Zip A Tone, an adhesive shading film that was cut by hand and applied to artwork, ceased to be manufactured somewhere around May 1992. I'm picking this date only because of the death notice printed in Eightball No.8
Zip A Tone has been on my mind because I recently received "Two Eyes Of The Beautiful" from Ryan Cecil Smith, who is currently living in Japan. Some equivalent of Zip A Tone (in virtually unlimited variety) is still widely available in Japan, despite the advent of the computer. "Two Eyes of the Beautiful" is all about Zip A Tone, from simple dot patterns, to trees and foliage......even buildings.
Indeed, it is pretty easy to recreate the same effects of the adhesive sheets in Photoshop. Kevin Huizenga frequently employs this technique.
But comics from Japan are the main place that I see lots of Zip A Tone (or its digital equivalent) these days. The combination of the dominance of B/W pages and the use of assistants probably helps.
DRAGON HEAD by Minetaro Mochizuki:
20th CENTURY BOYS by Naoki Urasawa:
However much I love the work of the above artists.....their use of tones is an embellishment. The work might suffer without the additional tones, but it would remain fundamentally readable.
Which brings us to this piece:
Whenever Zip A Tone is mentioned, I can't help but think of Matt Wagner's "Heist", printed in BATMAN BLACK & WHITE #3.
Could this piece have been done on the computer?
I suppose so.
Could this piece exist without the fields of tone?
In these pages, Wagner barely uses any outlines at all, and cuts out areas of tone without "containment lines". Take away all the tones and the artwork would be virtually unreadable. When I asked Ryan why he wasn't just applying the tones digitally, he replied that although the computer was probably more efficient, it was a lot of fun carving up the sheets by hand. I think this shows in "Heist" as well. There's a real sense of physicality to these pages.
"Heist": a true Zip A Tone tour de force.