Sequential Planet visited Dragon Con last week and had a great time. The convention is full of excellent cosplayers and even better entertainment guests. One thing I noticed while there was a lack of popular colorists. This isn’t at all a dig against the convention, because it was a wonderful time for us and the many attendees this year. It’s more a critique of the state of the comic book industry. In Western comic books, colors are essential to our stories, yet the colorists don’t get the credit they deserve. Fortunately, Dragon Con isn’t devoid of colorists and had Matt Wilson attending the convention.
For those who aren’t familiar, Matt Wilson is the colorist for some of the best comics in recent memory, including Paper Girls, Daredevil, and just about every project by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. The Eisner Award Winning colorist recently finished working on The Wicked + The Divine, which concluded this month. Wilson is a coveted colorist now, but he has modest beginnings like most creators in the industry. Wilson started at SCAD, majoring in Sequential Art. After getting out of school Wilson started working with a color studio until he got into comics.
Coloring is an often unappreciated aspect in the medium, but it is usually an essential one. Sure, a fine story can be told in black and white, but having a strong colorist can completely change how that story is absorbed by the reader. Wilson is one of the best colorists in the industry, so I wanted to get to know his process a bit.
“I send the pages to a flatter so I can go and quickly select colors, change them and do stuff to them as opposed to going in laying in every color,” Wilson explains. This saves Wilson an hour or so for each page. “Then I take a look at the script while looking at the art just to get an idea of the story beats and what to expect.”
Wilson has quite a bit of creative freedom when deciding on what colors to use, but he still needs to be mindful of the script at all times. “If in the first scene there is a nightclub and I color the walls red, but then I get to the end and someone gets killed in there and there is blood all over the walls, then that sucks,” explains Wilson. “I try to read the whole script so I can set myself up in the nicest way possible: How I want to break up the scenes, the emotional beats I want to enhance, and such. Some of those things change with the style of art that I’m working on as well. Can this be just flat colors or does it need special effects and rendering? That is my general thought process and each project has its own challenges.”
Wilson knows that the choice in colors can often determine the tone of a panel. It can even be a defining piece in the story. When Wilson receives a script, he starts to visualize what the colors will look like. It’s not as easy as just picking a color and going with it either. “A good deal of writers do consider color in the storytelling and point it out, but I’m usually given full-reign. Some creators tell me they want an issue to be weird with color, but they don’t know how it should work,” says Wilson. It’s usually fun, but every once and awhile I get stumped like any creator, and that can be frustrating.”
“I do like having some kind of framework to hang my color ideas off of,” Wilson says. “For example, in the Black Widow series, I made the decision to only use red for Nat’s hair, belt buckle and when she is in action. Other than that, I would never use red.”
“All of my collaborators have been generous in letting me express my ideas. I do try to be careful to read the scripts and look at the art to understand their intent,” Wilson explains. Wilson get’s his script at the same time as everyone else, so I asked him if he ever has an idea for the color and then gets completely surprised by the art that comes his way. “I’ll get the script and in my head, I decide ‘Okay, for this scene I will do this, and for this scene, I will do that.’ I might imagine an ethereal, cloudy background and then the artist doesn’t leave room for that, so I try something else.” Wilson admitted that there have been many occasions where he got a bit ahead of himself then needed to backtrack.
I asked Jamie if there is an artist that he dreams of coloring with one day. “I’m pretty fortunate, my longtime collaborations have been Jamie McKelvie, Chris Samnee, and Cliff Chiang,” he says. He did tell me that if I had asked the question before this year, his answer would have been Mahmud Asrar. Wilson also doesn’t have any characters on his bucket list either after working on famous characters like Daredevil and Black Widow.
Before wrapping up our meeting, I wanted to know what he has been reading lately. He’s been catching up on Southern Bastards. He has also been reading Sea of Stars and Die, adding that the latter has one of the best first issues he has ever read.
So what’s next for Matt Wilson? “Jamie [McKelvie] and I are talking about some ideas. We have been busy finishing The Wicked + The Divine, but we should be transitioning to new stuff in the near future.” Whatever these potential projects are, we will be anxiously waiting to see what comic book Wilson colors life into next.