A few questions with Gaijin Studios' Cully Hamner and Laura Martin 

Blue Beetle action figures and life-size replicas of the hammer of Thor decorate the otherwise nondescript Norcross office that houses Gaijin Studios. In business for 19 years, Gaijin is one of the country's longest-operating collectives of freelance artists working for major comic book publishers.

"Gaijin helped bring a high-art sensibility back to comics when they had been flashy imagery and very little substance," says SCAD-Atlanta sequential arts professor Shawn Crystal.

Penciller/inker Cully Hamner (Black Lightning, Green Lantern: Mosaic and Red, soon to be a Bruce Willis movie), one of Gaijin's first members, and colorist Laura Martin (Thor, Astonishing X-Men, Secret Invasion), a more recent addition, discuss the quirks of working at Gaijin.

What was it like when Gaijin started out?

Cully Hamner: In the early days, it was a lot more competitive. We had a group that was mostly male, 21 to 25 years old, all full of testosterone. We'd be merciless with [critiquing] each other. It led to fights, but it also led to the best work you could do.

Laura Martin: Having a working studio drew a lot of attention from other artists who wanted to work with Gaijin. When I was alone, I felt like my work stagnated because I didn't have other artists looking at it.

Hamner: I used to read about the comics people at Marvel and DC hanging out in bars in New York, and it seemed so romantic to me. [Our get-togethers] are like a microcosmic version of that. Somebody thought it would be good to have a monthly get-together of comics artists, a low-pressure type thing. We managed to keep it going for three years, at bars or people's houses. We haven't had one for more than a year, but it's really grown into a tightly knit community.

How did you get involved with comics?

Martin: I was in a graphic design program at the University of Central Florida and was convinced by comics fans to develop comics as a career. I had never thought of comics as being a paid job before: Comics just magically appeared and were awesome. It was exciting to realize that I wouldn't have to go to work in the graphic design department of some theme park. So I changed my classes to ones related to comics, built up a portfolio, and eventually started working with WildStorm Studios [known for WildC.A.T.S. and movie tie-ins such as The X-Files].

Hamner: I always read comics and knew early on that people did them for a living, because I remember seeing their names in the credit boxes. After high school I went to conventions, met people in the industry and showed my portfolio around. In 1991, someone got tired of me bothering them and hired me. One of my first jobs was coloring a reprint of an Alan Moore title called D.R. & Quinch, which was originally published in black and white.

Does Gaijin have a signature style?

Martin: I don't think so. We all have individual styles, and we're different categories of artists. We don't necessarily have a house style.

Hamner: For a while, the perception of the Gaijin style seemed to be that we had a special attitude or outlook toward the work that was separate from the West Coast style of artists like Jim Lee, who were very flashy and very "rendery." We tended to focus more on composition, but I wouldn't consider that a style so much as a different approach.

Laura, do you have a favorite color?

I like a really strong color scheme, like an underwater teal scenario. I don't get enough good underwater scenes. ... Whenever I can, I use strong hot colors or strong cool colors, because I know the contrast will hold up when the book is printed.

What's the hardest part of your job?

Hamner: For me, the hardest part is sitting down with the script and trying to divine the writer's intent. Sometimes their intent doesn't match the letter of what they've written. Some writers think they're writing visually, but they're not.

Martin: Not a lot of people know what goes into the process of coloring. Sometimes maybe I'll do a scene and color it as a sunny day, and suddenly the editor says, "Oh, that's a fiery hell scene." They know it's on a computer, so they're like, "Can't you just hit the 'fiery hell' button and take care of it?"

Hamner: It's like they think there's a "tweak it" button, too.


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