One Fan's Opinion: Issue #79

Fri, July 20th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Erik Larsen, Columnist

I was at a convention - I can't remember where - and a fan had a copy of the "Punisher" #25, which I had drawn, and after I'd signed it, he flipped through the book to show me a certain interior page, which was almost entirely black and white. He asked me, "What was this all about?"

I'd never seen that before.

Apparently there was a screw up - a page hadn't been colored completely and it went to press "as is" and then somebody noticed the mistake, the problem was corrected and the rest of the run had the entire comic in full color.

I'd never heard of such a thing happening before. I'd always assumed that one comic book was pretty much the same as any other comic book. Up until then the only variants I'd seen were comics with double covers (which is always cool - don't ask me why), intentional variants like the issue where Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson or the first issue of John Byrne's "Man of Steel" miniseries that redefined Superman and printing flubs like folded corners or the rare repeated signatures (my copy of "Dreadstar" #1 had two duplicate sections and pages missing, rendering the story even more incomprehensible than it would be otherwise).

But then it happened again.

A fan that preferred to have his comics signed on the splash page flipped open a copy of the Amazing Spider-Man #329 for me to sign and the zip-a-tone on the splash was completely torn up and crappy looking. "Zip-a-tone" is actually a brand name, but even though the company was out of business most comic book professionals still referred to shading film (often a dot pattern or stippling of some sort) as "zip" years after the fact. These days that effect can be easily created in Photoshop by going into the filters and turning a gray to a halftone - in the early days it meant cutting up a transparent sticker, applying it to the art and trimming off the excess. The problem was that, as stickers go, they weren't especially sticky. If they weren't burnished properly (and sometimes, even if they were) the stickers would peal up and fold over or get rubbed off. In the case of this Spider-Man splash it had really taken a beating. But, like before, somebody caught the error and in other copies of the same book, the problem was corrected. When I got back the original art I could see the patch job on it. Whoever replaced the missing zip did an outstanding job cutting up and pasting in a stat of the missing dot pattern.

Now, if this has happened to me - twice - I can only imagine that it's happened to others.

I was reminded of this when I got the latest Marvel Omnibus. On the splash of "Devil Dinosaur" #1 collected therein, there are some odd color choices. Devil Dinosaur's eyes are pink and the ground is dark purple. Looking through the rest of the volume I noted that his eyes were yellow and the ground was green. And then it struck me - the magenta and yellow plates had been reversed! So his yellow eyes became pink and the grass went from 100% cyan (blue) and 100% yellow to 100% cyan to 100% magenta! They must have mixed up the plates when the comic book was originally printed and whatever chucklehead did the separations now painstakingly recreated the screw up for this upscale volume. To me, these are the kinds of mistakes that, frankly, should be corrected. I mean, the colorist colored it with the intention of it looking one way - they did their job - the separators did their job - it was the printer that messed it all up. Why recreate their screw up? Why is their mistake canon? When did they become part of the creative team?

In any caseā€¦

I was going through my Devil Dinosaur comics at home - the real ones - the comics from 1978 that were collected in the Marvel Omnibus - and the splash of my "Devil Dinosaur" #1 was perfectly fine. The colors were exactly as they should have been!

So whoever re-colored these books painstakingly recreated a mistake that wasn't even in the entire run of the book! It was a mistake that was caught and fixed that is now page one of an expensive, upscale collection.

Nice.

The odd thing is (or at least I think it's odd) comic book collectors have never noticed, acknowledged or made note of these kinds of boners. Stamp collectors are all over this stuff. A misprinted stamp can collect big bucks. But in comics? Never.

Which, I suppose, is fine. But as a guy that's pretty into this stuff I have to stop and wonder how often this sort of thing happens.

There have always been screw-ups. It's inevitable. I can remember two pages running out of order in Captain America #207. They were even numbered correctly - but page 17 ran on the left hand side (complete with a "continued after next page" affixed to its lower right-hand corner) and page 16 appeared on the right. It's a wonder that those guys at Marvel decided to fix that error for their recent Captain America trades.

I remember a double-page spread in an issue of "Jon Sable Freelance" that was run in such a way that the left hand side of it appeared on a right hand page and the right hand side of it ran as the next page. You had to flip the page in order to see the other half of the spread. That pretty much killed it.

There was a similar spread in a recent "Essential Fantastic Four" trade. A double-page spread was chopped in half with one half on the right and the other on the following page. Spreads like these are often the unfortunate victims of sloppy editors.

And it's tough to find them all. I sympathize. Few comics make it all the way through the process without there being some kind of typo or other gaff. In days of old and color separations done by hand it was a common occurrence to have Superman wearing one yellow boot or to have Captain America with alternating magenta and yellow stripes. When they'd leave the blue off of Spider-Man's trousers you'd be left with magenta dots, which looked a little bit too much like bare skin with the yellowing newsprint of the day and so readers were treated to the occasional Amazing Flasher-Man when things went screwy.

These days, with computer coloring, those kinds of screw-ups are less prevalent. What we have now are situations where colorists simply miss things or misinterpret things. Colors get filled in and often it's difficult to see a forgotten hand or foot or object of some importance.

There are the same old kinds of mistakes there have always been. I can remember a certain panel in the "Incredible Hulk" #164 where they colored the Beast's girlfriend wrong. She was unconscious and he was holding her under his arm and the colorist colored her butt as if it was her head.

Now that is a screw up.

Those kinds of mistakes happen. In a fairly recent issue of "Ultimate Spider-Man" there was a panel where a close up of Peter Parker was colored as though he was Mary Jane Watson. With different people checking things out and looking things over other than those that did the work in the first place, sometimes things get misinterpreted. It happens.

But even in cases where it's the creator of a book going through it, things can get messed up. At Image Comics most often it's the creators of the books who are doing the final pass and making approvals. The folks in the office will do their best of course and often we'll catch things, but it's the creators themselves who are the last ones in line to make sure their book turns out the way they want it to. When Matt Wagner mislabeled a page in his epic "Mage" collection, the guys in the office did what they were supposed to but the end result was a repeated and missing page in the printed book. The book made it into print and onto the stands and into the hands of readers who caught the gaff and were only too happy to point it out.

Sigh.

That was a costly one. The book needed to be reprinted and shipped and copies returned and all the rest. It was a regrettable situation for all involved. As the publisher I don't look over all of the proofs of every book - it's simply too time-consuming and I'm so addle-brained that I'd likely miss things like that anyway, but it doesn't make things any easier. These things cost all of us.

We've had numerous situations over the years where the mistake was the printer's fault. There was an issue of my own "Savage Dragon" that was printed three times because of a printer error.

Then there was the "Savage Dragon Companion!" It went back to press and after corrections had been made and the printer made new mistakes - somehow screwing things up in new and different ways. And it's not specific to one printer, either. We've had books printed at numerous printers get messed up. Every time we get the book reprinted and fixed up right, but it causes all kinds of delays and all kinds of headaches. We don't ship out half the run screwed up like they did years ago. We'll make sure the entire run is looking good, if at all possible.

Making mistakes is part of the human condition. It's what we do. It happens. Sometimes the errors that see print are a case of sabotage - like the guy drawing in a pecker on Bucky on the yellow plate of a Captain America reprint collection - but most often it's simply human error. Sometimes you get so close to it that you can't see what it is anymore. And sometimes folks just let things slide because, "Hey, it's only a comic book."

Those people should be taken out behind the barn and horsewhipped.

We should care. We should make an effort. And I realize that in years past creators had to churn out pages at such a breakneck speed mistakes were inevitable. Costumes and details would change from page to page and panel to panel, but that creator's mortgage loomed and their baby need diapers so they had to depend on the inker and editor to catch things as they barreled along, but that's not so much the case these days with higher page rates in place. When comics cost a quarter, they didn't need to be very good for a reader to feel as though they got their money's worth. At $3 or more a pop, they'd better be damned near perfect.

And we try.

But at the end of the day, we're all human. And the best we can do is the best we can do.

We'll do our best to get it right the next time.

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