Posts Tagged ‘CMYK’

The Comic Company:
True Colors – Part 3

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Lou Brooks Drug Store

Color in comic books had a specific look for fifty years prior to the 1980’s. Flat color was the norm and part of the charm of the comic books that I grew up reading. There was just something about that limited palette and those pronounced dots that seemed to define the medium as much as the words and pictures that they illuminated. Others agreed and focused on this idiom when referencing comic art in pop culture.

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein and Lou Brooks are two artists that took full advantage of exploring the idiosyncrasies of comic book color establishing themselves as masters of Pop Art.

Lou Brooks Disgrace Me

The production process that produced the color in comics was intended to print color on highly absorbent newsprint with rubber plates on web offset presses at the World Color Press plant in Sparta, IL. Color separations were done by Chemical Color Plate in Bridgeport, CT. The colors were made by combinations of three percentages, 25%, 50% and 100% of each of the primary colors; blue (cyan), red (magenta) and yellow to be printed with the black line art. CMYK refers to these four colors used in printing.

A layer would be produced for each percentage of each color making nine layers of film that would be compressed to form three negatives, each containing the three percentages for its corresponding color. There was one more film for the black plate which would print the line art. The printing plates would be burned from these final four films.

Colorists used a guide provided by Chemical Color Plate to assist them in making their own color guides for each page that the separators would interpret into films.

Chemical Color Chart

By the 1980’s the alternative independent publishers that began peppering the comic market were using better, whiter paper and were able to produce better color. Many comics were printing with processed or full-color using the coloring techniques that I’ve described in my earlier blogs on this subject. Some publishers were still attracted to the notion of flat color but realized that they were being limited by the old color guide.

The 64 colors with the course dot grid intended for newsprint produced harsh, garish colors on the brighter paper stock. A new color percentage of 70% was added for each color producing 124 different colors as shown by this color guide produced by Eclipse Comics in 1983 and again engraved by Chemical Color Plate. The line screen also changed from 60 to 120 lines per inch making the dots less noticeable on the printed page.

Eclipse Color Chart side 1

Eclipse Color Chart side 2

Murphy Anderson

By the time Comico was ready to make our transition to color there was a new color separator in town. Renowned comic illustrator Murphy Anderson had entered the field with his own company, Murphy Anderson Visual Concepts Inc. that he operated with his son, Murphy Jr.

Murphy had a different scheme for producing colors. By making a minor shift in the color percentages and adding two shades of black Murphy could stretch the color palette to 372 colors! The new formula was 20%, 50%, 70% and 100% of each of the primary colors plus an addition of 10% and 20% of black to every color on the palette.

Elementals 2

Our first color books had been produced using processed color techniques and we were very happy with the results but our next project, Bill Willingham’s Elementals was a clear superhero comic and we wanted it to look like one. We all felt flat color was the way to go and we only had one choice when it came to choosing a separator. Murphy Anderson’s company was already doing most of DC’s prestige work and had proven his incredible quality. Murphy is also one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and proved it with his patience bringing us up to speed on his technique.

In 1987 I designed a color chart that had long been missing from the process. It soon became a staple in every production department in the industry. I would imagine that it would have been the last of the color charts for comics since not long after the computer took over most of the color chores as we know them today.

Comico Color Chart - Click for larger view

I might like to mention that this complex looking piece was not done on a computer. It was done the old fashion way by creating a mechanical with typesetting, tech pens, x-acto knives, photostats and a good old waxer. Of course the color separations were done by hand as well.

To be continued…

Gerry Giovinco

Making comics because I want to!

The Comic Company:
True Colors – Part 1

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Comico’s switch from black-and white to color in 1984 added heavily to the learning curve we required to make comic books. We were young guys learning by the seat of our pants, making lots of mistakes but growing with each ounce of education we received “the hard way.”

Jumping to color would be an adventure for several reasons. World Color Press who was printing most of the newsstand comics at the time had no more room in their schedule for the Indy publishers. They were the experts in printing comic books on newsprint which had been the standard since comic books were first published in America.

Indy publishers turned to other options to print color comics which included better paper stock by necessity since most printers were not set up to print what was considered low numbers on newsprint.

Bright, white, glossy stock came into vogue and presented a surface that could better handle full-color images that would not hold up well if printed on newsprint. But comics were still dependent on the traditional black line art that held the color.

Full-color separations that were made from line art that had been simply painted-in produced nasty ghosting of solid magenta, cyan and yellow when images came out of register which could easily happen when printing low runs. Several thousand prints could be made before registration could be fully adjusted forcing the opportunity for a lot of waste and driving up the unit cost of each book.

The black line art had to be held on its own plate and the colors needed to be added on another layer which would later be separated into the four print colors, CMYK. This is done easily today in Photoshop but in the early eighties there was no digital solution.

Doug Wildey

An early maverick attempt by Doug Wildey on his Rio comic, which was published by Eclipse Comics then later compiled by Comico, provided an interesting solution.

Doug Wildey's Rio

Doug painted his colors on tracing paper that he laid over his black line art. The tracing paper was shot and separated then registered to the films of the black line art. This created a beautiful, ethereal watercolor look but provided very fragile originals that warped easily and were difficult to preserve.

Other people were experimenting with different solutions.

Early Pacific Comics-Captain Victory and Starslayer

In the summer of 1983, while in California to attend the San Diego Comic Con, we paid a visit to Pacific Comics. Pacific was not just one of our biggest distributors, it was also one of the trailblazing alternative publishers of the early Indy movement. Founders Bill and Steve Schanes and editor David Scroggy were great hosts. While giving us a tour of their production department, they took the time to show us how a new approach to coloring comics that they were using worked.

The Gray-Line System required that a negative film was made from the original black-and-white comic art. This negative was sized at 60% of the original size which was equal to the actual print size of 6×9″ for the final comic.

Blackline on acetate transparency

From the negative a positive transparency of the line art was made. The lettering on the negative would then be masked with rubylith and, using a dot screen, a 10% gray, positive print was made on photostat paper.

Greyline

The transparency and “gray-line” had registration marks and were aligned and hinged using a single piece of tape. The colorist would paint the grey-line layer, frequently reviewing the art by flipping down the transparency to see what the final image would look like.

Blackline & Grayline combined

The gray-line gave the colorist an accurate guide for which to apply color on a separate layer. If ghosting were to occur due to registration errors the faint image of the gray-line was barely noticeable.

The photostat paper that was used had a polymer base that made the gray-line very durable and stable. They would not shrink or warp when the color, which was usually water based, was applied.

Unfortunately, the surface of the paper was not absorbent at all. Painting with translucent watercolors and dyes was difficult, often creating a streaky or smudgy look especially in areas requiring larger coverage.

The Gray-Line System was an answer to the coloring dilemma but it was not the only one.

To be continued…

 

Making comics because I want to

Gerry Giovinco


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