Tuesday, April 21, 2015


News of Yore 1948: The St. Louis P-D Hails their Invention of the Colored Daily Strip

[the following article appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 28, 1948. It describes the P-D's new innovation, colored daily comic strips. Of note in this explanatory article is the fact that they did not use a full 4-color process, but fudged a dark blue ink for black. I've seen some of these P-D color dailies from those days, and they are a pretty sickly looking mess in my opinion. As the final paragraph states, though, if you don't like them then you're just an old fuddy-duddy. 

Omitted from this reproduction is a long preamble about the history of newspaper comics, which was so full of mistakes I just couldn't stomach typing it in. 

Thanks very much to Lonnie Hetchel, who sent me the article!.]

Story Behind Daily Comics in Colors

You are Likely to Date Yourself if you Say, "Funnies are not what They Used to Be"

by Clarissa Start


The Post-Dispatch Sunday comics made headlines in September 1936 when they became the first Sunday comics to be printed by a rotogravure process, a process resulting in deeper, richer hues on velvety surfaced paper.

The new system for producing color in the daily comics is a simple one, so they told us, but a tour of the plant shows that it requires infinite pains, skilled artistry, technique and experience every step of the way.

The daily comics were formerly reproduced from matrix, supplied by the syndicates furnishing the cartoons. Now, instead of a matrix process, the comics are handled by an engraving process. The syndicates now furnish a slick paper proof of the comics which an artist assembles on a cardboard-backed layout slightly larger than normal page size. This is sent to the photo-engraving department where it is photographed down to size, thfe negative transferred to a plate of glass, and a silverprint (or photostat) proof sent back to the artist. He then indicates the colors to be used to provide balance and harmony, and sends this guide back to the photo-engravers.

The artist has indicated the colors but it is the skill of the man applying the Benday' process which results in the tone achieved. Benday is a process of laying down watercolor dots in-amounts that may range from a pale tint to a deep solid color. If you have ever looked at a newspaper picture under a magnifying glass you have noticed the dots of varying intensity which provide the shading. If you look at the new comics you will see dots of various colors. The chartreuse sofa cushion in Blondie's living room is yellow over gray-black, the orange bow in Nancy's hair is red over yellow. These three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue-black combine to make all the secondary colors, and it is from the Benday processed glass that three acid-etched zinc plates, a "key" plate, a "red" plate, and a "yellow" plate are made.

Are you still with us? The zinc plates then go down two floors and across to the new building to the stereotypers' department, At this hot spot, where the temperatures would melt Aunt Eppie Hogg into the thinnest woman in three counties, the plates are transferred to mats of papier-mache, thoroughly dehydrated to prevent variance in size. These mats go into a huge machine, a stream of hot metal pours down and a curved plate is cast, which will fit around half a cylinder in the press room. The plates ,are brought into register on a special register machine so that the colors will synchronize properly; the result of a color comic "out of register" would be Mandrake gesturing hypnotically at a girl whose red dress was partially on her and partially on the margin, an effect startling even for Mandrake.

Excess metal is routed out by another machine, and the plates, the colored ones marked with a red or yellow symbol, are sent down to the press room. In the press room, as passers-by can see, through the Olive street windows, sheets of paper roll up from cylinders on the floor below and move on webs past the ink-fed plates. In the case of the colored comics, they receive impressions first from the black cylinder, then from the yellow and red which are on a higher level, equal with the 'top deck' or catwalk above. All of this is at a dizzying rate of speed (as high as 40,000 impressions an hour), and to thunderous noise that makes the noisy composing room sound like chamber music. The papers are cut, folded, ready for the reader.

Your reactions to daily comics in color may be mixed and are quite likely to depend on your age and resistance to change or acceptance of new. As for the younger generation, the comics grow more absorbing as well as more colorful every day. To admit anything else, to look sentimentally backwards, very definitely dates you. Just the same, wasn't "Krazy Kat" wonderful?


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