“The digital process allows us to do anything we can think of” colorist Gregory Wright talks digital coloring and life in the Marvel Bullpen

When I was growing up my favourite book was a hardback called Marvel’s Fifty Fabulous Years.  It was a complete history of Marvel comics (up to that point) and I must have read it cover to cover a dozen times. One of my favourite sections was about the process a page takes from pencils to inks to colours to print. The page itself was from an issue of Ghost Rider drawn by Mark Texeira, but the panel I was most interested in was the colouring, which was done by a mulleted maestro named Gregory Wright.  This was in the pre-digital world where Greg was painting with a brush and ink before picking and annotating the colour separations by hand for the printing process. Over the years, I noticed the name Greg Wright appearing on several of my favourite comic books, most notably on the Erik Larsen run of Amazing Spider-man (my favourite ever comic run) and the early issues of Savage Dragon at Image. So when I saw him appear on Twitter last week I thought I would say ‘Hi!’. Greg was very gracious and actually replied to me as he was getting used to Twitter and so I took the chance to ask him some questions about what he had been up to and how he felt about the world of colouring in this new digital age.

How much have you embraced the world of digital when it comes to colouring comics? Do you do it all digitally or do you still use ink and brushes? Which do you prefer?
There has been no real choice about doing color digitally. The industry just decided it was a better way to go and that was pretty much it. And the industry was right. Doing color guides for separations the old way was crazy. We had a VERY limited palette of color and had to code each color on each page. Now we can basically do whatever we want and the digital process allows us to do anything we can think of. So I do it all digitally, but occasionally will create something with paint that I scan in and utilize as a texture. I have to say I prefer the results of the digital world and the control it allows, but preferred actually using a real brush and real paint.

Does the growth of digital and in particular digital comics affect how you work? Does it limit you or encourage you to be more creative with colour?
Whether comics are for print or online has very little effect on me. I am saddened that so much is online and print is fading somewhat. I prefer to hold a comic in my hand. Doing comics digitally is creatively encouraging because it’s very simple to make changes and experiment.

Do you think the growth of digital comics is a good or a bad thing for the world of comics? Is it the future, or just a passing fad? And how is it affecting the titles you work on or are involved with?
I really don’t know. I think digital comics are great for people who have a dream to publish something and couldn’t get it into print. But for them to become a replacement for print bothers me. I think readers are more likely to really look at the art in print as opposed to just whizzing through it online. And it just doesn’t look the same. I really hate when a comic is done entirely digital and there is no actual ART to physically hold in your hand. I LOVE seeing actually pencil and ink art. But, I have seen some people do truly astonishing things with some of the new tablets and screens. It doesn’t really affect the titles I work on until I am told that I need to do something different. I am glad that it provides an alternate method for people to publish.

Do you own an iPad or iPhone and do you read comics on them at all? If you do, what apps do you use and which do you recommend?
I have an iPod touch. I wouldn’t read comics on it, too small. I only read digital comics once in a while, on my computer, and only because there is no other way to read that particular title.

Apart from Elephantmen, what else are working on at the moment? How are you enjoying working with Richard Starkings and have you done any of the issues with Shaky Kane?
I am also working on an independent comic called the SQUEEG. Which I am writing based on a screenplay be Dave Lieto. Tom Grindberg did the art and I actually lettered it and did gray tones. I only lettered it for budget reasons, and if it weren’t for comics being done digitally, I couldn’t have lettered it. Richard and I go WAAAYYYY back. When I was an editor at Marvel I met him when he was an editor for Marvel UK. We hit it off. I totally loved his lettering (done by hand at the time) and hired him to work on my titles. I then insisted he letter everything I wrote. He moved onto digital lettering and convinced me to let him try it on a project I was working on. It worked great and he went on to perfect the art of it. Fast forward to him writing, editing and publishing ELEPHANTMEN. Now I’m working for him. And he’s great to work with. He has great taste, he’s a great writer and he’s just one of the few people who see things the way I feel is RIGHT for the medium. And he’s just an awesome guy!

What work (colouring or writing) of your own are you most proud of and whose work do you currently admire?
I really liked my runs on Deathlok, Silver Sable and Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD as a writer. Probably SIlver Sable the most because I was able to construct a real history for her character as well as those I created in the book. My favorite color work is the stuff I did with Tim Sale on Batman-Long Halloween.  Tim is one of the best artists in the biz and his sense of story and composition are a dream to work with.  Plus he’s a great guy.
I really enjoy the color work of Matt Hollingsworth and Dave Stewart.  Matt I’ve known for years and always liked his subtle approach.  Dave is so versatile that it’s scary.  He always seems to find just the right style and color palette for every artist he works over.

What aspirations do you have left to achieve in the world of comics?
I’d like to do something like Richard Starkings has done.  Create my own little world where I can do it all my way and not compromise.  And, like Rich get to work with a variety of terrific creators who may not be getting the due they deserve.

One of my favourite books back in 90s was Savage Dragon, any fond memories of working with Erik Larsen on that or of the early days of Image?
Erik is cool dude. He always speaks his mind, and sometimes offends those he’s speaking too with his honesty. But, unlike most folks, he’s not being mean, just answering a question honestly.  And he can take whatever criticism is unleashed right back at him. I always liked working with him.  Great stuff…really fun stories. We had a nice run on Spider-Man right before Savage Dragon. I loved walking the cons with him to see what he’d say. Not an egomaniac, like some.

Another favourite book of mine is the Marvel Five Fabulous Decades book which I believe features a pic of you colouring a Mark Texeira Ghost Rider page. Any fond memories of life in the Marvel Bullpen and did you get much ribbing as a result of that photo?
Ribbing?  Why would I get any ribbing? Everyone wanted to be featured in that book!  The Marvel bullpen was actually the area where paste-up, lettering, art and coloring corrections was done. Editorial was a different department.  That said, the bullpen was massively important to us in editorial.  I made great friends with as many bullpenners as I could because they were the ones who got stuff done for us. Without them, no books would ever get done. Many of the folks who did art and lettering correction would go on to freelance careers because I would hire them to do entire books for us, as would other editors.  The bullpen was the most fun area to hang out.  Many freelancers would come in and grab an empty table and draw there for the day.  You might find Walt Simonson sitting next to John Buscema.  You might find a crowd of art correction guys learning from Bill Sienkiewicz.  Just awesome stuff and a great spot to learn. I got lessons in color from Klaus Janson, Tom Palmer and Bill Sienkiewicz that I still use today. And having every day access to the great John Romita was gold.  And that’s where lots of jokes got played.  The bullpen was the place everyone wanted to be, because it was fun.

One last question which I ask everyone, what was the first ever comic you bought or had bought for you?
Hmm.  Tough one.  Not sure I know EXACTLY, but it would have to be BATMAN, which my Grandma bought me. I believe it was BATMAN 234, Neal Adams cover…with TWO FACE.  HALF an EVIL.

You can follow Greg on Twitter at @GregoryWright62