Pulled From My Files #92: DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL #1 COVER COLORS

Images © DC Entertainment.

Here’s a rarity from my files, the only one of its kind, and the story behind it. While on staff at DC from 1977 to 1987 I also did freelance work, but that was mainly lettering and logo design. In the early years, though, I did whatever work was offered, including coloring, and I had my own Dr. Martin dyes coloring set, as seen in THIS blog article. By early 1982 I wasn’t doing much coloring (I never did that much anyway) when this cover art pencilled by Rich Buckler and inked by Dick Giordano came into the production department. It must have been very late, there wasn’t even time to have a color guide made and send it to Chemical Color in Connecticut for the usual color separation process. They wanted someone to do painted color, and probably overnight. I volunteered, and they must have been desperate because they gave me the assignment, despite the fact that I had never colored a cover for DC, nor had I ever done painted color for the company. I had done some on my own, but not for comics. A large photostat was made of the art, 11 by 16 inches with extra space at the top in case the proportions weren’t right and they needed extra room for the trade dress. This photostat was dry-mounted on a piece of illustration board, and I took it home to work on.

I already knew from experience that getting smooth colors on photostat paper was quite difficult with some of the Dr. Martin dyes, but fortunately the sky-blue one did go on smoothly, so I was able to use that at the top and bottom. On the large Luthor heads, I at first struggled to get smoothly blended tones, then hit on the idea of using thin brush strokes, which worked much better. The costumes of the two Supermen were small enough that the uneven color variations didn’t show very much.

The background was the biggest challenge. There were no stars on the original art to paint around, and even if there had been, going around little white areas with dyes was too time consuming. I filled the space with purposely mottled purples, several shades, to give it depth and used the uneven color application as a feature. I then tried to paint the stars over the color with Pro-White paint, but the colors were hard to cover, and the stars were lavender rather than white. The only choice left was to cut them out, and that’s what I did. With an exacto knife, I cut the top layer of photostat paper on each pointed star and the larger round ones, and then peeled it off with the knife. I was an expert with an exacto knife at the time, since I used it every day for art and lettering corrections in my day job.

I brought in the result, editor Julie Schwartz approved it, it was photographed for reproduction (not sure where, either at DC or at the separator) and here it is in print:

The ANNUAL trade dress frame was something I designed for all of that year’s annuals, and overall I think it worked pretty well. The colors came out different than I expected, particularly in the Luthor heads, the blue costumes and the stars, and some copies printed darker than this one, so it was far from a huge success, but as Sol Harrison used to say, it was “good enough for comics.” I wonder now if those blues in the costumes were lightened at the separator, I can’t imagine how else they’d print that light. No one was much impressed with my work, but they thanked me for getting it done quickly so it would print on time, and I was paid well. I wasn’t ever asked to do it again, though!

2 thoughts on “Pulled From My Files #92: DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL #1 COVER COLORS

  1. Michael

    Goes to show you what I know, because I think the coloring is great on this cover. The unevenness on the purple give it an ethereal feel. Knowing there are two earths, its like you can feel or see the dimensional barriers being rent, as opposed to it being space black. The red/orange lighting on the two Luthors reminds me of hellfire for that evil duo. Perhaps I’m just biased because I love the story.

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