Sunday, June 10, 2012

Full Circle

Thanks to Facebook, I recently got a chance to acquire a great little piece of my own personal history.

Almost fifteen years ago, I got my start in the comic book business at Lovern Kindzierski's Digital Chameleon, doing colour separations on DC Comics on the overnight shift.

It was a dream job for me. To the right is a photo of 22 year old Donovan, about to head off to my first night of work in the comics industry. I was still living in my dorm room after finishing up my Fine Arts degree.

Colour Separators, as we were technically called, are all but extinct now. (Feel free to skip this paragraph if comic book colouring history sounds dull to you!). Currently, colourists use programs like Adobe Photoshop to add their hues to the lineart. In the olden days, colourists painted xeroxed lineart and created a work of production art called a colour guide, which was then sent to the Separator who created four separate sheets of film for each of the colours printed (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). (Neal Adams claims that in the 1960's, DC Comics actually had housewives in Connecticut doing their colour separations!). Our role at Digital Chameleon back in 1998 was a transitional phase - we did the colouring and modelling in Photoshop the way that books are coloured now, but the colour choices were dictated to us by the colour guides, created by colouring veterans, many of whom had not yet learned Photoshop.

My first night on the job was incredible. I got straight to work on the first splash page of Action Comics #746. This was the big leagues. Action Comics made it's debut in 1938 with the first appearance of Superman. While Superman was not my favourite character to read about, he IS an icon. And lo and behold, on the first page I was to work on was a full page drawing by superstar Canadian artist Stuart Immonen of Superman himself. Strong. Powerful. Mopping the deck of a cruise ship. (Okay, so it wasn't the most exciting, action packed page, but that didn't matter!). By the end of my 8 hour shift, my first page was complete. I was soon to learn that taking 8 hours to complete a page was unacceptably slow, but hey, it was my first day on the job! Cut me some slack!

A decade and a half later, I accidentally stumbled across the Facebook profile for the colourist of that issue, Glenn Whitmore. Mr. Whitmore managed the Herculean task of creating painted colour guides for FOUR Superman books each month, every one of them coming to my shift at Digital Chameleon for separation. Having worked on so much of this man's work during the embryonic stages of my colouring career had a big influence on me, and I was happy to have the opportunity to tell him this.

After some chatting, Glenn was kind enough to send me the original colour guide I'd launched my journey on. It's still got my name on the back, printed in my atrocious printing style. You'd never know I was an artist by that chicken scratching! (Phoenix was the name of my computer workstation).
Here's a shot of the actual colour guide and the printed comic, side by side.
The colour guide is really a fantastic artifact of the old days of comic creation. A wonderful piece of messy, beautiful production art, marked up in the margin with notes from the editor and colourist. Below is a full scan of the guide (complete with a personalized note from Glenn Whitmore), along with his original colour notes, which told us separators useful bits of information, such as Lana Lang's hair colour (YR25).

Click here to see a large scan of it.
I own a lot of books that I've worked on from the big 3 publishers. However, this piece of art, symbolic of my first steps in the industry, is by far the highlight of my collection.

It's a huge honour to have some of the guides I had worked on in my possession. Looking at them again rekindles some of that wide eyed excitement about the craft of colouring that I had when I started.

What struck me about revisiting Glenn Whitmore's guides is that he actually uses COLOURS. A lot of books nowadays feature really dark, moody, greyed out "colouring". Whitmore isn't afraid to have his pages look bright and, well, colourful. (A colourist who colours! Imagine that!). He understands atmospheric perspective, colour temperature and contrasts, and uses them well. I've always loved how he painted lighting effects - below are two panels from his guides that I think show his skill in this area.
So now, several issues of old colour guides are sitting on the bookshelf above my desk. Glenn Whitmore was probably just happy to unload some of these papers out of storage to clear up some space. But for me, this page is a meaningful symbol of the first steps I took in this semi-career of mine over a decade and a half ago, and I'm extremely grateful that he was okay to part with it.

Currently playing: Deadbeat Honeymooners - King of Your Heart
Proudly in my seventh Cola free year!


ApacheDug said...

Great post Donovan, thanks for sharing! Growing up & reading Superman half my life, I can't imagine what that must've been like, working on a Superman comic at 22--very few could.

(Loved the art samples too & even liked the Neal Adams interview link--great stuff!)

Unknown said...

Awesome Donny, but who is the dude with all the hair in the top photo?