Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

Have you ever wondered how a comic book is actually made? We sat down with the team at Top Cow Productions, one of the studios comprising Image Comics, to get an exclusive look at how a comic book is brought to life. Then, thanks to Ford Fiesta, we used what we learned to create our very own comic book page.

As a lifelong fan of comic books, I’ve always dreamed of writing them as well. I’ve often pictured what a comic book studio might look like: a dark bullpen, with artists and writers hunched over drafting tables lit by nothing more than a solitary desk lamp.

So that’s pretty much what I expected when I took a trip outside Los Angeles to visit the offices of Top Cow Productions — the studio owned by Image Comics cofounder Marc Silvestri — and sat down with Matt Hawkins, the company’s COO.

Yeah, I was wrong.

It turns out the modern comic book studio is more about using technology to connect individual artists working remotely in their own private studios than it is about trying to bring everyone together under one roof. But despite the disparate creators and new technologies, the basic creative process is the same as it’s been for the past 60 years.

Step One: The Story

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

So where does a superhero’s — or anti-“spandex set” character like Top Cow’s Witchblade — saga begin? “At Top Cow, the story is where everything starts,” says Hawkins. “Once you have that, writers and editors will collaborate on the idea, going back and forth with revisions on the main concept, and thinking about everything from the thematic implications to whether it has the potential to be its own franchise.”

Once the editor and writer have the story nailed down, the writer starts to work on the script, which Hawkins says usually takes about a week per issue.

Step Two: The Art

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

The writer sends the script — or at least a plot summary — to the penciling artist, who draws out the story. This isn’t a quick process. According to Hawkins, a 32-page comic book generally takes around six weeks.

Once the penciling artist is done, they either scan or overnight the penciled page to the inking artist. Inkers are more than just “tracers” — they take the story to the next level by providing a visual richness and depth that can’t be achieved with pencils alone.

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

Step Three: Color and Lettering

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

Once the page is inked, it’s scanned and emailed as a 6” x 10” grayscale BMP file at 450 dpi to the editor, who sends it on to the studio’s production team.

Betsy Gonia is the producer at Top Cow. She uses her Wacom tablet and expert Photoshop knowledge to extend the storytelling through her coloring.

“Coloring amplifies and clarifies the storytelling,” says Gonia. “There’s a level of storytelling in the writing, an added visual level to the art, and another level added by the color.”

From there, the script is lettered with thought and speech bubbles, and is composited — or combined — for the editor’s final approval. After all that, the comic is finally ready to be sent to the printer.

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

Step Four: Printing

Hawkins described the dramatic changes that have occurred in the world of comic book printing: “Twenty years ago a book would sell two million copies. Now, 50,000 is a big deal.”

When I asked him if he was worried about the drop in publishing, he reminded me that “now there are more platforms to put those comics on — like the web and tablets — so the industry’s changing with the times.”

“We’re in the art of storytelling. So it doesn’t matter really whether it’s printed on paper or beamed directly into your brain, there’s always going to be a platform or distribution model for that,” Hawkins said.

Putting It All Together

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

Once I learned about the artistic process at Top Cow, I wanted to put it to the test by creating a story and a comic book page of my very own. Given my love for cars, the “Syncar” created by one of our Fiesta Agents, comedian Jared Oban, seemed like the perfect starting point.

I knew we’d need an original story. Hawkins told me that most comics are inspired by a previous work, so I started with the themes of darkness and light found in Top Cow Productions’ comics as an explanation for Oban’s “Syncar’s” powers.

Here’s the backstory we put together based on Oban’s video:

"Since light broke through the darkness, a sacred sentient gem named ‘Sync’ passed through the generations on Earth, using its telepathic powers to sense nearby danger and select a guardian to both protect itself and make the world safer.

After Sync’s most recent guardian was destroyed by an indescribable evil, rather than be used for nefarious purposes, the gem transferred its energies and sentience into the closest thing it could find: a Ford Fiesta waiting for its new owner.

Now, young comedian Jared Oban and Syncar, his sentient and telepathic Ford Fiesta, use their powers to fight evil."

Sounds pretty cool, right?

Now that we had the basic story, we needed a penciling artist to bring it to life. Luckily we’ve got one: the amazing Cedric Nocon, who has worked for DC, Marvel, and Top Cow. Nocon started by putting together this basic outline of what he thought the page could look like:

After giving our concept a once-over, Nocon went to work and created this final penciled page, bringing the “Syncar” origin story to life.

Next, the page needed to be inked. We turned to the supremely talented Jon Sibal, who, in addition to being a huge car guy, is the inker for Geoff Johns’ epic Batman: Earth One.

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

Sibal took Nocon’s penciled work and gave it the same vibrant depth as a Top Cow comic book.

And here’s the final result:

Here's How Top Cow Makes Comics: Why Story Still Reigns SupremeS

So there you have it: creating a comic the Ford Fiesta way (and making our own comic-creating dreams come true)!

Ford and the Fiesta Movement are celebrating their love of all things comics by connecting you with some of the greats in comics today. Wanna see more? Watch here.

Ray Wert is the former editor-in-chief of Jalopnik and the founder of automotive advertising studio Tiny Toy Car.

This post is a sponsored collaboration between Ford Motor Company and Studio@Gawker.