07 April 2010

Halftone Screens & the Pursuit of Knowledge

by guest columnist Anthony Schiavino.  Follow him on Twitter.

Learning is something that you never stop doing in life. It's ever evolving, as most of life is. The minute you stop is the moment you become stagnant and die. Creativity, in any form, is very much the same.


As a designer, a comic book producer, and a writer, I'm always trying to learn something new. Not so much a "tricks of the trade" sort of thing, but more so streamlining the process. How can I get from point A to B, giving you a better product, and all the while learning a better way of getting there?

Well as I type this I'm trying something new. I had to upgrade - forced actually - my Mac OS because nothing runs on Tiger anymore. In that I learned how to run a few custom installs and my computer runs faster for it. I'm typing this on a beta text editor called OmmWriter(.com).

But what does all that have to do with creating comics?

This past week I learned something that I've been trying to figure out for quite awhile. I won't say how long. Back in the old days, when your parents walked to school in ten feet of snow, comics were printed much differently then the were today. They used a halftone screen. When you hear something like CMYK it's talking about a four color printing process. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. This is day one of design college kind of stuff. Each color was put on it's own printing plate. To get other colors the plates would overlap in certain areas. Cyan and Yellow made green and etc.

Plates could even be angled differently giving you a different dot pattern. The whole point was to make sure everything printed well and on register. That didn't happen all of the time. In some cases you would see some yellow overlapping white or what have you. We may think that effect looked cool but I'm sure those printers were pulling every hair in their heads out.

I've always wanted to create a project with this look, or rather close to it. I didn't want a perfect halftone pattern in what I was doing but maybe we could dispense with the cute off-register look. I wanted to make it how it was intended to look back then.

I lost a few hairs in the process. Maybe not as many as those printers of old, but I lost a few. I'll dispense with the nitty gritty how-to. It involves a filter and some color channels and it's not done in the way you would think it would be. So I learned something new, 14 years later in my career, and along the way I figured out how to streamline the process. I learned what not to do. So while it may have taken me five hours on the first page, the second was done in about an hour from start to finish and that's only because I was being picky.

You should never stop learning. You'll never know everything there is to know about what you do or in aspects of your life. I've found some many great movies because of doors I opened which lead to books to comics and everything in between. Instead of collecting stuff I've been collecting knowledge. It may never save the world but it's made me a happier creator because of it.

From the halls of Marvel Comics as a mutant editorial intern to the heights of the Flatiron designing book covers and straight on through newsrooms as an art director, Anthony Schiavino has seen action and then some. Pounding away at the keyboard, working well into the night, he mixes his love of old hard-boiled stories, hopeless romance and black and white movie dialogue like a good stiff drink. A writer and designer from New Jersey, Anthony’s work can be seen on a wide range of pulp and comic book publications such as “Ghost Zero,” “The Phantom: Generations,” and the “Black Forest.”

He can be found talking comics, movies, television, and all things pulp on
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