Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Cerebus Volume One--that COVER!

Sean Michael Robinson:

Talk about iconic images.

The Cerebus Volume One cover certainly qualifies. I'd imagine for a significant chunk of readers it's their first interaction with the series, their first exposure to the material at all. And it's interesting too, in the way it serves to both contextualize and, well, distract from the interiors of the first volume of the series.

Although Dave had been discussing the Cerebus the Barbarian book in the back of the monthly book for several months, we don't get a peek at the cover (and release date!) until well after High Society was released into the world. The first look at the cover comes in an ad in the back of issue #97 (April 1987 listed publication date). It's not the finished image, though, just a thumbnail sketch from Dave in technical pen and (or marker? hard to tell from the reproduction). Here it is, along with the Church & State I thumbnail also included—

It's interesting to see that the composition is already there. The bay, the arc of land behind him creating a strong contrast with the sky and an interesting negative shape for the middle ground. The foreground stones and tree and the strongly indicated lighting. It's a great image even small, and it certainly captures something (or points to a hidden aspect of) the early book. Namely, this figure both simultaneously funny and menacing, in this case, glowering out at the viewer, fully-armed. It's reminiscent of the early segment of issue 5, where a sleeping Cerebus is awakened by the Pigts.

This is heightened in the finished image by the one thing missing here—the fire, still-smoking.

Four issues later, in the back of Issue #101 (August 1987), we get our first look at a Gerhard version of the image.

At first I thought this was a Gerhard sketch worked up over a photocopy of the Sim drawing of the figure, but after inverting it and placing it over the finished image, I think it's most likely a photocopy reduction of the finished image, either with all of the detail blown out, or of the image in process, after it's received all of the blacks but prior to the finished hatching. Either seems likely.

Here's the image inverted.

And then, a month later, the finished image finally appears in the rear of the book, in issue 102 (September 1987)— "The Sudden Return of the Melodramatic Narrator."

This is significant for a few reasons. Those of you who have read my Reads essay already might remember that this issue has narrative significance that, as far as I know, hasn't really been touched on anywhere else, and provides a bridging link between the early issues, Church & State, and Mothers & Daughters

It also happens to have this image, which is strikingly similar to the back-cover portion of the Cerebus Volume One cover.

Which brings us to the actual cover.

For the fully-restored Cerebus Volume One, Dave and Sandeep removed the original artwork from storage, de-framed it, and scanned it on the Epson 10000XL in overlapping sessions. I then stitched these scans together using Photoshop's fantastic "Photo Merge" tool, checked to confirm that the work was solid, and flattened to the final image. 

There was a shocking amount of detail there that's never seen print before.

I'd always wondered about the right edge of the cover, the whiting out effect that occurs as the image moves towards the bleed edge. I'd always assumed, I suppose, that it was an intentional effect, some kind of atmosphere blowing over the water, a mild fog or something like that. Seems now that it was overexposure while shooting the artwork. 

Here's the right edge of the image, scanned from by eighth printing of Cerebus Volume One, and then the same section from the original artwork.

The same is true for the entire image, many of the fine line details burned off in photography, with the strong blacks left to carry the image.

So how would this happen?

I've mentioned before that during several periods of the book, it would routine for the camera operators to play with the exposure of the images in an attempt to anticipate gain on-press. This was done by the Fairway Press camera ops, and the Preney camera operators. Sometimes this was done with masks, masking off certain areas with smaller tone and exposing those longer or shorter than other segments of the page to lighten certain areas, mostly areas using tone with fine LPI (the first few issues of Church + State I use this, with only the Cerebus figures with fine LPI masked off). Other times this was done universally, across the page, which oftentimes had the effect of blowing out detail and fine-lines (the three "Jaka returns!" issues of C + S I are fine examples of this). 

That seems to be what happened here. An overzealous camera operator saw the Cerebus dot tone and, anticipating gain, overexposed the entire image and blew out the detail. And away it remained, until now.

You can see that the nomally 30 percent Cerebus dot tone has been overexposed to a 15 percent (or so) tone.

Next week— some balance! I present some excerpts from a printing textbook from the 1970s to give you an idea of what a difficult job it was to be a camera operator. It's, uh, more exciting than it sounds from my synopsis :)

(Bonus! A related excerpt from the current draft of Cerebus Volume One essay:


Printing highly detailed line art from negatives shot on a stat camera is a complicated process that took a century to refine, and camera operators were skilled technicians. That kind of expertise is rare in an era where everyone has a scanner on their desk. Which is to say, if we’re at a high water mark for the quality of printing in the world, you would  never know it from looking at the average quality line art reproduction in books being produced today.


Margaret said...

Wow. That is pretty impressive. Awesome to hear that the original artwork was scanned for it as well. Hopefully this isn't only used for the covered to the restored volume, but released as a full size print. Pretty please?

Jeff Seiler said...

Um...what she said.

Jeff Seiler said...

Also, a Cerebus Volume I proofreading update: I received a call from Dave yesterday; he left a voicemail message saying that we are up against it so there was no time for him to look at the proofreading before it is sent to Sean, so would I please send it by FedEx directly to Sean as soon as I was finished. Thusly spurred on, I powered through the last three chapters (the brilliant parody of the Clint Eastwood movie, The Beguiling), as well as Dave's endnotes--232 minutes (plus the highlighting time) interrupted only by the time it took to eat my sweet potato casserole. Yeah, Travis, that's why I'm squinting and why my right eye twitches. ;)

Now, tonight, I will finish highlighting the book, putting a yellow mark on each page, each panel, each line, each word and each space where there is a mistake or a missing punctuation mark. That is to help Sean see more quickly where the mistakes are, as he follows along from my notes. In case anyone is interested, I start a new page on the legal pad by noting what page number it is, the date, "CEREBUS, VOL. I--CORRECTIONS" written at the top, followed by one horizontal line across the page, with four vertical lines from top to bottom on the left side of the page, then labeling each column, from left to right, "page", "panel", "balloon", "line", and "correction". (How's that for a run-on sentence?) So, Sean should be able to pretty quickly find each error by using the note and the highlighting.

Last night, after finishing the proofing, I got through page 197, so I only pages to highlight tonight.

And people ask why there are no visible signs of my having a social life. How's yours, Sean?

Oh, but I did notice that the Injuns eliminated the Jays tonight. Yay! (he says, while ducking)

Jeff Seiler said...

Yeah, not so much on the power-through. Gotta go to sleep now, or I'j goubg to noy be adle to ritr corwectlp.

Going to sleep, now, with 210 pages to go.

Turns out, correcting early Cerebus is complicated and somewhat exhausting. Plus, the cat was sick. F+%×ing cat.

Bottom line, it ain't easy bein' a CEREBUS pimp out here on the streets.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Hi Sean,

Stunning work there Sean. Loving these restoration articles.

Quick question: I held off buying the first remastered version of Cerebus Vol 1 when I picked up on your reservations about the Lebonfon printing quality at the time. What is the target 'in store' date for your new 'fully remastered' edition and how can we check we are getting this version (as opposed to the previous 'sub-par' Lebonfon remastered edition)?

Many thanks,

Dave Sim said...

Hi Tim! We're not really at an "in-store" date point in the proceedings. You nice folks have to get used to that. :) You're privy to VERY EARLY discussions and "work in progress" updates. Very few things happen on this side of the business when you think they're going to OR when you HOPE they're going to.

If you're reading Sean talking about doing the finished cover (which you are) and Jeff getting the proofreading done (which you are), that means we're nowhere near talking about when this will be in stores. What we're doing is getting as close to a finished book as possible before Diamond actually "pulls the trigger" and then you're usually talking about a minimum of three weeks before the printing is done and then how that "dovetails" with Diamond's gears and wheels. Marquis told Sean that -- if we had had the book ready to go to press as soon as CEREBUS IN HELL #0 shipped...

(which was two days ahead of time -- the 18th instead of the 20th -- which means there's a small chance if everything unfolds perfectly that #0 would be in stores next Wednesday. i.e. getting to Diamond while they're putting next week's shipment together, just under the wire. Whereas if it had shipped on the 20th there would be ZERO chance. But I didn't know that until the studio books came in Tuesday)

...they were projecting a November 14th ship date. Projecting. Which depends on everything going off like clockwork. Which it almost never does. And we're already five days past that and nowhere near ready.

Diamond's holding off on ordering the new printing, understandably, until they sell the last 40 copies of the $30 version. I wouldn't describe the current printing as "sub-par". It's more that you're always going to get more with the latest printing: more of what Sean's learned, more pages that have turned up in the Dragnet, etc. If you skip the next printing and wait for the one after that, you'll get a better book as well (I've asked Sean to list the new Dragnet pages on each printing and, where possible, to comment on them). But, obviously, we need people to buy the current printing at any given point. If everyone's waiting for the next printing or the next next printing, the whole thing grinds to a halt. :)

Dave Sim said...

Margaret - Uh, no. Sincere apologies but we don't do full-sized prints.

What we're in the midst of doing is to get the CEREBUS ARCHIVE PORTFOLIOS more streamlined so that it takes two months to ship them all out and then we jump onto the next one. We learned a LOT from this one and we still have a LOT to learn. And learning is EXPENSIVE -- hundreds of dollars worth of mistakes. Which is okay. GREAT in fact. The first one back in 2012 was roughly $60,000 worth of mistakes so hundreds of dollars is a big improvement.

The only way that works (we've figured out) is uniformity. Everyone has his or her assigned/chosen number and we print them and I sign them while the campaign is in progress and Sandeep and Fisher and Rollie and Alfonso package them while the campaign is going on so we can ship as close to the end of the campaign as possible. That requires a MASSIVE expenditure in all of the packaging materials. The next stage will be finding out what Cerebus Pledge Partner Capacity is: how many of these can we do a year and how many can you nice folks afford to buy?

PHASE 2 if we get to that point (unlikely) will be to do THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND the same way: 20 or so pages at a time in the CEREBUS ARCHIVE format. But not until we know a) we can keep up with the production on it and CEREBUS ARCHIVE and b) you guys can afford it. Camp David filled up pretty good doing this first one "in-house" so it will be a "move 'em in move 'em out" process.

AND we need to do the Diamond editions (next up CANO and CANT CAN4 and CAN5 for Diamond). With CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 the mini-series, believe me we are pretty much AT if not PAST CAPACITY.

"Let's guess how many people want a print of the V1 cover and what they're willing to pay for it and how much it's going to cost to print and how much it's going to cost to get shipping containers built for them, how much space they're going to take up and -- if we guess wrong by 100 or 200? -- and we only break even on the 52 we sold because the whole thing is brand new? Well, hey! At least 52 people got a nice print." is, I'm afraid, not an option.

We're not in a position to take those kinds of chances. I mean, At. All. I wish we were.

We have to pick a format -- the CEREBUS ARCHIVE format on Kickstarter -- and get good at it. Not revisit it or rebuild it or add a lot of things in. Get GOOD at it. And then DO it, consistently.

I've got about four more hours of NOTES on the MELMOTH Prologue, so I'm heading back to the house.

Thanks everyone for participating here!

Margaret said...

Dave - thank you for the reply. It's all good. I understand why you wouldn't want to do prints like that. If circumstances change, please keep it in mind. I am very much enjoying the Cerebus Archive Portfolios - I can't wait to get CAN5 with the Jaka's Story notes.