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Art of the Comic Book | David Marshall, Instructor

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How and Why Comic Books are Drawn at 10 by 15 Inches

Individual preference becomes industry standard

by David Marshall | (updated )

For professional artists of non-digital, physical media for printed publication, production art size is critical. Most like working at least twice the size of publication, creating highly-detailed finished products. Others prefer working as close to publication size as possible.

Like publishers of magazines and newspapers, comic book companies didn't regulate artist's working preferences. Judging from Golden Age and Silver Age originals, the most popular production art size was 12 1/2" x 18 1/2" (also called "double up"). As long as artists adhered to the 2/3 ratio of the printed live art zone of 6" x 9", editors didn't care how big the art boards were.

By the time "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" was published in 1978, art production size became standardized across the industry to 10" x 15" (see Figure 1):

comparison of Jack Kirby art at 12x18 and 10x15

Figure 1: Jack Kirby's art at both sizes. The left page (Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos issue 14, page 12, 1965) measures 12.5" x 18.5". The right page (Black Panther issue 7, page 26, 1978) measures 10" x 15".

This is the rule standard today. How and when did this reduction occur? How did my canvas shrink before I even started? Special thanks go to Roy Thomas, Mark Evanier and the late Dick Giordano for answering my emails of November 2009. While memories of the exact months differ, their general consensus is 1967.

It Starts with Murphy Anderson

The movement began at DC Comics. Murphy Anderson (artist of "The Spectre") wanted to work smaller. Keeping the 2/3 ratio in mind, he chose 10" x 15" as a personal preference. Chemical Color Plate, engraver for all of DC's and Marvel's output and for most of the newspaper syndicates at the time, discovered working with smaller art:

  • consumed less film per book (4 pages per plate instead of 2)
  • used less manpower
  • was quicker to produce
  • cost significantly less money

With this new information, DC Comics made 10" x 15" their mandatory production size in 1967. When Marvel Comics followed suit in November, Murphy Anderson's individual preference became the industry standard.

Dick Giordano, Editor-in-Chief for Charlton Comics at the time, recently said the change as something more than a financial asset. "It made it possible for the engraver to produce more and better work in the average work day."

While some artists (Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Joe Kubert) liked working smaller, others (Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Ross Andru) couldn't stand it. Letterers were also affected. Ames Lettering Guide settings shrunk from 4.5 (approximately 5/16") to 3.5 (approximately 3/16"), forcing them to make smaller strokes with thinner nibs.

The transition period was visibly awkward. Like other industry-wide changes, however, everyone either adapted to the new rules or moved on. By the early 1970s, the newer generation of professionals were unaware of any other standard.

While today's digital tools make art size irrelevant, the largest American publishers use the 10" x 15" standard. According to Damien Lucchese, Publishing Technology Coordinator for Marvel Comics, ink-on-paper original art is scanned on the company's 11" x 17" tabloid machines. Scanning larger art is possible by outside vendors like Kinkos, usually as an additional expense to the artist.

What Have We Learned Today?

  • 10" x 15" art became the industry's mandatory standard production art size in 1967
  • One man can make a difference
  • Size only matters to artists
  • Overall company goals often conflict with content concerns

So get out there and do the best art possible, remembering that technical standards can change at any time.

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Works Cited

  • Eury, Michael, Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Alex Ross, Carmine Infantino, Nick Cardy. The Justice League Companion. Raleigh, NC: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2005.
  • Evanier, Mark. "The Assembly Line, Part 2." POV Online. 11 April 1997 <http://www.newsfromme.com/pov/col129/>.
  • Evanier, Mark. "Re: Original Art Size Reduction: 1967!." E-mail to author. 9 Nov. 2009.
  • Giordano, Dick. "Re: Original Art Size Reduction: 1967! -- Thanks!." E-mail to author. 10 Nov. 2009.
  • Hama, Larry. "Comics History Question: Size Change of Original Art." E-mail to author. 9 Nov. 2009.
  • Larsen, Eric. "One Fan's Opinion." Comic Book Resources. 9 May 2008. <http://www.comicbookresources.com/?id=16355&page=article>.
  • Lee, Stan, John Buscema. How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1978
  • Lucchese, Damien. Telephone interview. 5 March 2009.
  • Maggin, Elliot S. "Comics History Question: Size Change of Original Art." E-mail to author. 9 Nov. 2009.
  • Morrow, John. "Re: Comics History Question: Size Change of Original Art (12"x18" vs. 10"x15")" E-mail to author. 9 Nov. 2009.
  • Thomas, Roy. "Re: Original Art Size Reduction: 1967!." E-mail to author. 9 Nov. 2009.
  • Thomas, Roy. "Re: Thanks." E-mail to author. 9 Nov. 2009.
  • Wolfman, Marv. "Comics History Question: Size Change of Original Art." E-mail to author. 9 Nov. 2009.