Jail Bait & Trailer Trash – As Justin Gray Becomes A Comic Book Colourist

Posted by March 7, 2017 One Comment

jbtt-pin-up-finalJustin Gray writes,

The following is from the forward to the Jail Bait and Trailer Trash anthology running live now on Kickstarter.

I’m not a professional colorist or artist. I’m not even going to pretend I am. However, I desperately wanted to make as much of my new KickstarterJail Bait & Trailer Trash – my own. Drawing anything was out of the question. I loved to draw as a kid, but there came the point where my skills didn’t match what I saw in my mind.

Now, a confession – I’m a little odd. I can admit that, and there are plenty of people to back me up on it. However, to illustrate that point I went from having never colored a single page of line art in my life to coloring roughly 40 pages of line art. It is far from perfect, and I hope my collaborators aren’t too displeased with the results, but I learned a lot.

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The number of hours I put into those pages coloring with a mouse – something my friend and colorist Vladimir Popov stated was “insane” – not only confirmed that I’m never going pro, but tripled down on my already enormous respect for anyone and everyone that colors comics for a living. Seriously, much love. I’ve worked on projects with some of the best colorists in the world, but appreciating the result of great coloring is not the same thing as trying to imitate the process. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people that think they can win a race at NASCAR and they would be very wrong. Still, I’m crazy, so there’s that.

Those of you that are colorists can have a well-deserved laugh. Day one I know I’m in an uphill battle. Textures, effects, skin tones, primary secondary, and tertiary lighting. The basic stuff is DAUNTING. Flatting. Flats. F*ing FLATS! Flatting with a mouse is a close second to waterboarding – Vladimir was right. This is where I say thank you to my friends at Challenging Studios who flatted An Obscure and Vanishing Tribe. Because I was literally in diapers when it comes to coloring I had to be reasonable and look for ways to convey emotion because solid realism was off the table.

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When I sat down with Jhomar Soriano’s amazing pages for Jail Bait and Trailer Trash, I decided not to make flats but to color like a kid would – try to stay in the lines and don’t worry too much about depth. I propped up my courage with the idea of “art is subjective” which it totally is. I was all weaknesses, and every time I finished a panel I saw them sitting there. Delete layer! Delete layer! Delete layer! After a week working on one page, I was at “I’ve made a huge mistake” levels of frustration. I needed a point of reference, so I turned to someone I respected as a friend and a cartoonist – Darwyn Cooke. I’ll quickly say Darwyn is the reason this Kickstarter even exists. These stories were going to stay in the maybe someday file on my computer. When he passed, I reevaluated what I was doing from a creative standpoint. I turned to PARKER for inspiration. Admittedly I’m a dozen lifetimes of hard work away from that level of quality, but it was a north star moment that helped me finish what I began. This is also what leads into the story of a pseudonym.

I don’t exactly remember when it happened. Darwyn and I were talking, and for some reason, I brought up Benihana. Darwyn wasn’t sure what I said, so I repeated Benihana, you know a Japanese steakhouse where they cook your meal at the table and so on. He starts laughing really hard because he thought I said, Benny Lava. I realized that when his ears heard Benihana, his brain interpreted it as “Benny Lava” and immediately a character appeared. People ask about the creative process or where ideas come from, and there you have it in the simplest terms. So suddenly Benny Lava is with us as an imaginary friend and Darwyn is describing him and immediately wants to use him in something down the road. A lot of us in the make believe business do this, usually in a bar after a convention and when we leave the Benny Lava’s of the imaginary world often stay behind. And this is why Benny Lava is credited as the colorist for two stories in Jail Bait & Trailer Trash.

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About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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