Women Making Comics: Barbara Nosenzo on Coloring Halo Jones (EXCLUSIVE)
2000AD is a very British comics institution. One that, due to their very own post apocalyptic hot dad Judge Dredd, became an international cultural phenomenon. Their alumni include pretty much every male British cartoonist and comics creator, including Alan Moore and Ian Gibson– whose groundbreaking Halo Jones was published at the company in 1984. Though the book may not be immediately familiar, at the time Moore’s heroine was seen as radical and progressive. Now 2000AD are doing something to reignite the legacy of Halo Jones.
Artist and classical painter Barbara Nosenzo has been recruited by the cult comics publisher to colour the black and white strip, which is going to be released in a full collection. To celebrate the announcement I sat down with Barbara to talk about her career, colouring some of the biggest names in comics, and the responsibility that comes with taking on work decades after it was created.
Beginning her professional career creating Tarots for Lo Scarabeo–an Italian publisher who specialize in artistic Tarot cards–Barbara had already been making indie comics for over 10 years. As creator these were formative years for Barbara, “I think that this experience gave me a lot of consciousness about what the comics industry requires: deadlines, graphic, printing and selling. My years as an indie comics creator definitely made me grow a lot, preparing me for the professional world,” Nosenzo told me.
Her career as a colourist started at a young age, with Barbara always drawing and colouring. “When I was a child, I spent all my days and evenings by penciling pin-ups to color then them, so probably that was written in my DNA!” Nosenzo laughed. “As I got older I left colours behind for a while, becoming just a penciller and inker for many years, then one day I attended a watercolor course and…I fell again in love with coloring again!”
Barbara soon realised that she actually enjoyed coloring other people’s work more than her own. Then in 2009 she had an interaction which changed her life: “I was selected by Marvel’s Editor CB Cebulski during a portfolio review in Italy, and then I realized that I should practise my digital painting if I wanted to transform my hobby into a real job,” Nosenzo exclaimed.
Her road to coloring one of 2000AD’s most well known books was an interesting one after meeting Ben Smith and Keith Richardson at a portfolio review at Angouleme festival in France, she was hired to colour Summer Magic: the Complete Journal of Luke Kirby. After only a month of working with Rebellion she received an email from Ben asking her to take on another project. Recalling the email Barbara got rather excited.
“‘Ciao Barbara, we’re thinking about doing a color version of The ballad of Halo Jones, would you be interested on doing some test pages for us?’
“Well… let me think a minute… Oh my God!!!! I think I almost had an heart attack!!! So I did 6 test pages, experimenting with some different painting styles and at the third attempt… we found the right one. A couple of weeks after I sent the test pages, Ben told me that 2000AD wanted to hire me for this project, and here we are!” Nosenzo enthusiastically reminisced.
Collaborating on a work decades after it’s been created is a huge undertaking and for Barbara it was a seriously imposing task. “Taking this on was beautiful and scary at the same time! I mean, it’s THAT Alan Moore and THAT Ian Gibson, and you feel always so small compared to such great authors. Also I really love Alan Moore, so from the beginning I was really really excited about being part of this project. You know, it wasn’t just a work, it was a great challenge and a great honor to be chosen for this,” Nosenzo explained.
Obviously colouring a book that is essentially already a finished thing is very different to creating with regular collaborators, especially when it came to the idea of creative freedom. But for Barbara the project was still a satisfying experience, mostly due to a great relationship with her editor. “Generally, working with the other creators is filled with mutual inspirations, but working on a already defined work leaves you a little less of creative freedom. However, in this case, I think I’ve been very lucky because I worked in really close contact with Matt Smith, my supervising editor. So I was proposing artistic choices and discussing the best solutions, so I don’t feel like I’ve only been a simple colorist, I actually feel like I had an active role in the creative decisions, and that was very fulfilling.” Nosenzo revealed.
Creating work and coloring other people’s are both processes that Barbara enjoys with each giving her different types of satisfaction “Working on your own projects it’s always great, because it’s your baby, you know, but I think I’m quite lucky because I also get to be involved with in other people’s art and creations. I think I always manage to find a part of myself in everything I colour. Once I’m done, the artwork has always something of me, I think.” Nosenzo said.
Nosenzo uses digital formats to create her work, but never had any formal education and is self taught when it comes to creating comics digitally, she explained her process a little more for us. “I use a lot paper textures as background, to give a material effect on the page, then I obviously do a flat layer first, on which I add a layer for shadows and a couple of layers for lights… Basically I work just like I’m painting on a real canvas! I really don’t use special effects and tricks, because they seem almost fake to me and I don’t think they look so good. But that might just be my personal opinion because I’m a traditional painter,” Nosenzo pondered.
When it came to colouring The Ballad of Halo Jones, Barbara came across challenges, including deciding when it was appropriate to adapt and change the pages with her colours. “Of course, there were some scenes where I had to do adaptations, for example when panels would overlap, or were continuous, like floor in one panel becoming ceiling in the next one, or panels without edges… There, I had to find graphic solutions to keep the sequential rhythm and to match the palette. Being a little bit of an artist helped as well when artlines were not “closed” because I then I could complete them with colour,” Nosenzo shared.
With the way that creators like Moore and Gibson are lauded in the comics community there was obviously a huge amount of pressure on Barbara, which she took very seriously. Recognising what she saw as a responsibility to the work and its creators. “I always feel the responsibility of what I’m doing when I choose colors, but in this particular context I was constantly thinking ‘What did Moore think when developing this character or that setting? How did Gibson imaginate to be this particular feeling?’ It was definitely a great challenge for me, because I was asked to add colors on a graphic style that actually was just so perfect already in black and white, so honestly I was really afraid of taking away some of the magic by adding colours,” Nosenzo stated honestly.
Though it was obviously an intense experience it was one that Barbara enjoyed immensely. Not only did she work on a book created by someone whose work she adores but it also gave her space to explore some of her own passions. “I’m a huge fan of landscapes and backgrounds in general, so I really enjoyed “putting life” in all the background characters and settings. I always pay a lot of attention to the details, because I think that they can help the reader to feel involved in the story, creating a more realistic atmosphere.” Nosenzo sighed.
Recoloured, remastered and published in three prestige volumes, the first book of Halo Jones will be published in North America and Europe in April 2018.