Friday, November 6, 2009

This piece, called "The Rentless", was printed years ago as a Screw cover. As pathetic and degraded as the content of Screw was, it usually had hip, sympathetic art directors: Bruce Carlton, Lennie Mace and Kevin Hein. Over the years countless cartoonists including prominent repeat offenders Wood, Spain and Crumb did these three-color jobs (black and two colors). Towards the end, before it was cancelled, it was the last place to see your work printed in old-school comic book benday dots color.

I did a few covers for them over the years, all them done as I did this one, an ink drawing colored by making the separations by hand. I hand cut layers for each color percentage from rubylith (like a silkscreen separation) in five or six layers, like, blue 100%, 40% and 20%, the same for yellow. Or, I'd paste zipatone on layers to get further gradations. Different people had different techniques, but you would have to spec the job, i.e. be able to anticipate what it would look like printed. None of the immediate gratification and second-guessing of photoshop; you would have to wait until it was printed to see how it came out.

Doing the color also added significantly to the fee and Screw would pay an extra 25 dollars if you extended the color into the logo above the illustration box. It was a famous logo, designed by Milton Glaser I believe, and a good few artists took the opportunity to do some interesting resolutions with it, and get the extra cash, to boot. Someone could make an overwhelmingly eyepopping and absurd coffee table book of the Screw covers; we'll probably see that someday.

The preceeding revelations were prompted by my recent correspondence with canny comics artist/analyst Frank Santoro, who wrote an excellent piece about Kevin Nowlan and comics color:
Comics Comics
To qualify one of Frank's points, in commercial comics in the benday days as now, color was most often not done by the artists who drew them. A few would take a hands-on approach like Jack Kirby, who often colored his work with his singular palette in the 1950s, psychedelic even then, or George Roussos with his Air Wave; or Harvey Kurtzman working closely with Marie Severin at E.C.

George Roussos, Air Wave, from the Roussos pages at

Some artists would indicate color with notes in the margins of the page, for instance Alex Toth's originals are rife with color notes, but he said in his later years that his color ideas were rarely implemented. Artists known for their excellent four-color work like Steranko and Neal Adams had to fight to do the work for negligible pay. However, they only did watercolor or marker color guides which were then coded, overmarked with specific letter/number designations marked for each color used; the actual separations were done at the printing house.

link to Comic Art Forum