Welcome to the CBR SUNDAY CONVERSATION, a weekly feature where we speak in-depth — and at-length — with some of the most interesting members of the comic book community. These discussions run the gamut in terms of topics, from current projects to classic stories, talking trends, tastes and wherever else the conversations lead.
Eisner-nominated colorist Jordie Bellaire traded sunny Florida for the ashen skies and supersaturated greens of Ireland, where she lives with fellow “Moon Knight” artist and boyfriend Declan Shalvey. In these past three years both artists have made names for themselves, and Bellaire in particular has been especially prolific. She’s established distinct color palettes for “Pretty Deadly,” “Magneto,” “Nowhere Men,” “Flash Gordon,” and many, many more. At one point in 2013, she colored nearly 20 concurrent comic books.
This week, CBR News talks to Bellaire about her “Comics are for everybody” initiative toward inclusion and compassion in the comics community, as well as her industrious career in coloring.
CBR News: Tell me about “Comics are for everybody” and how that initiative started.
Jordie Bellaire: Comics are for everybody. I was in Seattle with Declan for Emerald City. That was a great show. Something happened, where — I don’t know, I’m always upset about some femme thing happening in comics, some exclusion happening. I always end up hearing one or two stories and I get really angry. We were coming back on the plane. I turned to Declan and said, “Hey, I have this idea. It’s really simple. It’s just this on a shirt.” He was cool and suggested I google it when we got home to make sure it doesn’t already exist. We didn’t know about “Friends of Lulu” yet, so I felt stupid when that happened. I googled it to make sure no one was using the slogan for anything. Of course there were bumps in the road there too. When we finally put it out there, I didn’t expect people to be so excited. I’d e-mailed a bunch of collaborators first to work on secretly, with the intent of launching it all on one big day. Then that shirt went out from WonderCon.
And when I saw that, I got really pissed off. [Laughs] “I’m not waiting anymore!” And I just posted it. I had e-mailed Steven Finch — AKA Fonografiks of “Saga” fame — who was my first choice. I said, “Hey, here’s this thing. I don’t know much about you. We work together, but still. I really want to do this. If you’re a cool dude and you have the time, I’d love to pay you to do it.” And he didn’t even accept payment. He just sent me the thing. He said, “You know, I have a daughter, and this is how I want comics to be perceived for sure. Anything you need, let me know.” So I was really happy that he was into the movement as well. Which is what I was hoping it’d be considered. It is meant to be bigger than any particular individual. It was hard for a while. It was just me. I’d been hearing a lot over the past few years, “Stop doing too much on your own.” [Laughs] So, I got Jen Aprahamian to do web stuff and R Stevens of Diesel Sweeties to print and distribute, which is amazing. A godsend. He’s incredibly kind and generous with his time. And Steven Finch, of course. It’s kind of like the four of us on this one thing. It’s been very exciting. We’ve got retailers signing up for the free stickers. I just got an e-mail from Stevens saying he just got a bunch of the printed shirts. He said they came out great. We’ll have photos. It started out as a small idea and basically did not think it would be this crazy. I’m just happy that people like it.
Have you received a lot of feedback aside from the orders themselves? What are people saying?
Positive or negative? [Laughs]
There’s a bit of both?
Yeah, a lot of people have been cool. People have been really, really neat, including collaborators I’ve worked with before like Kieron Gillen and Kelly Sue DeConnick. Warren Ellis. A lot of the people I’d touched base with in advance to see how they felt about it. I e-mailed Jon Hickman too. I just wanted to see if enough of them said, “Jordie, this is stupid. Don’t do this.” But nobody did. they were all really supportive. And I think since it’s all happened, fans of comics, readers of comics, collaborators, really seem to dig it, and we’ve sold a lot. Which is exciting, because I think today makes a week since we launched it. But we did get some negative feedback in that some felt the symbol [an equal sign inside a traditional word balloon] was too closely linked to the HRC [Human Rights Campaign] political issues. I got a lot of support saying to dismiss that. Which was nice, but really wrong. [Laughs] That’s exactly what this is not about. We cannot forget anyone, regardless of whether you think the concern is ridiculous or reactionary. I don’t want anyone to feel excluded by it, even if it’s just a symbol. So we’ve removed the symbol. I would say that’s as negative as thing’s got, and it got pretty scary, because a whole group of people felt excluded, and that sucks. The gay and transgender community. Why the hell would I want to shut anybody out, especially those who nobody really takes the time to understand? No way. So we fixed that.
The whole intention is obviously inclusion, so if there’s any notion of there being limits, it defeats the purpose. It’s so deceptively easy to lose sight of the whole spectrum in terms of the language used though. Even with the best of intentions.
Exactly. Exactly. I was so bummed out, too, because a lot of the people saying to just forget it, to not change anything — they meant well. They didn’t want to see me go through the trouble. They knew I’m pretty empathetic and it might get me down, but a lot of that was coming from white men or white women. They speak for a majority.
It’s great for everyone to rally around it, but if it doesn’t go to bat for the smallest of groups, those most in need of recognition, there’s something hypocritical about that. It sounds like you made the right choice.
That’s kind of what the whole things is, I hope. Everybody’s starting to ask more questions about what they say nowadays. I think Declan said in his conversation with you he talked about programmed sexism.
It’s the same thing with inadvertently dismissing the transgender community. You can’t do that. It’s quite possible you’ve never met a transgendered individual in your day to day life, but you can’t dismiss someone because they’re not part of your experience.
[At this point in the conversation, Bellaire’s boyfriend Declan Shalvey pokes her on the shoulder with the offer of coffee. Pleasantries are exchanged. Soon enough, Bellaire voices mock irritation at Shalvey’s lingering presence and swats him away.]
Declan, we’re trying to journalism. Journalism is so hard.
It’s so hard when you’re living with this Irishman, trying to be part of journalism. [Laughs]
How long have you been in Ireland?
What was the biggest surprise about Ireland?
That was a surprise?
I was living in Florida and then New York for a year. I’d been in Florida most all of my life, and between that and my one crazy New York summer, I did end up missing the sun more than I’d anticipated. I miss driving as well. But honestly, when I first came here, Declan and I were hoping we’d only be here for a year, then we’d go back to New York City and live there. Then his career took off in a big way that second year. “Northlanders” happened, and that was great. He got out of doing fill-ins. Things were going really well for me. I finally started making money and people started knowing who I was with things like “Hulk: Season One” and “Doctor Strange: Season One.” Then “Rocketeer” happened last spring too. With stuff like that going on, we ended up staying another year. Then “Moon Knight” got offered for the both of us and we realized we should just stay. This is our HQ. If we moved right now, I don’t even knew that we could. We’ve just got so much work, it’s better for us to just sit here and wait for it to kind of die down.
[Laughs] Do you see that happening?
Well it should! I hope so. Declan has things coming up he’s very excited about. I keep getting offers, but I’m trying to be limited. I used to feel bad; I wanted to do everything. Now I’m trying to be more selective. We’re hoping for two more years. Then I’ll have dual citizenship. Then maybe we’ll go live in Portland, Maine. But everybody in Portland, Oregon is trying to get us to go there.
Some of my very favorite people in the world are divvied up between the two Portlands.
Portlands are great. You can’t really lose.
But for now at least, you’re happy in Ireland? Has the culture shock subsided by this point?
There’s still some things that drive me mental. I feel like every other day something happens, even though it’s been three years now. Declan and I will get into a heated debate because either he’ll misunderstand what I said, or he just looks at me like I’m stupid. He just goes, “What is your deal?” I’m like, “What do you mean, ‘what’s my deal?’ What’s your deal?” He goes, “What are you expecting?” and I’ll go, “Well, in America…” And he just starts shaking his head. We’re not in America. That’s not how this is going to play out.
Well, you just said “mental.” You’ve been assimilated.
Oh, it’s happened. I say “shite.” I say “mentalist.” “Jay-zus.”
Speaking of which, how many books are you coloring right now?
Not right this second as we’re talking, just in general.
[Laughs] Well, I’ve taken down my schedule a lot. Last year was really, really, really stupid. I was coloring too much. Right now I’m coloring about half of that. I think I’m at like eight or nine.
So, you were coloring something like sixteen books at a given time last year?
It was a little more than that. Sometimes. It was bad.
This is in one given month?
Yeah. Those were bad times. I have this great thing called the UP band. It shows you how much sleep you’re getting. My mom had gotten me one in August. That September was the worst September on my life. I don’t even know how I made it through. I was going through the UP stats recently because I knew I’d been getting a great amount of sleep. Eight hours a night. But I wanted to compare it to something. I thought of September. It said that for the entire month, I got 23 hours of sleep. How does that make sense?
You’d be dead basically. How are we talking without the use of a Ouija board right now?
I know! But it made sense, honestly. I remember days where I didn’t sleep at all, and then I’d catch up and get six hours after two or three days. In September I was a zombie. It was an awful time. After that I met Matt Hollingsworth in person for the first time. He said to me, “How many books are you coloring, like 17?” I looked at him and said, “Who told you?” He’d been kidding. “Are you serious? Jordan, you should not be coloring 17 books.” He and even Dave Stewart at Seattle this year told me the same thing — which is amazing; I worship the ground both of them walk on. Dave said he colored four or five books, seven at the worst. He’s such a soft-spoken, lovely guy. Being told this by him and Matt Hollingsworth is like being yelled at by two dads. After they got in my face so politely about it, I realized I should start taking it down a notch. After some of those books ended, I wouldn’t fill it in with something else right away. I’m making sure to say no to a lot more things.
There’s a point where the human eye must just turn to powder after a while.
Oh yeah. I actually just went in to my optometrist again. I went in in October. I actually have a lot of very bad problems with my eyes. I won’t go into it, but they’re not great. They’re healthy, but I’ll have pains and double vision. But it had only been a year and my prescription had changed to such a ridiculous degree, it was embarrassing. So I went back in again this week to double check before I get my new lenses. They ask this horrible question: How many hours on average do you spend in front of your computer in a given day. Well, how many hours are there in a day? 24. So, something like 18? She’s like, “Jay-zus.” But I am losing my vision. They also say not to wear your glasses when you’re looking at the monitor if you don’t have to, but I’m actually blind, so I have to wear them. It’s the worst. [Hyperbolic groaning noise] Paul, it’s the worst.
So, that’s the physical wear and tear on your vision. Losing that much sleep, did you have visions or anything?
Oh yeah. Yeah. You mean like hallucinations? There was one time Declan was walking down the stairs. If I was taking a half hour or hour-long nap, I’d just be talking total nonsense. I’d also be really alert and freakishly scared of everything. Declan would go to put his arm on me or touch me and I would jump out of my skin. I was definitely falling apart. I might be paranoid, but I think my hair was also thinning. We were living off of pizza and Indian food, so I definitely packed on some September pounds. From the end of September to the rest of the year I still had a crazy workload, though it never got back up to 17. It hovered around 13-15. Then in January, everything slowed down. Some books ended or went on hiatus. But I got sick for four weeks. It just caught up with me. From New Year’s to February 1st, I was sick in bed. It was terrible. I never want to push my body so hard again. My body was just so angry.
What’s the most underrated color, in your estimation?
Uh, Purple! Everybody hates purple.
I don’t hate purple. Sam Jackson doesn’t hate purple.
Thank you. I don’t understand the big deal. There are a lot of artists on record as saying they don’t want colorists to use purple. I love Tom Fowler. I love him. But when we first started working together he said, “Look at purple in nature. Make sure you don’t use purple in my book unless it’s in nature.” I said, “You know what, you’re gonna deal with how I use purple, because purple’s great.” I guess I see colorists who abuse it, but there are others who wield it and make it do what they want, like Javier Rodriguez on “Daredevil.” Rico Renzi. Matthew Wilson. Those dudes are kings of purple. They know how to use it.
It’s the royal color. The color of kings and queens.
It is! Do you know why it is? Do you know why?
Well, of course I do. I mean, naturally. But you should tell the readers.
Murex was a snail that was found at the bottom of the sea. They would harvest it and use it. As a dye, it would make this really gorgeous, royal purple. It was such a fancy thing that only kings and stuff could get. This is back in ancient Sumerian and Egyptian culture. Only the royals could use it. I heard — I heard — back in history class — this is ages ago — that they farmed out the Murex though. There’s no more murex snail. That’s what I heard. He might still be there though.
Purple should be celebrated. It’s an extinct color. It’s the Tasmanian tiger of colors.
Kind, sorta. As a natural pigment anyway. I don’t know if you can get it in a lesser form out of flowers or anything. Anyway, purple is the best.
So, what we’re seeing is fake purple, not the real deal?
Unless you got to a museum, I guess. Seeing paintings in real tempera paint at a gallery? That stuff makes me so emotional. Knowing all the things the artist went through to get their pigments? Those colors are pretty wild.
I went to see an exhibit here in Philadelphia of Van Gogh — [attempts accurate pronunciation of Van Gogh’s name] — and I think the most heartbreaking thing was stepping out from that gallery into the museum gift shop. Being a nose away from the genuine article only moments before, the reproductions of those same paintings appear so helplessly drab. And these are museum quality prints.
And that they’re on mugs and magnets and things. You wonder what he’d think about that appropriation. If he’d appreciate that.
There’s that, too. Part of me says he’d be hungry enough that he might go for it. We’ll never know I guess.
I know artists like Mark Rothko would see their pieces hanging in places that didn’t feel appropriate, he would say something to the effect of, “My art is not wallpaper.” It’s meant to be an experience. You’re invited into it. He’d be quite deliberate about the way things were hung. I saw one of his works in, I think, St. Petersburg, Florida. I got a little sad because I can’t imagine he would’ve been happy with the setup. It was still nice. I put my nose up on it. I lived it. I experienced those colors. [Sighs] I like Mark Rothko.
What was your last religious experience with color, whether it was an exhibit or film, or natural setting?
Oh! That’s a hard question, my friend. I really like movies. You know, there’s one that’s really been on my mind. I’d like to do a study on it. I really like “Stoker.” Something’s happening there with color, and I want to examine it. There’s some interesting things happening there for sure. I’m sure there are plenty of other things. When I come out of a film, I’m immediately thinking about the color. The little accent colors people are using. They’re narrating with color. But the average person doesn’t think about it, because really you’re not supposed to. It’s meant to be there to explain things without you being explicitly told.
As we’ve established, you’ve worked with many creators over the past few years. That’s a lot of individual collaborative experiences, each with their own idiosyncrasies. Have you noticed any trend from your fellow artists and writers e specially, toward greater appreciation and curiosity about color?
Yeah. In my case anyway, I try to be really adamant about contacting artists. Sometimes you’re not always patched through. That’s not to say the editor isn’t doing their job; there’s a process. But I like to normally — every single time — e-mail an artist and ask them what they’ve been listening to, watching, their likes and dislikes when it comes to color in comics. Have they ever been colored by someone they really loved or hated? Have they colored themselves? Can I see that? It’s good to see what their instincts are, whether or not they think they’re talented.
What they’ve been listening to?
Yeah! It’s just helpful to know where their mind is as they’re working on the book, vibe-wise. Ales Kot, for instance. I really like when we work together, because he always sends me scripts with music. I like that kind of thing. You can get into their headspace completely. There’s no room for miscommunication. I’ve heard about so many bad experiences. So I want to be very careful. Let’s get on the samest-of-the-samesies pages. Let’s do this together.
Stay tuned to CBR for more on Jordie Bellaire’s many, many projects and follow her on Twitter at @whoajordie.