How a comic book is created

(Note: I wrote this a few years back for National Cartoonists Day for a magazine that has since disappeared, and since yesterday was May 5, I felt it would be the right time to “reprint” it! Hope you enjoy!)

Today is Cartoonist Day. Let me confess rather quickly that I did not know until very recently that such a day even existed. But, to celebrate the occasion, I’m going to explain to you how comic books are created.

I should first explain the difference between a comic “strip” and a comic “book” or, as the longer versions are called, “graphic novels.” Most people think those terms are interchangeable. A comic book is the traditional magazine style Batman, X-Men or Spider-Man comic you might buy off the spinner rack. It generally contains 22-32 pages and tells a complete story or is part of a longer story. A comic strip is something you find in the newspaper, and is generally only a couple of panels of art. Rather than tell a story, strips often end with a gag or joke. Strips are often done by one person (sometimes with an assistant) and their label is more appropriately “cartoonist.”

Comic books are generally produced by a creative “team” which starts with a writer. Regular readers here will recall Saturday’s [insert link to MAY 2 column] explanation of the two main comic script styles. Regardless of script style used, the process still starts with a writer creating a concise story that must be told in a predetermined number of pages. Not as easy as it sounds. Generally, a 24 page full script comic should be done in 3-5 full working days. An editor must approve the work after each stage is completed.

After the editor approves it, the script is sent to a pencil artist, or penciler. The penciler reads the script and brings it to life via pencil artwork, very much like story boards are done for movies. Most artists can do 1-2 pages per day…which means it can take 2-4 working weeks to complete a full comic book. Keep in mind that this is the complete comic drawn in pencil.

The lettering (the text you actually read on the comic page) can either be done directly on the artboard at this stage, or pasted on after the ink artist has completed his work. Depending on the amount of text per page, a letterer can complete a page in 2-3 hours, which means a week or two.

The art then goes to an ink artist or inker. It is the inker’s job to enhance the pencil lines. There is often much confusion by those who aren’t artists as to exactly what the inker does. A long running joke among comic artists is that inkers are just “tracers.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. In a nutshell, though, an inker brings three-dimensional depth to the pencil drawing. He has to know which lines to make very thick and which lines to make very thin—thus giving the illustration depth. A bad inker can really mess up a penciled drawing. An inker takes about the same amount of time as a penciler; 2-4 working weeks.

If the comic book is lucky enough to be one of the ones in color, the finished black and white pages are scanned at a high resolution and sent to the color artist. The colorist will then use a computer program, most often Photoshop, and apply color to the art. There is a wide variety of complexity to a colored comic page, ranging from the very simple traditional Sunday funnies color to coloring that appears to be fully painted.

With the coloring finished, electronic files are sent to the printer and the comic book is printed onto paper—the final product which we get to sit and enjoy. So you see, all in all, a traditional comic book can take up to as much as six months to produce. But it all starts with the writer!

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Evolution of Silverline…and the logo

After my last blog about Silverline, someone asked me about the logos and a little more, so I thought I’d write a bit of a “part 2” about Silverline. But first: if you haven’t already, please consider checking out (and possibly backing?) my kickstarter for Cat & Mouse #2 here: CLICK HERE

After we went from the idea of publishing our own material under the company name Top Comics, we adopted the name Silverline and became a packager. We didn’t really think of ourselves that way at first, we were just a group of creative folks trying to make comics.

So since we couldn’t be Top Comics, we still wanted to brand our line, Steven Butler created a Silverline banner that would run the width of the comic at the bottom of the covers. That way, EFG fans would see the banner and know that story and title took place in the Silverline world. We loved that idea as it was the next best thing to publishing on our own. Cat & Mouse would be followed by a SilverStorm mini-series, a bi-monthly anthology title, and then a new ongoing series, the Hero Task Force (which would use the characters from the anthology, SilverStorm and Cat & Mouse).

But EFG folded before they could do much. So we took our printed copies and stacks of photocopies of the work in progress…and sent it off to a handful of independent publishers hot at the time. We talked to several, but ultimately ended up at Aircel. Except…they only wanted Cat & Mouse and SilverStorm. We didn’t know at the time that they were already planning a “super” world of their own (the Protectors) and just didn’t want competition. C&M was different enough and SilverStorm was a mini-series.

We packaged a few other titles (Mantis Files, Sirens, Pendulum) before Malibu hired me as an editor. Mitch and Steven had both moved on to other projects anyway, so Silverline basically ceased to exist.

Until 1997.

Marvel bought Malibu in ’94, turning me into a Marvel editor. They declared bankruptcy in ’96 and fired 400 people. I decided to use what I had learned and try publishing again…and did. Rather than try to come up with a new label, I just used Silverline again and published comics from 97 until 2001 (Marauder, Switchblade, Cybertrash and the Dog, and others). The problem was that Marvel fired people because the boom of the late 80s and early 90s lead to a crash in the late 90s…and it was just tough to sell comics. I lost more than 20k of my own money trying to make Silverline happen, but called it quits in 2001.

I went back to school, got an advanced degree and started teaching at the university level. While doing research for a class, I stumbled across an internet announcement looking for writers to adapt Huckleberry Finn into a graphic novel. I submitted, got the work, and had a blast. This was in 2008. I followed that up with an adaptation of Wizard of Oz and remembered that I actually really did like comics. So I started making them again, but as a side thing to teaching. Still, I needed to call them SOMETHING for the ones I did on my own. I fell back to Silverline. That’s when this logo came into play. I never really loved this logo, but liked it alot … so just continued to use it because I wasn’t really planning to do anything with Silverline…not really. And I feel terrible that I don’t remember who put this together for me. EDIT: NOW I know that it was my pal Mike W. Belcher who put the red oval together! My public apologies to him for not remembering.

Fast forward to 2018 and kickstarting Cat & Mouse #1 vol 2. The creative team of Dean Zachary, Barb Kaalberg, and Kevin Gallegly, had such a fun experience, they encouraged me to restart Silverline as a publisher. While that’s just the short version, that’s how we got this new logo, a new take on the old one.

And now you know!

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What is a Silverline?

In the coming days I’ll be announcing a website and such for my comic imprint Silverline. Those of you who’ve been around for a long time will remember what Silverline is, but for those who haven’t and for those who are just popping by, let me ‘splain.

In 1987 I was at USM trying to finish up a degree and figure out how to earn a living as a writer. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to work in comics, but I didn’t want to move to New York. A freak chance meeting with my now long-time friend Steven Butler (long story that involves my now-wife/then-girlfriend running for homecoming court) put the pieces into play. I’d been “working” on comics since my junior high days with my good pal Barry Gregory, but neither of us really had chops to draw—we were always looking for artists with whom we could collaborate. Steven and his suitemate Mitch Byrd fit that bill. Steven was just a driven as I was and had been trying to “break in” to comics, too. The black and white boom had just started with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…so we decided to follow suit and do it ourselves.

Initially, we went with the name Top Comics. Mitch designed a nice imprint logo and off we went! We sent the solicitations around to all the distributors (there was more than just Diamond in those days) and ultimately got orders for about 4,400 copies.

It was there that we got jammed. We didn’t have the money to actually print and ship the comics. We were still in college, after all. None of the banks in Hattiesburg would give us a loan to print the comics, even with purchase orders for the 4,400 copies in our hands.

Sooooo, we had to cancel the orders and try plan B. As fate would have it, we knew someone who knew someone who had just started a small press company and was looking for content. That company was EF Graphics run by John Drury. We signed with EFG; Cat & Mouse was just the first title. It was to be followed by SilverStorm (written by Thomas Fortenberry); followed by an anthology title with stories by Barry…which would lead into a team book: The Hero Task Force.

But we’d become such a close group that we wanted an identity and we couldn’t really be Top Comics. This was before the idea of all the “studios” popped up later, but that’s kind of what we were. After some time, we settled on the name Silverline. Truthfully, I don’t know who in that group first proposed the name—if I were to guess, probably Steven. Maybe one of them remembers, but I don’t. But the idea was that since we loved the SILVER AGE of comics, we wanted to do comics that had a modern sensibility with a silver age spirit. We’d be a “line” of comics from EFG…we’d be the Silver Line. We shortened it to one word…and that, in a nutshell, is how it came to be.

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