Tuesday, 19 August 2014

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


Hey Dave,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Margaret said...

wow! Pretty cool Sean. I wonder when the touch-up to the negatives happened: was it at the start or did the emulsion on the negative get scratch or worn on a certain spot so they went in with a touch-up pen/brush and did their work? Interesting to see that detail.

Sean R said...

Hey Margaret,

I actually don't know very much about the process at all-- this part of the restoration work has all been a learning experience for me. Although I did a ton of paste-up as a teenager, by the time I was doing professional work most printers had long since switched over to digital. So unfortunately I have to guess about a lot of the details here.

But what I can tell you is this- this work was done to "shore up" areas of weak black that might otherwise reproduce as a broken line, or "dusky", without some other kind of intervention. The areas you see in the images correspond directly to "weak" blacks on the page in the original art scan--watery brush strokes, or areas where the tone overlapped the black and lightened it up.

I've "re-negative-d" the images to give you a better idea of what you'd be looking at in person.

Sean R said...

So to be clearer, and vaguer--

If I understand it correctly, the black portions of the positive correspond to clear portions of the negative. So the marks you're seeing in the extreme contrast adjusted images would have been made with an exacto or some other similiar blade, scraping off emulsion from that portion of the substrate. I think it's likely it wouldn't be visible at all to the naked eye if you had the neg in front of you right now.

(But, like I said, I haven't actually had one of these guys in my hands, so please take all of the above with a few grains of salt, eh? I'd love the guidance/wisdom/collected knowledge of anyone with high-contrast film negative experience.

M Kitchen said...

It would be interesting to contact the Preney folks and ask them.

Would make a great MOMENT OF CEREBUS follow up!