Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ain't Got Time Ta Bleed

I was recently asked to review a set of samples and one of the things that popped out immediately was that the artist didn't know what the crop marks on his Blue Line comics pages meant. He wasn't unique. The previous year, a week after doing a real quick summary of the bleed for my second year comics students and asking them to draw quick page layouts incorporating the bleed I was surprised to see that most of them didn't get it.

It was obviously a more complex issue than I ever thought it was. Perhaps because I actually had a good deal of print education both in high school and college the bleed was readily understandable to me, but not so much to young people people without such. Let's hope I can be more clear with this!

Below you have a standard DC Comics 2-ply plate finish (that means smooth) sheet of bristol board:

I dropped the colors so the normally pale blue lines might show better at the smaller size. There's a good deal of technical info on that page when you look at it. A bunch of lines of different sorts making different sized rectangles -- and even some writing about them along one side:


That's the rectangle I toned grey below:

It's so important I actually wrote my own note about restricting the important art and lettering in there. Now, important art might be an odd thing to read. All art on the board is important, of course, but this is specifically referring to the art that's important to the narrative and storytelling,

In this next example, the grey area is everything that should appear on the printed comics page. It's larger than the "LIVE ART AREA". In many ways it's like all the margins (white space) surrounding all the text in a novel. You can have headers and page numbers in the margin, but you won't find any of the actual story hanging out there. On a comics page you can have a good deal of art in the margins, but it's a design element to the page that can enhance the narrative, but cannot be crucial to it.

I'm being a little redundant here, but everything outside of the grey box in this second example will not be on the printed comic page. This area between the edge of the rectangle and the outermost blue line is called the "BLEED". It will either be trimmed out when they put the film into imposition prior to printing or it will be cropped off after the printed sheets are folded and bound into a comic book.

Here's a close-up:

You do not want to have any drawn elements, either a panel edge or part of something like a hand end on the crop line otherwise it will draw the reader's eye away from the story to the edge of the page. It's a distraction you should always avoid. It's best to stay well within the "
LIVE ART AREA" or draw all the way through to the outermost blue line. Printing is far more precise than when I started, but they still need that 1/4" bleed to allow for small print errors.
Here's an actual example from my seemingly never-ending pile of old work:

It's from a photocopy, but I think you can see all the crop lines reasonably clear on the top, bottom and left side.

Here I indicated the 'LIVE ART AREA" with a blue-grey overlay. The bleed and everything else is in that sexy magenta-ish color. As you can see I kept my panels pretty much within the 'LIVE ART AREA" with the exception of a little cheating in the last panel to show more trees. While keeping the woman and most of the tree she's sitting on within the live art area (tired of writing that in all caps) I draw the tree and branches out into the margins behind the other panels. Everything I do this with gets drawn out to the outermost blue line.

I'm not going to argue that this is a particularly good page, but it is a decent example of using the live art area and the bleed.

Below is the same page cropped to the margin edges.

As you can see not much is lost from what was trimmed off, but it allows the open panel to feel, well, more open!
There are a great number of ways to use the margins and bleed to enhance a narrative and are best explored by playing with them as you design new comics pages.
If you have any questions about this, ask away and I'll try to answer to the best of my ability.


Philip Clark said...

Great stuff!

Sandy Meeks said...

Very informative!

Carl Jansson said...

Thank you for this! Yeah, I know this stuff but I still always forget it when working on a page.

Bri said...

Ahh! Thank you very much for this info, very helpful!