Coloring Comics: An interview with Marvel colorist Nolan Woodard


If it’s a Marvel comic, Nolan Woodard has probably had a hand in coloring it. I caught up with him to talk about what his job entails.

Nolan Woodard is deceptively inconspicuous when I walk up to his table at the Toronto Comicon Artists Alley. He’s got his head down, beavering away at his tablet, and looks thoroughly bemused when I ask to speak to him about his day job – being a prolific colorist at Marvel.

Woodard has been working almost exclusively as a Marvel comics colorist for a while now, and his credits include West Coast Avengers, Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man, Star Wars: Darth Maul, and several X-Men titles. I caught up with him to discuss the colorist life.

Nolan Woodard at Toronto Comicon 2019 – Photo by Monita Mohan

The Colorist’s Journey:

For me, as a colorist, I receive black and white line art. Now that black and white line art, a lot of times, will go to the letterer and the colorist at the same time, so that the letterer can do his job. And once I’m done, the letterer will composite the colors into lettering and tweak his colors – because that’s a lot faster – and that’s what goes off to press.

When I get the black and white line art, I send it off to an assistant called a flatter. Almost all colorists use flatters. What a flatter does is they delineate the areas. So like, a flatter would go through and separate figures from the background and then separate different parts of the costume from other parts of the costume, or the tree from the bench, or the building from the sky, so that a colorist can select those areas and make it the color they want during the rendering they want. And it speeds up the process a lot. Once I get it back from the flatter, I do my job. Once I’m done, I send off a preview jpeg to the editor, the writer and the line artist, and I rarely have edits. And if I do, they’re very quick and easy. Once it’s done, I upload it, and it’s out of my hands. That’s it!

On Choosing Colors:

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A good colorist accepts notes. It’s collaborative art so, if the line artist had a specific idea and they say “I really wanted this guy to be purple,: it’s like ‘Cool, I can work with that. Yeah, no problem.” That’s what a good colorist does, it’s all collaborative.

I just finished Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man No. 5, and I made a mistake. It was a costly mistake because it was on 11 pages, but it was mine. There was a character that was featured in a panel in No. 4, and that character is featured throughout No. 5. I didn’t use the same palette. So,the writer reminded me, “Hey, we needed him in this and this.” And I was like, “You’re right, you’re right. My mistake.” Went back and fixed it and good to go. So sometimes, we don’t get to choose [the color], but we work with it. But that is rare. Usually, as long as Jean Grey [pointing to the roll-up behind him] looks like she has red hair, it can go a little bit red, it can go a little bit yellow, but as long as it appears red, you’re good to go.

Comics, in reality, is a business. It’s about making money. These intellectual properties – these IPs – are worth millions of dollars, so sometimes we do have to say it’s more important that you recognize that is Captain America immediately, rather than push the color in a direction that isn’t immediately recognizable. Sometimes you are limited in that way, which is fair. Like I said, these are IPs worth millions of dollars. But because we’re artists, a lot of us do push and pull and see how far we can go. And if an editor doesn’t think we’ve gone too far, that’s what you get. And they help pull us back. It’s like “No, you know what, Black Widow’s hair isn’t red enough. Let’s make that more red,” and we’re like “Cool, we can do that, yes absolutely.” Because again, it’s a business and, of course, the characters need to be recognizable immediately.

But beyond that, beyond those basic rules, we’re given pretty free reign on what we can do. It’s wonderful.

The Importance of Colors in Comics:

Storytelling. I love storytelling.

I think for a colorist, more than a line artist, we can affect the emotional impact of a book far more than anything else. So for me, that’s storytelling. How can I tap into this emotional response? What can I do here in the color to make the audience happy in this happy moment? Or disgusted in this moment or sad, whatever. What can I do? That’s the storytelling that me, personally, as a colorist, I just love. How can I enhance that through color? I’m very passionate about this stuff; I love this stuff.

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The Final Frontier:

I love you Marvel… I have had the opportunity to color just about every character that Marvel has at this point. Whether it’s their title, or they’re guesting in a title. So for me, Batman. Who doesn’t want to work on Batman, right? I would love to tackle Batman. That would be fun.