Wednesday, 17 June 2015

On the Hunt-- the Negative Side of Negatives

Sean Michael Robinson:

Before we get to the meat-- we are still actively seeking any and all scans of Cerebus original artwork, from any era of the book. If you have access to any Cerebus original artwork, or know someone who does, please contact us at the above address. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a better idea of why we're looking for as much artwork as we can find, attempting to put this vase back together...

Yesterday morning I spent a bit of time on something I thought you all might be interested in seeing. At long last, the Church & State I solicitation will be in Previews, scheduled for the August 2015 catalog, available at your local stores October 2015-

There's a lot to talk about regarding the actual volume--mainly a discussion of the improving printing methods and paper and how much difference that will make in the quality of the finished book-- but that can wait for another post. We do, after all, have several months between now and then. 

So for today I wanted to concentrate on the images in the ad.

First off-- man o man, is that a great panel or what?

This is a great example of Dave and Gerhard really clicking together, the figures and the backgrounds integrated perfectly with each other. The way the window and wall tear away from the giant stone hand, the fragments of debris flying across the picture plane. It's also relatively rare at this stage in the series for there to be sustained physical action, so when it happens, and is carried out so well, it's extremely gratifying.

Anyway, we were lucky enough to be working from an original art scan for this page, which meant a lot of tone cleanup, but also meant an incredible amount of detail present, not just in the fine lines of the floor and white detail in the dense cross-hatching, but in the tone as well.

This is, as far as I know, the first time that Gerhard (or Dave) used etching on the surface of the tone, here used to indicate the transparency of the shattered glass. Many mechanical tones (though not all) could be etched with a very sharp exacto knife, taking off the printed surface of the tone but leaving the acetate carrier intact. Gerhard would go on to use this technique to great effect in at least three other books, for very different purposes (anyone care to guess which?).

There's a hint of this in the previous editions of Church & State I, but most of it was eliminated by the photography and newsprint paper. 

Speaking of "eliminated by photography," here's a better look at the bottom images in the ad.

It's a fragment of a panel from issue 74 page 3, a page that's all but ruined in the initial printings because of the amount of art that simply isn't present. Here's the bottom of the page, directly from the negative--

And here's a shot of the same area of the cleaned-up original art page. Click either one to embiggen.

So what's happened here?

There were most likely a few factors working against a page like this. Firstly, the ink in the background cross-hatching on this page, at least looking at the unadjusted scan, is more watery than might be ideal. More importantly, though, at this point the printer seemed to be experimenting with spiking the exposure significantly in order to anticipate the amount of gain they would have when printing as dark as they were on newsprint. That combined with the slightly weaker gray of the ink lines just wiped out a huge amount of information.

It's easy  to imagine the dialogue that might have led to these decisions. Dave calls the printer. "You know, the last two issues really have weak blacks." So they print darker, with, inevitably, more gain. Next phone call. "That last issue was really plugged up." So they photograph much lighter so they can preemptively catch some of the gain. Next call. "You know, there were a lot of blown-out lines in that last issue." And so the see-saw swings again...

Regardless of whether conversations like those were actually happening, the see-saw effect during this period of the book is real, and it's why I have to take a good look at the surrounding negatives each time we get another original art scan. How will this fit in with the rest? 

This will be less and less of a consideration as we get further into the series, and the negative scans will represent a lower percentage of the finished book.

One last observation about the panels above-- notice the dense cross-hatched areas of the negative, and how much plugging there is than the original art scan below? Any guesses why that might be? My best guess involves optics...

Please, please, please do keep those original art scans coming! Dave will be receiving, signing, and sending out the first round of Art Dragnet certificates sometime in the next week, and we would love nothing more than to send out another 150 or so to all you contributors out there. Have a lead on a page or pages? Own one yourself? Please send us an email at cerebusarthunt at gmail. Happy hunting!


Anonymous said...

So exciting! When will the remastered version show up on


Sean R said...

Heylo anonymous!

I'm not sure-- my best guess would be when the book is released, or possibly a bit before that, but who knows for sure? The new version of High Society still isn't up there, so clearly, things can move a bit slow sometimes :)

Anonymous said...

Actually HS is now up there!

Sean R said...

If I'm not mistaken, what's up there now is the previous version that was made in conjunction with the High Society Audio/Visual project. But as I don't run the site, I don't know for sure! You'd have to ask George (who currently runs the site) or Sandeep (who has been in charge of the social media campaign the past 6 weeks) when it's going to happen.

Michael Grabowski said...

I hadn't planned on replacing any of my old phone books besides HS but that book and these updates are offering convincing evidence that I should, at least for these much older volumes. I am thoroughly enjoying rereading HS on clean white paper, lingering over some of those pages, especially the ones where Dave did provide significant background detail--the campaign chapters in particular.

How old is the Alan Moore quote in the ad? It's a great line.

Sean R said...

Hey Michael--

Glad you're still on-board. Having just received proof sheets last week (using High Society files) testing out a new (to us) printing process and paper, let me just say-- you will not be disappointed. This is going to be a beautiful book.

As for the Alan Moore quote, it's from 1999, so presumably still relevant to this material :)

George Peter Gatsis said...

Next week the NEW HIGH SOCIETY and CEREBUS will be up on

I had to help an old lady cross the street...
my dog ate my homework...



Andrew Lariviere said...

Thanks for the update Sean. I'm glad to see the Trauma page I supported came out beautifully (and is part of the ad!). I will be patiently waiting to place the order in at my local shop for this volume.

I finally got my copy of High Society a few weeks back and was so happy to see the upgrade in paper quality. The book is much thicker now! Hearing that you're trying to improve the paper above High Society level completely blew my mind. Well done sir.

Sean R said...

Hey Andrew-- thanks so much for your support!

Yes, the paper change (and a few other technical changes) were necessary to reduce the amount of dot gain that was present in the High Society volume while simultaneously improving the blacks density. More to follow, I promise :) Dave hasn't received his press sheets yet, so we haven't had a chance to hash out/argue over the details yet, but as soon as I can, I'll spill the beans.

Max West said...

Neat. This is looking good so far. Of course, nowadays, computers and computer software play a big part in pre-press and printing processes. It wasn't like that before probably when Dave was printing these books; even well into the 1980s, printing was still done the old fashioned way.

Cory Foster said...

Looks great!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael
Apologies if someone has already asked this, but were hard cover editions ever considered?
I'm going to be buying these to replace my originals anyway, but just a thought.

Sean R said...

Hey Ian!

Hardbacks aren't feasible at the moment for a bunch of economic reasons-- mainly, that it would be impossible given current sales to keep both hardback and softcover volumes in print simultaneously, and once you've "moved over" the format you risk making your old stock of the previous format worthless, something that neither Diamond nor comic retailers would love us for. (In fact, we're still running the risk of that just by upgrading the paper and printing so much.)

That's the short version, anyway.