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Voices, Mirrors and Love - Part 2

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Eisner-nominated colorist José Villarrubia has colored the work of some of the great modern comics artists – such as J.H. Williams, Paul Pope and Tim Sale. He’s left his mark on diverse titles like Desolation Jones and Batman: Year 100 and Rush City. José met up with Broken Frontier’s Neil Figuracion on the eve of the Eisner awards at the San Diego Comic-Con to discuss the invisible craft of coloring comics.

Part One

Part 2 – About things that aren’t seen

BF: Congratulations on your Eisner nomination. Are you nervous for tonight?

JV:No.

BF: You’re nominated for Best Colorist for Desolation Jones?

JV:Yes.

[Editor’s note – José lost the award to Acme Novelty Library creator Chris Ware. Neil adds: Robbed, I tell you. He was robbed!]

BF: There’s something problematic with a lot of the modern coloring technology, the way it’s used. It feels like many of the current comics colorists have a sort of paint-by-numbers approach to coloring a page. How would you describe you approach to coloring comics?

JV: Well, I come from a painter’s background; have a Masters degree in painting. That’s what my education was. That’s the biggest influence I have in how I go about coloring comics. So I try to take a painterly approach even if I do it with a digital tool.

I think that digital technology is a very tricky thing because you can get things that, they have a certain level of slickness that looks superficially appealing, but it’s very hard to do it well. It’s kind of like photography. It’s very easy to do photographs that are pleasing, but it’s very hard to do great photographs. I think in terms of digital coloring, it’s a very hard field because you have to work with different styles of art; you have to work very fast; you have to know what is acceptable commercially. I personally like to work with artists whose work I really like.

I like to talk to them about what approach I should take with their work. I’ve been lucky to work with people like J.H. Williams, Paul Pope or Ryan Sook or Scott Hampton – A lot of my favorite artists. Of course, I just got off working with Jae Lee, who is a great artist and friend, and we worked together for many years. I’ve been spoiled that way, because I never really had to compete for regular jobs. I always had artists that I had partnerships with that would ask for me. I would work with them.

Then building relationships with different editors about what I can deliver and so forth.

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BF: How is it different working with J.H. Williams than it is working with Paul Pope?

JV: Well, their style[s are] very different. Both of them see the work how it would be in color, in their heads. J.H. has a very specific way of explaining what he wants and he likes to mix up styles. He likes to challenge me by having me do things from completely flat and graphic to painterly to very expressive strokes, monochromatic, multi-colors, all sorts of things. Paul wants a more uniform look, more traditional in that sense, but not traditional as in American comics. We looked at Metal Hurlant, the French Heavy Metal, together and there were some things in the 80s that he really liked: application of flat color, bold, very particular things, very slight texture. Paul likes a unified look. J.H. Likes great variation to go with the art styles he’s using for different moments in the story.

BF: What tasks do you set out to achieve when you start working on coloring another artists pages?

JV: Tasks in terms of difficulties?

BF: Storytelling or in terms of physical tasks.

JV: I read the story first. I can’t color anything without reading the story. And as I said, I like to get input from the artist and the editor. Sometimes a lot of input, sometimes hardly any. Then I try to think about what would serve the story best. Once I determine what kind of style I’m going to use, if I’m going to be more or less painterly or more or less graphic, I try to think what the visual rhythms happening in the story are, and the different sequences. I like to separate sequences by giving them a different temperature, a different kind of lighting, a different kind of…

BF: Palette?

JV: Yes. And I try to harmonize the colors in a subtle way that the reader may not be able to tell. I don’t like to have an orange scene and a blue scene and a green scene, but it’s something very dramatic, like J.H. would ask me for –

BF: Like the fight scenes in Desolation Jones?

JV: Which was very specific for that, but in a normal kind of story, I sort of like what I do to be almost invisible, but just to accentuate what the artist is doing. So if there’s a moment of heightened action, drama, emotion… A good example is – it’s very short but I got the honor to color a story that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale did for Superman based on Sam Loeb.

BF: For Superman/Batman #26?

[Editors note – the late Sam Loeb is the son of writer Jeph Loeb. Sam had plotted most of the issue before succumbing to cancer. Many writers and artists collaborated to complete the comic as a tribute to Sam’s life.]

JV: That’s right. I did that in watercolor, but it was digitally manipulated later. And that’s a very emotional story, and it’s very, very beautiful and very poetic – very sensitive subject matter. Tim Sale has a wonderful way to leave the artwork open so the color can say a lot. I pushed myself very hard in that story to create something that would have integrity, would be very beautiful would be emotional without being sentimental, because that’s the way the story was written. So without over-intellectualizing the process, I think it’s important to find what would serve the story, so you can really emphasize the feeling that the writer is putting in the script, the artist is putting in the art. It’s your job to complement that and support it and not contradict it.

BF: What can we expect to see from José Villarubia in the future?

JV: I’m doing a lot of work. [Laughter] In coloring or in general?

BF: Everything.

JV: French readers will be able to pick up a copy of Le Miroir De L’Amour, which is The Mirror of Love that will be released in France in November, from a company called Carabas Revolution. There’s going to be an announcement about a new project with Alan Moore that’s going to be announced in October. I’m very excited because that will be full art. That’s something new, but I can’t talk about it yet. I’m doing an issue of New Avengers with Bendis and Olivier Coipiel, who is a dear friend. I’m working on a Wolverine Annual with a fantastic new Spanish artist named David Aja.

Also, I will be doing a new science fiction series, sort of a Barbarella-inspired title with Paul Pope for Dargaud. And maybe some more work for Europe and maybe some more work for America, but nothing announced yet.

BF: That’s plenty as it is.

JV: I’ve been keeping busy. I’m very blessed.

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