David Baron’s Transition From Colorist To Creator-Owned Writer On Stained

by Gary Catig

Amid all the comic creators set up in Artist Alley at the Long Beach Comic Expo, was David Baron. A renowned colorist, and more recently a writer, he graciously took the time out for an interview to discuss his transition to the new role and his creator owned series, Stained, from the 451 Media Group.

Gary Catig: Have you attended the Long Beach shows before either the Con or the Expo?  I know they have two shows a year. How have your experiences been here?

David Baron: It’s been great. I’ve actually been to Long Beach when they first started, which I guess is close to ten years ago now, when it was really just a small intimate venue in the upstairs little hall. It was fantastic. Everyone from Long Beach has been always great to me.  Not only at the show, but the fans as well. There’s people I met all those years ago that still come to me every Long Beach. It’s just been a nice little community.

GC:  You’ve predominantly worked in comics as a colorist. Would you describe your process determining the color palette and what specific shades you use?  Also, by the time you get the panels, both the writer and the artist have an idea what their expecting from the scenes. Do you have to predict or infer what they wanted color scheme wise or do you guys discuss it elsewhere either in the script or via email chain?

DB: Sometimes it is discussed, but I would say 99% of the time, color and color theory, is not discussed and it’s just left up to me and whatever I come up with. There are certain artists that have ideas, but most of the work that you’ve seen is just on my own. The way I do it is I always read the script. The way I approach my work is that I must read the script so I can get an understanding of what the artist had and what the writer wants.

I go for mood and I go for feeling and that’s the most important part to me. Over rendering and shading is about the mood and the actual color schemes that give the reader a sense of how the story is to make you feel. In comic books ,a lot of times we will use non-normal lighting and non-normal color schemes because it helps the reader get the emotion that 2-D art needs to give out, so the story is enhanced. Everything I try to do is just to enhance the story. If it’s supposed to be dark and horrific, I might use a lot more reds. Or if its sickly, some more greens. Or if it’s supposed to be uplifting, I’ll try to throw in some type of sunset or sunlight that gives the sense of hope or renewing of light. Any of those type of little hints in the color wheel is usually how I approach it.

GC:  In addition to a colorist, you’ve also written a creator-owned comic. Stained is your first. Could you please give a brief synopsis and tell us what it’s about?

DB:  Yeah, Stained is a five-issue mini-series that’s now out in trade paperback. It’s a sci-fi action adventure thriller. You follow Emma. Emma’s a cyborg in a world of cyborgs so her being a cyborg doesn’t necessarily make her unique. In this world, you have a story of haves and have nots. The haves have nanotechnology and carbon fiber parts covered in synthetic flesh. You wouldn’t even know they’re cyborgs. The have nots have basically engine parts on them. It’s not so much steampunk, it’s just rawer materials. Bulkier materials to be used. And they are referred to with the derogatory word “stained”. I tell people, think of it like Grandma wouldn’t let you put a car engine on the dining room table or the couch, so the restaurants in this world, and the hotels in this world, don’t want stains part of their customer base because they might damage something. Or they might stain something. So, people refer to them as “stains” and look down on them.

That’s the world Emma lives in. There’s not many jobs for someone like that, so she decides to become a recovery artist. She goes after things that people won’t, to try to make a living that way. She goes after a missing painting. Instead of finding the missing painting, she finds something horrific and tragic. Instead of running or walking away from it like a normal person would, she is compelled to dive head first into it to help out the situation. I’d go into it more, but sometimes it gets spoilery from there. It’s a pretty intense book. It definitely ramps up.  Definitely has a beginning, middle, and end. I’ve sold this book to so many different types of readers, and one of the best parts about it is that it speaks to new readers. This has been the first comic book that people have bought for themselves over and over again. Every show I go to, I at least sell one copy, minimum, to someone who’s never read a comic in their life.

GC:  So, it’s like their introduction to comics.

DB:  Absolutely! It’s an honor to have that be the introduction to their comic book reading world. It happened again this show at Long Beach. Just a couple hours ago. In fact, while you were waiting at the table, they were still here getting other books signed by me. What comic creators need to do is always provide that experience. That’s the whole reason why people read comics. It’s their outlet, their joy, their moment of relaxation. Stained gives you everything you want in entertainment.

GC:  How’s the transition from colorist to writer for you?  Was it difficult adjusting to this new role? How would you compare and contrast your approach as a writer and as a colorist?

DB: First the writer part, going from colorist to writer. In my career, when I started many years ago, I started as a 15-year-old. As a 15-year-old in comics, I wanted to be a penciller and a writer. That was my ultimate goal. At that point at 15, I wasn’t good enough to be a penciller or experienced enough to be a writer. They had a job opening for a colorist. They said “We’ll give you a job as a colorist if you want to try it”.  What 15-year-old is going to say no to working in comics? It’s sophomore year of high school so I said “Of course”.  I learned the craft and luckily people find it appealing and consider me a success in the world of coloring.

But with that, even during the time that I was coloring and people know me as a colorist, I was still designing books for Wildstorm. I went to other companies where I art directed and hired artists, and edited comics, and helped write comics. I wasn’t necessarily credited or known for that. My whole career has always been involved and surrounded by the whole process. Not just coloring. Where other people that work in a studio might just do one thing.  Being a product of Wildstorm, a Wildstorm alum, you learn everything.  I used to color a book after we got the artwork in. We scanned the artwork before we colored it, and after we colored it, we used to paste it up with the lettering and film it and then send the film to the printer. I was one of those kids that did everything, so I was always part of the entire process.

The transition to an actual creator-owned writer wasn’t foreign to me. It wasn’t difficult for me. I had the pleasure of reading Planetary and Authority scripts from Warren Ellis and Mark Millar. I’ve had the pleasure of reading America’s Best Comic scripts from The League of Extraordinary Gentleman to Tom Strong and all these other books I got to work on. I had the opportunity to read what Alan Moore writes. Ed Brubaker. John Layman. All these writers have always been around and I’ve had these opportunities. Those are the things that make my life and my path a little different from others. I actually had the chance to see how other professionals already wrote, being part of the industry.

When I transitioned, I already knew what scripts should look like. How they should read.  Then it’s just based off talent and skill of the craft. What I’ve always based my whole career off of is more the skill of the craft and understanding the process, more than just being talented. I’d like to think that I’m talented, but I never think I’m as talented as others. I’m just a little more organized or I understand how to produce something to get the desired effect.  While other people might struggle in that transition, I’ve already been through it several times.

GC:  That’s interesting. I didn’t know how involved you were in other aspects in the industry. Like you said, people know you more as a colorist. I never knew you were an editor or doing the other stuff. You mentioned that you started when you were 15, so you’re a veteran in this industry. You’re aware of different publishers that can release creator owned books. What about the 451 Media Group stood out to you and made you want to release Stained on that imprint?

DB:  People think that just because you’re in comics, it’s easy to make comics. When you have a creator-owned comic, you still have to go through the same struggle as someone who has never written or colored or drawn a comic in their life. You go through the same process they do, submitting your book hoping to find someone. It’s not as easy to find a publisher even when they’re your good friends because of scheduling. They might be full. They might not want to take it because they’re your friend. They might not actually like it or believe in you. They’re your friend, but stick to coloring or stick to this or stick to that. You just never know.

When I found 451, they were the most energetic about the project. For instance, James Emmett, the 451 editor for Stained.  I already brought him a whole book. I brought him the whole script. I brought him four fully drawn issues and with the fifth one already in development. He had a lot to see. His response back to me was so energetic and so full of life, that I knew that was the right place. I knew I finally found a home for it that wants it, not just for any other reason than they think it’s great.

James and Jessica, my 451 two main contacts, they were fantastic the whole time.  They put faith in a product they loved and their faith was well placed, because it’s been super successful for 451. It sold a very good amount of books for an independent book. It sold a great amount for 451 titles. It showed them that they can be successful as well, because they are more on the Hollywood side. They do a lot of toys and productions, so comics is relatively new to them. But it shows others that they know what they’re doing as well.  Everything is a baby step towards your ultimate goal.

GC:  Trans media is a big trend in entertainment now and 451 prides itself in being a multiplatform entertainment company. Did this influence your decision for writing for them as well? I saw their panel at L.A. Comic Con and they discussed some of the content they developed for other projects. For NVRLND there was a music video and for the graphic novel SAFEHAVEN they are going to have an augmented reality experience. Are there any plans to develop something like that for Stained? If not, what kind of content would you like? 

DB:  I don’t know what I can say and can’t say to be honest. There are definitely plans to take it to another level. It had nothing to do with 451 for my choice. My choice to go with them was their enthusiasm for the project. It being tied to Michael Bay and it being tied to Live Action Productions is a bonus, but in reality, I’m a comic book creator. I want the comic to have a nice shelf life. I want the comic to look good. They did that for me. They provided quality paper. They let me provide feedback on how I want it to look and why.  We always had conversations and they were always so enthusiastic to my suggestions.

That’s why Stained found a home there more than any other reason. TV and movies? If that happens, that’s just a plus. But I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve seen so many friends almost get their movie made and never get their movie made. There are always lots of talks so if it happens, I’ll be happier than anybody. But if it doesn’t, I’ll be just as happy because 451 provided quality. Provided a platform for my voice to be heard and it was a great experience with everybody that was a part of it.

GC: The first five issues have been collected in a trade as you’ve said. Do you have any more stories to tell of Emma’s adventures down the line? It was a mini-series.

DB: Behind the scenes, Stained was supposed to be an ongoing series originally. That’s how I wanted to do it. I wanted it to be my book to go on adventures with this character. No one was going to give me an ongoing series. I had about 12 issues written and for the mini-series, and then was after some advice from creator friends of mine. They said “Make it a mini-series and reshop it”. I took the four strongest issues that I thought spoke to everybody in a mass audience appeal. That was actually issues 5, 6, 7, 8.  Originally, I was going to do them in four issue arcs. I kept #1, reworked it a little bit. Got rid of 2,3,4 and brought in 5,6,7,8.

So, there’s another four issues after this and another 3 and a half issues before this. In development, there’s already another four issues after the last four issues. There are 16 issues, total, of story already, so with the success of the mini-series, instead of going to ongoing, we decided to do another mini-series. Kind of like how I always bought HellboyStained 2 will be coming out soon. We don’t have a launch date for it. It’s not in any development more than my writing phase, but it is something that is going to come out.  There will be more stories for Emma.

GC:  Recently, DMG Entertainment has acquired Valiant outright and there was a change in the top leadership. You have had a close working relationship with the company. What are your feelings about this recent acquisition? I know Dinesh [Shamdasani], as the CEO, was very passionate about it. It was through his leadership and belief in the brand that brought it back to prominence after the Acclaim days.  

DB:  I don’t know what I can and can’t say, so I’ll be a little bit careful. I know a lot about the situation, but to be honest, Dinesh is one of my close friends. I went to his wedding. I don’t want to say anything that he doesn’t want to be said. I will say that as a fan of Valiant Comics and a fan of Dinesh, I am heartbroken over it. I can’t really speak to DMG and the new heads of Valiant. I’ve made a lot of friends at Valiant. It’s one of those things where we have to wait and see.

I have been a part of a lot of buyouts and a lot of takeovers in my career. I was part of Wildstorm when DC Comics bought them and there are changes. We’ve seen the change of DC Comics moving to Burbank and I’ve had a lot of friends affected by that. A lot of it is “wait and see”. I have my personal thoughts, but out of respect for Dinesh and everyone else that stayed and are staying at Valiant, I think it’s best to keep it to myself. For fans out there, if you like the books, keep buying the books. It’s as simple as that. You can’t give up on it because of a more corporate type of politics. If you like the books that the creators are still putting out, you like what everyone is doing, keep supporting it. That’s the only way you’ll keep getting it. If you stop supporting it because of a change, they’re definitely going to go away.

GC:  Finally, we talked about Stained. Are there any other projects current or upcoming that you want to plug? I know Valiant High is coming up.

DB: Valiant High is in trade form. I think it’s being released soon if it hasn’t been already released. It was originally a Comixology book written by Daniel Kibblesmith and with art by Derek Charm. Daniel is one of the writers on Late Show With Stephen Colbert. A fantastic talent. A funny guy. A nice guy. I met him a whole year before we ever worked together.  Before he was in comics, just in a bar in New York. He was great then. He’s been great as a comic book writer. If you have the chance to see him at a show, it’s definitely worth the time to go meet him and check out his books. I met a lot of people here, so 2018 is going to be a very interesting year for me I think with a lot of different projects. I’m looking to expand my reach in the entertainment field. It doesn’t mean I’m leaving comics necessarily, just means [expanding] how I approach comics.

Gary Catig

Gary Catig is west coast raised, east coast educated, and has a touch of southern charm. He has spent most of his adult life making science fiction a reality as an engineer conducting research in the military, microprocessor, and biotechnology fields. While currently living in San Diego, he enjoys all facets of pop culture including but not limited to comics, TV, movies, and music.