Nov 232009

Sweet Talking with Ana May

is the co-editor of the Sugar Ninjas books and graphic designer of all things Sugar Ninjas.  She graduated from SCAD and works as an illustrator, graphic designer and comic colorist. Gally lives in the exotic east of the US, with her cat.  FASCINATING!

Ana: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Gally.

When is a cow too fat? When it has to roll itself down the hill because it's stubby legs can't reach the ground. ©Gally Articola

Gally: Let’s see…I’m a pretty average nerd, with blue hair, who has quite the interest in drawing, gaming and round animals. Like, SUPER round…perhaps even obese, as the case may be.

Ana: And you’re a SUGAR NINJA, too, interested in comics and comics related stuff, right?

Gally: Quite. I’ve wanted to work on comics since the first grade.

Ana: What was your original inspiration for wanting to become a comics artist at such an early age?

Gally: I know this will sound like a cliche, but it was Bill Watterson’s CALVIN AND HOBBES. I picked up my first collection in the first grade at a school book sale. That was my signal. I mean, I had already wanted to become an artist before, but reading CALVIN gave me a direction. I can even pinpoint the exact volume, too. It was the 10th Anniversary book.

Ana: Actually, I heard variations of that story from lots of other girls while I was teaching Sequential Art Classes at SCAD. Watterson made quite an impression on a ton of my students. With me, it was PEANUTS. I’m not sure which came first for me, though. It might have been the actual comic strip, a paperback book, or maybe the animated tv specials…but once I got to know Charlie Brown it was all over for me.  And reading about Charles Schulz made me want to become a cartoonist. To me, he was the bestest friend I never had.

Still, lots of people were/are big fans of CALVIN AND HOBBES and PEANUTS, but they don’t all feel the need to become comics creators themselves. What do you think made  you want to take that leap?

Gally: I think it was because I was introduced to the 10th Anniversary book. I started reading all those “behind the scenes” notes that Watterson added and they gave me a different perspective on the comic. I became obsessed with one particular strip where Calvin and Hobbes were discussing what “high” and “low” are. Even at that young age, I understood what they were talking about and loved the idea of comics being “low-high” art. And seeing the thought processes behind these simple (and not so simple) drawings just inspired me.

Also, I was a kid who enjoyed flipping through her father’s Salvador Dali and M. C. Escher art books, so I especially liked Watterson’s takes on fine art.

Ana: What role did your fine art background play with regards to your interest in becoming an artist. Did you ever want to do non-comics art?

Gally: In some ways, despite my love of comics. Concept Design is a whole world I would love to be a part of one day.

Ana: I remember reading this giant DISNEY art book that featured a ton of concept drawings and paintings by the DISNEY Imagineers. It was a revelation to me that there were a whole bunch of people who worked on the cartoons, comic books, theme parks, and more. Kinda like your experience with that CALVIN AND HOBBES book, it gave me a peek behind the curtain and I distinctly remember thinking these people had some of the coolest jobs ever.  And my friend Paul Hudson, a former DISNEY artist and fellow professor at SCAD, confirmed I was right.

Gally: I understand my skills are really up to that level yet, so I’ll keep working towards it. It will probably be the closest I’ll ever get to being a fine artist. I can’t fathom the idea of working as just a painter. But I’d still want to keep working on my comics art, too. I could never leave that behind. I’d feel like I was abandoning part of myself.

Ana: I understand you’re a “refurbisher”, right? For MARVEL COMICS?

Gally: Yep. Art Refurbisher is my official title.

Ana: Which leads me to my next question. What in the world IS a refurbisher?

This is art refurbishing. © Marvel Official Handbooks

Gally: I take old, scanned-in comics panels, scrub away the text, separate the inks from the colors and bump the color into something appropriate for modern printing standards.
Actually, I often end up working as a partial penciler, inker and colorist. I created bits of characters and backgrounds that were previously hidden, whether by text or by another panel.

Ana: How tricky is it to draw new stuff that matches the old stuff?

Gally: I haven’t run into any real problems yet. It all depends on how adept you are at reconstructing the artwork. Sometimes there are some awkward issues with the original shapes.

Ana: How did you end up getting this job anyway? It doesn’t sound like the sort of job most students were ever talking about.

Gally: Dave Gildersleeve, one of my old professors at SCAD, was kind enough to clue me in on the tryout for this job while I was still attending classes during Winter Quarter of 2009.

Ana: Ahh…Cowboy Dave! Before we hired him to teach in the Sequential ARt department, he was one of my first SEQA MFA students…and one of my all-time favorites.

Gally: Mine, too! I mean, he was one of my favorite professors. Anyway, after doing well on the tryout samples, I was hired as an art refurbisher for the MARVEL OFFICIAL HANDBOOKS and started working on them just before graduating last Spring. My supervisor is the awesome Mike Fichera.

Ana: Have you been published yet?

Gally: Well, my work reconstructing other people’s work has been published, yes. You can currently see my “refurbishing” in MARVEL OFFICIAL HANDBOOKS 9-12 and I hope for many more issues to come, as I have no plans to quit anytime soon. I’ve been doing other freelance gigs on the side as well. I’m always looking for new work, always sending out lines and hoping the client-fish catch them.

Ana: Would you say that’s a big part of the life of a freelancer: tryouts?

Gally: Oh, yes! And rejections, lots and lots of rejections. I’ve been out of school for six months now and it sometimes seems like I’m facing an endless stream of test page tryouts. Which can be good, as it is one way to get more diverse work into your portfolios to show to the bigger publishers.

Ana: And you don’t get too discouraged from all those rejections?

Discouragment rabbit on the road to success. One of the few traditional self-portraits Gally has recently worked on. ©Gally Articola

Gally: Disappointed? Yes. Discouraged? No. SCAD drilled into my head that rejections are pretty much an inevitable fact of life. You can’t expect to calmly float through your career, you’re going to hit a rock or two. I also understand how hard it is to get any job right now, especially art related jobs.

Ana: I used to tell students the same thing…and we’d bring in comic book editors who would tell them the same thing.

Gally: Exactly. It’s a fact. You just have to be persistent. I think the hardest part of this job is the money that  you’re forced to spend while you’re still trying to find steady work. If you want to mail out your sample pages to publishers, and I’ve been told that’s better than sending email attachments, you have to pay. If you want to hobnob with editors and art directors at conventions, you have to pay. That’s just a reality of the comics industry.

Ana: Something tells me you also probably do a lot of work researching the different companies you’re sending samples to, bothering to figure out what they actually need. It’s like entering a contest: FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS OR ELSE!

Gally: Definitely. I’ve tried to tailor my portfolios to focus on whatever the potential clients want to see. Limiting your work and knowing your audience is very important. My portfolios always consist of different pieces that are unified in their purpose. When I’m submitting for a possible coloring job, I don’t include samples of logo designs or illustrations. I want to show them exactly the kind of work that I’m applying for, nothing extraneous.

Ana: And just what sort of stuff DOES a colorist send to publishers when trying to get work?

Gally: The thing to remember is that they don’t want to see how well your colors work with your own drawings, they want to see pages of previously penciled and inked comics pages drawn by others, ideally professionals. And not just pin-ups, either. You need to have about five sequential pages that show how well  your colors work to enhance the art and storytelling.

Ana: Can you talk about your method of coloring the pages you work on? How long does it take? What’s the hardest part? What’s the best part?

Gally: Well, for me, it’s Adobe Photoshop all the way. I’ve been using it for something like twelve years, lately with a Wacom tablet. Now, depending on the complexity of the page I’m working on, it usually takes me about 2 1/2 hours to finish, including flatting. Yeah, that’s the hardest part for me: flatting.

Ana: Flatting?

Gally: Flatting…ugh. It’s really mind-numbing. I just want to get straight to the toning. As for my favorite part of the job, I’d have to say it’s seeing what different moods my colors elicit.

Ana: OH! I just thought of a good question! What’s your favorite color?  I mean, you ARE a colorist…hee hee.

Gally: Black. No question about it. I love painting with a wide spectrum of colors, but black is my favorite…even though, as a comic book colorist, I avoid it whenever possible. You don’t want to color a page using black, that’s what inking is for. Avoiding black is just a good rule of thumb.

Ana: Any more good rules of any more thumbs?

Gally: Well, everyone should pay attention to basic color theory. The understanding of what colors work well with each other and how certain colors can appear to change completely when placed next to others. And, with comics, understanding what series of colors works best to help tell the story without overpowering the artwork.

Ana: Oh, yeah…I had plenty of students who were excellent colorists, but I also had more than a few who would ruin otherwise beautiful drawings with their horrible attempts at coloring.

Gally: I just think that when you’re in Art Schoool, you have no excuse for ignoring basic aesthetics of design.

Ana: Do you agree with me that colorists are sometimes misunderstood? That they aren’t appreciated or respected as a full-fledged member of the team producing the comic?

Harmony in color. A sample page Gally colored while at SCAD. From KABUKI, by David Mack

Gally: There are a lot of bad colorists out there, sure, but coloring should absolutely be thought of as an important aspect of the finished art. Successful comics pages are a harmonious synthesis of pencils, inks, colors and text…all generated from great scripts, of course.

Ana: Mark Kneece will be glad to hear you mentioned that last part.

Gally: Another thing I’d like to mention is how much respect I have for colorists who can draw. I think it adds a lot to your understanding of comics pages and how the colors can help serve them.

Ana: YES! For that matter, if you want to draw comics, understanding inking and coloring isn’t a bad idea, either. It’s like when you have to learn how to bus tables at a restaurant when you really just want to be a waiter. There’s a point in learning all the different aspects of comics production.

Gally: Absolutely…and fine art, too. Studying the great masters, and how they used their colors, is very inspiring. But keep in mind that everything I’m saying should be read with the understanding that I’m not talking about people who want to create their own work using all the steps involved. I’m talking about freelancers looking to find work as part of a team effort.

Ana: You know, it’s kind of ironic that the first SUGAR NINJAS interview is with someone who works as a refurbisher/colorist.  After all, the SUGAR NINJAS books aren’t even published in color…

Gally: Unfortunately, ha ha. But it does reiterate how important gray tones can be. I know there are a lot of artists, not comics colorists, who like to paint everything in gray tones first and then go over their work with another layer of colors. It’s a great way to quickly test out what different colors will look like and whether or not they will read well. But that method is pretty time consuming for producing comics pages, even though it’s great for learning if your grays are defining enough.

Ana: Okay, Gally. Now that you are a big-shot, professional refurbisher, how many cars do you have?

Gally: 25. And I keep them in my gold garage, guarded by attack pandas. No, I’m just starting out. I have to work my way up to the gold garage.

Ana: Well, you’re also a SUGAR NINJA, meaning that you understand the idea of patiently waiting in the shadows…waiting for your chance…TO MAKE YOUR MARK!!!

Gally: Yes, I’m a ninja. A colorful SUGAR NINJA!

A little bit of realism to finish off the interview. © Gally Articola

Ana: You contributed some wonderful illustrations to the first SPICY book. Are you planning anything special for the next SUGAR NINJAS collection? More illustrations…comics…concept art?

Gally: Definitely some interesting illustrations. I have a plan, oh yes.

Ana: Well, we’ll have to wait and see what you come up with for VOLUME 2! So, how do you feel this interview went?

Gally: Pretty extensive. I’m honored to have been the first SUGAR NINJA interviewee.

Ana: Hey, it was my pleasure to interview you…and to have been your teacher…and to BE your friend!

Gally: And I thank you for all of that.

Ana: Thanks all around! And, of course: HUGS!!!

Gally: Indeed.

To see more of Gally’s art, visit her website, or her Deviant Art and check out Marvel Handbooks #9-12 for her refurbishing work. Or, just look around you, at the cute Sugar Ninjas themselves!



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