If there's one superhero book that you're sure to find on most critics' top ten lists for the past two years, it's the revitalized "Flash" from DC Comics, a series that has been quickly turning a lot of heads. While a lot of the attention has been focused on the writing of red hot writer Geoff Johns, also known for "Avengers," "Hawkman," "JSA" and the highly anticipated "Teen Titans," there's been a lot of affection directed towards the unique aesthetics of the book that are a result of penciller Scott Kolins, inker Doug Hazlewood and colorist James Sinclair. CBR News caught up with Kolins and Sinclair to discuss "Flash," a series both men adore and have a hard time not talking about once you get them started.
"Wally West is the Fastest Man Alive," explains Kolins of the series' protagonist. "He is the Flash, a member of the Justice league and one of the core icons of the DC universe. Wally is the first to carry on the legacy of a deceased silver age (60's) predecessor. But the most important thing in Wally's life is his wife, Linda, who is currently pregnant with the Flash's child (see Flash #188)! Wally works alongside the Keystone police which usually mean he has to put up with Morillo, Chyre, and Hunter (the Rogue profiler). Together they work to protect Keystone and Central city from the Rogues! (One of the coolest set of villains in the DCU, maybe only second to Batman in coolness). Capt.Cold. Gorilla Grodd. The Weather Wizard. Mirror Master. Tarpit. Cicada. Peekaboo. The new Trickster. Magenta. Girder. Boomerang. Plunder. Double Down. Murmur. The Top. Fallout, and coming this next year ... Zoom!"
The Flash isn't just a superhero, explains both these creators, and each of them has their own reasons for believing why the character of Wally West has endured for so long as such a unique entity. "Wally is very American without flag waving," contends Kolins. "He is an everyman. His powers are cool and powerful. The Flash costume is still unique in the comics world and, the way Geoff writes him, he don't take shit from anybody (except maybe Linda) [laughs]"
"As a colorist, he's got two primary colors and in really basic terms, it's really good for your palette," adds Sinclair. "Aside from that visually, I like Flash as a character because Geoff [Johns] makes him a hero- sometimes he's overdone by other writers as comic relief, but Geoff strikes a good balance and as a colorist it's motivational to have a good story coupled with good art to get me really going. I even try to stay away from using red for anyone but the Flash so that he pops out- he's a very vital and different character internally, so I want him to appear that way visually as well too."
Just as Geoff Johns has been praised for bringing a unique voice to "Flash," the artists on the series have received critical acclaim for bringing a unique aesthetic sense to the book. In the case of James Sinclair, not only does he feel this is a unique coloring experience for him, but it's also a unique job for him as well. "For me, it was pretty unique for me because I had done most of my work in Vertigo and I wanted to come play in the DCU, it just so happened at the same time they were looking for someone on the 'Flash,'" explains Sinclair. "I was on Geoff and Scott's list and so it just worked out great.
"It's really derivative because I'm from the Vertigo background and their palettes tend not to be so primary color driven and I was bringing that into the superhero environment. I have a lot of European influences and coupling that with Scott's style, his new style, because he had done a lot of old work with solid black and thicker line weight, and him now wanting to come with this new approach of a linear based work, it was important for me to come up with a style that would use color as a black as well as meet the standard color requirements. I think a lot of people don't give superhero coloring it's due- there is a lot of this requirement to use primary colors but you still have to keep a balance and it's not easy. I enjoy it a lot and I find an exciting challenge in each issue."
When it comes to Kolins, the penciller says that his new style on this series represents his own attempt to make each series that he works on reflect a different perspective on a different set of characters, essentially showing readers a different side of Scott Kolins. "I try to treat each series as it's own," he explains. "I thought about 'Legion of Super-heroes' differently than I do 'The Flash' as I did 'The Thing: Freakshow.' The changes may be sometimes small or subtle but they do affect the outcome of the book and story. Beyond that it's just lucky that we got this group of talented people to each compliment the other and create this great book. I got offered 'The Flash' when Jerry Ordway was supposed to be the writer. When Jerry decided not to be the writer, I (and many other people) asked for Geoff. Doug was actually already on 'The Flash' and it turned out that we worked together really well. DC asked me for a list of names of colorists I thought would work with the new pencilling style I was using and James was on a very short list of people I wanted to work with."
If you're a reader whose looking at an issue of "Flash," you may now be wondering- who made this page looking so stunning? Was it Scott, Doug or James? "In plain terms, I'm the penciller who picks the shots and suggests the mood or point to the page," explains Kolins of his role in artistic process. "Doug Hazlewood, the inker, comes in and makes sure everything looks good and puts some finishing touches or helps me edit the details. James, the colorist/seperator, and I then talk over the book and discuss details and general mood. James is definately the first colorist I've worked with that actually knows my pages as well as I do and really puts in the effort to make every page shine."
"It's a marriage of all us- just because all of what I do covers all the page, it doesn't diminish any of the work they do," adds Sinclair. "I think it actually makes their work even more important. Scott is so thorough and accurate in his perspective and depth, that it forces me to be just as accurate. Doug makes everything so crisp and round, making everything stand out with the proper line weight- it's all pretty harmonious I think.
"I think that the accuracy that they bring to the book is really exciting to me and they make the book realistic, but still fantastic, maintaining drama and excitement at the same time. That makes it exciting as a colorist because I can go over the top with the hero but keep those background colors in check. The hardest part for me is the amount of time it takes me to do the work on the book- it's not a negative, but the amount of work I demand of myself requires me to spend lots of time and energy on this series. It's a labor of love for all of us on this series."
Kolins agrees that the skill and enthusiasm of his co-conspirators on "Flash" is what makes the series so fun. "The best part is knowing that each of us is working 110% on making this book fun and exciting. The worst part is wondering if the book will sell well. What's changed the most is that the Flash characters and I have become friends. This is a job, so sometime down the line when I do leave the book, it's gonna be very hard. The hardest part is trying to keep up with Geoff Johns. The easiest part is looking at a finished page or book and smiling 'cause we kicked some ass!"
In an industry where comics are perpetually late and "superstar" artists can't get things done on time, the artists on this series live up to the reputation of the "Flash"- acclaimed work, fast and on time. "Keeping distractions to a minimum is the main thing, which also means really loving making comics," says Kolins of his key to success. "Alot of people would rather be out partying or relaxing. I really like thinking about a story and figuring out which is the best way I can think of to tell it. It really gets my blood rushing to nail a sequence or to brainstorm over the phone with Geoff about a story. I just love telling stories."
"I think that Scott's right- it's a matter of discipline," says Sinclair in agreement. "Just put those distractions out of your mind and focus on the work. It's not required for that level of quality, but it's required for that level of accuracy and consistency too. To be on time, you have to get done every month- it sounds simple but sometimes people forget that they only have a few weeks between issues."
Both men also agree about another thing- working with Geoff Johns is a blast and they don't mind the fact that they may be overshadowed in the credits box by his red-hot name. "No, not all. Geoff's really cool and the best part is, I know he does a lot of work, but he still makes the 'Flash' a unique comic. There's still a gritty type of drama in it and there's a lot of edge, but there's a heroic core to Wally that makes him such a classic character- you also can't forget the supporting cast that Geoff has developed. I'm not sure that I've taught Geoff anything by working with him; he's a pretty smart guy. [Laughs] But as far as what I've learned, the guy's taught me to love superhero comics again because I was in that 'Vertigo Only' mindset and this was an opportunity for me to break out of it.
"For those who have followed us from the beginning, the 'Blood Will Run' story was very controversial on the Internet when it started and I had a lot of interaction with fans when it started, because it marked such a dramatic shift in tone for the series, as well as confusing many fans as to where the series was going. People now don't know what to expect and that's real fun. Geoff makes the overall depth of the comic important and he's got multiple layers to all his stories, which makes them very intriguing for all types of readers."
"I feel huge pressure everyday and feel honored working with Geoff," chimes in Kolins. "Geoff has taught me to keep focused and not get scattered. I tend to run with whatever thought enters my head. I don't know that I've taught him anything but I try to remind him that he's got so many good ideas that it feel like sometimes we might be 'throwing them away.' For example, in 'Flash #178' Geoff casually wrote: 'CAPTION (FLASH): Grodd is the only VILLAIN that's ever given me nightmares. First time I ever saw another human being MURDERED. Grodd SNAPPED a man's neck. Almost took his head clean off.' 'CAPTION (FLASH): And Grodd didn't even blink.' This gave me such visions of what it was like for Wally as a young Kid Flash to come face to face with this horrific villain - I wanted to have a page of just that scene. Truly brilliant. Geoff does this all the time, and I just make sure that these 'tidbits' get used to the potential I see in them. Geoff is more collaborative than any other writer I've ever worked with and I really respond to that. He loves to talk over ideas and uses our discussions, so I actually feel more important to the process than ever before. It does get to that point that I've read so many times in interviews before, where you're not really sure who came up with what anymore. That kind of ego-less attitude is great for putting the best book together."
Both Sinclair and Kolins have other work keeping them busy for the time being, but none of their projects involve the other. "I do other titles for DC, like 'Legends of the Dark Knight' and 'Green Arrow,' so I have a pretty full schedule," admits Sinclair. "But the 'Flash' is my priority."
"Besides having a great time on the Flash, I'm working on the Hulk-Wolverine 'Six Hours' four issue mini-series with Bruce Jones, coming out in January," says Kolins. "Geoff and I have really been focused on the Flash story through #200 but we do have some ideas for different things we want to do later in 2003, but much too soon to discuss."
However Kolins is happy to discuss his long term aesthetic plans for "Flash," which involve putting Wally West through the wringer. "Just some great kick-ass super-hero fun," laughs the artist. "'Flash #192' started a new 3 part Grodd story that is even better than 'Flash #178' our fist Grodd story. After that we play with the return of the Top -as never seen before. Lots of fun. Peekaboo comes back and we find out the fate of her father. There's gonna be some more shocking Flash family news around 'Flash #196.' And then 'Flash #197' starts the Zoom story we've been building to for 2 years! That brings us to 'Flash #200,' which will change Wally's life - forever. No joke. No hype. And no one will see this coming!"
In terms of Sinclair's plans, the colorist says that with his new responsibilities on the series, he hopes to take the series to the next level. "I think that with me doing the separations now, the book will look even better! I felt that the colors had become a bit stagnant and now that I have complete control over how the colors look, it'll change things. The separator is the one who interprets the colorists' directions and in recent months we had felt that for different reasons the quality on our book was suffering, so when the chance came for me to take over full-time, everyone on 'Flash' was happy to see me get control. I have formal education as painter and it just keeps getting better- keep an eye out guys!"
It's been about two years worth of "Flash" issues and both creators say they're proud of a lot of their work on the series. "I honestly love almost all my Flash issues, but 'Flash #178' with Grodd, #181with Fallout, and #182 with Capt.Cold are some where I thought Geoff and I did our best work," admits Kolins. "Making The Weather Wizard a kick-ass villain again. 'Killing Morillo' in Flash #181. Tarpit is probably my favorite new Flash villain we came up with. I think the new Trickster is the best reinvention of an old villain ever done. That said, I'm extremely proud of 'Flash' #192-193 which concludes in January's #194. Geoff and I both think this is the best story we've done yet!"
Not surprising, Sinclair also feels that the current "Run Riot" story is the best work he's done on the "Flash" as well. "Honestly, I have to say the 'Run Riot' issues are my favorite issues because of the excitement and because #191 was my first issue as a separator. I also love Grodd and the Iron Heights environment is terrifying! But it's also nice to just be working on 'Flash'- it's a great group of people, all doing their best work and I always look forward to working on the series."
At the end of the day, as much as these guys love working with each other, there's one group of people they love even more: the fans.
"I think that the passion that all of us have for this series shows and we do it because we're fans," says Sinclair. "Fans' hard earned money is going toward a series put out by people who are trying to produce the best stories they can every month and we're never giving less than 100%, we promise, so thank you for your support."
"Many, many thanks to our readers, who have been so supportive," says Kolins. "If you guys don't buy the book, we don't get to have this much fun coming up with these crazy stories. I sincerely appreciate your hard earned $2.25 that you fork over every month and always aim to make anything I work on to be worth twice that."