Sorry for the long delay in columns. I can’t use the convention season as an excuse because I didn’t go to San Diego or Chicago. I can happily say that the delay is a result of mercenary work piling up in the form of the recently announced “Terra” miniseries from DC Comics and the “Friday the 13th” miniseries from WildStorm among other things I can talk about just yet…like TV stuff.
First up, an interview.
In comic book publishing, a colorist can often make or break a book and being a colorist means more than knowing ROYGBIV or that blue and yellow compliment each other. Lighting, texture, mood, these are a few factors that a colorist is responsible for when bringing comics to life. This week MERCENARY MIND speaks with fine artist and colorist Rob Schwager, who has colored “Jonah Hex” over the last several months.
Before we get into the comics work lets talk about your fine art projects and allow me to sound snooty and show off my knowledge of art. You tend to use mixed media and metal in your work. I notice you also like to use cyanotype, which is a 153-year-old process developed by Sir John Herschel in 1842, and was the first successful non-silver photographic printing process.
ROB: Thanks for talking about my fine art work. Yeah, I love using the cyanotype process. It’s a very elegant, yet simple process to do. I learned it from a fine artist friend of mine a few years ago. It’s a lot of fun for me, but it can be a hazardous process to use. The main ingredient in the cyanotype process is Potassium Ferricyanide (cyanide), which is toxic.
Please don’t tell me you’re trying to go the way of the old masters where their materials were slowly driving them insane.
ROB: A while back, when I was really doing a lot of cyanotype work, I was feeling really run down and lethargic. I went to see my doctor and she grilled me about my daily life, and finally we hit upon my fine art work. She was floored that I had been working with that stuff and she told me to cut back to get the toxins out of my system.
Sound advice man.
ROB: So I’ve cut back considerably and I started branching back into oils and acrylics and more mixed media work. I’m also going to get back into screen-printing my work again as well.
What’s the attraction to using metal?
ROB: I like using metal because it’s somewhat permanent and it’s hard and cold. You really have to work it in order to get it to bend and work the way you want it to. That factors into what I tend to focus a lot of my art on, the battle between good and evil. You really have to work hard in this day and age to not get wrapped up in the sick, evil stuff that’s happening in the world. To be good and live with integrity and morals. We’re living in a day and age when ethical behavior isn’t really valued anymore. The world has become an “it’s all about me” type of place. We’re bombarded daily with commercials and advertisements that just reinforce that way of thinking. It’s hard not to live that way. I like to touch on that in my art.
Now you’re doing a number of gallery shows across the country and I imagine that has to be extremely gratifying. Do you view this kind of exposure as a means to exploit your comic’s work or do you prefer to keep the two separate?
ROB: Yes, it is extremely gratifying. It’s a great way for me to charge my creative batteries again, especially after I spend so much time working over other people’s art as a colorist. I tend to try to keep my comic work and fine art work separate. Although I have a “comic-bookish” style of illustration, so it occasionally seeps into my fine art. I also do packaging design and turnaround work for fine art friends of mine who are breaking into the vinyl toy industry, which is starting to grow huge at the San Diego con. So my two worlds intersect there as well.
How long have you been doing digital color professionally?
ROB: I’ve been coloring professionally for over 15 years.
You’ve been doing a beautiful job with “Jonah Hex” since coming onboard with issue…I guess it was five right? That was the first Tony DeZuniga issue.
ROB: I came in on issue #4 to help out the regular colorist to make deadline. I guess they liked what I did because they asked me back, and here I am. Hopefully I can continue to work on “Hex” for a long time. I love the genre.
Right, number four. Man, my short term and long term memory is shot. Talk about the way you approach coloring a western. Are there specific influences you draw from?
ROB: I draw from my memories and photos when I used to live in Phoenix. Obviously, the “old west” was everywhere there. My personal photo archives really came into play on issue #7. It made me miss living there a lot and I look forward to moving back there soon.
In your opinion what is the best movie Western ever made?
ROB: I totally love the Trinity Spaghetti Westerns. “They Call Me Trinity” and “Trinity Is Still My Name.” I first saw them with my dad when I was a kid and have loved them ever since. Good times, good childhood memories.
One of the things I like about you personally is your outlook on other colorists and artists in general. We’ve had a few conversations about the “Hex” issues that Phil Noto colored himself and you’re clearly a fan. The same goes for Christina Strain, whom I love for her work on “Daughters of the Dragon.” I dig the mutual appreciation aspect of comics.
ROB: Absolutely. I worked in a virtual vacuum for years in my own studio before I went to work at Crossgen. Bad experiences aside, I learned tons from the other colorists and artists there. It was great to feed off of other artists, to grow and learn new things, get exposed to new art, etc.
On average how many pages can you color in any given day?
ROB: It depends on how detailed and anal retentive I get, plus, what my deadline is. My best was 13 pages in a 16 hr day. I hate to do that, but sometimes, it just works out that way. I’d like to give every page the time and justice it deserves, but editorial deadlines dictate a lot.
I always have to ask what kind of music you listen to while working, is there anything in particular depending on the genre of a particular book?
ROB: I listen to pretty much anything. Lately, I’ve been kicking out my friend Don’s band a lot, Demon Hunter. I tend to listen to more of the old school punk rock stuff from the ’70s and ’80s. Rocket from the Crypt is my all-time favorite band. R.I.P. I also listen to a lot of podcasts while working. The best one out there is Comic Geek Speak. Those guys rule.
There isn’t anyone who has given me a greater insight or appreciation of what a colorist brings to a project than Jimmy Palmiotti. I can remember when I was interning at Marvel Knights and he’d go over the coloring with a microscope. My focus is always on storytelling with color, but he sees tiny little details that astound me. I know he’s given you notes on your work, so from your side of the project have you found them to be on the mark more often than not?
ROB: Absolutely! I met Jimmy once at SDCC a long time ago. He’s been in this business a long time and he’s a helluva artist. He knows what he wants and knows what he’s looking for, especially with this “Hex” series. So, it’s my job to listen and give him what he sees in his head. It’s always been my belief that creative teams work best on books when they actually work as a team. When they communicate with each other. That’s one of the things I loved about working at Crossgen. You could call your creative team around your computer or drawing table and have them look at what each member was doing on the book. We do that nowadays sometimes, too. Depending on how tight the team is on a book. Shooting jpgs back and forth on the ‘net to get each other’s opinions. Tweaking things before they go to print. All in all, I think it makes for an overall better comic and better product.
Thanks Rob, as always it is a pleasure chatting with ya! Lets close this out with some examples of your fine art and any upcoming gallery shows that might be in your reader’s areas.
Upcoming gallery shows include:
Sept. 13th – “Rat Fink’s Revenge” – PETERSEN AUTO MUSEUM – LA, CA Oct. 27th – “Halloween Hootenanny” – Savannah, GA
THE PIMP ZONE
From Marvel this Wednesday the 16th: “Claws” #1
The Story: A much lighter action comedy as shanghaied and transported to a remote desert island, Wolverine and the Black Cat find themselves at the center of a deadly game. A team of filthy-rich hunters slapped down some serious cash for the opportunity to hunt the Most Dangerous Prey on the Planet – and they’ve got the high-tech weapons to do just that. Like it or not, the key to Logan and Felicia’s survival just might be their ability to cooperate long enough to evade their hunters and uncover the identity of the deadly ringmaster. Brought to you by the team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and superstar artist Joe Linsner.
32 PGS. CARDSTOCK COVER/PARENTAL ADVISORY …$3.99
And from Marvel on Wednesday, August 23rd the return of “Heroes For Hire” #1
As Civil War rages through the Marvel Universe, an unlikely group of heroes have gathered together to hunt down and capture criminals who refuse to sign the Registration Act. In response to the overwhelming number of masked fugitives on the loose, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing use their bail bonds skills, underworld connections and government funding to lead an all-new Heroes for Hire into battle. Action, adventure, crime, beautiful women and Kung Fu chaos come together in this explosive new series from writers Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti with art by Billy Tucci! Featuring BLACK CAT, SHFANG CHI-THE MASTER OF KUNG FU, PALADIN, MISTY KNIGHT, COLLEEN WING and THE ALL-NEW TARANTULA.
GENRE: ACTION, ADVENTURE AND SUPERHERO GOODNESS 32 PGS./Rated T+…$2.99
Over at DC Comics on August 30th “Uncle Sam And The Freedom Fighters” #2 hits stands and will continue to be a controversial topic of discussion as Phantom Lady, Doll Man, The Ray and Human Bomb are sent to capture Uncle Sam!
GENRE: Superhero action mixed with satirical politics.