Earlier this year, we were lucky enough to sit down and talk comic with comic artist and colorist Chris Sotomayor. You have been seeing his “Soto” signature on comics from many different publishers for a couple of decades now. He is a native New Yorker who has made his mark in the field that fuels his passion.
He has worked for Marvel and DC quite a bit. Most recently he was doing the colors on Batman Beyond, Supergirl, and The Wailing Blade among other things.
He is also currently doing the colors on the recently release DC Black Label mini-series The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage. It is written by Jeff Lemire with art by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz. Issue #1 comes out today, so go get it after you read this interview.
Chris is part of the faculty of Comics Experience and teaches online courses in comic coloring, for beginners and pros.
In this interview, we talk about how he got his start, his process, and his heroes.
Pop Culture Squad: Did you always know you wanted to work in comics?
Chris Sotomayor: Oh yeah! Since I was about five years old and watching the old 1966 Batman reruns on Channel 11. I just used to watch that all the time, and I loved Robin. I thought he was badass because he was younger like me. So, I really got into it.
Since that show, I used to draw Batman, and my parents used to buy me a comic book every once in awhile. I knew I wanted to be comics, and I was hoping to draw them especially when I found out that people drew them. Then, I found out that people drew them and made a living. I was like, “Wow! That is the awesomest thing ever.”
I thought you drew comics and got free comics. I wanted to get into comics for the free comics. When I found out you can pay bills and live in a place, I was like “Bonus, Awesome!”
PCS: So how did you get into professional comics? Do you have a “This how I got my break” story?
CS: It’s kind of a two-prong story. Going through Junior High and High school, I had family members tell me, “No. Don’t be an artist”, and it kind of got me down. It did get to me after awhile, and I did consider going into something else like sciences. I was actually thinking of Biochemistry for awhile. My grandmother. She always got into my head, “No. Don’t go into art. Don’t be a starving artist. There is no money in that.” She didn’t know, she was an immigrant into the country and didn’t really understand. In High School, I really made up my mind that I was doing it again. This was what I was going to do, and I researched all different aspects of the job and all the different ways people broke in.
One time, when I lived in the city, in New York, I grew up in the Bronx, I was down in the Village with my buddy Angel. We were on the 6 train headed back uptown to go home, and we came to the 23rd street station on the 6 line. That was where the Marvel offices were, and I told him this is where Marvel offices were. It was like 8 o’clock at night, and he said “Let’s go.” I’m like, “We just can’t go.” He asked if I knew what floor they were on. I was like, “Yeah, 10.” He said again, “Lets go.” So, we went. Like an idiot, I’m what 17 or 18 years old at this time.
PCS: I did the same thing. I was about the same age, and I went to 666 5th Ave, where the DC offices were. I walked up, got into the elevator, and rode it to the right floor. The doors opened. I looked around the hallway, and got back in.
CS: Not my dumb ass! Me and my friend Angel tried to sneak into the offices. The security guard came up behind me, and like a Scooby-Doo cartoon, I felt his hand on my collar. He said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I said that I just wanted to see if anyone was here and I love comics and I want to get into it. I was talking to him for awhile, and he wound up giving us a tour.
PCS: That’s awesome.
CS: I got to go in, and he handed us off to a production guy, named George Roberts, who finished the tour. Working in the bullpen on an issue of Ghost Rider were Jimmy Palmiotti, Michael Bair, and Mark Teixeira. There were like a few people in the room, just jamming on an issue of Ghost Rider, trying to get it done for the next day. They had about 18 pages left, and the editor was Bobbie Chase. She was like a real stickler for deadlines, which is awesome. Her office never missed a deadline, by the way. I loved her.
So, we got to hang out and watch them as long as I didn’t bother them. I wound up leaving that day with all these uncut card sheets and posters. Everyone was so nice to me, and I got to understand the job a little better. So, I knew that when I got out of High School, I was going to The School of Visual Arts, art school, and I did.
I had a part time job at a D’Agostino’s supermarket in the city, and I noticed that, once in a while, Denys Cowan would come in the store. The first time I saw him, I was like, “Holy Shit! That is Denys Cowan!”, and I didn’t say anything, because you got to be cool. But, I think it was the third time he came in, I introduced myself. I was in the produce department, when you walk in. So, as soon as he walks in, I introduce myself. I said, “Hey, my name is Chris Sotomayor, and I’m a big fan.” Denys and Bill Sienkiewicz are my number one artists. They are interchangeable on any particular day I see their stuff, but either one of them are my number one on any given thing.
So, getting to meet Denys? He was so nice. He was way nicer then he had to be, especially to some strange kid in the produce department at D’Agostino’s. I asked him if he needed assistants, or if he know anyway I could get started. He invited me to his signing. They were about to launch the Milestone Comics books, but he was doing a signing for Deathlok on 23rd street. He had a friend of his, who was one of the Milestone founders, Michael Davis, also there, signing too. Just hanging out, because they’ve been friends since they were kids. So, at the signing, Denys introduced me to Michael.
Michael ran this unofficial new talent program. This new talent program was like a class or studio. Some of the kids would be invited to the studio during operational hours. We would learn, and we would draw, and we would ink backgrounds or paint stuff, or draw things or do layouts. We helped schedule. We learned art. We learned the business. It was awesome. This class, was like twenty kids, but included there was John Paul Leon, Bernard Chang, Shawn Martinbrough.
This was before John Paul started working professionally. He was in the class, and he was showing us the samples of pages that he was going to show Dark Horse Comics. And then he landed RoboCop. After that, the Milestone books. Him and Shawn, they grew in Milestone, then at DC. Shawn is amazing.
Yeah, so, Denys got me my first in, into comics. From there, when MIchael broke away from Milestone, to start another thing, he brought me in as an editor. So, then I was able to learn how to edit projects and graphic art direct and other stuff. Then, from there, using those connections, I was able to start freelancing. So Denys is directly responsible and Michael Davis.
PCS: Awesome. That is a great story. So, your process? What is that like for you?
CS: Before I start any new project, I try to read the script for the plot. I need to know that.
PCS: Do you get a full script before you start?
CS: Most of the time I do. Which is nice.
PCS: Because I have heard people recently saying that they get a couple of pages script, and then a couple of pages of art, and then, they have to try to color from that.
CS: Yeah, that is not the best way to work. Luckily, that is not the usual case. Often, I get a full script. It depends on who I am working with. Some people like to write Marvel-style. So, I get a plot. Which is fine. It’s kind of panel by panel break down with very sparse dialogue, if any. And that’s fine. I can kind of figure out what’s going on. I usually get the script and the art completed at the same time. Sometimes, I get the script ahead. I’m working on this Conan thing, and I have a Marvel-style plot ready to go, but I don’t have the artwork yet. Typically, I will read the script and try to figure out were the beats are. I’ll figure out where there needs to be some tension or some conflict. I’ll have a rough idea of a color outline in my head.
What I used to do, when I was starting out, is sit with a printed copy of the script and take colored pencil and start circling paragraphs or passages in different colors to get it in my head and start thinking about it, but now it comes more naturally. With practice, I would figure out where the important parts are, what the big action is, and I kind of reserve some things for that. Whenever there are cooler scenes, I try to play down that a little bit. I always try to give the environment a little more focus because the characters have to live in an environment, and if I can peg down the environment, then everything else just fits in properly. So that is my general approach. And I also try to do research on the artist to see what works with their style.
PCS: Is there a genre of comics that you particularly like to work in?
CS: I like the street level characters, Just as characters, like Daredevil, Moon Knight, Batman, Nightwing. Those are my favorites. As far as digital painting and coloring, the cosmic stuff is awesome. When I was on Captain Marvel, it was so much fun because there were all these new worlds to build and piggyback off of ChrisCross, Ivan Reis, Aaron Lopresti or whoever I was working with at the time. So, I love being able to take something that should be familiar and make it really weird, odd and surreal. You know, like purple trees, and lush red grass, and things like that. Pink rivers. Really playing around with the sky and making really weird patterns in the sky. I really dig that stuff
PCS: What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
CS: Oh man. I really like the relationships I build with the students during and after the whole teaching process. I wind up connecting with a lot of students through social media, or email, or at conventions. I’ll take a look at their portfolio, or we will go have dinner, or a drink. It’s really nice to be able to see their career starting and see how they are proceeding with their journey. I really like that.
PCS: Ok, so you may have already answered this, but is there a particular artist you enjoy working on?
CS: Oh man. Denys and Bill, they are my tops. Anytime they call me in to do something, it’s a dream.
PCS: And you are doing The Question with them?
PCS: And how’s that?
CS: My God, I love the artwork. And working with Denys and Bill? They are way nicer than they ever need to be, especially to me. When I first met Bill, he hugged me. And I was like “Wow!” I was ready to really fanboy out, but he hugged me and said “Hey. I love working with you.” And I was like “Awwww”. So I really love Denys and Bill.
Aside from those guys though, I genuinely appreciate working with anyone who understands structure because it makes my job easier. Like Gary Frank, Carlos Pacheco, the Kuberts, those guys, they get it. But guys off the wall, like Denys and Bill, I love that creative energy. And I am working with Bill on a New Mutants book. We are doing a Chris Claremont story. New Mutants fans are going to love it.
[Note: That New Mutants book was New Mutants: War Children and came out in September 2019]
PCS: We are going to do some quick hits. Fanboyish stuff. What is the first comic you remember reading?
CS: Marvel Two-in-One #69. First one that I read cover to cover. And over and over and over again.
PCS: Who was in that one?
CS: The Thing and Guardians of the Galaxy. The original Guardians of the Galaxy. Like Yondu, Vance Astro, Charlie-27. I love that stuff.
PCS: Yeah. I love that too.
CS: That book freaked me out so much that I had to buy more comics.
PCS: That’s awesome. What is your non-comic fandom?
CS: I put so much into comics.
PCS: So you are all comics, all the time?
CS: Yeah, comics and art. Illustrations. I own a Drew Struzan piece. I have a Bernie Fuchs piece, and Bill Sienkiewicz piece from the Santa Claus book, Santa Claus: My Life and Times. And I look at the stuff every day. I love art.
PCS: Who is your favorite Superhero?
CS: Daredevil. All time favorite.
PCS: There is only one correct answer to this one. What is your favorite dessert?
CS: Anything chocolate.
PCS: Ha Ha! I was giving you an out. You were supposed to say cake.
CS: [Laughing] Oh my God! There is so much cake in my house. I can’t.
PCS: Thank you so much for doing this!
[Note: Chris’s wife has a custom cake business called It’s Just Cake. You should follow her Facebook Page.]