Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Light and Dark

Mara Sedlins:

I'm happy to report that Church and State I is getting close to the printing stage! We received several new original art pages just last week (big thanks to Jeremy Shorr of Titan Comics and David Rankin!). Sean is working on the essay for the end pages and I'm putting together a list of all of our dragnet and CAN2 contributors to thank. From the proofs I've seen so far, the printing quality on this volume is going to be unbelievable - but I'll let Sean fill you in on those details in the coming weeks.

In the meantime: after researching computer algorithms used in digital restoration last week, I started thinking about what kind of image analysis I might realistically be able to do with the Cerebus art scans we have. One of the techniques I'd read about involved creating an average of many images to provide a baseline brightness profile. This made me wonder about the average brightness of a typical Cerebus page - how much ink is on the page relative to white space? How does the proportion of black to white change over the course of an issue? Are there typical patterns of light alternating with dark? How does this literal lightness/darkness relate to the plot?

It occurred to me it would be pretty straightforward to convert each page to its average grey level in Photoshop and try to answer some of these questions. To start with, let's look at High Society at the issue level - each block below is the average value for one issue, starting with issue 26 on the left, and ending with issue 50 on the right (the smaller sliver in the middle is Goat). 

The pattern seems to be, roughly, medium - dark - light - dark - medium (with Goat thrown into the second dark section for a moment of lightness). What stands out to me the most is the stark contrast between issues 38 and 39, at the core of this volume. What's going on there?

Issue 38 is Petuniacon Day Two - its per-page profile looks like this:

Aside from the first page (a scene with Cerebus and Jaka), the rest of this issue favors white space, particularly on pages featuring typed transcripts of the panel discussion:

By contrast, Issue 39, The Ambassador Suite, has a consistently darker per-page profile:

The action in these pages occur entirely within a blackened room. Here's one of the darkest pages:
Some of the issues alternate between light and dark quite a bit ... 

Issue 44
... or shift suddenly from one to the other ...

Issue 49

... have one page that stands out from the rest ...
Issue 27
... or definitely end on a dark note:

Issue 50
I'll leave it to those who know the book better than I do to speculate on the meanings of these patterns. I'm sure that something as integral to this medium as the sheer volume of ink on the page is something that Dave leveraged artfully in his storytelling.

The other type of "image analysis" I was able to achieve is perhaps less meaningful - but it seems to me that the first step in any computerized approach to Cerebus artwork must be to translate him into the language of computers ...

... right?


Steve said...

"Meaning of the pattern"?

I'd wager the 'pattern' has no meaning but rather is simply an artifact of the technology used to reduce the issue and / or page art to a 1/4th inch block.


Eddie said...

Awesome post Mara! Really really like these kinds of analysis. I personally think there is a pattern that relates to the structure and theme and tone of the book depending on what Dave was trying to convey (I recall him saying that for GUYS he wanted a more warm kind of pleasing effect to the page, although that was more to do with the panel layouts, I think). It will be interesting to see how it changes when Gerhard comes on board. I'm guessing a lot more variety due to all the cross hatching. Especially with the variety of cross hatching Ger used. Wonder how that will skew the averages.

Eddie said...

Also like the binary pixilated Cerebus. Talk about gods (Tarim and Terim?) in the machine!

Sean R said...

Hey Steve,

I don't think it's arbitrary-- it tells you something fundamental about the visual composition of the page. The value of the gray tone represents the amount of ink coverage on the page. A fifty percent tone in the graphic above means that half of the page in toto is covered with ink.

It's interesting to me, anyway, even if mostly what it indicates is "this issue takes place outside versus inside the Regency Hotel/Coal Mine."

Jeff Seiler said...

Mara, you are so f--

(No swearing.)

You are so d--

(No cussing)

Yer pretty!

And smart.

Stephen Benson said...

ASCII art. Don't see that so much these days.

I like the analysis for itself, but also as a way to derive abstract art from representational. A whole pile of meta artworks are possible.