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Alex Sinclair

DC Comics Colorist Uses Creative Powers to Continue Evolution of Comic Book Art

Alex Sinclair

© DC COMICS 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

© DC COMICS 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Twenty years ago, Alex Sinclair was attending comic book events with his samples in hand. At that time, Sinclair, who now has hundreds of DC Comics titles under his belt as a colorist, was showcasing his penciling and illustration. While the reception for his penciling was warm, people were most impressed by his color. Soon enough Homage Comics, an offshoot of Jim Lee’s WildStorm, began a talent search for new artists. Sinclair made a decision that would launch his career: he focused his application on his color work. Sinclair was snapped up by WildStorm and over the next 20 years he would work nearly exclusively with Jim Lee and inker Scott Williams.

The trio was launched into legendary comic book status with the publication of the best-selling Batman Hush™. Over the course of a year, this monthly publication tracked Hush™, a stalker following Batman™, and it also explores Batman’s personal relationships. The series was so compelling, IGN Comics ranked three issues in the 25 greatest Batman graphic novels.

Leaping Past Flat Colors and Landing on an Infinite Palette

Since then, Sinclair has colored hundreds of books and added life to superheroes such as Green Lantern™, Wonder Woman™ and Superman™. Now Sinclair uses a Cintiq 22 to do his work, but when he started, he was coloring with markers, paints, and pencil. “I would code each color to communicate it to the print house. All of the colors were flat, no shading, no highlights,” said Sinclair.

© DC COMICS 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
© DC COMICS 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Soon, Photoshop 2.0 was released. “At WildStorm, we wanted to figure out how to use Photoshop to color comics. When we incorporated Photoshop, we went from a palette of 372 colors, to millions of colors.” WildStorm also began experimenting with tools to use with Photoshop. “When we started, we were using a mouse, which was a lot like using a pencil that’s been wrapped in a rock,” said Sinclair. Their first tablets were so large and rubbery, Sinclair would use them as a pillow for an afternoon snooze.

© DC COMICS 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

© DC COMICS 2013. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“We started upgrading, and the tablets got better and better. With the Intuos line, I finally felt like I was painting. The process became artistic.” Sinclair credits the pressure sensitivity and the functionality of the pen for making the process feel more like pen and paper.

When the Cintiq line came out, Sinclair bought one for his work. “Now I’m drawing on a drafting table. Immediately realized that I could work faster, and focus my attention.” Because Sinclair’s rate depends on the number of pages he colored, working more efficiently because imperative. “The speed of my work improved and the Cintiq paid for itself within the first couple of pages I colored.”

Modding Tools for a (nearly) Superhuman Workflow

To further refine his workflow, Sinclair rethought his keyboard. “I lost a lot of time looking for keys,” he said. Sinclair decided to get rid of the keys all together and replaced his keyboard with a video game peripheral. He then coded the buttons to correspond to the keystrokes he was using.

© 2013 Alex Sinclair

“My hand is trained to find the right buttons. It’s ergonomic and I have no stress on my wrist or shoulder,” he said. Sinclair got rid of the tool palette all together and hot coded the buttons on the peripheral, speed up his workflow even more, which means he’s able to earn more money in less time. Not only does this benefit his bank account, but Sinclair often faces tough deadlines for his DC Comics work and his illustration work for the San Diego Zoo.

X-Ray Vision into the Future of Comic Books

Two years ago DC Comics ended all of their comic book series, and started the story again to entice new readers to jump into the lives of these well-loved superheroes (and despised villains). The new readers were an opportunity to kick start the comics fan base, but this new audience and the established audience presented a challenge to artists like Sinclair. “The new readership is used to the look of movies. We need to make comic books that feel cinematic to continue to appeal to our audience,” said Sinclair. “The books need to feel real and look real. Comic books have to marry realism with the book form.”

Sinclair is up to the challenge. He credits the evolution of hardware and software with the ability to continue bringing his characters to life on the page. “I use layers above color to create special effects. I can really make it look like a character’s eyes are glowing,” he said.

It’s these effects and the ways in which they complement the story that keep people turning the pages. For Sinclair, that’s what his job is all about. “I color comic books for a living. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s a dream come true.”