Posts Tagged ‘color separations’

Stop the Presses: Part 4

Monday, April 9th, 2012

I recently acquired a DC Comics Production Handbook that was produced in 1989. It was quite clear from the contents that the industry then was clearly moving away from newsprint and focusing on the finer production qualities of better paper stock that we are now used to.  Some explanations in the handbook contradicted information that I posted in Stop the Presses Part 3 and, being that I am always happy to stand corrected, I am sharing these new insights.

As mentioned in Part 3, World Color Press’s Sparta plant played a dominant role in comic book production from the 1940′s to the 1990′s but, though I credited this to their use of the  web offset press, the DC Handbook claims that all the Sparta newsprint comics were printed on letterpress which used plastic coated plates to press ink onto the absorbent stock. The letterpresses at Sparta could print two 32-page comic books at a time and would produce up to 15,000 copies of each interior an hour.

By the late 1980′s, DC Comics, along with every other comic publisher at the time, were exploring other printers who were producing comics on better paper stock allowing for greater color capabilities. DC used the offset presses at Ronald’s Printing out of Canada.  The manual sites that Ronald’s M1000-B offset press could produce 60,000 16-page sections (signatures) an hour which according to my math is the same speed as the letterpress.  (1 32-page book = 2 16-page signatures X 2 books = 4 16 page signatures. 4 signatures times 15,000 = 60,000 signatures an hour. No?)

According to the manual color adjustments on the offset press had to be done while the press was running  and could waste as many as 10,000 copies before a proof was okayed. Sheet fed letterpresses stop while color adjustments are made and waste far less paper.

The 1989 manual also makes a startling claim that, with all factors involved, they could not make any money on a comic book selling less than 20,000 copies! There seems to be a lot of titles below this number on current sales charts, so either production costs have dropped or the higher prices of today’s comics can support this decline in figures. I’m sure it’s not because DC likes losing money.

The DC Comics Production Handbook went into a lot of other now obsolete but fondly remembered production techniques such as color separations, blue boards, coding for flat color, photostats and even pasting up word balloons. The Digital Age of art production has changed all of those things and the comics industry got its initial taste of that with First Comics‘ 1985 publication of the all digitally produced comic book SHATTER by Peter B. Gillis and Mike Saenz.

Nearly thirty years later coloring, lettering, and even artwork is being done digitally. This is true of printing as well. Though digital printing may not be the cheapest way to print it is giving many publishers an opportunity to be able to publish in very small print runs because of the lack of set up costs. Previously much of the initial cost in printing was tied up in the production costs of films and plates requiring minimum runs in the tens of thousands before a comic could recover those costs. Now it is possible to print just one copy of a comic book and, though the unit cost is much higher than a comic printed on an offset press, there is no need to have a warehouse of unsold comics to meet the limited demand of a niche product.

Print on Demand (POD) providers have created an opportunity for independent publishers to create beautiful editions of their publications in nearly every format imaginable. Creators and publishers just need to upload digitally formatted content to the POD providers site, usually at no cost, and order a printed proof that generally takes no more than two weeks to arrive. Once the proof is reviewed and and any changes made the books can be made available for sale or ordered in quantity for distribution.

David Anthony Kraft's COMICS INTERVIEW: The Complete Collection Volume 2

CO2 Comics has taken advantage of this POD production process and has been able to produce the beautiful 640-page David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW the Complete Collection Volume One of this eleven volume project has already been made available and Volume Two is currently in production. Other new print projects will be announce very shortly so please stay tuned for the exciting news HOT OFF THE PRESS!

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco


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!


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