Thursday, 28 August 2014

Cerebus Restoration Replacement Signature Recap

Sean Michael Robinson:

The new Cerebus volumes have now made their way into civilian hands. And so, as Dave requested, it's time for a little tour through our work on the book. Mara and I put together the following pages--

9 - 32
97 - 160
289 - 320
This is the only portion of the book that we worked on. The remainder of the book is the work of George Gatsis. You can read my appraisal of that portion of the work here.

It's easiest to do these comparisons from print rather than on a screen. So prop yourself up with your old Cerebus phone book, and let's do a side-by-side.


Let me dispense with the self-congratulation first. The signatures we prepped for this book look as good or better than these pages have ever looked in print.

I'm tempted to say “better” across the board, but that's only really true if you have only read these in collected form. For the pages sourced from the original pamphlets, such as most of issue one, these versions are carbon copies of those earlier printings, except with more consistent black coverage, on better paper, along with some other changes I'll talk about below.

As soon as the file copies of Cerebus 1-25 arrived at the studio, as soon as we'd cracked a cover or two, it was clear that we would be sourcing our scans from these. For whatever reason-- multi-generational negatives, deteriorating printing plates, who knows- it was a night and day difference for several of the issues. The 1987 Cerebus collected volume features significant fill-in of fine detailed hatching, clumpy, dark screen-tone, and areas of blown-out detail that are present and accounted for in the initial printings.

So for the majority of these pages, having no negatives and very little original art, we had to do our best to replicate what was on the page of those initial printings, and improve on them in any areas we could.

Page 10, as it appears in the 1994 Cerebus phone book. Notice the dot gain, the dirty tone, all of the noise in the blacks, and the "corrected" text. Whose touch-up lettering is this? Certainly not Dave's.

 Our page ten, after processing but before any cleanup or correction. This page was sourced directly from one of Dave's file copies, which still has Deni's handwriting in corners of some of the pages. Looking at the lettering, you can see why someone decided to intervene when it came time for reprints.

And here's the panel after clean-up and corrections. I've corrected the earlier corrections by cloning Dave's actual letter forms from other portions of the page and flown them in to assist here. It can take some finessing to make this look natural. In this case, the "TA" in "TAVERN" are the original letters, but I had to shift them over to the right for them to look natural aside their replacement neighbors. Having now had almost two month's worth of experience, I see more I would do here now, but I think it's clear this is a vast improvement on the prior printing.

I'd spent several weeks working on, and talking about, a Photoshop action script that would automate the page production, sharpening and adjusting the scans so that the files were prepped with a minimum of by-hand adjustment.

And it worked! It worked beautifully with the High Society negatives I had access to, it worked with the original art we had, it worked with the book scans I tested it with.

And then, I tried it with newsprint. Disaster.

Oh, it worked alright. Every tiny little line was retained, every nuance that had made it through to the page.

Unfortunately, the sharpening also brought up every little blemish, every piece of noise in the original

And newsprint can be really noisy. 

For one, the detail we were picking up from the pamphlet printings is at least partially due to very light coverage of ink from the printing plate, which also meant sometimes uneven coverage of large areas of black. In the scan, this manifests itself as little freckles of white inside of the black, little freckles that expand and grow in prominence as they are sharpened and contrast-adjusted.

The second type of noise is pulpy bits of unbleached paper which, once contrast-adjusted, look an
awful lot like intentionally-made lines or dots.

Fortunately these noise issues are solvable problems, even if the solutions available take time.

Above: An unprocessed newsprint scan from issue 13, with blacks typical of that issue.
Below: A panel from the same issue after processing and clean-up. 

Basically, I tried two different solutions to this. One was to add a step to the script that functioned as a noise reduction stage. I used the Photoshop function "surface blur," with carefully selected radius and threshold settings, which did an excellent job of wiping out most of the noise. Unfortunately, on pages with very fine white on black lines, this also had a tendency to wipe out some detail. Once again, this meant sharpening these detail areas by hand.

This solution was less viable on pages that had any amount of airbrushing/spatter, as the small spatter areas are interpreted as noise by the algorithm.

On these pages, I used a second solution, sweeping the solid black areas with the "burn" tool set on mid-tones. I also experimented with masking those areas and then running noise reduction on the remainder of the page.

There are several other possible solution involving more involved masking and the like, but, as I've said many times, these are the kinds of solutions that are practical when you're dealing with 5 pages, or 50 pages, or even 500 pages. Not the kinds of things you want to be doing with 6,000 pages.

That being said, the automated approach, with the aid of some surface blur, is present on the finished pages. Early in the morning on deadline day, plowing through the remainder of the pages, I let the computer handle 5 pages all by itself. Take a look at 114-118 if you'd like to see.

Those five pages are a good example of the most economic "restoration" possible, an example of scanning the best material available, and using the automation routines I've developed, pointing the computer at them and saying "go."

How then do these pages differ from the rest?

Hows about we start with panel borders?

Let's hear from Dave Sim, circa 1981, describing friend and fellow cartoonist Gene Day.

...he has always crushed me with his sense of black. Where to put it. How much. He leaves the cap off so it will get thicker. There is nothing even remotely resembling a washed-out black on a Gene Day original. And he is so clean! Look at the corners of a Gene Day panel. They're corners! Square -- the corners come to a point. Look at the corners of a Dave Sim panel (on second thought don't look at the corners of a Dave Sim panel).

Throughout most of the four signatures we prepared for this book, I took the (perhaps unusual) step of touching up the panel borders. Specifically, stray lines that wandered out of bounds, over-extensions, any kind of marks that violate the gutter space of the pages.

Like most aesthetic effects that rely on an accumulation of visual detail, it's a little difficult to
demonstrate this on screen. I think page 111 is a good example of this, so take out your original printing and the new one to compare.

A closeup of a single panel of the original, with no correction. Taken in isolation this doesn't look particularly bad, but a page full of ragged unintentional overlapping areas adds visual "noise" to what started as a very dynamic and purposeful design.

 Below is my fairly conservative "cleaning" of this panel. I've addressed most of the overlapping panel border elements and the brush overlap/edge tremor, but left in-panel examples of the same alone. This is how it now appears in print.

Below is an example of how far you could take this work if you wanted. I've eliminated in-panel examples of the same kinds of tangents from all of the spaces obviously intended to be clean-edged. This is the level of cleanup that I would do on my own artwork, although it's possible this veers into "face lift" territory when working on historical material.

To me, anyway, the effect is one of cleaning up the page, of unifying it a bit more than it was originally. The eye is free to focus on movements within the panel, and the tangents created by the stray lines aren't there anymore to distract focus. (Once again, consult the printed pages, as it's much more dramatic there than on-screen, even in blow-up).

I consulted with Dave about this before I did it, but I didn't go crazy with it this time around, mainly because I wanted to get his (and your) reactions to this level of adjustment before I took it any further.

Notice these are not perfectly squared-off, mechanically 90 degree corners. That I'm afraid is not how human beings produce corners, not how ink reacts in real-life, and thus not how I'm squaring them off. There's still hand-made, still human, still how Dave drew them, just not out of boundaries of the panels.

For me there is an aesthetic gain from this that's well worth the 5-10 minute outlay of time per page that it costs. This is also a problem that virtually disappears, say, 100 pages into Church and State I, as Dave has become a more disciplined craftsman, and increasingly relies on Letratape for borders.

So, we've had some significant success here. As promised, no moire patterns, no detail left behind, incredibly crisp fine-line information with no breakup whatsoever, except when that breakup is in the source material. It's a huge jump from where things were at just a few short months ago.

So what can we do better for next time?

First off, we didn't get as much cleanup as we'd like. There is still "schmutz" in a few places, surviving
artifacts of newsprint that we either didn't notice or thought were actual information rather than noise. Some of it is in between panels, some is in white space, some is little white flecks in areas of pure black.

There are three basic solutions to this. One, do clean-up after the files had been grayscale converted. (For whatever reason, doing the grayscale conversion seems to bring up a little more previously invisible noise, even though there was already a threshold adjustment layer in place). Second, use a nice "gutter sweep" technique Lou Copeland wrote me about, to get any garbage outside of the panels in one pass. Lastly, not prep pages all night with no chance for revision! (I'm afraid the last one was the real culprit here).

The second real thing to talk about is the issue of tone shrinkage.

Take a look at page 18. This, like a handful of pages here, was sourced from original art, in this case, a scan appropriated from the Heritage Auction website.



You'll see that in the bottom middle panel, Cerebus is missing some of his tone above his sword. (fortunately, it happens to look light a lighting effect as it is now...)

This is because the Letratone used to make Cerebus' halftone, and various other background effects, was made up of a very thin acetate with emulsion on top, and a sticky backing. Over time this acetate shrinks while the rest of the page remains the same size, causing the tone to either pull away from its original position, or if it was particularly well-burnished in the first place, to rip in half.

I don't know the whys and wheres of tone shrinkage, why certain pages I've seen have none while others have so much. It seems somewhat a function of age, possibly relating to tone size, somewhat a function of some other factor (humidity? light exposure?) that I don't know about. But on a practical level, what it means is, essentially, a lot of work for someone.

Issue 6 (pages 119-140) in the new printing is a good demonstration of both the benefits and drawbacks of working straight from aged original art without time for adjustment.

In these pages I've adjusted only what I considered the most distracting examples of the tone
shrinkage, which I've done by cloning adjacent areas of tone in Photoshop and flying it over to fill in the gaps. This is trickier than you might think, as any slight deviation in dot angle is very, very visible in print, even if it's invisible on screen.

A close-up of a panel on page 134, prior to tone cloning. 

After tone cloning. 

Both Lou Copeland and George Gatsis suggested all-out replacing tone in several instances as well, in places where the tone is damaged by newsprint or even not cut well in the first place. Once again, these are problems that will largely disappear as we get past the first two books.

But they are significant problems, in the financial sense, if nothing else. And Dave is looking to you all, the Cerebus patrons/life support system, for guidance. How much is it worth? If it cost $40 extra per page sourced from original artwork to have all of the tone as clean as clean can be, is that a good use of your money? How about $100, in the most extreme cases?

I think that somewhere between $20 and $60 a page (1/2 to 1 + 1/2 hour of work) is probably the most likely range for pages like these, with so much tone shrinkage, but, as with anything, it's likely I'll get faster, and it's equally likely we'll butt up against some previously undiscovered problem that'll slow things down again. As an example, take a look at the top right corner of page 137. The mezzotint tone on the statue has split and fractured. How do you patch that, short of drawing out all of the tone and dropping a whole new virtual sheet of mezzotint on top of it? The pattern's too irregular to just drag an adjacent area. Any other ideas? The finer dot mezzotint is a little more forgiving, but the coarser stuff needs a careful eye for adjustment. (In the weeks since I've written this, I have solved this one, but it's still a slow solution, unfortunately.)

The second thing to do differently, and the thing that most definitely will be improved in future printings, is adjusting the exposure of the pages evenly so that Cerebus' tone is consistent, no matter the exposure of the source. I won't go into any detail about this now, because I'll be writing about it in the coming weeks. That being said, it's an area I've done a ton of thinking about, and have made a lot of progress since preparing these replacement signatures.

The last problem is an issue that's for the most part out of my control. That's the issue of black density/ink coverage.

On my copies of the book, the ink coverage is on the low end of normal, the blacks a little closer to the "gray" portion of the spectrum, especially compared to the extremely bright white of the paper. The good news on this is it won't be the case for next time. Lebonfon has instituted a series of changes in their press and their ink formula, which they're calling "the Aardvark Initiative," that have done wonders for the ink density. So when we get to High Society, this should no longer be an issue. (If indeed it is here, these things being largely a matter of taste and personal frame of reference.)


For me, the past two months of work have been a blizzard of learning, and a transformation in attitude. Many of the recommendations I made initially, for instance, working almost exclusively from negatives and printed material and ignoring the original art unless there was compelling reason to retreat to it, were primarily based on economics and efficiency. What's the most expedient way to do this? What's the most reasonable way to do this?

But what I've gradually come around to is the realization that there's more to be had. More detail, more refinement. That the closer you get to the source, the clearer things become.

It's a strange thing to look at these pages now. It's only been two months, but I've gained a tremendous amount of experience since then. It's hard to see these pages now for how they are, but rather for how they can be in the future.

And that's really the excitement of this entire enterprise to me. To take an amazing piece of art, and help preserve it, and present it in the best way possible. I'd like to thank all of you for that opportunity.

Comments! Suggestions! Questions! Please! Below!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Dave Sim's Notebooks: Alone. Unmourned. And Unloved.

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

One of the most famous phases in Cerebus is from Church & State II (page 1212 if you're following along in the phonebook, issue 111 page 12 if you prefer the individual issues). It is the Judge's response to Cerebus unvoiced question which the Judge paraphrases as 'How?'

"You die alone. Unmourned. And unloved."

In notebook #9, Dave does a first draft of the Judge's response on page 46:

Dave Sim's Notebook #9 page 46
It is almost the same as the final response, but now the Judge thought "very little will go right with the rest of your life and you'll die miserable." That really wouldn't make for a very interesting 189 remaining issues.

After many pages of rough cut of the Judge describing the creation of the universe and Po's many adventures, we come to the next draft of the Judge's response to Cerebus question.

Dave Sim's Notebook #9 page 82
With this draft we also see Dave's script for panel layouts. Other then the sphere taking Cerebus back to Estarcion, these aren't that close at all to the finish product. At least Cerebus isn't just going to die miserably in this draft.

Dave Sim's Notebook #9 page 132
Many more pages later we see the next draft of the Judge's response. This response goes into more detail with the Judge telling Cerebus that his first girlfriend, Michelle, died in childbirth. The Judge continues saying Cerebus ends up "living with Jaka and her husband in the most uncomfortable of situations as dictated by Weisshaupt." He continues with something close to the famous line "You eventually die un-loved and un-mourned."

While Jaka's Story does show us the uncomfortable - at least for Cerebus - situation of him living with Jaka and Rick ("I know, she's great, isn't she?") Nash - it doesn't tell us that Cerebus will die alone.

Then on page 139 out of 141 we get a bit closer - the three main pieces are there, just out of order:

Dave Sim's Notebook #9 page 139
"...You die un-mourned, un-loved. And Alone."

Dave has crossed off "You will never have any  children", I guess Dave wanted to leave that door open just in case - good thing for Shep Shep.

Since notebook 10 has notes for the double issue #112/113 and Jaka's Story, this is the last rough draft of the text in the notebook. Cerebus goes from dying miserably to dying un-loved and un-mourned to dying un-mourned, unloved and alone. Close to the final quote, but with the words rearranged. Why were they rearranged? Added emphasis? To show that the Judge thought that being unloved was the worst thing possible? Sounds like the Judge, who is working in tandem with the BRGWST,  as noted on page 139 of the notebooks  as the glowing sphere that encompasses Cerebus. It has been said that the BRGWST is an extension of Yoohwhoo, who through the Judge is trying to move the chess piece that is Cerebus with this speech.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Scott McCloud: The Eighties Generational Shift

Excerpt from Reinventing Comics (2000)
by Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud is a cartoonist and comics theorist best known for his comic series ZOT! and his non-fiction books about comics theory: Understanding Comics (1993), Reinventing Comics (2000) and Making Comics (2006).

Monday, 25 August 2014

Back Issue: Examining The 80s Independents

Edited by Michael Eury
TwoMorrows, $8.95
Release Date: September 2014
Back Issue examines '80s Independents! In-depth looks at three of the decade's most celebrated indies: Paul Chadwick's Concrete, Dave Sim's Cerebus the Aardvark, and Richard and Wendy Pini's Elfquest. Plus: '80s independent comics go Hollywood, David Scroggy remembers Pacific Comics, Trina Robbins' California Girls, and Denis Kitchen's star-studded horror/sci-fi anthology Death Rattle. Read a preview here...

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #8

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #8 (1986)
Art by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird & Dave Sim

Treasures From The Archive -- Black and white scans of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES No.8 supplied by Peter Laird as part of our "reciprocal licensing agreement" which allowed him to reprint the story without consulting or compensating me as long as I was allowed to do the same. I'm willing to bet that nothing was said when he sold TMNT to Viacom. So it will be interesting if I ever DO reprint the story. My arrangement with IDW is that they cut me a cheque for $500 anytime they reprint the story in a TURTLES collection. It was all I could suggest based on the fact that that's what I do with Bob Burden whenever I reprint CEREBUS 104. Arbitrary but…weirdly…fair I think.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

From The Archive: S.R. Bissette's Tribes

Treasures of the Cerebus Archive -- I always made Steve Bissette terrifically self-conscious about getting himself in up to his eyeballs in the "advance game". But he was always good-natured about owning up to it and signed this copy of ALIENS: TRIBES:
"To Dave - Ah, another diversion for Bissette and it's not comics -- but Dave I did have fun 'My Big Black Fly epic'. Enjoy
Your gnatly amigo, S R Bissette".
Actually he has a point. I'm pushing 60 and I'm starting to think I'm NEVER going to get MY "Big Black Fly epic" down on paper.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Cerebus False Starts: Too Much Coffee Liqueur Man

When you're keeping a monthly comic book on schedule, there really isn't an opportunity to "redo" pages. On the other hand, if you have serious doubts, there is a window of opportunity to change your mind. Sometimes the window was a little wider than it was at other times:

GUYS -- The second "Too Much Coffee Liqueur Man" page from GUYS. Just poured onto the page. I was happy with the text but it needed a lot better composition. TMCLM and Cerebus sitting and talking in a dark bar by moonlight needed to be "Will Eisner on Steroids". Do I white out the lettering and redo the composition or just start over? Just start over.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Weekly Update #45: First Delivery!

First 'Delivery' of Cerebus Archive Number One
David Marsh Meets Dave Sim At 'The Print Cave'
Full details at Kickstarter Update #11

Howdy, everyone!

From the comments over the last week starting with Margaret's question about "negative touch-up", that was actually the next stage after the negative had been generated.  As Sean figured, they would take the negative and put it on a light table and scrape off any emulsion that was on there that was in any area that was obviously intended to be solid black.  And the scraping is clearly visible on the negative if you're holding it up to the light, less visible if you have it on the light table which tends to glow in your eyes (which assisted in figuring out where there was emulsion that shouldn't be there: you either had the white glow or you had a black speckle or streak of some kind).

Part of the reason for using George and Ringo was that I needed one of them to come back in his dotage at the end of GUYS and that required a Beatle who had made it to his dotage: Ringo actually looked like that by that time.  John only made it to 40, George to 46 (I think). Also they were the two Beatles who were "Beatle-like" without being musical icons in their own right.  The Ingrid haircuts, black suits, skinny ties.  It was like an approved Cirinist uniform.  They're neat and tidy, they can have their hair LONG as long as they keep it CLEAN.  Androgyny is BOTH APPROVED OF and REWARDED, slovenliness is NOT.  You trade your masculinity for a cushy job. Which, to me, in retrospect, was what The Beatles did when they went from hardcore Rockers to hardcore Mods.

Thanks to Paul Slade for the Winsor & Newton Series 7 #2 brushes which arrived safe and sound. You folks have a lot of guts, I must say. Someone tells me there's an embargo on importing sable brushes to North America and, mentally, I just kiss sable brushes goodbye.  I think it must be a generational thing:  "Dave needs these brushes.  I can get them.  Too bad, Canada Border Services."  Everyone is their own judge about what's legal and what isn't legal.  Pretty powerful. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. [Update: Link to US Fish & Wildlife Department's sable importation policy - via Damian T. Lloyd]
1.  "Drum scan" turns out not to be the way to go.

2.  "TF", our $10K Patron Retailer has sent a cheque to Sean's newly formed business Living The Line and that is now what we are using to finance moving HIGH SOCIETY ahead.

3. I'm getting seriously off-schedule on everything.

4.  Sean's keeping me posted on progress which has a pretty good variance day to day -- as low as 17 pages and as high as 35 pages. Which leads to a couple of options:

Adopt-a-Page where Sean, now that he's getting faster and better at this, estimates what it will cost to FULLY restore a page, attached that amount to the page and then individual CEREBUS fans sponsor that page being restored.

4a)  George Gatsis made the offer when we first came up with this of "cutting masks" for Sean on a volunteer basis so all Sean has to do with, say, tone repair is drop it into the allocated space.  I'm presenting this for discussion here.  Hopefully Sean and George will respond.

4b)  I'm asking Sean here if he can do a complete restoration on one of the "Mind Games II" pages along the lines of what I discussed last week:  sharpening everything so it matches my original intention of an "in line" white box, sharp corners, line work that doesn't intrude or extrude over the clear lines, cloning of tone where needed and let me know what he thinks that would cost on an hourly basis.

4c) I am in receipt of the three sample signatures from Lebonfon:  NORMAL, DARK and VERY DARK.  The signatures contain a variety of pages.  Page 560 of CHURCH & STATE, pages 33, 51, 54, 89, 90, 116, 141, 148, 205, 262 from HIGH SOCIETY and 10, 127, 137, 129 from CEREBUS.

5.  The first "delivery" of a CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE was made this week when I headed over to The Print Cave (Graphic Edge Print Solutions) to scan some bonus prints for the CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO campaign and David M. of Waterloo dropped by to pick up his copy (see photo by John Funk)

6.  Unless something changed, all 30 Canadian CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE went out in the mail today.  Next will be International (so John can get experience making up the customs forms necessary) and then USA! USA!  Which will be bulk shipped both to FedEx and through Menachem Luchins of ESCAPE POD COMICS.  Thanks, Menachem!

7.  Speaking with Matt Demory, my Diamond Brand Manager, he says that 54 copies of the Remastered CEREBUS trade have been ordered and shipped.  Since it hasn't been in PREVIEWS, yet, that would be you guys!  :)!  So I'm going to authorize Sean to post his best post-mortem on the CEREBUS trade next week for discussion, on the assumption that 54 of you will have their books by then.  

1.  Sean had a bee in his bonnet that wouldn't leave him alone about getting a "drum scan" done of one of the pages.  He backed off of that when he got an outrageous quote for one.  I suggested that he go ahead.  With "bee in your bonnet" stuff you really need to cross it off the list of options or you'll always have it in the back of your mind.  Sean's verdict when he finally got the drum scan in:  "It looks slightly sharper as-is on screen, but behaves the same as the regular scan under process.  No benefit to it."  Which is more than a bit of a relief.  Had it created a superior digital file, where do we go from there? How superior is it and how much money do we have to pay for it.

2.  I'm still trying to figure out how best to compensate "TF" our $10K Patron Retailer and will be discussing that with him in an upcoming phone conversation.  Without his contribution, we would -- at this moment -- be in the situation of my having to pull the plug on Sean and Mara at least until CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO was generating revenue.   As Sean says, this guy should be CELEBRATED in some way.  But. Some people aren't "into" being celebrated and you have to respect that.  The big question will be, Does he want something personally or does he want something for the store?  I'm thinking of doing fully inked drawings of Cerebus on THE FIRST HALF and the THIRD QUARTER posters which should like nice on the wall of a Cerebus fan or a CEREBUS store.  Of course, that involves getting caught up on and staying current with everything, which hasn't been working out lately.

3.  Last Friday I allocated my entire 21-hour non-fasting day to writing the commentaries for CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO and getting the video for the Kickstarter campaign done in raw form (so I could get it to Fisher for editing).  This was the reason that I said there would be a two to three week delay in my answering the mail -- which is starting to pile up -- and answering phone messages. As it turned out, it took the 21-hour non-fasting Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday until I had everything done.  On the one hand, this is a good sign -- the total commentaries on CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO run to 21 pages in rough form rather than the 11 pages on CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE.  So, more bang for the pledge partner buck.  Also, Sean will be pasting the commentary pages up and actually incorporating illustrations of what it is that I'm talking about.  However, this is dragging me away from a lot of other things that I'm supposed to be handling.  And, of course, it's dragging Sean away from his restoration work.  Then Matt Demory reminded me about doing a CEREBUS Trade ad for PREVIEWS which then needed to be done for the end of this week.  So, I ended up having to interrupt Sean doing the HIGH SOCIETY restorations to get him to do CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO production and then had to interrupt him to get him to paste up an ad from my mock-up.

I'm HOPING that at some point things start going more smoothly, but, right now, it was all I could do to get one page of STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND done this week.

4a)  An example of things that have been left behind as I try to stay current with everything is George's offer a while back to cut masks for Sean on a volunteer basis so that Sean could stick with the pure restoration (and I apologize to everyone for the things that I haven't gotten to).  I'm not sure how that would work, but it is gratefully accepted as an offer if he and Sean can find a way to make it work.  I think we can all agree that -- with the bulletins that Sean has been posting that -- we're better keeping Sean investigating all the ins and outs of what's "under there" on the negatives -- and how to bring those things out -- where possible.  On a related note:

4b) This is along the lines of the "drum scan" scenario.  We might as well find out exactly how complicated we can make the restoration so that it matches my original intention from 30 years ago.  I'm anticipating serious "sticker shock" but I might be surprised.  Sean is estimating about $20 per page for the restoration he's doing now.  But, that's like asking me how long it took to do an average page of CEREBUS.  There really aren't average pages, just different pages with different problems.  And,  in this case, because what I was attempting to do on "Mind Game II" was outside of the range of my abilities 30 years ago, we might be looking at a one-time 20-page charge that is exceptional. MOST other pages won't require that level of sharpness and concision.  It would be overkill.

4c) Sean has already indicated to me that the mezzotint that I used on these pages -- the really dark sort of fleck tone (LT 307) -- got very special treatment from Preney.  A lot of research on Sean's part to get All The Way In There and see what they did.  They masked the areas off and shot them separately.  There's a faint residue of the edge of the masks on some of the pages.

Coincidentally, CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO contains three of these "Mind Game II" pages, so those of you pledging for the package will be able to see in meticulous detail what the mezzotint actually looks like on the page and how difficult it is to reproduce.  This was also one of the reasons that I picked HIGH SOCIETY page 141 as one of the test pages. The Cerebus Demon Head is done in mezzotint.  Page 141 reproduces well sometimes and not so well other times.

5)  I'm happy to say that we seem to be reaching the point of actually getting CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE delivered to everyone who has been waiting so patiently. [Full details at Kickstarter Update #11] David Marsh came by Graphic Edge Print Solutions to pick his up the other day and becomes the first person to actually get one of them! They came out, I think, really well.  Exactly the way that I pictured them.  We had some last minute "tweaking" on the packaging -- abandoning the staple idea (and John's subsequent glue idea)  for packing tape on all four sides.  My thinking was that the three layers of cardboard serve to make a good storage container for the portfolio itself.  If the cardboard was glued, you'd really have to rip the top layer of cardboard off and definitely lose the "storage box" quality.  It's a comic-fan thing.  Like the plastic bag that the portfolio comes in.  It's not quite form-fitting, but -- hey! -- we always want a plastic bag for something of value!

I got some criticism last week for not posting regular updates to the Kickstarter site. Of course, last time, I took flack for posting TOO MANY updates to the Kickstarter site.  You can't win.  I think all I can honestly say is that we are doing the best that we can and we're going through it for the first time.  We're learning a lot of things as we go, and I'm sure we'll be learning more things because we're not all the way through the process yet.  Hopefully by the time CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER THREE and FOUR are shipping, a lot of the (this time) unavoidable glitches will have been smoothed out.

One of the things we'll be doing differently next time is doing finished portfolios -- say 40 at a time -- and shipping those, rather than my signing 300 plate 1s, 300 plate 2s, etc.  It doesn't sound like a huge volume but it does fill up the Print Cave (as you can see by the PARTIAL stack of the cardboard in behind me in the photo John took).

It means not everyone will be getting their packages at the same time, but hopefully we can also let you know where you are in the "batting order" as we go.

6)  Please don't hold me to this!  This is one of the reasons that I haven't been posting updates.  I'm not in control of shipping.  I had asked John that the Canadian orders would go out by last Friday which he couldn't do and then promised for Monday and, now, here we are a week later.  It happens.  I told HIM that I would have everything done on CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO last Friday.  And I didn't have it done until Tuesday.  Late on Tuesday.  There is an inherent disconnect between what we intend to do and what we actually do.  I don't know if that just has to do with age.  John's 54 and I'm 58.  I'm sure it's part of it.

Anyway, we won't be launching CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO on Kickstarter until everything is out the door and on its way to you.

And, as always, if anything is wrong with your order, please let us know and we'll make sure to replace anything that needs to be replaced and reimburse you for your shipping costs.

7)  Nothing to add to this one except:  I did commit to a full-page ad in PREVIEWS for CEREBUS VOLUME ONE REMASTERED.  I'm hoping that this will generate some sales to help with the restoration costs.  This is something I'll have to be monitoring with Matt:  what is the pace of sales on the CEREBUS trade now that it's back in print and do we anticipate HIGH SOCIETY doing the same thing when we have it back in print.  As with everything else, I couldn't promise him a delivery date for HIGH SOCIETY with Sean in the middle of it.  And, of course, he can't promise me a figure on ordering the book until he sees how CEREBUS sells.

As I indicated to Sean, the goal posts definitely keep shifting in this game.  So, it seems the most sensible thing is to forge ahead on HIGH SOCIETY, get HIGH SOCIETY back in print and then see where we're sitting.  Do we keep going ahead at the same pace or take a break until we see how CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE does through Diamond as an unsigned edition and CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO on Kickstarter?

Right now, I've got to run.  Sincere apologies, again, to everyone waiting for an answer to their letter and/or phone message, to the Patreon Patrons because I didn't have time to do an Update there this time around...and anyone else who needs to be apologized to.

I'll be back here -- God willing -- next Friday.   

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Peeping Inside the Process


Hey everybody,

This week I've been doing a bit of negative-peeping.

Actually, a lot of negative peeping. In fact, it's more like a negative cabaret.

So, waaaayyyy back in the pre-computer age, offset printing involved photographing artwork with specialized high-contrast film that was then used to create printing plates. When I talk about negatives for the Cerebus material, it's this intermediate stage I'm referring to-- large, at-print-sized negatives, emulsion on a clear carrier, that is the reverse of the printed image.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, I'm not speaking from direct experience here. I've never handled these negatives myself. So far, all the material I've been working with, with the exception of printed material scanned by Mara from Dave's file copies, has been supplied to me.

So as I've been working with the material, I was surprised to discover that there's a lot more hiding out in there than I thought.

Although the negatives are high-contrast, under extreme adjustment there's still significant amounts of continuous tone image hiding inside. In other words, not just black and white information, but gray-scale information as well.

What does this mean on a practical level?

For one, it's possible to radically adjust the exposure of the page. How do you know if a page is too dark if you haven't seen the original artwork? Well, Cerebus's tone is the one constant, and since he appears on nearly every page, I can use his 30 percent dot-tone to eyeball the page back into the tonal range it started at on Dave's drawing board. (This process is aided significantly by the softness of flatbed scanning. Edge information is represented by ambiguous, "soft" gray pixels, which shrink/retreat when we lighten the image, thus thickening or thinning each as you change the exposure).

But most significantly, it means that there's extra information that can "correct" problems in the original printings.

Here's an example from issue 26, the first issue of what would become High Society. This first one is the negative scan. It looks about the same as my printed copy.

The second has been exposure-adjusted, using Cerebus's dot-tone to judge the density. Then I've goosed the area with the broken-up white lines to bring out the surprise--Dave's beautiful fancy-pants coat texture, hiding within. Not only does the image have a much more pleasing balance on the whole, whole sections hiding within the negative have been brought out.

Before this week, I had no idea this was possible. I had assumed, incorrectly, it seems, that the negative film itself was much more high-contrast, more like the printed material it was used to generate, which is, of course, the ultimate high-contrast, either black ink or paper.

Here's another example of using extreme contrast adjustment to work with damaged material. In this case, not only is the page under-exposed, causing the tone to clog up, but the negative has picked up either dirt or pencil left under the tone, causing the figure to look terrible. (It's the bottom of page 11 in the collected High Society). Fortunately, the pencil, or whatever it is, is just slightly grayer than the tone in the negative, meaning that I can eliminate it with an extreme adjustment.

And so the process of discovery continues! (By the way, I'm always on the lookout for an expert--if anyone has any experience working with or even making offset plate negatives, I'd love to pick your brain about a few things!)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Dave Sim's Notebooks: Melmoth & Tiny Thumbnails

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

Last week we saw the nearly finished pages - albeit in his notebook - for issue #174 in Notebook #18, this week we'll look at the opposite end of the spectrum - MELMOTH and tiny thumbnails.

Dave started sketching the outline of MELMOTH and some of the first couple issues in Notebook #15, but it is notebook #16 that contains most the majority of notes about the shortest phonebook.

In issue #143 we don't see Cerebus as much as we hear him eating. Dino speaks to Janice, the very uncooperative hostile "waitress", about what Cerebus had eaten so far: five plates of deep-fried noodles, six raw potatoes and twenty-nine hard-boiled eggs.

As you can see on page 28 of Notebook 16, Dave has some very tiny thumbnails of the first 4 pages of issue #143 (pages 89 - 92 of the phonebook):

Notebook 16, page 28

Along with the small thumbnails is the text that will go on mostly page 91 of the phonebook - Janice's response to Dino's inquiry about what Cerebus is eating. Except instead of twenty-nine hard-boiled eggs, the notebook has it as "twenty eight devilled eggs".

The close up shots of Dino and Janice, the 6 panel layout and the word balloons on the top of the panels remained the same in the finished pages. With basically just the ordering of who is in what panel having been changed since Dave sketched out these small thumbnails.

The next page of the notebook has most of the same dialogue from the previous page, and different roughs of Oscar and Robbie from page 101 of the phonebook. Included is the line printed on the page as well.

Notebook 16, page 29

The final page with material for issue #143 is on page 30. We have three very tiny thumbnails of page 11, 12 and 13 (pages 99 though 101 in the phonebook) along with the text printed on the finished pages. Even though the thumbnails are very tiny, the layouts are the same as the printed page.

Notebook 16, page 30

Margaret Liss is The Cerebus Fan Girl and maintains the Cerebus Wiki.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

High Society: "The Aardvark Initiative" -- a Restoration Bulletin


Hey Dave,

First off, I got a chance to read your Cerebus Archive Number Two notes last night at the airport. There's a ton to digest, but I wanted to tell you how great I thought they were! I love the range of topics you manage to cover, in such a committed way. Truly, great stuff. Looking forward to my second, more leisurely, pass at it later tonight.

Second, I got this email from Dean this morning, regarding the test pressings/ink density tests for High Society--
Hello Sean / Dave,
To update, we were delayed slightly in getting going due to additional modifications (not to the files) we wanted to make and consultations with various experienced pressman. The test sheets will ship out tomorrow and will hopefully arrive by the end of the week.I look forward to hearing your feedback.
to which I replied:
Excellent Dean. Looking forward to seeing these.
Out of curiosity, did you get to see the results yourself? Any thoughts you had? :)
to which he replied:
Hi Sean I haven't seen them yet personally, but I've been told the results were very good.The were a series of modifications we did that we now refer to as the "Aardvark Initiative"  :)
So, all of this ties in with something I was reminded of last night, reading your notes on the Mind Games pages.

It's possible the reason those pages of mezzotint reproduced the densities they did is because someone at Preney + Litho decided they were going to fill in too dramatically, and masked off the areas of tone and dodged them in the exposure.

A few weeks ago, assessing the High Society materials and working on the print test, I got bogged down by the Mind Games pages. If I used the standard page formula I've been using, the tone was coming out waaaaayyyy darker than in the books. I even had a second example of it, from Dean Reeve's pages supplied through the Dragnet, and it was doing the same there as well. (It was actually a little mini-crisis for me. "Is my process somehow making the mezzotint tone darker?) So I went into the negative scans and did an extreme contrast adjustment, so I could see "into" the areas that would otherwise reproduce continuous black. When I did this, I could see areas of by-hand touch-up to the blacks to keep them solid, and what looked like the edge of a mask to expose the tone areas separately. In other words, someone did a lot of work on those pages to create the negatives that made the book. (Either that, or my sharpening process is "grabbing" more detail in the tone, darkening the overall effect.)

So, when I sent those two (or three?) Mind Games pages to Dean for the density test, I included them as-is, instead of as the density that they had been before. I did this for two reasons--one, to see how they would have reproduced without the original intervention by P + L, and two, so we'd have a few "ringers" in there, pages I thought would likely have a healthy amount of dot-gain on the darker exposures. This is useful so I have an idea of the extremities of the effects of Lebonfon running their press at what they consider "too dark" or "too dense". If we send them an extremely dense page, what happens? What does it look like? So, we'll find out.

Short version-- the Mind Games pages, as-is, reproduce very dark. I sent Lebonfon dark (i.e. unadjusted) versions of the pages so we could see them as-is in print and make further decisions based on that. I've left all of these pages alone since then, waiting to see the result and waiting to see what you'd think.

It'll be easy for me to make them the exposure of the Preney version, by the way. Just wanted to give us both the opportunity to see them both ways.



Art Auction: Glamourpuss #3 Cover Mock-Up

Auction: Glamourpuss #3 
Cover Mock-Up
(Click image to enlarge)
This offering is a full-scale mock-up of the cover page for Glamourpuss #3. Glamourpuss herself is a photocopy-printout on white paper. Sim has hand-lettered the type and brushed on watercolour, with some type instructions in the margin. It looks like a page ripped from a quickly brushed coloring book. The final published comic book, of course, had digital coloring and was typeset, with the final placement of the type slightly altered. 

Bonus: the tracing paper from the zombie variant cover of the same issue, plus a b&w print-out of Sim's mock-up digitally typeset, which you can see is also different from the published comic. 

Cerebus False Starts: John Lennon

When you're keeping a monthly comic book on schedule, there really isn't an opportunity to "redo" pages. On the other hand, if you have serious doubts, there is a window of opportunity to change your mind. Sometimes the window was a little wider than it was at other times:

Issue 156 pages 12-13 double page spread. The John Lennon/Illusionist page. I forget which album cover it was that had him with multiple pairs of glasses on (I know they reproduced it on the cover of SHAVED FISH, the only Lennon album I owned). Got as far as blue-pencilling the Lennon head and then lettering.
"Illusion within illusion within illusion -- the history of our movement"; "Beneath the mask always ANOTHER mask…";"Ina world of illusion, how you tell ally from foe -- who is an illusionist and who is an illusion?"; "No one (I think) is in my tree"; "No secret handshake no signpost on the road";"But you know I know when it's a DREAM";"But here we are NOW, Young Cerebus -- you have seen behind the last of my many masks";"The time has come the Walrus said to talk of many things of…"; "Too nasal"

Most people are Extreme Literalists and I thought, no, they'll read that and go "Suenteus Po is John Lennon?" So what do I take out? The lines from "Strawberry Fields Forever" or the Lennon head? Maybe they'll get it: The Walrus is from the "Walrus and the Carpenter". The Walrus was Paul (John Lennon was the carpenter: Jesus, get it?). No, I'll be answering questions about this for the next forty years. Too bad, I would have liked to have drawn that head with the multiple glasses.

Art fans will have kittens: I just folded the double-sized artboard in half for easy storage. When you've wasted part of your morning on a discard you're not exactly disposed towards treating it charitably.