Welcome, X-Fans, to another uncanny edition of X-Men Monday at AIPT!
If I ask you about your favorite comic book series or story arc, I’m sure you can tell me who wrote and illustrated it. But could you tell me who did the colors? Probably not, unless it’s a color artist who’s made a name for themselves in the industry and endeared themselves to readers across multiple, high-profile projects.
This is definitely a problem, as color artists, along with inkers and letterers, really don’t get enough credit for the role they play in creating the comics you crave. To help amend this issue, this edition of X-Men Monday’s all about coloring as we welcome color artist Chris O’Halloran, whose colors have appeared in such series as Immortal Hulk, Runaways, Exiles and Ice Cream Man. Most recently, X-Fans saw his colors over Mike McKone’s gorgeous cover to the very entertaining Empyre: X-Men #1.
AIPT: Welcome to X-Men Monday, Chris! You’re also the first color artist to receive a Creator Spotlight, so I really want to dig into your role. So first, what do you love about being a color artist?
Chris: On one side, that I’ve gotten away with it for so long and it pays the bills. I quit my solid, reliable job 5-6 years ago to take a chance at doing this so I’m very grateful it’s all worked out until now.
On the other side, I get to work with so many different amazing artists all of the time (and writers, but those folks get enough credit, right?). Some I never imagined I’d get to work with ever. I love the different challenges the job brings up and it can be very creatively satisfying. I get to do a lot of different kinds of work too so I’m never bored while working for the most part.
Scratching my nerd itch, I can say I’ve worked on so many Marvel things, Star Wars stuff, some DC that I would have been a bit naive to hope to have done ever at the beginning.
AIPT: Who are some of the color artists who have been major influences on your work?
Chris: I did a week-long sort of crash course with Jordie Bellaire when I was starting out and was lucky enough to learn a million things through that. A lot of it I’m still putting into practice years later. I was a big fan of her work prior to that too, so the influence is undeniable. I still love checking out her work to this day.
Dave Stewart on BPRD and that world was THE thing that made me sit up and take note of coloring in comics. I just loved it and that was the kind of thing I dreamed of doing all of the time. I’m a big Matt Wilson fan and Matt Hollingsworth too (go Matts). Whether it shows or not, I think those are the names I tried to take the most from in their various works. I’m likely going to miss someone here but I’m currently extremely digging the incredible work of Tamra Bonvillain, Rico Renzi and Mat Lopes too (hey, another Mat. I have a type, I guess). There’s a fine bunch of other Irish colorists too (Tríona Farrell, Dee Cunniffe, Rebecca Nalty, Dearbhla Kelly, Ellie Wright). It seems odd that there are so many of us working professionally from such a small population but very cool and inspiring to me.
AIPT: I feel like a lot of comic book readers may not be familiar with the coloring process and how early coloring decisions are made in the production process. Could you walk us through it a bit?
Chris: Depending on the project, I might be on the email chain when the artist is starting to do layouts and the script is in and see everything from there. Other times, I might simply get the finished pages.
There might be some discussion prior to coloring on what’s needed or wanted (there could be some references or pointing me to a certain vibe/tone, etc.), but generally, I have a good amount of say in how it’s going to look. The script and the art will direct a lot of that. The editor/writer/artist have a solid idea of what to expect from me anyway, that’s why I’ve probably been brought on, and certain stuff (Marvel, etc.) might have an established look you need to adhere to to some point if it’s an already established series. Not so much the overall look, but if it’s costumes that need to look correct or familiar settings then you are starting from there.
Mostly, I get tiny notes on things sometimes–make this character pop a little more or make that light over there more bright and things like that. I can’t think of a time I got something tonally wrong or something but usually, stuff is worked out on the first page or two and you see how the other collaborators are feeling about it.
AIPT: That’s interesting. How would you describe your coloring style? A reader sees a piece you worked on–what makes it a Chris O’Halloran piece?
Chris: I have absolutely no idea. I get that kind of comment sometimes, “I knew it was you who colored it just by seeing the piece,” and I never know how to take that or what they mean.
I imagine I stick to some level of general saturation or similar palettes a lot of the time, so maybe that’s it? I think when you work with one artist a lot too, people know it’s you. Somebody else colors them, then you know straight away because you are so used to the other style or something is a little different.
AIPT: Hellions #4 is an upcoming X-Cover you colored. This is a very dynamic piece with a lot going on in it. What was the process like there, and about how long did it take to all come together?
Chris: That was my first X-Piece since the House of X/Powers of X reestablishing, so I was really thrilled to do it. Stephen Segovia was referencing Uncanny X-Men #270 with that cover. I think I started out just giving the characters their base (true) colors and applying some atmosphere, but wanted to try and use the colors from the original too. None of the Hellions had yellow in their costumes, which made me move away from being strict to the original’s colors. So some of the purples, blues and pinks are there but shifted a little.
For this one, there was a lot of tinkering around. I can’t exactly recall now but I’d guess I spent 3-4 hours on it possibly. Other stuff comes together much quicker and occasionally a lot longer if I can’t get out of my head what I’m thinking of.
AIPT: You’ve posted a few pictures on Instagram of your colors on various X-Men illustrations. I feel like it’s safe to assume you’re an X-Men Fan. Who is your favorite X-Men character and why?
Chris: Absolutely. Big time. I loved the cartoon when I was a kid. Had quite a lot of the toys. I had Wolverine and Cyclops costumes when I was 4 or 5. The U.K. reprints of Uncanny and Wolverine solo were the first comics I properly collected, I think.
Besides my young Cyclops and Logan obsessions, I’ve always loved X-23. I would see her pop up in the Evolution cartoon, here and there in the comics, and wanted to know what her deal was because she was so cool. Reading her in the Kyle/Yost X-Force and then Marjorie Liu’s run and seeing the depth of the character made her very memorable for me. I particularly loved the Kalman Andrasofszky covers on the Liu run. I have a print of #11 above my desk. She’s been pretty great in her appearances since then in the likes of All-New Wolverine and the subsequent X-23 series, the Logan film, etc., so I’ve never been given a reason to not like her since way back then.
Emma Frost, Kitty, Nightcrawler and Magneto are other favorites.
However, I’d regret not saying that Glob Herman is the perfect and bestest character. Sorry, Laura.
AIPT: And you actually had the chance to do colors for the most recent X-23 series. In addition, you’ve done colors on a few other X-Series and one-shots, including Exiles, What If? Magik, the Weapon Exe story in Marvel Comics Presents, the cover to Empyre X-Men #1 and the upcoming X-Men: Marvels Snapshot. Do you have a favorite X-Project you’ve worked on so far?
Chris: X-23 has a special spot for me, as mentioned above, and that was maybe seven issues too so I worked on it longer. I was really glad to get the chance to work on it. I love what we did on the What If? Magik issue too, that felt special in its own way–that is probably rare for a one-shot like that. Exiles was incredibly fun too. That’s one I wished went on forever.
When I was asked to do Mike McKone’s Empyre: X-Men cover I was delighted. I’d done Magik before but not with that Bachalo/Bendis costume, which is rad. Mike’s just a fantastic artist too, to the point where I’m not sure why he’d want me touching his stuff, but here we are.
AIPT: Going back to X-Men: Marvels Snapshot–I’m a huge Cyclops fan and have been waiting for this one for some time now. What can you tease about your work in this one-shot?
Chris: Welcome to the club. If that’s the case then I think you and other fans will really enjoy it. It’s a great Scott piece. This was supposed to be out by now but was unfortunately hit by the COVID delays.
Jay Edidin is probably the most perfectly placed person to write the issue and simply GETS the character in a way I’ve not seen before, to nobody’s surprise, and Tom Reilly is just a bloody fantastic artist that does so many amazing things in the issue. I can’t overemphasize how much I adore coloring his work.
I’m not sure what I can and can’t say about the issue until it’s out but there are some different time periods or viewing points. So I’ve done a thing with yellow and blue (original X-Costumes) that I don’t think will go over anyone’s head once they see it. Plus, it’s Scott, so there is some red in there… there are a couple of surprise appearances that I got a kick out of coloring. Some for the first time for me, I believe. Like the previously mentioned Magik issue, this is a great stand-alone Scott Summers tale.
AIPT: That all sounds amazing. As we near the end here, I’m curious–what do you think the biggest misconception about color artists is among comic book readers?
Chris: Not everybody, of course, but many just don’t think about the colors beyond it looking good or bad to them. That’s fine, I don’t think you need to be an expert or anything to enjoy a comic.
But it’s not a robot or an auto function in Photoshop that does the work. Colorists are making a million little decisions to tell the story or help in telling the story.
Again, not all the time or anything, but when I see someone heavily compliment a page or cover by an artist but what they are referencing is something the colorist is doing, I do wish the general reader knew more about how it works in instances like that.
When I was growing up and started reading comics seriously, the only colorists I knew of were Lynn Varley and John Higgins because they were credited on two of the biggest-selling graphic novels ever (probably not on the covers, now that I think of it, but certainly prominent in the credits). Books on the “comics you have to read” lists. Even then, I’m not sure I gave them much mind at the time. So they must have been the good or important ones, right? (They are both amazing.) Because every other comic I had didn’t seem to mention the colorist. So if you were even interested, you had to do a little bit of a search for other ones. If the book itself isn’t saying the colors are important, then why would the casual reader even think so?
I think we are in a better situation now. Colorists are credited for the most part on covers, and write-ups and reviews are mentioning them more and more. Going in the right direction at least. It’s the same for letterers in that it’s talked about more, but probably not nearly enough in that case.
AIPT: Well, hopefully, this interview helps shine a bigger spotlight on the important work you and your peers are doing. And speaking of spotlights, this is an X-Men column, but obviously, you work on other projects. What are you currently working on you think X-Fans should check out?
Chris: There’s a bunch of unannounced stuff I’d love to mention because I could cleverly tie them to X-Men storylines in some way, which is killing me.
If you like something a little weird and dark, please try Ice Cream Man. You can literally pick up any single issue or trade because every issue is a done-in-one.
Scarenthood is a new book coming out written and drawn by Nick Roche. You’ll like that if you like a fun cast of characters dealing with a dark mystery (Very X-Men-sounding, right?!… but instead of costumes, there are raincoats, and instead of space or Hell, it’s rural Ireland).
AIPT: Hey, rural Ireland is very green–just like Krakoa! But Chris, thanks so much for swinging by X-Men Monday to talk coloring and mutants. (It’s always nice to have another Chris around here.) If you want to see more of Chris’ work, you can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into comic book coloring, X-Fans. Have an eXceptional week!