Cartoon and Illustration

Days of T.h.u.n.d.e.r. (Part 3)

THUNDER NO.1 inside cover artwork. Copyright © Works Associates (Michael Sawyer and James E. Lyle). T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents are copyright and trademark of John C. Productions.

Above you should be able to see the inside cover artwork that was used in the first (and only) issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. published by Solson Publications way back in 1987.  I’m assuming that you folks can read all the copy that Michael Sawyer wrote to fill these pages–if it looks too small I’ll see what can be done about that later on.

Right now I’d like to talk about the actual process of producing these particular pages–if I can recall.

By the time that Michael and I were ready to do T.H.U.N.D.E.R.  for Solson, we’d been around the block a time or two with printing comics.  When Phil Hwang had run short on funds for Escape to the Stars #3 I had picked up the ball and published that book using part of a small inheritance I’d received from my great-aunt’s estate.  I’d gone completely overboard with the production quality on that book, using white paper, film negatives, blue line proof, offset printing, process color for the cover, and all manner of bells and whistles that cost an arm and a leg without improving a great deal on the final product’s biggest error, my poor lettering.  I will admit that Mountaineer Graphics did a bang-up job with the printing–but still, it was a learning process.

With ETTS #4 Philip had figured out how to come up with some money to produce it, but I had taken over the production end of things, figuring out how to bring in the printing on that particular issue for less than $1000.  That low-budget production was achieved by making our reductions on a photocopy machine and using only two colors on the cover.  I think we may have actually made a small profit on that one–but the artwork suffered for being reproduced in such a slip-shod manner.

ETTS #5 was a bit more ambitious, with a three-color (black, cyan, and a Pantone orange-yellow) cover and photostat reductions (having learned from the mistakes of #4) .  We may have broken even on #5.  But the pressures of trying to make this happen along with keeping up with penciling the book were getting to me.

That pressure contributed to the parting of ways between Phil and myself even though #6 was penciled and in the process of being inked.

Michael had been involved in the production of every issue of ETTS from almost the beginning.  Helping fill in blacks when I got behind, writing inner cover notes, editing letters pages, etc.

So, like I said, we’d been around the block a couple of times with self-publishing.  We knew what our local printer was capable of doing and so when we signed the deal with Solson we had the entire look of the book figured out ahead of time–or so we thought.

I’m pretty sure that must have turned over the production of this inner cover stuff to the folks at Solson, though.  I don’t recall taking the copy to be typeset at Mountaineer Graphics.  I do recall us taking the self-promo shots of one another late one night in the back of the studio we used to share on Montgomery Street in Waynesville (under the dry cleaning / carpet warehouse / tax preparation place we rented from).

We wanted that “contact sheet” look to our self-promo (vanity) shots, and knew that such photos would have to be half-toned to reproduce.  So, as I recall, we took the negatives down to Rudy Bachs at the Mountaineer (except by then it had become GP Graphics) to make half-tone contact sheets with the sprocket holes, frame numbers, and all other such indicia visible.  We mailed those off to Solson for them to do the paste-up.

I figured by this point I was past paste-up.  Let them do it, I was now a big-shot sequential artist. (Ha! Howls of self-derisive laughter.)

Back in those days all of layout was done photo-chemically and manually.  So these are literally the paste-ups, on “galley” sheets.  Once all was pasted onto the sheets they were photographed for printing.  Nobody bothered to wash the photo paper that comprised the items being pasted, because it was all considered disposable.  Which is why the images of Mike are beginning to fade, and the second page of type is beginning to turn brown.

The more astute among you may also notice that the crop marks are not in the same positions on the two pages and it appears that the second page had to be reduced slightly (95%) in order to accommodate the column of type.  Of course, when one considers the empty space in the second column on the inside back cover, it seems kind of confusing why they’d do this.  But as I said, I wasn’t involved with the production beyond sending the vanity shots.

Re-reading Mike’s notes, I realize now that we had spent much of the year, 1986, transitioning from my work on ETTS, to doing T.H.U.N.D.E.R.  He had come up with the idea in February 1986, and wrote the notes reproduced here in November of that year.  The book would not be published until summer of 1987, when a mysterious box of books arrived on our studio doorstep seemingly moments after we had received the word that Solson had gone out of business!  (But more on that later…)