Jay Fotos, a multi award-winning comics veteran who is currently working professionally in comics industry for nearly two decades on hundreds of projects. To name a few, from Spawn, Sam and Twitch, Godzilla, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mars Attacks, 30 Days of Night, V-Wars (Netflix series coming soon) to the #1 New York Times Best Seller series Locke & Key (Netflix series in production) Co-creating the ongoing zombie Vietnam series ’68, Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer and also spearheading the Frazetta Comics line through Image Comics. Fotos is currently working on comic series (SYFY Channel TV series), George A. Romero’s Road of the Dead, Dungeons & Dragons with IDW publishing. Creature concept designs for the hit Netflix series, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE.
Now also available the much-anticipated creator-owned RISING REBELS horror series exclusively at JAYFOTOS.COM
How did you become a comic colorist? Were you looking to come in a colorist, or did you start as an inker, writer, penciller?
I kind of fell into being a “colorist” Now-a-days I don’t label myself as a “colorist” I do so many other things I don’t like to pinpoint just one aspect of the field. But I understand that most of the bigger projects I’m involved in I’m the “colorist” It’s all good, I just like to also talk about other projects I’m involve outside of that. I actually started as an inker, with “assists” on a few Spawn titles that Chance Wolf kindly showed me the way. At the same time was learning the computer side of things and an opportunity opened up at Todd McFarlane Productions and I starting working in his “coloring department” at his offices in Tempe, Arizona.
I’m a big fan of movies and I pay attention to lighting, tones and moods set by movies/TV shows. I was never a big fan of the traditional “super hero” style of coloring. I was more about giving an overall feel/mood to a story than rendering everything to look like plastic or wet lollypops, LOL! I kid, I’ve rendered a few lollypops in my day, it can be fun at times and clients will ask for that style from time-to-time… I just grew away from that.
Fundamentally, what is the role of a colorist in building a story?
As mentioned, with me it’s mood and tone. Giving a story more of an atmosphere. My intentions are to make the comics as less “comic-booky” if that makes sense, more realistic in story-telling.
How does a typical work day look like when you are coloring? And what do you do when taking a short break?
Depends on the project, if I’m bunkered down to do an 20-22 page comic issue I usually give myself a full week (seven days) to just focus on that project. I do have a production assistant to help with flats/preproduction, this helps me to just focus on my art and plan out my technique that best fits the style of art I’m working with… That changes from project to project, I need to be a chameleon and work in different styles on what best fits the art/story. My days are up and down, I’ll work for 20-30 stints, get up and do something around the house to stretch my legs. Believe it or not, I don’t like sitting in front of my computer and if there’s an opportunity to get away from it, I go for it. Ha-ha!
Is there something on in the background when you are working? Like music, podcast or TV playing? And what kind?
I’ll mostly be listening to local 80s, classic rock radio stations. I’ll listen to a pod cast here and there when there is something I’m interested in or some creator I know is doing an interview.
Photoshop. Period. To color a page is tough to say, it can take 20 minutes to a few hours (and this is after flats are done by my assistant and however it takes him to do it) But some times I don’t even do that and just go straight to “painting” as I call it. Just completed a couple covers that way. It varies for sure on each project that get dropped in front of me.
Are some stories easier to color than others?
Oh yeah, there are styles that are much looser and some very complicated/technical… say like L&K, Gabe goes crazy on architecture and landscapes. He doesn’t cheat, so then I can’t either.
How is your relation with Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez whom you worked with on Locke & Key and with Charles Paul Wilson III, were you colored for Wraith?
Our relationship is great, we are all professionals, we have our jobs to do and after the initial creative “pow wow” on what we would like done we go back in our caves and get to work… then at the end we all tweak and edit anything that needs to be fixed. Pretty cut n’dry.
I think those guys look to me to give them the initial first stab on how to approach it and come back with any notes or ideas. Luckily, these guys trust me enough and are usually pretty happy on what I do, so there isn’t to much altering.
How involved was Joe in the books? Was there a difference with Locke & Key and Wraith?
Everyone is hands on, but like I mentioned everyone is dialed in with each other. One guy gets it and passes it off to the other and it all comes out fantastic at the end… like a relay race. With Charles on Wraith we approached the art a little differently, from what I remembered Joe and Charles had a couple notes and I ran with it and it worked out great… I LOVE how that series came out.
Is it hard to switch styles between books? Do you try to style each story in a different way? Like with Locke & Key and Wraith?
I’ve worked on close to 500 comics over the past 20 years, with different artists, writers etc. with that, I’ve become really good in working in different styles and techniques. I love that about my job, it’s a challenge with every new artist/writer I work with and keeps things fresh.
How many projects can you have simultaneously?
I average 2-3 books a month, but then I also do games, movies and TV production art as well.
Are you a Joe Hill fan? If so, any fav books or short stories?
Of course! My wife was a fan before me, she read Heart Shaped box and the collection of short stories he did called 20th Centry Ghosts.
Do you work in CYMK or RGB?
RGB in CMYK mode.
Yes, I always try a have a focal point either on the panel or page.
You are one of the last to work with the pages, does that make you feel more pressure to make the deadline?
A lot of that is due to how/who handles the schedule, a managing editor’s job is to keep everything and everyone on track giving everyone ample time to complete their job. It also helps to work with professionals. I’ve very lucky to be working with the best in the business, so that elevates the stress.
Are colors in comics being reviewed enough? They are important to complete any story, but it seems there is not much talk about the colorist and their work.
Hmm, I think in most circumstances the colorist finishes the art. So why not consider the colorist the artist too? On my books I create, I list all of us the “artists” there is no “colorist” title. Reason also being is I tweak the art too to make it work/read better and fix mistakes.
Now-a-days I rate good coloring on “less is more” back in the day when Photoshop came into play on coloring comics everything was over rendered with lens flare filters on every panel overdoing everything. Working with the art and not over doing it I think has been my mantra.
Is there any advice you can give, for a beginning colorist? What does it take to stand out as a colorist? To get noticed?
Be flexible. Don’t overthink it. As I mentioned, working with so many artist and other creators I’ve “bent” my style in so many ways to best fit the overall final art. I try not to push a certain style on top of another’s that doesn’t work. I see other colorist doing that, they have a curtain style or overdo it and they apply it to everything they do. I can hand you five different books I’ve worked on and you would never guess they were all done by the same guy (me). I make it a point to work with the art and color it on what best fits the style and tone.
Amazing of course! Jonathan Maberry (Vwars creator) said I was a “lucky charm” for him, because a lot of books I’ve worked on adapted from other media or have become movies or TV shows… Vwars will become a Netflix series as well! Now I just need to get my own works on the big screen. Hello Hollywood, anyone listening?
Will there be more to come for them in the future?
I hope so 😉
What are you working on right now?
I’m just wrapping up my own series RISING REBELS. Completely creator driven, with no mainstream publisher, no distributor and only available straight from me at www.jayfotos.com I am also working on Dungeons & Dragons (IDW) just wrapped up a Wynonna Earp (IDW) and I do a lot of work with IDW Games, TMNT, BATMAN and some other projects we can’t announce yet. Also do a lot of creature concept art too, you see the Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House”? I helped with all the concept art for all the ghosts!
If you were a color, which one would it be?
—Ben, June 2019