When I began working in the DC Production Department in 1977, this is what cover proofs from the separators in Connecticut looked like. Proofs of each of the four color plates (Black, Cyan or Blue, Magenta and Yellow) were printed on clear acetate, and lined up correctly over a sheet of white paper, then stapled either at the top or bottom. These proofs came in the regular deliveries from Chemical Color to the DC offices in Manhattan where they were checked for errors by Anthony Tollin, the Cover Coordinator, and shown for approval to the editor of the book. Tony would call Chemical and ask for any changes wanted. Printing was approved, and the separations would go to the printing plant in Sparta, Illinois. DC would receive one final proof, uncut make-readies from the press before the book was stapled, trimmed, and shipped to distributors, but by that time it was too late to change anything, and the only option in the case of a major problem was to scrap the print run and start over. I never saw that happen when I was there. Once the book was printed, these acetate proofs were generally thrown away. I saved sixteen of them from covers dated 1978-79 because I liked the art and I thought they were cool. This one has gorgeous art by José Luis Garcia-López and Dick Giordano, which is why I saved it. They sat in a drawer under my desk at DC, and when I went freelance full time, they came home with me and sat in a drawer in my storage room. I pulled them out this week to bring to the Baltimore Comic-Con to sell.
The maximum size I can show them in this blog doesn’t do justice to the details, so I’m also showing a smaller cropped area that I don’t have to reduce in size for the blog. Garcia-López and Giordano were a great art team, each adding to the other’s strengths, or that’s how I feel. The coloring here is fairly simple, not much modeling except a bit on the faces, and lighter edges along the top of Superman’s costume.
Here’s a full view of just the color plates with the black acetate lifted off, or as much of it as I can scan without creasing the acetate. Covers were separated by an elite group of the best separation artists at Chemical Color, and handled differently from the regular interior pages. Each color plate was painted or airbrushed in gray tones, with black for solid colors, allowing for a full range of color effects such as gradients from light to dark, and brush-stroked areas like the edge of the yellow in the background here.
On the detail you can see the actual color dots in the flesh tones. The screen used on covers at the time was 85 lines (or dots) per inch. Interior separations were even coarser, about 60 lines per inch. I’m not sure what the current screen is on comics covers, but I would guess at least 150 lines per inch.
In the detail you can now better appreciate the subtle brushwork in the faces on the red plate, just adding hints of shading to add roundness to the shapes, and a dab of red for Lois’ lipstick.
The yellow plate by itself is hard to see, with not much visual difference between solid yellow and lesser amounts, but it does make a huge difference in the finished product. The gray marks are dirt on the acetate.
Finally, here’s just the black plate. You can see that even though the acetate is “clear,” there is a slight gray to it. Gray tones are added to the black line art by the separator on the road, buildings and car. This was not an option on interior coloring at the time, only on covers.
The detail shows the black line art better, and also shows a dirty fingerprint on Superman’s face, probably mine. These outdated relics of the comics creation process are fun to look at. If you’re coming to the Baltimore Comic-Con next week, stop by at my booth for a look, and perhaps you might want to buy one.