Posts Tagged ‘lettering’

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

Drawing The Line: Part 2

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Remember learning penmanship in grade school? I used to get a kick out of the tool that the teachers used to draw lines on the chalkboard, it was a series of wire clamps mounted on a strip of wood. Each clamp held a piece of chalk and when the tool was drawn across the chalkboard several parallel lines were produced that  then the teacher could demonstrate proper penmanship on. Music teachers also loved this chalk line tool for creating staff lines on the chalkboard.

Folks that do lettering for comics have a similar tool called the Ames Lettering Guide. Most lettering in comics done today is created using fonts on a computer so there is little concern about type not being ruled properly but those traditionalists that still like to letter by hand have a best friend in their Ames Lettering Guide.

Ames Lettering Guide

This handy little tool fits in the palm of your hand and is made of durable plastic that will last a lifetime. My Ames Lettering Guide is over thirty years old and is still going strong. There is and adjustable wheel in the center of the tool that has rows of tiny holes in it. This wheel can be turned to adjust the distance between each line that will be drawn when you put a pencil in the holes and drag the tool across the edge of a t-square. Move your pencil down into the next hole in the tool and drag again and repeat. Eventually you will have a series of parallel lines similar to the ones drawn by your grade school teacher.

Chris Kalnick, my pal, former ROBOTECH inker and creator of NON and DEPTH CHARGE both featured here at CO2 Comics recently sent me this video of the Ames Lettering Guide being demonstrated. A comic letterer will rule guide lines wherever lettering is expected on the comic page. The lines are drawn very lightly as they are merely guides and will be eventually erased. Some letterers prefer to rule these lines with a non-repro blue pencil. After the lines are drawn the letters are penciled or roughed in. The final lettering will then be done in india ink.
I’ve attached the instructions that accompanies the guide. They explain how to use the tool in detail. You will note that you can accommodate for type size and leading simply by skipping holes.


I’ve attached the instructions that accompanies the guide. They explain how to use the tool in detail. You will note that you can accommodate for type size and leading simply by skipping holes.
For some letterers the size of the letters they plan to create can be very personal. I suggest that, once you determine the size you prefer, you either mark the wheel so that it can always be returned to that mark or tape the wheel in place so it will not be accidentally moved. My experience has been that the Ames Lettering Guide always attracts the attention of curious visitors who might be in  my studio and is almost always played with. People just love turning that wheel as they try to figure out what the dinky contraption does. Maybe I’m a crank, but I taped mine in place because I got tired of having to reset the little bugger.

The Ames Lettering Guide is a more versatile tool than you may expect by first glance. Because the wheel is housed in what it is essentially a small straight edge with one side at a 90 degree angle and the other side a 68 degree angle it can also be used to draw vertical lines as well as angled lines to assist the letterer in keeping letters uniform wether they are intended to be vertical or italic.

The three straight edges of the tool can also be used to conveniently draw small strait lines on the comic page which makes it a great when drawing lines on buildings and machinery. Even the circular shape of the wheel can be used as a guide for drawing curves that may match its particular arc.

I have also found that the guide can be used to make circles by placing a push pin in one hole and a pencil in another. The pin anchors the center point of the circle and as you wind the pencil in the guide around the pin you will complete perfect circles every time. You can make concentric circles simply by moving the pencil to holes closer to the pin. This is a great option especially when a compass or a circle template is not readily available.

Using the Ames Lettering Guide to make circles.

I have just one more favorite use for my Ames Lettering Guide and that is as a burnisher. Back in the day when Zip-A-Tone was the best way to achieve half tones and when a print mechanical was made of photostats mounted with a waxer, I would lay a piece of tracing or bond paper over the work and burnish with my guide . The smooth, roughly three inch edge covered more ground than most burnishers and the short hand-held size offered just the right leverage for applying minimal but firm pressure to the delicate materials being bonded. Boy, talk about ancient history, but it still seems like yesterday!

Using the Ames Lettering Guide as a Burnisher

The Secrets of Professional Cartooning by Ken Muse

You can probably tell that my Ames Lettering Guide and I are best buddies. Hey, we go back a long way, but who wouldn’t like a simple little tool that could do so much work and make a job so much simpler without ever complaining.

As a last side note I know that some folks are just too cheap to part with three bucks to pick up one of these handy gizmos or just can’t find one anywhere even though they are easily found on the internet. Maybe yours is lost and you are up against a deadline. I found this alternative in Ken Muse’s classic book The Secrets of Professional Cartooning.

From The Secrets of Professional Cartooning by Ken Muse

However you like to line your page is your preference. The important thing is that you enjoy making your comics your way. I know I do and that is where I draw the line.

Making Comics Because I Want To

Gerry Giovinco

The Process of Penciling: Part 3

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Truth be told, comic art can be drawn on just about any surface imaginable so long as it is able to be reproduced. With today’s digital technology a lot of comics are drawn using a digital tablet and a stylus.

The images exist only on a computer screen and may never see the surface of paper until it is printed.

Graphics Tablet with Stylus

There are still plenty of comic artists however that prefer the relationship of lead to paper.

The key thing to remember when choosing your paper how the final image will be inked if it will at all. Some comics, like Raine Szramski’s HEAVEN And The DEAD CITY that can be found here at CO2 Comics, are painted and may require a different type of surface.

Bristol Board

The most popular paper used for comic art is multi-ply Bristol board. There are a number of brands available all of different quality. In general though, there are two types of surfaces. Smooth, which can often be called hot press, machined, or plate finished and Rough which may be considered as cold press or vellum.

The smoother surface is great for inking but has little tooth to the surface which makes it not too fun to pencil on. Vellum surfaces are much easier to pencil on but it is important to find a brand that has a finer tooth and is dense enough that ink will not bleed on the page.

X-Acto Knife

Most original comic art created since the Silver Age has used a 10″ x 15″ image area. 11″ x 17″ paper is a good size to work on and can easily be purchased in pads at a local drug store or art store. Some artists save money by bying larger pads and cutting the pages in half with a ruler and x-acto knife.

Many publishers provide paper with preprinted guides to their artists which makes it very easy to rule panel borders. Pre printed paper can also be bought online. One great source is

Work with your printer or editor to determine your exact bleed areas and image areas and be sure that the image size you are working with is proportioned exactly to these measurements. This means that when your art is reduced it is the exact size it needs to be to fit the printed page. Comic art generally gets reduced to 60% of the original size for reproduction.

Non Repro Blue Pencil

Using rough layouts as a guide panel borders should be ruled in using a pencil. Some artists like to use non-repro blue lead at this point to avoid erasing unnecessary stray lines. If your page is preprinted you can just use a ruler and draw lines using the guide markers on the page much like connecting the dots.

T-Square & Triangle

If your page is not preprinted you will will have to line up the paper yourself using a t-square and a triangle on your drawing board which should have a smooth strait edge on the side opposite your drawing hand.

Your t-square should be long enough to line up the entire width of your page in the center of your workspace. Line up the bottom of the page with your t-square and tape it to the surface using small pieces of masking tape. Use tape with a light adhesive so it does not ruin your paper surface when it is removed. Cheap tape usually has very sticky adhesive so be careful to find a brand you like.

Centering Ruler

Measure your paper from the center of the page. A centering ruler is a great tool for this and will become your best friend. Avoid measuring in from the edge of the paper. Paper is often not cut exactly square or exactly to measurement and you will discover inaccuracies every time you open a new pad of paper.

Use your t-square to rule all of the horizontal lines on the page following your measured marks as guides. Vertical lines will be ruled by using a triangle sliding along your t-square. You can use a either 45 or
60 degree triangle because it is the 90 degree side that is needed to guide your pencil The bigger the triangle the better. I recommend at least a 12″ height.

Go back and rule in all the panel borders. Generally the gutter space is about 1/4″ wide but should at least remain consistent throughout except when a different spacing may be required to emphasize a visual as part of the story.

Once your page and panels are ruled be sure to label the title of the project and the page number. Now you can begin penciling in your final art. Remove the tape from the board so you can work freely.

Light Box

If you are using a light box to transfer pencil roughs, line up the roughs on the back of the paper, tape them down loosely then turn the page over and trace up the images.

Next week I will go over pencils and erasers and other tools that can help you complete a penciled comic page that is suitable for sending to lettering and inking.

Making Comics Because I Want To

Gerry Giovinco

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