Studying Original Art

By | Friday, October 13, 2023 Leave a Comment
I wouldn't say I'm a collector of original comic art, but I do have a number of pages I've managed to score over the past decade or so. Whereas some people focus on a single character or artist, or perhaps even genre, I've generally taken a broader approach of: whatever strikes my fancy. (And I can afford!) And while I do have more art of the Fantastic Four than any other single character/title, it's hardly the bulk of my collection.

But one of the things that I have found fascinating, and one of the reasons I have many of the pieces I do, is to see how the execution changes over time. A simple and obvious example is that a lot of art is lettered digitally now, so while older pages look like the black and white version of what was printed, newer pages are devoid of text. But more interesting is that that didn't happen overnight. I have a couple pages from the mid-1990s that were hand-lettered separately and then the text balloons and sound effects were cut out and pasted on the art board. I'm presuming as a time-saving measure, as it would have allowed the inker and the letterer to work in parallel.

Another interesting change is seeing the pencils and inks wind up on separate art boards. Where everything used to be a single sheet, pencilers are now able to transmit scans of their work digitally to an inker, who is then able to print it out and ink on that, leaving the original pencils untouched. I have that penciled, but not inked, Stuart Immonen page above and I just purchased a finished Mike Wieringo/Karl Kesel page that I don't think Wieringo ever actually touched. (Interestingly, the Immonen page was ultimately inked by Kesel as well, using the same technique of applying his inks to a printed scan. Allowing me to still hold a "pristine" Immonen penciled page.)

Another weird quirk I noticed was that, at least for some period in the '80s, art boards for graphic novels were larger than those for pamphlet comics by about 3" in both directions. Given that both types of boards (at least the ones I have) have "PRINTS AT 67%" on them, it's meant to allow for the same level of detail at a slightly larger printing size. But functionally, I don't think it affords all that much extra space to make the potential granularity of detail appreciably better.

Most of my pages are relatively recent, within the past 20 years or so. But even in that time, it's easy to see the production processes in making comics evolve. I think that's a fascinating way to study comics history. Even if your budget doesn't allow you to purchase any original pages yourself, I suggest at least checking out some of the pages for sale at your local convention or visit someplace like the Billy Ireland Museum, which has a number of them in their archives. You can learn a lot about how the industry changed by looking at how they created their product!
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