Friday, 23 May 2014

Weekly Update #32: Observations

Cerebus Trade Paperback Bookplate
'Unsigned', 'Signed' & 'Your Name Hand-Lettered By Dave Sim' Options Available

Howdy folks! No Executive Summary this time.  Having read everything Sean wrote (and thank you Sean) and everything George wrote (and thank you, George), I think I know what my lines are.

By the way, I've been waiting for my cheap-o scanner/copier/fax machine to run out of ink as the signal that it's time to go and get another one.  Yes, accepting the fact that that's the age we live in. It's about three years old. It's dead. Get with the program, Dave. And I got the signal that the BLACK INK is dying and I don't have a replacement cartridge.  This could be VERY good news if I'm able to get a scanner/copier/fax machine tomorrow and find out that it's just that the fax attachment died (as the colour printer is now green-striping itself into oblivion).  Otherwise that means that it's the fax connection that is on the fritz and I need to be Home From 9 am to 5 pm For the Bell Person Who Can't Narrow It Down Any Further Than That.

Today actually started with a very light load so I was able -- by about 2 am -- to do a Voyage To The Bottom of The CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY Pile and pulled out the original unbound copy of the CEREBUS volume as well as a lengthy fax that I had sent to Josee (Bonjour Josee!) 17 June of last year.

So, a few observations:

1)  At the TIME, I had declared that Signatures 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 16 were parfait!   Perfect (that is).  Which I really didn't think looking at them this time.  I was making allowances: it's never going to be as good as Preney did, so, hey, I'll live with it.  It's been a strange year.  Basically George and Sean -- in different ways -- have half-convinced me that much better quality is possible. But only HALF-convinced me.  And mostly in the sense that to the degree that I believe better quality is possible, I'm not sure what the method is to achieve that better quality.  I'm still looking at two computer churches here.

2)  So I backed off from that a bit and said, "Well, at the very least, I think I need to get Lebonfon to FedEx Sean an unbound copy of CEREBUS and let him have a look at it. And their original scans they deemed to be finished and the scans George deemed to be finished"  (which I think might have already been done with the scans: there have been a lot of episodes of As The Pixels Turn and I lose track sometimes).  So I sent Josee a fax at 4:30 this morning asking her to do that. The questions for Sean, it seems to me, would be: how do you think the book looks?  And if you think something's wrong with it, do you have any idea what is wrong?  And do you know how to fix it?

3)  What struck me most, coming at the unbound copy with fresh eyes was how grey the blacks were. And I'm not sure why that is.  Another self-publisher told me they thought Lebonfon had gone downhill around the time that Lisa-Marie left.  And my "quel domage" fax over Lisa-Marie's departure  was in there right when they were printing the unbound copy.  I wondered if I was paranoid, thinking that Lisa-Marie had said, "I don't want to play this anymore. This is going to turn into a nutcracker." Of course, a year later things may have improved.

4)  The biggest complaint that I had about the unbound copy versus the "proofs" was the variance in the tone.  Cerebus is a 30% tone and I have a visual tolerance for a range from 27% to 32% roughly.  I know the difference just from experience...

(a side note on that: at one point I asked Preney if they could manufacture tone for us.  I mean, what's the base cost for an 11x17 transparent adhesive sheet?  So they did it.  Actually put Preneytone at the top in the Letraset typeface. And that was when I figured out how and why Letratone charged that much for tone.  The quality control is very exacting.  I could go through a dozen sheets and say, "This is about 27%, this is about 35%, this is about 28%, this is 30%."  So thus ended the experiment. You can't START with 27% and 35% and expect consistent results.)

...and that was something I definitely saw in Allan Harvey's work on A DISTANT SOIL.  He converted the 40% tones to 35% tones.  But it wasn't really AROUND 35% it was pretty much BANG ON 35%.  There was quite a range on the unbound copy of CEREBUS.  The Cerebus on the first page of #2, as a example, was definitely in the 40% range and then dropped to 30% on the subsequent pages.

5) I can see what George is saying:  We got it down to 111 problem pages out of 1,000 pages.  But, as I say, looking back at the book almost a year later, I don't think the track record was as good as that.  Again, it's Dave Sim, publisher ("Is the average fan going to see this?") versus Dave Sim artist ("This just isn't accurate and I'm not sure which is the better course of action if it can't be made accurate: just let it go because people want to read it or let it go into suspended animation until I'm certain of the results:  and just stick with CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE, NUMBER TWO, NUMBER THREE, etc. because there I can see, it's either accurate or so close to accurate that I have no problem with quality control.  We're on it." I've thought a few times, Steve Ditko has let MR.A go out of print for years at a time. It sure hasn't hurt the demand or the cachet of ALL published versions of MR.A.  Does being a good custodian of the material mean being a slave to the material?)

6)  There are still CALLS that have to be made on CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE, but I've made most of them while being open to Sean tweaking them.  The same choices that Heritage Auctions makes with their catalogue (which, to me, is the best reproduction in the field).  There are yellow pages.  If you don't SHOOT it AS yellow, you're going to miss what's actually there (the latest catalogue there's a Jack Kirby/Vince Colletta THOR cover that is YELLOW.  But most of the other Kirby pieces around it are white).  And there are WHITE CEREBUS pages. The page from #18 and the page from #22 are white pages.  Darkened up a bit so you can see the white paint on the #22 page AS white paint.  But not darkened up enough to show it as whiter than the page  As Ger and I got better, MOST of the pages are white.  You can bring up minor discolouration, but you're going to have to make the whole thing too dark (in my opinion) to show that that's a blob of white-out there.  These are choices that can't really be made on the trade paperback without intruding on the reading experience.  It's a much narrower window where you want the blacks to be black, the whites to be white and all of the lines to be there.

7)  I'm not saying This Is The Case: but that seems to me to be the problem with "batch conversion" -- we might not be there YET with the technology.  We might get there in a year or in ten years.  I'm very wary of agreeing to anything that costs $60,000 with the potential of going, "Oh, gosh. Who knew that that would be a keystroke come 2017?  Sorry, Kickstarter people!"

8)  But PART of me goes, well, isn't that what these quarterly Kickstarters, arguably, are all about? If we can keep 200 or so people psyched about making this happen, can't we, arguably, waste tens of thousands of dollars going, WHELP, THAT sure wasn't it.  I mean, living WAY below the poverty line in any conventional sense -- walking an extra five blocks to get carrots for $1 instead of $1.49?  It's. A. Little. Weird. To. THEN. Say: "Okay Sean, 'batch convert' four signatures in CEREBUS and get your people to tweak them. Here's $20,000."  I'm not ruling it out, I'm just saying it's a little weird. MORE than a little weird. I'd feel like I was the government or something.  :)

9)  Likewise with the "tweaks and adjustments 10 minutes per page".  The bottom line to me on that is that you have to see it printed out and you have to see the printer's "A" game.  And it's occurred to me that that's a major problem here.  I'm the one who says "LAUNCH" and then I'm the one who has to pay the multi-thousand dollar invoice -- first for scanning and tweaking and then for printing.  I mean, I'm not naive enough to say, "Okay, Sean -- if I don't like how it looks, YOU pay the printing bill, right?"  Or George.  The buck -- the tens of thousands of bucks -- stops here.

10) At the very least, I think I'm going to get Lebonfon to ship however-many signature #1s from the CEREBUS volume to John Funk and John will throw one in With Every CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE Package Ordered!  Just think of it as my way of saying, "Hey, thanks, CEREBUS fans for giving me the chance to treat money the way, you know, The Pentagon does! Have a misprinted signature!  On me!"

Thanks to Alastair who signed the petition 19 hours ago, Daniel Callahan who signed it four days ago and Justin Wallner who signed it 6 days ago.

And thanks for all the birthday best wishes last week!  I forgot that was going to be in the mailbox today!

And thanks to everyone who bid on the DOCTOR WHO and THUNDER AGENTS covers.  Coming soon -- but not TOO soon:  glamourpuss art auctions!


Keith said...

glamourpuss art auctions? Hot damn.

Eddie said...

While playing along at home with Sean's tutorial from the other week using glamourpuss #18, I realized that this is the issue with Cerebus in it.

Just out of curiosity, how was the tone applied and printed in that issue, and what are the thoughts on the results? To my untrained eye it looks pretty sharp with no instances of moire.

Sean Michael Robinson said...


That issue of GP was printed from 1200 bitmap files. Looks great, doesn't it?


I feel like this is the third or fourth time we've circled this. I understand why you're cautious. It's reasonable when you have a useless pile of paper that has cost you upwards of $20,000.

But that's also why I'm so perplexed why we aren't beyond this point.

You can send me a copy of the book if you'd like, but I already know what I'll see, since I've had the files used to generate the books for several weeks now.

They were printed from grayscale files, thus were half-toned. Thus,the weak blacks, lines made of dots. Thus the moire in the Cerebus tone.

I spent about 1/2 an hour adjusting four pages that I then printed and sent to you. To my eye, these pages, adjusted from scratch in almost no time from less than optimal files, look almost as good as the Preney printing. No moire, crisp art, crisp black. Printed on a $200 printer!

Take them out and compare them to the unbound copies.

That's my demonstration of "my" method.

I call it "my" method, but it's standard operating procedure. You now have testimony that it's the same process Sandeep used on GP. It's the same process used on the Distant Soil restoration. It's how Lou Coupland did Judenhass. Printing from 1 bit bitmap files is how you print line work.

George's method has already been demonstrated. You have plenty of unsellable unbound copies demonstrating the results of this method very clearly.

Your need to have this conversation in public puts me in the awkward position of seeming like a bully when I repeat basic facts. I'm sorry to do this again, but I don't see any other way to make it clear.

The files George sent me, printed as-is, generate moire. The ambiguous/gray pixels cause the printer to attempt to half-tone those areas. The reason George was getting various levels of moire with different print methods is that different outputs treat the ambiguous grey pixels differently, and decide to half-tone or not at different densities.

Treating line art as line art means 1 bit bitmap files. It's as simple as that. The printing process hasn't changed, just the source material for generating the plates has changed. Delivering high-res 1 bit bitmap files is the modern equivalent of shooting a negative.

I'm going to repeat what I told you on the phone. If I were working for Lebonfon, I would have called you up immediately upon receiving your files and would have talked to you about your intentions with that material. In my opinion, their negligence in not following up with you is their main area of culpability.



Sean Michael Robinson said...

Received the Mustek scanner I ordered. Sad to say, it would be completely inadequate for the scanning--the focal length is much too narrow! Back to the store it goes.

If anyone out there has ever been tempted by the Mustek 2400, save your cash. Anything not pressed directly to the glass is incredibly blurry, so if you're scanning, say, a painting with any amount of warpage due to wet media, etc, you'll have out of focus ripples in the resulting image. Totally worthless...

Travis Pelkie said...

With the most recent Ditko kickstarter, I asked Robin Snyder if I could get their version of Mr A as part of my pledge, and Robin was kind enough to include it (man, I have to write a thank you...).

Um...since... you mentioned... Mr.

Also, I have splurged and I picked up my copy of the Jack Kirby New Gods Artist Edition from IDW at my local comic shop. Oh mama! That is a beautiful book, even if it is more than I would normally spend on something like that (or ANYTHING, really. I'm generally a cheapskate). But I wonder if anything that Scott Dunbier does with those beautiful books that might apply to the Cerebus reprints? I'm sure he's a busy guy, but maybe Mr Adams from IDW could act as go-between (or one or both could even reply here at AMOC). There were 3 pages that it said were not reproduced from original art (and I found all 3 just flipping through, oddly enough), but just flipping through and to my untrained eye, they weren't that out of place, y'know what I mean? So I wonder what the source material was and how it was put in there. Probably not a lot of use to the Cerebus project, although the collages might roughly correspond to tone (a pasted in outside addition to the art board, in both cases).

But yeah, if the Cerebus Archive prints look roughly like the Kirby book, those of us who pledged (like I FINALLY did!) are in for a real treat.

Anonymous said...

Sean..... I think you may be on to something!! :)

As I've said for sometime now, we know what exists and are prepared to test print a signature with the various file configurations.

Dean (Lebonfon)