Anatomy of a Comic Book

Most comic book artists use a sheet of 11″ × 17″ bristol board for their original illustration. This is because 10″ × 15″ is considered space that can safely be used without getting too close to the margin or bending into the spine. Of course, most comics are printed with a full bleed, meaning that the image can fill the entire page without leaving a border. However, important visual information should not be placed outside the 10″ × 15″ area.

Page Count

A comic book can have any page count as long as it's divisible by four. Golden Age comics (comic books published in the 1940s and 1950s) tended to have about 64 pages. Today, the average seems to be closer to 40.

Many professionals use bristol board with the proper sizes already printed on it. The printing areas are indicated in nonphoto blue, so they won't interfere with the printing process. Some indicate both the standard printing area as well as a bleed area. One source for this art board is Blue Line Pro.

The number has to be a multiple of four because comics are actually printed two pages at a time, front and back, in a process called page pairing. The paper used to print a comic book is actually twice as long as the comic page (but the same depth).

One page is printed on the left of the paper and another page is printed on the right, and the same happens on the back of the page. When it's finished, it is collated into the correct order, stapled in the middle, and folded in half.

To determine page pairs, use this formula: T + 1 – P. T is the total number of pages. P is one of the page numbers. For example, if it's a 40-page book and you're trying to find the page pair for page 36, the equation is 40 + 1 – 36 = 5. Page 5 pairs with page 36.

How pages are collected into a comic book: Page 1 is the front cover and the last page is the back cover, usually reserved for an ad.

On the Cover

The cover may very well be the most important element of a comic book. As a cover artist, you can't settle for creating an attractive image based on the contents of the book. Your cover must make a potential customer go from ambivalent to passionate. Further, since most comics tend to be sold on shelves next to other comics, your cover must compete with the others for the customer's attention.

A good cover is an exercise in marketing. Your cover must create a sense of urgency. Illustrating directly from the script is not the only solution. Sometimes a great cover will evoke a mood or an abstract theme from the story, resulting in an image that is not necessarily repeated in the book.

In designing your illustration, be sure to leave appropriate room for the necessities of the cover. For example, most comic book publishers will insist that the title of the book appear at a certain size. You will also be required to leave ample room for the publisher's logo, credits for the creative team, and other publishing essentials such as volume and issue numbers. Finally, don't forget to factor in a 1″ × 2″ space for the UPC symbol.

Comic book covers must generate urgency while including essentials such as the UPC symbol.

Splash Page

A splash page is a full-page panel meant to hook the reader into the action. The art should set the tone for the reader, giving her a sense of what to expect in the story. If your story is an action/adventure tale, for example, the splash page should be breathtakingly dynamic. If the story is a drama, the splash page should set an appropriate tone.

Just as a director may choose to place the opening credits after a few minutes of exposition, a comic book artist may delay the splash page for a few pages. This is a good way to build suspense and maximize the punch of your splash page. Waiting too long, however, may reduce the splash page's effectiveness.

Usually, the title of the book appears on the splash page. This is also a good place to include the names of the people who have worked on the book. The comic book splash page is analogous to the opening credits of a movie.

The splash page is much like a movie's opening credits.

Last Page

It is also traditional to end the comic with a full-page panel. In the same way a splash panel hooks the reader into the story, the last page should entice the reader to buy the next issue. There is usually a place reserved at the bottom for a horizontal teaser for the next issue.

Pinups

Pinups are full-page illustrations that have nothing to do with the story whatsoever. More often than not, a pinup is an illustration of the main character in an action pose. Since it is highly unlikely that a collector is going to deface his comic by cutting out a page, the pinup can't be considered an effective promotional tool. It is more likely that a pinup is a convenient way to insert an extra page if the story does not fill the targeted page count.

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