An interview with Ian Hannin, a professional comic colorist with many high profile titles under his belt including:

  • Batman
  • Superman
  • Spider-Man
  • X-Men
  • Spawn!

JASON BRUBAKER – Hey Ian.  Thanks for taking the time for this interview.

To start things out, How did you become a comic colorist?

IAN HANNIN – No problem, Jason. I’m a fan of your work- especially, the colors!

Let’s go back to 1995. Wow. I was a comic book fan, and a Photoshop enthusiast working at Kinko’s in downtown Orlando, FL. On one of my weekly scheduled trips to the comic book store, I found myself with the latest issue of Wildstorm Production’s, WildC.A.T.s, drawn by my favorite, the legendary Jim Lee. And to my astonishment, there was an page in the back devoted to their talent search! They were looking for writers, pencilers, inkers and colorists. I figured I’d give it a go since I’d had some traditional painting experience, and was fresh out of Ringling School of Art and Design of Sarasota, having learned Photoshop 2.0! I crafted a resume, collected some of my photoshop work, and dropped it all in the mail to La Jolla, CA. A few days later, I received a call from Wildstorm- a truly life-changing day. I will always be indebted to Alex Sinclair– pioneer in the biz, and Jim Lee colorist to this day, for giving me the opportunity. Within a few short weeks, I had moved to La Jolla, settled into a small studio apt, and begun coloring Jim Lee’s comics- with the man himself just down the hall. And by the way, he’s still my hero, and a great guy.

JASON BRUBAKER – What a great story.  I remember picking up that same issue of WildC.A.T.S. and spending the next 2 weeks perfecting 4 penciled pages for a submission.  They told me I wasn’t chosen but I was second on the list.  Oh well.  So since my blog is about making comics and graphic novels I’ll try to get really specific now of your process.

When you color, do you use any photo reference or do you just pull it all out of your head?

IAN HANNIN – If I need photo reference, it’s usually for background elements. With deadlines looming, sometimes I’ll search online for photos of things I’d have a tough time starting from scratch. A cloudy sky or some ripples in the surface of a pool. Maybe a nice moon with craters and gashes across the surface. In any case, I tweak it heavily- adding contrast, blurring, smudging, adding my own details, and of course changing the hues. By the time I’m done with the reference, it’s no more a photo than a Monet is.

JASON BRUBAKER – It seems like that is a pretty common practice now days.  About half the artist I work with manipulate photos for their visual development paintings.  They also make a lot of custom brushes in Photoshop.  Is this something you do as well?

IAN HANNIN – I do have some custom brushes, but I use them sparingly. I’m a big believer of less-is-more. I try to keep the colors simple and clean. Too much rendering is too much to look at. I mean, come on, the reader is READING. If I need some blood splatter, or some rust, then I’ll go for the custom brushes. But I don’t care for coloring with textures everywhere. Just because you can make blue jeans look real in Photoshop, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Ninety-Nine percent of the time, I’m using the lasso tool and the airbrush to render the lighting set up by the inker. That’s it.

JASON BRUBAKER – I see.  Do you have someone flat out your pages before you start?

IAN HANNIN – I flat my own pages. There’s nothing more frustrating for me than to have to clean up someone else’s flats before I can get to work.
JASON BRUBAKER – How long does it take you to color a page?

IAN HANNIN – Well, I sure don’t claim to be the fastest colorist in the biz. But, the time I spend on a page completely depends on who drew it, and what’s happening in the scene. I’m coloring Tony S. Daniel‘s BATMAN right now. He’s a great mix of detail and simplicity. A page of Batman brawling with a foe might be 6 panels with capes and bombs and all kinds of background location. That’s probably going to take me at least 4 hours after it’s flattened. But I have a French Bulldog who regularly interrupts me to play, so… I blame her.

JASON BRUBAKER – Wow, 4 hours seems really quick to finish a page.  Do you throw down color and then adjust it later?

IAN HANNIN – I generally finish as I go, rather than tweaking things constantly as I work the whole page. When I feel like I’m wrapping it up, I’ll give the page a good long look and make some final adjustments, but they are minor. Maybe some contrast here and there, to pop the foreground from the background. I keep an alpha channel of my flats so that I can easily select anything that needs adjusting.

JASON BRUBAKER – And how long does it take you to flat your pages?

IAN HANNIN – It depends on the artist and the level of detail, but anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Again, French Bulldog…

JASON BRUBAKER – Do you work in CYMK or RGB?

IAN HANNIN – I work in RGB and then change modes to CMYK for the printer. The painting modes just don’t work the same in CMYK. Especially “screen” mode which is pretty crucial. Of course, you will see some of your colors transform slightly when you change modes, but if you are conscious of “illegal” colors, nothing should turn to mud.

JASON BRUBAKER – Coloring Batman!  That must be every childhood boy’s dream job.  Do you feel like you are at the top of your game now or is there still something that you need to do to feel like you’ve made it, so to speak.  Or what’s your dream job?

IAN HANNIN – I’m a Batman fan. So yeah, I’m honored and excited to be coloring the comic book. In that personal sense, I kind of feel like I’ve “made it”, but I’m not gonna retire early doing this gig. The dream job is making movies. Writing, story boarding, acting, pushing a dolly, whatever. When I’m not coloring Batman, I’m putting a feature film together with a group called UNTAMED CINEMA.

JASON BRUBAKER – >I’ll definitely have to keep my eyes open for your film projects. I’m sure working in comics helps when it comes to making movies.  In animation, a color script is planned out before production begins to figure out the colors of the scenes.  Do you make a color script before you start coloring a comic?

IAN HANNIN – Wow. I’d love to see a color script! That’s a great idea! So, no, I don’t do that. I deal in 22 page stories. I can say though, that as I’m progressing through the book, I’m conscious of the need to change palettes from scene to scene. Color is absolutely imperative to letting the reader know they’ve entered a new location- or even a new situation in the same location!

JASON BRUBAKER – How hard is it to switch styles between books?

IAN HANNIN – That can be tough. But I think there’s a switching curve. Once I’ve figured out what I’m doing differently, the speed increases.

JASON BRUBAKER – Do you think about how to lead the eye around the page with your colors?

IAN HANNIN – Always thinking about that. With panel to panel stuff, that’s not always easy, or even possible. Maybe I think about how to lead the eye around the PANEL with my colors.

JASON BRUBAKER – What advice could you give to someone trying to get into your field now days?

IAN HANNIN – Assuming this person already has an understanding of not only Photoshop, but how light and color works, and if I thought I could vouch for them, I’d put them in touch with some of the editors I’ve worked with. But from what I understand, the only other way is to send samples to the publishers, or show them in person at a convention if the opportunity presents itself. The editors usually have time set aside for meeting pencilers, inkers and colorists. Break a leg, future comic book colorists!

JASON BRUBAKER – And if someone were to show an editor their work…What does it take to get noticed as a colorist?  Or to stand out.

IAN HANNIN – I would guess a certain level of dynamism… is that the right word? Dynamic-ness (laughs) is crucial, but also an understanding of psychology. Colors are psychological. Using the right colors in the right places can knock people out of their socks. And finding a way to add something cool to the art… casting a shadow across the hero’s eyes for that Noir feel, or planting a bold primary color somewhere ballsy. Sure, it’s risky- they could tell you to do it over. Or, they could go apesh*t over your brilliance.

JASON BRUBAKER – Okay, and now for all the self-publishers out there.  I’m not sure if this question is right for you but I figured I’d ask.  What advice can you give me and others trying to make a graphic novel?

IAN HANNIN – To paraphrase one of my heroes, there is no “try”. You are DOING it. You’re making your graphic novel. To those reading this who’s work I haven’t had the good fortune to see, I would say only this: Make it your own and do it in a way we’ve never seen before.

JASON BRUBAKER – Very good advice. And now for the most important question…If you were a color which one would it be?

IAN HANNIN – That would change from day to day, but sitting here right now I’d have to say C 65, M 85, Y 0, K 30.