I hope all of you reading this have had a fulfilling and relaxing holiday season.
As you might be able to suss out from the title of this post, I've spent the past two weeks posting highlights or (for various reasons) interesting images we're received as part of the Cerebus Art Dragnet, which managed to net more than sixty original art pages for the newly-restored (and currently at the printers) Cerebus Volume One. (Here's more information about the mammoth volume one restoration, and why the original artwork is almost always the best way forward, given enough time to restore the tone.)
This week will be the last look at those pages, after which, I'm hoping, you'll get a chance to see the new Cerebus Volume One for yourselves and see how it looks in person. But for today, we'll focus on the color scans of the original artwork, rather than the restoration itself.
And what better way to start than by taking a look at one of the only original art pages I've seen from issue 12, the one and only Cerebus issue completed with duotone board?
Dave tackles the issue in the notes of Cerebus Archive Number One (now available from your local comic shop). But the short version is, the entire issue was inked on a special paper that could produce two shades of "gray" when exposed to different chemicals that could be applied with a brush. Dave was inspired to take up the technique by Bernie Wrightson's spectacular use of it in some of his horror comics of the seventies. (A similar type of board, with a much more mechanical pattern, was used by Eastman and Laird on their run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
Issue 12 didn't reproduce quite as well as Dave had hoped, however, a problem exacerbated by the original negative being replaced by a dupe shot from a printed issue, sometime after the first printing. So the issue itself has had some fascination for me from a reproduction standpoint, and every time I get a chance to see a page of original artwork from it, I'm very curious.
This page came to us courtesy of Scott. Like every page I've seen from this issue, the duotone shading has faded in a pretty extreme way, now having the appearance of a walnut ink wash than a tone that might reproduce in black and white.
You can see that the darker tone still has its intended shape, but the lighter tint has all but disappeared. I did some playing around with the color channels of the scan to see if it was stronger in one channel over another, and sure enough, the yellow channel looked pretty reasonable after some selective sharpening. But still not good enough to reproduce how it was intended to look, the light washes splotchy rather than a continuous tone. (In the end I ended up combining the original art with a print scan of the original page, to great effect. See the book when it's available in January!)
Also of note — the very funny dialogue appears to have been wholly composed in the margins of the page itself, supporting Young Dave's assertion (in the first Swords of Cerebus introduction) that he composes each page one page at a time.
(Edit: Dave pointed out in the comments below that one could theoretically eliminate the duotone entirely now that it's changed color so much. And he's right! Below is an example of what that looks like, using Photoshop's "Black and White" dialogue controls)
And then there are the rarest pages of all — the pages where a restored print scan looks close to indistinguishable from the original artwork. These are mostly pages where the photography was exceptional, and there was very little tiny detail to pick up — no fleck tone, no spatter, no fine pen or crayon shading or anything else out of the ordinary.
Here's a scan of the splash page from Cerebus #7, which marks the first time in Cerebus that Dave Sim used a particular rendering technique (as noted in the dedication to the original purchaser.) Also of note — the use of white to mark off the foreground from the middle ground, and to clean up the border somewhat (and help finish the "rising sun by implication" negative space inside the logo, a neat bit of design, bringing a third spiral shape to the page).
Here's another original from James G's collection, this time from issue 10. This issue overall has always looked nice in print, probably a lot due to the spaciousness (owing to the snow) and the nice High Society-esque reliance on lots of white, lots of black, and only one or two mid-tones. There's also a lot of nice applied texture in the large flecks of snow (the actual toothbrush work being reserved for the two very nice splash pages) You can see, however, that even on a page like this, largely printer-proof, benefits from going back to he original artwork in the texture of the hair and outfits of the figures, places where some tighter-rendered textures crept in.
Other issue ten pages (like this one scanned by Jason C. at ComicLink — thanks Jason!) benefit in much more obvious ways. Ever seen any of that white hatching before on this panel? Well, you will now!
And with that, I'm out of time for this week! Last week's post had a special request from great cartoonish Scott Yoshinaga, who asked for a more technical explanation of the restoration work. I.e. how it's done — technical details, scanners, the works.