Sunday, 2 February 2014

Weekly Update #16: 'Cerebus' & 'High Society' Reprinting

Previously on 'A Moment Of Cerebus':
Dave Sim, working with George Peter Gatsis, has remastered the first two collected volumes of Cerebus to restore details and quality in the artwork lost over the thirty years since they were originally published (as detailed here and here). After Cerebus' original printer Preney Print closed its doors, Dave Sim moved his printing to Lebonfon in 2007 as at that time they were still capable of working with photographic negatives and making printing plates as Preney had done. And then Lebonfon switched to digital scanning and printing - a technology which struggles to faithfully reproduce Cerebus' tone without creating moire patterns (as detailed in Crisis On Infinite Pixels). Dave Sim continues to work with Lebonfon to ensure the print-quality of the new Cerebus and High Society editions (as detailed in Collections Stalled). Now read on...
Cerebus Vol 1 & Cerebus Vol 2: High Society
Cover art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
DAVE SIM:
(by fax, 31 January 2014)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
  1. "bootleg the bootleggers". I'M in!
  2. $500 in donations. Thank you, thank you. THANK YOU!
  3. "All Photography" reproduction is theoretical right now.
  4. Bills for CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY pretty much the price of a really nice brand new car.
  5. Changes are "inaccurate printing corrections" not "author's changes".
  6. Imprimerie Lebonfon offers to drop the price on the "brand new car" by 5%.
  7. Will my going to Val d'Or and supervising the printing personally a) take too long b) cost too much c) not really make a difference?
  8. What would YOU do in MY situation?
  9. It looks as if I need to "retrench" in advertising and Kickstarter and put THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND on hold to keep revenue coming in to pay the bills.
  10. Metaphysically, I'm going through the same thing Alex Raymond went through that I'm actually documenting right now In STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND No.4.
Thanks to all for their COMMENTS on last week's posting!

Basically, I have NO problem with "bootlegging the bootleggers" -- ripping their ripped files on all 16 trades and posting them to cerebusdownloads.com. I just don't know how to do it myself and I don't know if George has time to do it right now or in the foreseeable future. What I usually do with George is to change the password on the Paypal account at cerebusdownloads.com temporarily and let him add files and Paypal buttons. He lets me know when he's done and I change the password again so I'm the only one who has it. All I have to do is intentionally forget all the other passwords and remember the new one!

If someone wants to volunteer to do it in their spare time, you could contact George at tbdeinc [at] gmail [dot] com and ask him about if that's okay. I'm a complete Luddite so I never know when I'm suggesting something that will turn technically adept children grey-headed. Or George might want to do it himself, I really don't like to arbitrate these things because I know absolutely nothing about it.

Total donations and downloads for the last couple of months have been around $500. Many, many, MANY thanks to the donors and downloaders! Every penny counts right now -- even more than usual - since even in my wildest imagination I didn't think we'd be this close to two years with CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY being out of print. And $500 is a LOT of pennies! And now I have to start planning in case the books don't get printed for another few months. More on that in a minute.

Eddie? The photography option is really just for original pages. I THINK it would work, but the extended process of proof/printing approvals -- of scans of original pages and restored digital files and panels -- stretching out over months (as it has) needs to be solved first. The next book would be READS if continuing to print the trades seems viable and -- from George's preliminary notes -- the art isn't really NEARLY as much of a problem there. CHURCH & STATE volume one would be the next time I'd have to look seriously at what straight photography can and can't do. But thanks for reminding me. I can at least make a start by having a conversation with the camera store guy who digitally tweaked all of the transparencies (where that was the only or best version available -- #77 was like that) for the IDW CEREBUS COVERS books.

(I've been trying to keep these Updates to a reasonable "Internet generation" length but this is all turning into a giant Gordian Knot, so apologies to the TL;DR generation from Mr. TL himself! :)...)

It looks as if this long process is going to get even longer. Let me explain. I got a 'pro forma invoice'...

-- (basically Latin for 'a matter of form', USUALLY 'a mere formality' -- there are, however, 15 different dictionary definitions for 'form' one of which is a 'basis for discussion': maybe pro forma is less... abrupt... en francais than it is in English, n'est ce pas?) --

...from Lebonfon for both CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY indicating that they are adding roughly 40% to the CEREBUS bill and 60% to the HIGH SOCIETY bill -- for reprinting 8 signatures (32 page sections) from CEREBUS and 15 signatures (32 page sections) on HIGH SOCIETY.

To put that in perspective, Diamond would have to order roughly 350 EXTRA copies of the CEREBUS trade and 500 EXTRA copies of HIGH SOCIETY -- that is ON TOP of what they have already ordered (500 CEREBUS and 1100 HIGH SOCIETY -- which I considered very generous on their part last summer when they THOUGHT they would be getting their books by the end or July at the latest) just to cover the costs of reprinting signatures that weren't -- in my view and in George's view -- printed properly in the first place.

The invoice charges are marked by Lebonfon as being for 'Author's changes'.

I don't consider these 'Author's changes'. If I was saying 'Stop the presses, I want to redraw Cerebus in roughly 85 panels and rewrite his dialogue' Yes, those I would consider 'Author's changes'.

George agreed to restore CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY on condition that he and I got proofs to correct and then unbound printed copies to verify that the printing looked like the proofs we had approved.

Lebonfon agreed to this. So, it seems to me self-evident that if George's restoration work IS reflected in the proofs and ISN'T reflected in the printing -- which is the case -- then it isn‘t a matter of "Author's changes“, its a matter of "printing inconsistent with the proof stage version". Not an author's problem but a printing problem.

Had Lebonfon said -- when George indicated to them that he would require proofs AND unbound printed copies before approval -- 'Sorry, we only do one set of proofs and we don't guarantee that your printing will look like your proofs. You have to just take whatever we give you,' then George might have decided not to do the restoration in the first place.

Who could blame him?

Or, I might have said to George, "Well, we won't be able to fix everything the first time. This may take two or three printings to get everything fixed." And then George could decide if he could live with that. POSSIBLY he might have said, "In that case, don't describe this printing as FULLY RESTORED or even PARTLY FIESTORED. Don't tell anyone what I'm doing, until the book IS fully restored." Then, we could have announced it that way: as a work-in-progress and I could have saved the 'Gold Logo' signed and numbered treatment for a fully restored book, possibly years from now.

MID-WEEK UPDATE: Having read the discussion last week, the General Manager at Imprimerie Lebonfon has relayed word through Patrick that he is willing to drop the 40% increase to 35% and the 60% increase to 55%.

This is very far from what I was picturing when I posted last week's Update -- which sketched the outlines of a "first time through the mill" "sharing of the pain" between the stakeholders: I would pay 33% of the additional costs, Lebonfon would pay 33% of the additional costs and Diamond would agree to order 33% more books (that is, roughly another 117 copies of CEREBUS instead of another 350 copies and roughly 160 copies of HIGH SOCIETY instead of 500 copies). Lebonfon taking on 5% leaves me and Diamond to split 95% of additional costs.

SECOND MID-WEEK UPDATE: I have spoken to Matt Demory at Diamond about getting ACTUAL orders for the CEREBUS trade. But that's another REALLY complicated issue. Of the 500 copies I have outstanding orders for, the Purchase Orders date back at least to November of 2012. At the time I asked Diamond not to issue any more purchase orders because they would just get voided when the 30 days ran out. In November of 2012, I thought I was asking tor a "breather" of a few months.

And -- under present circumstances -- I can't really legitimately ask Diamond to issue a P.O. NOW for CEREBUS because, at the moment, the situation is still the same. I still have NO idea when it's going to printed. That depends on what the next printing looks like and how long it takes to get an acceptable printing. We've been in a holding pattern pretty much since last July.

This IS becoming a problem for Diamond because without CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY, orders on the later trades are flat-lining. As Matt said, a store that doesn't have volume 1 doesn't have much chance of selling volume 7. Which is leaving Diamond with a lot of "non-performing" inventory that "performs" less well with every week that goes by. So at the exact point that CEREBUS is not exactly the Diamond Poster Child for Skyrocketing Trade Sales, I'm being forced -- because of Lebonfon's additional charges - to ask Diamond to boost their orders from what even basic number-crunching would tell them is sensible.

Further complicating things. Lebonfon suggested that me or George or both of us should go up there tor press approval. Frankly, I don't understand that. That's why you do proofs so that you don't have to BE THERE as the books are being printed. The printer sends you a set of proofs that you approve and then the printer has a set of proofs that match the set you approved so at that point the printer takes printed sheets off the press and compares them to the proots to make sure they look the same. if they don't look the same then you adjust your ink levels and coverage until they do. If -- as happened this summer -- they send George and me the unbound copies and they DON'T match the proofs, then it's pretty easy to settle the question. Here's the proofs. Here's the printing. They don't match.

At one point I was asking Tim Lenaghan if I could get Marty Grosser to referee. Marty (one of the great unsung heroes of the direct market) has the unbelievable Iron Man streak of getting every PREVIEWS catalogue out on time and pretty much word-perfect for, like, decades (he missed, like once, but only because of the big ice storm in La Belle Provincel). He also deals with dozens and dozens of advertisers who have tens of thousands of dollars tied up in making sure that their ad looks the way it's supposed to and is reproduced properly. "Here, Marty, George and I will leave it up to you: are these accurate proofs and do you think this is acceptable printing?" It's still an option, but we opted for another approach in the interim:

George spent the entire summer finding a way to do more accurate proofs and he did find a way and Lebonfon is using it. 600 dpi instead of 300 dpi. You're also talking about George and/or me taking an extended period of time off of work and paying transportation and hotel bills if we go to Val d'Or to approve the printing as it's coming of the press.

This MIGHT be viable -- in my case rather than George's, George is in the middle of producing a movie which is not a "lots of spare time" gig to say the least -- if there was some guarantee that the printing would be better. If I'm just going to sit in Patrick's office and they're going to hand me printing that looks the same as it did last time and stick to their "the problem is the digital files" position OR they stretch the printing over the course of a week or two so that I finally have to leave... then what? How long do I have to spend in Val d'Or to supervise the printing of two 500-page books, one signature at a time?

I'd be interested in Patrick or Josee giving me an idea of how long it will take to print the two books and how long I would have to be there to supervise the printing of 30 or so different 32-page signatures. And then I can look at whether that's feasible in both best case -- everything goes smoothly and takes a day or two -- and worst case - I don't even want to speculate -- scenarios.

So, turning to YOU the participating stakeholders in this situation, the decision is definitely mine, but you're the only ones who have accepted my invitation to sit down at the table here, so, Does this seem acceptable to you? If the decision was yours, would you accept a 5% decrease in the quoted prices that effectively adds roughly 40% to what is the price of a brand new car (if you combine both bills)?

Let me add that I'm not rich and neither is Aardvark-Vanaheim. It's no easy task to keep the cash price of a brand new car intact -- anybody out there tried to do this? Show of hands? -- for eight months in a bank account waiting to pay for two jobs that never seems to move forward.

I don't mind working in Extreme Poverty Mode -- I did it from 2007 to 2011 when I was  repurchasing Gerhard's shares. But at least there, there was an end in sight: December 31, 2011. Here. it's like being in some weird story by Kafka or a self-publishing version of WAITING FOR GODOT.

(Also -- a brief tangent in addressing the stakeholders -- I had hoped to have some comic retailer feedback in addition to reactions from "end-user" customers. But I do realize that a) most store owners don't have time to "cruise the Internet" and when they do, What Dave Sim is Doing Right Now is hardly going to be at or near the top of their destinations list. So: Would it be possible for the fans / readers / collectors who ARE participating and who have reserved copies of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY to ask their retailers for input? We don't have to identify the retailers or their stores here if they'd prefer that we don't (and please ask them if it's okay before doing so yourself) -- all that matters is that they be stakeholders: people waiting for CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY. So, basically here's a question for your retailer AND for you:

"Should Dave Sim just go ahead and authorize printing the books and live with what he is going to get and what you are going to get and what your customers are going to get? And just accept that there are going to be flaws in both of these printings of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY and just hope there aren't too many of them and that they aren't too noticeable?"

OR

"Should Dave Sim keep going with the approvals process on the understanding that each time George or he find a flaw in the unbound printed copies, we get that signature reprinted? (and -- gut instinct ancillary question -- if 15 of 16 signatures had to be reprinted this time on HIGH SOCIETY and 8 of 17 signatures needed to be reprinted this time on CEREBUS, how many signatures do you GUESS will be needed to be reprinted next time?) And how long do you think it will take to produce a flawless version the way we are going? Too long? Just long enough?"

OR

let me guess: "I don't really care. Just send me books when they're printed. Flawless or flawed: SURPRISE me and my customers!"

In the middle case -- keep going no matter how much it costs -- I really need to plan for that financially which will involve (and already does involve) stopping work on THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND temporarily -- HOW temporarily I don't know -- and doing design, writing and drawing on a local advertising job that I HOPE can be "franchised" and provide a regular stream of revenue while I'm waiting for CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY to take up some of the slack, soliciting more donations you, as stakeholders, can either look at as financing my work on THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND or helping to pay for continuing the approvals process expenses on CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY. Since it's both, really. Even if you or your retailer has no reaction, it would be nice to get a "Wow, I have no reaction to that" rather than just, you know, silence.

In terms of "where to now?" in financing with my two biggest selling books out of commission (and returning to the direction of the original comments posted here):

It would be nice if all 16 volumes could be made available on short notice at cerebusdownloads.com but I'm not really counting on that -- even if it happened tomorrow -- providing a lot of revenue. The overlap between CEREBUS fans and CEREBUS fans who are "digitally-minded" seems pretty close to minuscule. "Margaret Liss and seven other CEREBUS fans" with the seven other fans rotating in and out of participation from project to project seems to be the "max" for any CEREBUS thing on the intemet. E-bay auctions, CEREBUS TV donations, the Blog & Mail, cerebusdownloads.com (the donations side does a lot better than the downloads side), Comixology, Diamond Digital, etc.

The only exception was the 2012 Kickstarter campaign but that seems to have been the -- one-time? -- exception to the rule. I have another Kickstarter campaign planned and I'm ready to "pull the trigger" on short notice if the financial situation continues to tighten around my neck. The decision of "go" or "no go" will be made in the next couple of weeks. It might be too soon after the last one, less than two years. I'd be doing this one with John F instead of John S because I think you need a full-time person doing order fulfilment. Financing CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY -- which keep getting postponed and postponed and postponed -- with a Kickstarter campaign where it takes months to get your pledge items... well, personally, I just can't do it. I have to KNOW everything is going to ship close to immediately after the pledge period closes. If I can't KNOW that, I don't want to do it. Reliable R Us here at Aardvark-Vanaheim. Unreliable and I don't sleep so good.

Any wonder that I said that -- in a LOT of ways -- I've found work-made-for-hire a lot easier than sell-publishing? :)

As I said to Eddie on the phone in one of our marathon discussions of the research tor THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND, this is really a perfect example of the Comic Art Metaphysics that I'm attempting to discuss and (even more difficult) depict in STRANGE DEATH. As the Metaphysical Gordian Knot of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY continues to tighten around my neck I am... of course, I am!... working on the issue of STRANGE DEATH which is most concerned with the drastic reproduction issues associated with Alex Raymond's "Nightingale Brush Strokes" on RIP KIRBY. Was Alex Raymond a good custodian of his own work (he owned RIP KIRBY which was unusual for cartoonists at the time)? Well, no, not really. And, yes he was. He did the best work he knew how to do and accepted that only a percentage of it was going to show up on the newspaper page. But he also accepted that only a percentage was going to show up on the syndicate proofs. His lines were that fine that the syndicate engraver was presented with damned if you do, damned if you don't options: thicken up the lines and get all of them or reproduce most of them with 100% accuracy but lose the finest lines. In that case, it was irresponsible of Raymond (in my view) to give away as many originals as he did since the original was the only accurate version of each strip. He really needed to either do full-size negatives of each one -- at his own expense -- and keep those for a future time when they could be used to produce ACCURATE book versions of the strip OR hang onto all of the original art.

But, to be fair, he had no idea that there would ever come a time when an ACCURATE book version would be viable. I didn't have an idea myself until I came up with the phone-book sized trade a good five years in.

It's easy to find fault but, then, I'm in roughly the same situation. I didn't keep the originals, but I did keep the negatives which were 100% accurate or VERY close to it -- until the computer revolution when negatives were no longer used and everything needed to be digitized. I was pretty far-sighted about a lot of things but I'd have to have been Nostradamus to say "Ut! Better not use LT 24 for Cerebus's dot tone because someday all of that LT 24 is going to have to be converted into digital "O" and "1" form on a dot matrix and that's going to create MAJOR moire headaches!"

But, there you go. Me and Alex Raymond: "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

See you next Friday.

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon or a one-off Paypal donation.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd certainly love to buy more original art from Dave like the Heritage Auction last year. If that's an option to raise revenue, then I'm all for it.

Michael said...

Since my order for High Society is a repurchase to upgrade the original edition I bought decades ago, I would really like it to be as nice as possible and as true to Dave's art (and George's work) as feasible. I haven't paid in advance for the book but I am committed to purchasing the book my LCS has ordered on my behalf. As both a satisfied Kickstarter supporter and a cheerfully ongoing donor, both of those for the purposes of keeping Cerebus around and supporting Dave Sim in creating new work, I hope patiently for the best outcome in both areas.

Dave Philpott said...

I think I would look for a new printer. A 40% increase is crazy money. They should be excited to add a new account. You will be a steady stream of revenue for them . They should take a look at the larger picture. It sounds like someone was having a bad day and decided to pass it along.

Anonymous said...

If you have not already done so, I'd talk to your lawyer, even just for practical advice on next steps, rather than us. It would be a huge mistake not to get legal advice, as I'm guessing your next steps might affect legal rights and continue to hurt you or leave you vulnerable financially.

It seems to me that you have an agreement with Lebonfon that you and Diamond have relied on to your detriment and it's putting you in a worse and worse position by the minute. It seems like Lebonfon are trying to get out of the agreement.

I, who know nothing, would be hesitant to give in to a company that does not feel bound by their agreements, as they might renege on other parts of your agreement later when you are even more vulnerable and when it would be even harder for you to say no. Giving in on the approvals might not make the problem go away. Maybe it will create a bad precedent? I don't know.

Perhaps this is a bit clumsy, oh master of lettering, but just for emphasis: IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY DONE SO, TALK TO YOUR LAWYER!

So, if someone puts the Cerebus files on cerebusdownloads, I would suggest dividing them up to get the most value out of them. I would be glad to pay a reasonable amount for individual volumes, or even for 5-issue collections of the biweekly series (I'd love to have all the material from the individual issues again), rather than simply one massive download. I suppose this might be work for somebody to divide it up, but if it's at all possible, it would be a nice way for fans like me to incrementally buy the series at prices fair to Dave.

- Reginald P.

Paul Slade said...

Dear Dave,

For what it's worth, it strikes me that your first priority has to be getting some kind of version of Cerebus & High Society back in print as soon as possible, not only so they can start bringing in some income for AV again, but also to remove the road block their absence creates to later phone books selling too.

The longer these two volumes are out of print, the more disillusioned Diamond is likely to become with Cerebus, the more frustrated they'll get with the "blocked inventory" problem you mention above and the less inclined they'll be to support Cerebus in the future. There's perhaps a danger here that you're letting the perfect become the enemy of the pretty damn good.

One option might be to get another batch of Cerebus and High Society printed up at the same reproduction standard as the existing phone books, purely as a holding operation. I'm assuming that would be the simplest and cheapest way of getting those volumes out on the market again, and at least the investment involved promises to produce some cash flow in the short term.

It's primarily the story most people are interested in here after all, not the finest points of reproduction, and it's having a gap in that story which creates the wider sales problem. It's only if you can persuade people to sample Cerebus at the affordable price of the current phone books that you have the chance of them coming back for a prestige reprint later.

Finally, I was one of those people who were sad to see your recent discussions with Fantagraphics came to nothing. You seems to be building up a pretty good relationship with IDW, though, so perhaps it would be worth discussing a licensed "Prestige Cerebus" reprint project with them?

There's only so many hours in the day and - much as I admire your determined independence - this might be one part of the operation you should consider delegating to a publisher you feel you can trust. There are many people who are capable of supervising a high-quality comics reprint project but only you can finish The Strange Death of Alex Raymond.

These thoughts come with all the usual caveats, of course: these being that I know next to nothing about the publishing business, and that it's you - not me - who'll bear the consequences of whatever decision you make. One of the problems with encouraging a public discussion of these issues is that you risk ending up with a thousand contradictory and equally ill-informed bits of glib advice which just end up confusing the issue further. Probably, this is just one more.

Keith said...

I would go with option A; accept the flaws and move forward. It's certainly not ideal, but the longer this process drags on, the worse off you'll be in the end. I think your perfectionism is going to be the death of you, especially if it's going to delay a project that's still a few years away from hitting the shelves. Get the reprints out the door and focus on Strange Death. Cerebus will always be available for reprinting sometime down the road, and maybe at that time you can find a printer who will work with you to achieve the high standards you want.

John Mosher said...

Dave,
Since, as you have often said, these 2 books are your continuing best sellers, and now apparently the gateway to the later volumes, you need to just go ahead and print them, even if the books do not look exactly as you would like. I know as an artist, and even a businessman trying to put out the best possible product for your customers, this will not be easy. And it is certainly easy for all of us out here to tell you what we think you should do.

And I agree with other posts that your printers additional costs are ludicrous. Good grief. If you cannot find a way to bring that number down this time around, find a different printer for next time. While I can see their position that what happened is not entirely their fault, they should not realistically expect you to cover all the costs. That's bad business.

I myself am hoping for, someday......many? years from now......an omnibus style book. Mmmmm......a little oversize, slick paper, with the covers, hardback......oooooooo......I can see it now......

Good luck, Dave.

John Mosher

Anonymous said...

Dave should look into printing in China. The quality is excellent, and so is the price. Printing is roughly 10-20 days from the time one approves their proof.
As for shipping (which is included in the printing price), it's roughly 3 weeks by sea. And there is no duty charged on printed matter.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

I've chimed in on this three or four times already, which normally I would think is three or four times too many... but since you're actively soliciting opinions, I'll throw mine down again.

Firstly, the printing. It has indeed become a rather strange new standard for printing houses to supply "proofs" that don't accurately reflect the final printing. People are so accustomed to terrible printing now anyway that I'm sure most people have no use for a proof anyway, other than checking the spelling or that their fonts haven't been misplaced.

That being said, there's usually some language included in the proofing process that's intended to make that clear.

Which brings up point number two-- call your lawyer!

Point number three--I can't imagine going ahead with doing business with a company that won't meet you half-way on this. At the very least, they've demonstrated poor communication abilities and a casual disregard for the demands of a primarily visual printed product.

Point number four-- the actual technical side. It seems to me, from this distance anyway, that you and George are battling several technical problems at the same time, the most of which seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the different needs of line art and toned work.

I've gone into this at great lengths before, and I'll spare you that again. But I hope you strongly consider getting professional technical assistance before you go forward with any other print projects. There are books released every month that look fantastic, that are printed from 50, 60, 70 year old artwork, with screens, with detailed hatching, with applied texture. The recent Fanta EC releases. The Shigeru Mizuki releases from D + Q. Everything historical printed from Viz.

I'm a print obsessive. I get a new book, I inspect it, look at the details of the printing process, pull out my loupe. I've walked a book of teeny tiny lines myself through the process, last year. Digital printing is not inherently incompatible with line art and even screen tone. It just takes some knowledge of the pitfalls to make it work.

I would be 95 percent positive that George's scans could be used for an incredible looking book. They look great on screen--he did a fabulous job on the visual restoration. But to translate line art with screening to print, you have to be aware that--

1. The image should be converted to a 1-bit bitmap (to avoid any printer/halftone screening, so all your tiny lines don't turn into a row of tiny soft dots, and your dots don't turn into jagged little swirly diamonds from hell)

AND

2. the resolution of the bitmap should be beyond the resolution of the destination (i.e. 1200 dpi for paper)

AND

3. the final conversion should only take place when you send the files to the printer

BECAUSE

4. the conversion needs to be to the exact dimensions of the destination, i.e. exact size

BECAUSE

5. any amount of scaling/shifting/rotating after you've contrast-adjusted your scanned dot tone EXACERBATES EXISTING MOIRE.

In other words, in addition to looking horrible on line art, HALFTONING CAUSES MOIRE.

And SCALING CAUSES MOIRE.

And ROTATION CAUSES MOIRE.

And... well, you get the picture.

So that final 1-bit bitmap output is intended to reduce the amount that you add to the already fraught process.

If there's a digital equivalent to a negative for line art work, it would be a really large 8-bit gray scale image that's already been fiddled with and adjusted and looks nice and slick, just waiting for it's destination size to create 1-bit bitmaps to spec.

Anyway, I keep harping on these things because, like many of your readers, I do feel ownership of these books in a certain respect. I would love to be able to buy editions printed on good paper, with crisp line art and attention to detail not possible in previous printings.

Ray Cornwall said...

Email sent to George on the digital files.

As for the books...they are what they are. You can drive yourself nuts over them. I have no opinion. I have a standing order with DCBS for my copy of High Society, and am not going to cancel it at this stage.

The only way I can see pursuing the "perfection" route is if it leads to additional revenue- an Omnibus with "perfect" restoration, bonus content, etc. I think READS, actually, would be a fascinating book to "blow up"- throw in stuff from the archives showing your initial drafts of the READS essays, maybe any correspondence you feel comfortable in displaying, etc. In other words, the full-blown experience we got with High Society HD.

I think at this point, all of us in Cerebusland are pretty much committed to the notion that the restoration of these books to digital-level is going to involve Kickstarters of some sorts. That's fine. You were incredibly good with the first round of Kickstartering- you can have my wallet for future books as warranted. I'd participate in a READS Kickstarter, a CHURCH & STATE Kickstarter, an Epic Kickstarter, etc.

Whatever you decide, Dave, even if we all disagree. We've all ridden the train this long.

Wishing you a productive and healthy week,
Ray
Ray

Anonymous said...

I'd like to register an opinion against what seems to be the developing majority view: I think it would be a mistake to proceed with an inferior-looking book. My reasons are two.

One: If the goal is to entice readers who are reluctant to start the series with anything other than Book 1, you don't want that Book 1 to turn off readers with poor printing. Book 1 is already a difficult sale, what with Dave's skills as both writer and artist being at their most amateurish. Although, looking back, we can perhaps see the diamond in the rough, such work, if published today by an unknown, wouldn't stand a chance in the marketplace. There's no need to compound the lesser quality of the work with a poor print job, and thus turn off readers who did give Book 1 a chance.

And two: Readers are not the audience for Cerebus. I remember that, in his somewhat churlish interview for The AV Club, Dave said that he wouldn't recommend that general readers read Cerebus, and I think he was quite correct.

As a literary work, Cerebus is a magnificent failure -- and please understand that I mean both those words sincerely and equally. There is not a single volume that is an unqualified success. Some of them are qualified successes, but some of them, I'm afraid, are failures. But if Dave's reach exceeded his grasp, we must acknowledge that he reached far.

Many years ago, Dave predicted that the likeliest outcome would be that he would die in obscurity, the work itself forgotten. That is still the most probable outcome. Cerebus isn't going to enter the canon of literary works -- not even the canon of comics works. It's not going to win the acclaim Dave believes it deserves -- not in his lifetime, and it won't be rediscovered after his death. It will always remain a fringe work, popular among a devoted but miniscule audience, recommended by word of mouth to people of like interests.

The enduring audience for Cerebus will be cartoonists and critics -- those with an interest in comics as a medium. I've quoted Allen Rubinstein before: "Cerebus contains some of the all-time best and some of the all-time worst comics I've ever read." It's a shame that, as Dave's command of the comics form -- his ability to say accurately what he wanted to say -- grew stronger, he had less and less that was worth saying. Eventually even his much-praised skill at lettering descended into self-parody. But there are panels, scenes, and sequences in Cerebus that work, and are endlessly rewarding of study.

And for that audience, the highest possible quality of reproduction is important -- nay, vital. We want to see exactly how the combination of layout, dialogue, cartooning, lettering, and backgrounds work. Just like Dave investigating Alex Raymond: "How did he do that?"

Perhaps Dave will be like The Velvet Underground, of whom it was said, "They only sold 1,000 albums, but every one of those 1,000 listeners started a band." The difference would be that, whereas today some civilians can listen to the Velvets' albums and enjoy them, the general reading audience (even the general comics-reading audience) will never embrace Cerebus in that way. But if Dave and Cerebus inspire 1,000 cartoonists to go out and create their own comics exactly as they want ... well, that's not a bad legacy at all.

TL;DR version: The principal audience of Cerebus will value the highest-quality printing job.

The main downside is economic: can Dave afford to live, and produce new work, without the revenue from these two volumes?

-- Damian T. Lloyd, dpi

Anonymous said...

At this point, you really have no great options for the present. For the future, however, you've got a few.

Right now, you're stuck. Going to the printer and futzing around with them until they produce pages that are acceptable is unrealistic given that the books are already absurdly late and you've got other things to do. Bite the bullet, print the books as is, but do something like draw in a quick, individually numbered Cerebus head sketch with a sharpie on the inside cover of each book just to say (without directly saying) "sorry, this isn't the best printing available, but now this is at least a collector's item." Don't print up any further Cerebus phonebooks in this manner to assure that they're a unique thing for obsessives to buy on eBay at inflated prices once they're gone from comic shops. Don't take too much time away from Strange Death.

Your next order of business, is getting the Cerebus bootleg stuff on your site, at a low, low price point (you didn't have to do anything to scan them in, and the scans aren't as high-quality as a professional job would be), with various options (i.e., download the entirety of Reads for X amount, or download single issues for 99 cents, or download the entire 300 issues of Cerebus for Y, etc.).

After that, it's clear that you need to work with a publisher (not an insult or anything- it's just that publishers are much bigger accounts for printing firms so they're not as likely to jerk you around like Lebonfon has been). Do the prestige prints of Cerebus that this book deserves before you die (hopefully not alone and unmourned). Image and Fantagraphics had expressed interest in doing decent hardcover editions of your work, just freaking let them do it. You may want to make a special deal- say, don't pay you for the license in money, but do pay you for the license by forking over to you digital files on a portable hard drive AND archive-quality DVDs in several different file formats (suspenders and a belt, as it were) and then a percentage of the books sold. That would allow you to put Cerebus back into print yourself after Image or IDW or Darkhorse or Fantagraphics or Top Shelf or WHOEVER have finished selling their print run.

Also yes, it sucks for American printers to lose revenue but the Chinese do great printing at great prices. Never, ever print anything with Lebonfon ever, ever again.

Anonymous said...

Ah crap, forgot to add my name to the above comment- (anon 3 Februaru 2014 01:57) sorry.

-Wesley Smith.

Dave Kopperman said...

I've worked with a lot of vendors over the years, and from their behavior, here, it's pretty clear that they don't want you business. And I don't mean that metaphorically, I mean they literally don't want your business. I would say the time has come to break ties with them (in as ethical and economically painless a way as possible) and move on to another printer. The reasons you originally went to them are no longer valid.

David Birdsong said...

I fall into the camp that is ready to march on Lebonfon with pitchforks and torches. I would ride them like a stubborn mule until they give you what you want and then end the relationship.

The suggestion to split the overage costs between Sim-Diamond-Lebonfon is more than fair.

It shouldn't take more than a couple of days to print the books and while the last ones are being printed the first ones should be already bound once the ink it dry.

Go there, threaten them with a lawyer and wield a whip on them until the books are done to your satisfaction. Their work is unacceptable.

The next thing to do is to re-read Sean Michael Robinson's entry above and follow that method with another printer. China is indeed an option, but there must be any number of North American printers that can do a the job better than Lebonfon or at least be willing to share in the cost of corrections. This situation has become ridiculous.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

An addendum to my other post--the absolute fool-proof way to ensure there's no moire would be to strip all of the tone digitally--a pain, for sure-- and then replace it with Manga Studio. It's a really great, poorly-named program made for comic artists in Japan and imported for North American distribution about a decade ago. It handles tones as vectors--essentially, instructions as to where the tone will go and what it will be--until you export, at which time it transforms it into the size, resolution, etc of your destination. Perfect looking tone at any size and texture and dot pitch with no jaggies.

Of course, when you hit Fall and the River that would definitely not be the best approach, seeing how much tone Gerhard used and all the different ways it was applied. But this technique is perfect for spot rescues and replacements. And as far as I know the program has been abandoned, as the importer doesn't exist anymore--so download away.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Whoops, still being sold, but costs under $60. A great deal--virtually any texture of tone that's ever been manufactured, available at a click, at any size or dot pitch.

Anonymous said...

A big issue has to be trying to get professional-grade, timely work out of unpaid volunteers without error. Without paid professional involvement in producing Cerebus TV, for instance, it couldn't have aired consistently, despite the essential contributions of those who volunteer. You can't hold volunteers' feet to the fire for schedule slippage or mistakes. Any director at a non-profit has experienced this phenomenon. Sometimes "free" paradoxically adds back end costs so much more than expected - which is why the lesson learned about full time fulfillment from the Kickstarter is most useful.

Jeff Seiler said...

Dave---Persons much smarter and more knowledgeable than am I have chimed in in very reasonable ways above, some of which I don't even understand. So I would just add, by all means, sic Wilf on them (or a specialist he can recommend). LeBonFon may or may not want your business, but they clearly feel complete freedom to attempt to stick it to you where the sun don't shine. Especially since the exact message you've given them 100% reason to believe is that you'll pursue this to its end by all means necessary. I'm sure when you went to them when Priney folded you weren't expecting the mom-and-pop aspects and friendliness you had with Preney, but this is way over the top.

Bottom line, though, on these two books is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. Print them now as is and you're selling something of lesser quality than what you promised. Keep pushing till it's perfect and you're threatening STRANGE DEATH, your income base, and your mental and physical health.

I don't think retailer input is of all that much value. I think that many if not most retailers are going to order these new reprints in numbers that reflect what their customers want, not how many copies, no matter what the bells and whistles, that would sit on the shelf. Either the numbers are already there or will be when it's officially solicited, but I don't think retailers (with some notable exceptions) are going to care a whit what the production values are. "I'll order what the customer asks for and that's it."

That's my two cents' worth, Dave. Best of luck and you know I'm behind you all the way to the end, wherever that may take us.

Eddie said...

1) Still waiting to hear back form my LCS, but I personally lean towards option A; get the books out with what you think is the best possible quality given the current circumstances, especially (as has been mentioned ) it's hurting sales and the availability of the series overall and I think you need to make a hard judgement call on where the fine line on acceptable printing is. I think there are some good suggestions here on how to sell the run, like with the head sketch idea.

2) I would shy away from a litigation process (which isn't the same as checking what your legal rights are in this situation if it did come to that. I mean what's the point of actually DOING proofs in the first place if this is the result? Just a leftover formality from the old days before everything went digital?). Comic books and law suits seem to make for complex and expensive cases, and I worry that it might make trying to get tone to print out properly look like a walk in the park and and up costing way more than the price of a new car. I'm siding with the posts that say to try and get these out with as minimum of fuss and further expense and move towards a new option for future prints. To paraphrase a quote I once read: No print company is going to give you enough of a discount to allow you to sue them successfully. You'd think based on history they would look at printing Cerebus volumes as a solid, long -term revenue generating investment.

3) I'm not sure what you physically being there in Val d'Or would accomplish. Is the intention to have you as some kind of Quality Assurance inspector where you can say, 'stop the presses! Book #239/500 has a problem with it!' and then they'll charge you again for having to start the printing over again? Or is it so they can print the books one at a time as they come off the presses, and you can inspect them individually (is that even logistically possible?).

4) Based on the comments here it sounds like the high quality that you're aiming for CAN be done through other printers not only more familiar with the complexities of printing tone but also willing to ensure the quality control is there. The only concern is if they are overseas how do you deal with them if there a problem arises? I wonder if Japanese printers with familiarity with manga tones would be able to do it if there wasn't a closer to home option. You'd think someone would look at the potential long term investment of being printers for the Cerebus'volumes.

I don't have a copy of the IDW reprint of TMNT #8 with Cerebus in it (I believe it's in Volume 2), but I wonder if talking to whoever was responsible for dealing with the moire on that job would be helpful in any way, especially if it was printed in a similar process which you've been dealing with here (in addition to any suggestions from Marty Grosser).

Or perhaps a licensing deal is the way to go.


5) Sean, I'm really interested in everything you've said, even though I don't really know anything about the processes involved (e.g. aren't you losing information/data by converting it to 1-bit after having cleaned up all the information? Isn't it a case of 'the more bits /bytes the better?' Sorry if that sounds like a dumb question), so thank you for that. I personally would be interested in reading more from you (and George) if you think there's anything more to say that can't be found by searching AMOC. I find working with computer technology to be almost a bureaucratic process at times.

Like others have said Dave, I'm with you and you've got my support in helping get these books that mean so much to ALL of us back out there.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Hey Eddie--

Not a stupid question at all! The whole thing is really counter-intuitive, but is intrinsically tied with the differences between screen and print.

Consider for a moment what's making the image on a piece of paper. Some kind of plate has been inked and is applied to paper. The amount of ink is consistent (hopefully) across the entire plate--the raised surfaces print, the lowered surfaces leave white paper exposed. It's binary--on/off. Either there's ink on a portion of the plate, or there's not.

Conversely, on a computer screen every little point of information has an amount that it can be varied, either color or value. An 8-bit grayscale file has a separate piece of information for each of those little points of information that says "how gray do you want this part?" Or, "how much red do you want on this part, and how much green and blue should I mix in as well?" in the case of a color file.

So, you can imagine, if you had a scan of some lineart in color, then yes, technically, if you converted from color to grayscale, you're losing information. But! That lost information wasn't useful to you unless you needed that color differentiation for some reason. The same thing is happening if you convert to 1-bit (i.e. bitmap) from grayscale in the case of line work that is intended to be printed as linework, i.e. no variation of value. Yes, ON A SCREEN, a 1-bit bitmap looks crappy. But it's exactly what the printing plate wants!

Screens are incredibly low-resolution compared to the amazing resolution/information rich surface of paper. But they do a great job for things like full color images, images with lots of variation in tone, i.e. things that aren't linework. If you're displaying something on a screen, you WANT it to stay grayscale, because the grayscale hides the screen's low resolution. Instead of seeing jagged stair-stepping on the edge of a black line, your eye is fooled by subtle gray variation on those outer pixels that soften the hard edges.

But there's no such thing as gray to a printer plate. If you don't make this conversion to a high resolution bitmap, then the programs (and humans) that act as intermediaries between the files and the printer take that grayscale image and apply a "screen" to it. I.e. the grayscale present in the files is suddenly represented by dots that, at the right distance, will fool the eye to see gray tone.

So, imagine for a moment that you already have tone (i.e. Cerebus's screen tone) on your image, and you're now making pre-existing little dots out of new little dots. This gives you some idea of why (among many many many other reasons) it's a bad idea to print line art as half tone, and why you're not losing information when you convert to bitmap for print. What you're doing is GAINING print information in that you won't be losing all that detail into a screening process.

Look at a Coke can. Read all that teeny tiny little print on the back? Great! Me too! See how sharp the logo is, how perfect the curve of the C as it loops around to the O? If that had been halftone screened, the edge of that letter would be composed of little dots that would even at a few inches away would cause the edge to look soft and indistinct. The text would be unreadable at small point sizes.

Sean Michael Robinson said...


Anyway, there are lots of aesthetic reasons to avoid screening for linework art all costs. It looks great, however, when trying to reproduce something with gray tones--pencil sketches. Water color washes, etc.

But as I mentioned before, that's not the only reason they're getting moire. My list above is by no means comprehensive, but as I mentioned, there are a lot of steps you can take to try to avoid it. But if you really want to go on a moire seek-and-destroy mission, re-toning with the program I mentioned, Manga Studio, is absolutely foolproof. It takes fifteen minutes to learn how to use the program, and all the tone information exists as vectors until you're ready to export.

It would take someone with experience using the program and a tablet somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes a page, depending on the amount of Cerebus present, to swap the tone and re-render each page as an appropriately sized bitmap.

There's a lot of bad printing out there as the print industry has shifted over the past two decades. When was first dealing with a printer, in 1997, I'd take in paste-ups and photos for half-toning and the printer would take care of the post production--making half-tones of the photos, cropping and enlarging to our specifications, shooting the pages with their negative camera.

Now with computers having completely overtaken this world, the customer is responsible for supplying everything--not just camera-ready artwork. It's as if Dave and Gerhard would, instead of bringing in camera-ready artwork,, have bought a document camera and shot the negatives themselves for Preney to use for the plate. It's been a gradual change over the past two decades that's brought us here.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Lastly--for anyone seeking the previous iteration of this discussion, here's the original thread from July 2013, well worth taking a look at. I go into great detail about the various issues here. http://momentofcerebus.blogspot.com/2013/07/restoring-black-white-comics-cerebus.html

Reading George's response to me in that thread was what convinced me this was a hopeless cause. I got a little injection of hope this week when Dave started soliciting opinions himself.

What I'm advocating here isn't radical. It's standard operating procedure for digital printing of line art.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

This just in from George Peter Gatsis...

Sean,

You assumption of the solution for the production process for restoring Cerebus / High Society is extremely flawed.

You do not take into account:

1) different scanned pieces from at least 4 different suppliers.
2) adjusting the detail of the actual film scans to retain detail when it goes to press...
3) adjusting and retaining detail of the original pages... and restoring them to their original state of over 30 years ago
4) re-screening Cerebus on any given page is not a half hour job... it's a lot longer... at least a day...
5) every page ( film scanned from 3 different suppliers / original art scanned from at least 5 different suppliers / supplied scans of various quality / existing HA scans of various quality ) requires a major clean up
6) pages that were lost in the fire required to be scanned from the best available printed books and cleaned up and fixed or corrected
7) elements and missed graphics and missed Cerebus tones required to be fixed or inserted into the artwork for the first time
8) different resolutions from varying suppliers of the artwork in point #5
9) being given digital proofs that are not accurate

this is just off the top of my head...

Bottom line... it's not as simple as you outlined in multiple posts... not one bit.

or like I said before... you can refer to the PDF examples that were posted... they are just the tip of the iceberg...

at a later date -TIME PERMITTING- I will post a detailed accounting of the entire production... until then CHIVE ON!

George Peter Gatsis

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Hey George.

I'm not attempting to belittle your restoration efforts in any way. I know what you've done took a tremendous amount of work under very trying conditions. I've read what you've written. I've seen your pdf.

That doesn't change anything I've said.

The things I mentioned in my first comment here exacerbate moire, none more so than halftoning/printing from grayscale files.

There's nothing productive to be gained by me responding to you any further, as you've either not read what I wrote here already, or not understood it.

Lastly, maybe half an hour per page is an underestimate of how long it would take to strip the tone digitally--especially when there are figures with lots of hatching involved-- but adding it back in with Manga Studio would literally be a matter of minutes. I've toned hundreds of pages of work in the program with nothing but an old Wacom tablet. But, of course, I'm not recommending someone do that. I don't think it's necessary. I'm only saying that it would be possible to do.

Eddie said...

I think we're all on the same page that George has done a pretty incredible and labour intensive job on restoring and digitizing the work (and THANK YOU George), and what we're experiencing now are problems with the printer not producing copies that match the proofs.

Thanks for the information Sean. I THINK I now get the concept of converting everything to a high resolution 1-bit after you've done all the line work restoration and scanning and just before you send it to the printer.

It sounds exactly analogous to the concept of inking; taking all the suggested lines (or pencil work) and creating as dedicated and committed a line as possible by converting it into a bitmap (or inking). Essentially forcing or purifying all the information into more of an absolutist position of either black or white (or 0 or 1). In political terms, I guess it's like you're forcing it to make a choice, rather than fence sitting with a variety of wishy-washy options (for some reason the term 'Ditko Bitmap' keeps running through my head).

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Just in from George Peter Gatsis...

Sean,

Again you assume incorrectly...

I've read everything you posted... and I understood it all...

Been there, done that... and then, a heck of a lot more.

Chive on!

George Peter Gatsis

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Eddie-

Sound analogy. And you've reminded me of the last bit of the formula that I didn't mention--when converting to 1-bit bitmap, choose the method as THRESHOLD. This is the on-off mode you're describing, appropriate for lineart.

(For anyone with a copy of Photoshop that wants to know what halftoning/screentoning looks like, this is where you can do it--scan something in grayscale, then convert to bitmap--and choose HALFTONE instead of THRESHOLD--it'll let you choose the density and the pitch and even the size of the dots. Larger pitch (bigger dots) are for coarse paper, smaller dots for less absorbtent plate surfaces. So for those of you who were wondering, "why convert to black and white?" that's what a printer does anyway, with a halftone screen--just doing so yourself with a threshold command lets you preserve detail because you're not "seeing" things through the screen, which, at best, makes everything soft and indistinct, and, at worst, makes it look like a soup of dots.)

Lastly, George and Dave, this does not have to be an academic question. Find a book you both really like the printing of that was put out in the past half decade and write the production staff that worked on the book, ask em what kind of files they sent to their printer and what kind of prep they did on them. I keep mentioning the Fantagraphics EC books because they a. look great, b. have many of the same technical challenges as the Cerebus material, c. have no moire despite the screen tone on the pages, and d. the staff is readily accessible by email and phone.

I don't have any stake in this other than wanting to have some great looking books on my shelf, and a lifelong frustration with bad print. NOTHING I've said here is radical or anything new (other than suggesting replacing all the tone. As far as I know only Colleen Doran has gone that far, and like I said, I think it's unnecessary given how many books appear each year of similar vintage, looking better than the day they were originally printed.

So, yeah, I'll stop typing now. Don't take my word for it. Ask someone who's worked on books you both admire. This is really not a complicated, unsolved problem.

mahendra singh said...

This is a "golden age" for getting good print work at rock bottom prices, it's never been better., esp. in Canada. And the CDN$ is dropping, hallelujah!

Some printers pay little attention to proof slips because some clients can't/won't proof properly & then demand comps … some do this deliberately. You know you're going to take a bath no matter what.

scanning b/w zipatone … go greyscale and rotate source art's screen grid 15 degrees from normal before you scan … ie., determine x (or y) axis of zipatone screen, then place on glass/drum so that zipatone axis is 30 degrees off drum/scanner line of travel

every job a new adventure!

mahendra singh said...

One more thing … bit map is ALWAYS the way to go with offset line art, 1200dpi is always better, same size is helpful to prevent over-eager idiots horsing around with stuff.

And you can always throttle back from there to a non-aliased 300 dpi greyscale for POD,if needed. But not the other ay