An interview with All-New Wolverine's Nolan Woodard
I love talking to comic creators. It's easy to write reviews and pick apart why a book is working or not, but understanding all of the bits and pieces that go into taking a project from concept to printed magazine gives quite the perspective. Despite (finally) having their names credited on covers, color artists still go unrecognized by most readers. Colors—like letters—are taken for granted, I suppose, so unless you spend an hour analyzing a book, your brain may never consider the different components that go into how you experience reading it.
While reading the past few issues of Marvel's All-New Wolverine, I couldn't help but notice the different coloring style applied to the three different artists who've worked on the title most recently. I checked the credits, and they were all colored by the same person: Nolan Woodard. The variation intrigued me, so I did what I usually do in these sorts of circumstances: I reached out and asked for an interview. Nolan graciously accepted, and this is our conversation.
Brian Warshaw: How long have you been working in comics?
Nolan Woodard: It's been almost exactly eight years since I began coloring comics. I started at BOOM! Studios, but did work for quite a few pubs before landing at Marvel, where I've been for five years.
BW: Did you start out coloring?
NW: No. I started out as a penciler/inker twenty years ago with a group called "The Writers' Bloc." That was back when you could still get a table at SDCC for a few hundred dollars, and we'd sell it there and look for paying gigs. Did some other indie books (that I don't think even saw the light of day) and a graphic novel for Dark Horse at about the same time. Then, I took a long hiatus to work in advertising at Wieden+Kennedy. That's where I learned pre-press, color correction, and retouching using Photoshop. Eventually, I couldn't ignore the comic bug, and became a professor of Sequential Art, focusing on teaching digital tools. That finally lead me to coloring comics! So I got here the long way around.
BW: Were you into comics as a kid? When did you know you wanted to be in the business?
NW: When I was very young, I had some random comics from the grocery store checkout line, but really, my love started by watching Super Friends and The Incredible Hulk and The Amazing Spider-Man Hour Saturday mornings. My interest in the printed medium didn't begin until 7th grade, where we had a specific reading time prior to our first period class. I had forgotten my book one day, so a friend lent me his Uncanny X-Men #247 to read. After that, I knew I wanted to make comics. I love the format. All through middle school and high school, I made my own books and sold them to classmates and teachers.
BW: I’d like to talk about process in general, and Wolverine specifically. So, in broad strokes, what does your process look like? What do coloring Juann (Cabal), coloring Marco (Failla), and coloring Djibril (Morissette-Phan) have in common?
NW: They're all different aesthetically, and the issues they drew are all very different tones, too, so the common thread is really just the character. That doesn't change my technical process though. I read the script once I get at least a few pages to follow along with. That informs me of mood and tone. At that point, I consider the quality of the line art and get to coloring.
BW: What software/hardware do you use?
NW: Adobe Photoshop CS6 for coloring, and I primarily use a Cintiq, but have a dual monitor setup, so I have email and/or Adobe Bridge open on the other monitor to keep track of the entire issue at once. I'm one of those weirdos that uses a gamepad rather than a keyboard for Photoshop, too.
BW: If I want to add color to something in Photoshop, like a gradient, I know how to create a selection and then apply a fill. How much of your work is this sort of selection-based filling vs. applying color with brushes?
NW: You're talking about rendering style then. I do try and follow the line art, but it also depends on the story. If something is rather graphic, then I go flat. If something is more detailed, then I go detailed. The longer I color, though, the more I use brushes. There's something very attractive about the textural quality of brushes, but to each his own. There is no One Way. You find the way that works for you, and this is mine.
BW: A lot of modern colorists make liberal use of complex lighting effects, and in my opinion, a select few do this better than the rest. Having seen your colors on lines from three different artists, I’m very impressed with how you choose to lean more or less into this sort of approach depending on the artist. With Juann, you have plenty of diversity in tone, sometimes subtly, but not so much reflective light. With Marco, you go full-tilt, with shininess, glowing, and the like. And finally, with Djibril, the tones are far flatter. There’s variation, but it’s very subtle. How do you decide which sort of approach best compliments the line art?
NW: I'm glad someone noticed I approach different line artists with different choices! To me, there's no One Way as a colorist, because it's about elevating the team and story. Deciding on what that means is two fold: 1) you need to follow the line artist's lead when it comes to rendering—if their work is more graphic, color flatter; if their work is more rendered, rendering is the way to go—the idea is to retain the integrity of the line art and compliment it; 2) the story determines the palette. Marco's and Djibril's issues are a great contrast here. Marco's issue was a fun palate cleanser, so the palette could go bright, saturated, and fun too! Djibril's issue was somber and cathartic, so the palette needed to invoke those same feelings. When you consider those two factors together, that determines my approach to every issue and line artist.
BW: Do you receive much direction or suggestion from Tom and the other artists?
NW:From Tom Taylor and the line artists on All-New Wolverine? Not much direction at all. 95% of what is there is me, and I do not take that trust lightly. It's a wonderful feeling being on a team where they step back and let me loose. The remaining 5% is feedback from Tom, artists, and editors Christina Harrington and Mark Pannicia, but everyone has always been wonderful at helping me be a better me. Their input elevates our work, and I appreciate it. It's been a wonderful experience, and I'm lucky to say that's (true of) the majority of experiences I've had in comics!
BW: Is (letterer) Cory Petit typically working with uncolored pages? If so, do you guys work together, so he has some idea where you’re heading?
NW: I'm not sure Cory and I have ever crossed paths in production, so I've no idea if he's lettering uncolored pages or not. Probably depends on the publishing schedule—and his own—but I imagine he makes similar choices to compliment pages the same way I do. Cory's lettering is great!
BW: What other Marvel books are you working on right now? Are you on deck for any of the Fresh Start titles coming up?
NW: Just All-New Wolverine when it comes to proper Marvel titles at the moment, but I am indeed on a Fresh Start book, too. Can't say what it is yet!
BW: What other projects do you have on your plate?
NW: Since Marvel has the Star Wars line, I have enjoyed coloring some of those titles, too. Right now I'm coloring Thrawn with Jody Houser and Luke Ross, with Heather Antos and Jordan White editing, and it's been a blast!
My thanks to Nolan for taking the time to chat. It's nice getting a peek into making comics, particularly those parts of the process that are harder for a non-artist (like me) to comprehend. You can see Nolan's excellent work in All-New Wolverine #32, which came out this past Wednesday, March 16 2018.