There's no Marvel hero who is tied to one single color more than Daredevil and the color red. And a big part of that in recent years has been colorist Matt Wilson.
The Atlanta-based artist took over as colorist on Daredevil after Javier Rodriguez segued to illustrating full-time on Spider-Woman. Wilson, who had worked with Chris Samnee on other series in the past, took on what Rodriguez and Munsta Vincente had laid down before in terms of palette and color sense for the final eleven issues.
And now that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's critically-acclaimed run on Daredevil is complete, Newsarama talked with Wilson about joining the series mid-run and how he and Samnee worked together to create the look of the Man Without Fear.
Newsarama: Matt, you joined Daredevil with #8 of the fourth volume, picking up from Javier Rodriguez and Munsta Vincente before him. What were your thoughts coming into this book at that time?
Matt Wilson: I was thinking, "This'll be tough." The color work on Daredevil before I joined the title had been great. I had big shoes to fill, for sure. On top of the colors being great, the colors were doing things that I would've never thought of doing on a Daredevil book. There were bright, saturated pops of color used in places I wouldn't have thought of using them. There were also places where I might've painted in some texture but were instead left flat, which I really liked. I knew that I wanted to carry on the same tone of the previous colors when I came on the book. Especially since I came on in the middle of a volume, and well in to a long run that had a consistent stylistic voice. But I also know that no two colorists are alike, and that I'd never be able to match what Javier and Munsta brought to the book exactly. I've been tasked with matching another colorist's work in the past. Its not that fun, and often takes longer since I have to get out of my head and try to get in to their head. So I took this as an opportunity to learn, and re-read the entire Mark Waid run of Daredevil a few times over, looking for when and where certain colors or techniques were used. Once I felt like I understood what made the previous colors work so well I incorporated some of those ideas in to my natural coloring instincts and dove in.
Nrama: You colored over Chris Samnee's work frequently before this, but what kind of conversations did you have with him on this specific project?
Wilson: In this case it was about continuing the tone that had been long established for this Daredevil run. I definitely felt like a caretaker of this book's colors. Personally, as a reader, I love when a large body of work is done by one creative team. While this long run of Daredevil has had multiple artists and colorists, the overall style has remained very consistent. So basically my goal was, "Don't screw it up." As you noted, Chris and I have worked together a lot in the past and I know a lot of his likes and dislikes when it comes to color. So we didn't have much to discuss other than we were glad to be working together again.
Nrama: Was it harder coming into a run in process with the visual identity somewhat established, rather than being there for the beginning of the run?
Wilson: Not harder, exactly. Just different. I mean, there's a lot of things already thought out and established, so there's less thinking on my part, which can be considered easier in a way. I do enjoy building a book's look from the beginning, but I also don't mind coming in and playing in another colorist's world.
Nrama: At what point in the Daredevil series did you feel like you had it down pat and the "new"-ness had worn off?
Wilson: By the Stuntman arc (#11 and #12, I think). That first arc was tough, but I felt at home by my fourth and fifth issue. After that things pretty much clicked for me in every issue.
Nrama: What do you think was the biggest risk you took in the series?
Wilson: None, really. Like I've said before, I was following a well-established look. And while the previous colors weren't exactly like my style, I feel like my work is at least on the same end of the style spectrum as what came before.
Nrama: Were there any challenges particular to working on this book that you found out over the course of your run?
Wilson: There's a particular challenge with this type of book for me personally, which is that it's hard for me to color books set in very mundane, real-world settings and making those visually interesting. I mean, if I'm coloring spaceships with their engines blasting them across a crazy star field, there's a lot of obvious things for me to latch on to that can really "wow" a reader. But in a book like Daredevil I'm coloring a lot of alleyways, rooftops, law offices, and street scenes. Of course I know there's a lot of subtle beauty in places like that, and there are certain things I can do to accentuate that beauty. Like how light floods in through a window, or the time of day and color of the sky while on a rooftop. So, instead of one obvious coloring cue like, "Oh, a big pop of color and lighting coming from this laser rifle", it's, "there are a number of lighting/texture/palette options for this scene, so which one will really work the best?" Luckily, an artist like Chris makes my job much easier in cases like this. He's thinking about dramatic lighting, and interesting staging and composition of his shots. With such great art to work with I'm easily inspired and the work I do looks better because it's laid over such a solid and interesting framework.
Nrama: Given that this is Daredevil, having red as the dominant color is a given. And a hero having one overriding color like this is rare, but what did it do for you as colorist?
Wilson: It taught me not to be afraid of that strong color. We usually did the same thing that they did in Hellboy, which is always have Daredevil be red, regardless of his environment and how it should affect him. If you put red fabric in various environments and lighting conditions it'll look very different. But rather than focus on trying to mimic reality we instead played up how iconic that red suit is. You'll notice that sometimes the red I used had more magenta in it than yellow or vis-a-versa, but it was hardly ever muted and almost always saturated. This really helps in displaying Daredevil's fighting and acrobatic abilities on the page. Having Daredevil be a very saturated red against his often desaturated environments, you could easily follow the beautiful choreography Chris was doing from panel to panel.
Nrama: What were your influences in the color choices in your work here?
Wilson: The colors that came before me on the series, and a healthy dose of photo reference of San Francisco!
Nrama: Can you talk about the palettes you used in this series, and maybe show us some examples?
Wilson: So a lot of the palettes were built around a character's dominant color, or a feature in the environment's dominant color. In my first issue on the series we were dealing with the Purple Man and his purple kids. In this case having such prominent parts of the story being purple is a nice place to start when thinking about palettes. Based off the purple I decided on a triadic color scheme of purple, green, and orange. These three colors all sit equally spaced from each other on the color wheel and can work really well together. So the purple was for the characters obviously. I used a warm orange/yellow light to light the foreground of the scene, and then I used cooler greens to color the room in the background. The green completes the triadic scheme and using cooler greens helps the background recede from the warmer foreground colors. I used this scheme a lot during this three-issue story arc.
Another example is this spread showing the new Stuntman performing a stunt. I made the majority of the palette analogous, with greens and blues, to give a calm feel to the colors that shows that his stunt was a practiced performance. Everything's under control! But then to accent the danger, and possibility that something had gone wrong with his performance, I used warm oranges and yellows from the other side of the color wheel. Those warmer accent colors only last a few panels, and as Stuntman appears unharmed, the palette is once again analogous.
My third example is this spread set in a baseball stadium. The script didn't mention a time of day, and the drawing didn't strongly suggest anything specific in terms of day or night. However, the script did mention that Kristen's father was rich enough to rent out a professional baseball stadium take batting practice. As I was trying to construct an interesting color palette and lighting scheme for the scene I thought, well, he should be rich enough to pay the electric bill for turning on the lights as well!
It's these types of things that add a layer to the storytelling, and make my job easier and more fun. Easier because I have a solid direction to work from, and fun because I get to participate in the storytelling. Practically, this decision allowed me to have the field and our characters brightly lit, then the stands could recede into the shadows, and then a nice subtle sunset in the sky could add a third plane (planes being foreground, middle ground, background) and create some depth. I remember this scene being a hard one to figure out, but was glad I took the time to work it all out because I was quite happy with the results.