Interview With Richard Isanove
(August 1999)

Richard Isanove is the colourist on the current Daredevil series from Marvel Knights. Here he talks about what's involved with computer colouring and what he thinks about the series.

Kuljit Mithra: What got you interested in colouring for comics?

Richard Isanove: When I graduated from the California Institute of the Arts, one of my friends told me that this comic book company named Top Cow had just moved to L.A. He introduced me to Brian Haberlin who ran the color department at the time, I showed him my portfolio and told him I was ready to take on any kind of job. He liked my paintings, gave me a little test on the computer, and basically just let me sit in the color room and practice as long as I needed. After about a week, he gave me my first pin-up to color.

Mithra: What kind of training have you had, and what kind of tools do you use (computer, software etc.)? Do you do any colouring using the 'traditional' method?

Isanove: Well; first of all I'd like to point out the fact that I am French. I grew up in Bordeaux, on the South-West coast. There, I went to a high school that specialized in graphic arts, then I went to college for an undergrad in fine arts. I moved to Paris to go to the Ecole Nationnale des Arts Decoratifs for a masters in Film and Animation. While I was shooting my thesis film, I got offered to be part of a student exchange program with Cal'Arts in Los Angeles. I stayed there for a year, studying mostly puppet animation and 3D computer graphics.

As for the tools, I use a PC 300 Mhz with 256 megs of RAM, a 21'' monitor and a Wacom tablet. The coloring is done with Adobe Photoshop.

I've never done any "traditional" coloring. The closest I got to it was a series of paintings that I did for Top Cow in the cards set called "Top Cow Showcase: The Painted Cow". But those were made on canvas with oil and acrylic, from my own pencils.

Mithra: Besides Daredevil, what other titles have you worked on?

Isanove: At Top Cow, I worked on about every book they put out: Cyberforce, Darkness, Stryke Force, Witchblade and Weapon Zero. After Brian Haberlin left the company to color Spawn, I took over as Head of the color department for a couple of years. That's actually when I colored my first cover by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti: an alternate cover to Cyberforce 26 which was a crossover with Ash. Then I worked with Brandon Peterson on his series Arcanum. I left Top Cow and freelanced for about every single comics company: DC, Crusade, Harris, Awesome, Caliber, Broken Halo, Chaos...and ended up at Marvel for a short run on X-Men with Adam Kubert, then the mini-series Magneto-Rex with Peterson. I still do some covers for Marvel and DC once in a while.

Mithra: How did your job on Daredevil come about? The first 4 issues of the new series were coloured by people from Avalon Studios.

Isanove: Brian Haberlin, once again, called me as I was ending my run on X-Men and asked me if I could take over DD because he was too busy with his new company Avalon to spend the time and energy that the book deserved.

Mithra: Gregory Wright, the colourist on Thor, Starman and other titles has told me in an interview that many colourists use the new computer colouring technology to overpower the pencils and basically make mediocre pencilers look good. What's your opinion on that?

Isanove: Well my opinion is that there is only so much polishing you can do on a turd. I think a good colorist can save a bad penciller the same way a good inker would, but there is a limit to it. Bad pencils give a bad foundation to the page and no matter how much you fix it, it's never gonna be very solid. I've also seen bad colorists destroy the work of very good artists. I think in the end the reader is able to tell the difference and there is only so much incompetence you can hide behind flashy special effects. Proof is the fate of Extreme Studios - they used fluff instead of substance and ended up in the gutter.

Mithra: Can you go through the process of how a typical Daredevil page is coloured? Do you have to scan the inked pages into your computer? What kind of dpi are you using, etc.?

Isanove: The pages are sent to me scanned so they can also be sent to the letterer at the same time. They are scanned at 300 dpi. Joe Quesada sends me a Xerox of the pages with color notes indicating the time of day, the color of the costumes, who is who and anything he deems relevant. Then I put the line art in a new channel so that it appears on top of the color channels and I do my stuff. I usually spend 6 to 12 hours on a page. I E-mail a small JPEG to Nancy [Quesada] and Joe and they tell me if I made any big mistake. Once it's okayed, I send them the finished pages on Zip Disks.

Mithra: Something I've always wanted to know - what exactly does a Separator do that is different than someone who is credited as a Colourist?

Isanove: Separator is actually an old and forgotten job; it was the person at the printers who was responsible for creating the 4 films that constitute the picture: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. A very technical job. When computer coloring appeared, we used to have color guides. Someone, the Colorist, would paint the page with markers, watercolor or whatever, and make all the color choices, indicate the light sources, etc...The computer colorist would then take the guide and reproduce it on the screen. There [were] still a lot of things to figure out, but the bulk of the creative work had been cut out. So by assimilation, people started to refer to the Computer Colorist as a Separator, especially since the separating job is now done automatically by the computer. So, in conclusion, if you see only one credit for colors, it means one person makes the color choices AND the computer work, and if there is a separate credit for colors and Separations, then, it means the computer work is done by someone else.

Mithra: How do you decide what kind of colour palette to use? Do you try and recognize the light source, or what kind of mood the scene has?

Isanove:Of course, that's actually the first step. I analyze each panel and try to understand what the penciller tried to communicate. There is nothing worse than a colorist that disregards the light indications. I have a palette that I modified and fine-tuned through the years, but I always try to adapt the color choices to the story.

Mithra: What kind of paper works best with computer colouring in comics?

Isanove: The glossy paper that they use on Image or Marvel Knights books is definitely the way to go. One problem though: it's more expensive.

Mithra: What work of yours do you think best represents your skill?

Isanove: I am very happy with the way DD is turning out. I think it's some of my best work.
In the past I'd say the milestones of my little career were:
-Medieval Spawn/Witchbade #1&2 (Top Cow) Garth Ennis/Brandon Peterson
-Cyber-Force# 26 (Top Cow) Brian Holguin/Dave Finch
-the Arcanum series (Top Cow) Brandon Peterson
-Glory#0 (Awesome) Alan Moore/Brandon Peterson
-X-men #82 (Marvel) Joe Kelly/ Adam Kubert

Mithra: On Daredevil, have there been any pages where it has been difficult for you to decide just what to do with the colours?

Isanove: I think in issue 5, the last scene, the death of Karen Page, I got a little freaked out; there was so many panels with so much detail, also it was my first time working on the book and I was a little nervous. So to be given the responsibility of such a crucial scene, that was a little too much. Joe kept telling me: "Make it really cool, it's a picture we're gonna see over and over (if Marvel doesn't bring her back), so kick ass! OK!" er...OK. In the end I don't think I did a very good job. I didn't dare to do anything original and the result turned out a little disapointing. I'm sorry. The only cool color idea is that red panel with the white billy club, but that was Joe's idea.

Mithra: What do you think of Daredevil as a character?

Isanove: He is my favorite character. and I'm not just saying that to suck up. The first American comic I bought was the French edition of DD #77 in March '76, the one with Spider Man and Namor. I was 7. The cover was so cool I was literally drawn to it. Over all I would say that my favourite thing about DD is how every writer has been able to take him into a very different direction and still make it work. In a few issues he would go from a player in an intergalactic crisis to agent of the SHIELD, from crime-fighting vigilante to mystical warrior. So many different facets and still very coherent. Probably due to the inherent complexity of the character psyche, accurately analyzed and emphesized by Frank Miller. The Born Again issues gave me back faith in American comics. I know, I sound like a total geek, but really, I believe that DD is one of the rare characters to have evolved so drastically and still stayed faithful to its original concept, without any of the subterfuges usually used to revive some interest from the reader: no gratuitous costume changes, not too many senseless deaths and resuscitations, no clones, no kids, no wedding. Just good writing generated by a solid concept and a dynasty of amazingly talented artists. Gene Colan, Bob Brown, Buscema, Miller, Janson, Romita Jr, Lee Weeks, McDaniel, Quesada are all on my favorite pencillers list.

Mithra: What do you think of the rebooted series so far?

Isanove: Another new direction: I'm anxious to see where it leads. I thought the first issues were a little over-written but by issue 7 I realized it all served a purpose and went back to read them over from the start. It's just too bad marvel didn't let Mysterio be dead. I also think Joe is an awesome artist and really brings a new life to the character. I am sincerely very proud to be part of that adventure. I think the writers Joe and Jimmy have lined up all have a potential for greatness and I just hope to be in the front row went it happens.

Mithra: How long will you be colouring DD?

Isanove: Probably as long as Joe stays on it. I'm not sure Marvel will keep the quality of production they have now if the Marvel Knights people are not there to enforce it. I didn't really enjoy seing my work printed on the 'toilet paper' they use for X-Men and I'm afraid they will go back to it as soon as (if?) they go back to the normal run. I'd like to be wrong about that though. Who knows?...

Mithra: And finally, what other titles are you going to be colouring in the near future?

Isanove: None. I like to focus on one project at the time. That leaves me some time to spend with my daughter, and I always have a cover or a promo-piece to keep me busy. Then again, if someone comes up with an interesting short-term project and the deadlines don't interfere with Daredevil, I might consider it.

(c) Kuljit Mithra 1999
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear

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