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If you love newspaper comic strips, you will love my new book How Comics Were Made: A Visual History from the Drawing Board to the Printed Page. I’ve combined years of research and the diligent collection of unique comics printing artifacts with dozens of interviews with cartoonists, historians, and production people to tell the story of how a comic starts with an artist’s hand, and makes it way through transformations into print and, more recently, onto a digital screen. 

Image shows a female colorist in the 1940s wearing a sweater and necklace, holding a palette of watercolors in her left hand, and painting a full-page cartoon on a large drawing board with her right (black and white).
A cartoon colorist, typically using instructions from the cartoonsts, takes a black-only print of a Sunday comic and uses watercolors or other media to produce a guide for an engraver to create the right hues. 

The book will be a glorious full-color celebration of the art form, heavily illustrated from the 1890s to the present day with materials that you’ve never seen before, drawn from my personal collection and museums, cartoonists and their estates, and institutions around the United States. It will also feature never-before-published strips and versions of some popular comics.

Pile of old comics pages, stacked askew

I’ve interviewed dozens of people for this project so far, including both mainstream and alternative cartoonists, some of them new to syndication and others with strips that span 50 years or which appeared for decades in alt weeklies. This includes Derf Backderf, Lynn Johnston, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Keith Knight, Bill Griffith, Robb Armstrong, Brian Walker, Tom Batiuk, Dave Kellett, and Matt Bors. I also spoke to people in comics production and publishing, historians, academics, and those overseeing cartoonist’s legacies, such as Susan Kirtley, Paige Braddock, Bryant Alexander, Eric Reynolds, and Peter Maresca. Those names are just the tip of the iceberg. (A complete list appears later in this story.)

To understand more about what’s covered in the book, I scheduled livestream interviews throughout the campaign. You can watch replays via these links: The Kickstarter launch with Glenn! (February 27); Benjamin Clark, curator, Charles M. Schulz Museum; Georgia Dunn, cartoonist, “Breaking Cat News”; cartoonist and graphic novelist John “Derf” Backderf (“The City”, My Friend Dahmer, Kent State), and Barbara Brandon-Croft (“Where I’m Coming From”).

A panel from the webcomic “Drive” by Dave Kellett, a modern epic released in regular installments and later collected into a series of books. Dave is one of the many cartoonists interviewed for the book.

You’ll learn how comics are transformed from an artist’s pen, brush, or other medium from the 1890s to the present day, with sections that dig into the history of cartooning and into production and reproduction methods. You’ll find out about metal etching, Dragon’s Blood (a real thing), flong (also a real thing), and the massively, almost impossibly complicated path that original artwork took to get onto newsprint in the days of metal relief printing.

A 1973 printing mold, called a “flong” or “mat,” for a Doonesbury strip that never ran. Garry Trudeau provides insight via an email interview about this strip and his working methods. (Author’s collection)

You’ll also discover the moderns twists and turns as printing shifted from raised metal plates to flat ones, and hot lead was dumped in favor of photographic reproduction. Then, two more major transformations disrupted the state of the art, as scanning and digital coloring became an option for cartoonists, and, finally, the rise of the internet, leading to webcomics, one form of continues the traditional newspaper panel strip.

Hand-annotated color guide for “For Better or For Worse.” Lynn Johnston offers stories and lessons from her long run creating an internationally popular strip. (Used with permission of Lynn Johnston from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University)
Brian Basset draws Rover from his comic strip “Red & Rover” in his studio. This is Brian’s second nationally syndicated comic, and we talk about his transition from his first to second. (Author’s photo)
A surviving hemispherical newspaper comic printing plate (“stereotype” or “stereo”); this hunk of metal weighs about 40 lbs. (18 kg), and hundreds were needed for a single edition of large daily papers. (Author’s collection)

The writing and design of the book is well underway, and I have tentative or final agreements secured with dozens of artists, syndicates, estates, and other copyright holders to reproduce their work or printing artifacts of it in the book. While there’s a good hunk of material in the public domain, but much of it requires high-quality scanning from library collections. And there’s a lot more to do:

  • Complete the writing
  • Design and lay out the book
  • Sign licensing agreements and pay licensing fees to reproduce art and other material (and legal fees for contracts)
  • Travel to visit several libraries and cartoonists around the country to gather additional materials
  • Pay institutions for scanning, and, in some cases, hire scanning experts or photographers, to capture pieces of art
  • Have the budget for an editor, proofreader, and indexer
  • And, of course, cover the expenses for printing and shipping the book

All this requires a hefty outlay to make it happen; I’ve already invested thousands of dollars in travel, license-drafting legal expenses, scanning, and preliminary design. This Kickstarter campaign will fund paying for all of the above.

I’ve got the experience to make this happen, having just finished the delivery of 6,000 copies of the 1,376-page, three-volume bookset Shift Happens by Marcin Wichary; I edited and managed the Kickstarter campaign, printing, and fulfillment.

Take a Look at the Book

A preview of the book cover, designed by Mark Kaufman

The book will cover the whole scope of newspaper comics in North America, from their emergence in the 1890s through the 2020s. I’ll examine the technological changes that gave rise to comics, then syndicates, and, much later, webcomics; how artists plied their trade and made artistic, commercial, and production choices in how they created lines, tints, and colors; and reveal the several huge overhauls in cartoon and newspaper production across that period.

The book will interleave narrative chronological chapters with special features, like the  chapter preview shown in below. Download the preview here in PDF form.

A two-page spread from the preview chapter showing the process syndicates used to take a cartoonist’s work and ship it out to newspapers around the United States and far further during the era of metal printing.

You’ll find out the exact weekend that Charles M. Schulz stopped crosshatching the face of his groundbreaking character Franklin and started using dot patterns; see “the week that wasn’t,” a historical set of Doonesbury strips in 1973 that Garry Trudeau had to pull when John Ehrlichman resigned from the Nixon Administration; and follow a comic strip from its drawing through intermediate steps into newspaper reproduction, showing the variation of printing and formatting of the same strip in many papers.

On the material side, here are the planned specs of the print edition:

  • Format: Full color softcover with a “lay flat” binding and large cover flaps
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Size: About 8 by 10.5 inches (20cm by 27cm) and nearly an inch thick (2.5 cm)
  • Weight: Estimated at 3 pounds (1.4 kg)

The ebook edition will be distributed as a DRM-free PDF. (Physical details subject to minor changes.)

For a preview of one story that will appear in the book, watch my video “The Week in Doonesbury That Wasn’t,” which I’ll tell across several pages with additional material currently in the process of being licensed.

The book will be full of historical accounts in politics, society, and technology just like that one!

Amazing Rewards

The project starts with a focus on the book:

  • Regular print book: The print book can be backed during the rest of the campaign at $65 plus shipping. (You can additional copies at $59 plus reduced shipping as an add-on, too!)
  • Ebook edition: To help offset the tremendous overhead for this project outside of printing, the ebook edition is $25 by itself or $10 when added to a print book. 

However, for the comics fan looking for something a bit more, I’ve assembled some tremendous additional reward tiers:

  • “Are we having flong yet?” This reward tier includes a limited-edition re-creation of flong (a printing mold) combined with a letterpress print of a classic “Zippy the Pinhead” cartoon from 1991 in which creator Bill Griffith expresses discomfort about a technological change in production—photocopiers becoming scanners! Only 50 numbered flong/prints will be made by the letterpress printer Jessica Spring. You’ll also get the print and ebook edition and a bookplate signed by Glenn. You can read a bit more about the details at my blog. (Please note that the prints are not signed in ink by Bill; his signature is part of the printed strip.) 
A preview of the flong-and-print Zippy reward, shown here as two proofs. The final piece will be a single sheet with additional information printed via metal type.
  • “Good grief! I’m in the book!” In the area of unique rewards, this tier offers two combined elements. First, you get a rare set of four flongs (printing molds) from the 1970s, created to reproduce a Sunday “Peanuts” cartoon in full color. You’ll be able to choose from a set of 25 available sets with preference in order of campaign backer number. (See a list of available dates with links to the strips.) Second, you (or someone you love) will be drawn into a cartoon illustration in the book! (Model release required.) You also receive two copies of the print book, two signed, custom signed bookplates, and a license for two copies of the ebook.
A set of four-color “Peanuts” flongs (clockwise from upper left: black, red/magenta, blue/cyan, and yellow) used to make the July 25, 1976, Sunday comic.
Friend Jeff Carlson donated his likeness to demonstrate how you (or someone you love) can be drawn into the book.
  • A Regular Newspaper Magnate: Help underwrite the creation of this book and be credited and acknowledged with prominence in a special patron section of the book, like an executive producer of a film. As with the previous tier, you or someone you choose—model release required—can also appear in the book in comic form in one of the illustrations. This reward includes two copies of the print book with two luxurious signed book plates, a license for 100 ebooks, and a 60–90 minute Zoom or other remote session on a topic related to the book plus Q&A afterwards for a group of any size.
  • Group presentation plus a batch of print books: For those looking to add a presentation to an event, you can get 10 print books (with signed bookplates) and a license for 100 ebooks, and Glenn will deliver a 60–90 minute Zoom remote presentation customized to your audience of up to 100 people (plus Q&A afterwards).

For remote/Zoom sessions, topic and time to be coordinated later. Session needs to be scheduled between October 2024 and December 2025.

Who’s the Team?

The intrepid group pulling this together are…

Glenn Fleishman

That’s me! A lifelong love of comics brought me to try to create this book. I’m a graphic designer of nearly 40 years’ experience, a letterpress printer, the co-founder of one of the earliest web hosting companies, and a journalist who contributed for many years to the Economist, the New York Times, Fast Company, Macworld, and many other publications. I’m also a printing and comics historian. My area of specialty is 19th and 20th century printing plates and molds, which led me into this rich area of how comics were printed. I created the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule in 2019, and wrote and published Six Centuries of Type & Printing (2020) and London Kerning (2018). 

Glenn stands between flongs and plates and the continuously playing video he created for the “MAN SAVES COMICS!” exhibition at the Billy Ireland Museum. (Photo courtesy of Ann Lennon)

Most recently, I produced the video “From Artist’s Board to Newspaper Page: How Comics Were Made in the Age of Metal Printing, 1910s–80s” for the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, as part of the exhibition “MAN SAVES COMICS! Bill Blackbeard's Treasure of 20th Century Newspapers” (November 12, 2022–May 7, 2023); it also appears in the museum’s “Behind the Ink: The Making of Comics and Cartoons” (December 16, 2023–May 5, 2024). I contributed a chapter on historical printing plates and molds to Printing Things: Blocks, Plates, and Other Things that Printed, 1400–1900 (editors Elizabeth Savage and Femke Speelberg, Proceedings of the British Academy with Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2024). I live with my family in Seattle, Wash.

From 2018 to 2024, I was the editor of and then project manager of Shift Happens, a massively successful and massive set of books by Marcin Wichary. Raising over $750,000 in our initial Kickstart campaign, we shipped thousands of books worldwide, finishing delivery just last week! This is my tenth Kickstarter campaign across more than a decade.

Mark Kaufman

Cartoonist, illustrator, award-winning designer of the award-winning The Nib, and a generally creative and expressive guy, will be the helmsperson on the voyage. Mark designed the cover and created the preview chapter and drawings you see above. He’ll design the entire book and provide cartoon illustrations throughout. Mark has been a designer, illustrator, animator, and cartoonist for the likes of the New York Times, The Stranger, the Cornell Daily Sun, In These Times, T-Mobile, Waste Management, Brooks Sports, and Airbnb. His work has been awarded by Print Magazine, American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators, and the Society of Publication Designers.

Mark’s decade as a contributor to The Nib, and designer of The Nib Magazine, has been recognized by the Ignatz and Harvey Awards, and short-listed for the Stack Magazine Awards. The Nib received the 2023 Eisner Award for Best Anthology. Mark has served as Vice President of ICON The Illustration Conference, on the executive boards of AIGA Seattle and Into the Woods Conference, and as a jurist of The Creativity Awards and the World Illustration Awards.

Harry McCracken

Acting as a check on my flights of fancy and bringing a gimlet eye as editor is Harry, the perfect mix of technology expert and comics aficionado and researcher. Harry held a variety of editorial positions at PC World over 13 years, and has spent the last 10 years as technology editor of Fast Company. But Harry is also a deeply nerdy comics and animation fan with a deep appreciation and knowledge of the classics—particularly forgotten comics. Harry unearthed this amazing 1957 Charles Schulz-authorized guide book to the Des Moines Register and Tribune printing operations with non-Schulz-drawn Lucy and Charlie Brown figures (!!), which will appear in the book. Harry actively maintains the Scrappyland website, devoted to restoring the memory of “America’s favorite forgotten cartoon star.”

Jessica Spring

Letterpress printer, teacher, and designer Jessica Spring is the proprietor of Springtide Press in Tacoma, Wash., started as a typesetter using phototype equipment, then traveled back in time to pick up her love and decades-long devotion to metal type and letterpress printing. She invented Daredevil Furniture, a set of rigid shapes that allow composing metal type in circles, curves and angles. Her work in artists books, broadsides and ephemera is included in collections around the country and abroad. She co-authored Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color. A lifelong lover of cartoons—particularly underground comics and Bill Griffith’s work—she and Glenn are collaborating on the design and she is creating the limited-edition “Zippy the Pinhead” flong re-creation and print.

Other Editorial Folks

I’ll be bringing in a proofreader and indexer when the time comes, as well as potentially an archivist/researcher to assist with finding the right materials and dotting all the i’s on permission and credits.

Interviews, Libraries, and Collections

For this book, I interviewed dozens of cartoonists, writers, academics, and production people. That list includes (as of February 2024) Bryant Alexander, Derf Backderf, Brian Basset, Tom Batiuk, Tauhid Bondia, Matt Bors, Paige Braddock, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Luke Coleman, Meg Cullen, Rich Dana, Georgia Dunn, Lex Fajardo, Nick Galifianakis, Guy Gilchrist, Bill Griffith, Steven Heller, Lynn Johnston, Mark Kaufman, Jim Keefe, Dave Kellett, Rick Kirkman, Susan Kirtley, Sean Kleefeld, Keith Knight, Wiley Miller, Eric Reynolds, Joey Sayers, Brian Walker, and Shena Wolf.

Hand-colored panel by letterer and colorist Meg Nash of “Prince Valiant,”  used as a guide by engravers to produce the printing elements required for newspapers to reproduce. (Used with permission of Meg Nash)

I have made three trips to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, and have plans to go to the Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale libraries, which have varying and significant cartoon-history collections. For instance, all of Garry Trudeau’s originals and many related materials are at the Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. I also have dates to visit artists to look over their personal archives and have made visits to newspaper printing plants to see how Sunday comics are printed today.

Thank you to Brian Basset, Barbara Brandon-Croft, Benjamin Clark, Derf Backderf, Georgia Dunn, Bill Griffith, Lynn Johnston, Dave Kellett, and Meg Nash, and to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library, the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and Sound Publishing, for providing access to comics materials or their time and expertise for this campaign launch.

The Sunday comics zoom by faster than the eye can see as they print at 1,000 feet per second on a modern offset printing press at Sound Publishing in Lakewood, Washington. (Author’s photo)

Delivery Schedule

This isn’t my first rodeo by any means. So while I aim to do my best to start shipping the book in October 2024, I have to offer a few necessary provisos:

  • I plan to start shipping the book in October, but it may take several weeks to have all books dispatched, depending on the number of books backed. Some books might  ship as late as early 2025 as a result.
  • After the supply-chain and shipping disruptions of the last few years, I cannot absolutely promise the book will arrive by the second week of December 2024 (i.e., in time for Christmas, or the first day of Kwanzaa or Hannukah).

If delivery starts to run late and I have the flexibility to ship some books sooner than others, I will try to prioritize gift givers with a holiday or other event: in the post-campaign survey, I’ll ask the date by which you would prefer to receive the book. 

Shipments to the UK and European Union

Shipping: It's very simple now!

Shipping: $50 for the first book, $20 for additional copies, or $60 for three in the three-book bundle.

Two items down, the Customs/VAT to the EU:, can also be simplified to just this:

Customs/VAT to the EU: Your country and the shipper may require customs fees, taxes (like GST), and an agent fee for delivery. Please be prepared for these additional costs, which I can’t control. The book will be dispatched with an itemized electronic invoice noting the price allocated in this campaign to the book (or other awards), with shipping separately broken out.

Shipments to Everywhere Else in the World

Unfortunately, the cost of shipping outside of the United States, Canada, the UK, and the EU are too uncertain and can be unexpectedly very expensive—shipping companies sometimes add surcharges after delivery that can double the cost. (You may want to look into U.S. reshipping companies, as they may be able to obtain better rates through bulk shipping across oceans, and I can ship to you at the domestic rate.)

If you back the project at the ebook edition level and I am able after the Kickstarter campaign to find an affordable way to ship the book outside the above listed countries, I will be happy to credit $15 towards your print book order and preserve the regular Kickstarter book price. I’ll let backers know later in the year how this is going.

Bonus Video

If you’d like to watch the video that effectively kicked off this book, “From Artist’s Board to Newspaper Page: How Comics Were Made in the Age of Metal Printing, 1910s–80s,” I’ve embedded it below!

Available Rewards:


Ebook of How Comics Were Made

This ebook edition (PDF) contains the full contents of How Comics Were Made. (Also available as an add-on to other rewards.)

$65USD + Shipping

How Comics Were Made (print edition)

Receive the print edition of How Comics Were Made.

(This item ships to the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, Norway, and Switzerland.)

$177USD + Shipping

How Comics Were Made Three Pack (print + ebook)

Want to share the experience of the print edition with others? Get a three-pack with discounted pricing and shipping and receive three licenses to the ebook edition, too!

The per-book price works out to $59, and shipping is $6.70 per book ($20) to the United States, $13.35 per book ($40) to Canada, and $20 per book ($60) to select European countries.

(This item ships to the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, European Union, Norway, and Switzerland.)

$500USD + Shipping

Are We Having Flong Yet?

Get a unique “Zippy the Pinhead” flong re-creation and letterpress print on a page of high-quality, hand-made paper. The print, about 8½ by 11 inches (22 by 28 cm), includes mold impression of a 1991 Zippy comic strip and a print of the same strip. Flongs haven’t been made in decades; this is a unique re-creation suitable for framing.

Created under license from cartoonist Bill Griffith, Glenn designed the flong and print with letterpress printer Jessica Spring of Springtide Press, who impressed and printed it. This item is available in a limited edition.

Backers also receive the print and ebook editions of How Comics Were Made and a signed bookplate that can be attached to your book. (Ships worldwide.)

$1,000USD + Shipping

Good Grief! I’m in the Book!

This set of rewards is for the “Peanuts” and comics fan who both wants something special and to be included in this historic work about comics history. It comes in two parts.

First, receive a rare set of four color separations of a 1970s “Peanuts” comic strip. Choice of which date among those available is by precedence of when you pledge. You get four flongs, or paper-like molds, suitable for framing, along with a special informational keepsake explaining the historical importance of these printing artifacts. The molds were produced by United Features Syndicate to send to newspapers, one sheet for each of black, yellow, red (magenta), and cyan (blue), required to print a Sunday comic in color.

Secondly, you appear in “How Comics Were Made”! Mark Kaufman will draw you or someone you love into one of the book’s cartoon illustrations. (Model release required.)

This reward includes two print copies of the book, two signed bookplates, and a license for two copies of the ebook.

$2,500USD + Shipping

Zoom talk about How Comics Were Made

Glenn delivers a remote 60–90 minute presentation plus Q&A customized to your audience of up to 100 people (via Zoom or other means). Plus get 10 copies of the book (and 10 signed bookplates) and a license for 100 ebooks. Excellent for an organization looking for a unique presentation.

Presentation time and topic to be coordinated later. Session needs to be scheduled between October 2024 and December 2025. Event must be free for attendees, but can be limited to members of an organization or privately announced. (Physical items ship worldwide.)

(At extra expense, a presentation can be in person. Contact Glenn with questions.)

$5,000USD + Shipping

A Regular Newspaper Magnate

Help underwrite the creation of this book and be credited and acknowledged with prominence in a special patron section in the book and your appearance in a comic in the book.

This reward includes two copies of the print book, a license for 100 ebooks, and a 60–90 minute Zoom or other remote session for you or a group on a topic related to the book. Session and topic to be mutually agreed upon later; session must be scheduled between October 2024 and December 2025. (Physical items ship worldwide.)

Backer may charge admission to the event as a fundraiser or for other purposes for an organization; details must be agreed on in advance. If a paid event, backer will arrange videoconferencing setup and handle invitations. (At extra expense, a presentation can be in person. Contact Glenn with questions.)

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