Today, the production of a comic book is quite a bit different then it was during the Golden, Silver and Bronze age of comic creation. With the advancement in computer technology and robotics, much of the methods and steps in the creation process are different or may not even exist anymore. With the help of some authorities in the industry, a detailed and somewhat simplified step by step process on the complete production of a comic book is now available for the average schmo’ to learn about! Thank you to CGC board member DiceX for this information.

Step 1: The original artwork arrives at the printer where it is reduced to comic size by shooting it with a very large horizontal camera. By doing this, the image is captured on a piece of film in negative form.

Step 2: The film and color instructions are matched up by a “stripper” which puts the color into a negative form.

Step 3: The stripper takes a clear piece of Mylar and begins the tedious task of masking out every single area by various methods. This process is known as “Flatting”.

Step 4: One of the most difficult tasks involves the “stripper” making a separate, hand cut mask for every different color seen on the page. For instance, there is a mask for the light blue in a character’s costume. Most likely there will be various spots on the page that will also use the same light blue. This same task must be done over and over again for the dark blues, light reds, medium reds, and dark reds and so on, until all of the colors were accounted for. This process took hours per page to complete. On complicated pages it is very possible and probable that an excess of 24 hours or more of hand work were spent to complete this task!

Step 5: With the flatting completed, the images are composed into the four negatives needed for printing (the four color system of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black), into what is called a, “key”.

Step 6: By now the stripper has four unexposed pieces of film (one for each of the four colors). The piece used for the color black (used for both line art and other areas of shading) is then taken and is pinned in a vacuum exposure frame. The stripper then sorts through his pile of masks and exposes each one onto the piece of raw film, one at a time.

Once this color has been composed, he then moves on to do the same thing for each of the remaining three colors. Each color could take upwards of five to ten minutes to expose.

Step 7: Once the four colors have been composed into four pieces of film, they will be “proofed”. To proof a page is to take the colors and create a full color representation of what the printed page would ideally look like. This is often the “make or break” point for the stripper’s work thus far. He would check his work for any errors, and would either move on if satisfied or would be delayed to fix the mistake which could just cause a minor delay or if irreparable it would send him back to start the page again from scratch.

Step 8: Once an acceptable proof has been produced, the printer would mail them to the editor. The editor would then look them over and make any corrections that were stripper errors. If drastically unsatisfied he could completely change it.

Step 9: Next, the proofs were sent back to the stripper with the corrections noted that would decide if he went back to work on the proof again, or if they were fine as is. Keep in mind this entire process took weeks to complete. The stripper of course would not be sitting around waiting for the response on a particular proof. He would be working constantly on other books so that he always had something to do, and there was never a large lull.

Step 10: Once everything was acceptable, the pages were laid out on a grid to be exposed onto the printing plates. These lead plates were very large and very heavy, and were quite crude—as well as numerous in quantities. For books printed on a “Letter Press” there were 144 individual plates; one for each of the four colors on each of the 32 pages and each cover face.

Step 11: Next, is the first step in the actual printing process itself. To start out the printing, there is a very large roll of paper which the comic is printed on. This paper goes through the first press unit which has two big cylinders with multiple single page plates on them. The paper passes between the two big cylinders where the first color is printed on the front and back of the paper. The paper continues to the next unit where it goes through the same process as the first. The only difference being the ink color in that particular plate. This process is obviously repeated two more times, so that all four colors are printed on both sides of the paper.

Step 12: After the ink has been printed, the paper runs through a dryer to set the ink.

Step 13: For the body pages, at the end of the press each of the untrimmed sections that makes up the book will be folded and stacked onto a skid to be put into the binder. Now, keep in mind that these folded pages are made up of 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, or even 32 individual pages in each section (There can be up to 128 pages in certain presses and formats). Each section must be divisible by four so that one sheet is folded in half to create four pages (front and back). For the cover, a large sheet (along with the cover to multiple other titles on the same sheet) will be cut on a large guillotine cutter to separate the individual covers.

Step 14: After the appropriate folds have been made each section is loaded into a “pocket” on the binder. Here is where the “binding process” begins.

Step 15: The binder has a long chain with a tooth on it that grabs one section of the book from each pocket that in the previous step each section was loaded into. These sections are stacked inside one another.

Step 16: Once at the end of the line, the sections are stapled or stitched.

Step 17: Here the book is trimmed on the top, bottom and right edge so that the excess and un-desired paper is disposed of. The operator can modify the trimming area if he finds that for some reason the trimmed area is too tight, and text or images are being trimmed off.

It is often believed that books are trimmed before they are assembled which is why the covers are sometimes slightly larger than the body pages. However, this is a false assumption. The reason for this difference in size is that the printing press uses ink and water to transfer the print to the page, and the water (also called “etch” or “fountain solution”) causes the paper to shrink. Interestingly enough it usually doesn't stop shrinking until after the book has been bound. Because the paper used for the cover is of much higher quality than the interior paper it does not shrink as much as the interior paper (newsprint). The end result a cover that is slightly larger than the body pages even though the book was evenly trimmed when it was bound.

Step 18:  Finally, a predetermined number of books are stacked and are then strapped together so that the bundle can be put on a skid and shipped out to distributors so that they can eventually make their way to our hands for our enjoyment!

Picture of a printing plate: