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No human hands touch your comic panels - modern sanitary methods replace artists and writers


Here's an article for process geeks, because this is what I would definitely want to know if I found some weird comic like this. The American Rabbit Wakes Up is not written or illustrated in a typical way. The entire graphic novel is being assembled using the art from hundreds of public domain comic books, mostly from the 1940s and 50s. 

Sample of composite work in The American Rabbit Wakes Up

Two source panels shown next to a finished composite. Left: from Romanic Adventures #1, 1949, artist Riss, inking by Klein and Nicholas. Middle: Romantic Adventures #10, 1950, artist Emil Gershwin, possibly inked by Celacoo (spelling uncertain).

First, a collection of images was needed to build the comic with. I selected about 14,000 public domain comic book pages from the much larger collection at the Digital Comics Museum

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The DCM didn't authorize or oversee my database construction, and they have no interest in any kind of political or social commentary. Their site is simply a free collection of public domain comic books that anyone may view. I may often encourage donations to the DCM, but my site is not endorsed by them or connected to them in any way. 

To make the pages searchable, I added keywords to the metadata of each page describing the contents of the panels. This took over a year and the process continues. Searching for "statue of liberty" brings fifteen results.  A search for "kiss" finds 776 results. You can use the database yourself to find images.

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A few search results for "Statue of Liberty" (shown cropped to the relevant panels).

While still in the early phase of adding keywords to comic book pages, the script for The American Rabbit Wakes Up was started. Hours of discussions with the rabbit's creator, Stewart Moskowitz, defined the characters, art styling, and conventions of the script, along with a rough story thread. 

The developing script of The American Rabbit Wakes Up

The script is structured but not tightly written. It changes according to pictures that can be found, and much of the dialogue is not written until assembly of roughly finished or entirely finished panels. Every panel in the written script is numbered. When I find a useful panel in the archive, I crop it and save it with a numerical prefix that matches its place in the script.

The script is around four or five hundred panels. They are not sketched into storyboards, so the exact count of panels is still unknown. Most panels are a composite of art from two or more sources, so the total number of source panels needed is around 1,500. When about 300 unedited source images were placed throughout the script, the story was complete enough to begin creating the first panels of The American Rabbit Wakes Up. About 80 percent of the art I will use is in place throughout the script, and the rest will be added over time.

Some of the panels in the source material are used with little modification, but usually they are clipped apart so that pieces from various sources can be brought together. Each panel is composited in Adobe Photoshop, which takes around an hour. Roughly composited panels are placed back into the script, replacing the cluster of source images. Unused images are discarded.


Words are added to panels according to available space. This sometimes requires condensing or expanding the words in the script. Each part of the script is not really final until it is fitted into the nearly-finished art.

The composite panels are generally pulled back apart for vector processing, then reassembled in Adobe Illustrator, making the art seamless and cohesive, with smooth, consistent colors. The vector lines are carefully edited for clarity and final colors are applied, a process that usually takes about two hours per panel. 

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Automatic conversion to vector lines is never quite right. A lot of editing is required, so sometimes variations are created and the best one is used as a starting point.

Color tests are done digitally and in print, checking uniformity, CMYK (print) compatibility, and legibility. If I'm being really thorough, I check the color with an online tool that simulates the viewing experience of people with various types of color blindness.

The panel is then rasterized, meaning that an image of a specific pixel dimension is created. This is the final image placed on the website. Lastly, credit to each artist is given whenever I know the artist's name. I will be adding missing credits over time because these outstanding and often forgotten cartoonists deserve recognition.

If you'd like to make comics or other art using public domain source material, you might enjoy using my database to search for pictures.

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The American Rabbit reengineered

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