Comic Canuck Speaks With DC Colorist David Baron
Many readers of comics don’t know that it takes more than just a writer and an illustrator to make a great comic come to life. I’m happy to shed light on another aspect of the creative team, one of my favorite color artists, David Baron from DC Comics. You can see his work in almost every Batman title on the shelf today.
I recently spoke with the thirty-one-year-old from his home in Southern California. He told me what it’s like to work 100 per cent with DC Comics, his advice for color artists wanting to break into the industry, his admiration of whiskey and his dream job of being a ball boy for Manchester United.
Please make sure you check out the gallery of his work that I’ve set up below.
Comic Canuck (CC): What’s it like to be working 100 per cent with industry giant DC Comics?
David Baron (DB): It’s a loaded question. It’s fantastic. It’s fantastic because in today’s economy there’s job security being an exclusive colorist with DC. I get to work with a lot of the top talent at DC, which is very satisfying as a creator. Sometimes I have a lot of friends in the industry (since I’ve been in the industry so long) that do other things, the biggest one that I can think of right now is John Layman the writer of Images Chew and I love working with him. He was my editor for many years. But since he doesn’t write for DC I don’t really get to work with him anymore and it definitely puts a downer on things. But the ups of being exclusive with DC definitely outweigh any complaints I could possibly come up with. DC really takes care of me. They never miss a beat on communication in terms of the VPs. Jack Mahan is one of the guys that I am very good friends with. He’s always been willing to listen to any complaint that I do have on the business side, always made sure that if I wanted another project to work on that they are very willing to give me more work. That’s something about DC that I really love. That they’re willing to give people multiple projects if they say they can handle them they’ll believe you and give them to you, where other people may not just for the fact that they don’t want you on those books or they’re afraid the quality will falter. DC has faith in the talent that they hire. It’s a very satisfying feeling.
CC: What advice would you give to color artists that want to break into the comic book industry or a specific company?
DB: I would say understand that coloring is another art form and that it’s not easy if you don’t have the talent or the desire to work very, very hard to learn your craft. It’s not going to come easy. Our main job is to complement the people we work with. To add atmosphere and mood to the story, to move the story along, much like a penciller is. I think understanding coloring is complex. It’s not a simple as people make it out to because there is the art side of it. If you are a colorist who likes to render things realistic, you have to know proper lighting and shape. And even if you’re a more flatter colorist where you deal mainly in mood, there’s still a complexity to that style that takes years to learn. You definitely need patience. You need to make sure that as confident as you may be in your abilities, that you don’t have too much of an ego because you deal with a lot of personalities as a colorist. Where you have your fans as critics and it kind of seems as a colorist they’re either critics of your work or they don’t know your work at all. That’s changing, which is really nice, where more and more people such as yourself who is interviewing colorists, and fans are starting to pay attention to colorists more, that they are adding so much to the books that things are changing a little bit. But with that same understanding it opens yourself up to more criticism. We still, writers, editors and artists themselves, are still learning the trade of coloring on how to let us do what we do instead of trying to get us to do what they want. It’s definitely still a collaboration where you want to work with colorists and along with the artists as a team and not as do it this way or that way. It’s one of those things where if you try to micromanage any step in comic books along the way you’re never going to get the best out of your artists if an editor is telling a penciller or a writer is telling a penciller, “Do it this way and only this way,” it takes a lot of the creative spirit out of the project and coloring is the same way. In that sense of advice, colorists need to be patient. They need to be hard working. And they need to make sure that they’re not too sensitive because especially new colorists can get a lot of negative feedback that really isn’t meant to be too negative. It’s more meant to be supportive, but it really does come off quite negative, which is true in all aspects of art. You go to art school, your teacher there isn’t saying, “Oh, great use of color, great use of lighting.” They’re going to tell you everything that’s wrong with the piece to shake you into a better artist. … In today’s comic book world you need to be a professional to be successful and with that you have to take the criticism whether it’s in the form of straight criticism or just a correction of a change that you could have put a lot of your heart and soul into. And then that correction comes and you’re taken aback because you thought it was perfect. You definitely have to have that tough skin.
CC: Who are some artists that you admire in the industry?
DB: It’s a wide range. Some of my artists is style-based that I really love. I love Ash Woods, I love Ben Templesmith and Jay Lee. I love that style. Obviously a man I’m working with right now, Jock, I love his graphic sense of layout and design in his pages. In terms of non-comic book artists, it varies so drastically that it’s really anything of life. Most of my influences come actually from a lot of cinematic telling. Some of the people that influence me are people I don’t even know the name of. In Pulp Fiction, we all know Quentin Tarantino, but who was the person who really was in charge of the lighting and some of the scenes. Yeah you see the credits, but you’re not really sure. So I think my influence really comes from a variety of media. It could come from a cartoon and just one scene. I love everything that Pixar does and I’m not sure of the names of the Pixar artists, but I love everything they do. The complexity in something that’s so simple to the eye, is so complex. In terms of actual artistic skill when it comes down to more of the comic books I really look for proper layouts where you’re not just telling a story to get through the pages. I’m not a big fan of mass detail in comic book artwork. I’m actually more of a fan of high intensity moments, a high emotional feeling per panel per page and when that happens I really get influenced. And it happens quite often, but you definitely have to search for those type of titles.
CC: It’s kind of an open-ended question there.
DB: I’m influenced by everything. My own imagination can take things that I see, put it through my mind and it spits out some type of influence that may not even be intended by that artist.
CC: How did it feel when you first officially worked on iconic characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman and obviously recently Batman?
DB: My DC adventure started, I was with Wild Storm Effects and the DC part happened obviously after they bought Wild Storm and I was in Wild Storm Effects. I stayed in there for a while. I did my first book on DC on myself was a Superman action comic one shot self contained story issue. It was great, I had a great time. We had some other books for them. But then my personal first was when I took over JLA back on issue 49 – it was right after the Brian Hitch stuff – and I took that over and I started working on JLA and at that time, JLA was one of their top books and I really enjoyed it. Working on all the characters, Batman, Superman, and the way the art and story were right up my alley. It was a great feeling. There were many times I sat back and said, “I am stoked to be on this project and I can’t believe I’m actually working on Superman, Batman.” Even to this day, I’m doing the Superman covers with John Cassaday and sit back and go, “Man, I‘m doing another Superman cover. This is fantastic.” And then working on Detective Comics and Batman Beyond it’s an indescribable feeling. It’s a feeling that definitely brings you joy and happiness, but along with that there is some pressure because growing up I’ve always loved Batman. And whether it was the cartoon or the Tim Burton movies, I’ve always loved Batman. So now that I’m on Batman I’m trying to keep up with the things that I love and anytime I think t hat I’m not doing my part to keep Batman as sharp as possible or iconic as possible, you feel that pressure to kick it into another gear and make it something special again.
CC: What’s a character you’d never get tired of working on and why?
DB: It is Batman. Batman is the one character I could work on forever. It wasn’t this way always, but right now the three issues for DC Comics that I’m working on are Batman Confidential, Batman Beyond and Detective Comics, which is a whole bunch of Batman. I can’t get tired of Gotham City. I can’t get tired of the twisted minds that Gotham City produces. Whether it’s Batman himself in a past story, Batman as Dick Grayson in this current Detective, or Batman Beyond, where it’s not even Bruce Wayne, the books I’m working on I’ve actually three different people acting as Batman. All of them because of Gotham City hold a strong place in my heart where I cant get tired of it. I’m coloring three different Gothams right now. One brighter, one very dark and gray and twisted and one futuristic. And I love all three because it still comes with the same emotions. I think that’s why I don’t get tired of Batman it’s because of the emotion that Gotham City brings to the plate on every issue.
… As long as I’ve been a part of Batman, I’ve been into fanboy type of debates with friends – industry and non-industry – just fans of Batman and they say, “Oh, did you read this story with so and so happened” and I’ll say, “That story was good and all, but that’s not my Batman.” I have a person Batman that I hold true too and if someone wants to write a story about Batman, it’s such a personal character to me that sometimes I will disagree with what they wrote and I won’t accept it as a true Batman adventure. And other times, people will hit it right on the nail and it instantly becomes a classic story to me and a part of Gotham City history.
CC: From a Canadian point of view, I was going through your site, ever since Canadian Club whiskey sort of helped our American neighbors tolerate prohibition, I’ve always admired the stuff for many reasons, tell me about David Baron’s My Zombies Whiskey.
DB: Well My Zombies Whiskey is a Christmas gift to my editors and other professionals in comics that I try to do once or twice a year. Sometimes there’s other things coming. Whiskey is my drink of choice. If you ever buy me a Jack and Coke and I will definitely say thank you and drink that drink. I had a cousin and he makes his own beer at home, award-winning beer, and I said, “You should make me whiskey.” And he said, “I’ve always wanted to try that.” So we pretty much bootlegged some whiskey, which was nice, and I bottled it, sent it to my editors as a gift and it’s completely homemade whiskey. Just put a label on it and sealed it with cork and wax. And fair enough, it was a pretty darn good bottle of whiskey.
CC: Best Christmas gift ever.
DB: That was a San Diego ComicCon year. That was a gift for the San Diego ComicCon to get us all through the five days of mass media. Very few people got the bottle. All of my editors got a bottle. In terms of artists and writers, John Layman got a bottle, Jock got a bottle, Bin McCool who writes Choker and some other DC books right now, got a bottle and just other friends of the industry got a bottle. As far as I know, every drop of that batch is completely gone besides a couple more shots that I’ve saved at my house just because it’s hard for me to get rid of it so quickly.
CC: Working for DC is obviously great, but I want you to tell us about your dream job of being a ball boy for Manchester United.
DB: I’m staring at an autographed jersey right now of Man U from a couple years back when they won it all champions league and everything. My friend Allen Hess who runs One of One Printing for me and just a fantastic photographer got it framed for me as a gift. My grandfather played in the World Cup for Poland many many many years ago. Soccer or football for anyone outside of America … I call it football because all the games I watch are English Premiere League , I love England. Every time I’m there I have a blast, I have a great time, the weather agrees with my pale skin so it works out well and the way I like to enjoy a beverage or two also agrees over there. I’m a die-hard Manchester United fan. I have way too jerseys, way too many autographed stuff from them and I think it would just be fantastic to watch the best football team on the planet every game live right on the sideline. If that means I have to shag a ball or two, so be it.
There you have it kids, my interview with artist David Baron. Check out the gallery of his work below. To learn more about David Baron visit myzombies.net, myzombies.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @MyZombies. Have fun and keep reading!
DC COLORIST DAVID BARON – GALLERY