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Interview with Dave Praetorius, colorist of indie manga The City

If you’ve sat down to experience the graphic novel, The City, you can’t help but notice that incredible color work. It’s all thanks to colorist Dave Praetorius, who lends his talents to the project. We sat down to pick his brain and learn more about the man behind the color, and how he became the artist he is today.

We kicked off the interview covering the basics. Praetorius grew up in Ajax, just outside of Toronto. He mentioned that it was a boring place to grow up, which left lots of free time for a kid’s imagination to run wild.

Praetorius was always an artist. When asked what he was like as a kid, he immediately mentioned drawing and making comics with his friends.

“I don’t know that any of us ever actually finished a single full issue of them,” he mentioned during the interview.

In school, he was practicing his craft, too. Praetorius would turn in comic strips for writing assignments and be met with confusion.

“The assignment would be about writing a story, but instead I’d hand-in a three-page comic strip,” he said. “[The teacher] would be like, what is this? You know I asked you to write something.”

To be fair, he did write something. The comics contained dialogue and thought bubbles, because that was the way he knew how to tell a story.

In seventh grade, Praetorius started making comics with his friends. They were also into video games, so when Super Mario World II came out, he decided to do a comic of the game. You know that amazing color work in The City? This is where it all started.

“I was doing it in full color, too. Fully pencil crayon colors and all that stuff, which was wild,” he mentioned, remembering the project.

Working with already made characters became boring, so he decided it was time to start making his own. Dave showed interest in Japanese characters, such as the Samurai right away. We asked him about the first original character he designed.

“The first memory I have of doing something like that, I think I was about seven years old…I came up with Bug-Man,” Dave said.

While he couldn’t remember what an actual “bug man” scientist is called, he was able to tell us that bug man became so by falling into a pit of bugs. The bugs gave him super powers, and the Bug Man was born.

As you can imagine, one of Dave’s childhood influences was Erik Larsen’s The Amazing Spider Man. Seeing his work made him want to draw comics. He has vivid memories of recreating Spiderman cover art.

The good news for us is that Praetorius didn’t lose interest in comic book drawings as a child. Flash forward to when he was 14 and went to his first comic convention, Toronto Comicon. Not to age Dave, but he mentioned that the only way to find out about conventions at the time was in the back of Wizard Magazine.

At the convention, Dave met John Romita Jr. and Greg Capullo along with other artists that Dave looked up to at the time. He also found opportunities to take art lessons taught by local comic book artists which he signed up for a year later at age 15.

The convention circuit helped Dave make a lot of connections. For instance, he got to meet Chris Claremont in 1999. He happened to have his portfolio with him, and got the experience of a lifetime. Claremont asked if he wanted a review!

“And I’m like, Chris fucking Claremont. Sure. So I slapped my portfolio down.”

So, he set his portfolio down and let THE Chris Claremont go through his work. The review was constructive, but Claremont tore it apart. Dave left the review with a lot of great pointers that he took with him into his work. It was time to make some improvements.

Dave was 16 at this point and signed up for a life drawing class. He even had to have his mom sign a permission slip to draw nudes, which is an essential part of learning to draw. He remembers thinking everyone in the class was in their sixties, but as he aged realized they were likely in their thirties.

Dave continued to immerse himself into the world of art by taking further necessary steps to harness his skills. Before he knew it, it was time to make decisions about college.

The aspiring artist decided on Sheridan College for their illustration and animation program as his first and second choice. The problem was that he didn’t get accepted into the illustration or animation programs. So, like any artist would do, he figured out another plan. Dave applied to Algonquin College for Animation for Television.

Post-college, Dave spent a lot of time putting together comic book projects, but took a break.

“I kind of gave up on the whole comic book thing back in about 2010 after years and years of putting stuff together, trying to get something off the ground, nothing happened and I was tired of being poor.”

Unfortunately, Dave had to put art on the back-burner for an ‘actual job’ designing apps.

Let’s time travel again another 11 years. The pandemic hits, and our pal Dave is a freelancer looking for work. A friend of his offers him an animation gig, and he decides to get back in the game. This time, he needed advice on digital projects to do the job.

Dicky, illustrator of The City recommended a tablet to get Dave started. At this point, Dave had no idea he’d eventually become the colorist for the color version of The City graphic novel.

After purchasing the tablet, Dave started doing digital paintings in his spare time. Dicky saw them, and was seeking a colorist for The City. The funny part is, Dave voted to keep The City black and white. He had donated to Kickstarter for the graphic novel during production.

When Dave tried out digitally coloring the first page, he was not great.

“It was really terrible, so I was all over YouTube tutorials and stuff, like how do I do this in a way that it’s not gonna suck. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it right by the guys, but I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing.”

Dave, of course, got better and colored the entirety of The City. We asked him about his process behind coloring The City.

“I look at the script and ask ‘what’s the emotional beat in this? How can I amplify it with color?”

Coloring a graphic novel is hard work. The entire tone of a story can change if the color is off, and Dave knew just the way to color The City without changing the story. When asked about coloring techniques, Dave compared it to filmmaking.

“I’ve watched a lot of film related stuff, especially on color and using it to establish a palette even so that when you’ve got a book you’re jumping back and forth between scenes, you know instantly as soon as you flip that page that you’re in a different location.”

Color is extremely powerful in film, and graphic novels. It has the capability to transport you somewhere entirely just on the next page.

Dave isn’t crazy about the industry standards for coloring. He likes working with Dicky because of his open art style. The color was up to Dave, and he was able to create an atmosphere for the pages.

“I just kind of do what works for me, and sometimes that takes a really long time because I get mildly obsessive over how I want something to look. Most colorists will spend about 3 hours per page…sometimes I spend that long on one panel.”

We also asked Dave about his artistic influences. Erik Larsen was the first artist to get him excited about super hero comics, while Geof Darrow, Paul Pope, Jim Mahfood, and Dan Panosian are his current favorites. As for color, he told us that he isn’t crazy about most modern comic book coloring. His biggest color influence is Death Burger, which he and Dicky both had in mind for The City without discussing it prior. Great minds think alike, right?

As the interview was winding down, we also wanted to know some of the biggest challenges Dave faces as an artist.

“The biggest one is time. Work full time, two kids, I get maybe two to three hours a night to sit down and work.”

He mentioned the importance of staying balanced, and dividing your time to stay on track.

Dave also emphasized that his hopes and dreams haven’t changed much from when he was 12 years old. His dream is to be able to make art everyday and keep drawing as much as possible.

With the completion of The City we wanted to know if Dave had any other projects in the works, too.

“Nothing that I want to promote yet. You know, I said this [The City] kind of reignited the spark in me and I’m now currently developing multiple ideas.”

One thing he did mention was that the Ghost Agents Apocalyptico is being released soon. The Kickstarter for this project is currently live.

The interview ended discussing The City. Dave reminisced about the personal connections he’s made throughout the experience. For instance, he had known Dicky for 20 years and had spent a lot of time together in school but after college did not see each other for about 17 years. He also mentioned meeting several people in the comic book community and how different it was when he was younger.

“I never had any of that when I was first trying to break into this. Back in the early 2000s, if you wanted to get into comics, self-publishing was not much of a thing. You needed a lot of money to do that.”

Dave went on to show appreciation for how welcoming the comic community has been since his return. Finding like-minded people to work with and motivate you to focus on your passion, but there can always be some bad eggs and left us with some lovely parting words.

“There’s a few dicks. I mean, there’s always gonna be a few dicks, but the good people vastly outnumber the dicks in this community.”

The City manga can be read for free online at their official website.

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