similar painting software.

  • http://www.strangekidsclub.com Rondal

    Terrific piece Sean! It’s not often that the artists behind the scenes (inkers and colorists) get to stand in the spotlight – thanks for bringing a great one to our attention. :)

    • http://www.seanmccauley.squarespace.com Sean McCauley

      Thanks, Rondal! I thought readers would love Andrew’s story because it answers that burning question: How do people end up working in comics, or (insert cool profession)? You gotta get your work out there online and in person, and you gotta network whether you like it or not!

      And finally, Andrew reminds us that there is a great story behind every fan blowing on a slightly damp carpet.

  • http://www.skyrimstrategy.com Jeremy

    HA, I agree with him about Flash… the coolest superhero!