Interview with John-Paul Bove
Publishing Comics had the pleasure of meeting John-Paul Bove at the London Film and Comic convention. John-Paul is a freelance comic book colorist who has done some work with Bluewater Comics as well as maintaining an unhealthy obsession with Transformers. We caught up with John-Paul to ask him these questions.
So John-Paul, tell us a little about yourself.
OK well I’m a stereotypical half Irish/Half Italian raised in the UK and currently resident in Bristol… As a result I love using language and telling stories and telling them with passion. Whether that’s written, drawn or film – I love it all!
At what age did you first become interested in comic books?
From as soon as I could read really, I religiously got the UK He-Man comics and a lot of the UK Marvel output like Transformers, X-Men, Spiderman, Ghostbusters and Thundercats. When money got a bit tight I was rationed down to just one and there was never any doubt – it would be Transformers.
When did you first decide that you wanted to work in the comic book industry?
Well, it was a while before I really realised what the industry was. Because I hadn’t read comics for a while I still imagined they were like comics in the UK you see on the newsagent shelves rather than the incredible and daring books that were coming out. It was really when I realised that a lot of my favourite writers from TV were writing comic books that encouraged me to read more widely. What was important to me was that they were writing them because it afforded them a scope and a scale that they couldn’t get on the small screen.
You first wanted to write is that right? But then you found a more suitable role in coloring, why was that?
It isn’t so much suitable, it started out as a necessity. I’ve always wanted to write screenplays and in particular work on TV shows because I love developing characters and telling expanded stories in that way. As a kid I was always writing and I was always drawing. As time went on it became clear to me that there were a lot of people better at drawing than me, but that my skills with the written word seemed to have quite an impact on people. When I moved to Bristol our local comic shop set up a forum for comic book creators and I met with a lot of other people with different skills. One of the people who was there was part of SCAR comics who are pretty big in the small press comic scene and they produced a Horror anthology called Dead by Dawn which is where I got my first “written by” credit. I also drew a few strips but it definitely isn’t in my comfort zone.
To cut a long story short I started experimenting with the form and comics really gave me a chance to develop stories I couldn’t have done otherwise and I started collaborating on projects. Of the people I knew I knew pencillers, inkers, writers and letterers but no colourists. Deciding that one project I’d done I wanted in colour, I thought I’d try and see if I could. I’d bought a graphics tablet months before but it was still boxed! So my first forays into colouring were just to get my projects finished!
Did you have any formal art training or are you self taught?
Completely self taught. I sat down with my laptop, Photoshop and a tablet and just used trial an error. I remember the first panel I ever coloured took me 8 hours! I really struggled at first, and the process took forever but there’s an immense satisfaction in seeing the finished article, even if looking back I cringe at my output! Everything I’ve learned has been entirely through making mistakes, happy mistakes, that taught me new techniques and ways of working.
What comic book artists would you say have influenced your style the most?
Always a tough one this. As far as colourists go the ones I really love are Morry Hollowell who did Civil War, Laura Martin who worked on Planetary, Dave Stewart who worked on Fray and Val Staples who worked on the Masters of the Universe books. Val in particular is an inspiration because he’s also an outstanding writer and works bloody hard and has had success in both fields. As far my own style I tend to be a bit of a hunter gatherer – I’ll find aspects of artists work that I really like and try and incorporate it, deconstruct how they did it.
You mentioned to us before about getting feedback from professionals?
Feedback is a tricky thing. My experience has been that it’s hard to get helpful feedback. Often it’s someone’s opinion as there is no set “right” way to colour so you might get a ton of notes to make something darker and then another person might say to make it brighter. It feels very inconsistent which is why it’s helpful when you get to build a relationship with an editor so you can work each other out.
My slight nightmare story (which I shall leave the names of the players out) was when I went to see the editor of a certain big comic company and I had my portfolio with me and he said “I’m not going to look at all of that” and this wasn’t even a massive portfolio, mainly some pin ups and sequentials. Anyway he starts to look through and then begins to criticise the artists whose work I’d coloured (some of which are pros, but all were pretty awesome). Then he told me that I had no real sense of colour… Eh…
When you ask for feedback you need to have a sense of your own worth and your own skill. I’m not fit to walk in the shadows of the colourists I’ve mentioned but I had worked hard for several years improving and challenging myself and had feedback from other professionals so I knew I wasn’t that bad! But it was a massive knock, and I had booked in for a review with someone who about as big as big can be with colouring and I wasn’t sure whether I should bother or not. But I did and his first comment: “You have a great sense of colour and how to use it”. WHOOP! His feedback was much more about techniques to improve, things I could do to step up. That to me is feedback because it’s constructive. Saying “I don’t like it” is feedback but it’s also useless!
But the key thing is to take it, even if someone is rude or blunt. And you have to be realistic, because if you think your work is brilliant and there’s nothing you can do to ever improve it then you’re deluded and you’ll fail. I improve with every picture because I know I can do better. Every artist or writer I admire has that attitude. You always have to be ready to listen and learn. If someone says it’s crap it doesn’t help you but if they tell you why you have to ask “Is it within my abilities to do this?”.
What was your first project you have you worked on?
My first was a UK short story called Destroy Bristol which I wrote and did the art for. Looking back it’s OK but I wish someone else had drawn it! My first coloring was ironically for a black and white strip called Shadowplay in Dead by Dawn with linework by Jess Bradley. The first time I had any colouring appearing in a US comic it was a single page Transformers Mosaic strip at the back of the main Transformers book (which I wish I had the chance to do again). My first real big break was doing a full book for Bluewater called Wrath of the Titans: Cyclops based on the Ray Harryhausen films.
How did the position of Cyclops colorist come about for you? Who contacted you?
Through a series of happy coincidences and fortunate occurrences really. Although my time is pretty much accounted for 25 hours a day (as I also have a full-time day job) my passion is Transformers and I have written, coloured and even lettered quite a few of the fan stories over at TF:Mosaic. At one point Matt Frank, an artist who I’d been watching, had asked for a colourist for a Mosaic strip and for a sample which I duly sent. He liked it and I coloured his story which was told partly in flashback which I’d done in a warm, almost golden hue for those sections. Time (quite a bit) passed by and I got contacted by him saying he was writing and drawing a book and he’d like me to colour the second half of the book which would be set at sunset. So I was then in contact with the editor, signed a contract and then was told I’d be doing the whole book! So I owe an immense debt of gratitude to Matt for that first recommendation and I hope to work with him again at some point.
So you got the skills to color, got your first job, will you be taking steps to becoming a full time comic book colorist? If so what steps will you be looking to take?
Okay, I’m kidding, yes I would definitely like to write and colour full-time. Steps wise at the moment it comes down to sleeping a lot less and just trying to make opportunities, taking risks and getting my work seen. I’m fortunate that I’m also friends with some people in “the biz” now but that still means you have to work your arse off, it’s just there’s a better chance it may get seen! Be under no illusions, comics are hard work!
Is there a Penciller and/or Inker you would really like to work with?
I’m a massive fan of very clean pencils/inks with just the right amount of detail in to convey expression etc, because then I get to colour. Otherwise it feels a bit like painting by numbers. I’ve coloured a lot of artists I admire but purely for pleasure. I’d very much like to work with Transformers artists Casey Coller and Robby Musso on a full book because their artwork just makes the colouring a joy.
Working with Inkers and Pencillers, is it difficult? How does the process normally work?
The process is usually pretty painless. You get the pencils or inks from a server and then you do your thing and send it back and wait for comments! The hardest aspect I’ve found is if communication isn’t great or the script doesn’t give a specific instruction for colour choice. If you do something red and they wanted it green, it can be a bit of a pain after the fact to change so I always ask for any very specific instructions to be in a script. I’ve even had the time of day missing in some scripts to find I have to change it all from night to day… Not fun! But again, as colourist you’re part of a team and it’s collaborative art, and if in doubt it’s up to the editor to resolve!
How do you think those past jobs and experiences with pencillers, inkers and editors has helped to you develop your skills in coloring?
By not being to precious about my work. My instincts might lead me down one road but then I get told that it needs changed. I’ll always be the first to explain my choices and their meaning, but if a change needs made (even if it seems less effective in terms of colour theory) then that’s what you have to do!
Could you describe the process you use to color? Do you color by hand or with a computer or is it a combination of both?
I am useless, ABSOLUTELY USELESS, with paints and inks. I agonise over every brush stroke and then give up. It’s why I’m always in true awe and admiration of pencillers, inkers and painters who have skills I can’t even fathom.
Therefore I colour on the PC/laptop using Photoshop and a graphics tablet, where I feel I have total control over the image and can deliver it in some kind of realistic deadline!
What tools and software do you use?
I have an awesome little HP tablet laptop I can actually colour directly onto the screen with and a cheap graphics tablet. Unless you’re trying to perfectly replicate paint techniques I feel that expensive graphics tablets are a waste. You don’t need to spend a fortune to be a colourist, some of the best and most successful actually use a mouse!
What advice would you offer aspiring comic book colorist?
Colour EVERYTHING. Things you like, things you don’t. Take your favourite books and track down the black and white art to it and see if you can replicate it. Take images and colour them as day scenes then do them at night. Use every button on Photoshop and see how it works and affects the image. Try and get your own stuff published, it needs to be seen.
Thanks for the opportunity to sit down and talk with you John-Paul! Are there any projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to plug?
You’re welcome. I’m currently colouring a 4 issue mini for Bluewater based on the Alan Quatermain stories, and there’s a few things I’m developing as writer which are too soon to talk about just yet!