Posts Tagged ‘web-offset press’

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


Stop the Presses: Part 3

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

One printing company that had its eye on the success of color comics from the start was World Color Press. Originally called World’s Fair Color Printing it was  created to do the color print work for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.  After the World’s Fair the company shortened its name to World Color Printing and focused on producing four-color comics sections for newspapers nationwide.

By the early 1930’s World Color began experimenting with producing comics in magazine format leading to early prototypes of what would become the comic book. World Color expanded their businesses by building a satellite plant in centrally located Sparta, Illinois that opened in 1948 and soon became the leading comic book printer in the United States, a title they held into the 1990’s.

What made World Color so dominant were the advances it made on both distribution and printing technologies. It developed a pool  shipping concept that allowed product from different publishers that were going to the same destination to be shipped together reducing shipping costs. They also would gang print covers, a process that would print the covers of eight different comics with similar print runs on a single signature dramatically lowering production costs. These innovations would become significant later when the Direct Market would evolve because their print schedule dictated the day and date delivery of every comic published.

World Color also played a significant role in how comic art was drawn. In 1956 they installed the first web-offset press in their Sparta plant. Web presses fed rolls of paper like ribbons over cylinders that were covered with rubber plates that held the images of the comics that would be charged with ink.  Fine lines in the comic art could only stand so much pressure on the presses and would eventually warp and fall off as evidenced by squiggly and missing lines on some copies of comics. Comic artists soon learned that bold lines worked best.

Production people in comics understood that so long as comics were printed on low-grade newsprint paper that absorbed the ink and allowed it to swell on the page there was no point in arguing the inadequacies of the rubber plates. Comics needed to be produced as cheaply as possible to maintain their low price tags.

By the 1980’s Marvel and DC were producing enough product to tie up the press schedule at World Color preventing opportunities for the new independent publishers that were beginning to proliferate in the newly formed Direct Market to benefit from the cost saving procedures of the printing giant.

Independent publishers moved to other presses and opted to use improved paper stock. Lower print runs, higher cover prices along with better paper and printing plates created a production environment that allowed artists to use finer lines in their images and to explore the options of full color painting and an expanded flat color palette that would offer 372 colors rather than the extremely limited 64 colors that had been the industry standard.

Improved printing capabilities would not be the only thing that would have an effect on the production of comics. By the mid 1980’s it was clear that digital media would soon “Shatter” traditional methods of how comics were created and produced.

To be continued.

Celebrating Thirty Years of Comics History!

Gerry Giovinco



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