Between the Panels: Colorist Marissa Louise on Stage Lighting for Comics, Living in a Haunted House, and Making Every Moment Precious

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

Ask comics pros to name the best colorists in the business right now, and you’re likely to hear the name Marissa Louise. From her humble art beginnings (See below.), she’s built a portfolio of dynamic, distinctive work across multiple publishers and titles. But beyond her talent on the page, Marissa shines as one of the bright lights in the creator community.

First off, the basics…

Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Colorist

Your home base: Oregon

Social Media


Twitter: @marissadraws

Current Project Title(s):

Fairlady [Image]
Grumble [Albatross]
Hex Wives [DC]
Invasion from Planet Wrestletopia [SBI]
Merry Men [ONI Press]
Spell on Wheels [Dark Horse]
The Wilds [Black Mask]

Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: I like to begin with the big question: Why comics? What attracts you to making comics specifically over other art forms?

Marissa Louise: There are a few things I love about comics. I love the collaboration, and I love how time bends for comics. I love how you can be much more experimental than pretty much any other medium.

KS: Do you have a specific early memory where a comic made you say “Wow” or “I want to do that?”

ML: Yeah! I started reading comics when I was a little kid, like eight or something. Some guy came out of the dime store and threw a bag of comics and candy at me, because he didn’t want his kid consuming that. I spent from that moment on copying drawings out of comics. I was making my own comics, too. Had I known coloring was a job before I was 29, I would’ve done it a lot sooner!

KS: What was your first professional art job, and how did it come about?

ML: I’ll tell you about the first one I seriously remember. I was in NYC for college, and I was deep into constructing things. A lady came in and she was lamenting [the fact that] she couldn’t get fans made of this Yves Saint Laurent drawing. And I said I’d do it. I believed in my ability and wasn’t too far off the mark, but the problem was I didn’t have the professional experience to deal with the exact kind of person you see in media making fun of fashion moguls.  I remember having phone calls with her assistant, talking about pay, and her assistant saying, “So and so has fainted. She feels so betrayed.”  It was really a wild experience! Ultimately, I didn’t get paid for the job, but I did learn a great lesson about being professional. I invested a lot of energy after that, learning professional practices.

KS: Talk a little about your workspace or studio setup.

ML: I live in a haunted house in the woods of Oregon. I have a bookshelf of reference books. I have books on anatomy, color, paintings, great comics, and random stuff I like.

I have a drafting table that is currently covered in comics, D&D manuals, and plants. I have a few curio shelves with my beautiful shadow box from Paris, Hawai’ian quilts, Thai masks, ceramic leopard, plastic ponies, skulls, preserved animals, fertility statues, idols, more plants, paper unicorns, planar face models, a bottle of moonshine filled with wishes, candles, rose petals, and a floor board with a weird drawing on it.

I have a ballet barre that Tamra very generously got me one Christmas. I have a wall of prints that has inspiring work. It has a wood veneer painting from Armenia. Some work from Trungles, Smoonie, JBIII, Paulina Ganuacheau Abby Howard, Tamra Bonvillain, Owlin, Jon Morris, Rachel Morris, Johnny Tragedy, maps from treasure hunters, some photos from the 2016 eclipse, and other stuff that’s buried.

KS: Do you have a set daily (or nightly) work routine?

ML: Aw man. I am trying to get better about this, because I used to be really good about getting up at 7 a.m. cleaning then working then eating and exercising and working then cooking and cleaning. Then, I burn out. But as of now, it’s get up at 8 a.m. [and] have coffee with my husband. Eat cheese toast and salad, then work 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

KS: Talk about the specific process of coloring a comic, because not everyone knows exactly what goes into it. You receive the artwork and then your first steps are…?

ML: Coloring is doing the stage lighting for comics. Coloring should add story, clarity, and help the eye flow through the page. Everyone has their own unique way of coloring which creates their style, but typically most people use a flatter. The flatter creates selections on the page. These selections can be used to make sure there isn’t white shining through underneath the line art. It also helps make quick adjustments for planar separation.

I used to select each thing individually and render that way, but I’ve since started using a method closer to Tamra Bonvillain’s. Photoshop and computers are powerful enough now that we no longer have to work on one layer or channels. I’ve written some articles about different coloring techniques over at Women Write About Comics.

KS: As a comics reader, what do you appreciate about the coloring in books you look at? 

ML: There are a number of things I look for! When I look at rendering, I’m often looking for interesting ways to convey the idea. What are the strokes and shapes that can be reduced and created? Are there any particularly powerful combinations of light or color? How is the colorist lighting the stage? How are they creating flow? How are they creating mood? A lot of the time, if I am just reading for enjoyment, I’ll read something in black and white, because color can just be too intensive for me!

KS: Going off that, are you able to look at comics purely for pleasure, or is there always some part of your artistic brain at work, analyzing/critiquing as you flip pages?

ML: I have never been able to turn off my analytical side; I engage with work by taking it apart. I really like to think about what makes things work well or poorly. It’s still pleasant for me. Especially if something is so ethereal I can’t understand how it was made. How does Brian Stelfreeze turn the planes of the face so elegantly? How did Laura Martin use textures in Plastic?

KS: How do you — or colorists in general — typically find each comics assignment you’re part of? To get specific, how did you land on Hex Wives?

ML: It’s kind of a mystery to me how I landed on Hex Wives, but my guess is, years ago, I met Molly Mahan at a convention and showed her my portfolio. Then, a few years later, I met her again with a better portfolio. But the work she had for me then didn’t match up, so then a few years later I met her again and gave her a copy of Spell on Wheels. She tested me out on the Milk Wars annual, and I’d done some fill ins at DC, so they knew I was reliable. Doing Spell on Wheels showed I could do moody magic. Working on the Shade annual showed I could work with Mirka. Everything builds on everything else. Patience is key!

KS: Is there something you better understand about comics since you’ve been working in the medium, that you didn’t before you started?

ML: How much love goes into it! I used to wonder how bad comics got made, but honestly, any comic is a miracle.  Any media is a miracle. It’s really hard to make anything, and it’s wildly challenging to make something good. Sometimes, you just get a day to turn around the color, and you’re not going to be making your best or most detail oriented choices at that point.

KS: Can you recall a specific moment of professional pride or joy that stands out from your career thus far?

ML: This is tough for me! I’ve been very fortunate to have some really wonderful times in my short career! Travelling in France with Yoshi Yoshitani; every colorist dinner; hanging out at Thought Bubble with Jordie Bellaire; doing SDCC with my best friend Jon Rivera; meeting many of my art idols; the quiet nights I spend with Sophie and Tamra; cracking some tough art problems; the progress I’ve made as an artist; teaching children to draw or paint at conventions; teaching kids to overcome disappointment; encouraging people who look up to me! I’ve had so much fun and I’m so lucky to have this career. I try to take every moment precious.

KS: What’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at as an example of the craft at its highest?

ML: Delicious in Dungeon is one the best comics ever made. From tip to tail the design, concepts, plot and dialog reinforce the ideas in the comic. The characters are distinct in their drawings, movements, costume design and voice. It’s really an incredible work.

Empowered is really great and funny, I think it’s incredibly beautifully drawn. Dylan Dog is classic and should be on everyone’s shelves. Rip Kirby is very stylish; the plot is pretty dated, but the drawing and fashion is just gorgeous..

I think Carta Monir is really doing the height of art comics. I love the mind bending work Jon Rivera, Mike Oeming, Nick Filardi, and Clem Robins did on Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye. If you haven’t read that, you definitely should. Mike and Nick really get each other in a magical way. Jon gave Mike a chance to be an absolutely wonderful weirdo.

KS: Finally, talk about your most recent/upcoming projects.

ML: Hex Wives TPB is on sale now. Grumble Vol 1 TPB is on sale now, with new issues monthly. Spell on Wheels Vol 2 starts in the fall. The Wilds TPB [written by Vita Ayala] is on sale now.

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