The Science Behind Creating a Comic Book - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Science Behind Creating a Comic Book

Wayward © 2016 Jim Zubkavich and Steven Cummings. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
SourceWayward © 2016 Jim Zubkavich and Steven Cummings. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Science Behind Creating a Comic Book

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu


With comics, there’s more than meets the eye. 

By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu

Here’s how to make a comic book: Scribble some pictures, fill it with noisy colors and slap in some dialogue. Right? Wrong, says Allen Passalaqua, a comic book color artist who’s worked for DC Comics and Valiant. You can take his word for it — he just pulled an all-nighter obsessing over hues, tints, tones and shades. And he’ll be the first to tell you: This isn’t child’s play.

Comic books are easy to skim, but those strapping superheroes don’t just appear out of thin air, and those glossy pages don’t just fill themselves. Few secret she-hulks and fantastic fanboys know the blood, sweat and tears that underlie their glossy, adventure-packed comics. But there’s an entire assembly line of people who are burning the midnight oil, rustling up alternate galaxies and evil supervillains for your reading pleasure. So, here’s the layout: To create the standard 22-page comic book, you need a writer who charts the story line, a penciler who sketches the drawing, an inker who sharpens the image, a colorist who tints the mood, a letterer who sets the text and an editor who keeps track of all the moving parts. 

Getting everyone on the same page is not unlike “herding cats.”

Color artist Allen Passalaqua

As you might imagine, it can be tricky for all these artists to “stay on the same page.” Passalaqua says it’s not unlike “herding cats,” because everyone’s got their own sassy style: “Sometimes opinions clash. But somehow it all gets done.” Throughout the weeks-long or sometimes months-long catfight, there are tiny decisions to make — the hue of the captions, the flow of the words, the shade of a character — and those countless tweaks must all be accounted for by everyone along the work pipeline. Of course, there are one-man bands who do all the heavy lifting, too — particularly with the advent of webcomics, graphic novels and art comics that allow novice cartoonists to gain access into the comic business. But as long as mainstays like Marvel and DC Comics remain in the mix, so too will the big-budget productions that have created beloved superheroes like Spider-Man and Wonder Woman.

Peeking behind the scenes might take away the magic of comic books for some, but a comic book can’t exist without all its moving cogwheels — like, say, a gripping plot or a captivating image, says Jim Zub, a comic writer who’s freelanced for Marvel, Hasbro and Cartoon Network, among others. Because if everyone’s done their job right, “you’re caught up in the performance of it all.”

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