The TMNT #1 Production Negatives: Part 06 – Negatives & Printing Plates

Please be sure to read the previous articles in this series.

At this point, let’s do a brief review.  The TMNT #1 Production Negatives consist of forty negatives, each with the image of one of the forty pages of TMNT #1.  The forty negatives are taped as page-sets to six goldenrod flats (four flats with eight negatives each; two flats with four each), on which every one of the negatives are arranged and imposed exactly as they would have to be in order to print a properly-sequenced TMNT #1.

Imposed Sheet 10 – BACK

Imposed Sheet 10 – FRONT

Now, on to a topic that many of you have likely been wondering about; namely, what negatives themselves have to do with the printing process.  Basically, negatives are used to create the printing plates (typically made of aluminum) that then get attached to the plate cylinder of the printing press.  Negatives are still widely used today in offset lithography (printing) and they are still created directly from mechanicals – the original source material (i.e., original artwork of each comic book page).  However, the process by which the image for the negative is created has evolved, largely due to our increasingly-digital world.  Back in 1984 when TMNT #1 was printed, The TMNT #1 Production Negatives were created using a massive camera (process camera) that took photographs of the TMNT #1 original artwork (either horizontally or vertically depending on the type of camera).  Today, the image for the negative rarely comes from a process camera but instead a digital source file or high-resolution scan of the mechanical.

There are also different sets of negatives that are created throughout the pre-press process (intermediate negatives and final negatives) but only the final negatives are actually used to make the printing plates and thus, create the printed comic books.

Once the final negatives are produced and ready, they are then ready for stripping (totally different from what you just thought).  It’s now the job of the stripper (* insert giggle here *) to attach the final negatives to the goldenrod flats in the correct imposition.  Once the goldenrod flats are prepared, the printing plates are made (“burned”) by exposing the plates to intense light while the negatives are positioned above them.  This results in the transfer of the images from the negatives to the printing plates.

When the printing plates are ready, they are attached to the plate cylinder of the press and printing begins.  In web offset lithography (which is likely what would have been used for TMNT #1 given the newsprint pages), the paper (from giant rolls) runs through the press as a continuous stream, making contact with the blanket, which is what picks up the image from the printing plates and transfers it to the paper.  Fast forward through the folding, collating, cutting, etc. that you’ve already learned about and…TMNT #1 is in the house!

TMNT #1 Goldenrod Flat 01 – FRONT & BACK

Given the bit of information I provided above about intermediate and final negatives, you might now be wondering whether The TMNT #1 Production Negatives are the intermediate negatives or the final negatives.  Well, there are a couple of different ways to determine which they are.  Both intermediate and final negatives are right-reading, meaning the text isn’t backwards and you can read it normally.  However, intermediate negatives have their emulsion side (the dull / matte side) facing up with the non-emulsion side (the shiny / glossy side) facing down.  The final negatives are the opposite; they have their emulsion side facing down and the non-emulsion side facing up.  In looking at both sides of all The TMNT #1 Production Negatives, it’s clearly evident that the non-emulsion sides are facing up and the emulsion sides are facing down.  Final negatives.

But, the emulsion evidence notwithstanding, there’s another way to know that The TMNT #1 Production Negatives are final negativesIntermediate negatives can’t be used to make the printing plates and are only used in the production of the final negatives (exposed back to back; emulsion to emulsion).  Therefore, intermediate negatives don’t get imposed and stripped (* one last chuckle *) into flats.  Only the final negatives – ready for plate-making – would have received the artfully-arranged treatment of the goldenrod flats.  And so, given the evidence at-hand, there’s really no doubt.  Final negatives.

Plate Positioning Tabs – Closeup

Despite all of this evidence, I suppose questions might still arise as to whether The TMNT #1 Production Negatives truly are the final negatives.  Should such a scenario present itself, I’d return to the goldenrod flats themselves and point out something hidden in plain sight.  Taped to the top of each goldenrod flat are square-shaped pieces of scrap negative with a hole punched in each of them (a.k.a., plate positioning tabs – a few of which have fallen off over the past 35 years).  These seemingly trivial little pieces of discarded negative with holes in them play a critical role during the plate-making process.  They are used to correctly align the goldenrod flats with the printing plates; to ensure that all images from the negatives on the goldenrod flats will fit perfectly on the printing plates when “burned.”  The pieces of negative are taped on the goldenrod flat so that the holes in them line up EXACTLY where similar holes / notches in the printing plates are located.  Incidentally, those holes / notches in the printing plates are how the plates themselves attach to the plate cylinder of the printing press.  Knowing that intermediate negatives can’t be used for plate-making, these are undoubtedly the final negatives.

It’s remarkable enough that The TMNT #1 Production Negatives still exist at all.  Even more amazing is that they remain on their goldenrod flats, having survived largely intact for the past 35 years; showing some wear but pretty much the way they were the day they were made.  Especially when you consider that, although final negatives from a print job are sometimes kept on file for a time by the printing company, they aren’t typically retained in (goldenrod) flats given the large footprint of the flats.  Eventually though, even retained final negatives get cleaned out and thrown away.  So, quite literally, The TMNT #1 Production Negatives are pieces of comic book history that shouldn’t exist.  Thankfully, however, they still do.

- PrintWiki - The Free Encyclopedia of Print
- California State University Northridge - Printing Resources

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