Who do you call when you want to bring a more youthful, vibrant color palette to your line of books aimed at young readers? If you're Marvel Press, you get ahold of Richard Isanove, a comic coloring veteran whose work has enhanced books like WOLVERINE: ORIGINS, DARK TOWER and many others.
Marvel Press—on Twitter as @MarvelReads—recently decided to restart their line of super hero-based books for kids. With that in mind, Editor Tomas Palacios asked Marvel for someone who could develop a new overall color scheme and painterly style that would be more in line with Marvel Animation projects. Isanove's name came up right away and before long they joined forces.
Artists and colorists like Ron Lim and Dean White now use the established color guides and style to create new stories like “Guardians of the Galaxy (The Origin),” which hits stores on July 1. Palacios and Isanove went back and forth a bit when figuring out characters like Groot and Gamora who have a bit of a darker tone, but eventually found a great balance they think will do well to define those figures for a new audience.
We talked to Isanove about getting involved with Marvel Press, the process of working on these characters and his own experience exposing the next generation of readers to the world of Marvel heroes.
Marvel.com: How did you get involved with Marvel Press in the first place?
Richard Isanove: I think Tomas just asked Marvel if they could recommend somebody and I guess they just gave my name. I've been working for Marvel since 1998 now, first as a colorist, now as a writer and penciler, but most of the time was spent as a colorist. So, I guess my name came up.
Marvel.com: Your responsibilities include setting color palettes for the books as well as a paint style. What was the process like?
Richard Isanove: That's the main thing I'm doing for the Marvel books, establishing the vibrant palette for the characters. Tomas has a very precise idea of what he wanted. He wanted to find a look that took a kid's book, but made it classy. We tried different things and he kept going for something more painterly. For me "painterly" meant more oils, like more of a classic painting, but he had something more along the lines of watercolors in mind.
The work I did is usually on the computer, but this I did by hand because the best way to get the painterly look is to paint. I color in black and white, then colorize on the computer like they did to the black and white movies in the 90’s. You establish the values and then put the color behind it. You render a figure with highlights and shadows in watercolors and then after that tweak it on the computer which makes it easier because we can always adjust afterwards. Since it has to be approved by Marvel and Tomas too so they're really happy with every color, it's better to have something you can tweak so you don't have to repaint every time.
Marvel.com: How long have you been working on this project and how long would you say it takes to lay down the palette for a character?
Richard Isanove: We're supposed to be done in May  and we started the whole thing in September . We only do a few a month, especially now because I'm working on another book for Marvel. Right now what we're doing is establishing every character so we have two or three poses: one side, one front and an action shot. What I've been doing so far is doing one of those three shots so we can agree on the color scheme. Once we've done the character, I go back and do the rest of the poses. For now everybody who works with those characters can work from the colors that we established just from that one shot.
Marvel.com: These projects involve other comic book artists like you. Have you been in contact with any of them?
Richard Isanove: I talk directly with Ron [Lim] to get the pencils. I get those directly from him. As a colorist I always liked dealing with the [other creators] directly just in case they have something specific in mind. It's better to get it from the horse's mouth instead of a third party all the time. I find that if you just talk to people things go so much more smoothly. If I have a question, I just ask Ron directly. It makes things easier. Plus, he's a nice guy, he's very funny.
Marvel.com: How does working on colors for these books differ from doing a similar job in comics?
Richard Isanove: There are two things: the color scheme and that painterly style. In comics you're just there to establish the color palette and then every artist is going to go and do it in their own style. Every artist will put his own spin on it so you establish a base that's a variable and they can improvise from those parameters. In the kids books, we want it to be uniform, so I'm establishing the color palette, but also a certain look and a certain style. So it's a bit more restrictive than doing a comic. In comics you just need to know that Wolverine is blue and yellow and that's it. Here you have to establish exactly what blue.
It used to be a lot [stricter] in the old days where every character had a specific CMYK value because there was no colorist; people would just write down the value of the CMYK and send it to the printer with numbers pointing to each object. Now, with all the subtleties, as long as you stay within the range of yellow you can do whatever you want with the colors. There's no specific blue or yellow or red for those characters as long as Daredevil's red. He doesn't have to be a specific red.
Marvel.com: One of the neat things about working on children’s books and establishing this style is that your work will introduce kids to these characters. How does that feel?
Richard Isanove: I was a huge Marvel geek when I was a kid. In France it's not that common. I grew up buying them kind of in secrecy. I've always been really into that. For me it's still unbelievable that I wound up working at Marvel. I grew up in a small town in the south of France and I ended up in Los Angeles working on Marvel comics. That's incredible to me. When I was a kid and they asked what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to draw. I said I wanted to be an inker for Marvel because I didn't think I could draw well enough. [Laughs] Now to be doing that and knowing that that's what kids will see is really cool.
Marvel.com: What were some of the characters or teams that really captured your imagination as a kid reading comics?
Richard Isanove: Spider-Man. The first book I bought had four issues; it was Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man and Captain Marvel, but really Spider-Man [stood out]. I don't know what it is about that character, but he hits something with kids, you know? I really liked Daredevil, mostly because it seemed more probable that I could become that guy than be bitten by a radioactive spider.
Marvel.com: What were some of the early super hero books, movies or cartoons that you exposed your son to early on?
Richard Isanove: Pretty much everything. I have all my toys in my office, but of course he couldn't play with them. Ever since he was a kid I read the classic X-Men to him. He liked them, especially the old X-Men because each was from a different nationality and I would do the accents. I'm very bad at it, but he thought it was funny. Because the X-Men are a group, everyone finds the one they like. A lot of people like Wolverine, but my son was obsessed with Banshee. It just struck a chord. He was Wolverine for the last Halloween. He changes. He likes the movies. He likes Captain America now.
Now it's the movies more than the books. It's weird because now they have the movies; all we had were the comic books. They don't read as many comics as we did. When I go to the comic book store he always wants to buy one and reads it when he gets home.
Marvel.com: There are so many more ways to experience these characters these days including the books you're working on.
Richard Isanove: And now you don't have to be ashamed of it, which is great. The movies made them legitimate. When you see the cool kids wearing X-Men T-shirts, it's like wow! 15 years ago you wouldn't have dared. Only super geeks or the guys on "The Big Bang Theory" would wear them. Now it's totally legitimate which is really cool. For parents to actually think it's okay to buy that kind of stuff for their kids is nice too. Doing these kids books will hopefully bring more people into it and renew the readership. The comic books are getting pretty mature and there [are] really no products for younger kids anymore. There are some and the [cartoons], but to get them to comics, those kids books are a good way. Hopefully that works.
That's really how I learned how to read and it helped my vocabulary. My teachers were amazed by my vocabulary because at 10 I was the only guy who could say "cryogenics" or "telekinesis" or "telepathy." They didn't hesitate to put big words in comics, so I would look them up in a dictionary to know what the story was about.
Marvel.com: As a longtime comic book fan, do you have a favorite character you'd like to see get their own kids book?
“Guardians of the Galaxy (The Origin),” the first book featuring Richard Isanove's palettes and style, hits stores on July 1 from Marvel Press.