[PROCESS] THE VALLARS Colors with Frank Martin
The colorist of THE VALLARS talks about working with Jason Howard and his desire to remain stealthy.
Before we get into today’s post, a reminder that this Saturday, September 30, we’ll be watching EDGE OF TOMORROW, with you, for the latest [WORLDS WORTH WATCHING] at 5pm ET / 2pm PT. We hope you’ll join us for the film!
Today, we are proud to present a special process post from THE VALLARS colorist Frank Martin. He’s currently working away on BOOK TWO of the series, but we wanted to give you a little treat to help tide you over while the series is on hiatus. Frank initially wasn’t sure what to talk about when we first reached out to him, but we think this is a fascinating look into his mindset and approach, plus some gorgeous color process shots from the initial flats to the final rendered pages.
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And with that, let’s turn it over to Frank…
Frank Martin: I’m Francisco Martins de Souza Jr, professionally known as Frank Martin, and I’ve been coloring comic books since 1998. During this period, I’ve worked with some of the largest franchises and professionals around the world.
I think in a lot of ways there are really only two kinds of colorists. On the one hand, you have colorists who develop a style and remain faithful to it regardless of the line artist/creative partner. On the other hand, there’s another, much more obscure group who tends to adapt to the style of the line art. The line between the two groups is neither sharp nor immutable, and I tend to find myself mostly in the second category. For this reason, I think it’s somewhat counter-productive, even incoherent, to attach my work to any artists, though I do welcome the idea of attaching my work to a few projects as an example of opportunities where my work was stealthy enough that you wouldn’t know I was there unless you were paying specific attention or looking for the credits. I am particularly proud of East of West and Absolute Carnage.
In all my years telling stories with colors, there’s nothing I find more rewarding than world building, and THE VALLARS offers a wonderful opportunity to do that. We get to build an alien world which is strange and beautiful but also scary and, normally, this alone would be enough guidance to prioritize my process. But then there’s Jason Howard…
Wow. Jason is one of the very best storytellers I’ve ever worked with. The man is relentless, and every single decision that he makes seems to be directed to tell a better story. He does it beautifully and his decisions end up directing my decisions as well.
We first worked together for 3W/3M on DUELS I. The only direction I was given came from Jason, who said to me, “Keep doing what you are doing.” On any project, the script is always my “bible,” and the only thing I look to more than the script is the line art itself, which in this analogy would make it God’s Word itself.
When I look at DUELS compared to VALLARS, I don’t really see any difference in my approach. That’s not to say there isn’t one, just that I’m not conscious of it, and I thank the goddess for it. The more I can make my interpretation of the story through the line art unconscious, the better. If I could perceive a difference, I’d probably overthink it and fuck it up.
When I think of VALLARS, I think of building a weird, scary, and beautiful world, panel by panel. I think of the world as a story and that is what directs my process when working on Vallars.
When I agreed to join the project, I didn’t actually receive any kind of overall pitch, just the initial script and a bunch of character designs. That was all I had to go on initially, and only once Jason’s pages started coming in did I start learning about the story and the world, so it was kind of nice going in without any expectations.
Through experience I’ve learned to qualify any expectation that I might have for any project as a bad thing, to be discarded as quickly and relentlessly as I possibly can. I do not expect a new project, even if I am partnered with the same artist a million times, to bear any likeness whatsoever to what came before – and if it does, I’ll feel frustration. I’ve already done what I did on the earlier project, and I don’t want to have to explain to myself why the previous experience didn’t teach me anything. So if I did have any expectations previous to actually seeing Jason’s art, I can’t remember what they were.
When working on something like this, where there are so many brand-new environments and characters, I tend to start by following my instincts. How I interpret it is what feels right to me. I tend to be good at it, so usually feedback from the creative team reinforces that I made the correct decisions.
Unlike some other projects, since Mike del Mundo and Mike Huddleston did so many designs at the outset, the world building visuals start with their work. I take pride in being able to handle literally anything that’s sent my way, so I’m not usually looking to make changes or put my stamp on something – at least not consciously. Removing my own subjectivity is a point of pride and my main concern regarding coloring. Of course, the professional quality of Mike del Mundo and Mike Huddleston caused a big effect nonetheless. I wouldn't be able to consider myself an artist if being partnered with such great colleagues didn't, at the very least, make me think that I had my work cut out for me.
I approach pages as a gestalt, which is also part of a much greater gestalt – the whole story – and carries inside it a number of smaller gestalts – each individual panel. Human brains work by association, and I try to keep this in mind at all points in time. I try to approach it logically, specifically, as a cartesian. It is my impression that, although as subjective as quality can be, colors can be approached mathematically. A good colorist will always be able to greatly reduce options as long as he understands the problem that is presented, and the better colorist will be able to reduce it even further to the point where there won’t really be many choices to make. As long as you can perceive and understand the axions, of course.
After getting a handful of episodes into the series, my approach to Jason’s work has greatly changed. I wish I could start over now that I actually can say I am a specialist in Jason Howard’s linework. I can’t really say how my perception changed, but I am always anxious to get the next bunch of pages and discover. Again, no expectations. I try to avoid presumptions at all costs.
The part of this project I love the most is the world-building, for sure. The world of THE VALLARS that exists in my head is just as real, if not more real, than our Planet Earth with the thousands of cities I will never visit. Ask me how a sunset looks in THE VALLARS and I’m ready to give you excruciating detail. At the same time, the hardest part of it is keeping up with Jason. He is rather quick and consistent!
If you’re still reading this [PROCESS] post, thank you. I am autistic, socially awkward, and terribly shy. I am also accustomed to being wrong, misunderstanding, and being misunderstood. It seems that the difficulty vanishes completely when it comes to my work, though. On the page I can interpret – better than most if I can say so myself – and also communicate clearly what I have in mind. I love doing what I do because that’s how I speak.
Thanks to Frank for making the time in his busy schedule and helping us understand how he approaches his work. You can see much more of his work in THE VALLARS, which will be back from a short hiatus with BOOK TWO very soon.