For the Love of Comics and Paper
By Scott Schweder
Nearly 10 years ago, Superman Action Comics #1 sold for over 3 million dollars. That’s a lot of paper for, well, a little paper. If you look at the artwork, it hasn’t aged all that well. By today’s standards, this handywork wouldn’t even qualify for a student newspaper. But it had the unique distinction of being #1. It set expectations, it changed them as well. It wasn’t just the artwork that connected with a generation, it was the messages tucked inside – good versus evil, heroism, random acts of kindness. These aren’t just dust collectors; this is heavy duty stuff!
Superman captured the imagination of geeks like me across the world, but times and perceptions change. Does truth, justice and the American way still resonate the way it once did? Was the big blue boy scout merely pomp and circumstance, or even more frightening – was he not “cool” anymore? For a great many years, the beacon of all things good took a back seat to his angry neighbor from Gotham. Now, people that are much smarter than me will argue comics follow the societal and psychological curve of nation. That’s a heady discussion, but I tend to go simple. I don’t often find myself in a position of having to lift cars off unsuspecting victims. I do however wage a daily war inside my head for reasons big and small. The storytelling I’m looking for unfolds in layers, layers far more rich, deep, and complex than old fashioned spot color can handle. Something that looks a little more like this.
See what happened there? Look at the depth, the shading and richness of color, the perspective of the characters, the facial expressions. You couldn’t tell these types of stories the way they were meant to be told because the medium couldn’t get you there. Some of our most cherished and influential comics were printed on newsprint and stapled into a varnished cover. Colors couldn’t blend. The printing processes were designed for speed and volume at the expense of detail. After all, no one intended to create collectors’ pieces. But now, just as the stories have become deeper, the vessels in which they are delivered are under far more scrutiny. That book needs to jump off the shelf; differentiate it from hundreds of other prints. If I’m going to pay 10 dollars for it, it best feel like top dollar. I want that new paper scent, hear the crack of the spine. I want those pages to cling together as proof I’m the only person that’s ever opened it. That’s the raw feel, that’s the power of print. This is connecting across the senses.
For paper people like us who revel in the detail, we dial in on the tactile. What kind of paper are they using? What kind of finish? The truth is, every choice is purposeful. For most standard issue comics, a 60 – 70# matte paper takes the day. It’s thick enough for full color dual sided print and has that “heft” you want when flipping pages. You know it when you touch it. For special event and graphic novels, you’re limited only by your imagination and price points. Retelling a story of hope and deliverance? An ultra-lightweight or linen sheet can add that extra layer of depth to your vision. Digging deep into the twisted logic of the Joker? Well, that weighty topic may command an 80# gloss to tell that story. We’re at an exciting time in our industry where the print technology can deliver amazing output on just about any paper you choose in any volume you wish.
Today storytellers can harness the power of print engines like the XEROX IGEN and HP Indigo to not only control the quality of their vision, but how much of it they choose to share. Gone are the days of costly plate making, long runs and average results. The ability to create a “limited edition” isn’t dictated by the passage of time, it starts with the first printing. In the industry, this is called optimizing the “the book of one” and great power and responsibility lies with the choices made.
If you’re a writer, an artist or a dreamer looking to get it out of the brain and on to the page – we are living in a very special time. The tools at your disposal are vast, the inspiration is unlimited, and the end results are often spectacular.
On this Comic Book day, I say “Cheers to the storytellers!” we need you now more than ever.
Scott Schweder has been in the print and paper industry for over twenty years, most recently helping monochrome printers live their best lives in full color. He’s a married father of four with three dogs, three guinea pigs, a gecko, and a wall full of lightsabers. At this point, his friends have stopped asking questions and consider the entire Schweder family (including pets) to be great fun at parties. Scott has been the Customer Service Manager at Paris for the last 8 months and is having a blast!
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