It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

September 30, 2016 3:26 pm 0 comments


Ever took the time to think about what it takes to make a comic book?  I don’t mean the printing process; I’m talking the creative side?  Most books these days involve multiple creative personalities.  There are times one person may take on more than one role, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone needs to do it.  As you’re reading the different roles in the creation process below, keep in mind that while most titles come out once a month, there are several these days that come out every 2 weeks.  14 days to put together all the moving parts without letting the story go astray…always amazes me.

WRITER:  Every good book needs a story.  This is typically a single person, but there are many books out there where two people collaborate.  Most comic book stories these days are written in story-arcs that span 4-6 issues.  The 4 issue variety is most often presented as a mini-series or limited series.  Once those 4 issues are done, you typically don’t see more from that title for a period of time.  The 5-6 issue arcs are like self-contained stories within a larger one.  The writer is responsible for both the story and all the corresponding dialog between the characters.  They must also do their best to ensure their story fits in with the current theme of the book, and also make sure it’s in-line with the history of what’s come before.

ARTIST: The artist is responsible for drawing the pictures.  Yes, that sounds very basic, but it’s not intended to minimize them in the least.  If it’s a new book or a new character, the artist will usually collaborate with the writer to get an idea of what it will look like.  If it’s an existing title, then the artist already knows fundamentally what the characters and surroundings should look like, but usually has the freedom to add their unique styles.   Most comics are 32 pages long and measure 6.625 inches by 10.25 inches.  Artists produce their works on pages that measure 11 inches by 17 inches containing a feint blue grid.  This helps them maintain consistency with things like size, depth, and distance.  Most do their drawings with some form of pencil and when done the final product is scanned and sent to the next person in the process.

INKER:  Once the artist completes a page, the inker prints a copy and takes over.  This person’s job is to trace over the pencils of an artist.  Again, sounds basic, but in reality it’s anything but.  The inker ensures the final presentation of the lines are clean and sharp.  They will also add depth and shading to the drawing by varying the thickness of the lines.  And where the artist can simply erase something they don’t like or made a mistake on, the inker doesn’t have that luxury.  Made a mistake?  Looks like you’ll have to start that page over.  Like the artist, once the inker completes a page, it’s scanned and sent on to the next person.

COLORIST:  So up to this point we have a story, a script, and some black and white pictures.  The person who adds the color is called the colorist.  And it you think it’s like coloring in a coloring book all day, you’re both right and wrong.  I recently watched someone work on a page.  The artist had a very high-end set of markers, each with a very fine tip on one side and a broader tip on the other side.  For grey alone, he had 6 shades.  Lined up, you could see the difference between the 0 grey and 5 grey, but the transition from the 0 to 1 and from 1 to 2 was hard to spot.  As they work on a page, they need to pay attention to so many details.  Is the scene outside or inside?  If inside, where’s the light coming from?  Fluorescent overhead lighting like in an office building or a small table lamp?  If outside, what time of day is it?  Is it sunny, cloudy, raining?  What time of year is it; should the leaves on the trees be green or fall colors?  So many things need to be evaluated before the first marker hits the page.  And then, once the process is started, it must be continued in the next panel and the next panel.  What if an outdoor scene jumps two hours in time as the reader turns the page?  All of the light sources and shadows need to reflect that, else the reader won’t completely process that it’s now two hours later.  When the page is complete, it’s scanned and sent off for the final step in the creative process.

LETTERER: So far the titles have been pretty obviously and the trend doesn’t change here.  The letterer is the person who puts the letters on the page (seems like a Sesame Street episode, doesn’t it).  Like all the other roles, sounds a lot easier than it is.  The first choice in the process, is what font will be used?  It’s amazing how something like this can really set the tone for a book.  If the subject matter is comedic, the you might want a font that’s more cartoon-y.  If it’s a suspenseful or horror book, you might want a more jagged font.  Once one is selected for the main lettering, are other ones needed for specific characters?  And what about the sound effects, words like “BOOM”, “KABLAM”, “POP”, etc.?  These, too, are usually done in a distinctive font that varies from all the others.  And then there’s the color of the font?  Will all the text be black or some other color?  Will they all be the same color?  Next is where to put the words.  The letterer in the person who not only puts the words on the pages, they also insert the text bubbles or blocks that contain them.  The artist has (hopefully) left enough room in each panel for the letterer to insert the necessary bubbles or blocks.  If a panel contains a conversation between multiple people, then the letterer ensures the placement of the bubbles lets the reader’s eye easily follow the conversation.  Once complete, the page is scanned and sent to the last person.

EDITOR: The editor wears lots of hats in the process of making a comic book.  They are usually responsible for making sure everyone involved is working to hit their deadlines so the book makes it to the printer on time to make it on the shelf in a store.  They also review the pages as they are completed and the book as a whole when it’s all put together.  They look for spelling errors, grammatical errors, continuity errors within the book as they relate to the current story arc, and as a whole with all content that’s come before it.  They make sure the book reads well and looks good.  They make sure the pages have been assembled in the proper sequence.  There are times an artist produces what’s called a two-page spread.  This is a massive scene that takes up two pages.  I would be bad if those two pages weren’t side-by-side in the book.  Once the editor has reviewed and approved the book, it can then be sent of to the printer.

OTHER ROLES:  The six roles above are the main roles in the process, but there are others that are someone performed by people outside of the list above.

  • LAYOUTS: Arranging the flow of the story is critical.  Sometimes this is done by the artist, sometimes the editor, sometimes the writer has a vision, sometimes it’s a collaboration.  And then sometimes it’s done by a completely separate person, usually someone very seasoned in the business.
  • COVER ART:  It’s very common these days that the team working on the pages on the book are not the ones responsible for the image on the cover.  There are artists out there who make a living almost exclusively drawing covers.  They sometime have people they prefer to work with to ink and color those covers.  A lot of books are now produced with multiple covers.  The main team working on the book will create a cover, referred to as the “main” and other talent produces their interpretation as “variants”.  The variants are usually produced in smaller quantities that the mains.  The artist who draws the variant cover can greatly affect the value of that book in the collectors’ market.

So the next time you read a comic book (which I hope is every day like me), take the time to look at some of the smaller details like shading, shadows, text bubbles, fonts.  Hopefully you’ll have a greater appreciation of all the people and time it takes to bring your favorite characters or stories to life every month.

By: Just-A-Bill, resident comic nerd imjustabill

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