a swirl of four-color dots
Funded! Pre-order your copy now!

How Comics
Were Made!

A Visual History
from the Drawing Board
to the Printed Page
By Glenn Fleishman

Preliminary cover of <i>How Comics Were Made</i>, designed by Mark Kaufman

Preview of How Comics Were Made, designed by Mark Kaufman

Until the late 1990s, comics fans from 1 to 101 turned to the printed page. They opened their newspaper, furtively read floppies in drugstores, or bought something that ranged across a spectrum from cheap, almost immediately self-destructing flimsies to super-fine archival collections. The appearance of the internet didn’t erase print, but it bifurcated comics reading: a century of comics produced in an evolving way to get an artist’s ink onto mass-printed paper added the screen as a medium for reproduction and reading.

I will be telling the story of the whole comic-strip evolution: from the Yellow Kid and early syndication through the very latest webcomics—the whole ball of wax of how artists knowing their newsprint medium drew their comics and marked drawings up for color reproduction, how printers put that work through the most arcane and impossible-to-believe operations to get them onto paper, and how modern cartoonists produce online cartoons.

I’m writing a book heavy with illustrations and photographs that was funded via Kickstarter in March 2024, and that you can pre-order now. How Comics Were Made relies on my personal collection of printing artifacts backstopped with the help of artists, estates, and institutions that thankfully retained original work and newspaper and printed versions.

The gallery below shows you just some of what’s planned for the book, along with this page that illustrates the incredible step-by-step process of putting comic strips on press for most of the 20th century.

Key among them is the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. This unique institution preserves American cartoon history, focused on artists’ materials, but with a remarkable range of printing-related stuff, too. And they possess the Bill Blackbeard collection, the San Francisco Academy of Cartoon Art’s archive of 2.5 million newspaper comics clippings and full pages—7.5 tons worth!* You can watch a video I made for a 2022–2023 Blackbeard exhibit at Billy Ireland showing one aspect of the artist-to-newspaper process (it appeared in a 2023–2024 exhibition, too).

As part of the book, I’ve interviewed dozens of cartoonists about the aesthetic and functional choices they made and make to ensure their work remains true to their vision through print and online production, particularly around color. I asked how those who started in the 70s and 80s worked through the great metal and analog to offset and digital switch. For instance, Lynn Johnston (“For Better or For Worse”) told me she was concerned enough at the start of her career to get the Sunday color just right that she flew to Buffalo, NY, to get a hands-on look at American Color’s operations, the largest firm handling and printing color comics in the country. I’m speaking as well to comics historians, production artists, colorists, and other people across the industry.

In addition to Johnston, among 40 interviewees are Tom Batiuk (“Funky Winkerbean,” “Crankshaft”), John “Derf” Backderf (“The City,” My Friend Dahmer), Paige Braddock (“Jane’s World,” Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates Chief Creative Officer), Georgia Dunn (“Breaking Cat News”), Lex Fajardo (Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates Editorial Director, Kid Beowulf), Bill Griffith (“Zippy”), Guy Gilchrist (formerly “Nancy,” “Muppets,” and many others), Jim Keefe (King Features colorist, “Sally Forth” artist), Garry Trudeau (“Doonesbury”), comics historian Brian Walker (writer on “Beetle Bailey” and “Hi & Lois,” author of The Comics: The Complete Collection), and Shena Wolf (cartoonist agent; formerly Andrews-McMeel Universal).


What’s this all about?

The book will cover the entire history of newspaper comics from a unique angle—how they were made and printed. You can find many other books that I can recommend that look at comics through the lens of artist, biography, genre, and subject matter, as well as hundreds of lovingly, painstakingly restored collections, such as the complete “Peanuts” and “Little Nemo” Sunday strips.

How Comics Were Made turns to the stories of creation: What did artists’ originals look like and how were they transformed for print? In the days before digital reproduction, how did a cartoonist tell a printer they wanted a 30% green? How, in fact, did the Yellow Kid get his tint? Does a cartoonist have to conceive of a comic differently now when aiming for multiple print and digital appearances in different formats? The answers are surprising, revealing, and beautiful. You’ll see reproductions of art and artifacts that have never appeared in print anywhere, and some historic comics will appear for the first time ever in any medium in this book.

Other digital creative efforts will get their day in the sun. While the methods are different, I’ll look deeply into how webcomics artists have created their work for online-only or online-first reading for the last 25-plus years and how that’s changed archiving, reading habits, and perception.

This special Kickstarter-funded edition will be printed in only a limited number. To reserve yours, pre-order today! The book ships starting in October 2024.


Who am I to do this?

Mugshot of Glenn Fleishman wearing glasses showing pattern leaves in the background, by Lynn D. Warner
I’m Glenn Fleishman, a print historian, letterpress printer, technology journalist, podcaster, and graphic designer. I developed a specialty in the history of cartoon print production starting several years ago and wanted to expand and share what I knew because it’s so danged cool. Some of my recent projects include producing the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule, a deep collection of type and printing artifacts, and editing and project managing the nearly 1,400–page book set, Shift Happens. Read Glenn’s full bio…

Mugshot of Mark Kaufman facing right. Photo by Eric Lynch
Mark Kaufman, cartoonist, illustrator, award-winning designer of the award-winning The Nib, and a generally creative and expressive guy, will be the helmsperson on the voyage—the Starbuck to my Ahab? Let’s hope not, but at least the Q to my Bond. Mark is designing and laying out the book and drawing cartoon illustrations to open many chapters. Read Mark’s full bio…

Acting as a check on Glenn’s flights of fancy and bringing a gimlet eye as editor is Harry McCracken, the perfect mix of technology expert and comics aficionado and researcher. Harry held a variety of editorial positions at PC World over 13 years, and has spent the last 10 years as technology editor of Fast Company. But Harry is also a deeply nerdy comics and animation fan with a deep appreciation and knowledge of the classics—particularly forgotten comics. Read Harry’s full bio…


Sign up for a newsletter and announcements

Sign up for either or both of two lists:

How Comics Were Made newsletter: This monthly-or-so newsletters features insights about comics history, excerpts of interviews, new discoveries, and lots of pictures and scans of amazing cartoon history! I’ll also update you on the status of the book. (Read back issues here.)

Availability announcement: Sign up to this very low-volume list to receive an update when the book may be ordered for immediate shipment (late 2024).


What you’ll find in the book

The book will be roughly divided by time and transitions, from the start of consistently appearing daily and weekly comics in newspapers:

Each section will feature interviews with artists, reproductions of original cartoon art, printing and coloring artifacts, and the way cartoons appeared in print—or on screen.


The book specs

How Comics Were Made will be a 288-page softcover book measuring 8¼ tall × 10½ inches wide (21 × 27 cm). This format designed to fit most strip and Sunday comics. The book will feature french flaps—you know, those fancy fold-in flaps on nice paperback titles. (Exact details subject to change.)


*The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is neither a sponsor nor endorser of this project but a resource that aids researchers like me by providing access to their extensive library of materials. You can contribute to their ongoing efforts to further catalog the Blackbeard collection.

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