Wednesday, August 13, 2014

CHUTZ-POW!: Preparing for Print (Episode 3 of 3)

In my previous blog entry, I discussed the visual development of the story I drew for CHUTZ-POW! Superheroes of the Holocaust, which features the Holocaust experiences of Malka and Moshe Baran. In this last of three installments, I'm going to discuss my post-production role with the comic-book after the story was completed, and what was needed to get the artwork into print.

Most mainstream comic-books are produced by a team of contributors, and while their roles may vary and overlap, there is a general breakdown of duties that stays consistent. Most teams include a writer, a penciler (the lead artist who draws the script in pencil), an inker (who finishes the artwork in ink), a letterer (who puts the actual words on the pages of artwork), a colorist, and an editor who oversees the production. One person may do more than one thing on a book, so you will find writers who sometimes pencil their own stories. Some pencillers ink their work. There are inkers who color and colorists who write. Just as with super-heroes and their powers, there is no one set combination of abilities to possess.

(For those interested, I should also mention, the roles to be found in comic-book production have changed over time, as production methods and technology have changed. Sometimes there is a layout artist apart from the penciller, and some books now don’t get inked, and instead go straight to the colorist. “Digital inking” could mean reworking the pencil art for the addition of color, or literally going back over pencil artwork in digital fashion the way it has typically been done with actual ink. But for the most part, the above described duties are still usually present in some form.)

For our comic-book, the duties were initially pretty straightforward: Wayne Wise (who has been writing about his CHUTZ-POW! experiences on his blog NOTES FROM THE PLAYGROUND) was tasked with researching and writing the scripts for the four stories, and each story was in turn given to a separate artist to complete in full. Only the cover – which I produced – would be in color, so that cleared a step for everyone. A page count was defined early on, so the steering committee had a very real sense of what the final product might turn out like even while we worked on it.

Because the UpStanders’ stories took place over various time periods prior to, during, and following World War Two, it was decided to present their stories in the first volume in alphabetical order. So the first story featured is Les Banos’, with art and lettering by the ever-so-talented Mark Zingarelli.

Art: Mark Zingarelli; Script: Wayne Wise
Mark is an accomplished artist with years of professional experience working for clients such as TIME, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, and others. His pages have a pronounced solidity, and the linework is bold and full of textures, but not overwrought with fine lines or unnecessary detail. In short, he provided the perfect introductory story for the anthology.

Next was the story I illustrated, which was actually two stories in one, featuring Malka and Moshe Baran. (Read my previous blog entry to learn more about it.) At the time, I had some concern about working at a level comparable to the other artists on the book, and when their layout art started to come in, my concerns heightened. When it was all said and done though, my style works well to tell the story that it does. There is a transition that takes place from Mark’s bolder line work to my more fine brush lines which subtly changes the mood of CHUTZ-POW!; I think this works in the book’s favor.

Next was Dora Iwler’s story, drawn by Dave Wachter.

...and lettering by M.L.Walker!
Art: Dave Wachter; Script: Wayne Wise
Two things of note with Dave’s story: because of schedule limitations – Dave was heavily involved in finishing his book THE GUNS OF SHADOW VALLEY (on sale today from Dark Horse Comics!) and preparing for his next project working on GODZILLA for IDW (yes, Dave is at that level) – I volunteered to do the lettering on his story, which was the first time I’d ever done that with anyone’s artwork aside from my own. Also, by the time his art came in, it was agreed that I would provide the layout and graphic design of the book for printing. Dave’s final artwork featured full bleeds (art which extends to the edge of the page) which I hadn’t even considered. He gave me an “Okaaaay…That’s right. We do that in comic-books now!” moment.

Dave also used gray tones in his artwork that again shifted the mood of the book. If you look at Mark’s and Dave’s artwork side-by-side, you see that they have very different styles, the former’s being more graphic and with far greater contrast, the latter’s being more naturalistic and tonal. This gave the book a nice range, and there was more still to come.

Closing out the book was Fritz Ottenheimer’s story, as rendered and lettered by Chris Moeller.

Art: Chris Moeller; Script: Wayne Wise
Chris has worked for numerous publishers – DC COMICS, MARVEL, IDW, Topps, White Wolf Games, and more – so having him on board was a privilege. Like Dave immediately before him, Chris also used bleeds and painted gray tones in his artwork. That’s where the similarities end though. Chris’ style is rawer, and he did some interesting things with perspective that give his work flourish. If you compare the first page of CHUTZ-POW! to the final page, you might think that they come from different books. The mood is just that different.

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With all of the artwork in, there was still one last round of proof reading that had to take place. While that was going on I began getting everything together that we knew wouldn’t change. The actual print file was composed of all sorts of things that needed to be kept track of: artwork, logos, notes from members of the steering committee, the author, and one notable local figure who gave the project a special endorsement, and more. (You’ll have to buy the book to learn who it is!) *It's Franco Harris!

I was given a lot of latitude with the design elements – a good bit of the text on the back cover is mine too - but it was still a job, and The Holocaust Center and I were in frequent contact to ensure that everything they needed to be in place was there too. We went over the wording of every aspect of the book, and caught some things at the very last minute. It doesn’t matter how thorough you are, there is always something that might get overlooked. I’ve heard it said that both God and the Devil are in the details, and I can assure you that they both have a time-share on that property.

Ink on the Heidelberg Press.
Our project liaison and co-researcher Zach Zafris put me in touch with a representative from the chosen printer, so we could further discuss what they would need to get started. Amy Riley, the Business Relationship Specialist at J.B. Kreider Printing was as enthusiastic and helpful as a human being is capable of being. She helped us navigate through the maze of formalities to get everything ready to print. She facilitated quotes, delivered sample proofs, explained the printing processes, and basically let us know that the team at Kreider was taking this job seriously. The help at this stage meant a lot to us.

Once proofs of the artwork were OK’d , Zach and I were invited to the Kreider printhouse on Pittsburgh’s North Side to see the official printing get started. I worked in print services for years, at two different companies here in Pittsburgh, but I never experienced anything like what they have set up at Kreider. Their place is enormous! The big Heidelberg press that they were running CHUTZ-POW! on is longer than some rooms I’ve lived in (and probably as expensive as most of the houses). It was an impressive sight to see the cover artwork ganged-up for print on oversized sheets of 100lb gloss text paper. It humbled almost two decades worth of work in print services out of me instantly.

l-r: Kreider Printing Owner & Lead Press Man Mike Paranzino,
Kreider Business Relationship Specialist Amy Riley,
and CHUTZ-POW! Researcher & Liaison Zach Zafris.

Owner and Lead Press Man Mike Paranzino – who is a seasoned veteran in the business – personally adjusted the colors for the cover while we were there, and he probably has a better eye for fine color than anyone I’ve ever met, myself definitely included. Zach and I got to give the official thumbs-up for them to start running, and then we watched the Heidelberg pass paper over roll drums, beneath printing plates, and through CMYK ink in a race to our deadline.

The black-and-white printing plates for
the interior pages of the comic-book.
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For the first half of 2014, friends and family have heard me speak about this project, so there has been a lot of personal anticipation for it. The interest swelled when the art exhibit opened at the Three Rivers Arts Festival. However, there is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing like having something – anything – begin its life as an idea, and then watching it take shape, bit by bit, until it is finally tangible. Everything with CHUTZ-POW! hasn’t been easy by a long shot, and there were times we all felt like we might never see the comic-book come to fruition.

But then at the end of last week, a delivery truck pulled up to the Holocaust Center and unloaded dozens of boxes, they were opened, and Zach sent me this photo…

Volume One printed and in hand!
Photo: Zach Zafris

...and we could see with our own eyes that yes, it was all for real. We did it!

When I used to work in print services, I often remarked that I wasn’t really in the business of printing or copying – I was actually in the business of communication. I still consider that the common thread throughout my professions. The noblest part about communicating is that it can’t happen in isolation. You must take a thought or idea or concept, or in this case a life lesson, and transfer that from one person to another. It’s a mighty responsibility, and one none of us took lightly.

Now that the book has been printed, there is one last step to take with Volume One, and that is getting it out there and into the hands of readers. I hope that everyone reading this blog will make a point of finding this comic-book. The plan is to get this into comic-book stores, as well as in front of educators and their students, across the country. If you’ve never read comics before, it’s a great place to start. If you do read them, but are partial to super-heroes, give this book a try anyway. Our UpStanders may not have flashy costumes, but they all rose to the challenge of representing the best of the human spirit.

Special thanks to Drew Goldstein, Chair of CHUTZ-POW! Superheroes of the Holocaust; Joy Braunstein, Director of The Holocaust Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh; Joe Wos, Founder and Executive Director of The ToonSeum; Zach Zafris, Researcher, Co-Editor and Project Liaison; Wayne Wise, Writer and Co-Editor of CHUTZ-POW!; and all of the other great people who had hands in making this great book a reality.

Extra special thanks to our UpStanders and their families for sharing their stories with us. Volume One may be slim by page count, but it’s got tremendous heart…and sometimes just a few pages can speak volumes.

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