Image Processing For A Digital Comic

My process for creating my books has gotten increasingly more complicated. Currently, I'm using Python (and assorted binaries) to turn 24-bit PNGs into highly-optimized 8-bit PNGs (with file sizes rivaling jpeg and webp). I'm going with PNGs because it's a good format for images that are predominately flat colored, so if your images have a lot of gradients or details, a format like JPEG would work better. The steps are as follows...
  • Saving out of Adobe Illustrator as a 24-bit PNG
  • Running a Python script on each image where:
    • the unnecessary chunks are removed
    • the image is quantized using libimagequant (results are better than Adobe's)
    • the resulting palette is optimized (palette reduction) by removing similar colors, increasing black and white point contrasts slightly and RGB value averaging. This process is obviously lossy but within tolerances I set
    • a hidden watermark is added, which is text from a 5-bit table converted to pixels (looks similar to a QRCode)
    • the PNG is recompressed using advPNG (w/zopfli setting @ 50 iterations)
    • metadata is injected as tEXt and zTXt chunks into the final png file
  • After this, a PHP script builds the CBR digital comic file:
    • PNGs are collected in order
    • an sfv is created with the files checksum
    • an nfo PNG (information file) and a Comicinfo XML files are created
    • files are then RARed using WinRAR with no compression (for speed and compatibility)
    • an archive comment is added to the final cbr

Inking Snart

Inking is one of those things that to master takes thousands of hours of training. Wow. Thousands? Really? Isn't there like a hack I could Google to find out some kind of shortcut to transform me from a novice to a Master Inker? No, stupid. No. Couldn't I flick my wand around on a tablet, apply a few software filters, some AI algos and magically transform my errant scribbles into Comics' next great inker? No, stupid. No. Why is it that if something is hard, instead of doing the hard work, we seek out ways to bypass, cut corners, take the easy route to mastery? Laziness? Ignorance? Both. Not that I consider myself a great inker, but pretty good for my style of cartooning.

I started inking with a brush around age 12 or 13. Just messing around with it because I had read somewhere about comic artists that most inked with brushes and not pens. I noticed immediately that it was hard as hell. You needed just the right brush. The ink required the right consistency. The board had to have the right texture. Little nuances that if you didn't understand or weren't aware of, were great discouragements. I researched like crazy, but none of this "secret knowledge" was disclosed (this was before the Internet when everyone blabs about everything). All of this I had to discover for myself. Brush. Ink. Board. I eventually figured out the right combo that worked for me, and that took years of experimenting and practice.

When I did the first issue of Ralph Snart, I wasn't sure I was going to ink with a brush or a pen. At that point, I still didn't have that much time using a brush. The confidence wasn't there. I knew I could do it with a pen, but a brush presented the better, more professional look. At that point, I also had nothing to lose. First comic, go for broke, use a brush, stupid. That was late 1985. It wouldn't be until ten years later when I was doing the Weird Melvin mini-series that I considered myself an accomplished inker (for my style).

Now, there's two things that influenced my inking, that has nothing to do with what other artists are doing. The first is looking at my style of art as being organic (maybe why everything I draw is lumpy, imperfect and grotesque). Organic is not having a precise, machined-like quality. Things stretch, flex and bend. Things look alive. Characters aren't stiff, contrived mannequins. Objects have textures and imperfections.

The second is understanding style vs. technique. Style is how the art looks. Technique is how I put that look down on board. Inking on board with a brush is my technique, but there are other factors; the size of the artwork, what kind of board, size of brush, how I use the brush. Also, how the brush uses me, and by that, I mean each brush has it's own character, imperfections and can influence how you use it. Every brush is slightly different. Technique also affects style; is the inking super tight and mechanical or is it loose and suggestive? How are the pencils interpreted?

It helps that I ink my own pencils. I don't have to be a slave to the pencils, or think that I have to respect them verbatim. For me, inking is simply another stage of the drawing. With this, I end up fixing and editting a lot of what was put down in the pencils as I ink. In the comics professional world, this wouldn't be tolerated because the inker has to respect what the penciller has drawn. So, in a way, I guess I don't respect myself.

Ralph Snart #17 Just Released

Ralph Snart Adventures Vol. 8, #17

Ralph Snart Adventures #17

Story & Art by: Marc Hansen

The Return of Frump
Under the guidance of Vladimir Poopin, Donald J Frump again plans to take over the world and destroy our lives filled with hate, dread and... beer?

Watch me in action!

It's a FREE download, stoopud!

I'm Not Stable At All

The latest scourge with AI is protecting one's images with invisible watermarks. Relatively easy to do using DCT, DWT and/or SVD (stable diffusion nonsense), but for the most part only works for RGB JPEG images (and if you don't care about bandwidth). It's not easy for (in my case) indexed PNG images. An aside; this is a thing because you might want to (1) keep your images from maybe be training material for AI, and (2) protect the ownership of your images in a way that robbers can't say, Hey, it ain't got your name on it.

With stable diffusion, basically you're taking an image and changing the pixel values in a way that's imperceptible to the eye but not to AI and while at it, hiding an invisible watermark; it essentially tricks AI into thinking the image was AI generated. To do this it breaks the image into 8x8 blocks and quantitizes them, similar to how jpeg compression works. The problem with this (in regards to index images) is that it must be saved as RGB in order to work; to appear AI generated and to survive even basic attacks. Cut to the chase; stable diffusion and index color doesn't work. However, invisible watermarking can.

Sidebar; mentioned above are attacks of an image. By attacks, I mean, methods to destroy invisible watermarks. Typical, or likely, attacks involve resaving the image in different file formats (ie: png to jpeg, jpeg to jpeg with a different compression quality), resizing or cropping the image, grayscaling, etc. Basically, some form of entropy.

The tricks to getting index color invisible watermarking to work is hiding it in fake jpeg 8x8 pixels blocks, or in the case of the webp format, fake 16x16 pixel blocks. It's also best to place the watermarks at coordinates divisible by eight (for jpeg) or 16 (for webp). If done correctly, an indexed PNG image can easily survive jpeg and webp attacks.

Comics Format Update

Finally adding ComicInfo.xml to my comics CBR file. It'll begin with RSA issue #17 due this Fall. May take awhile before I update past issues. Also updating the NFO file included with each issue. Together, these two should provide enough info. Both are created when I run the php script that creates the CBR file. Debating whether to waste my time updating to Comic Vine.

Ralph Snart #16 Just Released

Ralph Snart Adventures Vol. 8, #16

Ralph Snart Adventures #16

Story & Art by: Marc Hansen

The MetaVerse!
Ralph's fantasy otherworld has become stale and boring, but luckily(?) a mysterious bag-headed stranger takes him on a trip to an exciting new world.

Watch me in action!

It's a FREE download, you cheap bastard!

Delays! Delays!

Slight delay with RSA #16. Dislocated the thumb on my drawing hand, so inking is a little difficult right now. Also had to tear my laptop to pieces.

Was wondering why my laptop lid wouldn't shut anymore -- batts were swollen and ready to explode. NBD. Luckily had a replacement ready to go. Just had to tear the laptop down to the ground.

It's always sumthin.

Website Old Timer

This website has been live since May 22, 1998 -- soon to be 25 years old. Originally started by Sgt. Yuck, and then after securing the IP, I took over in 2002. A lot of sites have come and gone since then, but not SNART!

RSA #16 Cover

Thumbnail to finish...

Old Vid

I posted this video 15 years ago on YouTube, and it currently has over 20K views. Weird! Especially since it was shot with a super crappy camera @ 240p. Yoiks.
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Marc Hansen
Marc Hansen

Cartoonist and creator of Ralph Snart Adventures, Weird Melvin and Doctor Gorpon. Hansen has done most of his work for NOW Comics, but has also done work for Marvel, Disney and Kitchen Sink Press.

Ralph Snart Adventures was published from 1986-1993 by now defunct NOW Comics, and was the longest running comic in the entire NOW catalog, selling an average of 50,000 copies a month during that nine year period. Over two million comics were published, and it was the first indy comic to receive the Comics Code.

Today, Marc Hansen publishes Ralph Snart Adventures as an ebook on a sporadic basis. Current issues are available on his website. Keep up with Ralph Snart on Twitter and Facebook.

Ralph Snart is a registered trademark. Copyright 2024 by Marc Hansen.