Inking on a 70yr old comic book - don't try this at home

in Sketchbooklast year (edited)


If you're a collector of comic books or have been to a comic book convention, you know what a "sketch cover" is. If's a "variant" version of an issue where the cover is blank except for maybe the logo.


The point being you can take that version to your favorite artist and have them draw on that cover.

SKcover spidey.jpg

Depending on who it is, how much time they have, how much $$$ you are willing to give could have a quick sketch or something very involved.

grd ian hughes.jpg

(the cover on the left was done by Ian Nichols who I think I've mentioned before and the one on the right...Adam Hughes, who I don't think I've ever met, so I ain't spending my time finding a link for him)

It's actually a fun idea...IN THEORY. The problem arises from time to time of the publisher not understanding that not all paper is created equal and some paper is no f8cking good to try to draw or paint on. You don't need to be an artist of any kind to understand that, right? There's a difference between using a pencil on a post it note and trying to use one on a glossy magazine cover. When you are using ink or paint...then it's an even bigger issue.

Most of the time now, publishers get it and make sure the paper for sketch covers is quality stuff that's fairly good to work on. But I've had covers handed to me that you could only use a sharpie marker on, because anything else would come right off as soon as it was would just bead up on it like rain on a windshield.

He's an example of bad paper...


In truth, this cover paper was good, but the publisher had printed a solid color over it. I'm sure this seemed like a cool idea, but it left artists trying to draw over printer ink. Not fun.


ANYWAYS...that's what sketch covers are. They're really popular, fun to collect, fun to draw on. Usually.

I had recently saw an article trying to figure out what was the first ever sketch cover. They more or less decided on a cover from a DC comic from 1994...though it wasn't created to be sketched on, it was blank, and has been used for sketching.

...they are incorrect, but did some good research. They even found an issue of Marvel Comics from 1983 that was blank as a gag but had too much text on it to be useful as a sketch cover.

GRD marvel.JPG

That cover is about 30 years late to take the crown though. I present to you...Panic no.6


1955 by the same publisher as Mad Magazine ( both Mad and Panic were comic book sized at the time and being published as sister titles). At the time, Bill Gaines, the publisher of Mad, Tales from the Crypt, Weird Science, and a bunch of other books was being raked over the coals and even dragged before congress because jackasses, with no life who needed to feel important, were screaming and yelling that horror comics were too offensive and corrupting the youth (everything is a cycle, those people had kids who thought heavy metal music turned you into a Satanist, who had kids who thought grand theft auto was too violent, who had kids who think stand up comedians should get cancelled for jokes, who will have kids who think kids need to be protected from some other thing). The point being Gaines, fed up with people bitching that covers like this should be banned....

Grd ec.JPG

put out an issue of Panic that was blank, as a joke. Previous to that by a couple months he had also put out an issue of Mad with an empty cover, sort of...

MAD SK orange core.jpg

but whichever of these you think is more legitimately blank...these were the first blank covers. can find these if you look hard and want to pay some $$$, and you COULD attempt to draw on this 60 year old paper.'d really be pushing your luck. I mean, that'd be a nightmare! Even copies of these in good shape have issues..


You wouldn't be drawing on ONE kind of problematic paper. The paper would be dyer at the edges, parts would still be shiny, other parts be rough and fragile. Some of it would have the ink beading up and other parts would absorb the ink like tissue paper and make it bleed at the edges. You would not be able to use any kind of pen because the tip would dig in and crease or dig in and bleed.

and if you think you'd be able to use regular ink on this I have three letters for you..L...O...L. You'd probably have to use some kind of acrylic ink for parts and some kind of paint for other parts. or some kind of hybrid paint/ink. In some spots you'd need it thick, in other spot watery. Which is another reason you wouldn't want to use a pen, even a brush pen. You'd have to test and practice on another cover of a book that old, because you are only getting one shot. It's not like you can use white out.'d have to not only be a master, but so full of hubris that you're a borderline egomaniac. One who is willing to possibly destroy a rare golden age comic book to test his skill.


I picked a scene/character I've done before and am comfortable with, so at least that aspect won't be a struggle. This character, by the way, is one I had done for an issue of Mad Magazine ( and technically EC it's pretty legit having me draw on this. EC comic sketched on by EC artist)


That's gonna be tough, ain't it. The buildings need be straight lines and done with a brush. It'll need varying line thickness to give depth, which mean heavy inking on fragile paper. It has some details that are small and who the hell knows how the brush itself is going to flex or drag on parts of this.

ink22 brush.JPG

Off we go!

It did not take long for this to become nerve wracking and...possibly a stupid idea. Like I said...this is really several kinds of paper. Some of it does NOT want to take the ink and some of it is so fragile that a brush stroke might take a piece right off.



You see (pic above) how the line for the building is dark and the lines for the clouds (lower left hand side) are gray and faded looking? That's not the paint/ink...that's the paper. That's how different the paper itself is and is taking in the ink, from one spot to the next.

well...we've come this far. Let's see how much we can do before disaster strikes.


at this point, another issue is becoming a problem. Aside from the structural integrity of the paper being inconsistent, the paper is wavy and has buckled from moisture or age or who knows what. So, it's not even f8cking flat, and a brush does not push the paper down as you either rides up and down or SPREADS OUT on the bumps, giving you a thicker line than you meant. Making one line a consistent thickness in one stroke...not happening. Okay, we'll just keep that in mind and do our best.




Needed the ink/paint to be rather thick on the edges and tears so as to not bleed, and it was sticking to the paper a little bit and could have pulled brittle parts right off. BUT, not so far.



I had some ideas for the background, but I'm REALLY pushing my luck at this point, every line is another chance to ruin a 70yr old comic book. And honestly the paper is too fragile. If you've ever held a newspaper or magazine or comic that old, you know they're brittle and can crack pretty easy just flipping pages. Much more dangerous resting your hand on it and moving it around to draw lines. Doing the affects I wanted... would have me sliding my hand back and forth over and over until eventually when I'm finishing the last line I hear a "riiiiipppp".

So, I'm going to stop here and take the win.


THAT was nerve wracking, but looks pretty darn cool I'd say. Part of me wants to erase the pencil lines, but I don't think the paper could handle it. And That might be enough to pull some of the ink off or at least lighten it. I'm gonna leave well enough alone. Oh...I did the Mad cover also. Actually grabbed up a bunch of these issues and did them .

grd mad done.jpg

That'll do it for me on this, they're hard to find an unlike an actual sketch covers, when you ruin one, you just ruined a 70.00-100.00 (or more) comic book.

Since these are rare, golden age, historical comics, they're now off to get "graded". That's when you send a book to a professional company ( )to have them verify that is it what it is, the signature or sketch was done by who you say it was, and how good the condition of the book is (scale of 1 to 10), and it gets sealed up with the verification on it. Like this here...

GRD ec2.jpg

GRD ff.jpg

I don't know much about grading. If that top book's condition is a 6, and the bottom is a 1.8...the ones I did are probably a 2 or 3? I have no idea. I also don't know if me sketching on it technically drops the score of the condition or what. In the case of getting a sketch cover, or an autographed book graded, it's really more about proving the signature and work was really done by who it says it was done by. I think you normally need a certificate of verification or photographic evidence or the artist in question personally verifies it. In this case, I can verify myself so...that's nice.

When I get them back from grading, I'll show them all and we'll see what's what on that.


As always, homebase is here


NFT work here-

Here are the other places to find use of them is fluid, inconstant, susceptible to the whims and shifts of the paradigm




I think you added some value to those comics, but what do I know? You do make things hard for yourself. The prices of some old comics are just crazy, especially considering that they originally cost a few cents. There's enough rich people wanting rare stuff out there to drive the market.

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