Photocopying is an art, not a science. However, there are a few unyielding truths about it. First of all, the cheapest copies are black and white. They call it that, “black and white” for a reason, and that reason is that there is no gray. There are black plastic bits melted onto white paper, and that’s it. If you try to copy lovely subtle washes, they will get blotchy and washed out, or overly dark, because the machine is srtuggling to decide whether a given area is closer to black or white. Which is the second hard truth about photocopying. Because of that need to decide whether an area is black or white, copies always go lighter in the light areas and darker in the dark areas. In other words, stay away from tone: washes, pencil, even screen tones (zipatone) can get muddy and messed up, especially as you copy your copies and get several generations from your original. The blotchy exaggerations that still look OK in the first generation will get exaggerated again in the second generation, and even more so in the third. Train yourself to think and DRAW FOR REPRODUCTION. Comics are not the drawings you make in your sketchbook or even the original pages you slave over. They are the reproductions you distribute for people to read. That’s what you’re working for, so keep it in mind.
Also remember that all photocopiers are not created equal, and, even if they were, they’re sure not equal once a bunch of idiots in a copy store get a hold of them. MOVE AROUND the copy store, try the different machines, and use the best one, even if you have to wait for it. Self-serve machines are the cheapest, but they are also the most messed up, so you’re sure to find some really bad ones. If you need help, Ask one of the nice workers to teach you how to make double sided copies . Ask them to demonstrate if you are still confused. Bring more money than you need because you will screw up somehow.
You can pay the people behind the counter to do your copies for you, but remember that you’re paying a surcharge for that, and that they may not understnad what you want them to do, or they may just be dumb, and so you may have to fight with them about it if they screw up the job (happens more than you’d think). Mostly, at this stage you will want to make the copes yourself, so you have control over how the masters come out. But when it comes to reproducing the whole book (step 8 below), if you can afford it, it’s the easiest and most relaxing way to make comics.
And on that note, if you have access to a public photocopier (at your office or school) USE IT! I’m not going to be the one to tell you to steal copies, but making minis can be quite expensive, so if you happen to have a friend who has a friend…
Finally, read Ron Rege’s great essay on this subject for a lot more specific details than I knew. You can find it here:
Scroll to the bottom of the page to download the “repro guide”. You will also find more notes about phtocopying, and great info by Brian Ralph about screenprinting and Jordan Crane about offset printing.