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NJ Creatives Network January 2005 Meeting

by Eileen Watkins

Meeting Synopsis
Written by Eileen Watkins
7 George St.
Wanaque, N.J. 07465
(973) 248-1726
Eilwatkins@aol.com
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Fernando Ruiz knows something about taking the road less traveled. It led him to a lucrative, steady job doing what he loves.

Back when he attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, in Dover, most of the 16 art students in his graduating class aspired to draw action comics and superheroes. The day a representative from Archie Comics came to the school, Ruiz was one of only four students who bothered to show their portfolios, and one of only two who actually had drawn “Archie pages.”

“Luckily, I beat out that other guy!” Ruiz recalls. The day after he graduated, in 1994, he went to work for Archie Comics, based in Mamaroneck. This June, he will have worked for the company for 11 years. In addition to drawing the well-known characters Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Ruiz has worked on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Josie and the Pussycats” and “Felix the Cat.”

During the NJ Creatives January meeting, Ruiz gave members and guests the inside dope on “How Comic Books Are Made.”

Ruiz works as a “penciller.” He receives a crudely drawn storyboard from the writer and translates the scenes into polished “Archie” style. He explained he is part of a whole team of professionals who create the comic. “The biggest misconception about the process is that one guy does it all,” he said.

Ruiz draws on a ten-by-fifteen-inch sheet of heavy Bristol paper, much larger than the finished page will be. He makes a preliminary drawing in thin .3 mm pencil, then finalizes it with a .5 mm. He completes a page in about three hours, doing about three a day, and finishing two stories--of five or six pages each--per week.

He works from home, getting the storyboards and sending back the artwork by mail. Because he lives just over an hour from the Archie office, he also goes in weekly. “I think I’ve endured because they know they’ll see me there on Friday,” he said modestly. “It also makes me available for emergency jobs--and believe it or not, there are ‘Archie’ emergencies!”

When Ruiz has finished his drawing, the page goes to a letterer who prints the dialogue in the cartoon balloons. “Archie” is the last company to still do hand-lettering, and most places now handle this by computer. Next to work on the page is the inker, also an artist, who must be able to re-draw everything and correct any mistakes.

After inking, it goes to Production, where it is checked to be sure all the elements work. A photocopy the size of the finished book is made, and this is what gets colored. The Xerox may be hand-colored with watercolors, but these days it is more likely to be scanned into a computer and colored through Photoshop. All of the shapes on the page are numerically color-coded so the hues will remain consistent throughout the book.

Once the comic has gone off to be printed, the company keeps the Xeroxes and returns most of the artwork to the artists. Normally, two-thirds of the book goes back to the penciller and one-third to the inker, although at Archie Comics, Ruiz gets it all.

He said the most difficult part is drawing the character to the company’s exact specifications, or “house style.” “We get submissions from artists all the time,” he noted, “but not many people can draw Archie the way we do.” There are about a dozen artists drawing Archie at any one time, and when the strips are collected in digest books, Ruiz can spot subtle differences among the styles. He explained how Archie has evolved since he was first drawn in 1942 by Bob Montana, through later years under artists Dan DeCarlo and Stan Goldberg.

Ruiz revealed that the distinctive hat worn by Jughead grew out of a fad from the 1940s, when teenaged boys would cut the brims of old fedoras to resemble crowns. He also pointed out that the character of Veronica joined the strip after Betty, as a mean rival, but in these feminist days the two have become friends.

Tongue-in-cheek, Ruiz deplored the encroachment of the computer into the inking and colorizing processes, and the recent popularity of Japanese-inspired “manga” comics featuring winsome characters with big eyes. He also thinks it’s a shame that comics no longer can be found on newsstands but are sold chiefly in specialty stories--”It makes it more difficult for new readers to discover them.”

Ruiz still works as a freelancer, receiving no health insurance or retirement benefits. His drawings are considered work for hire, he is paid by the page, and the company owns all the rights. He supplements this income by teaching at his alma mater, the Kubert School, where he helps his students string together their illustrations into cohesive stories. He advises them that they’ll have a better chance getting started with a small company, even though it might not have as much work to give them as a bigger house.

“It’s tough business--tough to break into and tough to stay in,” Ruiz added. “If you really enjoy it, stick with it, and if you’re not getting jobs, try to find out why. You need to be able to accept criticism.”

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