by Jarrod Jones. When the action in a Valiant script turns on a dime—and it always, always will—you need an art team primed and ready to make moves. Andrew Dalhouse is the kind of colorist who is always at the ready.
When I ask Dalhouse about how he operates with the rollercoaster-ride aspect found in most (if not all) of Valiant’s output, he fires back with an example. (Like I said, ready.) Bloodshot #1, the first issue from the latest Valiant run for the 20+ year comics colorist, a debut that presented its own unique challenges. How do you go from zero to ballistic action in a matter of five pages? How does the color evolve from placid establishing shots to sizzling action sequences? Dalhouse breaks it down for me with no room for confusion.
“[Bloodshot #1] starts out normal,” he tells me. “So normal daytime-type lighting on the interior panels. We then move to the docks. So I went with blue tones to indicate nighttime scene. Once Bloodshot shows up and chaos ensues, I moved to more yellow/oranges to show the chaos of the gun battle.”
Clockwork coloring efficiency, explained plainly. Andrew’s work is primary colors, saturated, presented to maximize the moment, the action, and the mood (“coloring is all about mood,” he says) of rapid-fire superhero fare. And his journey through the Valiant Universe means Andrew needs to be ready to move—quickly, efficiently. To get a true idea of how he makes the monster-fighting, mercenary-squashing, high-flying sequentials truly pop, it’s simple—just feast your eyes on the galleries of Andrew Dalhouse’s work below.
Courtesy of Valiant Entertainment, DoomRocket spoke with Andrew Dalhouse about his Valiant career, why colors should always evoke mood, and which hues he’d apply to each book in the iconic Valiant superhero roster.
1. You have said in previous interviews that you generally don’t read a script until you’re ready to color pages. So when you’re first reading a given script, what notes are you mentally jotting down for the coloring task at hand? What are the important things about the script that you notice first?
Andrew Dalhouse: I first notice time of day and the emotions being displayed by the characters. Getting time of day is very important.
2. We’re focusing on your Valiant work, which means superheroes and other larger-than-life types, which means dynamism. Flying fisticuffs, high-octane car chases, forced perspectives and all sorts of epic foreshortening. Action sequences mean damage, cuts, bruises, torn outfits, broken glass, etc. How do you handle story progression through color?
Bloodshot #1 is a good example of this.
The issue starts out normal. So normal daytime-type lighting on the interior panels. We then move to the docks. So I went with blue tones to indicate nighttime scene. Once Bloodshot shows up and chaos ensues, I moved to more yellow/oranges to show the chaos of the gun battle.
On page 9, Bloodshot is in a van and the bad guys chasing him are in a tank. I gave the interior of the tank a green hue to differentiate it from Bloodshot in the van and help break up the overlaid panels. On page 11 when Bloodshot gets in the tank, it still has the green hue. Once he uses his powers and syncs with the tank, I make the green red to show he’s in control now. On page 17 the script said the room is bathed in red hues. It didn’t indicate what color the hologram of Bloodshot was. I went with blue to get some nice secondary lighting to help create contrast and separate the characters.
3. I look at your Valiant work and you give each project you work on its own distinctive palette. ‘Faith’ was optimistic blue skies and vibrant whites and golds, ‘Quantum + Woody’ felt broader in its palette, which is appropriate given it’s an action-comedy. And you’ve really leaned into the shadows and cinders of this most recent run on ‘Bloodshot’. Is coloring about mood, most of all?
Coloring is all about mood. The right palette can show sadness, happiness and anger. [With] Faith I kept very light on the colors until a scene called for it. Faith never really got very dark and grim.
Quantum + Woody did everything. Burning buildings, casinos, the desert at night, and alt-realities. If you like playing with a ton of palettes and moods, Quantum + Woody is the book for you.
Bloodshot I really wanted to get that action movie feel with the colors but not go as dark blue/green as some action movies. It’s still a comic so I need to make bright and poppy also. Issue #3 really showcases a lot of the mood of a Bloodshot comic. You get explosions, horror and some nice action scenes at the end.
4. On that tack, is coloring about capturing the essence of what a single issue is trying to accomplish in the moment, or do you aim for a higher level of thematic consistency for the entire run? It’s a subtle distinction between the two, but there is a distinction, right?
Some issues are standalone, but a lot of the locations are consistent throughout the entire run. Faith for example, we are at her apartment or her job in almost every issue. So you have to keep that consistent throughout the run. On a book like The Life and Death of Toyo Harada, there aren’t a lot of consistent locations. So for that book I have to aim for a higher level of thematic consistency for the entire run.
5. I’d like to conduct a word-association exercise with you, if I may. Only let’s swap “word” for “color”, if you get me. I have a list of Valiant characters I’ll read to you, and when I read them, I’d like you to share with me the first array of colors that come to your mind. Like, for example, Bloodshot? I’d say crimson, slate-grey, carbon black, etc. Stuff like that.
‘Archer & Armstrong’.
‘Quantum & Woody’.
6. Getting back to normal questions—thank you for doing that—you’ve been coloring comics for almost twenty—a long time. [Laughs] Are there moments where you catch yourself working on instinct instead of practice? What kind of page keeps you engaged more than others?
Yes, that is a long time. Doesn’t feel that long. There are pages that are absolutely colored by instinct. The quieter scenes usually are the ones like that. The ones you need absolute quickness for are crazy action and ones with a lot of light sources. You have to really pay attention to those pages a lot more.
7. Let’s say you hit a creative wall during a coloring session. As a writer, I keep a toolbox of turns-of-phrase around just in case I get stuck and a deadline is kicking my ass. Are there lifeboat hues that you keep in your arsenal to bail you out during these moments?
Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. If I hit that wall, I try and think of a movie or TV show that did something similar to what the page is calling for and look it up and watch it, to refresh my memory on how exactly it looked.
8. I see comic backgrounds that exist simply to be backgrounds—perfunctory, little to no definition, sometimes completely blank space. What do you do when you come across panels like this? How do you inform the space of such panels with meaning when the subject of these panels are often backed up by almost nothing at all?
Most of the time the artist does that because there will be a lot of dialogue and the background will be covered up or they are trying to pull more focus to the action going on in the panel. This is where reading the script comes in. If there is a lot of dialogue, I don’t go crazy trying to fill that empty space too much. Just enough to lead the eye and show contrast. If it’s action and not too much dialogue, I try and make the excitement match the action and enhance the scene.
9. ‘The Life and Death of Toyo Harada’ is your favorite book you’ve worked on for Valiant. Why does this particular story stand out for you? Were there any creative revelations you encountered during this run?
Life and Death of Toyo Harada was a great story that spanned decades and lots of different locations. The story and art were very cinematic, more so than any other project I have worked on. The story and art are very grounded. I went with a more subtle palette to allow the awesome gray tones CAFU did to show through and played with mood a lighting than ever before.
10. I imagine that being a comics colorist doesn’t preclude you from reading black & white comics. When you flip through a black & white book, what do you look for when all the hues of the spectrum are taken away? What’s a solid example of a black & white comic well-made?
The Walking Dead is a great example. You still get all the mood and excitement and the gray tones on it are great also for showing different character ethnicities.
Stray Bullets and Punk Rock Jesus are also great ones. You don’t miss color when reading those books.
You can currently enjoy the work of Andrew Dalhouse in the current runs of ‘Bloodshot’ and ‘Rai’ from Valiant Entertainment. To find the comic shop nearest you, visit comicshoplocator.com.
Check out the latest example of Andrew Dalhouse’s work, a 5-page preview of ‘Bloodshot’ #8, courtesy of Valiant!
More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…