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Mike Aragona - Freelance Writer / Editor

In Conversation


Matt Hollingsworth — (July 1997) One of the strangest things about being on CompuServe's Comics and Animation Forum is "meeting" and getting to know a creator through his/her words and actions/reactions, sometimes before seeing their work in print. This was the case for a number of pros (as I've recounted in earlier Comicopias regarding Warren Ellis, for example) and is true for today's guest star: Matt Hollingsworth (who recently won an Eisner for his work on Preacher; Death: The Time of Your Life (DC/Vertigo); Dr. Strangefate; Challengers of the Unknown (DC)).

The first thing I found out about Matt which made me stand up and take notice was that he was a "fellow punk" in the sense that he'd been exposed to a lot of the same Punk Scene I had when I was growing up (hey, he guessed my age just by the list of bands that I listen to!!). Let's just say that my participation in the online messages during the month that Matt had brought up working habits (in particular, what kind of music creators listened to while working) pretty much skyrocketed.

Little by little I learned more about who he is (a very talented Colorist) and what he does in the comics world (or, rather, how he does what he does). During one E-mail exchange I bombarded him with questions I wanted answered about him and then asked if he'd mind to a short interview. He agreed and this is what followed:


Mike Aragona:

I checked but I don't have your full birth date. Do you mind sharing?

Matt Hollingsworth:

December 17th, 1968. I was born the exact same day and year that Helen Keller died.

MA:

Where were you born and where are you currently living?

MH:

I was born in Lakewood, California and grew up around SoCal, mostly in Ojai (home of Sergio Aragones), moved to Jersey for the Kubert School and moved up here, to Portland to work for Dark Horse. I worked staff at DH for one year, went freelance and decided to stay here because it's the best friggin place to live. Good beer, good people, moderate weather, good coffee and I live in a hippy/lesbian area. Cool area!!

MA:

What books have you worked on/ are best known for?

MH:

A list of some of the things I've worked on, as far as coloring goes, starting with the best or more recent stuff: Death:The Time of your Life, Preacher, Challengers of the Unknown, Dr Strangefate (Amalgam), Hellboy: The Corpse, Hellblazer, Arseface, Grendel Tales: Devils and Deaths and Devil's Choices, Aliens: Salvation, Aliens: Labyrinth, Comics Greatest World (DH), Will to Power (DH), Monkeyman and O'Brien, Batman/Punisher (The DC one), Detective Comics, Legends of the Dark Knight, Black Lightning, Classic Star Wars, Superman, Action Comics, Bloody Mary, Green Lantern, Lobo (long ago, a trade paperback), Wonder Woman, Flash, Legend of the Shield (Impact), The Fly (Impact), The Black Hood (Impact), Punisher, Ren and Stimpy, Hellraiser, Barbie (yes, Barbie!!!), Magnus Robot Fighter, Judge Dredd (stuff that hopefully never saw print), and probably a bunch of stuff that I can't remember right now. I estimate that over the last six years that I have colored maybe between four and five thousand pages (maybe more, I don't know for sure).

MA:

What current books are you working on?

MH:

How about what books have I got coming up?? I quit off of Preacher and Challengers so that I wouldn't have to work on a monthly kinda schedule again, so that I could put out nothing but my absolute best work. After #12 I'll be off of Challs. I'm already off of Preacher. I just colored Batman: Gauntlet, which you saw the page from. It ships July 11th. Some of the upcoming stuff I can't be sure it's okay for me to discuss, but I have several Batman and Superman projects lined up and some creator owned stuff. Workin' with the likes of: Kevin Nowlan, Mike Mignola, Gil Kane, Lee Weeks, Frank Quitely (Flex Mentallo), Tony Harris, Michael Zulli, Neil Gaiman, James Robinson, Jamie Delano, Alan Grant, Sean Phillips, and hopefully (crossing fingers) Moebius. For companies such as DC, Dark Horse, Event and some others.

MA:

How did you get your first break, what was your first book?

MH:

As I said, I attended the Joe Kubert School, which is primarily for comic books. I began showing my portfolio around quite a bit about a year and a half before graduation. At a New York convention I showed my inks and colors to Joe Monks and Joe Linsner (In very early 1991 or late 1990) and shortly after that got a call from them to do a story. I hired one of my roommates to pencil it, another to letter it and I inked and painted it in oils in black and white. This was for Cry for Dawn #5. I used it as a project for school in March of 91 *and* got paid. Joe M. was cool and paid on time. Then, I got work from DC and Marvel at nearly the same time. Mike Carlin gave me my first job at DC for an Action Comics annual over Tom Grummet doing color guides. He hired me when I was still in school, but I received the work after graduating. Then, three days after graduating I got work from Marcus McLaurin at Marvel on Hellraiser. A blue-line job over Rod Wigham (spelling??) and another over this idiot who will remain nameless. From there, the work was steady with work from Michael Golden while he was an editor at DC, Dan Thorsland, Carlin, Don Daley at Marvel and many others.

MA:

Do you receive pages to color strictly via computer now?

MH:

For the most part. I am no longer accepting work that I don't do on computer, but I still have a job coming out soon that I did guides for.

MA:

Do you only color on computer?

MH:

Now, yes. I've done full painted color, color guides and nearly everything between. The computer stuff gives me near absolute control over the color (except for the printing), though, so it's usually the most gratifying way to see your stuff in print.

MA:

What size/format files do you work with per page? (understand that I don't really know much about the process of computer coloring ie;file-size/ work area, etc).

MH:

The pages are sent to me as Grayscale images at either 375 dpi or 450 (for covers and detailed lineart). I shrink them down to 220 or higher depending on the piece and color them. Then I rez them back up and marry them to the original untouched scans. The finished page is about 45 Megs. The page is about 16 Megs while I'm working on it.

MA:

Is the work received/sent via diskette or via file transfer?

MH:

Via ZIP disk. File transfers are still too slow for a huge color page.

MA:

How has your work changed from when you first started (ie; in terms of the tools you use)

MH:

Well, when I first started in '91, we had a palette of only 64 colors with no blends and no k-tones (black). Now I have like 16 million colors. It allows for more subtle coloring but I think it leads too many colorists into an area of color abuse where they use too may colors because they can. I still think it's good that I started out with the old palette. It forced me to make definite decisions and taught me a lot about limited palette. In terms of the way my work has grown, I've gotten more and more into my job every year. I like experimenting and I use a lot of muted tones. Not everybody likes what I do, but I'd rather try new stuff and not please everyone than just stagnate and get bored.

MA:

Was the move to computer coloring an instant take or did you have to warm up to the idea?

MH:

Well, I was around the seps department at Dark Horse when I worked there and interacted with them. Eventually they taught me Tintprep, which is this old coloring software that's rarely used these days. I learned that then started playing with all the filters in p-shop. DC helped me get my computer by lending me a huge chunk of $$ interest free, so I bought a system and taught myself how to use it. Tom Luth and a guy named Jimmy Johns at Dark Horse were very helpful during this time. I loved the computer immediately because it allowed me to have absolute control over the colors. Before, I would spend all this time hand painting a guide and someone would get on computer and butcher what I'd spent all this time on. So, it allowed me to experiment and have the page come out how I wanted it to.

MA:

Did you do it because you saw it as the future or as another tool to master?

MH:

I saw the computer as the only means of me showing people what I can really do. As the only way of having artistic freedom and being happy with my own work. I thought that if I got on a computer that I could really do very well for myself and my career while at the same time having a huge amount of fun, and I was right.

MA:

How much freedom do you have to pick colors/hues?

MH:

Absolute. I very rarely make corrections of any kind. I make maybe fifteen corrections per year. Within a given job, I think I understand what to do and all that. I mean, you don't make Superman's cape green or anything without a damned good reason. Ya gotta know what the editors want. They usually hire me because they already like what *I* do and then they trust me to do my job. DC comics in particular has been great to me in this way. Specifically, Lou Stathis, Axel Alonso, Stuart Morre, Julie Rottenberg, Dan Thorsland and Mark Chiarello have really been there for me and let me run around and experiment. Lou Stathis was the main guy to let me experiment and trusted me when nobody had seen me do anything good yet. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Thanks Lou!

MA:

What are your work habits? What do you listen to while working? What kind of atmosphere do you surround yourself in?

MH:

Dim lighting, so that there's no glare off of the monitor. Not toooo dim, though, otherwise my eyes hurt. Music varies. Lots of funk (Parliament/Funkadelic), lots of African tribal music (Gnawa, Jajouka, etc), some Crass and other punk, some modern music (chemical brothers, etc), some ska. I have a 100 CD changer on constant shuffle play. Sometimes I watch TV for long periods of time while working (Listen to it, actually). At these times, I watch a lot of A&E documentaries about crime stuff and The History Channel and that kinda stuff. Good for listening.

MA:

Do you ever fall into a "slump" or the equivalent of Writer's Block?

MH:

Yes. Absolutely. It's usually from overworking, though. I worked about 400 hours last month, so I'm burnt out right now. Don't much feel like working.... But then, San Diego *is* coming up!

MA:

What rocks your world (ie; what would you love to do in the business?)

MH:

What I'm already doing. I'm very aggressive about lining up work. If I see a job that I want, I go for it and call the editor or artist or writer or whoever and try to get it. More often than not I get the gig. I like to work over good artists. I like a good read too. Sometimes you don't get both on one book, but sometimes you do. I like working with Mignola, so there's one job coming up that I look forward more than all of the others. Also, the chance to work with Gaiman is great. He's always got a good story to tell and he likes to work with good artists (and I get to work over Todd Klein, who is my favorite letterer!).

MA:

I look at the samples you sent me, straining my eyes to see the subtle shifts in tint, and nod my head in approval and awe. I'd love to see you actually work on a page. Sure, it might take some of the mystery away, but it would be an experience nonetheless.

MH:

Cool! Yer welcome and thanks for the compliments!

MA:

Thank you very much for the interview, Matt!

MH:

Sure, it was a pleasure.


(In Conversation (c) Mike Aragona. All rights reserved. No reproduction or retransmission of this article is granted without written permission of Mike Aragona)

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