Four Color Process – Adventures Deep Inside the Comic Book

May 11, 2011

Click image for larger size.

John Hilgart’s Four Color Process gallery at Posterous accurately lives up to its sub-head, “Adventures Deep Inside the Comic Book.” You’ll find a year’s worth of posts that feature close-up scans of sections of comic book panels. They vary from the recognizable to the abstract. One feature in common is that they all feature a visible dot pattern from the four color printing process.

The idea was akin to Pointillism in painting. Use patterns of dots in four colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black) that combined to create a multitude of colors. If not the 16 million colors of computer screens today, the resulting combinations worked, if somewhat garishly and imprecisely.

As the Hearst papers claimed in 1896, “Eight Pages of Iridescent Polychromous Effulgence That Makes The Rainbow Look Like A Lead Pipe!”

Registration errors abound where the printed color of the object spills over the black holding lines of the artist’s inking job. I remember having a fair tolerance for these slips when I was reading 12 cent comic books on pulp paper.

Some of Hilgart’s selections exist in the visual area where  images break down into pattern. (Hey, it worked when Roy Lichtenstein swiped from Joe Kubert and hung the result in Leo Castelli’s gallery.) Click image for larger size.

Improved printing processes, digital work flows and better paper stock have made this earlier comic book work appear somewhat crude. But the distinctive look of four color printing on pulp stock is also one of it’s charms. It helps set the image in time.

For about a century this four color process was used for mass market publications. During their WWII heyday a popular comic book would sell a million or more copies a month. Nowadays a comic book whose sales are measured in tens of thousands is considered a hit.

So please check out 4CP and explore the ‘hidden’ art of the comic book panel.




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