Friday, 2 May 2014

Weekly Update #29: As The Pixels Turn!

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Executive Summary
  1. Guaranteed crystal-clear reproduction CEREBUS ARTISTS EDITIONS available starting today on Kickstarter
  2. Reproduction "issues" still being addressed on CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY

It's a great relief that, as of noon today ET, we are now LAUNCHED with CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE, the first of the quarterly CEREBUS ARTISTS' EDITIONS.

As the process of trying to determine if it is possible, with digital-based printing, to get even close to the quality I used to get with Preney Print & Litho has dragged on for over a year, it's very nice to know that digital-based printing of 100% clarity that I can endorse 100% IS possible and it IS here. Now! Even if digital-based technology never advances beyond this point, 100% guaranteed reproduction WILL be sustained on CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE, NUMBER TWO, NUMBER THREE on up to THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY long after all of us have passed away.  

As Jeff Seiler's post (happy birthday, again, Jeff!) from earlier today mentions, the first time I saw the process used was with Chip Kidd's coffee table art books.  I thought, "That's absolutely brilliant!  You shoot it as colour instead of black and white and you get every aspect of the piece not only as a piece of art, but as a physical artifact: what the original artwork itself looks like!" 

So accurate is the detail that now that I'm only looking at the proofs for the prints, I'm seeing new things I hadn't noticed while I was writing the 2,000 words of commentary that accompany each CEREBUS ARTISTS EDITION of CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE.

Mostly laziness, unfortunately:

(the one from the other day was one of the stirrups on Cerebus' saddle on the CEREBUS BERSERKER piece:  I had inked one of the curving metal pieces and the other wasn't inked, but was still visible in pencil.  This on a supposedly finished piece of art that was going to have colour added to it!  "Close enough for government work" as Susan used to say. It's a wonder my career ever made it out of the 1970s!)

I'd like to SINCERELY thank the 80 or so Kickstarter people and the 30 or so from A Moment of Cerebus who have reserved a number.  IF those numbers hold up over the next 30 days -- IF the people who have reserved a number actually participate -- there should be enough revenue to pay either a third or a quarter of the outstanding printing bill from Imprimerie Lebonfon for what (I am coming to the conclusion) is unusable printing.  Unusable for a variety of reasons, primarily moires.

IF those 110 or so people stick with the CEREBUS ARTISTS EDITIONS over the course of the next three Kickstarter campaigns, that would bring us back to Square One on Restoration and Preservation of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY where we can adopt a more sensible "way forward"(see #2 for details on that).

Admittedly those are all very big IFs.

But, even IF the participants drop from the 110 but we can stay up around 50 or 75, it's still possible to see Imprimerie Lebonfon paid off by the end of 2015.  Which is considerably better than the "worst case scenario":   Margaret and nine other people, what has become my proverbial Last Ten Cerebus Customers Scenario (and the reason that I've set the target as $800 -- my commitment that the CEREBUS ARTISTS EDITIONS will keep going as long as we still have -- as long as we ARE -- Ten CEREBUS Customers).

CEREBUS TV fans who are still around from the 2009 to 2011 can watch for the C-Minus Kid in the Kickstarter video (a big "Who?!?" for the rest of you).  Yes, I still had my plastic shopping bag with all the C-Minus Kid "costume" pieces hanging in the studio closet.  Are you kidding?  That rock and roll merchandise isn't cheap -- I think it was about $100!

Okay, remember, that goes live in less than one hour now!

Okay, George and Sean are still working on the reproduction issues surrounding CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY.  Both have expressed hesitancy about posting publicly what they have to say about the other's work.  I really hope they're able to get past that for (what I consider) the good reason that we are still finding our way on this and the more public discussion there is, the better a chance we're going to arrive at definitive conclusions which are in short supply right now.

And, if we do arrive at some definitive conclusions, the way forward is going to include more volunteer work...

(let me interrupt myself here to THANK both George and Sean for continuing to do all their work pro bono JUST because it's that important to them both that CEREBUS be Restored and Preserved for future generations.  On behalf of ALL future CEREBUS generations, many, many thanks!)

...spread out over however many people George and Sean will be able to educate in our definitive conclusions and farm out pieces of the project to them.  Which leads to Where We Are Now (as best as I understand it):

Sean solved the moire problem, but in doing so attempted to come up with a "blanket" bitmap solution: i.e. you just take the page and convert it to bitmap and you have 10 or 15 minutes of tweaking to do per page.  Then he noticed that he was losing the fine details -- the really thin and/or tiny Hunt 102 pen lines.  He consulted with a co-worker at the printing plant he works at and he and George started consulting on this and George showed him what (in George's computer church) needed to be done: basically a patchwork.  You have to isolate the problem area and go back and forth between greyscale and bitmap mode, basically incorporating the one into the other.  As George says, this is a laborious and time-consuming process.  Definitely NOT 10 or 15 minutes per page.  Which isn't to say that it can't be done, but it does stretch the timeline out to the horizon before we are going to have usable digital files for either CEREBUS or HIGH SOCIETY, let alone both.

Sometimes with ASAP, there is no "soon" option, unless (like me) you tend to measure "soon" in years rather than days or weeks.

This is where I'm suggesting that there could be a meeting place between Sean's computer church and George's computer church -- the "definitive conclusions" to which I alluded earlier.  "This is what you need to do to achieve a usable digital file of a CEREBUS or HIGH SOCIETY page."  (which is going to be, I suspect, quite different on these early books than on the later books:  The Gerhard Factor in terms of time consumed in retaining/developing/preserving fine lines is going to be an 11 on the 1 to 10 digital reproduction dial).

But -- driving off one cliff at a time -- if we can reach "definitive conclusions" on CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY hopefully that will give George and Sean the future option of farming the pages out to people who want to learn how to tweak and how to do it properly -- and then they can keep their own "way too much human time" down to just the real problem children parts of pages.

The possible (likely?) problem there is that I'm going to look at a sample signature of these Frankenstein patchwork pages and go, "Well, no. I know how good the Preney books were and I have two mental images -- one as the artist and one as the publisher -- of how good the books have to be to keep me from thinking of myself as 'foisting' books on the reading public."

And it will have to be sample signatures.  There's no point in looking at the pages on disk or on "one-off" "proofs" and approving those -- assuming that they're at, say, 75% of what Preney used to do and then seeing that, when printed, they're down around 35% or lower.  Which is what happened last time.
A Distant Soil (Remastered)
By Colleen Doran
Long-time viewers of As The Pixels Turn  :)  will recall that Eddie Khanna was ordering copies of Colleen Doran's A DISTANT SOIL remastered editions for me to take a look at.  Volume Two was delayed but Eddie and Colleen have exchanged e-mails and Colleen very nicely volunteered to comp us the new Aria Press books and to include the earlier printings.  Eddie forwarded print-outs of the e-mails and I relayed a request through him to quote two passages from Colleen which she has again (very nicely) given permission for:
"We could not get this level of quality with the old techniques [upright camera and photographic negative-to-plate].  But it took a while to learn how to do it. I hired someone to digitally archive my art years ago, and they botched it badly.  So this is my second go at the whole process."
She also said about her current printer:
"They matched the paper and cover stock perfectly.  I've had multiple problems getting printers to do that.  And I'm getting the cleanest tones I've ever seen."
Eddie researched the printer's name online and found out that it's part of a two-dozen-or-so printing collective.  About 24 independent printers all under the same name.  Which interested me because it seems a good way to keep up with (what I call) "computer generations chop" -- wave after wave of new computer innovations requiring printers to upgrade their equipment WAY too often for comfort.

But, if you had 24-printing plant "buying power", it would certainly go a long way to reducing that problem.  You bring the cost of the upgrade down, you stay current and you can continually downsize your operation to suit the size of the press.

Colleen's printer is in her home state of Virginia -- which makes sense because a lot of her sales are direct to fans and at shows -- but they also have a plant in St. Louis, which I would be inclined towards because it's geographically closer to the Diamond Star System in Memphis TN. Savings on shipping since I don't sell direct or at shows.

Of course that depends on whether the plant in St. Louis is as good as the one in Virginia.  Which probably points in the direction of getting a sample signature from each.  IF we can get the Imprimerie Lebonfon bill paid off.  So, if you want to help Keep CEREBUS Alive -- or at least keep all of his tubes plugged in for the time being -- don't forget Kickstarter. Starting one hour from now!

Will the copies of A DISTANT SOIL be at the post office when I pick up the mail next Friday?

Is the St. Louis Plant as good as the Virginia Plant?

See you next week on AS THE PIXELS TURN!  



Hi Everyone,
I have just completed all the input and edits and have submitted the project to Kickstarter. They have to approve it before it goes live. As it turns out, this is not an automated process, rather its a task assigned to a staff member. They have advised that it takes 2-3 business days for this to complete.

So, the start is unfortunately NOT going to happen today and I apologise for that. This is my first Kickstarter project that I've looked after and I'm 'flying sort of under 'visual flight' capabilities in an 'istrument flight rule' environment. I'll keep you posted on progress results or any other comments that Dave wants to post between trips to the coffee shop!



Dear Cerebus Patrons and Community.
A couple of hours ago I posted (via Tim at AMOC blog) that I submitted the CEREBUS ARCHIVE ONE for approval and KS's reply was that this typically takes 2-3 business days. I was quite saddened by that turn of events.

However, just a few minutes ago I received a PROJECT APPROVAL message back with a personal note from the Kickstarter Reviewer. Here's what he wrote:
"Thanks for submitting your project! Looks great — Cerebus is one of my all-time favorite comics, and a huge influence. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to email me: [e-mail address removed] Best, J."
So the project is now LIVE at this link -- -- and will run until expiry on Saturday, May 31st at 8:00 pm.

Please carefully read and note the various rewards and choose ONLY the one that matches your shipping requirements. There is a reward set up for anything that doesn't fit the standard, but you need to contact me at -- cerebusarchive [at] geps [dot] ca -- so that I can give you the amount. It's very important to note that you can only pledge to ONE reward in any given project.

Thanks for your patience!


I'd like to address some misinformation.

I haven't used the Aria Press imprint in almost 2 decades. A DISTANT SOIL is an Image Comic, and I am with Jim Valentino's Shadowline imprint. I don't self publish anything anymore and haven't since 1995.

Re: choosing a printer in my "home state". I didn't choose the printer, and it's not in my home state.

Location of the printer to accommodate my convention sales is no consideration at all. I'm not even really sure what that is about. I rarely do conventions. I haven't toured regularly since the 1990's. I do nice mail order business, but there is no reason to choose a printer for that. The extra cost to ship copies to me based on the location of a printer is negligible when amortized over the unit cost of a book.

Image Comics chose the printer because of its quality. The vast majority of my sales are not direct from me, but through bookstores and libraries. Image has been very good about making my work available in many venues I could not reach on my own, and I am very happy with the design job and printing I receive.

Spread the word! Please retweet:


Graphic Edge Print Solutions said...

Thanks Dave, for putting the pressure on me to publish this by noon EDT today. No, really, I work better under "McGyver" type deadlines, LOL. ;-) Just kidding, Dave.

Ok, seriously, there are a few things to add so that this is set up to my quality standards. I don't like doing things 'good enough for the government'; - great expression, btw'. They have to be 'this is the best I can do within reasonable time and resources!

So, patrons, fans, and follower folks, please accept my humble apology for not meeting the high noon publish time (Dave, I'm sure I remember we agreed on 4:00pm EDT, and you remember 12:00pm noon, EDT, so we'll compromise and meet somewhere in between).

Thanks for your understanding everyone.

John Funk

Damin J. Toell, Esq. said...

"[A]s of noon today ET, we are now LAUNCHED with CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE." We are? What's the Kickstarter link? Or am I reading this incorrectly?

Scott Laz said...

Can't find it on the kickstarter site...

JLH said...

Yay, the C-Minus Kid is back! My favorite of Dave's old CeTV characters. Can't wait to see it.

Lee Thacker said...

Still nothing on the Kickstarter site as of 9pm GMT. The tension is mounting...

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Eddie said...

Ahh I thought it was published through Aria press too. Of course it says Right On the Web Site, "the legendary graphic novel series from Image Comics' which I completely missed when ordering the books (for the record it was the original versions which were very graciously comped).

There are some interesting parallels with what Colleen's had to go through on restoring A Distant Soil (the part about losing the negatives jumped out at me), which you can read more about here at the Newsarama link

and it appears that she's gearing up towards finishing her own magnum opus, which I think we can all agree is /will be a Very Important part of the comic book landscape

Geoffrey D. Wessel said...

The part about finding a "local" printer is interesting as I tried to do just that for my Atypical Comics imprint, once ComiXPress unceremoniously shut down last August. Well, turns out only one "local" printer was even vaguely capable of printing small quantities of comics, and they were wayyyy expensive. So much for trying to contribute to the local economy. I found Greko Printing through a friend. They're in Michigan. Close enough.

--- Geoffrey D. Wessel

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Congrats to everyone for the successful launch of the campaign!

Just wanted to make a few comments here about the process I've been going through with the files.

I've been crazy busy for the two weeks since I've received the drive from George, but have squeezed in some time for examining the state of things.

First off-- as George has mentioned, there are many pages that were in terrible shape. Issue one especially-- the negative scan is truly terrible, and George's work has made the pages much cleaner than they were before.

Second, I am still very hopeful that, on average, page adjustment can be kept to around 15-20 min per page, especially when George's work can be used almost as-is, after a few tweaks and bitmap conversion. And yes, I've already been doing a kind of back and forth described by Dave above, contrast-adjusting panel by panel before converting -- it's not that George was suggesting a different way to do this, he was just helping by taking a look at my sample pages and pointing out some areas where there was fill-in visible in the dense areas.

As soon as we've run the test signature, we can start working on a repeatable procedure to treat the pages, with an eye on

a. future-proofing this so that the work on the digital "negative" will only need to happen this one time.
b. making the reproduction as good or better than the Preney editions (harder than you might think, especially in the area of the teeny-tiny line)
c. making it as efficient as possible, to minimize the expense and labor

I'm pretty hopeful right now that with the right procedure in place, real work can be saved for the problem pages. But we'll see.

In the meanwhile, I'll be running some tests to see how much you can "upscale" a grayscale scan when converting to 2400 bitmap. Does a 1200 dpi grayscale scan translate to a smooth 2400 bitmap? Does a 600 dpi do the same? Hopefully in the next few days I'll have some time to find out.


Travis Pelkie said...

So I'll be pledging at Kickstarter once I figure out which way I'm going to pay (honest!).

But I've been remiss for weeks and weeks now in something, and I need to rectify this:

Back when we were discussing Eddie Campbell, I was brought up because I suggested to Eddie K that he contact Top Shelf's Chris Staros about the Alec book, and Chris apparently graciously upgraded Dave's copy to an HC. I wanted to thank Chris, and I also had a thought:

Looking at the book to see how it turned out is all very well and good, but it doesn't really say HOW the digital conversion was done.

So I asked Chris in an email. He didn't know, so he forwarded my email on to Eddie Campbell, who graciously responded within a day or so.

And now several weeks from then, I'll finally post his email. D'oh!

Travis Pelkie said...

So I'll spare you the babbling I did to Chris Staros and say that the meat of my question was "how was the digital conversion of Alec done?". The following is Eddie Campbell's response, posted by the implied permission in the salutation:

Travis, (and Dave!)

Chris forwarded your email.

I worked hard on the Big Alec book, and I got so lost in it that I have no idea for how long. Dave's observations are interesting. Re the 10%-20% business, i always thought the Eclipse version printed much too heavily. The Top Shelf is my ideal version of all that material. With good printing now we can take a risk with 10% at 50 lines per inch and expect it to come out right. In the old days there was every chance it would disappear.

There was one page I had a lot of trouble with (the one of Paris airport that Dave looked at. The cracked tone always annoyed me and it got worse over time as the tone shrunk on the page (as it does- that's the first problem with tone- it often no longer touches the line that we so exactly cut it on) so by the time of the eclipse version it was already ten years old. I virtually had to replace all the dots on the whole block of 10% tone. When you scan the art and zoom in close you can see that those dots are not circles like they ideally ought to be. When you see each dot having an obtrusion this way and then that you know that you are looking at a moire effect. On that panel I fixed a set of four dots so that they were right, symmetrical if not exactly circular. then i systematically replaced the whole panel-wide piece of tone by building it to a 100-dot square and moving that sideways to replace the tone block by block. It was too time consuming to do more than once, but an interesting experiment.

The book was very successful with regard to this problem. The one moire in the whole thing was on a photograph that came out of my own digital camera. go figure.


Travis Pelkie said...

So yeah, I don't quite understand the technical bits myself, but this is stuff that George and Sean are probably saying "yeah, that's what we're doing" ;) (Thanks to them for what they are doing, btw!)

Dave Sim said...

Hi! Dave Sim here. I sent Kevin Eastman two of the "Matisse" prints recently -- long-promised to George Gatsis dating back to the last Kickstarter in 2012. (Yikes! As Kevin tended to say in those situations) for him to personalize for George.

And I mentioned to him in the course of my cover letter that I think if the CEREBUS fans could choose between these "how many pixels can dance on the head of a pin?"-style discussions-as-cartoonist- legacy and "doing a Kevin" -- i.e. selling my share of CEREBUS, lock stock and two smoking barrels -- and then working full time doing NEW CEREBUS stories for IDW (as Kevin is doing with the Turtles) I think I know how the vote would go.

I hope Kevin was pleased with my observation.

To Sean Robinson: Hi, Sean. Glad you're sticking with it. I go into WAY too much detail (WAY too much detail) in today's 9 May Weekly Update.

I'm not sure if I'm helping or hurting things or (probably) having no effect whatever. I see my job as basically staying on the intercom and letting all the passengers know that, um, we're skimming over the tops of the trees now, folks, as you may have noticed. Not really sure how much fuel we have left but the GOOD news is, we DO have some fuel left. So, sit back, and relax because, really, what ELSE are you going to do?

Travis, I appreciate you contacting Eddie Campbell and sharing the e-mail.

Okay, uh, Tim -- you remember how I said that I didn't WANT to know how to "cut and paste" because I knew what would happen if I started writing an update at home and then coming in here to post it? Well, uh, there you go. That's what happens. The first 14-hour caffeine powered Weekly Update. Makes CRIME AND PUNISHMENT look like an O. Henry short story :)

Hopefully by my next non-fasting day, I'll know better.

Okay I PREVIEWED this and it's about a mile too wide. Wish I brought my scissors. Tim? TIIIIMMMM! CAN YOU FIX THIS? TIMMMMMM?