On History: Digital Prepress

By | Tuesday, June 16, 2015 Leave a Comment
I believe the first book that I got discussing the production of comics beyond the typical drawing/coloring/lettering of it was Kevin Tinsley's Digital Prepress for Comic Books which came out in 1999. (I could've sworn it was earlier than that, but I double-checked the publication date.) It should come as no surprise that the book lays out many of the techniques needed for producing a comic in the early age of digital comic production. (There were isolated incidents of digital comics production dating back at least a decade by then, but the widespread adoption of even digital lettering didn't really kick in until 1996/97.) Photoshop version 5 was released in 1998, and was the first version to utilize editable type and multiple undos. The "Save for Web" and vector shapes options were still down the road in future versions.

Knowing that, you have to imagine the book can't hold up well. Just flipping through it, you can see plenty of examples of extremely obsolete screen shots, and plenty of indications that the software has improved leaps and bounds in the past decade and a half. Tinsley is still talking about QuarkXPress here for cryin' out loud! But to be fair, Tinsley wrote a substantially updated version in 2009 that I understand to be vastly improved.

But, you know, in actually reading through some sections of the 1999 edition, it holds up surprisingly well. Sure, a lot of the specific technical references are dated, but the general ideas throughout -- even the ones that, for example, go beyond the basics of color theory -- remain viable. It doesn't work so well as a practical manual, but it does work for understanding the basic processes of going from a page of comic art to a printed comic book.

I think, though, that the book's greater importance in the long-term is that it provides a unique snapshot of comics production as it was in a period of transition. Comics had been produced essentially one way for decades and, throughout the 1990s, computers became so prolific that it was hard not to utilize them in the creative process by the end of the decade. Even so, the idea of using fonts for a comic was still viewed with suspicion, as was digital coloring. It was being done, but a large number of the old guard letterers and colorist weren't happy with these developments. For that matter, many editors were skeptical as well and were just as happy keeping their analog creators busy, thankyouverymuch.

Tinsely clearly saw where things were headed, even as early as 1993/94, as evidenced by the work he did with Marvel converting some of their processes into a digital environment. He, like I suspect many other younger creators, were eager to make their mark by utilizing the technologies that weren't previously available, and ones that older creators might be reluctant to adopt. Today, in 2015, creators have all had to adapt or they've fallen by the wayside. But in 1999, while debating the move to digital production was mostly over and done, the question of digital creation hadn't really been finalized yet.

So we have Digital Prepress for Comic Books explaining this only-a-couple-years-old digital production process before creators had really embraced the idea that a comic could be created digitally from the start. While Tinsley doesn't get on any high horses in his writing here, that background is an undercurrent throughout the book nonetheless. It makes for a fascinating look at how comics were being made in a period of great upheaval behind the scenes.
Newer Post Older Post Home