Colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick's name has been seen everywhere over the last few years. After starting out on titles like Image Comics' Peter Panzerfaust, she's quickly leapt across to work on comics as varied as DC Comics Bombshells, Shade, the Changing Girl and the recent prestige format series Supergirl: Being Super. Her work is notable for being striking and emphatic: when you need somebody who will make Supergirl look larger than life and spectacular, there is no one more up for the job. When you want to make the world of Shade seem strange and surreal -- yet weirdly believable -- Kelly Fitzpatrick is the person to call.
And with the final issue of Supergirl: Being Super now on sale, CBR spoke with Fitzpatrick to find out more about how she got into coloring, her approach to bringing classic characters to life and the importance of collaboration in making a comic pop from the page. We also spoke to her about how coloring emphasizes storytelling on the printed page, and why she enjoys getting to work on books about interesting and complex female characters -- told by female creative teams.
CBR: I believe your entry into life as a comics colorist started off in a highly collaborative way -- could you tell us a little about how you first started building up your portfolio, and made your way into the industry as a professional?
Kelly Fitzpatrick: I started off in the industry as a flatter and then assistant doing color corrections from flats and laying things into previously used palettes for Jordie Bellaire. While I was working for Jordie, I went to comic cons, flatted for Joe Quinones and Michael Walsh, and started testing out for companies. After NYCC (my second comic con I ever attended) I picked up my first two books: Peter Panzerfaust at Image and Deceivers at BOOM! [Studios]. I did a lot of free pin-ups for people for exposure, fun and to try out my range as a colorist while also receiving feedback from the artists -- and at that NYCC, I printed off copies for the artists who were gracious to let me color their work. I’m still friends with all of those guys to this day.
Do you still look for a sense of collaboration on titles now -- when working on a book like Supergirl: Being Super, for example, do you keep in touch with the team and go back and forth with your ideas for the palette and coloring?
Fitzpatrick: Everything is about collaboration! If I’m working with a new artist I look to see how they color themselves and how they have been colored by others to establish what I think is working and what I can pull from it. I always ask about what they were thinking about/inspired by and try and get into the mindset of my collaborators. It’s the best way to go! We normally have a back and forth about the palette at the beginning of the book. I’ll normally color a couple pages and then if the team isn’t quite feeling what I’ve put forward, I’ll tweak it until it’s just right. That prevents rounds and rounds of revisions.
What did you want to bring out of the character with your work in the series?
Fitzpatrick: I wanted her and her friends to be the most prominent characters in all of the scenes -- they are the stars and deserve to be in the forefront. It was a difficult learning curve coloring Joelle [Jones]' work because of how much detail she puts in the pages. I also wasn’t expecting how much of the contrast disappeared in print. Sometimes you never know how things are going to print. You can approximate with value and temperature contrast -- so by book three I heavily leaned into temperature contrast (yellow against blue, etc).
Shade, the Changing Girl is a book which is all about madness, and your coloring is so vital to telling that story. What do you think that good coloring brings to the actual storytelling of a comic? You can help bring out details from both the script and the drawn pages, which makes colorists hugely important!
Fitzpatrick: I’m lucky I get to work on a psychedelic book that is completely color-coded. Cyan is for Loma, Magenta is for Megan, Green is for Meta, and monochrome and dark blue is for River and Lepuck. Once the madness spins out of control it either goes completely saturated or turns red as well. The most fun I have with the series is the half toning via my own bitmapping or Kyle Webster brushes. I think a lot about pattern with the series.
Good coloring can be subliminal storytelling. Not only can good coloring evoke more emotion that a black and white image, but it can also bring focus to certain aspects of panels and to certain elements of the page that are important or otherwise might be overlooked and it can change the beats of comic with color blocking. Bettie Breitweiser does color blocking brilliantly in action sequences an when it comes to focus, Jordie Bellaire is killing it discordant colors (think imagery like the girl with the red coat in Schindler’s List).
One of the key aspects of that book is how the strangest things are happening so casually all around her, and it’s unremarked upon. It’s just… there. Was it a challenge to create this sense of the strange without making it too prominent or distracting?
Fitzpatrick: I really wanted the madness to be completely saturated and I turned that up a notch when it came to her being Gotham. Gotham is a really dreary, grey place and Shade is a vibrant avian! I think Marley [Zarcone] handled a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to the madness interlacing with reality. I also took a lot of inspiration from [Daniel] Vozzo’s coloring of Shade the Changing Man.
Shade and Supergirl are two very different books in style, despite sharing some similarities -- how do you approach each new comic you work on? Do you try and keep things distinct, to bring a different mood with each palette?
Fitzpatrick: I always try and create a new palette when it comes to each book. That also has to do with tone of the books and style of the line art as to how I’m going to approach the rendering. Supergirl takes a lot more time to color than Shade because of the rendering and how much is going on in each panel. I’ve also been working with Marley longer, so it’s easier for me to follow her line art. It’s the same mesh I have with Sandy Jarrell.
We’ve been working together for a couple years now on Bombshells and Reggie and Me that I can color his pages a lot quicker than I used to just because it’s become second nature to me. I color his work similarly to how I color Josie and The Pussycats (with Audrey Mok) because of style and tone, but his pages get a texture over them and aren’t as saturated.
With the two books, you have two female characters of a similar sort of age, but the stories are so different. What do you most enjoy most about getting to be involved in telling these expressive, idiosyncratic stories which center female characters in such engaging and visual ways?
Fitzpatrick: I’m drawn to comics that I wish I had growing up. I love being surrounded by ladies making comics for ladies. Comics is still a boys club. I know as a woman, I’m working in the minority -- even though readership is pretty 50/50. It’s nice to be surrounded by people telling stories you identify with. I’m also constantly pushing for diversity in comics -- adding in POC into background if the main characters aren’t.
I'm lucky I also get to work on Bombshells, Josie and the Pussycats and Bitch Planet. It’s something that I’m very passionate about and hope to continue doing in my career later down the road. No one should feel left out of comics. Comics are for everyone.
Supergirl: Being Super #4 is out now from DC Comics. The first collected trade of Shade, the Changing Girl will be released on July 12. For more from Kelly, you can find her on twitter here and on her website here!