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What does it take to make a comic book?

Anne Evans Anne Evans What does it take to make a comic book?
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If you’ve ever wondered just what all goes into making a comic book, your chance to find out is coming up. Ken Eppstein, creator of Nix Comics, has curated an exhibit for the Ohio Art League Gallery to showcase the creation of comic books from script to print.

Ken Eppstein, lead writer, editor and publisher of Nix Comics, at the 400 West Rich Winter Farmers Market.

“I’ve had the idea for a local comics pop up shop kicking around in my head for a while now,” says Eppstein. “Basically, beyond taking part in local events, I want to create local events. Fairs, conventions, sales, release parties. Anything that celebrates all of the local comic creating community.”

Eppstein was approached by Ohio Art League Director Stephanie Sypsa about doing a OAL member curated exhibit and he took it from there.

The exhibit opens on Thursday, February 7th, with an opening reception from 5pm to 8pm. There will also be a pop-up shop with around 70 different titles authored by Columbus comic artists. It will also be your first chance to get the new Nix Comics Quarterly #5. The exhibit will be on display through February 23rd and there will be a few more events throughout.

“Columbus has really come into its own recently as a place for artists to develop and comic artists are no exception to that,” says Eppstein. “The number [of comic book artists and authors] grows every day. I keep a mailing list of local creators that numbers over 150. SPACE hosts 150 exhibitors every year in April, a big chunk of which are local.”

A wonderful stat compared to Eppstein’s feelings on the comic book scene only two years ago when he spoke with ColumbusUnderground.com contributor Jeff Regensburger about starting his own books under Nix Comics:

…Right now, every comic book store in the country carries the almost exactly same merchandise as every other comic book store. If you walk into Forbidden Planet in New York City, it has the mostly the same stuff as Laughing Ogre does here in Columbus. That ain’t cool. Not for New York and not for Columbus.

The antidote to that particular poison is strong local production. The comic books made in sold in Columbus should be different than the ones made and sold in other cities. My hopes are that I can do my little part to spur that on by sharing how I do my book…

For Nix Comics, Eppstein continues to do about 80% of the writing. “The publications are still pretty young and I want to make sure that my vision is clear before I start farming too much of the scriptwriting duties out,” he says. “In my capacity as editor and publisher, I hire on the artists to complete the books. Artists get paid $150 for 1-3 page “shorts” and $300 for 4-8 page “Features.” It’s not a lot, but more than a lot of other small presses pay. Hopefully things will pick up to the point that I can pay the Nix Bullpen more. They deserve it! From there I pay for the printing and hustle the distribution myself.”

While some of the books have recurring characters, none of them are serialized.

“A new reader can pick up any single issue and not feel like they are missing out on years of soap opera-esque continuity,” he says.

So what’s the first step of the process?

“The great thing about cartoons in comics is there is a million different ways to bring your project to print,” says Eppstein.  “For instance, one of the great traditions among indie creators is the mini-comic, which can be made with a single sheet of paper photocopied, folded, and cut at the sides. Super DIY and super fun.”

To make a classic “Floppy” comic like one of the Nix Titles, a writer creates a script which is interpreted by one or more artists for the final printed page. Classically, a penciler would create the initial layouts. The finished pencil art is then traced and embellished with black ink, as pencil art does not show up well in print. The inked art would in turn be turned over to a colorist and finally over to a letterer to have the word bubbles, captions and sound effects added. Small pubs like Nix rely on a single artist to do most of this work, while Marvel or DC have the luxury of having dedicated inkers, colorists and letterers. The final art for each page is submitted to the printer.

That’s the basics, anyway. The variations are pretty much endless and the 21st century has led to a lot of changes in what steps are taken and in what manner. Some artists never even pick up a pencil anymore!

Once the art is approved, there is pre-press editing, usually done in a program like InDesign. The printer uses that to create a printed proof, a one-off print of the comic as it would look based on the comic as submitted, for the editor to review. The editor then either approves the comic for a full print run based on the proof or makes revisions and the printer creates a new proof.

For printing, Eppstein originally wanted to have the books printed on pulp, like the comics he grew up with were.

“That’s so far out of the realm of ordinary that I couldn’t find a printer that could do it for the same rate as conventional paper,” he says. “To use the cheap stuff was actually more expensive!”

Instead, they are printed with glossy covers and matte interiors and on 30% recycled paper if it is available. For Nix Comics Quarterly #5, he had them printed locally by Citicom printing and couldn’t be happier.

Although Eppstein feels the comic book industry may be heading toward the same turning point that the music industry was at ten years ago – ‘How do you continue to produce comics and make money in a digital society?’ – he thinks the future for Columbus is bright.

“For Columbus in particular, you know… All of the pieces are here and the sky is the limit,” he says. “There are a lot of talented people here who will go as far as the community support carries them. If local comics catch on as a source of local pride like it has for things like football, local music and local food have, things are going to be really cool. I think the average citizen in Columbus is open to the idea of having something new to brag on, so it’s up to creators like me, institutions like SPACE and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, vendors (beyond the conventional comic shops) and the local media to make it happen.”

With this exhibit, Eppstein hopes that some of the mystification of comic book creation will be revealed to the casual observer.

“Comic books are made by men and women from all social backgrounds and strata, not just pasty 40-something white guys like me,” he says. “Ohio plays a significant role in the history of cartooning and comic books. SPACE is one of the “go-to” events in the country for indie creators every year and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library is the largest collection of cartooned material in the world.”

The presentations (all taking place at the Ohio Art League) scheduled to answer some of the issues and show the past, present and future of cartooning in Ohio include:

History of Columbus Comics
Saturday February 9th at 4:00pm
Did the Columbus Comic Creator and Cartooning scene spring up overnight? Absolutely not! It’s been here for years. Join Caitlin McGurk, engagement coordinator for Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Library of Cartoon History (and notable cartoonist in her own right!) as she presents visitors with the facts about the History of Comics in Columbus!

Diversity Among Columbus Comics Creators
Saturday February 16th at 4:00pm
The general public expectations of what a comic book creator looks like and comes from generally falls somewhere between Harvey Pekar and the Simpsons’ “Comic Book Guy.” Victor Dandridge (Vantage Inhouse Productions) defies that stereotype and will lead a panel discussion about diversity among other local artists who break that mold.

Journalism as a basis for creating Comics and Graphic Novels
Friday February 22nd at 7:00pm
2012 was a banner year for Ohio State University Alum Derf Backderf, whose “My Friend Dahmer” graphic novel wowed literary and comic book critics alike. “My Friend Dahmer” is written in a unique fashion, drawing upon Derf’s background in journalism, lending authenticity and depth to the project that a memoir alone could never achieve. Join Derf as he shares techniques for bringing journalism to writing comics and graphic novels.

The Local Comics Pop Up Shop and Creative Process Exhibit will take place at the Ohio Art League Gallery at 1552 North High Street, Columbus on February 7th to February 23rd. Admission is Free. For more information, visit www.oal.org.

The Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo, or SPACE, will take place Saturday April 13 and Sunday April 14, 2013 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, 4900 Sinclair Road, Columbus, Ohio 43229. For more information, visit backporchcomics.com.

To find out more about Nix Comics, visit www.nixcomics.com.

Bonus preview video! Video by Andrew Ina with Music by Shawn Tegtmeier.

Ohio Art League – Local Comics Pop-Up Store and Creation Process Exhibit from Andrew Ina on Vimeo.


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