Let’s make some changes around here, shall we?
I’ve always wanted to write this as a weekly newsletter, because the idea of regularity pleases me, and because I heard that consistent newsletters are better for promotion.
But, at least so far, I haven’t been writing this to promote anything – though I intend to do that at some point – and, let’s face it, I’m just not very good at getting this out weekly.
For instance, I had decided to just write a weekly update, and then write an essay when I felt up to one, but I always felt guilty about sending something out with “no content”, so I rarely did. I think it makes sense for established writers and artists to use their newsletters to notify the public when their books are out. Less so for someone like me.
Based on that, this newsletter is going back to officially being “erratically scheduled”. I’ll put out an edition when I feel like it, and no sooner. I enjoy putting this newsletter together, and I think I’ll keep enjoying it as long as I make it fun for myself, rather than make it work.
Secondly, I’ve also been thinking about the stuff I write here. This goes out to a few hundred people, and, weirdly, a majority of them read it. But writing this takes time away from actual writing – that is, the stories and pieces that I want to put out into the world. When I have spare time on a Saturday, it’s often easier to write the next newsletter than it is to put in the next hundred words of a short story, but that’s not the best idea in the long run.
I want to avoid that while continuing to write the newsletter. So I decided to resurrect a non-fiction project I’ve been tinkering with for a while – The Comics Creator’s Technical Handbook.
I had several false starts with this manual, but I figure that it might actually be easier to serialise it here, because I can write it in short topical bursts, and I can garner feedback from people who can help me flesh it out. The bonus here would be that I can then compile everything I’ve written into the actual handbook that will continue to be available and updated over time.
This doesn’t mean it’s the only thing I’ll be writing about in the newsletter, but it will be the main ongoing project for a little while.
What is the Comics Creator’s Technical Handbook?
It’s a reference document for people who want to make comics – specifically comics in the American style – and don’t know where to start with the technical aspects of things.
What this won’t be is a guide on how to write/draw/colour/letter/edit/produce comics. There are other, better books out there dealing with the creative aspects of making comics. Instead, this will help you keep your collaborators happy, and let you work with professional creators, publishers and printers with minimal fuss.
My goal is to help remove any technical impediments that stand between you and creating your best work.
For example, we’ll be tackling things ranging from simple to complex, like:
- What size is a comic book?
- How do I write a script that the people on my team will be able to read and use?
- How do I make things easier for my collaborators?
- How do I produce books that will print correctly?
Basically, things that will make sure your collaborators don’t hate you.
I’ll be using this serialisation of the book as a first draft, tackling one topic at a time, not necessarily in the order it’ll go into the book. I’m guessing that the final book will revised extensively from what you’ll read here, both structurally and content-wise, and I will be integrating feedback from any industry professionals who reach out to me. There will also be visual aids in the final book that I’m going to skip here.
Furthermore, I will be talking to actual professional artists, colourists, and production artists to include what they think their collaborators should keep in mind, both in the serialised version and in the final book.
To that end, any time you feel like responding with additional tips or points of view I might’ve missed, please feel free to reply, and I’ll integrate your feedback with credit if it falls within the ambit of this book.
Let’s get started.
The biggest complaint I see from letterers and production artists, and one that is solved easily, is the fact that people keep sending in pages at “the wrong size”. So let us start with this: What is the right size for a comic-book page?
If you just want the numbers, you can skip to the end of this section, where I’ve also attached art templates with a guide layer containing all you need to know, but the topic is a bit more confusing than it might seem at first glance, so let me take you through the logic of how a comic page size works.
Standard American comics are printed at 6.625 x 10.1875 inches (i.e. 6 5/8 inches by 10 3/16 inches).
This applies specifically to most of the direct market comics you find, and it applies to both floppies (i.e. single issues) and TPBs (i.e. collections). Hardcovers are occasionally produced at a different size, and most publishers have processes for that, and of course, no one’s stopping you from making a comic at whichever size you like. Plus, European comics and Manga have their own sizing conventions that are not in our ambit here.
So does this mean that if you’re making a comic at the standard American size, you should be sending files at the size specified above? Well, no.
The printed size of a comic is referred to as its “trim size” (i.e. the size to which it’s trimmed by the printer’s cutting machine before it’s bound or stapled together). The size at which you should be sending in your pages is called the “bleed size”.
What is bleed size, and why is it relevant? If you’re producing comics where all the art and panels end far from the edge of the page, it isn’t relevant, but if you’re going to produce art that extends to the edge of the page, or you decide to be fancy and have black gutters (i.e. when any colour other than white “bleeds” to the edge of the page), it is relevant, and for consistency’s sake, most publishers will need your files at bleed size even if your pages don’t have any bleed art.
If your art extends to the edge of the page, but you’re only supplying files at trim size, then your bleed is automatically white, and if the cutting machine cuts the page slightly outside where you want it, you’re left with white space where you don’t want it. To avoid this, you’re supposed to send pages that are slightly bigger than the trim size, so that even if the cutting machine makes a mistake, your page looks fine. This is called the bleed size.
In comics, the added area for bleed is usually 0.125 or 1/8 inches, so based on our trim size, our bleed size is 6.875 x 10.4375 inches (or 6 7/8 inches by 10 7/16 inches).
But, what if the cutting machine accidentally cuts too far inside from your trim size and cuts off important art or words from your page? To avoid this, you’re supposed to keep all important art and all your lettering within the “safe area”. This is a slightly flexible measure, and you might find multiple recommendations for safe areas online, but the standard one in my experience is 5.875 x 9.4375 inches (i.e. 5 7/8 inches by 9 7/16 inches), which means you make sure that all important art and words are at least 0.375 or 3/8 inches away from the edge of the page on all sides.
There are some publishers who work with printers that ask for a different bleed size and safe area even if they print at standard trim size, so it’s always best to check with your publisher before you start creating your comic, but you’re safe to use this as a starting point.
But hang on, we’re not done yet. What about double-page spreads? Those are the pages where the artist decides to show off and draw either a single image spread over two pages, or has panels that extend from one page to the next. Surely you’re safe in just doubling the size of the single page?
Well, no, sadly. Sure, the trim size of a double-page spread is exactly double that of a single page, because that’s how it’ll look when printed: 13.25 x 10.1875 inches (or 13 1/4 inches by 10 3/16 inches).
(Extra-credit note: Double-page spreads are always numbered with an even page first – i.e. 4-5, 12-13, etc. – because comics pages are counted starting from a right-hand page. So if your double-page spread is numbered, say, 9-10, something has gone wrong somewhere.)
But the bleed size for a double-page spread is more complicated.
Open up a comic you like that has a double-page spread and look at it. The artwork in the middle, where the staple goes, should be as close to continuous as possible, so if you did add bleeds to both pages, well, those bleeds should contain the artwork that’s printed on the other side of the staple. To make it simpler, we don’t need a separate bleedspecification in the middle. So a double-page spread has a bleed size of 13.5 x 10.4375 inches (or 13 1/2 inches by 10 7/16 inches).
The safe area for double-page spreads is also slightly complicated. Once again, you leave 0.375 inches from all sides free of any important art or words, but you need to do the same for the middle trim line. So you end up with not one but two boxes of the same size for the safe area, 5.875 x 9.4375 inches (i.e. 5 7/8 inches by 9 7/16 inches). Alternatively, you can see this as a single box of 12.5 x 9.4375 inches (i.e. 12 1/2 inches by 9 7/16 inches) with a 0.75 or 3/4 inch break in the middle.
So here are our final sizes:
Trim Size: 6.625 x 10.1875 inches
Bleed Size: 6.875 x 10.4375 inches
Safe Area: 5.875 x 9.4375 inches
Trim Size: 13.25 x 10.1875 inches
Bleed Size: 13.5 x 10.4375 inches
Safe Area: 12.5 x 9.4375 inches with a 0.75-inch break in the middle
For easier understanding and practical use, here are the templates that I send my artists which they can directly work from. These are provided in TIFF format, readable in most image applications, in both 450 and 600 ppi (more on that nomenclature next time). They also contain a guide layer that has everything you need to know in practice. When you use these, you can simply delete the explanatory layer, and you will still have Photoshop guides to work with.
I think that’s good enough for us to get started with.
Next time, we’ll tackle sizes for physical art, signatures, colour modes, file resolution, and other details on how to supply art that most professionals can work with.
Frankly, I’m glad I started writing this based on whatever was on my mind today, because I’m already starting to see a structure to this, plus I’m getting an idea of how to arrange this visually – for example, I think it’ll make sense to have the actual page sizes in a highlighted box at the beginning of the section, for easy reference, and the explanation can take up the rest of the space.
Like I mentioned above, I will be providing actual files that anyone can work with, and I’ll be maintaining a permanently accessible Dropbox folder with everything I’ve uploaded so far.
I hope you found this useful, and I’ll see you next time around.