Archive for June, 2009

Frank’s Back Issue Sale


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Tuesday, June 30, 2009


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Can’t make it to a convention where I’ve got my “curated” longbox of back issues for sale? Never fear, true believer, I’ve got you covered. Hop on over to the blog where I’m currently selling some great warehouse finds. Check out what I scored the other day: Jim Starlin’s trainwreck masterpiece, The Price. I’ve also got some great Brendan McCarthy, Matt Wagner and Marshall Rogers stuff up right now. Stop on by just to read my hype up stickers! They’ll make you laff, I promise! You think I’m retarded? I say thee nay!

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Pacific Comics specifically


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Sunday, June 28, 2009


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Frank Santoro here again. Another “article” on color. Again, it’s just my notes, so forgive the stops and starts. Just trying to get it all down and out into the world.

Pacific Comics. Early 1980s. From what I understand, Pacific “ganged up” four or eight pages at a time on a color offset press. This was called the “grey-line” process. The black line art was photographed at 10 percent and looked grey when printed on a flexible printing plate. That plate is the surface that the colorist works on. It was a weird, slick surface to work on apparently. The usual paints and markers wouldn’t stick to it—they would just streak—so a lot of people making color comics for Pacific relied heavily on airbrush.

The other thing to remember with the Pacific books is that the color art plate to be shot for the camera was the same size as the printed comic. Meaning the color art was made at a one-to-one ratio where the drawings were made at usually one-and-one-half times the final printed size. This was standard practice in most four-color books but because the drum scanner for the grey-line picked up every little nuance of tone, I think about the color being made by hand instead of a screen. The colorist’s “hand” is very noticeable also because of the full color “color xerox” quality of the printing then. They reinforce each other. The printing isn’t bad; it isn’t bright, just subdued. Cheap. The colorist’s streaky markers and weird concoctions are all THERE, almost like a instrument played through an old fuzzy microphone. So the high notes and low bass parts “ring” louder. Buzz more. I dunno. I like it.

The Elric series, by P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert for Pacific is an spectacular feat of inventiveness. I like to think about the limitations that the printing process imposed upon the creation of the art, specifically the color art. Pacific began the series using a coloring system that I’m not familiar with—it may have been a similar process to grey-line, I don’t know. But the results were pretty bad. The inked lines of the art are muddy and the colors are streaky. By issue 3 though they began using a different process, trying to get crisper blacks, but the color was still wonky. Check out this note from the editor on the inside cover of issue 4:

And the response from a fan in the letters page in issue 5:

“This note is mainly a response to the “Grey Line” technique used in Issue #3. The over-all results are quite good. The color clarity is markedly improved and the inked lines appear much more solid. I never realized how muddy the inked lines in the previous issues are until I compared them just now. I am quite pleased and do appreciate the extra time and expense involved.”

Then a note in the same issue from the artist / colorist:
“Are you as impressed with the printing of issue four as I am? Pacific starting using a new camera with that book—and the colors were remarkably close to what Craig and I drew. Take a copy of Elric 1—and compare the printing to that of number 4, and you’ll be amazed at the difference from the earlier issue.”  

Whether you’re a fan of of the book or not, you’ve got to be won over by the tenacity and will of the artists and production people involved. They took the most rudimentary coloring and printing methods and found their own way to make it look good when most others at the time were satisfied with poor color reproduction in comics. Remember, this is 1983: no Photoshop, no way of “proofing” the colors really. They had to tweak each issue as it was published.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with the artist P. Craig Russell, who was one half of the team that created this particular Elric series for Pacific Comics in 1983. Check out how he describes the process of trial-and-error that led Michael T. Gilbert to literally invent a new way of coloring.




The Comics Journal #147 (Dec. 1991). Interviewed by Craig Paeth

Interviewer: This is where you developed the coloring style you have used for all your projects up until now.

P. Craig Russell: Right; I am eternally grateful to Michael T. Gilbert for that. We were coloring on photostats with the acetate overlays. To try to use watercolor on an acetate just looks terrible. Michael came in one day with a panel he’d done using frisket paper, which is what you’d usually use if you were airbrushing. You’d put this stuff over it and cut out the area you’d want to airbrush and then lift it up when you were done. It’s like a stencil type thing. Michael was airbrushing the entire sheet of frisket and would use it like you’d use zip-a-tone or a pantone sheet by placing it down on the paper and cutting around it. So we started playing around with that, and by gluing your color down you’re not streaking it onto the paper.

It was developed as a way of getting around this horrible coloring process we had, with necessity being the mother of invention. We found that you could color underneath a frisket and that a pencil eraser would erase your watercolor off the paper and you could get sort of pseudo-airbrush effects that way. It could get very complicated and by the sixth issue I really think we had it working. I think Michael did the best color work he’s ever done on those Elric issues because I’m much more meticulous and clean in my approach and I wouldn’t let him get away with sloppy utility knife work, I really kept him on his toes as far as a finished look would go.

(from Elric issue 6)

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BACK TO COMICS COMICS: And now, let’s hear from the other half of the team, specifically guy who handled the lion’s share of the art on this book. I wrote to Michael T. Gilbert and asked him a few questions about the Elric series and some of the old coloring methods like grey-line and the following is his response:

The Early Days of Comic Book Coloring, As I Remember It!
©2009 Michael T. Gilbert

I consider myself primarily a comic book artist and writer (Mr Monster, Elric, Donald Duck and crew, etc.), but over the years I have done my share of coloring. I cut my eyeteeth coloring my cover for New Paltz Comix an ” underground” comic book I self-published 1973.

I was a 21-year old college student when I brought the art to New Paltz Comix to a printer near my home on Long Island, and asked him how to color it for reproduction. He showed me how to cut frisket for a simple two-color cover (black-and-white, with various shades of blue). After placing a slab of Rubylith paper (a clear plastic sheet with a red see-through sticky plastic on top) on top of my cover art, he instructed me to cut away any areas that I wanted to remain black-and-white when they photographed it. The rest would be whatever color I’d indicated when they’d print it in. If it was to be printed blue, let’s say, I’d paint a section black (red, actually, since the red Rubylith photographed as black!). Confusing, eh? If I wanted it to be dark blue it would be 100% black, or if I used a 50% grey shading sheet on top, the final result to be a lighter 50% blue.

I didn’t fully understand what the printer was telling me, but gave it a try anyway; cutting cut away selected areas as instructed. Months later, when my comic was finally in print, I was delighted to see that it worked!

For the second issue we tried doing a fully-painted cover, which would have saved us a ton of time and looked far more professional. But having the printer photograph it turned out to be too expensive for our meager budget, so I took a stat of the uncolored cover and redid the colors with hand-seps, using multiple layers ––one for yellow, another for blue and one for red. By mixing the colors in various shades you could get all the other colors when they were printed on top of one another. The cover looked great when printed, though not as impressive as full-color.

Over the years, I did a few more covers using hand-cut colors, over the black-and-white art. It was hard, tedious work, but a fun challenge.

My most ambitious cover coloring was the one to Star*Reach Publication’s Imagine #6. I did hand-separated color (in black-and-white) on three different layers (plus the black-and-white plate) –– using airbrush! Since I was drawing the red, yellow and blue plates in black, white and grey, I had to guess how it would look when all the colors were combined. And I couldn’t afford to get printed proofs beforehand. In order to get them you’d need to have film negatives made first from each layer, and proofs made from them. Star*Reach’s shoe-string budget couldn’t afford that until the negs were shot for final printing. Luckily, I’d mostly guessed right that time, and the cover looked good overall. I breathed a sigh of relief!

Though I’d never done interior color, around 1981 I decided to give it a try. I was intrigued by the blueline method I’d seen Bil Stout use on some Slow Death covers, and decided to give it a try on one of my stories. With bluelines, the printer makes a negative of the art, somewhat larger than the printed size. Using that, a light blue image of the drawing would be printed on a stiff-but-porous sheet of cardboard. Then an identical black-and-white drawing would be printed on a transparent sheet. Once placed over the blue art, the black would cover the blue and hide it (since it was the same image, and the same size). But when the black-and-white transparency was removed temporarily for coloring, the artist could use the blue as guidelines when coloring.

I did the color for my 8-page story “The Circle Game” using Dr. Martin’s Dyes and airbrush. It was a real trial-and-error situation, and I went through a lot of paper before I was satisfied, but I learned a lot in the process –– and just in time, as it turned out! The following year I was invited to work with Craig Russell drawing and coloring the first Elric comic book series for Pacific Comics.

As Craig mentioned, we had trouble doing the color. This was in the VERY early days of full color comics and nobody at Pacific seemed to know what they were doing (though I had assumed otherwise coming in!). We only had a week or two to color the entire comic on printed size stats, which turned out to be too slick to hold the Dr. Martin’s Dyes, which would pool and turn blotchy. Desperate, I came up with a stopgap measure of making Xeroxes of the stats on porous cardboard. The colors didn’t reproduce as intensely as they would have on stat paper, but at least we were able to finish the job on time.


By the third issue I came up with the idea of spraying colors on clear frisket paper with a sticky back that would hold to the surface of the slick stats. We’d do an undercoat color on the stat, but add the colored frisket on large areas that required more subtle color. When the comics were collected into a graphic novel later, we recolored those first two issues, and the black came out sharper and the colors more intense. I later used the same frisket-on-slick-stats method when I colored some of my Mr. Monster stories a couple of years later for Eclipse.             Speaking of which, did you know that the first comic book story ever done with computer color was printed in Mr. Monster? First Publishing had done a comic called Shatter, which was allegedly the first comic drawn on a computer. It may have been drawn on a computer, but it was colored by hand, the same way as all the other comics were at the time.

My friend Steve Oliff tried to convince Eclipse to let him try coloring a story using computer color, which had never been done. I suggested that Steve could color “My Fears!,” a four-page story drawn by Jeff Bonivert, as a backup in Mr. Monster #5 (February 1986). In my typical cheesy manner, I christened our experiment “Terror-Chroma!” Brrr! The results were dark and murky, but it worked. Good thing too, because we were pretty nervous about this newfangled “computer-color” stuff.

In more recent years I’ve learned to do computer color myself, most recently on my new G5 iMac. Getting the hang of Photoshop was a huge learning curve, but now I’m doing things I could only have dreamed in the old days. The frisket colors I employed on the old Elric comics were clumsy and very time consuming, though the results were often impressive. Today I can do the same thing better in minutes using layers of color –– and change the color instantly with the click of a mouse. Moreover, I can instantly see how the final colors will look on my computer screen, and even make printouts on my laser printer.

Coloring is a whole new world today –– and I like it. I don’t always care for the overuse and over-saturation of modern computer coloring, but that’s the fault of the colorists, not the medium.

When I think back, it’s been a long strange trip, from Rubylith to Photoshop CS3.

But it’s certainly been a very colorful journey!

The End
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‘Nuff said. Well, true believer, please understand that I’m just trying to understand these processes myself. My friend and mentor, Norman Hathaway makes fun of me all the time about this stuff. He tells me I gotta look outside of comics to understand the processes better. That I’ll find more of the information I’m looking for if I begin to wrap my head around the idea that these processes were used in commercial printing as affordable ways of proofing colors before expensive plates were made. In comics this cheap “proofing” method was the actual printing method. Hunh? You still with me, faithful reader? No? All right, well, stay tuned for future “articles” on color and we may just figure this out yet.

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Fish Fry


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Friday, June 26, 2009


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A Conversation with Yuichi Yokoyama.

One fine day in Lucerne, Switzerland I gathered Frank Santoro, Lauren Weinstein and CF around a table to interview Yuichi Yokoyama. Via his translator he responded to all of our various questions. What we didn’t know was that later, after a few beers, his English got a lot better! Alas, we didn’t record his musings on soccer, baseball, fishing, and Donald Judd. Next time. For now, herewith a conversation with some of the best bugged out minds of my generation and one doofus (me).

April 2, 2009

Dan Nadel: Maybe we could talk for a few minutes about adventure and motion, since everyone here does adventure comics, often involving action — approaches to action.

[Everybody stops to think]

Yuichi Yokoyama: Being here at this moment, at this table, with the publisher, Dan Nadel, this is an adventure. I am surrounded by foreigners, this is also an adventure. I cannot speak your language, that is also an adventure. I have never thought about it before, why it’s an adventure… I don’t think I’m going to draw any so-called “actions.” Not anymore. I’d like to draw an impression of something very quiet, philosophical.

CF: Well, it’s hard to think about what action is, because anything that’s moving is in action, or is an adventure. And everything’s some kind of quest of the will, even if it’s a very unimportant thing. And at some point, it becomes adventure or it becomes action, but it’s always that way. So, in some ways I feel like the hardest thing to do in comics is to make nothing happen, because the panels are always moving forward, so you always have that energy of action, and you always have that energy of adventure, and it’s very hard to “still” that. I think I’ve been trying to do that. The way you show pacing, how fast you make a fight move, is a really strange thing. How the time between panels can be so many different things — it could be like a half second or a number of seconds and the only way you can tell is by the drawing itself. So it’s very weird . . . it’s not rational.

YY: What you have said is very interesting. It’s rather human, very human. After forming actions with rapidity, then you have to read from one panel to the other, quickly — that is very exciting, but you like to go back to another side of humanistic . . . you like to think about “quiet”.

CF: I like to think about everything, but the problem is that, I think, some things are harder to get than others, harder to achieve. I think one of the hardest things to achieve is a sense of stillness. Let’s not say that, even, let’s say a sense of non-action. And quietness is action, too, in a lot of ways.

YY: In my case, I do not have any “stories,” as such. There are no stories in my manga–just the impressions in each panel, that is what I want to consider. In a Hemingway story two friends of Nick Adams get out of a train somewhere in a very humble, dirty, small, coal mining town and they go to the bar. It’s a very rough bar, and they are treated very badly, and they plot their revenge. But don’t take revenge; there’s no story. They go back to the train. Such a simple thing, there’s no story, but there is something lurking in the background anyway. That is what I want to take out of the story. I want to express this sort of thing without words, so readers have to “read between the lines,” between the panels.

CF: And why do you want to not draw action anymore? Because of that?

YY: No, I wouldn’t say that I want to stop completely 100%. For instance, I would like to draw a war for 1000-2000 pages. From the beginning, only scenes of fighting, and the end, the last page, after 1000 pages, they’re still fighting. For that, I need a tremendous amount of time. With my present technique, it takes an enormous amount of time. If I find out I can employ a special technique within a very limited amount of time, I might start action manga again. If I use a magic marker, like in Baby Boom [A new book he’s drawing in a different style], maybe it’ll happen. I’d like to make my own technique to draw faster for this special idea of the 1000 page war comic. I’m very ambitious, I always want to compete with time.

DN: Do you want to compete with other artists or just yourself?

YY: I don’t want to compete with others, I want to draw for myself.

Lauren Weinstein: With the war comic, would you re-enact a battle that’s already been fought, or is it your own war?

YY: It would blend what I have seen in the past through movies, on television, the newspaper, and in photos. I don’t want to describe any humanistic feeling, but at the same time I don’t want to describe any death scenes. For instance: Take an empty town, but the person in the manga thinks that there must be a lot of enemies in this dead town. In this case, nobody can be dead, there are no enemies there. I’m trying to think of how I can avoid a scene of dead bodies lying on the floor. So many things I have to solve technically. If I figure out a technique for that kind of scene, then I can start drawing it.

CF: Why are you avoiding the human? Why is the deleting of human concerns in the work important?

YY: I’d like to read such a manga myself, nobody else writes such manga, that’s why I write, so basically the purpose is to draw manga for me, not for others. Self-contemplation.

CF: Are there any artists working today that you feel connected to, in any way, any kind of artist, contemporary artists?

YY: I mostly feel kinship with Japanese artists.

CF: Who?

Y: Tadashi Kawamata, he lives in France. He used to he used to make oil paintings. Now he’ll use a a piece of a tree, a broken board, or other scraps to create a new building. He’s always invited by art festivals all over the world, he’s considered one of the top artists in Japan.

CF: I realize this might be an impossible question to ask, but why is it that the manga that you want to read has those aspects, no story or anything, like that war comic?

YY: It’s very difficult to describe, but in my personal life I don’t respect human feelings. I’m very far from human society, I’d rather appreciate natural phenomena. I’m very interested in understanding how a bird might see things. I want to delete the human feelings because the reader wants to emotionally take sides with one particular person and I’d prefer they remain neutral. That’s why I don’t want to produce a scene where people feel sympathy with a particular person.

CF: I feel like I’m trying to do the same thing: Creating these situations where people would feel drawn to root for, or side with certain elements, but in the end hopefully there’s no one to side with. Hopefully there’s no one to say “this is good,” or “this is bad,” but still have those human elements in there, and draw people out.

YY: Not to be obnoxious, but I’d like to go up even higher than the human consciousness. What we all can do, as humans, is sort of very limited.

CF: That’s true, but I’m young and I think that’s where I have to begin. That’s how I feel right now.

YY: If we have another ten days, maybe we can go into more details, but I have to go back to Japan tomorrow.

DN: You started manga when you were 31, how did you first learn to make it, was there anyone you were looking at to help you learn to tell stories?

YY: 12 years ago, I switched from oil painting to making manga. I went to a second-hand bookshop and I bought this manga techniques book with a little money and started to train myself.

Frank Santoro: Well your style seems to have come fully-formed. It doesn’t bloom, it just… arrived. It’s just so unique that that’s, I think what we’re trying to…

YY: The first panels I drew, they’re not in a book. Of course, you didn’t see the original drawings, from when I was starting 12 years ago. I still have them but they’re so terrible that nobody would want to buy it or make it a manga. So you only saw the first book, that’s why you think it’s the way you described

FS: I think I’m speaking for everyone, but I speak for myself too, but I don’t see any influence from another style. I see you taking things from modern art, but not necessarily from other manga. So the synthesis of modern art and manga is very unique, and that’s what I think it’s fully formed.

YY: I believe you.

FS: Thank you!

DN: The thing about the Hemingway stories is that most people would say that those have a lot of emotional content because it’s all in the subtle interactions between the two men. Do you see those as having emotional content, or do you only see them as plotless sequences of actions?

YY: Yeah, from the beginning, I delete or disguise this emotion. I don’t see it.

CF: He just likes the grilling of the fish.

YY: All of the conversations in the Hemingway stories, I don’t find them to be very humanistic conversations. I don’t see the humanity. I feel they’re very cold and inhuman. There is something sticking behind the conversation which has nothing to with the warmth of human interaction. There are a lot of short stories with scenes of just people talking in a restaurant, and then I can’t detect any meaning behind those conversations; they’re meaningless. There is one scene in a Hemingway story, this one station scene: Tourists arrive in the station and they decide to go into the local bar and they sit and they encounter three or four local people from the city. They start to talk to each other. The tourists, this group of people, have ordered a very very expensive gorgeous champagne that they give to everybody. One of them explains, “I have just divorced, that’s why I’ve taken this journey” and he talks to the local people about married life. Then he leaves because the train comes, but before he leaves the bar, he tells the locals that they have to share the champagne that is left. But instead the locals bring the half-drank champagne bottle back to the counter and ask for money back. It’s a very humanistic story but it’s also very cold, extreme coldness.

CF: This is a fascination in your work that you’re actively pursuing at all times, and maybe this is inappropriate, but in your personal life I know you have a girlfriend or something. How does it relate to personal human relationships with your family, for instance?

YY: My daily life with girlfriend and with my mother and with my friends, it’s an absolutely normal human relationship, I respect my friends, I feel very warm feelings towards my friends, my girlfriends, and my mother, I eat regularly….

CF: I know that!

YY: So you’re suspicious that I’m also a very cold person

CF: No. I just think that when you’re doing something creative, when you’re exploring things that you’re fascinated by, it’s because you have questions about them; questions are inspiration. I have a desire, I think, to merge what I’m doing in my work and my personal life to some extent. If you’re always in your work trying to get to these higher levels that are beyond humans, to me sometimes it’s kind of sad that you can’t achieve them in your normal life.

YY: Have you ever been to Japan? I think the Japanese are very very emotional people. If you ever watch Japanese television, you will encounter every second, such a scene of appreciation, emotional extremes, emotional expressions. Always crying and uh, emotional. That is our national character. This emotionality disturbs me and I think that that I would say that within me there is an unconscious protest against this tendency.

CF: And you’re making art to reflect that.

YY: I think I do that very unconsciously, but I have to admit that it reflects in my work, as you’ve pointed out. Our emotionality is not like yours in America. It’s so shadowy; even if we express ourselves with joy, appreciation, excitement, somehow a shadow is behind it all. This is not like your emotional life, you express joy, sadness, pathos, enjoyment very differently.

CF: What’s the shadow, the shadow is infinity?

YY: It’s very ghostly. Our emotional environment in Japan doesn’t go up and down so much. It’s relatively balanced. Anyway, I think that geographically Japan is also a nice place to live. Very pleasant place. Under these circumstances, in time, humans become lazy, unambitious, very comfortable. Too comfortable. That weakens us. Like you, in America, when you laugh you open their mouth and the laugh comes out from here. Our laughing is not like that, but I find that your style is more healthy. It explodes. That’s much healthier than ours.

CF: But what’s funny is that “healthy” does not get results that are interesting or tell you things that are new. I think that being healthy or maintaining vitality doesn’t necessarily, or in most cases doesn’t give you results that are interesting or answers that you weren’t aware of, new information, I think, comes out of sickness and out of imbalance.

LW: You’re talking about asceticism though.

CF: It’s just an extreme, it could be decadence.

LW: A search for purity doesn’t mean decadence.

CF: I’m just saying limits of human ability just to survive, I just wanted to make the point that healthy is maybe a little bit beside the point, in creative work.

YY: “Mentally and physically,” this is very important to my creativity.

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To Do This Weekend


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Friday, June 26, 2009


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Autobiography: My Life in Comics
2:00 pm @ Union Pool, Brooklyn NY
(484 Union Ave, one block from the Lorimer-Metropolitan G and L stop)

David Heatley
(My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down, Kramers Ergot), Lauren Weinstein (Girl Stories, The Goddess of War) and Julia Wertz (Fart Party, I Saw You) will discuss the process, pleasures, and problems of making comics based on their own personal lives and observations. Then stick around to get a book signed, hit the taco truck, and sip a summer drink with our featured cartoonists.

Suggested donation is $5. All proceeds go to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

More info here.

UPDATE: The audio for this event can now be listened to here.

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COMICS CLASS 2: electric boogaloo


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Tuesday, June 23, 2009


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Saturday July 18th and Sunday July 19th
two different classes – same lesson
both days
noon to six
COMICSCLASS2700
with FRANK SANTORO
“DISCOVER THE HIDDEN TEMPO OF COMICS”

Hey Everybody. I’m offering my Comics Class again. I’m doing TWO workshop classes in New York City at the infamous Westbeth artists’ co-op on Saturday July 18th and Sunday July 19th. Be there or be square. It’s gonna be an intense, small class of six people. Not for beginners. Come ready to draw.

The focus will be on the student’s contour line drawing and composition. This class will explore the process of improvisation within a rigorously structured page design. Meaning students will learn how to find a framework of harmonic points on the comics page. These points act like a “tuning fork” and provide page proportions which allow the drawings to unfold in sequence while firmly remaining “in key.”

Seriously. See, the problem I see with most comics is that often there is a real lack of a consistent narrative pace. Comics can be structured like songs and utilize tempo, rhythm, harmonies, and melodies to change the pace of a story. It’s this invisible structure that will be explored, diagrammed, and discussed.

And as for the drawing end of it, we will be drawing in a contour line style. No shading, just lines. Some color. Students will be making a manuscript, a “print dummy” of sorts for making their own 16 page zine. Each student will be “improvising” upon a pre-existing story structure designed by myself. Straight ahead, no-frills drawing and composition, transitions and sequencing will be the order of the day. I will be working with each student one on one to really explain how structure and improvisation can unlock one’s narrative vision.

Email me: capneasyATgmailDOTcom if you’re interested. It’s 40 bux. Noon to six with a lunch break. Space is limited to six people each day.

UPDATE 6/26: There’s one spot left for Saturday and 1 spot left for Sunday. Thanks.

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Steve Oliff riff


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Saturday, June 20, 2009


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Okay, Frank Santoro here, and this one’s for all the color nerds out there. It’s just my notes, fragments of an interview with a master.

Steve Oliff may be one of the best color artists in comics history. I tracked down the 30-year veteran of comics and asked him a few questions about some old color processes used in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He was kind. And patient. But please know that these notes, this “interview,” is really just to satisfy me and to add fuel to the fire of my own obsessions—so forgive me if this isn’t a super well rounded portrait of an artist. (And thanks to Steve.)

I was just reading, looking at everything Oliff had worked on, collecting the coolest and weirdest crap comics just cuz he’d colored them, and trying to make sense of how the processes changed over the years. He ushered in the computer era when he found a way to color Akira by the most insane process in 1988. And before that he worked on Marvel’s first full color comic magazine in the ’70s, The Hulk!, the first book there to use the “blue-line” process.

Blue-line. Blue-line color process. What is it? From what I understand, generally, it’s when the “black line” (the inked, finished art) is printed on an acetate sheet and then is also printed in non-photo blue on Bristol board at the same size. The acetate is usually hinged at the top of the board and brought down for reference. Anyways, the board gets the full color treatment, watercolor, acrylics, dyes, anything that’ll stick to the board. The colored page and the black-line page are shot by the camera separately. The idea is that the blacks stay black and the color stays balanced. You can paint the fuck out of it and still have these crisp containment black lines that’ll shape it all up.

An example of this process is found here. Read the intro paragraph about original blue-line comic art.


I got really into reading Howard Chaykin‘s Time2 and really into trying to understand how Steve Oliff went about coloring it. Time2 has a fresh, light palette that adjusts to the mood of the story ?very nicely. The light “pastel” palette was so different from the ?traditional four-color books on newsprint and the garish Baxter paper ?books of ’84-’86. ??”Flat” colors for the most part with slight airbrushed gradients that? presages computer color’s ubiquitous “modeled” color of today—a look that ?Oliff was instrumental in creating.

Yet, the effects achieved in? Time2 are remarkable because they do not rely heavily on “modeling” ?and gradients; the colors are restrained and generally “flat.” Oliff ?arranged the mottled, impressionistic flat areas of color to create ?tension and mood and it worked beautifully. White Conté crayon ?highlights and watercolor paper-like textures reveal a hand? with a liveliness rarely seen in color comics. This approach ?pairs very well with Chaykin’s style, which is important to note.? Subtleties of color,? highlights, and patterning that mirror Chaykin’s style unify the color and line ?art, like a second voice providing a stellar harmony.


Note the blue flourish on the back of the policeman to the right. And how it rhymes with the sky on the adjacent page.


These flourishes and the simple painted sky background were? not possible with the four-color process. All “art” was made on the ?black line with the four-color process. A colorist may have implied a? stormy sky in his color guides, but it would be left to an unknown? “separator” to create the sky—a chance that most artists and? colorists were not, generally, prepared to make. It was very uncommon ?to see elements created by the artist printed on any of the color ?plates. For the most ?part the artist was limited to the black line, and the colorist to flat? color, screens and mechanical gradients notwithstanding.

Santoro: Was this (Time2) your first experience with the blue-line process?

OLIFF: Yes, this was the first time I’d tried the blue-line process. It was the second time I’d worked with Howard Chaykin, though. The first time was in 1978 on The Stars My Destination. On that project we just did full-color art. I was laying in the basics and Howard did the finishes.

On Time2, Howard and I worked very closely. He sent me a pile of color references, from painted TV Guide covers to fashion photos. He had a late-forties to early sixties flavor to all of it. He does extensive reference research for his projects. That naturally carried over to the coloring.

Time2
had a couple of things different about it. First, many of the pages were designed as double-page spreads, and could be linked thematically. I knew there weren’t going to be any annoying ads that could pop up randomly with God only knows what kind of a color scheme to compete with my work.

Then you have the real advantage of blue lines: You can use any paint, pencil, etc., that you want. I could use gouache (opaque watercolor). And in reproduction, that word “opaque” is crucial.

I’m going to digress a bit, but this is important.

Comics had traditionally been colored on the guides using Dr. Martin’s Radiant Transparent Watercolors. These guides were not used for reproduction, just as an indicator for the engravers and separators.

When people started doing full-color, they were looking for bright, saturated colors, which Dr. Martin’s gives on the original color art. However, when you try to reproduce the transparent colors, because of the crystalline structure of the pigment, and the bouncing of the light between the white paper and the pigment, the colors will over-saturate, and react weirdly.

With opaque colors, the light hits the paint and is directly reflected back to the camera or scanner without the trip under the transparent colors. This gives a much more controllable color that can be accurately reproduced.

Up to that point in my career, I had been using transparent dyes, felt pens, and only a very little opaque Cel-Vinyl animation paint. Gouache changed my whole approach to color. And best of all, I could mix the gouache thin enough that I could airbrush with it. (And there is a lot more airbrush work on Time2 than at first meets the eye.)


One of the main things that separates Time2 from my earlier coloring jobs was that I mixed up my own special palettes of colors to airbrush, and then I used some of those same colors to paint with. Then on top of that, I was using some of the leftover frisket (a masking film) to create patterns of color. For instance there is a big shot of a girl sitting on a couch. The pattern on the fabric is mostly used frisket pieces. We used spatter and colored pencil extensively to give texture.


I also used Pantone films to cast shadows over the colors once they were rendered.

And finally, Howard came back in and gave a lot of the faces hard edged color. He felt some of my color edging was too soft, so he cut in some highlights.

I was out of the loop on the proofs, so I don’t know what was going on in that department. Howard and the editors were more on top of that. Time2 has been one of the most popular works of mine among colorists. I can remember Brian Haberlin mentioning it as one of his favorite color jobs before he became a pro. I think it still holds up. I’m proud of it.


The blue-line process changed the way colorists essentially ?”created” color. To get an insight on how different the process was, ?I asked Steve to compare Time2 to another book he worked on only the ?year before: Mike Kaluta‘s Starstruck series.


When I worked on the Epic titles: Timespirits, Coyote, The Bozz Chronicles, and Starstruck, they were all flat color books. (Timespirits eventually switched to full-color stats for the last few issues.) It was an adjustment for me. It was like working on Captain Victory and Starslayer for Pacific, which I’d done in the early ’80s.

How were your guides interpreted for Starstruck?

I’m guessing ?paper seps that were then shot with screens to get percentages. This is more or less the same process that had been in place for fifty years ?in comic books.

Starstruck was separated by one of the old hand separation companies, probably Chemical Color up in Connecticut. They did a decent job considering I hate to write numbers all over my guides, so they were left to guess a lot about exactly which colors I wanted.


Your arrangement of bright flat colors in Starstruck, to me, really? suits Kaluta’s work. It feels like you really looked at his own color? work and really attempted to dovetail nicely with his line work. I? don’t get that feeling with Elaine Lee‘s colors on the first two ?issues. I also think it’s a very modern palette that holds up over ?time. Very fresh.

Starstruck had great art, and I was forced to think things through in a flatter way. However, I’ve never approached any project without trying my best to figure out which color approach best suits the story and the artist. Also, whenever possible I talked to the artists about what they were looking for in the color. My goal has always been to be a real collaborator on the art, and do everything in my power to bring out the best in it. That’s not always possible, but I tried whenever I could. I didn’t have much contact with Mike on that book, though. I was called in because the editor (Archie Goodwin) either wasn’t totally happy with Elaine’s work, or she was behind on deadlines.


Please elaborate on the mid-’80s and the choices offered: four-?color, blue-line, Photostats, grey-line. Did you feel that one process was superior or did you have? a preference? They are understandably different processes with their? own quirks. Did turning over your guides to a separation house and? getting back lazy seps fuel your interest in blue-line? Obviously with Akira that was an issue (I read your essay on Akira color), but before you really even thought about computer color, lets ?say in ’85, ’86, which process did you feel best represented what you ?were trying to do? Because from what I can tell you were doing? grey-line, blue-line, and four-color in 1986.

I was doing all different color styles around then, true, but I’d been thinking about coloring using computers as early as ’82-’83.

For me blue lines were a step sideways in my color evolution. I’d been doing full-color work since right after I worked for Howard in ’78. I was one of the first colorists to use the Marvel double-print black system that Rick Marshall put together for The Hulk! magazine. They called it SUPERCOLOR, I think. It was an attempt to find a blue-line substitute.


The idea of their system was similar to blue-lines, except that they printed two copies of the line art onto a type of Photostat that supposedly wouldn’t shrink (therefore preserving registration). I did full color on one, and the other was used for the line art. Between the two of them I could get a variety of effects. I could knock out the line art to get glass FX, and I could also add Zip-A-Tone to the black to get darker tones and set moods.

This system worked fairly well, but the problem for most colorists was that you had to work on a very slick surface that only took certain color mediums. I developed a system for coloring on them that worked well, but it wasn’t like working in paint and colored pencil, etc. I could use airbrush, however.


The problem at the time was that editors were looking for ways to economically get better color, but there weren’t many books to try things on. After the Hulk series got canceled, there wasn’t any work for a full-colorist.

That was a rough spell for me, but I got little jobs here and there until Pacific Comics began. They did flat color on newsprint until Bruce Jones’s Alien Worlds and Twisted Tales came out. On those they did the jump to Baxter paper, but the first issue of Twisted Tales was hand-separated. I did most of the guides for that issue. By this time I was coloring my guides on photostats, so I just did them like I was doing full-color even if I knew it was going to be flat separations. I put an acetate overlay on them, which was where I wrote in the color codes. (I REALLY hated putting those numbers in.)

That all changed on one Al Williamson story for Alien Worlds. They saw how nice the guides looked and decided to try to get a clean full-color shot, which they did, so they switched then and there to full-color. I still have a daily strip that Al sent me in appreciation for that job.

But the age-old problem of shooting full-color art was still there, so someone came up with the grey-line system, which was a watered-down blue-line approach. It worked up until the end of the Eclipse line of comics.

When Time2 came out, and so did The Dark Knight, the blue-line was the hot way to get full color.

(Oliff would continue using the blue-line technique and his ?collaboration with Chaykin through 1988 with Blackhawk, from DC ?comics.)

Would you comment on this series briefly? I feel like you grew more? comfortable with the blue-line process here and created a palette and? look that was very suitable to the 1940s setting. Its a bit less? frenetic than Time2, but still very “lively.” There are also more ?instances where you are painting in backgrounds that Chaykin is not delineating on the black line.


After Time2, when Howard landed the Blackhawk series for DC, he got me signed on as colorist. All the stuff I learned on Time2, I was then able to use on Blackhawk. My painting ability got stronger and cleaner, and Howard felt confident to let me add background and design elements. I still have many of those pages, and I’m amazed at how much work I put into them.


Would you elaborate on the grey-line process used ?at Eclipse? Was this the same process that Marshall Rogers used for? his Scorpio Rose comics? Did processes change at Eclipse and Pacific ?over the years? I’ve heard that Marshall was very involved in?developing Eclipse’s color process in the early ’80s.

I don’t know if Marshall had anything to do with the development of the grey-line system or not. The grey-line process was a hybrid of the blue-line designed for drum scanning. Blue-line traditionally had the blue line printed on heavy illustration board. That meant they had to be shot photographically. The grey lines were 10% line art printed on a flexible Photostat. That was what we colored. The black line art overlay was also flexible. The pages were done at printing size, and ganged up to scan a bunch of pages at a time on a drum scanner. I don’t know whether it was four or eight pages at a time, or what. This made the separations inexpensive, which allowed them to do full color at not too much more cost than flat color.

How did you feel about the Baxter paper books ?that came out in ’84? Camelot 3000 and the New Teen Titans. I’m not? aware of any “Baxter” books that you may have worked on.

I always thought that the Epic books I colored were Baxter books. But in general the first Baxter books were a bit much. The Baxter books did allow a wider range of colors, though. It was just that no one was quite prepared for it at first.


Moebius‘s Epic graphic novels. Were they? blue-line? Were all the Marvel graphic novels blue-line? Is the? Starstruck graphic novel from ’84 a blue-line process? Do you remember? what the first blue-line process book you saw was? I mean one that you ?saw in a production office or somewhere, not the final printed book ?but the board itself with the overlay.

Moebius was definitely blue-line. I don’t know about the Starstruck graphic novel. The Marvel graphic novels I colored were the double-print black system. (I’m not sure what the official name was for that system. I’ve just always called it that.) The Death of Captain Marvel, God Loves, Man Kills, Super Boxers, Revenge of the Living Monolith were all that system.

The only one that was totally different for me was the Alien Legion graphic novel. On that one I colored directly on Frank Cirocco’s art. I’m not sure what the rest of them were.

I don ‘t remember seeing any blue-line jobs in the office until after I had done a few myself. In addition to Time2, I colored about three Classics Illustrated graphic novels for First Comics.

I asked a fairly reliable source about who ?actually interpreted the guides for the separation houses in the ’60s ?and ’70s and was told that Marvel and DC had the same separation house.? “It was little old ladies in Connecticut who made the separations.”? Have you ever heard anything like that?

Oh, yeah. That was it. Chemical Color. It was a standard line about the state of comic coloring. When it sucked, you could blame it on the “little old ladies in Connecticut.”

postscript: anyone with info on the “greyline” process, please email me. capneasyATgmailDOTcom

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


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I can’t help it, so I’m going to write about history today. Please hold your gag reflex. This is actually just a “fun” post. A simple one mostly for my own list- making enjoyment. I love books about comics history — I love the personalities behind them, I love their peculiar visions of a canon, and, of course, I love them for their information. Here’s what a I look for: Honesty; A clear purpose for the book; research distilled into solid prose; an original opinion or critical idea about the material; accuracy.

Herewith a list of my current favorite books about comics history, or older anthologies containing historically-based selections. Fuck it, these books are all on my “reference” shelf. That’s the criteria. OK? OK.

In order of current enjoyment:

1) National Lampoon Presents French Comics (The Kind Men Like). 1977.
This appeared the same year as the American Heavy Metal, from the same publisher. So, go figure. This book collects comics (many in color) from the French scene of the 70s and contains, as far as I know, the only English translations of artists like Sole, Lauzier and my personal fave, Lob! Who was Lob? I dunno. All of this work seems beamed down from another planet and, from what I can guess, was contemporary with Metal Hurlant, but more “straight” in a way. There’s no other book like it. I’d like a 300 page version of this book.

2) The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told. 1990.
Before there were magical programs to add that sense of volume that you know Alex Toth was always seeking in his color, DC put out books with simple flat color seps on uncoated paper. This one is my favorite, as it contains fantastic stories by Jimmy Thompson, Toth, Mort Meskin, even Sheldon Mayer and a wonderful Dan Barry story. There’s a great Bernard Baily Spectre story in here as well, and generally a good education on what all the old fogeys are talking about when they mention the golden age canon.

3) Confessions, Romances, Secrets & Temptations. 2007.
Shouldn’t we build a monument of some kind to John Benson? He is responsible for some of the best research, compiling and editing of comics history. Squa Tront, Panels 1 & 2, Humbug, and his two romance books. This is the prose edition, full of excellent and sometimes quite eccentric interviews with St. John romance cartoonists and writers. An indispensible peek inside the industry and its characters.

4) Masters of Comic Book Art. 1978.
A total schlock-fest of a book, but I love it for its dated version of who was a “master”. Robert Crumb AND Richard Corben AND Philippe Druillet. Oh, and Barry Smith for good measure. Seems idiosyncratic and personal to me and offers a nice period piece vision of a guy like Druillet who otherwise seems lost to North American comics. Side note: As I was getting ready to post this I noticed Warren Ellis’ post on Druillet and French SF comics. Such an intriguing topic and nice to see someone out there interested in it.

5) Les Chefs-D’Oevre de la Bande Dessinee. 1970.
A nearly 500 page brick of a book that anthologizes everyone from McCay to Angelo Torres to Franquin to Will Gould to Guy Pellaert to Don Martin to Moebius to Tenebrax and even back to Caran d’Ache. A heroic attempt to connect all the Anglo-European dots circa 1970. Awesome and inspiring.

6) Men of Tomorrow. 2004.
The best damn prose book yet written about comics. Compelling and fearless in Gerard Jones‘ willingness to tell the truth about the industry. I love his combination of culture and commerce and found it quite moving at times. Jones understands and can explain where, for example, Siegel and Shuster came from, culturally, and where they went artistically, and how, precisely, they were mistreated and, more tragically, how they sabatoged themselves, too. Tangentially: I’m amazed at how few people within comics seem to have read this book. It more or less exposes the true roots of “nerd culture” and the sad exploitation behind it all. Easier to look away, I suppose.

7) The Encyclopedia of American Comics. 1990.
Ron Goulart‘s masterpiece (and another man deserving of a monument). An indispensable guide to his sensibility and his knowledge. Goulart, like Benson, came along too early to be fully appreciated. This book, with its lengthy entries on the popular and obscure, covers a tremendous amount of comic book and comic strip ground, and seems to represent a gathering of facts from all over Goulart’s voluminous publishing career. It is sadly out of print, so someone re-issue this tome! It’s brilliant.

That’s it!

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