The effervescent Jordie Bellaire was in attendance at Leeds Thought Bubble, and I managed to persuade her to talk to me about comics, colouring and challenges to women in the industry. Her name has been splattered on the cover of seemingly every comic these days and I am certain you have read a book featuring her unique take on colour. There are always high accolades thrown towards writers and artists but the colour of a book is rarely praised. She is immensely proud to see her name next to many a writer and artist, especially on her new book which features the great Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey. As we spoke I was amazed at how polite she was and how she tried to give attention to everyone around her. However this did not stop her from talking passionately about the trials and tribulations of being a colourist and a woman in comics. The first question I posed was always going to be the obvious but pertinent ones about how and why she became a colourist.
“I became a colourist because my boyfriend at the time said I was aimless. I needed a creative job, a different job. I’d just graduated art school and felt like I needed some gratification. So I started sending colour portfolios around. At first I was really, really bad at it and it took me a really long time. I’m not saying I’m great now, but I know I’m fast now. I kept going for it. My first gig was with IDW, with Steven Mooney. I actually coloured a short page angel story. After that I went to Boom for my first mini series. So it all happened within the first six to eight months. Yes, that is how I started.”
I find it fascinating how precious an attribute speed is because Fiona Staples had said something very similar to me. Its essentialness stands to reason give the importance of being able to put out your work on time. There are plenty of creators that are unable to fulfil single-issue artistic obligations. It would appear to be part of the application criteria to a budding creator career. Jordie has coloured many a book but each run is noticeably different to the others. Her style is very adaptable which is one of the reasons why she is bringing colouring to the forefront of comic art. So I asked her about her creative process:
“When you take on a project, how do you go about deciding on colour? Because I think the problem is no one really knows how it’s done or the process behind it. What is your brief before you go to a booking? How do you start with it?”
“That really depends on the book. Something like Deadpool where Declan (Shalvey) does the drawings and I look at the script that Gerry has written. Declan and I have a conversation about any advance notes that he has. Like whether or not he wanted this to be in a red room or this guy is wearing that colour or whatever. Then I just go with it and I try to keep in tone with the script. For instance Deadpool, you know where things get really dark? It just gets clouded and clouded and clouded. That was actually really cool and quite the opposite of what Declan wanted. Declan wanted it to be white ash, he thought that cremated bodies were white. But I actually corrected him after we did some research, which I also do in my comics colouring, and it was actually really dark and black. So it made it so much more intense.”
I made note of this particular issue as it stuck in my mind, especially this panel:
“Yes, that is the flashback stuff. That was on me as well. It’s weird, I colour so many books, and there are so many flashbacks. I have to make each one different. I’ve got this thing with 3, where it’s all black and white with bloodstains over it. I did the Captain Marvel ones that are all bright yellow. It’s not because it’s easy, it’s because I’m hoping that it’s reflective of her unique ability, which is bright yellow.”
As she revealed her artistic approach to yield individual colour palettes, I asked about a specific comic that I had written a colouring blog post on: Nowhere Men. This book is a modern sic-fi book and the colours are so vibrant and effective.
“It’s my favourite. Eric Stephenson and Nate Bellgarde had a very clear vision, but without having any vision. It’s really strange. When they started it, the brief I got was, essentially just, have you seen 2001 Space Odyssey and Alien? I said, “Those are my favourite films.” They said, “Cool, colour it like that.” Those were the two things I’m were really passionate about. So I think, once we started, the only thing I had to really wrap my mind around was the mod furniture because, clearly, I’m really not of that era. Nate is really good and intense because the way he sees his job is, and this is really cool, he sees himself as an Art Director, which can be a bit cumbersome. He also sees himself as a lighting guy, a set designer, a costume designer. He thinks in terms of film making, which is I think is also why the book is so beautiful and cinematic. We all think that way, on a cinematic level. So it’s really interesting in the way that we’ve made the book a movie without being a movie. I think that is why the scenes all feel so different and all the characters are so varied. A lot of it is Nate. When he says, “This girl is a blonde,” he already has all this reference of celebrities that he is using. So he’s even casting characters in roles. So he sends that kind of stuff to me too, for reference.”
It was very enlightening to hear about creators bringing in ideas from modern day furniture, lighting and media into their comic. There are only a few books out there that this connection is appreciable to the unwise reader, but it certainly brings insight to how an artists develops their surrounds. There are many creators out there that struggle to know what to do with the scene outside of their central players. Suddenly the ethos behind Nowhere Men started to make more sense and I elaborated that it is the colouring that distinguishes the characters, more than how they were drawn or their characteristics. We then moved onto who Jordie’s forefathers were and the role models she has in the industry.
“Matt Wilson, Betty Breitweiser, Matt Hollingsworth, though Dave Stewart is the pinnacle. He is amazing and he has won something like ten Eisner’s now, in a row. But somebody was like, “Dave is never going to lose an Eisner.” I said, “I want to be the person who kicks that stool out from underneath him.” It’s not that I’m really dangerously competitive, but I like to reach high. I like to really reach as high as I can for the stars. I love Dave, but I really hope, one day, I can just brutalise him and win an Eisner over him. I respect him and love his stuff and he is one of the, he is the best. When I know that, if I beat him, or if I’m even nominated with him, I’ll know I’ve made it. He is my favourite.”
As good as Dave Stewart is, I personally think Bellaire has brought colouring to the attention of many a reader. It is not just that she seems to be colouring every book out there, but that she does it so unique to every book. I was so inspired by Nowhere Men that it prompted me to write a piece on a colourist’s interpretation of a theme. She was humbled by my comments and we then discussed the surprises of her success.
“I am very surprised because I don’t feel like it was me at all, to be honest. Betty Breitweiser was colouring her Winter Soldier in a such beautiful way. Her stuff is so deeply cinematic as well and unlike anything Marvel had been publishing at the time. We had all this Laura Martin’s stuff. We had Matt Hollingsworth and Matt Wilson who are wonderful colourists, but Betty just brought in some shit. She came in and really nailed it. She is like David Fincher. I know I am talking about movies and comics again. It was always like we’d been shooting films with like Steven Spielberg ones only, then David Fincher comes along and everyone is like, “Oh my God, this is the best colour in comics.” It’s funny, because when I talk about the way I colour comics, I often say I hope I’m kind of Spielbergian. I hope I can be in the new genres, but still make really spectacular films and comics. So I don’t think it was me. I think it was really the dark and gritty one that made everyone turn their heads. Of course, it helps that she is a woman. I think when I came around it was natural that everyone was like, “Is this another really talented lady?” So I rode her coattails more than I think most people imagine.”
Jordie has once again made the connection between cinematic and graphic art and naturally took the conversation to female creators. This was an opportune juncture to discuss how difficult it is to be a woman, let alone a colourist in comics.
“I only think it’s difficult in the way that I think women do have a hard time elbowing in their way in. The thing I often tell people is that once they finally get in, they have to tell themselves, “I have to get into this portion of this and I have to fucking kill it and prove to people that I’m awesome.” So I think that is why colourists, unfortunately, have always been default colourists only because sometimes a lot of colourists back in the day were being hired only because their husband. So women have to really shove in there and really do their best. A lot of these women were related to the men or they were dating the men. That is why there are so many great female colourists actually. Matt Hollingsworth was telling me most of his inspirations are female colourists. So I actually don’t think that is a coincidence at all. Unfortunately, that has been the only job that is open to a lot of women. Ming Doyle and I were talking about Action Comics over the last few years. I think her and I looked back as far as seven years and we found out that they’ve only hired something like three or four women. A lot of those women are colourists, and that includes me. It’s a really pathetic number. They’re not writing or drawing and I just think it’s been the only job that women sometimes get. It’s a little depressing, but I think that is totally changing now, because again, there are women, like Kelly (Sue DeConnick) and me are starting small and trying to bridge that gap.”
Her passion for her craft and the struggles of the industry came through as I spoke to her. It also explained how hard she has been working to bring attention to the issues she has. As we ended the conversation, Jordie was inundated by requests from a number of fans and convention staff. Her last comments made me contemplate how not only are colourists poorly recognised but also many are women. They are intimately connected and not necessarily exclusive. It would be very interesting to research back over the decades and investigate this unlikely relationship. I find is fascinating that women are introduced to comics through their partners, but sadly it is not that surprising. It is not just in comics but in many a professional field where women have to work harder than men in order to gain similar credibility. This exact comment has been said to me about female surgeons in the past. Times are changing but it is slow because there has been progression over the last couple of years and women are playing more of a role in comics. There are a number of creators responsible for that and long may they reign because as readers, we need to show support, not just for female protagonists but also for the creators. I am not expecting people to go and buy books just because of female involvement, but to buy and realy promote the comics you enjoy reading. For me personally, I am at the stage where I will buy a book just because I know Jordie is colouring it, now that is testament to her wonderful skills.
I was very thankful for Jordie’s time and I found it quite inspirational. For along time now I have been planning to fully explore the role of women in comics and the problems they face. This is an on going quest but the easier challenge is to promote the work of the colourist. I will devote a post a month to this and already have a few in mind, including ones mentioned in the interview. This pursuit has already taken me far too long, but for now you will have to make do with buying Jordie Bellaire’s latest comic, Moon Knight, because it is fantastic.