Let’s start off this week with a question from the E-mailbox…
Is it true that at one time, in order to cut costs, DC Comics dropped one of the color plates it used in printing the books? If so, when was this and how long did it last?
The answer is yes, but to explain it, I must first explain how comic book color separations used to be done. And I apologize to those in my reading audience who know about printing because I’m going to aim this at people who have no understanding at all of the process.
Virtually all color printing is done with four colors of ink: yellow, cyan (blue), magenta (red) and black. Every magazine, every newspaper, every flyer – no matter how many different colors appear to be used – are made up of dots of those four colors, the white of the paper, and a process in your brain that makes you see a merged color. [The exceptions to this are metallic colors like gold or silver and the florescent colors that have come into use in recent years.] The size of the dots – and the resulting amount of white paper that shows between them – determines how light or dark the color is.
Okay, so now let’s jump back to elementary school art class, where we all learned about the three primary colors – red, yellow, and blue – and how we could make the secondary colors – green, orange, and purple – by mixing them. Beyond those two-color mixes, you could get shades of brown by mixing all three primaries in varying amounts. Gray is made of equal percentages of the three primaries. This is the basic premise applied to comic book color.
For the first fifty years or so of comic book history, the colors you saw were made of three percentages of each of the three primaries: A 25% dot, a 50% dot, and a 100% (or solid) color. The various combinations that could be made added up to a palette of 64 colors, though many of them, especially among the darker colors, were indistinguishable and were rarely used.
The black and white artwork – originally drawn at twice the printed size, then 1? times, and currently slightly less than that — was photographed, reduced and printed on sheets of clear acetate. Nine copies were made of each page – one for each of the three percentages of the three colors – and these were turned over to a separator.
This process does not involve the colorist. The colorist uses a single black and white copy of the art and, with colored dyes, pencils or markers, designs the color scheme for the page. The colorist’s work looks the way the printed page is supposed to.
It was the job of the separator to interpret the color guides created by the colorist, breaking down the colors on the page into their components of red, yellow and blue. So, where a colorist would color Green Lantern using green, “flesh” for his skin and bropwn for his hair, the separator knew that the costume was 100% yellow and 100% blue. GL’s flesh tone would be 25% red and 25% yellow. His hair would be a combination of three colors – 100% yellow, 50% red, 25% blue, if I recall correctly.
The separator, using an opaque paint, would fill in the appropriate areas on each of the acetates. To create the brown of GL’s hair, she would paint the same area on three different acetates.
[For most of the Silver Age and until the end of the use of the process, color separations were done at Chemical Color Plate in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The separators were almost all women, often described by editorial folks in New York as “that group of little old ladies.” It was speculated for years that as these women died off, so would the technique. Actually, most of the women were in their 30s and 40s and might have been working as supermarket check-out people if not for this cottage industry which employed them.]
Once the color guides were fully “translated” and the acetates were finished, they would be photographed with appropriate screens to create a single version which included the percentage dots and the solid of one color. These three new pieces of film, along with a fourth clean version of the art which was used to make the black, were used to make the printing plates.
So, to get back to Hoy’s question… The separators were paid for the number of acetates they painted. If one of the percentages could be eliminated, DC would save 1/9th of the cost, right? The easiest one to drop was the 25% yellow – its primary uses were skin color and to make the light gray that was Batman’s costume. Skin would be a bit pinker with only a 25% red dot and the Caped Crusader’s costume, made up of only 25% red and 25% blue, would be a bit more violet, but who would notice? And after the newsprint they were printing on yellowed a bit, the colors would seem “normal” anyway.
The experiment did not last long. (I don’t have access to the DC library any more, so I can’t pinpoint its exact time by looking at the books.) I suspect that the expected savings turned out to be minimal or that Chemical Color just refused to cut their prices. Before long, the 25% yellow was back as part of the mix.
NEXT WEEK: More on color separations and an improvement that doubled the size of the palette.
BOBRO’S TRIVIA QUIZ:
1. Hawkman battled a slow-witted criminal whose brain power was enhanced by exposure to an alien stone; name him.
2. Even robots can adopt children, which is why Querl Dox got what name?
3. An awesome android did the bidding of what early FF foe?
4. Dominating the world is the goal of what partner of Pinky (or Monsieur Mallah)?
5. Crocodile Man and Jeepers were members of whose Society of Evil?
6. Amos Fortune used what name when he used his dememorizer on the Justice League?
7. Shrunken cities were part of what space villain’s collection?
8. Ex-psychiatrist Henry King could project realistic illusions from his subconscious; what name did he take?
9. Gathering stellar energy enabled Axel Storm to become what super-villain?
10. An embittered District Attorney, Clifford Devoe decided crime did pay and became what master criminal?
11. Niles Nordstrom recruited Marvin Flumm into SHIELD’s ESP division, but Flumm tried to take over the organization using what guise?
12. Given her powers by Breathtaker, who lost her battle against Firestorm and led the hero to the 2000?
BOBRO’S FUN FACTS TO KNOW & TELL:
1. The Guinness Book of Records holds the record for being the book most often stolen from Public Libraries.
2. Albert Einstein couldn’t speak fluently when he was nine. His parents thought he might be retarded.
3. Leonardo Da Vinci invented scissors.
MORE FROM THE E-MAILBOX:
So, what was the reason Black Condor never made a pass at Phantom Lady (in your FREEDOM FIGHTERS stories)?
I always thought Tom Wright was a very shy guy with the ladies. After all, he grew up among the birds in Asia. Had the series continued, readers would have seen a budding romance between the two, but with Sandy taking the lead in the relationship.
Ever hear of a Chinese Love Rock? If so, what is it and can you point me in the direction where I can find one?
Never heard of one and a quick web search did not turn up any references. But then, I’m not sure what this has to do with comic books.
By having their questions used in this column, Hoy, Chip, and Marc earn an extra 10% off anything they purchase from Silver Bullet Comics this week. You can save yourself some bucks too by submitting your question using the box on the left.
That’ll do it till next time.
It’s a HEADY group of answers this week…
2. Brainiac 5
3. The Mad Thinker
4. The Brain
5. Mr. Mind
6. Mr. Memory
8. The Brain Wave
9. Brain Storm
10. The Thinker
Want more trivia? Visit BobRo’s Daily Trivia Quiz.
Copyright ? 2000 to 2003 by Bob Rozakis. All Rights Reserved.