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Growler's State Of The Superhero Comic Book Publishing Industry  

Growler on Superhero Comic Books >

This is where I let loose my views on the current direction of the business of superhero fiction found in comic books and graphic novels.

Taking you behind the scenes of this exciting industry!

Rawle Austin presents...


Future columns will see my take on the history of Marvel, DC and Image comics.

But for now, how to begin?

I guess this will have to be a kind of introduction seeing as it's the first article.

A look at how a comic book is made.

So are you ready?


The comics industry is made up of many different parts, together making a complete whole.

These basically consist of the creative side and the business side.

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This article is about the creative side.

Here, you have the writer who has to come up with a plot for a story.

Sometimes the writer co-plots the story with the artist or penciller to give a shared vision.

The writer then breaks down that story into a script with actions, dialogue and sound effects.

This is done by retelling the story, scene by scene, into boxes called panels.

By going from panel to panel you progress through the story.

The time between each panel could be a moment, an hour, a day or 100 years.

It's the spaces between the panels, called gutters, which allow us to believe that time has passed between panels.

Each scene in the story consists of a varying number of panels.

When the completed script is accepted by the editor it's ready to roll.

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The script has to contain instructions to the penciller telling them what is happening in each panel.

The penciller basically then sketches out the whole story, panel by panel.

Sometimes the writer will detail which 'camera angles' or points of view they want for a particular panel.

Alternatively, they may just trust the artist, if they are experienced enough, to create the angles they feel best suit the story.

Choosing a good, clear point of view for each panel is crucial for the mood and emotional impact of the story and the wrong choices can ruin a good tale.

Each penciller has their own style and it's possible to tell from a single page of art exactly who pencilled it.

Some people read and collect comics for the art alone, others for the story alone but most like the combination of the two. Still with me? Good.

When the penciller has sketched out the story, usually told over 22 pages, he hands over his work to an inker.

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In reality the work is more often scanned into a computer and passed via cd-rom or email.

The inker's basic job is to trace over the sketches in the panels to tidy and clean them up.

They also add shadows and shading to make the art more three dimensional.

This gives a clearer picture.

Most inking is done by computer now but used to be painstakingly done by hand.

A good inker would allow the penciller's style to shine through while still adding a certain something to the finished page.

Once the inker has done their job the pages are passed, often via cd-rom or email, to the letterer.

The letterer's job is one of the most misunderstood parts of the comic book making process. The letterers are the people who place the word balloons, containing the dialogue, in the most discreet places so as not to obstruct the artwork.

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Generally in the top half of panels.

Also, they choose the best appropriate font for the text inside those balloons, and the shape and the style of the balloons.

All of these will affect how you, the reader, interprets the story.

The letterer also has the job of providing sound effects which if done well will be all but invisible but will read as part of the story.

Sound effects are read and heard in your head like the dialogue in the word balloons.

Basically, all the written words you see in a comic book have been placed there by the letterer who has to use his or her judgment and experience as to where to put what.

The last step is sending the fully lettered comic book to the colourist, mainly via email attachments.

The colourist, using colour guides indicated by the penciller and letterer, completes the process by adding various colours and tones to the final pages.

The colourist's job is also vital because if the artwork isn't clear to the reader it can kill a good story.

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The finished comic book is now ready to be mass printed for the enjoyment of the reader, me and you.

It is essential that all the above jobs are done well to produce a good story in a comic book.

So how do you know when you're reading a good story?

When the pages fly between your fingers, you feel that wow-factor and when finished, you can't wait to read the next chapter or issue!

There are a few writers who also pencil and ink their own work!

These are few and far between but a couple of names that spring to mind are Frank Miller who catapulted the Marvel comic title Daredevil to new heights of fame in the mid 1980's.

Also, John Byrne who wrote and updated the DC comic title Superman for a modern audience also in the mid 1980's.

John Byrne as an artist helped to co-plot the Marvel comic title Uncanny X-Men with writer Chris Claremont. Between them they produced, arguably, some of the best comic book stories of all time from the mid 1970's to the early 1980's.

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So there you go.

All the people involved in the jobs described above are the superstars of the comic book industry!

They are responsible for creating whole new worlds for us to travel to and enjoy.

Then, bringing us back to reality waiting for the next ticket to ride.

That's it for now.

Join me for the next installment!


The Irresistible Rise of Trade Paperbacks and Other Stories >


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