I have a lot of working drawings done on a specific odd sized paper. What is a working drawing you ask? A working drawing is any drawing that an artist makes in support of a finished piece of art. The drawing itself isn’t a finished piece of art but it helps the artist to get to the finished piece. So in my process I start with a small sketch (usually an ink sketch these days), blow that up and print it out in blue line on a new piece of paper, and then make a drawing right over the blue line sketch. That new pencil drawing is a working drawing. I then take that drawing and turn it into a painting or a print. It’s one of those two that’s the finished artwork.

The paper a lot of my older working sketches are drawn on is a 5.5×11.5 inch piece of Bristol board. It’s a tall and thin proportion that isn’t found in any precut sketchbook or art paper. It’s an odd size because it’s a piece of leftover scrap paper.

Back in 1989, when I first started working in the Marvel Comics offices in the production bullpen, I learned that Marvel handed out the paper the comic books were drawn on to the artists. This was for two reasons. One was because the artwork had to be first drawn in pencil and then drawn in ink over the pencils. Usually this job was handled by two different people. Those two people had two different preferences in paper. Often the penciller liked paper with a tooth to it while inkers liked paper that was smooth. Picking a paper that was a compromise between those two preferences was important in order to get the best work out of both the penciller and the inker.

The second, and possibly more important reason, was to insure the art was done at the correct size and to the correct proportions. I’ve noticed over the years that some artists aren’t that good at making things the correct size. It’s a blind spot to certain artists. They just don’t think of it no matter how much you remind them. They’re thinking of the drawing and not the page size. It’s only, maybe, one in six artists but they sure will gum up the system. Pages that come in at the wrong size will take up three times as much of the production person’s time a correctly size page will. No one needs that.

So Marvel had their own paper made to size and printed with non-photo blue guidelines on it. Non-photo means that the lines are a light enough blue that the blue lines won’t show up in a photocopy or photostat. Anything lighter than a 50% grey will drop out in a photocopy. So the artist got an 11×17 inch piece of paper (two-ply Bristol board) with blue guidelines on it that indicated the 10×15 inch are to be drawn in. DC and other comic book companies did the same thing.

The pieces of paper that I, and plenty of others, have drawn on are leftovers from that process. I remember being told that Strathmore, who made the paper, cut three 11×17 inch sheets out of a larger sheet of paper and this 5.5×11.5 inch piece of paper was the leftover. That means the original sheet of paper had to be about 22×28 inches. I think that’s a standard size for a sheet of art paper. It also means that the 11×17 inch paper was probably slightly small than that. Otherwise the scrap paper wouldn’t have those extra half inches. Or maybe the original sheet was a half inch bigger than I think.

When Strathmore used to ship Marvel a new batch of paper for the Marvel artists they would include the scrap pieces. After all, Marvel paid for them and Strathmore had no use for them. So they put them in boxes and sent them out. They used to be all around the office for anyone to use. It was really good paper so why not draw on it? Almost every artist who either worked in the office or stopped by the office had some of it. That paper was a familiar sight in the 1990s world of comics and if you saw some that size you knew exactly where it came from.

I brought a ton of it home over the years but I should have grabbed even more. I think it was around the late 1990s when it started to disappear from the Marvel offices. I don’t know why it disappeared since Marvel was still getting paper made for the artists but I suspect it had to do with Marvel’s new owner. He was the world’s cheapest man and lots of things started to disappear from around the office in those days. He didn’t even want comic books in the office. Yes, he owned Marvel Comics and didn’t think there should be comics in the office. He was also a micromanager when it came to stuff like that so I can easily see him telling Strathmore to stop sending the scrap paper. I have no idea if that’s true or not but either way there was no more scrap paper to be found.

I still had plenty of it at home though. Probably about five hundred to eight hundred sheets. That doesn’t sound like a lot but after I left Marvel in the summer of 2005 the paper didn’t run out until a few years later. It’s not like I used it for everything. Just some small working drawings. I was a bit sad when it finally ran out. Not only because I now had to buy paper to suit the purpose that those 5.5×11.5 sheets served so well but because it was the end of an era. To me the last vestige of the 1990s comic book boom was those sheets of paper.

I occasionally speak with some of the people who were around in that era and they tell me that they still have some sheets of that Bristol board lying around. I’m pretty sure some of them have even chucked a bunch of it out over the years. Either way that paper can make us old timers a bit nostalgic. Isn’t that a strange thing. Nostalgia over an odd paper size.

Incidentally the paper I use now instead of the Marvel scrap paper comes from a 9×12 inch pad of Bristol board. I cut the paper in half and draw on 6×9 inch sheets. It’s actually a better size and proportion but it doesn’t have the same emotional pull. Such is life.