So you find that your childhood obsession with coloring books has carried over to your adulthood, and you want to color comic books professionally. Now, when it comes to the technical side of this stuff, I’m pretty ignorant, and I’m completely in the dark as to what applications are the best, how to blend your colors, and stuff like that, so I’m not going to go over that stuff here. That’s the type of stuff that you will find in every other article about this subject. Instead, what I’ll do is try to give you a little more insight into getting a job doing it.
One of the biggest things that anyone trying to color comic books has going for them is the simple fact that good, competent, and professional colorists are in short supply in the industry. If this field is something you are truly interested in, then you’ve picked one of the easiest ways into the industry, just from a pure numbers standpoint. Unfortunately, your work will not get you rock-star status like some top-tier artists and writers enjoy. Much like an inker, your contribution goes largely unnoticed by the general public. If you’re good though, you’d better believe that all the editors will know both your name and your work.
The thing with color and comics is that it can add to or detract from the work. When it’s done right, it doesn’t just help the art—it takes it to a whole new level, giving it a deeper emotional content. On the other hand, bad coloring can take away from the art in just the same way that bad inking can take truly great pencils and turn them into something average. Publishers realize this, and that’s why they’re always looking for people who can bring that emotional content to the art.
What I can tell you on a technical level is this: get yourself some instruction on the best and most cutting-edge programs you can find. It will go a long way for your career if you are familiar with all the tricks of the trade. You should be able to find plenty of courses for the individual programs that you need, so you don’t need a full-blown degree in art if that’s not your desire. If you do get a degree, though, that will help you fill up your schedule with paying gigs in the advertising industry while you’re trying to break into comics. By taking serious classes in graphics you will also learn a lot about color theory and all those other technical things that you need to know to take your coloring skills to the next level. Some people are naturals at it, but many of us are not, and that’s probably the category you’ll find yourself in. You will need to practice and hone your skills just like everyone else.
At this point I’m going to sound a bit like a broken record, because I’ve already recommended that artists, writers, and inkers do the following. First, go onto the internet and find comic book pages that have already been inked but lack colors. There are tons out there; just Google them. Next, what you will need to do is save those bad boys into your computer and start coloring them. Color as many as you can get your hands on to build up a portfolio, and try to make them as different as you can. Having diversity in your samples will show you have a range for doing all kinds of things. If all you have are dark, brooding scenes with Batman in your portfolio, it will only hurt your chances of catching an editor’s eye.
As you get your pages done, stick them out on to the internet to get them in front of as many eyes as possible. There are tons of places to show off your art, like Deviantart, Digital Webbing, and Zwol. Don’t forget Facebook either; there are tons of groups there and even some publishers’ pages that will allow you to post up your work. Boom! Studios’ Facebook page is great for this. Believe it or not, editors do go onto these sites and look at what’s there. Don’t stop there, either—submit them to any publisher that will let you. You want to get your work in front of as many eyes as possible. And don’t just fire and forget; if you send them stuff every three months, you won’t be a pest and you will keep your work and your name in their minds. It will also allow them to see your progress.
Next, find a project to work on. There is no shortage of perspective projects out there needing a colorist. You can find people looking for colorists on both Digital Webbing and Zwol. Again, this is where the debate of whether to do work for pay, or for back end payment, or even for free comes into play. Like I recommended with the other creators, the first and best way that you can show you’re ready to a publisher is with finished projects. If you are not doing any work because no one will pay you, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Of course, paying gigs should always come first, but everyone needs a back-up project to do when they are not working a paying one. I would be more selective on the gigs according to the project’s visibility and possibility of getting published, than according to how much they are willing to pay you. While it’s nice to get paid for a gig, it will do you little to no good for getting other jobs if no more than a handful of people see it.
As you join all these communities, keep in mind that you are also building up your network of fellow creators and people who can help you get other jobs. I have referred people that I have worked with in the past for all kinds of other work, and the reason I did that is because they did a great job for me. The opposite is true too—I have talked to some of my contacts who are looking for creators, and you’d better believe me, I don’t recommend anyone who is an unknown to me. I have passed on contact info for someone I haven’t worked with, but they had great samples, and more importantly, they were nice people. As you build your network don’t forget to go to all of the comic book conventions you can. Take your work and show it to whoever is willing to look at it, and always have samples to leave behind. You would be surprised what a good first impression might get you later down the road.