Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Fidelity to Forty Year Letter Forms

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings all!

There's been an interesting discussion happening just a bit down the page, below a photo of a cat. (This sentence has never been uttered before in the history of the internet.)

Regarding the currently in progress, should be working on it but writing this post instead Cerebus Volume One restoration, which has reached its (mercifully) final stage, sorting through Jeff Seiler's handwritten edits and applying them (or not) to the otherwise finished book on a case-by-case basis.

Those of you following along for a while (and I do mean a while!) will remember that this book was really the raison d'ĂȘtre of this project in the first place, the first pages that I ever restored, in order to replace four signatures of the otherwise completed 16th printing and recoup some of the costs of the pulped High Society printing of the same time. 

And now, this new version of the book has been waiting in the dugout for quite a while now. And now that the book itself looks as good as it has ever looked, it seemed like the right time to really put it to bed, to correct some of the errors or inconsistencies that have kept the book from being its most, say, readable self.

And readable is the watch-word here.

Here's Dave Sim, from comments this week:

Hi Jeff! My instructions to SeanR this morning, regarding your V1 proofreading corrections and "corrections" (and thank you again for agreeing to do that):

"Jeff 'overdoes' [Jeff: note the quotation marks] it, so always assess on the basis of "Is this NECESSARY? i.e. Does it improve the readability of the book or is it just Jeff wanting to make the book 100% Jeff-Seiler-compatible?

That's my best answer to your phone message re: my comment re: your proofreading. I think if you look at a lot of your corrections on the CEREBUS IN HELL? strips, they're not necessary. The cover gag on No.1 being a good example. Does this absolutely need a comma to be read properly or will this still be read properly without the comma? If the latter (and I think it is the latter) then it's a better idea to just leave it alone.

Actual typos: it's spelled wrong CHECK! Not a typo: alternate spelling NOT CHECK! Punctuation should be CAN I LET THIS GO? If it is possible to LET IT GO without injuring the readability, then let it go.

And remember that you are proofreading someone else's idea of what's funny and a lot of "FUNNY" is phraseology. Sandeep or I might be wrong both in composition or grammar or punctuation, but right in that we think it's funnier that way. When I'm proofreading Sandeep, I always have that uppermost in my mind. HE thinks it's funny this way and it's HIS. If it was mine, I'd phrase it a little differently, but it isn't mine, it's HIS.

You also don't want to RETHINK funny because you can lose the gag in doing so. Your first instinct is usually the best and that runs contrary to your "You can always says 'No'". It's true, I can always say No, but it's also true that if I rethink the gag from your perspective I can lose it or bruise it without meaning to. Whereas if you stick to the completely NECESSARY side of the dividing line, that isn't going to often.

Hope that clears that up.

A thoughtful comment from ChrisW:

With regards to punctuation, I would err on the side of caution. Yes, you have to take into account all the different forms (styles?) of punctuation to ensure readability across maximum audiences, but punctuation itself adds to the flow of words in ways that spelling or, dare I say it, even grammar don't do. A basic typo won't riun the flow, but, a misplaced semicolon, or comma, can distract the reader enough to decide that hilarious joke is just worth a chuckle. 
Mistakes in spelling or grammar can be fixed. In my view, there's the point being made, then the words you use to make it, and then the punctuation. This is just anecdotal, but I've found re-writing to be much easier when the punctuation is the structure beneath whatever point is being made. Misspelling? Fix it. Better way of making the point? Fine, build on what I've got.

Another thoughtful comment form Jan Hikkomori Karlsson:

If it were me, I would be inclined to having ALL of the proof-reading notes, rather than have some pass through that should be changed.

Perhaps a method can be discussed between Dave and Jeff of highlighting the notes in accordance with Dave's categorizations? That way, Jeff can satisfy his need to proof-read fully and correctly (I get it, personally, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right) and Dave can identify the notes he believes are the more important ones while still having the "less important" notes available to him.

And then from Dave again:

Hi Jan and ChrisW - Thanks for joining the discussion! I think we're all trying to arrive at the most sensible way of going about this, but "most sensible" is going to differ from person to person. Right now, CEREBUS VOLUME ONE is in SeanR's hands, as are Jeff's corrections. I don't think there's going to be MUCH disagreement between Jeff and SeanR on what he chooses to fix and what he chooses not to "fix". 
But I think the fact that SeanR brings a comics creator's sensibility to the proceedings is important since it recognizes that "comics ain't text" and that "you know it when you see it" (which is difficult to communicate to someone who doesn't do comics, but is a huge comics fan) (and difficult to discuss without sounding -- even unintentionally -- condescending).  
Sean will be returning Jeff's corrections to him and -- one way or another -- we'll be getting Jeff a CEREBUS VOLUME ONE when it comes out. At which point, Jeff will have plenty of time to go through the book again and make a case -- here on AMOC -- for anything that he thinks SHOULD have been fixed and wasn't. At which point, we'll welcome everyone's input on whatever hairsplitting discussion should ensue. With Diamond stocked up with 3,000 copies of the new printing, we'll have PLENTY of time to split as many hairs as we want.  
And keep it confined to specific posts and comments sections like this where it won't "bug" anyone who finds discussions of correct English usage Really Eye-Rolling Oh Come ON! stuff.  
And about 75 pages in to the work so far, I've implemented the majority of Jeff's suggestions.  Dave is absolutely right (no surprise) that text in comics does not function the same as text in a novel or even an instruction manual. Even punctuation conventions go out the window when you're dealing with floating balloon containers hovering atop or integrated into other narrative visual information. Also relevant are Dominick Grace's comments about language usage and bending the rules in the service of expressive goals—
Proofing an artistic text is always a challenge. What might be inflexible rules or "rules" or even RULES for prose non-fiction won't necessarily apply. It is often very amusing to look over proof pages of a novel by, say, Faulkner, and see his increasing exasperation with the proof-reader's suggestions to restore his distinct and idiosyncratic prose to "correct" English. I can only imagine how a proof-reader might have reacted to, say, Riddley Walker or A Clockwork Orange. I can't even imagine proofing something like Joyce.... Very frequently (in my experience), a proofer's suggestions substitute fidelity to the rules for sensitivity to the voice and objectives of the author. Even with my own (non-creative) work, I have had on occasion to reject a proofer's suggested revision because saying it "that way" might be more correct (or anyway, more stylistically bland) but loses an intended nuance or secondary meaning. My rule of thumb when proofing or editing: if it doesn't impact on the clarity of the text, or isn't manifestly incorrect, let it stand. And yeah, you really have to use whatever spelling standard whoever is in charge wants used, regardless of your own usage.
That being said, Jeff has done an extraordinary job being attuned to the visual, in the sense that the majority of the suggestions he's made are purely visual suggestions, attempting to address long-term readability issues related to the lettering in the earliest of the issues here.

Here's a peek into that—a panel from page 71 that had a rare four suggested corrections, three of which are purely visual or related to the letter forms.

Here's the unadjusted panel—

Now, issues aside, I love the bouncy lettering. It's stylish and expressive and perfect for the tone of the book at this point. But a few letter forms are occcasionally causing readability issues. Let's zoom in on the first balloon—

 It's the "LOOK UPON" that's giving me (and Jeff) some trouble, reading at first glance as LOOK UDON. The fact that UDON is its own word undoubtedly contributes to the misreading: but the fact of it itself is symptomatic of a letter structure problem.

Let's look at the X-height of all of the lines, i.e. the invisible dividing line that separates the top segments of the letter forms from the bottom.

You can see how far below the general x-height the P segment extends. Just to confirm that it's not a problem with the stem of the P, here's another image tracing the bottom of the letter form.

 So it's clear that the stem isn't the issue, it's just the cup of the P and where it originates from.

Luckily, this kind of thing is an easy fix in Photoshop, in a way that makes it possible to maintain the integrity of the letter form itself and the way it was originally drawn. I hit L to select the lasso tool, I make a selection on only the cup of the P, and then hit CTRL-T to bring up the Free Transform tool. Then I squish the selection a bit and adjust the placement or angle as needed. If the P in question is in a word with R's it seems visually important for the P cup to be close in height to the R cup—otherwise in a word like this, it's just about what's the most readable while still maintaining the flavor of the original lettering. 

 This one is a little more conservative than some others. Might be just a tad too low still. But no one will mistake it for UDON at least. (It's worth noting that at this stage Dave's A forms are very similar structurally to the Ps, but it's never a problem, as there's not another letter to mistake them for. "Hey now, that's not an A, that's a tent!)

And here's the finished panel. Notice the other differences? 

And this is why, as Dave said, many of these are really visual decisions, and I believe it takes another cartoonist to make them and make them work visually. Deciding to add the extra comma above didn't just mean typing a comma, it meant select a comma from the page, placing it in, adjusting the size to fit the surrounding letters, moving it so it didn't look like an accent mark on the AN on the line below, realizing that the other comma in the sentence was now too visually dominant and different and would need to be trimmed a bit to fit with the newly added one that definitely wasn't an accent mark.,, all while being cognizant of the ever-ticking clock and the ever-draining budget... even opening and closing five hundred files is itself a large enterprise, let alone a few minutes on 300 or so of them...

Which is a fitting place to end this blog post, eh?

Any and all feedback welcome! Thanks to Jeff Seiler for the incredibly thorough copy edit, and for Mara Sedlin's first pass through the book whilst she was scanning the pages. 


Sandeep Atwal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sandeep Atwal said...

On a somewhat related note:

"James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate." - Cormac McCarthy

Sean R said...


Travis Pelkie said...

Am I the only one seeing the text after the ChrisW quote as going off to the right behind all the side elements? Makes it hard to read the post when the High Society cover is covering things up...

Jim Sheridan said...

It's a minor point, but I'd get rid of the commas before and after "indeed."

I'd omit those commas for two reasons. The first is that many writers use commas to create pauses in a sentence when it's spoken, but a speaker probably wouldn't pause before or after that word. The word would be said with emphasis, as it emphasizes the idea of "strangeness," but the speaker wouldn't pause.

The other main reason for commas is to suggest that that part of the sentence is not essential, that it is an aside or some bonus info. The word "indeed" here is a specific indicator of severity. It is essential.

When an adverb follows the adjective it modifies, it can seem nonessential:

"He is strange, clearly." The word "clearly" does indicate a sense of how evident his strangeness is, but it has less of a sense of being essential. We understand that the strangeness is so clearly strange that it is as already clear, so the word "clearly" seems gratuitous and thus gets the comma. It's more like the speaker is reassuring himself.

"He is strange indeed" would be less likely to take a comma because "indeed" seems more emphatic and thus essential to the speaker's meaning.

whc03grady said...

No one's gonna comment on the FUCK above and to the left of RS's word balloon?

Sean R said...

Hey Jim!

I am in agreement with you, and in many of the "Jeff requests punctuation" instances, I'm ignoring the suggestion exactly for the reasons you're sighting. But in this case adding a comma, which I've done, is an equally valid solution, and has the added benefit of being congruent with what Young Dave intended. That is, Young Dave put a comma in there, presumably for a reason, but didn't follow up with a now grammatically indicated second comma. So, being presented with two equally valid solutions, I went with the one that fits what's already present on the page.

Just as in other instances I've chosen not to add punctuation, for the very reasons you're sighting.

That said, I'd be perfectly happy to take them both out too if anyone else wants to weight in :)

whc03grady—woah! Subliminal messaging, as in, the literal meaning of the word FUCK? or FUCK I HAVE TO DRAW ALL THIS SHRUBBERY? Whadaya think?

Sean R said...

You know, Jim, I think you might be right.


Jim Sheridan said...

Sean, I'm a sad middle-aged man picking nits. It could be well argued that Cerberus was musing and therefore had a contemplative tone that gets well served by the commas.

More troubling is a rain delay in freaking game 7 of the World Series as the tied game heads for extra innings.

Travis Pelkie said...

I'd say leave both in, because I'd argue that what Jim is saying about "indeed" being essential is in fact heightened by being offset by commas. I think Cerebus would be pausing, as well, when he's thinking this. Just say it out loud with and without commas and pauses, and you'll see that both commas are needed.


Crap, now I'm saying it to myself and I'm thinking the other way now...

Dammit, just leave the one comma in! Heh!

Still have the text to this post spilling over to the right in the place indicated in my comment above.

Tony Dunlop said...

I'd leave the commas out and put "indeed" in emphasized type: "The ways of men are strange indeed to one..."

Jeff Seiler said...

Oh, wow, whc! I forgot to proof the F on that!

And, Sean, my thank you for your kind words in this post was mysteriously deleted.

So, THANK YOU for your kind words!

Dave Sim said...

The A Moment of Cerebus Therapeutic Home For Obsessive Proofreaders.

And we didn't even have to wait until the book came out to have our first donnybrook!


whc: It was probably my tribute to Marie Severin who did the same thing on the cover of KA-ZAR #1, directly over the lion's (sabre tooth tiger's? I'm rusty on my Ka-Zar mythology) rump.

Tony again said...

She did? Man, that lady had balls! And got it past the editor AND the Comics Code! Hats off to ya, Ms. S.

Jeff Seiler said...

Hey, Dave, after walking around Duval Street and the Casa Marina, in Key West,the last four days, my hip and knees could certainly use that Therapeutic Home. Plus, I got suntan lotion in my right eye.

Home on Monday.