While penciler and inker may be the marquee art jobs in comics, colorists have traditionally been more underappreciated by fandom at large. But a good colorist can elevate a book in ways both obvious and not. Take Rebecca Nalty, who learned her craft from one of the best in the business (Keep reading to find out who.), and, since then, has built both an equally impressive reputation and body of work.
First off, the basics…
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Colorist
Your home base: Dublin, Ireland
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: To start with the big question: Why comics? What attracts you to making comics specifically over other artforms?
Rebecca Nalty: That is a big question to start with! I love stories, particularly character-driven ones, so any visual medium that can be used to communicate a story is going to be something that interests me. Particularly when an artform leans into its own uniqueness to aid in its storytelling and worldbuilding, I think that’s so special and fascinating. I respect and admire the artistry involved in the creation of all forms of art, but because I also happen to love to draw, comics have always been something that I’ve enjoyed creating.
KS: Let’s go right into the specific process of coloring a comic. You receive the artwork and then your first steps are what?
RN: I always find talking about this very quickly gets into Photoshop technical jargon, but I’ll try! So, I’ll receive the artwork and script from my editor. Sometimes, I’ll get reference material to work with, sometimes not —this is way more common with licensed series— but either way I like to start a new series by doing some research and coming up with a bit of a mood board for how I want it to look.
The next step is to prepare the artwork for my flatter. I do this by separating the black inks from the white page in Photoshop and then sending the prepared page to them. The next day I’ll usually get the flatted page back and I’m ready to start coloring. Flatting is a very necessary, but time consuming, step in coloring comics — it’s basically a safeguard layer that allows me to change colors quickly, done with the lasso and fill bucket tools. I hate doing it myself, so I’m very happy there’s people out there willing to let me pay them to do it for me!
KS: How do you — or colorists in general — typically find each new assignment you’re part of?
RN: I think it’s much more common for the assignment to find the colorist! Unless it’s a situation where an artist, writer, colorist, and letterer all organically happen to come together to create a book, normally the colorist is a later addition, sometimes much, much later into the creation of a book than you might think. Usually a book will be in early production, say issue #1 is currently being drawn, and the book’s editor will seek out a colorist that fits the project.
KS: While line artists might have a style that obviously evolves over time, do you think that’s true for colorists? Do you see that in yourself?
RN: I think so! I’d say colorists have less of a “style” than line artists because it’s our adaptability that gets us enough work to be able to make a living doing this job. If a line artist is hired for a specific look they bring, a colorist tends to be hired for being able to seamlessly make any artist’s work shine. But for me, I do tend to have brushes and techniques that I happen to like using and my work leans towards more flat or cel shaded rendering rather than a heavily painterly style.
KS: As a comics reader, what do you appreciate about the coloring in other books?
RN: I think just knowing how fast the turnaround time often is in comics, I’m always impressed when I see any book that clearly has enormous amounts of love and work gone into the coloring! Which I know is incredibly vague. Anything that has a lot of color holds especially is always so impressive to me because they take so long, but look so good.
KS: Are you able to look at comics purely for pleasure, or is there always some part of your artistic brain at work as you flip pages?
RN: Oh, for sure! I really don’t mind that though. I think once you know how the sausage is made, so to speak, it’s impossible to turn that side of your brain off. I wouldn’t want to even if I could, because it allows me to appreciate the work gone into comics even more and a degree of understanding when I can clearly tell something was done in a rush or under pressure. Reading comics is so much more inspiring for me now, too, since working in the industry. I get to enjoy someone else’s work and also take in tips and techniques I might want to try out myself in my own work!
KS: Going back to your early reading days, do you have a memory of the first time you encountered comics? Or if not the first time, what your earliest exposure would have been?
RN: I do! I had a friend back in primary school whose granddad worked at our local newsagents, and she used to get loads of free comics from him. We used to read the Archie Sonic the Hedgehog comics together and redraw the panels we liked — I was a big fan of Tails.
KS: So, she’d have a new stack of comics at her house each week, or you two would go to the newsagent and have your pick?
RN: The former! We used to go to each other’s houses after school every Friday and whenever it was my turn to go to hers, I’d always be greeted by a big stack of new comics. She let me borrow them a lot too, and I’d reread the same issues over and over again, but that really didn’t matter, I was just so enamored with them!
KS: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. What’s a comic story that had a real impact on you as a reader?
RN: Growing up in Cork, I didn’t have great access to comics in general, but that slowly started changing during my teen years when I discovered manga. I started reading Fruits Basket when I was about 15 and it felt like nothing I’d ever encountered before. It was my first time reading such a long-form story with layered, complicated characters who sometimes make bad decisions, experience traumas, and find healing through love and understanding. It felt very “adult” to me at the time in a lot of ways, so maybe that’s part of why it left such an impression, but it was also a gateway into the world of manga where I’ve since encountered countless impactful stories that have meant a lot to me. It was definitely a case of right place, right time in terms of my age. The majority of the Fruits Basket cast are teenagers, which gave the setting a degree of relatability for me, but their problems [were] very adult and more than anyone their age should have to bear.
KS:. Can you recall the first serious piece of art you remember creating? Not necessarily comics, but anything that felt like a big deal to you at the time.
RN: I worked on a collaborative project with a friend when I was maybe 11/12 that I think definitely fits this criteria! We created a team of superhero girls who were half animal, half human, very inspired by Totally Spies, Powerpuff Girls, Sailor Moon, and basically all other cartoons of that genre at the time. The original goal was to pitch it to Nickelodeon — which, looking back, is so charming that we thought that was an easy thing for two 12-year-olds to do — but eventually it just became an ongoing project we worked on together where we wrote stories to flesh out the world and characters. We definitely incorporated aspects of other pieces of media we were enjoying at the time, but it was still such a fun time and such a creative way for us to express our love for all those other interests we had at the time. We kept writing stories for about five years together before school got too busy and we kinda went our separate ways, but I look back on that time with so much fondness.
KS: Amazing. Do you still have those old materials?
RN: I actually do! Everything is in a fairly large stack of hardback copybooks that I’ve dragged around with me every time I’ve moved, but I just can’t find it in myself to finally dump everything. I don’t know if I ever will; I think it’s something I’d regret if I ever did.
KS: When was the last time you looked at them?
RN: I haven’t actually looked through any of the materials for a long time, a couple of years at least, but thinking about it is really making me feel nostalgic. I have everything except for the very first copybook — they’re all numbered and dated like the good, organized kids we were — containing the initial designs and earliest stories. Definitely a big shame that one is lost forever; it would have been great to have the complete timeline of how to whole thing evolved.
KS: When did the idea of pursuing art professionally originally occur to you?
RN: I think I always wanted to but never had any real idea of what that would look like or what path I could take. I didn’t really understand the concept that the comics I was reading, the cartoons I was watching, etc. were made by adults who did that as their job until I was in my later secondary school years and that’s when it all clicked! I decided I wanted to go into animation once I discovered there was a college course I could do and because animation was a big passion for me at the time.
KS: Then, how did your first comics job come about?
RN: My first job was coloring a BOOM! Studios series back in 2017 called Ladycastle. At the time I’d been doing an internship with Jordie Bellaire, so I felt very lucky that I had her guidance and help working on my first project. It came about likely because of the internship and making it known on Twitter that I was looking for coloring work and frequently posting samples of what I could do. That’s still the way jobs come about, honestly — self promotion on Twitter is a very important way to get eyes on your work.
KS: Help me out on the timeline, as far as the path from a college animation course to the internship with Jordie.
RN: That was actually all down to Jordie, too! One of my college tutors is a friend of hers and invited her to do a talk about coloring comics for the whole animation department when I was in my third year. At that point I was kind of struggling with what I wanted to pursue after graduating because I knew I didn’t want to be an animator, but other aspects of the industry don’t get as much of a focus in the course I did. I’d always been good with color, but working on color scripts for animation is more or less an LA-exclusive job so it’s not something I could have done in Dublin. Until attending Jordie’s talk, I had no idea coloring comics was a job I could do, but it felt like such a light bulb moment.
KS: What did your animation output look like before you got that internship?
RN: I worked as a background artist in animation after I graduated, but while I was between contracts happened to see Jordie was taking on colorist interns and thought it was the perfect opportunity. I never thought for a second I’d actually get a place in the internship —I almost didn’t complete the second round of the application because I didn’t think I’d even get that far and was scared I’d get picked— but I’m so glad I did. I wouldn’t be doing this job if it weren’t for her, and I’m so grateful for the time and dedication she put into teaching, especially considering how busy she is!
KS: Why is coloring a good role for you in the comics medium? Had you ever aspired to be an artist in the more traditional sense (i.e., penciler/inker)?
RN: Primarily because I just happen to love color and everything it can bring to a story or a piece of art in general, but definitely also because drawing can be creatively exhausting. While working in animation I found I was struggling to find the time and energy to draw for myself after work and noticing I was losing that made me so sad. Coloring is a much more ideal fit for me because I get to be creative, but keep drawing as a hobby that’s just for me and without the pressure of needing to use it to make money.
KS: These days, do you have a set daily or nightly work routine, or does it vary wildly depending on project?
RN: It varies for sure, but never too wildly. At the start I was working crazy hours because I wasn’t able to work as fast as I can now and because my deadlines tended to be far more demanding than what they are now. I had to say yes to anything I was offered back then, no matter how quick the turnaround time was, just so I could have the opportunity to prove myself and it was… very tiring. But I also learned how to spot red flags quite quickly. These days I usually work 9-6 Monday to Friday, unless a special circumstance comes up where I need to put in some extra hours to make a deadline. My free time is extremely important to me, so I make sure weekends and time off are a big priority.
KS: Tell us about a moment of pride or joy from anywhere on your artistic journey. Something that, when you think back on it, maybe still makes you smile.
RN: Getting asked to work on GLOW with IDW is a big one that comes to mind! I’m a big fan of the Netflix series, so that was exciting in and of itself, but I also ended up working with two of my favorite editors: Elizabeth Brei and Megan Brown, and artist Hannah Templer whose work I’d admired for years and was told she specifically asked for me! The whole project was just so much fun from start to finish and one of those books where you could tell everyone was having a great time. Working with Tini Howard, Aimee Garcia, and AJ Mendez was so great, too. Just a very lovely time overall!
KS: How about a hobby of yours unrelated to making art or comics?
RN: I said before I’m a big enjoyer of stories, so I love video games, movies, TV series, and anime. I also love to draw and cosplay. But outside of my more artistic and fandom-related hobbies, I love going for long nature walks, cooking, baking, dance classes, and traveling. And spending time with my dog and girlfriend!
KS: To spread some more love, what’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest?
RN: Definitely Kamome Shirahama’s Witch Hat Atelier. It’s magnificently drawn, her layouts are just breathtakingly beautiful, and the cast of characters are brimming with charm. It’s also got fantastic worldbuilding and a story that becomes more and more intriguing despite its relatively simple beginning. It’s really just the full package in terms of representing the medium of comics — I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
KS: Finally, what do you have upcoming that fans should be on the lookout for?
RN: I’m currently splitting my time between comics and an upcoming, not-yet-announced video game from an Irish studio. I don’t think this game will be announced for awhile, we’re still in very early pre-production so I won’t be able to disclose the name unfortunately! I’m also currently working on Radiant Pink with Image and Know Your Station with BOOM! Studios.
KS: Can you give a vague hint, a concrete hint, or outright say what your role is on the game?
RN: To be honest, it’s more or less what I do in comics, actually very specifically the same without giving too much away. But I’m also working on anything else that involves color in general, like color scripts and character color palettes. I’m the color guy!