... or How long does it take to create a character spotlight?
In our last Visitor Feedback Poll, one person asked the question how long it takes on average to create one of the character spotlights. Back then, I responded that it was impossible to answer because of several different factors pertaining that question, such as length and complexity of the character’s history, the availability of good images and the contributors assigned to working on that entry. However, I also said it would be a nice idea to take the actual time needed to create a spotlight from the first step to its eventual release. Private matters and my diploma dissertation got in the way for a while, and brought the entire spotlight section to a temporary hold, but now that we are delivering again, I remembered that idea and acted upon it while working on the spotlight entry for Skin.
Below, you’ll find not only a step by step description of how a spotlight is being produced, but also how much time they took in Skin’s case.
Every spotlight entry starts the same – with researching an appearance list for the character. I rely on the Marvel Chronology Project for that, and compare their list to some of my personal notes. Next, a new file is opened for the spotlight and the basic spotlight structure along with the required html codes are copied into it. The third step is the information of the Vital Stats page. In Skin’s case, these three steps together took 30 minutes, and I don’t think it was significantly different for any of the other spotlights.
The brunt of the spotlight entries are the long and detailed biography texts. But before one can start to write them, it is needed to flip through some of the issues that the character appeared in and to re-read certain scenes. Especially when it’s a character that isn’t among your favorites, this process is important, as you may misremember some aspects or you simply have forgotten about some subplots involving the character. I spent 3.5 hours doing this in preparations for Skin‘s spotlight. The actual writing of the bio text took 8.5 hours. Naturally, you don’t do that in one sitting, but over the course of several days or maybe even weeks, whenever you find yourself with some time to spare. Additionally, it’s not as separate as described above. In fact, I read a few issues and describe the events in them right afterwards before reading the next set of issues, and so on.
Comics are a visual medium and so are the spotlights. The entries would not even be half as entertaining if not for some images to illustrate the text. But a lot of work is involved here; for a start, I search for some useful panels and write them down in a list. When I happen to be the one writing the spotlight, I do that parallel to issue-reading and text-writing, but quite many texts are written by Monolith, Ruth or some other contributor. Some of them include image suggestions in their submissions, though others don’t, leaving this part entirely to me. Finding the images to be used in Skin’s entry took me 1.5 hours.
Next, the images are scanned. It’s a rather mindless task, placing the comics on the scanner, waiting, placing the next issue, etc. I usually do that while I watch TV. The longer the spotlight is, the more images are to be scanned. In Skin’s case, it took me 2 hours 15 minutes. The actual work comes afterwards, the scanned images are modified with Photoshop. Colors have to be modified, the pictures get cropped, sometimes you have two or more panels from different pages that need to be arranged together, etc. Especially when it comes to older issues, from comics produced in the 60ies or 70ies, the color improvement is really a tough job. Quite often, you have to re-color the different elements in some panels separately (like background, characters, speech bubbles). Fortunately, Skin’s appearances didn’t go back that far, and the picture alterations only took 5 hours 15 minutes.
So far, I have only been talking about the images to appear next to the biography. A quite popular part of the spotlights, however, is the costume gallery. Shortly after he joined the site staff, Binaryan took over that part and, hands down, I have to admit he is a bit more skilled when it comes to color improvements. The entire process described above, from searching for images to scanning and modifying them, applied to the opening page and costume gallery images took Ryan 6 hours. Depending on who the spotlight character is, the costume pictures are quite hard to do, for example the big & strong characters (like Strong Guy or Sasquatch) are usually depicted in the background with other characters standing in front of them, so that you have troubles coming up with some decent full-body image. In some cases, Ryan “Frankensteins“ images, meaning he merges two images into one. If you check the image of Skin on the Vital Stats page and compare it to the original panel in Generation X #1, you’ll find that one elbow and the right leg were “cut off“ by the panel border, and re-applied by Ryan by making use of some other picture. Sometimes we even cheat! The opening picture of Heather Hudson’s spotlight, for example, doesn’t show her, but a picture of Sasquatch in his “Wanda Langkowski“ phase from Alpha Flight (1st series) #64.
Don‘t think that’s where the Costume Gallery work is done with. Ryan’s images need to be re-sized and saved in two different sizes. Additionally, there are the costume descriptions to appear along with them. In Skin‘s case, though, I was able to make use of the descriptions in Chamber’s and Jubilee’s galleries after slightly rephrasing them. That’s why I was finished with completing the gallery work in 30 minutes this time.
The Issue Checklists were never my favorite aspect of the spotlight, and I was even wondering about entirely dropping them, but they were mentioned quite positively during the aforementioned Feedback Poll. Still, this is mostly the last page I work on, it being a short summary of the bio text. The complicated html table structure and the image links to the cover thumbnails make it a pain, though, from time to time. The Issue Checklist for Skin took me 45 minutes, but it’s a relatively short one, and all needed cover pictures were already online. This was not the case when it came to characters such as the Scarlet Witch or the Beast, who spent significant time frames of their “careers” in non-X titles.
Even less time was required for the very short Alternate Versions information. With only one entry, the picture scanning and modifying, plus a slightly re-written AoA-Chamber description, this spotlight aspect was dealt with in 15 minutes. Depending on who the character is, and how many known counterparts there are, this section can become incredibly time consuming. With thirteen alternate versions in her spotlight, Storm is a very good example for that effect.
Now, while all aspects of the Spotlight entry are complete, they still aren’t online. Whereas it’s quite easy to copy and paste the text onto a hidden test page of the site, uploading the images may take some time. In Skin’s case, there were over thirty images to upload, which took approximately 15 minutes. The next step can be quite a challenge sometimes; the image links need to be placed into the text, so that they will appear in certain spots. Additional line-breaks are added to make certain that the text “flows” around the images nicely. This entire process, which I’d like to call “layout”, lasted exactly 1 hour for Skin’s spotlight entry.
At this point, the file is passed on to Douglas Mangum, who does the final grammar, style and punctuation edits. Once he gives green light, the spotlight is finally finished and awaiting its release date. Of course, Douglas’ effort depends on the lengths of the spotlight and may take from 30 minutes, as in Skin’s case, up to 2 hours. Finally, another 15 minutes are needed to publish the entry, to write the preview blurb for the Spotlight Box, on the front page and to place a link in the Site Updates Box.
Whew! That makes a total of 31 hours that were spent on creating Skin’s spotlight. That might not sound much, after all it’s no more than the equivalent of four days of a full-time job, but keep in mind that we are working on the site in our spare time, next to regular jobs, university and personal interest. And if you break it down to an entire month, then we have spent one hour each day, in average, to deliver Skin’s spotlight entry to you.