Interview with Matt Hollingsworth: I’m a Photoshop addict

by deborah on 11/25/2008

Catwoman… Batman… Daredevil… Alias… Spiderman… Tom Strong… Iron Fist…

I don’t think Matt Hollingsworth is absolutely sure how many people he has colored during his career of comic painter… the list is rather impressive…

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Catwoman, E. Brubaker, B. Rader, R. Burchett; DC Comics (c)

His career can be divided into two frames: the comic industry and special effects industry… after learning to work with software for 3D animation and experiencing work at film and games industry,  Matt realized that comic painting is the real thing for him… and all grown up girlz and boyz jumped up of the excitement, because the ‘coloring boy’ was back…

Do I have to tell you that Matt Hollingsworth won the Eisner Award in the Best Colorist/Coloring category in 1997!? This guy knows all about colors and would probably make ashamed even the kings of colors like filmmaker Pedro Almodovar or designer Karim Rashid…

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you that he also worked, among others, with one of my favorite comic book authors Mr. Neil Gaiman…

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Alias # 2, B. M. Bendis, M. Gaydos; Marvel (c)

Matt Hollingsworth is one of the most respected in the comic industry, and I catched him for a conversation on his atworkz last weekend at the Funny Comics Show… where he gave a lecture and Photoshop presentation entitled ‘Digital coloring in visual media’… sharing his knowledge…

The most insane thing is that Matt and his girlfriend Nara live in the same quart as I do… which reminded me on the fact that a half of Croatian comic scene working abroad (read USA) is originally from ‘our’ quart… suburbia… and I’ve never met them…  ainsi, my super coolish readers, now you can see how comics can be cool…

Hello Matt! I’m glad that you focused your presentation on Photoshop and techniques which folkz in the comix industry could use. I’ve noticed that there aren’t many books at the market covering this aspect of using Photoshop…

MH: Yeah, there is a lot of books about other stuff. Most of the books are about the photo manipulation, they are not about painting as Photoshop is not a painting tool. They added that, it’s in there, but Painter is a painting programme. So, from the ground up the code is written to create brushes, but I think probably because of that, it’s a really slow programme. Photoshop is much faster for large files. If I try to open those files in Painter, I have to flatten all those texture layers on to the background layer, and then I can open it up in Painter. But, I’ve tried opening it with all of back group with the textures in there, no way! I’ve done it and it goes like: eeeeeeeeeeergh! Like it takes forever.

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Catwoman; E. Brubaker, D. Cooke, M. Allred,; DC Comics (c)

What do you think about the internet community in the context you have mentioned before, as sharing community? You have mentioned in your lecture the easiest way how to get brushes and textures by Google-ing it…

MH: Yeah, there is a colour web site, maybe you would mention it on your blog, and it’s called Gutterzombie. Like if you Google Gutterzombie in one word, or even if you do with two words. I’m sure they will show up. It’s a forum that has all about digital colour for comic books. Like all the best award winning Canadian and American, and like all the people colouring the American comics go there! Like the biggest names go there and they help each other. They post things and people talk about stuff. People don’t give away all their tricks and everything, but people do talk about technical stuff. I’ve learned a lot from these guys. Yeah, I think it’s great, the resources. The internet makes life in general easier. I think it just makes easier to learn anything. Like if I wanna learn, like I’m making a Zagreb wiki and I wanna learn about Arbun. Coz I’ve heard about Arbun a couple of days before, the fish, you know. And I’m like, I don’t know what is it, so I looked up what it means, what is it.  What is it called in English, I still don’t know what is it, but you can find recipes. You can actually learn everything you wanna do, but with Photoshop there is a lot of that, because it’s a computer based skill set, and there is more of that there then there is about Arbun, for instance (laughs). And a lot of these guys would put their brushes up; people are pretty good about sharing things.

You’ve colored tons of people over the years that you are in the comic industry and scene… How did you get into comics colouring professionally? Was it something you were always interested in?

MH: Um, I went to cartooning school, the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in New Jersey in 1987. I went there straight out of high school, so I was eighteen and I took a flight from California and moved to New Jersey; and at the beginning I thought I would draw comic books…

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Preacher; G. Ennis, S. Dillon (c)

So, you knew pretty early that you want to work with comix professionally…

MH: Yeah, Yeah! When I was a kid I decided that. When I was around fourteen, I decided I would go to the Kubert  School. You know, I didn’t know I would be able to or not, but I decided. I saw a brochure of theirs and decided that I would go there. And then, I did go there. The second year they told me: painting! And I love painting. I found that I didn’t enjoy drawing as much as the painting, so it was a natural thing for me that I start painting other peoples drawings at school. And then, I went into colouring and people told me not to, because the colouring at that point was really bad, like sixty four colour, flat, no gradiations, no painting. So, people just said: no, you should be painting your own stuff. Like George Pratt, he is American comic painter, he told me: you should be painting your own stuff. But then, Photoshop got introduced by image. I start working in 1991… I think image started in 1991 or 1992. So, I didn’t have to wait very long for Photoshop and I started to use Photoshop in 1995, something like that. I think it was the version 2 or 2.5, something like that.  Now, you can really just paint, so I’m glad I did what I did.  But I went to school before that.

It’s great that you had school for comics exclusively…

MH: Yeah, there are a lot of art schools now, so if you wanna do art there are a lot of them. I think Zagreb has one, right?

Yeah, but it’s kinda a little bit traditional oriented…

MH: Yeah, I have heard ‘all the best’ about it. I’m not trying to insult anyone, but… (laughs)

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Matt Hollingsworth showing his Photoshop skills at CRS

You are using Photoshop for the last decade in your work with comics but it’s not a secret that you are kind of hooked up to more painted stuff…

MH: Yeah, I haven’t paint in a long time. I used to paint with watercolours, gouache, oils… um, I prefer gouache. The Grendel Tales I did with Darko (Macan) and Eddie (Edvin Biukovic) was gouache that was hand painted before Photoshop.  I haven’t painted in a long time, no. I don’t draw any more at all. When I’m finished with work, I don’t wanna sit and work more, I do other things.

I wanted to ask are you a Mac or PC user? But then I saw at your lecture that you have some HP notebook…

MH: Yeah, I’m cheap. It’s cheaper, I’ve worked with Mac for the first nine years and then when I decided to leave comics and work with special effects in film, a friend of mine had a cracked copy of Maya for PC. So, I wanted to have it for Mac, I don’t even know if it was available for Mac at that point, it is now…

Yeap, I think Maya’s first edition was intended for the PC market…

MH: Might been available at that point, even if there was I would have to pay 10 000 dollars just to learn the software. I didn’t use it for anything professional; I just wanted to learn it. Yeah, the learning edition that’s free online, but then when you do a render it puts their logo all around the render, so it’s not suitable for portfolio work. So, I was developing a portfolio. So, I switched to Windows at that point plus I needed to learn Windows cause in the studio environment you use Linux and Windows, you are not using Macintosh. Some people use Macintosh, Mac painters and compositors, but most other people use Linux or Windows. So, I tough myself Windows and than, I tough myself Linux. I installed Linux at home, I use Photoshop in Linux for a little while at home, and then… Once I made that switch when came time to get a new computer at home, I was look at Macintosh, stucked in figuring in and you look at him and he had a memory and … but it’s 3000 dollars. You know, for a laptop… This laptop is 1200 dollars and I have this laptop for three years. I don’t have another computer to work. I mean, I have one but it’s my stereo. So, when I’m going to have a new one, I might to get a Mac because desktops here are very limited. I looked it around, and looks like people usually just buy a box, some no-brand computer. I like to have some technical support cause something can always break, you know. I might get HP, yeah, I don’t know, we will see.

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Matt Hollingsworth’s ‘Nostromo’ speed pad he uses with Photoshop

Do you now wonder how could you live and work without these tools?

MH: Yeah, I can paint by hand like I used to. I’ve painted by hand for the first four years, so I can still do that. I mean, if Photoshop would never come around, I’d still be painting by hand. Life is easier, you know.

How has the job of colourist changed over the past 8 years with all advances in digital art? You previously mentioned Maya, and I remember when Maya came out, it was such an excitement because it looked so different and cool… and it was a great piece of software…

MH: Yeah, I mean it has changed a lot; we have a lot more freedom to do bad or good. Sometimes you can see really bad colours can destroy a book much worse then they use to be able to with really dark rendering and burying the line art. But, bad colours are bad colours, I guess.

Do you think the audience is buying that?

MH: Seem to, I see a lot of crap out there. I see a lot of good stuff, too. But, there is a lot of crap; and I don’t know what the public thinks when they see it, if they even notice. People like different things, you know. Like I really hated the film 300, for instance, but people loved it. It was huge hit. I went sad and hated it. Everybody has got the opinion. Um, yeah! I mean, in the old days you basically made a colour choice and that was it. You were painting, you made a colour choice. Much more like a designer, now it’s more like you are a painter. But, because it’s more like you are a painter, people don’t take a design into a count. People just paint something like it’s a full day light constantly; and they don’t heavily colour scenes, or they do it too heavily; or it’s just one colour. Yeah, it’s a lot different now. I think you got to keep it a bit more design field for.

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Iron Fist; E. Brubaker, M. Fraction, D. Aja; Marvel (c)

Is there any particular style you admire, something totally different from thingz you did in your career?

MH: I guess it’s the stuff by Kelsey Shannon. I mean, he does really really really saturated colours that I would never do. But, they are great! He can do it, I couldn’t do it. Like it’s every colour on the page almost 100% saturated. Like every colour. So, even when it’s going into darkness, it’s a straight blue or something, but it looks amazing. Like he’s got a real sense for it, but I would never do that. But mostly, I tend to like, I guess what people say, a European style of colouring. That’s more mood based and not super hero oriented stuff. I don’t like super hero colouring much, for the most parts. There are some people that are really amazing like Laura Martin. I think she is great. Dave McCaig, he’s great, he’s from Canada and he’s the one that runs that Guttezombie board. There are some people like that and I think they are great, and they do the super hero colours. It’s not what I would do, but I looked at their stuff and I think it’s fantastic. I still try to look at stuff, but because I’m not in America I can’t go to comic shop and pick things up and look at them.  I mean, I can… there is a comic shop here, but it’s not the same. In America, I can go to the comic shop and just stand there for a half an hour and look at hundred comics that just came out, you know, for the market that I work in. So, it’s little different, I have to look at stuff online now for the most part.

You have worked with Neil Gaiman… what was like to work with him? He is very narrative… it’s a story telling…

MH: Oh, I like working with Neil. I guess, I worked on three things with him. I worked on Death miniseries, the one it was called Only the End of the World with ONI Press. Than, the Eternals. Um, I didn’t really like the Eternals, it’s just not my kind of work and the job was kinda a pain in the ass, to be honest. The Death book was fun to work on and it was fun to trade e-mails. Usually, I would just colour the pages, read the script and colour the pages; and then e-mail to everyone and then I get back one word e-mail from Neil: ‘Great!’ or ‘Brilliantly understated’, something like that. And then I’m going like: Yeah, Neil Gaiman said that I’m brilliantly understated. But, I usually read the scripts and then take the key from that, and then if you have contact with the writer you talk with them. But, he was usually not very hands on. I think he tends to grab people he likes to work with and then, really not trying to control them much. I think Alan Moore is the same way, because they can get who ever they want, really. And if they just select people they wanna work with and then trust them, then it makes their life easier.

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Iron Fist; E. Brubaker, M. Fraction, D. Aja; Marvel (c)

Are there any characters left that you would like to work on?

MH: I don’t really care about characters. I care about working with creators… I would like to work with David Mazzucchelli, he is one of my favourites and I just never got the chance to work with him. I had pretty much worked with all of them I can think of, at least… at one point or another. I would like to work with Kevin Nolan again, I’ve worked with him long time ago, but it’s been a while. Um… I guess it’s about it. To me like the characters are only as good as people who are working on them. I like Batman! You gimme Batman drawn by Rob Liefield, I’m gonna avoid it, I don’t even see it. But, if you take a crappy character that I don’t have any interest in, you have Alan Moore write The Smurfs… I wanna colour that! I don’t give a shit if that are The Smurfs, it’s Alan Moore! Let’s say, if David Mazzucchelli draws it… OK! I wanna do that, rather than Batman written by some idiot and drawn by some other idiot. I guess, when I was younger I was more into characters then, eventually you start figuring out: Why is it this X-man comic any good? And then you start looking at the names and you see: Oh, it’s because of the artist, you know.

What do you think about that distinction people have made by using the term graphic novels instead of comics?

MH: It’s stupid! Comics are comics, graphic novels are format, it’s not what it is. It’s presented in that format, but then it’s still a comic. It’s for people that feel guilty about reading comics. They have made it sound like it’s something bigger than it is. I had a friend that said to me a couple of years ago: I started reading graphic novels! And I e-mailed him back and I said: you are not reading graphic novel, they are comics; don’t feel a shame. You know, it’s just a format. A book is a book, whether is a bigger book or a smaller book. You now, I guess multi-comic is a format more like a magazine than a book, but it’s about the pages. The pages still look the same in the book format or comic book format. People are still ashamed of that, I guess. Less now, coz of all the movies.

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Eternals, J. Romita Jr., D. Miki; Marvel (c)

For the end, can you tell something about your passion for beer? You have a whole story lying behind?

MH: Yeah, yeah! I used to make beer at home. I used to be a beer judge at competitions. We would make beers and enter them into competitions for awards and stuff, you know. I would enter competitions and I would judge competitions. If you enter your own light beer into that category, you can’t judge in that category. I used to win, yeah!

It’s actually more like a food then a drink…

MH: Yeah, it’s bread! There are not so many good beers hear. Velebitsko pivo is the best in my opinion. All other beers are bought by mega-corporations like Heineken, Stella Artois, etc.

What are you doing at the moment?

MH: I’m doing Daredevil every month. I’m doing Punisher: Warzone; mini series with Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon from Preacher. It’s a first time I worked for them after ten years or something. Um… Magneto: Testament, it’s like Magneto’s origin in Nazi Germany and those super heroes. He is a little boy, Nazis are killing his family and it’s very dark. I guess, that’s it what I’m doing right now. I’m might be doing Electra miniseries next year, we will see.

Thanks a lot, Matt!