Sarah Stern has colored several Star Wars comics including Forces of Destiny: Leia and issues of Star Wars Adventures. She answered a few questions via email for 365 Star Wars.
What was your introduction to Star Wars?
When I was little, I remember seeing parts of it because my best friend loved Star Wars, had all the toys and had it playing sometimes while I was over at his place. I don’t think I had the patience to sit down and watch the movies myself. However we only had a few tapes at home and Spaceballs was one of them, and I watched that CONSTANTLY. As a teenager I made a conscious choice to watch Eps IV-IX all the way through and really liked them! I got really into the EU/Legends books at the time, too.
Do you have a favorite character from any of the Star Wars films or TV series? If so have your favorites changed over time?
Leia! It’s hard for me to pick favorites, but Leia’s always been the closest to my heart. I admired what a resourceful, intelligent, and resilient person she was, and how important she was to the preservation of life and hope of the people she led. Learning more about Carrie Fisher and everything she had to live through and everything she’s done only cemented that affection for me. Plus she choked out a Hutt with a chain and we can all agree that’s pretty rad.
What was your road to becoming an artist and colorist for comics?
It’s not a very exciting story! I met Dafna Pleban at a portfolio review in art school and she liked my concept paintings, and a few months later emailed me about coloring Goldie Vance for Boom! Studios. That project was fantastic and a lot of fun, and opened the doors to more coloring jobs.
Can you explain the role of a colorist in the production of a comic? (I think people, including me, don’t understand how the whole process works, what you receive, what kinds of guidelines you are given, who do you work with the most (artist/editor, etc), how much time you have to work on projects, etc) I’m sure it varies too!!
I color a lot of licensed comics, comics that are produced by comic publishers but authorized and usually approved by the licensor of a given IP. Once the artist is finished drawing the pages and they get editorial approval, they’re sent to me with a copy of the script and a deadline. Sometimes the deadline is a few weeks, sometimes it’s a few days.
Depending on time and financial limitations I can enlist the help of a flatter, an assistant who will go in and make time-saving selections on the pages before I go in and start making color choices and rendering pages. From there I work on the pages in Photoshop with the help of provided reference and my own research. With popular properties like Star Wars, wikis and toy photography from the fan community are invaluable resources! Working on licensed comics, I’ve found it best to get into the habit of organizing files in a way that can be easily returned to and revised later, as licensors will usually ask for revisions to the colors themselves or to issues that might have been missed in the lineart in the last round of approvals.
Coloring original comics and graphic novels is similar, but with generally fewer and/or shorter stages of approval and less strict requirements because we usually don’t have to match pre-existing material.
You have worked as a colorist for several issues of Star Wars Adventures and Forces of Destiny: Leia. I’m curious, especially for the FOD comic that took place in such an iconic location (Hoth) and included such beloved characters if you looked at other ESB materials/artwork/comics for reference/inspiration or if you wanted to go a completely different direction?
In the FOD: Leia comic, we were working off a locale that we get a pretty good look of in Empire Strikes Back, so most of what reference I pulled was just off a rewatch of the movie. I did reference a few older action figures to get a closer look at the palettes of the Hoth outfits and the tauntauns, though as far as I know the FOD action figure of Leia wasn’t yet out at the time!
You can’t color-pick directly from screenshots for comics coloring unless you want the final product to look muddy and terrible, so there is a lot of creative translation you do even with direct reference. I wanted this comic’s colors to match Elsa’s art and the general tone of the story, so I went with a relatively limited palette inspired by the source material but generally brightened and a bit influenced by the mood of a given scene. It’s more of an art than a science for art as stylized as Elsa’s, you have to capture the feel of a story rather than create a one-to-one translation of the source material.
For your work on both Forces of Destiny and Star Wars Adventures you collaborated with Elsa Charretier (who you mentioned above) and Pierrick Colinet. How did you get connected with Elsa and Pierrick (do artists have a say about who the colorist will be on comics?) What are some of your favorites panels from the Star Wars Adventures comics?
I first worked with Elsa and Pierrick on The Infinite Loop: Nothing But The Truth (IDW) because the artist Daniele Di Nicuolo and I had previously worked together on MMPR:Pink (BOOM!) and I believe he asked for me. Elsa has since brought me on for several of her Star Wars shorts and some covers, and it’s an absolute pleasure each time. She’s a fantastic collaborator and a seriously talented artist!
I’ve found that most of the coloring jobs I get are because artists or writers enjoyed working with me and asked for me on new projects, I think that’s pretty common with colorists. There aren’t quite as many of us as there are writers or artists and once you find a few colorists that you know will work with your style you like to hold on to them!
For favorite panels it’s hard to choose, but I’d go with:
Anything with Madame Synada in it, because she is So Much (SWA #12-#13 “Intermission”)
This exchange with the Tauntaun still cracks me up! Elsa put so much character into those big fluffy demons, I love them. (FOD: Leia)
I don’t get brought on to color much dark, sinister material and getting to spend some time coloring Vader was really fun! (FOD: Leia)
I will also provide you with this link without comment: https://twitter.com/Kello_Ren/status/1005128144532197376
What are some other projects you’ve worked on that you’re especially proud of?
I loved coloring Steeple (Dark Horse) with John Allison and Jim Campbell, and By Night (Boom! Studios) with the same team plus Christine Larsen! Hands down they’re some of the best books I’ve ever read let alone worked on.
I was also putting my own original fantasy comic Cindersong on the web, though I had to set it aside last year because it became important to prioritize paid work for the time being. I’d love to find a way to finish it and am sure I’ll find a good home for it soon!
Have you watched the sequel trilogy or The Mandalorian? If so what did you think?
The Mandolorian was a lot of fun and pulled in material from the EU/Legends and the various Star Wars games in a very affectionate way. I’m looking forward to the second season!
I also enjoyed the sequel trilogy! I think the casting, performances, practical and special effects, etc. were superb and the series was overall a good watch. If I have any critique it’s that all three films feel like they’re from a different trilogy and that I don’t think things like bloodlines and genetic dynasties still need to be glorified in a universe as vast and full of fresh potential as Star Wars.
The storytelling standout in recent Star Wars media is really Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, which is worth watching a playthrough of if you can’t play it yourself! I won’t spoil anything but the story is fantastic, and the ending had my roommate and I screaming through it for a solid 20 minutes.
Are there any Star Wars characters you’d love to have a chance to illustrate or color for a future Star Wars comic?
I’d love to work on a story with a smaller focus. Something centered around Asajj Ventress’s time as a bounty hunter, pre-episode VII Chewbacca, or Greez Dritus having dad problems would be fun!
Can you share any projects you have coming up?
The first trade for one of the comics I mentioned earlier, Steeple (Dark Horse), is out in May, that’s definitely something to look out for! I’ve also colored a few great DC YA graphic novels that are out in 2020, Green Lantern: Legacy with Minh Le and Andie Tong, and Anti/Hero with Maca Gil, Kate Karyus Quinn, and Demitria Lunetta.