Martin Thomas: On His Return to Comics with BOOM!

A comics interview article by: Matthew McLean

Martin Thomas, colorist for <b><a href=>Left on Mission</a></b>, may not be a name that some readers recognize as he has returned from a long sabbatical from comics in order to work on the <a href=><b>BOOM! Studios</b></a> title. Once upon a time Martin worked for Marvel, DC and on a number of independent titles, including <b>Crying Freeman</b>, <b>Grimjack</b> and <b>Elric</b>. After leaving comics to launch a successful career as a multimedia artist, what brought Martin back to comics? And how have things changed in the interim that he was away?<br><br><a href=""><img src="" width="200" height="305" border="1" vspace="4" hspace="4" align="left"></a><b>Matthew McLean (MM)</b>: When I interviewed <a href=">Chip Mosher</a>, writer for <b>Left on Mission</b>, talked about you more like a fanboy than a fellow professional – just the level of enthusiasm he showed when you came up in the conversation. How did the two of you original meet?<br><br><b>Martin Thomas (MT)</b>: I was a guest at a convention in Houston. I had just graduated from school and gotten into comics. And I got out on the guest circuit almost right away with the little work that I had done. Chip was just a 12 year old kid who was a huge fan of Bill Willingham and he met me sitting next to him. It's funny because he was an obnoxious little 12 year old…<br><br>[Laughter]<br><br>But he was always showing up and there was something likable about him and we got to be friend and it endured over time. He moved to Austin later after I did. Being one of the few people he already knew, we got even closer and I ended up being the best man at his wedding – just all kinds of stuff.<br><br><b>MM</b>: How did Chip convince you to come back to coloring, even if briefly, for the <b>Left on Mission</b> project?<br><br><b>MT</b>: That's a funny story there, I don't know how much they want me to reveal about that…<br>'<br><b>MM</b>: Lay it on me.<br><br><b>MT</b>: Well, he already had a creative team on the book. Francesco Francavilla was already on the book and one day, but they had a colorist that Chip was concerned about. One day, he was running the pages by me and he was like, "I'm not sure this is good enough." <br><br>The first couple of pages he showed me I thought looked great. I thought it would be a good looking book. <br><br>The next batch of pages he got, he was not happy with and I looked at them and I said, "Yeah, these aren't so good and I'm nervous for you if this is gonna be the style that the guy is going to color with." <br><br>He was (kind of) in panic mode, so I said let me take some of these and just toy with them a little bit, just futz with them a little, an embellishment here and there, more to what Chip wanted. I gave it back to Chip and told him to just show it to the guy and tell him this is more what you want. I thought the problem was that Chip didn't know how to communicate with him [the colorist].<br><br>Well, the guy getting these pages threw a huge hissy-fit – he didn't like to be told how he should be doing the book. He wanted to do his own style. Unfortunately for him his hissy-fit was in the form of a super-long email printed out at three pages.<br><br><b>MM</b>: [Laughter]<br><br><b>MT</b>: He went into the history of where his style comes from and how long he's been a professional…blah, blah, blah. I had been doing it just as long, if not longer than him and I know that the idea is that you want to please the client – if you're a professional. If it's the writer, the artist – whoever – you're apart of a machine, it's not your show.<br><br>Anyway, I'm getting off topic. This last email was enough for BOOM! to say, "I don't want to read a three page email from a colorist - get somebody else." That's when Chip back came to me. "Now we don't have anybody and the books gonna be late." Because I felt somewhat responsible for this, I agreed to color this book. My plan, originally, was to do the one issue and then let it go, but Chip and I actually work together really well. He just kept telling me what a dream come true it was for him and it was fun to get back into it for this one last mission. He kept making the correlation between me and the main character of <b>Left on Mission</b>, which I thought was funny. Especially when one issue, became three and then four. I didn't plan of five issues. But I'm glad I did it. Francesco is a terrific artist. I really enjoy working with people who I am in awe of…which is how I felt on <b>Crying Freeman</b> and how I felt on this book.<br><br><b>MM</b>: So how did you keep getting pulled back into it? <br><br><b>MT</b>: I guess it was that I had read the story when Chip had originally wrote it as a graphic novel. Also, Chip, in addition to being a talented writer, he's a good salesman. I call him the white Spike Lee.<br><br><b>MM</b>: [Laughter]<br><br><b>MT</b>: He's just constantly pestering until you finally just say OK, fine I'll do it. That's how Spike Lee got Stevie Wonder to come out of retirement to record the soundtrack to <b>Jungle Fever</b>. <br><br><center><a href=""><img src="" width="300" height="167" border="1" vspace="4" hspace="4" </a></center></a><br><br><b>MM</b>: That's a helluva analogy to get my head around. But let's step back for a moment and come back to your work in the beginning. When you originally left comics, the computer was just coming onto the field as a tool. Now it is the primary tool. How do you think this has affected the profession? Positively or negatively?<br><br><b>MT</b>: I can definitely say positively. I look at the stuff that most of these guys are doing now and I'm amazed by it. It's funny ‘cause a lot of the colorists from the mainstream comics don't get their due because when it comes down to the real artistry of everything that's not penciller, it's all the indy guys and the painters that get all of the kudos. But I look at these Marvel comics that come out every month and there's such intricate work that's going on in all of them – I'm pretty impressed and even intimidated by all of it. <br><br><b>MM</b>: When you left you were working by hand, weren't you?<br><br><b>MT</b>: Yeah, yeah. I was doing everything by markers and airbrush.<br> <br><b>MM</b>: Did you use the same methods to color <b>Left on Mission</b> as you started with, or did you do it by computer?<br><br><b>MT</b>: <b>Left of Mission</b> was all colored on the computer, though I bent backwards to make it look like the work I did on Crying Freeman, which was markers, guoache and airbrush. Depending on which book I was working on I would change up medium. <br><br><a href=""><img src="" width="200" height="282" border="1" vspace="4" hspace="4" align="right"></a>In between the dawn of the computers and the big comics bust it had gotten to where it was hard to find work. The last thing I was doing was flat color work for DC which was pretty much unenjoyable. It wasn't very creative and the book, </b>Gunfire</b>, was a dud of a book and I was only doing it because I felt firmly planted at DC that ultimately I could move on to something else. But then I had heard through the trades how the book had been cancelled and my editor hadn't told me. With three issues left to go I kept talking to him, waiting for him to say something, and he just wouldn't. So that was it, I quit the book and I was done. <br><br>I was pretty much done with comics after that. <br><br><b>MM</b>: In addition to working with DC, you did some work with Marvel too, right?<br><br><b>MT</b>: Yes. I was good friends with Marie Javins, an editor there so I had someone inside who knew my name and could float projects to me every so often. But the first thing was the Spider-Man poster with Todd McFarlane. <br><br><b>MM</b>: That's…I think I know the one you are referring. That's a pretty iconic poster. What was that like?<br><br><b>MT</b>: It's an interesting story. I was at a convention, the Dallas Fantasy Fair, and I was sat between him and Steve Rude. Steve was my hero. I had never met Todd McFarlane but I was never crazy about his work. But then sitting there talking to him, he was the greatest guy. He was a great professional. He was very complimentary of my work and was very honest about this own. He was honest to the point that he said he didn't think he was that great of an artist, but he knew he was hot and he was going to use it for what it was. And he was very good to his fans – he cared a lot about the kids who bought his book.<br><br><a href=""><img src="" width="200" height="284" border="1" vspace="4" hspace="4" align="left"></a>But we were just talking and he said, "The stuff you're doing is way better than anything that I could do, you and I should work on something." So a month after that I was in San Diego and we talked some more and it just happened.<br><br><b>MM</b>: So you ended up painting that for him. That has to be something that a lot of people to this day recognize. <br><br><b>MT</b>: Yes, it is.<br><br><b>MM</b>: So in addition to your work with the Big 2, you were one of the founding members of Adhesive Comics. <br><br><b>MT</b>: Yes, it was four of us that started it. <br><br><b>MM</b>: What was it like working in the indie scene in Austin at that time?<br><br><b>MT</b>: It was pretty exciting. We really were on the cusp of starting something and we were aware of it. While I wasn't using a computer for coloring, I was learning Photoshop at the time. One of the four of us had a job at a publishing company where they had computers and we would go there after hours and work on it when we could. Just study on our own and call each other up and discuss our ideas. At the same time Shannon Wheeler was drawing up the <b>Too Much Coffee Man</b> comic – we all had books we were putting together, but the two books we were publishing were <b>Too Much Coffee Man</b> and <b>Jab</b>, which was an anthology. With the anthology we were able to we were able to pull in and publish the work of a lot of indie guys that were all around.<br><br>This was right at the time of the boom and <b>Wizard</b> magazine was really big at the time. The big thing was that we got in <b>Wizard</b> and that gave us a lot of momentum to piggyback off. So we were constantly looking for new things to do, like our third issue of <b>Jab</b> is one where we shot every copy of it, it was like the "Bullet Hole" issue. It came off the printer and before we took them off to the distributor we took them out into the woods and shot it in the middle. And we had all the contributors play off their story on that bullet hole we knew would be in the middle. <br><br>It was something. We had a great time.<br><br><b>MM</b>: Sounds like a lot of fun. Having been there at that time and having stepped away from it, but kept your finger on the pulse of the situation how would you describe the state of the comics industry when you left? How do you feel that compare to the situation now? <br><br><b>MT</b>: Well the thing about comics is…I love comics, I love to read them and I love working on comics-related projects. But just about every aspect of comics is run like a poorly run business. It's really one of those, 'the best way to become a millionaire in comics is to start off as a billionaire'. They might be more on the radar now, just because all of the movies, cartoons and merchandizing stuff, but that money never seems to come back into the comic industry. Warner [Bros.] just seems to keep its comics around just to generate more licensed properties and not much else. If the comics themselves were the sole source of revenue I'm sure they would have shut it down. I'd like to think they'd keep it around because it's an institution, but who knows? Comics are one more thing trying to compete with so much out there, struggling to keep their presence.<br><br>I hear a lot of people say that comics suck now and I don't think they do. I still buy quite a few of them and I enjoy them as much now as I ever did.<br><br><b>MM</b>: Two questions for you. First, given that comics are out there fighting against more competition than any other time in their history, and despite being a poorly run business, they still manage to survive and generate a level of loyalty that's quite impressive. Why do you think that is?<br><br><b>MT</b>: In a broad sense – love. Just because the people who like them love them. People who like doing comics, love doing comics. It's almost like being a cop in that it never really gets out of your system. A lot of people discover it when they are young and it's those things that you attached yourself to that have such a sentimental meaning that you never really shed. It's always there. <br><br>Comics does have to compete with so many things and its certainly not winning, but it's not being put completely in the ground. And parents tend to process it as a form of reading, thinking that if they can get their kid to read comics, at least their reading something. <br><br>Comics also attract people who have trouble making friends, who are social outcasts. <br><br><b>MM</b>: [Laughter]<br><br><b>MT</b>: Comics are something you can do on your own and you don't need anybody else, but then you discover this entire subculture within it and that bonds you to it as well. <br><br>But a lot of it is that childhood link.<br><br><b>MM</b>: So if comics are, as you said, a poorly run business, if somehow you became the king of comicsdom, what would you change? <br><br><b>MT</b>: What would I change? You know, I've never even thought about that. Some Doctor Doom I'd be, I wouldn't have a plan at all. <br><br><b>MM</b>: [Laughter]<br><br><b>MT</b>: You know, I'm complaining that the business of comics isn't run well, but I'm not a business minded person, so I can't tell you what it would take to be more than what it is. They're out there, they're on everybody's radar, probably more than ever, it's still not the wide, mainstream wave of people going to rediscover. There's a small faction that will pass them on to the curious, but really between between X-Men, Spider-Man and Batman and Superman with all of the movies and games – if that doesn't get people to go an explore more of the stories, I don't know what will.<br><br><b>MM</b>: So what are you doing these days? Obviously you aren't just doing <b>Left on Mission</b> so what are you doing besides <b>Left on Mission</b>?<br><br><b>MT</b>: I am a flash animator. Most of the time I work for educational companies. I've been doing some stuff that's kind of like "Schoolhouse Rock" videos.<br><br><b>MM</b>: I love those things.<br><br><b>MT</b>: Me too. I'm excited every time I take on one of these projects. My big project, that I've been working on is <a href=><b></b></a>, it's a cartoon movie review site. It's a spin-off of an access show that I did with some friends for years, and now we've turned it into a cartoon. Now it's a whole community where we are recording and animating our reviews every week. It's like taking a cartoon and melding it with <b>Space Ghost</b> or something. But it's only been around for barely over a month, but we have 1,500 members. So we've got some good momentum and we're having a lot of fun with it. We've had a lot of people say that since we aren't owned by any studio they can get the true opinion without sugar coating it. <br><br><b>MM</b>: Excellent. Well, thanks for taking the time to speak with me.<br><br><i>Be sure to visit Matthew McLean's website <a href=><b>here</b></a>.</i></p>

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