In January of this year I started working as a colourist alongside my husband Tom, on the John Matthews graphic novel interpretation of Le Morte D’Arthur. This is an intensely collaborative project – a dead author and a living one, Tom doing all the lines and then me doing the colour, and then Tom doing the final things in photoshop – not least sometimes dropping his lines back in on top of my work. Someone else will be lettering the pages.
I’ve worked collaboratively before, but usually as an author – either writing with other authors (Professor Elemental, Letters Between Gentlemen) or as Tom’s author. There are all kinds of issues around art/words collaborations, but the artist does the art and the author does the words and for your bit you remain yourself, albeit in service to something that is more than you.
At the moment we’re working on the same sheets of paper. For the first couple of weeks I found it hard just bringing colour to the pages. What I do obscures Tom’s lines, inevitably. I’m a big fan of his pencil work, so watching it disappear from view is an uneasy process. A page I’ve coloured looks very different from one he’s drawn. The lines alone have an airy, delicate quality while the colour is solid and substantial. For the first week I had the unpleasant feeling that I was taking pieces and wrecking them. Then the photoshop magic started, and the original lines went back on top of the colour. A whole new thing emerged, something that wasn’t really him and isn’t really me. The third artist who is more than the sum of its parts. We’ll probably call it ‘Brown’.
A great deal of talking goes on around each page – an advantage we have, as most comics artists do not sit at the same table as the colourist. We’re finding out what our individual strengths are, where to back off and let the other one handle it, where to be ok about the end result not looking like our bit. I’ve started trying to do on paper some of the things we thought would happen in photoshop – candle glows, mist… and I spend time watching Tom do the final work on the piece. In seeing what changes he makes I can better see how to get the page right in the first place so that he does less.
In an ideal world, we’d pass the paper back and forth between us, doing very little in photoshop. We’re already talking about what happens with Hopeless Maine this way. I had a go at the latest cover, using watercolour pencils, which gives Tom room to come in over the top and reassert pencil lines. Oils are trickier that way – slidy, and a physical presence on the page. I know it can be done, because my grandmother used to pencil over oils to get the rigging details on tall ships. But these are things to explore another day.
Cover art above. The Sky, the ray of light and the lighting effects are Tom’s.