Comic Books

Behind the Curtain with Adam Guzowski

Coloring Outside the Lines with Adam Guzowski

Recently, I was reading an old issue of Nailbiter, colored by an incredibly talented dude named Adam Guzowski. It got me thinking back on my younger years. When I was in high school, I played bass in a local punk band. I freaking loved it. For years it was my passion, my vessel. It taught me so many life lessons but none more important than this—bass players get no respect. Zero. We’re the Rodney Dangerfield of musicians: to be seen and definitely not heard. Everyone always wants to talk to the lead singer, the lead guitar player. The rest of the band just kind of fades into the background.

Nailbiter #1 (Image Comics) cover by Mike Henderson colored by Adam Guzowski
Nailbiter #1 (Image Comics) cover by Mike Henderson colored by Adam Guzowski

Making comics is very similar. Just because you don’t have a microphone, sometimes people will assume that you don’t have a voice. That’s all about to change. In a new recurring segment called Behind the Curtain, we’ll discuss comics with some of the industry’s most talented creators: colorists, letterers, designers, and more.  

On that note, I’d now like to introduce you to Adam Guzowski. As I previously mentioned, he’s the mega-talented colorist behind the hit titles Nailbiter (Image Comics) and TMNT Urban Legends. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Adam and ask him some questions. We discussed his process for coloring the comics we all know and love, our favorite NIN albums, and much, much more! 

What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a colorist? Where did that inspiration come from?

“I’ve wanted to work in comics since I was a kid; I always loved drawing and making things. For the longest time, I wanted to be a penciler. But honestly, I’m too slow. I just don’t have the ability to draw anything and everything that might show up in a script.

“As a colorist, you should be trying to do three things…”

“I attended the Kubert School with Mike Henderson—he reached out to me to see if I wanted to color a book he was drawing. It was kind of like a friend starting a band in high school and saying, “Here, you play bass.” I ended up really enjoying it. It scratched the itch of creating something and the role of colorist allows me to work with more people and try different kinds of projects.”

If you can, in a nutshell—explain your “Adam Guzowski” creative process. What are the things you consider before you even touch a page?

“As a colorist, you should be trying to do three things: set the mood, highlight the focus/action on the page, and add depth. Ideally, I’ll be able to look at pages and it’s all right there. My job is executing on the page what I see in my head. I used to be very concerned with maintaining consistency and continuity, like making sure the walls in the kitchen were the same color as a few issues ago. It really held me back and got in the way of setting the mood. I try to keep that stuff in mind but I’m not as married to it.”

What are the biggest challenges or obstacles in your creative or collaborative process?

“The biggest thing is finding enough time to meet the deadline and put out the work that meets the standards of the team as well as my own. Hopefully, you’re working with people that have similar ideas and you have the same reference points so it’s easier to get on the same page. One of the things I really like about being a colorist is that I’m very much a part of a team. It’s not about me, it’s about what I can do for the story/art. I try to check my ego; sometimes it is easier than other times, but I try to keep that in mind.”

What’s something everyone should know about coloring? What about the medium gets most overlooked or stereotyped?

“I think it’s one of those things that you notice when it’s not there. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, either. When things are going well, the average reader shouldn’t be thinking about the color—it just is how things should look and feel. It’s great when people who are more into the art appreciate the aspects of coloring and go, ‘Oh, look what they did here or there.’ It’s kind of like a score in a movie—it sets the mood but it’s not what should dominate your experience.”

Do you find it easier or more challenging putting color to “established characters”? For example, is it more or less intimidating coloring Leo & Ralph from TMNT Urban Legends than, say, Edward Charles Warren from Nailbiter? Does one allow you more creative freedom?

“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done on Nailbiter. I helped build something from the ground up but as far as more challenging…not really. The work is the work. The big difference between those examples is who I’m answering to. With Nailbiter, it’s four other people. With TMNT, there are more stakeholders to satisfy, including the rest of the team plus the company that owns them. That said, I’ve been very lucky on TMNT Urban Legends. I’ve only been asked to change the tone of one scene because it was too close to the next and didn’t break up very well.”

Is there a great comic work you’ve always wished you could “re-do”? What is it and what would you change?

“Redo? No, I think that would be stepping on someone else’s work. Looking back at my own stuff, I would do some of the TMNT Color Classics I did a few years ago differently. I was fairly new to the game at the time and didn’t understand some of the printing methods and how that much black ink would react to my colors. The team has been great about letting my personal spin on the work in that book, and I really appreciate that part of the working relationship.”

I’d like to quote an essay written by Jordie Bellaire “Color is not ‘paint by numbers.’ Color is nearly insidious. Manipulating a reader to feel or emote without consciously realizing it.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

“Oh, agree 100%. That’s the job.”

I know you’re a big NIN fan. If you could choose one NIN album to turn into a comic or graphic novel, what one would you choose and can you describe the color palette you’d render it in?

“Without a doubt, Year Zero. In the months leading up to its release, Rob Sheridan (writer of the fantastic High Level for Vertigo now) ran an ARG (Augmented Reality Game) detailing the story behind the music. I’d love to be part of the story. To make a very long story short, it’s about the government becoming more and more authoritarian. The planet is dying (hard to imagine, I know…) and aliens show up to force change. For the most part, I would keep the palette very dull. Muted, with busts of vibrant, oversaturated colors as the sci-fi elements creep in.” 

You can check out all of Adam Guzowski’s work at

Follow him on Twitter: Adam Guzowski @adam_guzowski

For more interviews with Word of the Nerd, click here.

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