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Bleed Art Pages for Print - Part 3

Started by Rob, September 06, 2010, 09:54:07 AM

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A comic artists' guide to understanding proper proportions of comic book art for print projects

by Kurt Hathaway

To recap parts 1 and 2, there are three important boxes laid out on pre-ruled, blue-line art boards for comiccs artwork.

They are the bleed line (the outside box), the trim line (smaller and just inside the bleed line), and the live area (the smallest inside box).

Artists are encouraged to understand that the trim line is a theoretical line where the art [printed art, not the original art] will get cut in the final stages of the printing process prior to shipping to shops.  Beyond that, artists should forget the trim line even exists... and certainly do not lay any panel borders along the trim line.

Below are 4 examples of some random possible layouts, taking into consideration only 2 things:

  • 1/   the live area
  • 2/   the bleed line

Outer edge panel borders should be drawn on either the live area box [or inside that box], or the bleed line.

Page A is a non-bleed page [all panels confined to the live area, borders fall on the live area box].  Pages B, C, and D are all bleed pages.

On page B, panels 1, 2, and 6 bleed.

On page C, it's 2, 3, and 7 that bleed.

On page D, only panel 1 bleeds -- at the top and sides.  Panel 2 is an inset panel -- with borders set inside the live area.

The pages above are all proper layouts based on the bleed specs.  Note that no panels' border falls on the trim line [it's not there, remember?]

Inkers, if you get any pages with a pencil border on the trim line, please extend that panel's border to the bleed line and fudge in any missing artwork.  It should take only a few moments and the result will look 100% better.  Then -- direct your penciller to this article, so he can learn proper bleed format for the next page he hands you.

Considering Lettering Balloons:

While we're discussing laying out a page to bleed specs, I'll add another dimension to the discussion that's at least partially related: Lettering placement.

Lettering must be considered when laying out a panel and page. Artists should bear in mind that all lettering must eventually fall in the live area.  So artists should try to block out where the lettering will fall while composing their panels' figures and backgrounds.  Artists may do this in their mind's eye, or manually draw in rough-pencilled ovals to guide the rest of the work.

Generally, lettering is arranged around important art and covers up unimportant background or partial figures (knees, shoes, shoulders) leaving faces and hands visible to the reader.

Remember that we read left to right, top to bottom -- so lettering should be arranged in reading order.  Don't leave room at the bottom of the panel for balloon 1, and at the top for balloon 2, or the reading order is screwed.

The lettering text (known as "copy" in the business) itself does not generally go up and down in size to accommodate the art... it's pretty consistent size-wise, though obviously a 5-word balloon is smaller than a 16-word balloon.  Copy that is shrunk to accommodate the art looks like a character is whispering -- when that's not the story's intention.

Plotting out lettering space isn't a hard and fast process... it's very organic -- and the room you left wide open may not get used if the letterer sees a better place for it in the panel.

The main point here is that lettering is an important part of the comics-creation process as well as the reading experience.  To ignore the notion that letters will take up room on the page is to ruin the composition of your page before it's even started.

Lettering and important art should co-exist in the same panel without getting in each other's way.

The balance of lettering elements (balloons, captions, titles, credits, sound effects) to art should be as organic as possible, so the demands often change from panel to panel.

Artists are not expected to be experts in lettering or the placement of lettering -- just that they be aware that lettering is coming along and to make room for it as best they can.  Only experience makes an expert.

From the examples below, you can see some of the dos and don'ts of lettering room.  (Note that the text to page size is not standard in these examples - it's larger here for the web. Looking at any pro comic should give a feel of proper text to page size.)

As a letterer with 25 years experience, I've gotten pretty damn good at making the balloons work with what I have -- but once in a while I'm faced with too much copy for the panel.  It just won't fit, no matter how clever I try to be.  The easiest fix is getting a panel script rewrite.  If there's time and the script is just too golden to rewrite, a new panel must be drawn to accommodate the script.

Formatting the two-page spread!

About the author:
Kurt Hathaway has been a comics freelancer for 25 years. His client list reads like a who's who of publishers: DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, Eclipse, Malibu, and tons of others. He has thousands of lettering credits including two for Newsweek and Esquire magazines. A DC editor nicknamed him "The Comics Commando" for his timely delivery of deadline work.

He letters the webcomics "Master Jesus" and "Chicago 1968" both written by Len Kody.

In addition to lettering and logos, Kurt Hathaway's Cartoon Balloons Studio does custom font design, page/book/magazine design, pre-press (setting up press files for the printer), and animated motion graphics for video projects.

He can be reached at:     [email protected]


Thanks for the message. It is a very good thing for me to lern