Interview With Christie Scheele
(January 2011)

The colorist on over 100 issues of DAREDEVIL speaks about her work at Marvel, and why she has no regrets about leaving the comics industry.

Kuljit Mithra: Before we begin, I just wanted to say thank you for this opportunity. I consider yourself and Joe Rosen to be Daredevil's unsung heroes who worked on so many issues without getting the attention the writers or pencilers received. Your name is credited in so many issues in Volume 1. Do you remember your first issue of Daredevil? This must be early 80's I'm talking about, so I'm curious how you started at Marvel as a colourist, since you have a fine art background. Not interested in pencils, inks, etc.?

Christie Scheele: I was just about to graduate from college, BFA in painting, BA in Spanish language and lit, planning to move to NYC. I needed a job, of course... usual artist's conundrum... where to find a job that didn't tie me to a 9 to 5, so I could have time to paint? Well, my apartment-mate had this older hippy boyfriend (Steve Skeates), who had written comics, back in the day, with Denny O'Neil. So I looked at comics for the first time -- a Plastic Man, as a matter of fact, that Steve had written. I loved the tongue-in-cheek, and thought... hmmm... what could I do here, kind of quickly?

Cut to NYC, some months later (August, 1980), Denny (who I remained friends with forever) passing me to others for the colorist's instruction lecture, to which I really listened. Since I always was developing my painting as well, I had no problem leaving my artist's ego at the door and focusing on being a (somewhat subservient!) colorist. Then, as coloring got more complex, I was delighted to be able to bring my more subtle abilities into play.
Daredevil was one of my two favorite characters/books to work on (Moon Knight with Bill Sienkewicz came earlier). Since I'm big into color composition and tonalist hues (in my painting as well) the characters with one solid color and lots of night scenes were great. Combine that with the gorgeous drawing ability of Bill...and then many Daredevil artists, starting with my first issue, a Frank Miller/Klaus Janson issue. I always loved artists who composed the page as a whole, not only thinking of the panel by panel narration, and I always looked at my palette in terms of the page and the duration of a scene. I did think about learning to do writing, inks and pencils at one point, but understood that these skills are so advanced and specialized that I would not have the time to learn them and be a fine artist as well, so I opted to stick with my original plan -- colorist as my job, painter as my passion and career direction.

Mithra: To this day, there are still people who don't know "Max" Scheele is you. Is there a story behind the nickname, or was it something you always had?

Scheele: I got my hair cut short, punk-style, one day, (1982?), and when our most loved Danny Crespi caught sight of me, he said -- "You got your hair cut! You look like a boy -- I'm going to call you Max." And he did. When he died several years later, I asked my editors to use a Max Scheele credit that month, and many just continued to do that. Yes, I had folks later say things to me like... "Well, Max is a good colorist, but not as good as you!". Funny.

Mithra: Did you work in the Marvel bullpen, or at home? Was there much collaboration with the other creators on the books you worked on?

Scheele: I always worked at home, except in the early years when I sometimes filled in for George [Roussos] when he went on vacation. Colorists were early on considered the potential nemesis of inkers, so I would sometimes get color notes, but rarely any real sense of collaboration. Later, as coloring got more sophisticated, and I became known as a mood colorist, that changed, but I think that in general writers/inkers/pencilers felt nervous and cut off from the coloring process, and of course didn't see it until it was too late to do anything anyway. Colorists, in turn, were always anxious about the separations, which could kill a good coloring job. So, when the team was happy with the printed coloring, they were often VERY happy/relieved/grateful.

Mithra: Some things I see from time to time on eBay are colour guides to various comics, which look like watercolors or marker work. But I've also seen pages which have arrows pointed to various sections that have colour codes (CMYK? is that the right term?). Were these mutually exclusive ways to "colour"? Also, did you ever do colouring with computers? There are several issues where you are credited with "Malibu" on colours. I believe you were still on the book (late 90's) when Marvel was upgrading its paper stock etc. If so, how did you find that transition? If not, why not?

Scheele: Early on, we coded everything, since there were only 64 colors available (all created from percentages of CMY), and the pages were separated by hand (under sweatshop conditions, practically). VERY special books got "full color" -- which means that we could paint it, still with Dr. Martin's watercolors, and it was photographed and printed under the B&W art, more or less as a painting in an art book would be. Later , as computer seps came into being, we could use any multiple of 10% of all colors, airbrushing, and K (grey). Finally, we could just color it, without coding, and it would be separated, with varying results, without codes. (Papers did vary, along the way, though the glossy ones were kind of the opposite extreme from the newsprint, and not always an improvement, if you were going for any subtlety.) From there, it was an easier (and cheaper, of course) step to go to colorist/separators, a step that I declined to take. I had good seps from Malibu and Heroic Age, towards the end there, and at the VERY end worked as a team with Krista Ward, who had been with Heroic Age. We were a good team, but inefficient, compared to just one person doing the whole thing. I had been building my career as a painter all along, so I made the decision not to invest in working on the computer (my back was already wacked out from years of coloring), and to invest instead in doing my own work. Many people shook their heads, but I didn't just leap -- I had already reached a certain price point with my paintings, and was showing and selling in multiple galleries.

Mithra: What does a separator do?

Scheele: This is getting technical, but basically a separator prepares the color for printing by, in the old days, separating the color into its individual components. So... that meant that each of the 64 colors being used (say, 25% blue) needed a sheet where that color was selected on an acetate with the B&W art printed on it, painted in goopy opaque red paint (don't ask me why). It was tedious and underpaid work, not performed by folks with an art background, and mistakes were common. (This was contracted out to companies that did just this, so I only witnessed it once when I visited one.)

You'd have to ask someone else how it is done now on the computer, since I have never done that. When I worked with Heroic Age or Krista Ward, I sent them guides with notes about special effects that I knew they could do.

Mithra: Was there any difference in your methods and thinking behind your colours with this new paper stock that didn't bleed like regular newsprint?

Scheele: I think that at first we had only the 64 colors when the glossy paper came in, and wow, you needed sunglasses to look at those jobs. Then with more color range available, the strategy that I discovered was to not oversaturate, and use small amounts of grey on many colors, especially background. The single most important rule was to make your action visible at a glance (everything at the service of the narrative), so I was always working to get that contrast... but still, as subtly as possible, creating mood.

Mithra: I'm curious to know your opinions on some of the stories you coloured, namely the ones by Miller/Romita Jr., O'Neil/Mazzucchelli, Nocenti/Romita Jr., Chichester/Weeks/McDaniel, Kesel/Nord and Kelly/Colan/Olivetti etc. That's quite a range of styles you got to work on.

Scheele: I really did like them all, but I have always loved best styles that use chunkier shapes, where the figure works as a dynamic composition within each panel, and inks with lots of blacks and a line quality with variation and movement. I did get to do just a few issues over Klaus, before he left the book, and you can't beat that! And Romita Jr. was always a pleasure.

Mithra: I imagine you were working on several titles alongside Daredevil over all those years. What were some of your other favourites?

Scheele: Just to name a few... Walt Simonson's Thor was a blast to color, of course... Spider-Man, the Lost Years with Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson... Man-Thing with Liam Sharp (hey Liam...weren't you going to give me one of those pages??)...the Elektra Miniseries...there were always very specific styles that I found easy and fun to color, and then others that just didn't gel for me... not always even a question of good or bad art, though you can't argue with the art of any of the above!

Mithra: Do you remember what your last Marvel comic was that you coloured? Was it just time to switch gears and try something new?

Scheele: I think that the last ones for Marvel (I did a few for DC after that) were the Starlin series that I worked on, one after the other, in partnership with Heroic Age and Krista Ward. By then I was laying in the color composition and indicating light sources, and they were embellishing.
I colored comics for 20 years, way longer than I ever expected to, being primarily a painter. I was working on my fine art career all along, first creating bodies of work that were gallery-ready, and then beginning to build my exhibition resume and sales track. By the time comics had downsized, Marvel had changed drastically, and coloring went to computer (which I did not want to do, my back/neck already suffering from holding the same position while coloring for so long), I was well on my way. Folks mostly shook their heads when I said that my best bet for employment was to work fulltime on building painting as a business, because it is a very hard business to make a living at, but I was already two thirds of the way there. Now I mentor other artists to teach them how to engage (with a good attitude!) in the whole process of career-building, which is very fun, along with all of my exhibitions and of course, work in my studio.

Mithra: And finally, When I got in touch with you, you mentioned that you were working on a gallery show. How has life been for you after Marvel? Do you still get an itch to do comic work? Do you even follow what's going on in the comic industry?

Scheele: Life is great, post comics, because I am doing what I always set out to do. An artist just wants as much time to make art as possible, so the whole point to earning a living at is that you get all of those lovely studio hours each week. I even enjoy the business end (within reason!) because it requires different kinds of problem-solving than making art, and involves contact with other people.
Coloring comics was a fabulous job for me. I don't miss the process, but I do miss the camaraderie that existed at Marvel in the 1980's, and the crazy hijinks (performance art, really) of Mark Gruenwald and others. That is no more, I am afraid, but through my husband, Jack Morelli (and now through Facebook) I get some updates and get to see our old friends from time to time (the Carlin-Cohen wedding that just happened, for example, a bit of performance art itself!). All good...

Be sure to visit Christie Scheele's new website...

(c) Kuljit Mithra 2011
Daredevil:The Man Without Fear

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