Chris has been part of the comic industry for twenty-five years. He has done a lot of work for Marvel and DC, including long runs on Captain Marvel, Nightwing, The Hulk, and more. You can find him currently doing colors for Deadpool, Batman Beyond, and The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage.
Chris teaches the online comic coloring classes with Comics Experience and has a new session coming up next month.
While we have interviewed Chris before, we reached out to him again to get his perspective on how the pandemic is affecting his work and the current state of the comics industry.
You can find the audio recording of our discussion below, and we transcribed a big portion of it for you as well.
We hope you enjoy the conversation.
Pop Culture Squad: Let’s get started with talking about the books you working on these days.
Chris Sotomayor: I am working on whole range of different things, and I am excited about most of them. I want to say all of them, but if I am being honest, I am excited about most of them.
PCS: That is fine. We had talked about that Batman Beyond is coming to an end. Are you finished with it?
We are sort of in the same boat with Deadpool at Marvel. I think Issue #6 came out. Issue #7 has been done for the longest, and Issue #8 is going now.
PCS: And you are staying on Deadpool for a while, as far as you know?
CS: Yeah. As far as I know, I am in it for the long haul. I mean, listen, every book is a mini series, and every creative team usually comes and goes all together. Not always, but usually. I was very fortunate with Batman Beyond. I was brought in when Rick Leonardi was on the book and Ande Parks, and I love them both. Ande is especially great to work with. He is a teammate, and I like that.
PCS: Why is Ande especially great to work with?
CS: He is communicative. He is very friendly. He is a pro who I admire. He always kept me up to date on where he was, so that I knew where I needed to be. I was never surprised when pages came in, because Ande always let me know: “This is what I have, This is what you’re going to get, and This is when you are going to get it.” And it always came in when he said it would.
PCS: How often does that happen?
CS: It doesn’t happen often. I will say that I have been fortunate enough that it happens more often now than it has in the past.
PCS: That’s good.
CS: Yeah, I don’t know why that is all of a sudden. I really like working with teammates, not just with other creatives on a book. That is what I liked with Wailing Blade and now Happy Hill with Joe Mulvey. I did Wailing Blade with Rich Douek and Joe Mulvey, and now I am doing Happy Hill with just Joe.
Listen, early on in my career, I just took whatever I was offered, and I know, now, that is a pitfall in this business. Editors, no matter what publisher, are looking to give you everything you can handle, especially when they feel that you are a good person to work with. By that, I mean you are easy to work with. You are a team player. You hit your marks, and the quality is of a certain level. If they feel you have those attributes, they will load you up with anything and everything they can, because they know what to expect. You are a known quantity.
So it is your job to know when to say, “Enough is enough.” Early on, I didn’t know when to say “No”.
PCS: Did that hurt you?
CS: Oh. Hell yeah! I wound up in the hospital for almost a month in February of 2002.
PCS: Was that because of exhaustion?
CS: Yeah. I had gotten an upper respiratory infection because my immune system was so taxed at the time from doing all nighters, one after the other. I was at that point sleeping maybe twenty hours a week, tops. That was on a good week, and it all just caught up to me. My body just shut down. I couldn’t stand up under my own power. My wife had to drive me to the hospital and carry me out of the car. I was in the hospital for three and a half weeks, and I spent a week of that in a coma.
But listen, that was a teachable moment for me. I learned to slow down. I learned to not put myself in that position anymore. I scared the hell out of my wife and kids.
PCS: It is not surprising me that you say that, because in preparing for this interview, I did some research at comics.org, and you did A LOT of work between 2000 and 2002.
CS: Yeah. I did. I did a lot of work. I was doing too much work.
PCS: I want to circle back to what you were talking about earlier about teamwork. I think it is rare, especially today, to find a team of artists, from pencils to inks to colors, that gels as well as you, Denys Cowan, and Bill Sienkiewicz. The Question was fantastic. What is it like to be part of group like that?
CS: First off, when you have a book like The Question, where it’s Jeff Lemire, Denys Cowan, Bill Sienkiewicz, and then me. I am the idiot out of the group. I am just happy to be there. I am trying not to screw up each page, and there is so much anxiety going in, because I am the last in the line as far as the art is concerned. If I screw it up, there is no question about it. It is not, “Oh Denys dropped the ball, or Bill screwed this up.” No. It’s Soto. I am the one that is going to get the blame.
So, going in was so stressful. Denys and I had a conversation very early on before we even started working on the book. I love Denys to death. Bill and I had spoken here and there, and we had even worked on a New Mutants book while doing Issue #1 of The Question, and that was a lot of fun. I got to understand what Bill is looking for in terms of sensibility.
It is not like I am a stranger to Bill’s work, because I own almost everything he has done. I actually have a copy of his Jimi Hendrix book that I kept on my desk while I was doing The Question. But just knowing what they look for, what they like, how I think their work looks best when they are together, trying to figure out what I could bring to the table was to a large part left up to me.
I was open to anything that Denys or Bill or Jeff or the editor Chris Conroy said. Even though I have been doing this for twenty-five years, as far as I was concerned I am the idiot in that group. So, I have to make sure that I not only pull my weight, but I don’t drag anyone else down, and if Bill or Denys give me a note, guess what? I am gonna listen.
[Check out the SquadCast Audio for a little more detail into our discussion about Chris’ contribution to the Official Handbook for the Marvel Universe.]
PCS: Today [August 4, 2020] Vanity Fair announced that Ta-Nehisi Coates is going to be guest editing the September Issue, and you have mentioned that you are doing some work with Shawn Martinbrough on that. What can you tell us about that?
CS: Well I got a call from Shawn Martinbrough. I’ve known Shawn since ’91-’92 which was before he even broke into comics. So, he gives me a call, and actually, I missed the call, so he texted me saying, “Hey, Check your voicemail.” So I checked the voicemail.
He said that he was doing this thing with Vanity Fair. As soon as I heard him say that Ta-Nehisi Coates was putting this together, I was like, “Yeah, I’m onboard.” I didn’t even listen to the full voicemail. I didn’t hear anything about deadlines or what it was going to be. I just thought, “Yep! That’s for me!”
A lot of times I will be very wary about taking magazine stuff, or even some other stuff outside of comics, I will look at it with a different eye. These guys don’t understand the process of comics. They don’t come from the same background. They have their world, and we have our world, and when they meet a lot of things go awry?
So, I am always a little leary of that stuff, but in a case like this, it was Shawn doing a couple of spot illustrations. He could have just as easily done this himself, but he wanted to bring me in because he knows how important civil rights are to me, and he knows how important the Black Lives Matter is movement is to me. I’ve done protests. I’ve called local politicians. I joined ERASE which is an organization that was formed to fight racism in New York.
PCS: That is some awesome stuff. Does it come out in September?
CS: I am pretty sure that September 1st is the date that Shawn mentioned to me. Yeah. We did two illustrations that I colored. Shawn seemed very happy. He said that it was a different take than he would have thought of which is nice to hear. Not just because I am friends with Shawn, but I really respect him as a talent. He is phenomenal.
PCS: We have kind of brought up the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is affecting things. How has the pandemic affected your work? Besides the fact that there was a “pencils down” moment, is it better now?
CS: I only got the “pencils down” for Deadpool. Which was fine. I expected it to be worse. I am glad it wasn’t. I am glad it wasn’t Batman Beyond and The Question at the same time. So, I had those two books. and I was doing some other stuff at DC, which was cool. It kept me just as busy. I got a couple of other books also. I did an issue of La Borinquena, the PhenomX book with John Leguizamo, and Happy Hill with Joe Mulvey.
All that stuff came in at the same time. So, getting the “pencils down” for Deadpool kind of relieved my stress a little bit, because it wasn’t me doing six books at once. I was able to take a little more time with Batman Beyond, which seemed to be moving at a slower schedule. I was perfectly happy chipping away at it and taking care of the other stuff as it came in.
I am all caught up with everything which is good now that Deadpool is ramping back up again. It didn’t affect me too much. Thank God.
It gave me some time to focus on other stuff. I have been doing a little drawing. A good colorist should know how to draw. You don’t have to draw like Jim Lee or Bernie Fuchs, but you should have a decent understanding of structure and form. So, I’m a little rusty. I do quick convention sketches when I am at a show, but it’s not like really sketching in a sketchbook.
So I bought some sketchbooks, and I have been doing more drawing for myself. Now, I have a sketchbook with just heads in it. I am just trying to shake off the cobwebs. I wish I had more time for that stuff.
PCS: Let’s talk about Comics Experience. You teach the online comic book coloring class a couple of time a year. How do you relate to being looked at as an expert or a teacher in this field. Whenever I talk to other pros about you, there is nothing but praise that comes out of their mouths about you. Also, I noticed earlier this year when the reckoning for bad behavior in the comics industry was happening. You questioned if mentoring was something worthwhile in comics, and a lot of the responses that I saw were using you as an example of a mentor. How did that strike you, and what is it about teaching at Comics Experience that keeps you coming back to it?
CS: Alright. First off, I don’t know who you’ve been talking to. Listen, I am surprised when anyone even knows who I am. I pride myself on being a private person. I try not to make a big fuss about anything. I keep my nose down, and I do my work. This is how I hit every deadline. I only take as much time away from work as I know that I can afford, but the rest goes to the work.
As far as being an expert? Again. pfft. I am not an expert. I think I just know a little bit more than some folks who are trying to break in. I know that when I was trying to break in, I would have really appreciated knowing all the information that is provided in the class. This is the class that I wish existed when I was breaking in.
PCS: I am glad that it exists today. There are people who have come out of it who have gone on to become professional colorists.
CS: Right. Yeah. Definitely. That is a fact that I can’t dispute. Some people do come out and color professionally. And I am very proud of them. They all do really good work. In the class, I can pretty much tell who is going to be the ones to make an impact, and get their work out there.
As far as mentoring is concerned. I do enjoy doing it. I guess some people see me as mentor that I was unaware of in some instances. I know that there are some people that I actively look at their work and give them feedback.
I think mentorship is a great thing. I came out of that and I think that I benefited from it immensely. It was a lot easier on me to understand some of the nuances in the business because of it. I think that I convey that to anyone I am talking to as far as a mentorship is concerned.
I guess “sterilized” is a bad word, but there is such a distance to it now, because it is not a one-on-one thing. Everything is done online, and that is fine. It works. It gets the job done, but there is a personal connection that you miss.
When I was benefiting from that experience, it was me being in someone’s studio all day for like a week. It was practically a job, and then I went to work after it.
PCS: So, for people who were not in the industry before it evolved into the more remote situation that it is, there is this difficulty in understanding how one goes about it. I think that one of the things that we have learned from this reckoning, for lack of a better word, is I hope that, for people who are trying to get into this industry, we can find a better way than having to rely on old white men letting them in the door.
CS: I agree. Listen, all this stuff that happened with certain professionals taking advantage of their position and power. Number one, it is disappointing. Number two, I don’t know any of these people, and I have never really spoken to these people, but it never occured to me to date in comics.
It has always been a fun thing, and this is where I work. It never occured to me that there could be romance in there. Maybe it was just too tunnel vision for me. Also, I think I have been married for almost the whole time I have been in comics.
PCS: The problem that you are pointing out is that infidelity is an obstacle to you. Apparently, to other people, it is not an obstacle.
CS: Right. I guess that’s the thing. I’ve been with my wife since I broke into comics; so, I never sought any romantic relationship. And, for some reason, it never occured to me that others would. So this is all new to me, and I am an idiot for not thinking that. For me, it’s work, and I would never date anyone that I work with.
But, these other things do suffer because of this, and it’s a shame. I am sure that there are people out there who don’t have those nefarious plans and those ways of taking advantage of people in their head. There are opportunities being missed because of people staining that mentoring practice.
PCS: Let’s end the interview with the Silly Geeky Trivia Question. What was the cartoon that you didn’t want to miss when you got home from school growing up?
CS: Battle of the Planets!
CS: Yeah. I loved that show. I would race home. I grew up in the Bronx. I was supposed to be taking the NYC bus to get home from elementary school. What I was doing was that I was saving the bus money so that I could buy comics, which was at the store right at the bus stop. So I would buy comics and walk alongside the bus, or behind the bus, or whatever. I would always make sure that I was right in line with the bus so that I could get home in time and call my mom and let her know I was home when I was supposed to be home.
I had no business walking the streets of the Bronx, passed the mental institution, under the 6 train to get home. I did it because I wanted to buy comics, and I hurried up to get home so I could watch Battle of the Planets.
PCS: Did you get upset when they shortened the intro?
CS: Yes, because I missed a little of the show in the beginning.
PCS: Who was your favorite? Mark or Jason?
CS: I really liked Jason.
[There is a little more geek out stuff on the SquadCast audio if you need any more reason to give it a listen.]
CS: Can I plug my class before we wrap up?
CS: It starts September 7th. It is my Intro to Comic Coloring at www.comicsexperience.com. It is a class built from the ground up. Like I said before, it is the class that I wish I had when I was breaking in. It is an art class. It is not a computer class.
PCS: Right. For those that don’t know, my wife took your class, and as someone watching from the outside, I could see that students learn everything they need to get started coloring. There are basic “How To’s” that are covered, but the thing that stands out is the color theory and how to tell a story with art and color. Anyone who takes it has to come out knowing a lot more than they did going in. I have also seen professionals who have taken your class and learned from it.
CS: Yes. We have had Jamal Igle, David Finch, Peter Krause, Rochelle Rosenberg, Jason Lewis, and Michael Garland. We have had a lot of pencillers, colorists, and letterers take the class. Joe Sabino, Clayton Cowles. A lot of them have taken the class and they all seem to love it. They all come out with a nice new skill-set that they feel confident in using.
PCS: Well, that was great. Thanks Chris, and hopefully we will talk soon.
CS: Thanks Bob.