Uber-Colorist Laura Martin made her way into the comics scene in the '90s via Jim Lee's WildStorm Studios. Almost 20 years later, she's becomes one of the most prolific and recognized colorists in the industry, working on titles ranging from Planetary and The Rocketeer to Thor and Uncanny Avengers. You can see more of her colors right now in Valiant's Armor Hunters and DC's Superman, and later this month, she'll be coloring the creator-owned works of the legendary Walter Simonson on Ragnarok from IDW. Joe Kach caught up with the lovely Mrs. Martin at the Big WOW! ComicFest and asked her a few questions!
MightyVille: How long have you been into comics?
Laura Martin: Into them? Since I was a little kid. I started off with all the little kid books – Archie, Little Lulu, Casper the Friendly Ghost – basically, whatever my parents would buy me. And then at one point, my brother left me a coverless Conan and I found it and was like, “Oh my gosh, this is real comics!” It was fascinating to me. But I didn’t have the access to them that I wanted, at least not until high school when I started reading Uncanny X-Men. I was reading Uncanny in high school and trading them with my friends and everything. Then there was a long period when I was out of comics again, and then I got back into them during the Image Comics boom with Jim Lee and Wildstorm, Top Cow, and all those guys. And that’s when I started to realize that there is a career here, and a place to get a job. I was going to school for graphic design, and I was like, “Oh, I don’t have to be a graphic designer. I could go into comics!” So, that’s how I got into the business.
That was actually going to be my next question-- What was it that pulled you in to being a professional colorist in the comics industry?
Actually, it was a friend of mine, named Ian Hannin, who is another colorist. He was the one who actually looked at my portfolio and said, “Have you ever thought about doing comics?” And I was like, “Not until just now!” He brought me in, and he was a big Image fan too. So, he and I would really get into what they were doing. He got a job at Wildstorm when they were doing one of their talent searches. In the back of the book, they would actually have a talent search page and you would submit your work, you know? So he got a job as a colorist out there while I was still in school. Once I graduated, I signed on for the talent search too and ended up getting a job out there.
Who are some of your favorite characters to work on?
Oh gosh, my #1 favorite is Thor. I’ve always been a huge Thor fan. I love Thor and it was a super awesome treat to get to work on Thor with Olivier Coipel on Mighty Thor and Thor. And the nice thing is, now I get a chance to do something that I never thought I would have the chance to do… because one of my favorite artists is Walt Simonson. And he is doing a creator-owned project called Ragnarok over at IDW. That is his (new) Thor story. So I’m going to be working on that with him.
When does Ragnarok come out?
That comes out, I believe, in July. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Simonson is really into the mythology, so this is very much based on the original mythology.
I see you have some markers here. Do you do any of your coloring by hand, or is it all by computer?
Everything I do is by computer. It’s all Photoshop. I bring the markers to shows just to have something to do at the table. And I usually get color commissions. People will bring me their sketches that I’ll color in.
What do you prefer? By hand, or by computer?
I prefer both. I’m really fast at Photoshop. It’s my bread and butter, and I can do it quickly. But there’s something about drawing with your hands. There’s no "undo" button; there are no layers. You can’t go back and erase stuff. It’s very permanent. But you also have to think in a completely different way than with Photoshop. You know, one pays the bills, and the other pays in the creative end.
How long did it take you, you think, to master Photoshop?
Oh gosh ... I’m still behind on it! I started off in the original Photoshop 3, before the CS version, so, I mean, I've been in Photoshop since 1994, or ‘93 or something. So it’s been forever. I just kind of skip versions as I go along. I still haven’t updated all the way to the current version. I’m still in CS3 – don’t tell the guys at Adobe! Only because, that’s the one I’m fast in. That’s the one that gets the job done quickly. Once there’s a learning curve and I have to jump to a new version, I have to take time out to figure it out, especially when it’s a big change in the format to Photoshop. After CS3, it actually changed quite significantly.
Walk me through an overview of a day in the life of Laura Martin right now…
Okay, a day in the life of Laura Martin ... I’ll try not to mention how many times I’m on Facebook, and I’ll try not to mention my cats! (I have four cats.) I try to get up pretty early and get some exercise in because that’s the only way I can keep sane. Then, I sit down and start working. Exercise, eat breakfast, play with the cats, then hop on Facebook for a few minutes or an hour, whatever, and then get to work. I usually start working from about 10 or 11 AM until whenever I get a batch of work done, and sometimes I knock off at 7 or 8 PM, sometimes I knock off at midnight, or sometimes I pull an all-nighter ... if I have a deadline. And in there, there’s more eating and more cats.
My favorite piece of work by you is The Rocketeer: The Complete Collection. I know creator Dave Stevens picked you personally to recolor the collection. What was that whole experience like?
It was humbling. It was definitely a very humbling experience. I didn't get a chance to share any of the work I did with David, because he died before he could actually see the pages I was working on. But I have all his books; I have all of his artwork; I have the original versions of the comics … you know, as many as I could find and gather up. I tried to imagine how he would have colored it if he had the tools that I have now. And so I looked at a lot of his paintings; I looked at a lot of his airbrush work; and that’s what I tried to emulate. But I also tried to respect the previous colorists’ work as well. I mean, you've got guys like Joe Chiodo and Bruce Timm on there. So, I wanted to make sure I was honoring their coloring styles as well, where appropriate. Whenever I had questions, like I’m not sure what to do with this scene or I’m not sure what Dave would want, luckily I had a couple of guys who are good friends of mine, Dave Mandel and Kelvin Mao, who were sort of overseeing the project and they were very good friends with Dave, and they are big art fans and collectors, so they know a lot of his stuff. They would be able to convey to me what Dave probably would want, so that helped out a good deal.
What were some of the challenges there?
A lot of it was just trying to put all of these different inputs together and make it come out nice. Between Dave’s style versus the coloring that had been done before, and then still trying to be true to what I do. It’s like having six different people coloring at the same time.
Another challenge was all of the art was re-scanned from the original boards, as much as was found. A couple of the pages had to be shot from stacks. Cleaning up the art was tough because Dave had a very heavy pencil style and ink style, and there was a lot of schmutz and blue line on the pages. It was pretty tough to clean up the picture to be as clean, crisp and good as possible. Actually, my husband Randy [Martin] helped out a great deal with that. He’s a good Photoshop guy, so he was a real help.
Overall, it was really interesting and a fair amount of work, and I think the ultimate thing was whether it was okay with the guys who were Rocketeer fans from way back. I know that some guys were just not happy with the stuff being recolored in the first place, but most of the people I've met have been really cool about it.
What was your first exposure to The Rocketeer?
Probably the movie. I didn't see the comic until later.
What do you think has made the character so endearing?
I don’t know ... he’s just sort of adorable. He’s not a superhero; he’s just this regular dude who happens to come across this thing, and I think people can relate to it the “regular dude” aspect of the character. And he’s got a hot girlfriend! I mean, come on, Betty Page! I think that’s the charm of it – this guy finds this interesting piece of machinery and does something really cool with it. For better or for worse, it’s still hilarious. It’s still exciting to see this guy… I mean, we all want to be the guy who can fly and has a hot girlfriend!
Thanks for your time, Laura. We can't wait for Ragnarok!
What's your favorite series colored by Laura Martin? Let us know below!
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