All images © Neil Gaiman and Todd Klein

How did this cat help me find the best way to finish Neil’s print? Bridget is the older of our two cats, and very sweet, but in my experience cats are never intentionally helpful. That’s more of a dog thing. Occasionally they can be helpful inadvertently, though, as was the case here. More on that in a moment.

Having finished the digital version of the print, my next task was to physically print it. I had searched online paper suppliers for 11 by 17 inch paper stock in gray, and had found very little. One medium gray card stock did turn up, but it was considerably thicker than what I had used for Alan’s print, so I was reluctant to try it. Plus it was three times as expensive. So, I settled for the only gray in the same stock I had used before, Wausau Exact Vellum Bristol. Paper thickness goes by “weight”, but that’s a tricky and sometimes misleading number. A better way is to measure the actual thickness with a caliper. Regular copy paper is about 4 mils thick in a caliper. This Vellum Bristol is about 7.5 mils. Card stock can go as thick as 13 mils, and drawing paper can be much thicker than that.

I have a large format laser printer, a Xerox Phaser 5500N, that can print up to 11 by 17 inches. I rarely need to use that size these days. It was more important during the transition period between all hand-lettered comics and digitally lettered comics. In those times I often needed to print out scans of pencilled art DC and other companies sent me on large paper so I could letter over it on tracing paper. It’s just as well I don’t need the large size much now, as this particular printer has never done well with the large paper. About half the time it jams or comes through all crinkled and unusable. When I printed “Alphabets of Desire,” I considered having it done at Staples or a print shop, but thought I’d try it myself first, and in a stroke of luck found the heavier weight paper fed through my printer just fine, as long as I hand-fed each piece. Above, you can see that process, except that I’m not standing there feeding in the paper.

Some people have reacted in horror to my telling them I print these myself, but in fact it’s easy and quick. I can print 250 copies in about a half hour. Occasionally they fail to feed through, but I then simply need to open and reclose the feeder door, and I’m ready to go again. And I’ve only had to throw out one sheet so far.

With printed copies ready, I needed to add the final layer to the print: paint. In this case I wanted to paint a white circle representing the full moon, and white candle flames. For the paint, I chose Pro White, which I’ve been using for art and lettering corrections since I began working in comics. On the jar they call it an opaque white watercolor. I suspect it’s similar to white animation cel paint. It’s somewhat like Titanium White acrylic paint, but it goes on very smoothly, covers well, and dries quicker than acrylic. My one concern was what would happen to it when the prints were rolled to be put in mailing tubes, so I did a sample, left it rolled for a day, and unrolled it. It seemed fine, and hopefully that won’t cause any problems. I have comics art from the 1970s with Pro White paint on it, and it seems to hold up fine, and keeps its white color better than the art paper, so I am pretty confident it will be fine on the prints.

Back to the cat. I needed to find a way to paint a nearly perfect circle on each one without a struggle. My first thought was to use a circle template like a stencil, and I did a test, but didn’t like the result. The paint crept under the edge, leaving a rough shape that wasn’t round enough. Something I could paint and stamp onto the paper seemed a better idea, but what? I searched the house, and couldn’t find anything I thought would work. That evening, as I was feeding the cats, it came to me.

Bridget has a heart murmur (which doesn’t seem to affect her at all, by the way), and twice a day I need to give her a quarter pill of Propanolol in a small meatball of wet cat food. As I was doing that, I looked closer at her pill bottle. It was the right size, and around the bottom was a slight rim that would make a perfect stamping device! Okay, so the cat had no idea, but I thought it would make a cute story…

That evening at my drawing board I mixed some Pro White in my paint holder, an end cap from a mailing tube. The paint is too thick as it comes in the jar, so I need to add water. My brush for white paint is a Winsor & Newton Series 233 size 4, made with white synthetic bristles that come to a good point.

Then I painted the rim on the bottom of the pill bottle…

…and stamped it gently onto the paper. For positioning, I had added a slightly smaller pale gray circle to the print to use as a target.

Here’s the result — worked like a charm! And, no need to clean off the pill bottle each time, I just let the paint build up. I try to paint 50 prints at a sitting, and as I went along the painted rim got thicker with paint build-up, but not enough to change the process. I did, of course, clean it between batches.

Next I painted in around the inside of the circle…

…and filled in the center. The paint shows the brush strokes here, but dries a more even white with a slight gloss, sort of an eggshell finish.

That left the candle flames, an easier task. Ideally, one thin brush stroke for each side of each flame, then fill in the center. It doesn’t always go that way, though, and sometimes I have to noodle it to get the shape I want.

And that’s what I’ve been working on since the beginning of May. It takes about an hour and three quarters to paint 50 prints, so about two minutes each. Not bad, but it does take time for me to get to them all, mainly in the evenings after dinner. The first half have been sent to Neil, who is signing them as I work on the second half.

Here’s the print painted, with the text once again mostly blurred. All that remained for me to do before sending them to Neil was to sign them myself. Nearly done with this excruciatingly detailed account, but I guess I can milk one more part out of it covering signatures, packing and shipping. I’ll do that next time, once I have the first half back from Neil.





One thought on “Creating BEFORE YOU READ THIS Part 4

  1. Marshall

    Hey Todd,

    Nice to see someone is bridging the gap between the hand-art and digital-at-home methods. Pretty interesting and innovative approach.
    I used to print my own ash-can comics from home, sometimes using a card stock for a cover. I also experimented with printing/copying line art on hotpress watercolor board and hand coloring with the old Doc Martin inks. Interestingly enough it was easier to teach myself rudimentary coloring that way then the digital approach that still baffles me.

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