Seeking a way to manage the contents of its vast library, Marvel Comics turned to DALIM SOFTWARE’s suite of products, MISTRAL, TWIST, AND DIALOGUE.
Marvel Entertainment has a rich repository of comic books, developed over a 70-year period, with cultural icons like Spider-Man and Captain America as part of its team. It has morphed from a comic book publisher into a media empire, its 5,000+ characters featured in an array of media, including movies, video and on-line.
What this industry heavyweight needed, however, was the means to manage its every-growing content. Stories created for comic book forms are transformed into various formats, from hard cover books to video for PSPs, and to digital for on-line and iPad viewing.
Enter DALIM SOFTWARE’s suite of MISTRAL, TWIST, and DIALOGUE, integrated by Blanchard Systems, working in concert to ensure that the production assembly flows smoothly, content is correctly processed into the necessary format, and costs are kept in check.
“In the last two years, with all the content being repurposed, there was a desperate need for us to manage the content more efficiently,” says Jim Boyle, Vice-President of Operations, Marvel Entertainment. “Each format has its own specifications that we have to apply.”
“Creating a traditional comic book is a challenging and time-consuming process,” says Dan Carr, Executive Director of Publishing Technology, Marvel Entertainment. From inception to completion, a typical 22-page comic book can take 18 months to produce. An artist following a script sketches each panel onto an artboard. Once the entire page is approved by an editor, the artboard is sent to an inker. The inker is responsible to lay black over the pencils. The “inked” artboard is then digitized (scanned), cropped and sized correctly for print. These files are sent simultaneously to a colorist and a letterer. The editor, colorist and letterer respectively go through many rounds of corrections, eventually ending up with a final PDF file.
TWIST will ingest these PDF files into a workflow. The workflow can include ripping and trapping for “direct to plate” and also outputting to many different file formats.
MISTRAL is where the final layout or pagination of the book takes place. An advertisement is easily inserted between story pages and the book is set for approval.
Pages selected for approval from MISTRAL can show up as monitor-based proofs in DIALOGUE. “Each page is approved on screen,” explains Carr. “If you want more detail, you can click on the page and it takes you into DIALOGUE, which lets you view SWOP certified colors. Our monitors are calibrated so that we don’t require sending any hard copy proofs to our printing plants. We have a completely proof-less workflow that saves us a ton of money.”
In the future, Marvel looks forward to using DIALOGUE Touch, letting users participate in complex approval cycles and comment on content and layout of project files from their Apple iPad, Apple iPhone, or Apple iPod Touch, regardless of timezone or geographic location.
Adds Boyle, “If we are paying 30 cents for each hard copy page, and one editor is generating 100,000 pages—that adds up. And we do a lot more than that annually.”
Every page coming into the system is preflighted within the DALIM SOFTWARE workflow, a necessary task as Marvel works with hundreds of freelancers with varying levels of experience and technical expertise.
“Capturing any corrections in the earlier stages is always the less expensive route,” says Boyle. “If the printer has to flag a page, it then opens up the opportunity for them to charge me to fix it. By preflighting the page, we can send the file to the printer and right to their platesetter. DALIM SOFTWARE lets us to do that and deflate the costs.”
The DALIM SOFTWARE workflow ensures that files are optimized for print or digital – whichever final format the content will take. “Preparing content for other media requires us to rethink the entire layout and how the reader experiences the comic book,” says Boyle.
When repurposing a 7”x10” comic book for a PSP screen 5”x4” or smaller, the developer zooms in on each of the comic panels, instead of using a whole page for the screen. This gives the reader several different views for each typical comic book page.
“We can use the final PDF files from TWIST and send to a workflow that will output to a format that will not jeopardize the integrity of the type. It won’t pixelate,” says Boyle.
Marvel is currently working with Blanchard Systems and DALIM SOFTWARE on an application that will let it conduct all the approvals from an iPad, so its editors won’t have to be tethered to a computer. “We are working with artists all over the world, and every comic book requires a script, plot, letters and color approvals. There are hundreds of thousands of approvals that editors have to do in a year. What the Blackberry did for email, this would do for print production workflow,” says Boyle.