Comic Booked Exclusive Interview: Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser
Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser are a comic book match made in heaven. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Fantastically gifted couple makes good by combining their talents to bring something fresh and unique to a time-honored medium. It’s true. Look it up.
All kidding aside, both make a living being first call artists for Marvel on many of their popular titles like Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and Winter Soldier – Mitch as an illustrator and Elizabeth as a colorist. Their collective knowledge and insights on the art process reads like a master class for illustrators and colorists.
Like any successful person working in the business, a lot of dues had to be paid before getting a taste of success. After graduating college, Mitch took a well-traveled road into the comic book industry.
“I spent the next 5 years networking at conventions, working odd jobs, and amassing an impressive collection of rejection letters before finally getting my foot in the door with Marvel on their Drax the Destroyer mini-series (with Keith Giffen),” he says.
Elizabeth was doing something quite different after her college experience by “peddling paintings” and teaching secondary art for a private school. Mitch’s steady rise in the industry allowed him to bring the highly talented Elizabeth along for the ride.
“In 2007, Mitch convinced me to turn in my paintbrushes and yard stick for a set of digital crayons and a life in the funny book business,” she says. “It was a brave new world and one I’m still trying to navigate.”
It’s a world they navigate as smoothly as a ship with GPS. Both have interesting practices in creating visual stories, particularly when it comes to how each of them render art for any specific project. Their respective abilities are informed by their unique roles in the comic book storytelling process.
Mitch describes his artistic process as “thinking a lot about color and tone”, which in turn influences the artistic choices he makes in the inking process.
‘My pencils are very tonal and that helps me think through where the colorist will pick up the slack in the art,” he says. “I do my darndest not to be overtly dictatorial with the colorist (Elizabeth in most cases), but rather to suggest what the color should be with line weight, light sources, etc.”
In Elizabeth’s case, she operates with a highly intuitive approach towards making artwork come to life as vividly as the rainbow even if it appears to have a certain scientific approach.
“A colorist definitely wants to be sensitive to the artwork and pick up on the visual cues in the line work for lighting, values, anatomy, texture, etc.,” she says. “That sounds surgical, but it becomes mostly intuitive. It’s also fun to be clever when you can (if you have enough time, freedom, and/or sleep to be!).”
While Elizabeth certainly can pluck any color from the color spectrum, her personality as an artist comes through in her work. A fair amount of her coloring runs along the lines of dark and moody, almost European. It’s a bit myopic in hindsight to think she has a signature style, when a radiant artistic personality is a more appropriate way of describing what she does.
“The number one goal of my colors is always to assist the artist and writer in conveying the mood and atmosphere they’ve already established in the script and in the artwork,” she says. “While certain books I’ve worked on, like Winter Soldier and Captain America, do tend to lean towards noir/shadow/mystery/intrigue, I certainly don’t aim to have an over-arching theme of muted cool toned hues in my body of work.”
Look no further than her work on Hulk or Agents of Atlas to see the range of her palette. Elizabeth makes a strong case for the versatility and range of her work outside of the spy/noir trope.
“I try my best to complement the individual art style I’m working on at the moment and don’t worry too much with trying to put my own big twist or stamp on things,” she says. “Respecting the artwork always comes first.”
Which brings us back to Mitch. His artwork straddles an interesting line between naturalism, although he prefers to describe his style as “romanticism”. In a medium known for fantasy, his style breaks down the fourth wall and grounds make-believe in reality.
“In terms of story, we have a certain thin line of plausible deniability when we open our minds up to experience a narrative, and it’s partly my job to make sure that line doesn’t get crossed,” he says. “With a more natural approach, the reader can be fully immersed in the story.”
It’s that sort of approach that keeps him in demand with Marvel and allows him to create without dictation from editorial on his technique. With that said, Mitch and Elizabeth put their unique styles to work in a highly collaborative sense with the difference creative teams they work on.
Elizabeth’s description of the process between writer, artist, and editor offers some keen insights for newcomers to the industry, especially in regards to how varied the process can be.
“When I first start a book, I’ll reach out to the artist and writer to ask if they have any special requests/notes for rendering style, color palettes, etc.,” she says. “After that, I’m typically left to read the script and make things happen on my own. I send in pages for review as I finish them and make changes along the way if needed or requested.”
“Once I receive pages from the artist or editorial, I’ll either separate the page into flats (which are blocks of flat color for quick selection & bucket filling purposes) myself or hire someone else to do it. Once the page is flatted, I’ll bucket fill the individual shapes and start establishing my color palette. From there it all about values, lighting, rendering, and creating atmosphere and focus. At the very end I’ll add any needed special effects, like glows, debris, color holds on the line art, etc. This particular page was a flashback scene. I went with an unrealistic two color palette to help jar the reader out of the present day storyline. I chose to contrast red next to a desaturated cooler gray to intensify the beats and create focus, or at least that was what I hoped to achieve. To help set it apart even further from the present day panels, I removed the panel boarders and painted in a jagged edge.”
Mitch also provided an interesting glimpse into the technical aspect of doing layouts. Noting that “layouts serve a very necessary and mechanical purpose”, Mitch sent over an instructive screenshot of the layout process that gives a rough approximation of how to frame a story in the layout process.
“They’re visual notes that remind me who and what goes where, and how I get all the actors from one end of the page to the other,” he says. “They needn’t be any more detailed than what an editor or creative partner needs to be absolutely clear about what’s going on and issue their approval.”
His advice for budding artists in regards to the layout process is to keep it clear and simple while following the backward S through the page. This basic premise for visual storytelling boils things down to their nuts and bolts.
On a technical level, some of Mitch’s tools of the trade include a Kolinsky sable round for inking, Kuretake brush pens, and Uni’s Signo pens. He also mentions that he’s “a loyal customer of JetPens.com (Feel free to send me free stuff for the plug!)” and “creates a lot of work in the computer as well.”
Elizabeth’s main tools of the trade are her Macintosh computer, a Wacom drawing tablet, Photoshop CS5, and ” a comfy chair (very important!)”.
As far as stories that get Mitch’s attention, he doesn’t consider himself “genre specific”, and he’s “open to anything with a great log line.” Mitch and Elizabeth also have a lot of great stories in the works.
“I’m not sure what I can say here,” he says. “I’m doing a book for Belgian publisher, Le Lombard. It’s historical fiction, but that’s all I’ll say for now.”
Working together, the couple are putting their first creator-owned graphic novel out later this year with a major American publisher.
“We can’t say too much about it either, other than that the book will be a very new twist on a very old tale, and it will be carried by some major retail outlets,” he says. “Elizabeth also recently signed on to color Fatale for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. It’s a really great fit for her and one she is really excited about.”
2013 promises to be another busy year for the Breitweisers. Between all of projects they work on and the natural challenges of being married, one wonders how they balance work and having a personal life. Mitch puts it succinctly.
“What’s a personal life?”
Having said that, fans of the Breitweisers can expect to see more amazing work from them in the near future.