Sunday, 16 March 2014

Weekly Update #22: Crisis On Infinite Cerebus Trade Paperbacks

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...
Still getting used to this new format for "open governance" of Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc.

I've decided what I need to do is to download the comments from the previous week and then think about them for the following week before replying. The present structure leads to the typical "shoot from the hip" Internet response which, in my view, tends to lead nowhere good. I'll always come up with a more rational response given another week to mull things over.

So this is being written with only Monsieur Roberge's Midweek Update in front of me.

And a belated BIENVENUE! to you from all of us, Monsieur Roberge!

I'll leave the technical response to Monsieur Roberge's Midweek Update -- which is outside my area of expertise -- to George and Sean, and instead attempt to sketch in a roadmap of the "way forward" and then invite the input of all of the stakeholders:

So far as I know we are still working toward getting a single signature reprinted composed of George's extensive restoration work with Sean's final tweaks where Sean thinks they are needed. So we still need Imprimerie Lebonfon's quote for a "best price" on that single signature as well as an indication of what the minimum number of copies is that they need to print to make it worth their while doing. Once we are at that point, we are looking at having a lot of copies of that single signature.

So it seems sensible, at that point...

(and I hasten to point out that this is all purely hypothetical: the "default" option if -- and only if -- the signature doesn't meet with my and George and Sean's unanimous approval)

...for me to mail copies of that signature, along with George and Sean's finished digital files, to various printers who are already working with Diamond Comic Distributors (that is, comic art printers), including a Hong Kong printer I had contacted a few years ago and whose quote, while competitive, wasn't, back then, sufficiently lower for me to reconsider my multi-year working relationship with Imprimerie Lebonfon and (through Ted Adams) IDW's South Korean printer and asking ALL of them for a quote on printing CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY and asking ALL of them to critique the printing on the sample signature.

Basically: can they do a better job than this and what will they charge Aardvark-Vanaheim to do it? This is far from flawless as approaches go -- the person you're going to be in contact with at any printer is going to be a company salesmen and company salesman tend to have "auto-settings": "Yes, they can do this" even when they can't. But I'm hopeful that HOW they express that assurance and WHAT critique they present will "pass muster" with George and Sean: i.e. THESE people know what they're talking about!

There's a Plan B and Plan C that comes after that, but, let's see about crawling before we try walking, n'est ce pas?

Even the most conservative "ballpark figure" I have in mind for getting the one-off signature printed is going to be a lot of money in these "cash-strapped" days (I'm assuming that 99% of the people reading this -- like myself -- would classify themselves as "cash-strapped" here in 2014).

So what I'm picturing is getting Imprimerie Lebonfon to ship a quantity of the signatures here to the house where I'll use them as a basis tor a "bare bones" Kickstarter campaign by signing and numbering them -- and personalizing them -- for the primary stakeholders -- the CEREBUS fans and readers interested in helping -- as pledge items: the number of copies signed and numbered being limited to the number of pledge partners after the campaign has concluded. I'm guessing a hundred or so at most (as I say, these are cash-strapped times) (if I'm underestimating the demand and potential support, let me assure everyone that ANY additional funds raised will ONLY be used to finance the successive next steps on the way to getting both books back into print)

At the very least it seems like a way of ensuring that everyone who has been following this CRISIS ON INFINITE CEREBUS TRADE PAPERBACKS for the last couple of years has a chance to get a rare artifact from this extended process and to see -- firsthand -- what we're talking about as we discuss the "ins and outs" of the reprinted signature...

...and possibly (God willing) to own a copy of the "finish line" in this lengthy process: The Last Spike in the HIGH SOCIETY railroad!

In conclusion, let me also state that my "one-time" print run option for Diamond to do an interim printing of CEREBUS and/or HIGH SOCIETY through Gemstone Publishing stands.

As Monsieur Roberge alluded to in his letter, there was a roughly 15% shortfall of CEREBUS trades in inventory when Imprimerie Lebonfon decided, last year, to no longer store inventory on their premises and after Diamond agreed to acquire all of the CEREBUS trade paperbacks stored at Imprimerie Lebonfon with the proviso that they be able to pay for them over 8 quarterly instalments (more on this in future Updates):

This definitely made -- and makes -- Diamond the Primary Stakeholder in CEREBUS trades (after Aardvark-Vanaheim).

And -- obviously -- both Diamond and I THOUGHT that they would have copies of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY to sell alongside their considerable investment -- and vote of confidence in my and Gerhard's work, which is deeply appreciated -- in these (I reiterate) "cash-strapped" times back in July or August.

So, this many months later, it only makes sense to give Diamond an "override" option if at any point they decide that they NEED CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY back in print in a narrower time frame than we seem to be looking at at this moment.

(any publisher/printer combination capable or producing the OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE on an annual basis can, unquestionably, in my mind produce serviceable one-time print runs of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY)

Had any comics retailers chosen to participate here, I'd request that Diamond consult with those retailers on this hypothetical "Gemstone Printing". But, since our stakeholder "meetings" to this point have consisted only of CEREBUS fans and readers, Aardvark-Vanaheim, Diamond Comic Distributors, Imprimerie Lebonfon, George and Sean I'd leave questions of quality control on these hypothetical "Gemstone Printings" up to Gemstone's own in-house experts.

And I'd leave any compensation from Diamond/Gemstone to Aardvark-Vanaheim up to them, taking into account a) how long they've had to carry a substantial inventory "unsupported" by CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY b) how long their "gut instinct" tells them the CRISIS ON INFINITE CEREBUS TRADE PAPERBACKS is going to take.

I'm on page 2 of issue 5 of THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND.

I'll mention -- as an aside -- that I hope things work out here with Imprimerie Lebonfon and I can, therefore, "pitch" Ted Adams on letting Imprimerie Lebonfon bid on being the printer of STRANGE DEATH: a Canadian printer for a comic book written and drawn by a Canadian. It's not as if the printing quality on glamourpuss doesn't speak for itself and I can't imagine my American readers would object to moving the work hours from South Korea back here to North America.

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.


Anonymous said...

Issue 6? I thought you just finished issue 4.

- Reginald P.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Typo. Fax said "issue 5". Pesky 'Optical Character Recognition' software.

Stephen Benson said...

I get the feeling the fax is causing a few problems; lmprimerie Lebonfon also alluded to it.... Might be time to reconsider that decision?

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

...or buy better 'Optical Character Recognition' software.

Jeff R. said...

I guess "296 1/2 issues in 16 volumes" isn't as snappy... (113/114, 51, and half of 52 are not reprinted in the phone books.)

Anonymous said...

I always consider Cerebus to be a 298-issue series. Putting two numbers on a cover and increasing the page-count does not two issues make. I've occasionally wondered how the distributors reacted to the "double issues". Readers I knew at the time bought only one copy.

This idea is an interesting one. It could allow work that wouldn't survive in the "free market" to be published and, one hopes, find an audience.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, mdf

Jeff Seiler said...

Dave, I don't know if this helps at this stage, but I got on the phone to my shop, The College of Comic Book Knowledge (here in Minneapolis) the other day to order the disc due out in May. The employee there and I spoke at length because he was vaguely aware of there being problems with HS and Cerebus and because he mentioned being very interested in your vintage comic strip work. Eventually I posed your question about retailers to him (paraphrased) -- would his store be more interested in waiting for the "perfect" digitally mastered reprints, with the caveat of knowing that there is no immediate end in sight to the problems, or would his store be more interested in "less than perfect" non-digitally-mastered reprints that would come out sooner as a stopgap.
His response was that, a) he wasn't in charge of ordering and, b) being aware of the process he still couldn't say for sure because he couldn't know what the range would be for "perfect" and "less than perfect". I told him I assumed that the non-digital reprint would be at least as good as each of the previous reprint volumes of Cerebus and High Society. He still basically just demurred, in part no doubt because he isn't actually "in charge" of ordering. So there you go. But I suspect that, even if you yourself were to pose the question in such terms to other retailers, you're probably going to get similar responses from most of them. Especially because, in my experience, most retailers don't really even try to keep all 16 volumes in stock, with notable exceptions such as Jeremy Schorr's (name?) Titan Comics in Dallas. I think it could be an interesting experiment to contact such retailers known for always trying to keep all 16 in stock. I think I'll give Jeremy a call because, last we spoke, he still remembers me and we still have a good relationship. So, I guess, more later.

Tony Dunlop said...

Hey, I used to shop at CCBK! Dicta et Picta!

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Hey Dave,

I'll be happy to do the things you're asking here, but the first step of that is still getting access to the files--both George's adjustments and, ideally, the raw scans as well, for the cases where it's necessary to go back to them.

Fortunately I think it will be a short road from that to having tweaked and completed pages.

Secondly, I've mentioned this before, but I think you'll find most printers will balk at the idea of completing a complete signature of a book as a means of generating a proof. It's expensive for them to make the plates necessary, and it's expensive to just start the press in the first place.

Using a desktop laser printer capable of high resolution printing to generate your own "proofs" is really the starting place for tweaking your own files and making adjustments, and the printer's "proofs" are basically, at this stage, for making sure they haven't mucked things up somehow.

I know it's a pretty radical shift from the days of blue-lines. But that's where they are.

Lastly, as we've talked about before, George and I have a pretty different idea of what constitutes detail in the original art, and I think that makes it unlikely we could resolve that on our own. I think that, basically, the books should be treated as line art, and thus printed from 1-bit files across the board, the exception being any area of grayscale-ish variation that you as the author have flagged to preserve, that cannot be otherwise preserved. I expect that these places would be few and far between, and your post of Eddie Campbell's book seems to indicate you are of similar inclination.