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HOW COMICS BOOKS ARE MADE

Across all the comic book companies there are perhaps a half-a-dozen various ways that the comic book process is developed from idea to final printing. Below is a generic description of the making of comics. I'd like to thank Alex Saviuk (Penciler & inker -Web of Spiderman), Ron Lim (Penciler - Silver Surfer & Metallix), Tom Vincent (Colorist for Silver Surfer) and Christopher Ivy (Inker - Silver Surfer) for their contribution to this article.

THE SCRIPT & PLOT

The plot is developed by the writer for each comic book, and based on this script, the artist begins laying out the art pages. This is done directly on the 11"x17" art paper page. In some cases this is just a quick layout sketch called a preliminary (prelim) page that's used by the artist to get a quick feel for the general flow of the action. Ultimately, it's the artist's job to make the story come to life by accurately depicting the words described in the script.

At DC comics the scripts follow the basic six panel breakdown per page, but at Marvel they give the basic plot and 6-7 page format. They then show how to pace out the action and give the creative team the license to complete the rest.

In the old days with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Jack and Stan would talk over the general plot and as Jack drew the pages he would spell out the general dialogu above each panel. (see example from FF #49).

Stan would later come back and fill in the final dialogue using Jack's descriptors as a general guide. On some occasions Stan would use Jack's words verbatim, but on other occasions Stan took the art pages and totally changed the direction of Jack's plot descriptions. This has made for some interesting debate as to who really was the creative genius in the team of Kirby/Lee. After reading several articles I have come to the conclusion that they were equals in the creative department; however Lee was a bit more superior in self-preservation of his ideas and leadership as he had direct control of the final published story.

Jack and Stan sometimes had different directions or plots in mind for the art drawn.  It was not uncommon for Stan to leave out suggestions made by Jack because it slowed down the pace of the story, or it consumed to much space and Stan's ideas needed more room for development.  

To the right is an excellent example of the notes Jack Kirby left for Stan in the margins.  FF #76, page 20.  Kirby's notes show he used the Surfer to get rid of the Indestructible, but Lee ignores this, and there is no explanation in the published book of why the Indestructible disappears.

THE PRELIM ART

The preliminary page is then set aside or sent to the editor or writer for final approval. In most cases the artist will make notes or recommendations on this page in preparation to make the final page. (See Buscema art work above).

It should be noted that not all artists use a preliminary layout page technique, instead electing to begin directly on the final layout page.

To the left is the final version of the blue lined page.   In this case there are also red ink marks on the page.  This particular art page had the instructions on the top that instructed the colorist to remove the red lines and add the sparkle special effects.

THE PENCILED ART

There are two main techniques an artist uses to transfer their ideas to the final art page. Technique #1 is to use a shadow casting machine used to project in image of their preliminary sketches on to the final page. This technique allows the artist the most flexibility to make final changes by allowing them to reframe the page, adjust positioning, or rethink the entire layout as various characters interact on the page. Depending on the artist and the complexity of the page, the artist will use the shadow casting machine to transfer some portion or all of the preliminary outline onto the final art page.

Technique #2 involves using a graphite lead pencil to lightly sketch out the general shape of the figures on each panel and then coming back to fill in the details. If the artist wants to avoid coming back and possibly erasing the graphite, a 'blue' line pencil is used. The blue line pencil is very light in color and is invisible to the photo copying technique used in a later step of the development process.

The preliminary sheets are then kept by the artist or discarded. These pages are not considered original art, but are being more and more collectible by the general public.

How long does it take to complete a page? Well the best and the fastest in the business was Jack Kirby. Jack was such a visionary and so highly skilled, he could complete three pages in one day. Today's artists can take one to two days per page depending on the complexity of the background and the number of panels. As an artist there is tremendous pressure to meet the publication deadline, so a balance must be struck between artistic perfection and delivery of the final product in an appropriate time. The capability to do both is just one of the many reason's why Jack Kirby was called "the King".

THE INKING PROCESS

Once the final pencils are done, the page is shipped off to the inker. It is the inkers job to add depth and texture to the artist's pencils helping to bring it to life.

There are several new and exciting ways that pages are being inked today. Let's first look at the traditional method. The inkers work is done directly on top of the artist's pencils and blue lines. It is quite common for the artist to leave messages on the page to aid the inker and colorists to ensure the final product matches their original intent.

The second method that is just now breaking into the industry is inking the page electronically via the computer. This technique involved scanning the 11"x17" art page into the computer at a very high resolution. The artist then adds in the ink using software designed especially for creating art pages. This method leaves the original pencil page untouched from ink. The ink page is then electronically sent to the colorist for further enhancements.

The third and most controversial method for inking involves a process in which the original penciled page is placed in a shadow box machine and the image is cast onto an adjacent 11"x17" art board page. The inker then does all of their work on the shadow casted page, thus never touching ink to the original penciled page. This technique is very controversial because it brings into question which page is truly the original art page, the one published (the inked page), or the original pencil drawing? Traditionally, the pencil and ink are the same page, but by breaking them apart the definition of "original art" becomes ambiguous.

The final inked pages are photocopied and then normally redistributed back out to the penciler and inker, with the penciler receiving 3 pages for every 1 page given to the inker. These pages are often sold but auction houses, internet sites or by the artist directly and can range in price from $10 - $3000 depending on the market value for the artist, character, and esthetic value of the page.

This is an excellent example of inking done by Tom Christopher.  One of the techniques he uses here is the application of shading (dots) that is available to commercial artists.   On this page, he uses this technique to fill in the space cloud located behind the Surfer and follows up under neath his arm.

THE LETTERING PROCESS

As for the lettering, a few years back (before computer lettering), most of it was hand lettered onto the art board. The main reason it would be pasted on was if the book was behind schedule, this method was used to save time. That way the letterer could get it lettered while it was still being pencilled, inked, or whatever. Today, Marvel almost exclusively uses computer lettering and it is either put on the pages with an overlay, so the actual lettering now never touches the art, or put into the artwork when it is scanned into the computer (as when it is being colored). DC, on the otherhand, still uses actual hand lettering on the boards. Old school style, which I prefer. The editors usually make the call on which method is used.

THE COLORING PROCESS

The inked page is then photo copied at 66% the original size. These photocopied pages are then sent to the colorist to begin the colorization process.

Colorist art, commonly referred to as a color guide, is a photocopy of the original art that is then hand-colored by the colorist. The original black & white art is copied and then the copy "color guide" is then painted with dyes, markers, and sometimes watercolor by the colorist and used as a guide /rough idea of what the final computer colored file / page or cover will look like. This guide is then used for the computerized color separations. Just like their original art counterpart, colorist art is a unique one-of-a-kind item. The dimensions for colorist art can vary in size. The vast majority of newer pieces measure 8.5" X 11", while some of the older ones may be only 7" X 10" or so. Some pieces will have color "codes" written on them to depict the actual color used for that part of the page. Others will either not have the codes on them or they will be on a separate overlay. Colorist art was not treated with much "respect" over the years and so the condition tends to vary.

Many pieces can have staple holes in the upper corner where they were attached as complete stories at one time. Some of the older pieces can have corners torn off, although most of the time it does not touch the artwork. Colorist art is becoming more and more popular as the majority of comics are being colored on computer these days. This means there will no longer be "hand-colored" pieces, of many of the newer issues, to collect.
WHAT IS A BLUELINE?

Blueline is a process used to print most painted, full color comics in which the black and white art is transferred to a separate board and printed in light blue, while a clear acetate overlay carries the black line art. This is done so that the black line work is not "pixilated" during the color separation;.ion process, which would cause the blacks to become what is known as "four color black", thereby causing a lack of clarity in the blacks, especially the lettering.

By using the blueline process, the publisher is able to get the "best of both worlds" so to speak, allowing him to print painted full color artwork without sacrificing the clarity of the B&W art.

Since the comic is printed by directly using the painted art, you will not find globs of white out, loose or unerased pencil lines or non-photo blue editorial direction. The art will look as clean as it does on the printed page (with the sole exception of some white out in word balloons and between panels, and possibly over spray from the airbrush outside the borders of the page).

Because the black line art has been isolated on the overlay, the physical appearance of a blueline is very similar to an animation cel. The colors will also be more

brilliant on the original, because very often they will be painted in several transparent "glazes" giving the art a translucent, almost glowing quality. The image area is also larger than on the printed page.

As with all original art, only one original exists, making these pieces very rare collectables which are prized by well rounded collectors just as their B&W counterparts are, sometimes even more so due to the fact the painted page offers a more complete representation of what all the artists intended while the book was in its planning stages.

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