SEAN MICHAEL ROBINSON:
I'm off for the week, but the art hunt continues. This week I'd like to take a look at a few pages from the collection of Gregory Kessler. Gregory was kind enough to take his collection to be scanned, and his artwork had an immediate effect on the High Society restoration. His eye for iconic pages has preserved some of the best artwork and significantly enriched the final book.
So, what can you learn from looking at artwork intended for reproduction?
For those of you used to seeing this artwork in reproduction on newsprint, the originals can have a much different character. Not only are you looking at the ink work sans contrast adjustment, other information presents itself immediately, including Dave's blue-line lettering guides. These guides would have been dropped in the photographic process by a filter attached to the lens of the camera. Having color scans of the artwork means that I can do the same thing now, in Photoshop, grabbing and deleting the blue channel from the scan prior to converting to grayscale.
I always thought of the second half of High Society as Dave's "French" period, with strongly designed pages dependent on a careful balance of flat black, applied pattern, and toned cross-hatching, reminiscent of mid 19th century French illustration. Look at the cross-hatching on Jaka's face, all missing from the original printings.
Some of the pages make you more aware of the mechanical processes than others. The echo effect on this particular page has always seemed a bit plugged-up in reproduction, and seeing the original in color it's easier to see why-- the white-dot echoes (pasted onto the page) are not quite white enough to reproduce cleanly as actual white on the lettering, not without additional attention. What would have been complicated photographically, masking off these additional areas and adjusting the exposure to them separate from the remainder of the page, takes just a few moments in Photoshop to "correct," and thus bring Dave's original intent to the page.
Here's a close-up of the borders to one of the pages above. The latter portions of High Society had their borders created with Letratape, a product of the Letraset company, which also manufactured the mechanical tones present on the pages, called, fittingly enough, Letratone. The tape came in little plastic rolls-- you could pull out the amount that you'd be using, lay it down, and then square off the corners with an exacto knife. As you can see, the tape has shrunk and pulled away from the corners over time, which doesn't pose a problem, except adding a bit of time to the cleanup of each page. In the closeup you can see that the sticky edge of the tape has attracted a bit of grime over time.
I personally haven't seen any Letratape since 1998 or so. Here's a photo of a sizable collection, from the Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies. It's hard to imagine what Church and State and Jaka's Story would have looked like without it.
Next week the High Society restoration kicks into high gear. In the meanwhile, if you know of anyone who has Cerebus pages we can scan, please let them know we're looking for them! I have been shocked so far how much a difference the original art is making to this endeavor. The more of that art we have access to, the better these books will be.