Gary Scott Beatty
Gary Scott Beatty

Setting Up a High School Comic Book Class

by Gary Scott Beatty

Gary Scott Beatty runs Aazurn Publishing, is publisher of “Indie Comics Magazine” and recently wrote the comic book retailer story “Number One.” The first alternative comic he produced (They were called “underground” then) was on his high school’s ditto machine, after hours, without permission. His Xeric Grant Winner “Jazz: Cool Birth,” a jazz club murder mystery, was inspired by ‘50s album cover design. He also colors and letters for the industry. Find out more at Gary Scott

Joshua emailed me for advice on setting up a high school program in his art class. He wants the class to produce a comic book. People seldom ask my advice (And frequently rue the day they did) so I decided to think this one through.

Joshua: I'd probably begin the class with research into how publishers make and distribute comic books (which is probably how you found me). There's more to comics than just making the product - it has to work on the printing press (So look into printing processes, maybe visit a four-color print shop nearby, have somebody there explain the four-color printing process and why books have to be in increments of four or eight).

There is pretty much one big comic distributor now, Diamond Comic Distributors. They transport comic books from both big and small comic book makers, or suppliers, to the retailers. They distribute Marvel and DC Comics. DCD has a legal monopoly on comic book distribution. This monopoly is allowed because they don't have a monopoly on book distribution (books including non-comic books).

DCD has an "open-door policy" to new suppliers. This means that anyone who makes a comic book can send samples of it to DCD for review. If the comic book is of sufficient quality, DCD might distribute the comic book to retail stores for the comic book creator. Anyone with a comic book can apply for distribution by following the rules on DCD's website. Go to and click on Vendors for more information.

When it comes to making the product itself (Yes, comic books are products - the sooner young people who want to work in the comic book field realize that the better off they will be) there are, basically, five jobs.

• The Editor makes sure the creative people around him are doing what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it. Schedule management is a large part of this job, although there are as many descriptions of "editor" as there are editors out there. Each has his own style, but the bottom line is quality books need to be produced on budget and on time.

• The Penciller is the glory job. Everybody wants to be a penciller. There's actually a glut in the market and I tell young pencillers they need to think of themselves as ILLUSTRATORS to be well-rounded enough to make a living at it. A solid knowledge of the history of illustration, not just comic book pencilling, is essential.

Illustrators draw preliminary sketches to get going, then draw very lightly with hard pencil (I think they're called HB?) on bristol board. Sometimes they use non-repro blue pencil, but these tend to be pretty soft for an accurate line. The inkers ink over this.

• The Inker can make or break the penciller. The more I try to ink, the more I realize what a quality skill it is. Personally, I have more respect for good inkers than good pencillers (and I have loads of respect for both). The best illustrators are, of course, also great inkers. Inkers use crow quill pens (for that thin-and-thick line). The good ones use brush dipped in India ink. This is a real skill that takes lots of practice, but you might have a good start at it if you're familiar with using a brush.

There is a great book about it by Gary Martin and Steve Rude called The Art of Comic Book Inking. This refers to comics, but the same techniques are used in all kinds of illustration.

• Colorists take the inked artwork, put it in the K (black) channel in Photoshop, and use the other channels (CMY) to color. Many go to the next level and mess with the K channel, too. This can look wonderfully photographic but can also look terrible. I'm a fan of quality inking accented with just the right solid colors, although a look at my portfolio at Comic Artists Direct shows I do dig into the black channel occasionally. The artwork (and the editor) will dictate how complex the inking becomes.

• Letterers add the words in word balloons. This is harder than it looks, fitting words into cramped spaces, spelling correctly and taking into account reader eye movement.

You're working with a class, so an "anthology" comic seems like a good idea, with several short stories. This can allow for teams of creators (your students) and maybe even a team for the overall package (cover, deciding what story goes in what order, setting up the schedule with the printer).

Your idea for a class has a lot of potential to teach much more than comic books. It can cover printing processes, advertising, distribution, teamwork, scheduling, computers and more. The web is a great resource for info, also - in fact, you can get lost in the fan sites just looking for info on production. That's why I came up with Comic Artists Direct in the first place! Good luck with it and feel free to let us know how everything worked.

Comments on our can be referred to Gary at gary -at- comicartistsdirect -dot- com. All artwork copyright © by its respective artists and publishers.

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