Posts Tagged ‘Gray-Line System’

The Comic Company:
True Colors – Part 2

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The Gray-Line System that I described in last week’s blog helped us to achieve a look that we had always hoped for our comics when we first considered evolving to color.

The fact that most of the alternative independent publishers were taking advantage of the ability to print processed full-color images on the better, whiter paper was not our inspiration or motivation at Comico.

Captain Canuck by Comely Comix

Long before we had even printed our first book we had already fallen in love with how the color appeared in Captain Canuck comics published by Comely Comix and illustrated by George Freeman. The soft processed color printed on newsprint had a quality that was unique compared to the limited 65-color palette of traditional flat-color comic books.

We were not interested in the slick color of the glossy new comics and we definitely did not care for the glare that shown off the pages of the glossy paper stock.

Mage By Matt Wagner

 

Our preference for the more muted color production was evidenced in the fist two issues of Matt Wagner’s Mage.

Matt, who had attended college with Bill and me at the Philadelphia College of Art, had been involved in many discussions concerning how we all thought color in comics should look. We were all on the same page when we made the decision to print Mage on a high-grade newsprint. Mage was a more urban setting and was supported by the grittier look of the newsprint. Besides, we wanted it to look like Captain Canuck.

Evangeline by Chuck Dixon & Judith Hunt

 

Chuck Dixon and Judith Hunt’s Evangeline was a different story. We could see how the finer line quality and more delicate colors would be better served on a whiter stock and though we were reluctant to go to a fully bleached stock we upgraded to a Mando stock which had a creamy quality to it and did not suffer from the glare issue that the more machined paper stocks offered.

Our early color books were printed in Florida at the same press that was printing Bill Black’s Americomics line but we quickly switched over to Sleepeck in Dixon, IL so that we would have more centralized shipping and warehousing of our runs. Once at Sleepeck we decided that our standard comic line, including Mage, would all be printed on the Mando stock.

Wheatly & Hemple's Mars

Around this time we were also introduced to a new coloring system. Mark Wheatly from Insight Studios was producing Mars with Marc Hemple for First Comics. He had told me about a guideline system he was using that employed the use of chemicals from a Fluorographics Services kit. A brief description of how the system works can be seen here.

This system was very similar to the gray-line system in that you had to produce a positive transparency of the line art. The grey line required a negative to produce the grey guide-line on the layer to be painted. The Fluorographics system let you use the film positive to create the non-repo blue guide which eliminated an extra step and expense. You could coat any paper stock you wanted with the chemicals allowing you to paint much more naturally than on the polymer based photo paper of the gray-line.

Blue-Line instruction from The Illustrator's Bible By Rob Howard

Note that though the color was considered non-repo blue this was only effective when shooting in black-and-white. The blue line did appear in the color separations for full-color.

Initially we would coat a paper stock with the sensitizer, place the film positive on top then cover it with a plate of glass to keep it flat then take it outside to expose it to the sun then run in and develop the image. It didn’t take too many rainy days to convince us to purchase a UV sun lamp so that we could do all of this inside and avoid blowing deadlines.

The only problem with this system was that the paper stock was less stable than the photo paper and would shrink when the paint dried, often distorting the registration.

Matt solved the problem by using pre-stretched watercolor blocks of paper that were sealed on all four sides keeping the top layer “stretched” until it was dried and removed. Matt would buy large enough paper so that four pages could be exposed at once. He usually had two blocks set up so that while one block dried, he could be working on the other.

This new blue-line system was a home run but it was not going to help us with our next two projects.

Elementals & Macross Covers

We knew that when we signed on to publish Bill Willingham’s Elementals that we were going to want it to be more like traditional flat-color superhero comics. Down the line would also be a little project called Macross that would press all of our expectations for color in comics. We still had a lot to learn.

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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