“I can see a day when someone will color a prestige book on computer and you won’t be able to tell it wasn’t a painted job.” – Bob Rozakis, April, 1988
Howard Margolin has hosted “Destinies,” a radio program devoted to comics and science fiction, on WUSB in Stony Brook, NY for the past umpteen years. One of the annual traditions we established was his interviewing me at I-Con, the sf/comics convention held at the State University of New York at Stony Brook every spring.
In 1988, the interview took place not long after my return from Ireland, where I had seen the new Grafascan computer coloring system, and, not surprisingly, that was a major topic of our talk. Though it was still in the early stages of development, I was already seeing the wide range of possibilities that the computer would bring to the look of comics.
But I was looking beyond where the company and the industry were at the time. Out in California, colorist Steve Oliff was pursuing computer-coloring. At World Color Press, they saw the handwriting on the wall and began researching ways to replace the people at Chemical Color with computers. In other parts of the country and the world, preliminary steps were being taken as well… but what everybody was waiting for was for a major publisher to step up and say, “Yes, we’re interested. Here’s some money.”
Once the folks at DC got to see the Grafascan system and realize that it would work, I was finally able to take that first big step. The plan was to purchase computers from Grafascan, have salaried employees do the on-screen work, and then send the files to Ireland to be processed and output as film negatives.
We started small… a single computer and one person to do the work. Additionally, the work was not doing original coloring on the screen, just translating traditional color guides to a computerized file. The BEST OF THE BRAVE & BOLD reprint series, the licensed DRAGONLANCE, and DOOM PATROL were among the first books done by Danny Vozzo, our first resident computer guy.
It was not long after we started using the computer that my HERO HOTLINE proposal was approved for a six-issue miniseries and I’ll bet you’re not surprised to hear that I wanted it done on the computer. But I went even further… I colored the first issue in the traditional manner, then spent the day after Thanksgiving – a day that the DC offices were officially closed – translating the guides onto the computer on about 8 pages as well. What I did was minimal by today’s standards – a few color gradations, subtle differences in the skin tones of the different characters, some bursts and such – but it gave me a firsthand feel for the system and what could be accomplished.
In the third issue of HERO HOTLINE, we got to show off a bit more of the system’s capabilities. I brought back Snafu, a villain I’d created in a Man-Bat story. Snafu was able to generate a cacophony of sounds and lights to paralyze his foes, and while sound chips in comic books are still not practical, the computer could be used to create some wild visual effects. Danny did the basics on the pages in which the villain appeared, then I came in and used all sorts of special applications we had available. What resulted was a rainbow of colors that had not been seen in a comic book before.
BOBRO’S TRIVIA QUIZ
1. Aerialist brothers in the circus. One’s dead, man, so name them.
2. Red and green lenses give who a Transmetropolitan view of things?
3. Even his slightest touch can be bombastic; what’s his real name?
4. Who in the world is this trenchcoated woman in a short-lived DC series?
5. Everybody remembers the Boy Commandos; can you name them?
6. “Tales of the Black Freighter” put what real-life artist in the Watchmen world?
7. He’s Clover’s partner in their Golden Age DC humor feature.
8. Engaged and then wed to Private Eyes, who is this country-western singer?
9. Rachel Summers? Jean Grey? Who IS this woman?
10. Elektra she’s not; name Frank Miller’s “First Lady.”
11. You may recall The Ultra Man; what was his real name?
12. Eek! Who was a dead baby in the parody of this long-time character?
13. This Watchman’s last words were, “Nothing ends, Adrian. Nothing ever ends.”
BOBRO’S FUN FACTS TO KNOW & TELL:
1. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, led by brothers George and Harry Wright, were the first salaried baseball team. Shortstop George earned $1,400; centerfielder Harry, $1,200.
2. Whitney Houston won 1993 Grammy Awards for Best Single [“I Will Always Love You”] and Best Album [“The Bodyguard”].
3. The “Beaver,” “Dartmouth,” and “Eleanor” were the three British ships raided on December 16, 1773, an event better known as The Boston Tea Party.
“Colorists will be able to create a specific palette of colors for a book.” – BR, 1988
One of the early advantages of the Grafascan system was that we could create a set of colors for characters and save them as a file. For example, on HERO HOTLINE, I had selected the various skin tones for the characters, as well as the colors on some of the costumes. When we started doing SWAMP THING on the computer, colorist Tatjana Wood started experimenting a bit more with greens and browns, which Danny added to the palette. As we continued adding books (and computers and guys to work on them – including up-and-coming colorists Eric Kachelhofer and Dave Tanguay), we explored new ways to utilize the system. Everybody who had a book done this way and all the guys who used the computers were coming up with new ideas.
It wasn’t all perfect, though. There were glitches in the files that resulted in film problems, some of which showed up in the printed books. And the more we did with the color, the longer it took to do a page, making it less and less cost effective. So, I went to Paul Levitz with a change in plans… we would sell the computers back to Grafascan and they would hire people to do the on-screen work. Our focus would be on the actual coloring of the books, both in the original guides and in marking up the proofs Grafascan provided.
This also opened the door for other companies to provide computer separations to DC. Network Color (the successor to Chemical Color), Lovern Kindzierski’s Digital Chameleon, and Jamison Services were among the larger suppliers, but as the technology improved in leaps and bounds – and prices dropped drastically – individual colorists were able to buy systems to do the work as well.
Marvel Comics bought Malibu and their in-house computer coloring department, but eventually shut it down because they could not make the economics of running it work. (Grafascan bought all the equipment from them and took on the bulk of Marvel’s work, by the way.) When DC bought Wildstorm in 1998, they too came with an in-house department, putting the company back into an area I had steered them in and out of. Time will tell whether it was a wise decision.
Today, with the processing of the files done at the printing plant, lots of books are being colored directly on-screen by colorists who need little more than the price of a computer. (Well, they do need some artistic ability too… or maybe just a connection in a comics company who is willing to hire them.) The painted look of current comics, far more complex than anything we could do on that first Grafascan machine, has its roots more than fifteen years ago with a Production Manager who saw the future and went chasing it.
FROM THE EMAILBOX:
Since you’re talking about color separations, is DC saving money with the coloring techniques they’re using in DETECTIVE COMICS?
Hoy Murphy [firstname.lastname@example.org]
I doubt it. The “monochromatic” look they’ve employed in the Batman books still uses all four printing plates, so there’s no savings there. It’s quite possible they’re paying the colorists more money to be creative within the parameters. Frankly, I found the look interesting the first couple of times, but it’s an idea that gets tried pretty fast.
By the way, Hoy, you get to save 10% on anything you order from Comics Unlimited this week. The rest of you readers can do the same if I use your questions or comments in this column. Use the convenient box in the left column.
And on that note, I’m out of here till next time.
It’s a geography lesson this week, as all the answers include names of cities.
1. Boston and Cleveland Brand
2. Spider Jerusalem
3. Roy [Human Bomb] Lincoln
4. Carmen Sandiego
5. Alfy, Andre, Brooklyn, Jan, Percy, Tex
6. Joe Orlando
8. Melanie Boulder
10. Martha Washington
11. Gary Concord
12. Casper the Friendly Ghost
13. Dr. Manhattan
Need another trivia fix? Check out BobRo’s daily Anything Goes Trivia at www.wfcomics.com/trivia
Copyright ? 2000 to 2003 by Bob Rozakis. All Rights Reserved.