2 thoughts on “Ask A Cartoonist: Compliments

  1. I have noticed that daily comic strips of the past decade or more have gray areas for shading unlike comic strips of the past century, where all shading was done with straight lines or dotting. Is this because newspapers are digital now and can more easily reproduce grays on the comics page? I am asking because I am trying a different approach with my comic strip art by using gray marker shading. Would a comic strip proposal with gray marker shading be acceptable in my submission to a syndicate?

    • Hi, Lee- To answer your question, yes and no. Newspapers and the syndicates have gone all-digital, but the dotted gray shade you see nowadays has been used in comics as far back as the thirties. At first it was a print-house engraving technique called “ben day.” Cartoonists would “spec” which areas they’d like to see shaded and syndicate printers would drop in the screen when shooting the plate. Later, in the 50s and 60s, cartoonists themselves could apply the shaded areas by cutting out shapes “traced” with an X-acto knife from a translucent, adhesive-backed sheet of differing degrees of shades and patterns known as “Zipatone.” (Google it.) Since desktop computing, shading is even easier. Team Dustin does all our coloring and shading in Photoshop, dropping in grays using the paint bucket tool. The syndicates then send out digital files to subscribing papers. One drawback of this technique is that all newspapers paginate digitally now, and often stretch, expand, or reduce the cartoons to fit on the page, which often creates an undesirable pattern effect known as “moire.”

      Do you draw digitally? Or use software like Photoshop to do the post production work? Most cartoonists still draw ink on paper, scan it, clean it up, shade/color bits, then format the files digitally before filing with their syndicates. Others, like me, draw the cartoon digitally from scratch using a tablet, or better yet, a Cintiq. If you’re not yet up to speed at finishing your work digitally, I don’t think Zip-a-tone exists anymore– but you might want to check with your local professional art supplies store, or a large online store like Sam Flax just in case. Other than that, hand hatching the cartoons might be best at this point. Hatching is an art in itself. There are masters of it out there– Brian Crane keeps it beautifully simple in his strip “Pickles.” Bill Griffith’s “Zippy The Pinhead” is jaw-dropping, and Mike Peters does some great hatching, plus using lots of black in “Mother Goose & Grimm.” He says all the black and thick lines help MG&G to “pop off the page” and hard to overlook. Study editorial cartoonists too, lots of hatching there.

      Hope this helps a little, Lee. Message me at if I can help any more. Cheers.

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