Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Many Faces of Khem

Sean Michael Robinson:

It's been a busy few weeks out here in San Diego, as I wrangle the artwork and juggle the files for You Don't Know Jack issue #1 and #2, and work with Dave and Benjamin Hobbs to finish off the next half-dozen or so issues of Cerebus in Hell?

... but for various reasons, most of that is currently in the realm of un-shareable. And really, in the case of Cerebus in Hell?, you don't really want to be teased with comics you won't get to read for another year or so, do you?

So instead, let's take a brief detour in the CEREBUS ART DRAGNET.

Yes, we're still looking for scans of "in the wild" original artwork! Yes, we're still sending out certificates and our eternal gratitude! Yes, WE WANT YOUR SCANS!


We've gotten a few inquiries over the past two months, but only a few pages. Here's the story of one of them.

I received an email from Cerebus super-fan and regular AMOC reader David Branning. His friend, comics compatriot, and long-time Cerebus reader Steve Hay, had sadly passed away the previous year, and he was helping Steve's widow Donna sort through and organize Steve's massive comics collection. And what should he find in the process but a framed piece of familiar artwork?

David said of his friend: "Steve was a voracious reader and collector of comics, and a lover of the medium and all of its history. I think he would be very proud to see one of his pages contribute to the preservation of Cerebus!"

It's always a thrill to get pages, but particularly when we receive pages a. that are very poorly represented by the original photography (or for which the negatives no longer exist), and b. pages from people who are very eager to contribute, who see this work in the same meaningful light that I do. So this page in particular was doubly gratifying.

So I wrote to David with some details (okay, too much detail...) on how to free the page from the frame, and some scanning options...

Removing it from the frame should be easy if you decide to do it yourself. There will most likely be a brown backing paper on the rear, that's attached with staples or a little glue. This can be cut to remove. Underneath will be (most likely) little metal l-shapes that can be loosed with screw drivers, which will enable you to take the frame apart. Lastly, the art itself is probably held on the matte with tape that would need to be removed. Take a thin knife or exacto to the corner of the tape to lift it a bit before removing. Luckily Dave and Ger drew on very rugged and thick board!

Yes, a place specializing in photo stuff is likely to have a very good scanner. Asking them to "Turn off any sharpening" would help. An Office Depot or Fedex Office however will have a color printer that also scans that will do an okay job as long as they have the settings set to Color. It's not a huge deal which you end up at for a single page, as I know how to deal with scans of varying sources--just scanning it at the right res and color mode is the biggie :)

Most of the really fine distinctions/possible scan screw-ups don't apply to a page like this, as it doesn't have iterative dot tone on it, only "noise" tone. So there's a lot more leeway!

Unfortunately Heritage won't make scans for us. I've put in a lot of time trying to persuade them otherwise... however, ComicLink (a great auction site) does. So if she decides to sell through them, then give me a heads up and I'll get it from Jason Crosby, one of their employees.

And lo and behold, the scan arrived! And boy, is this page a beauty up-close.

A big slab of the scribble tone right on top, and separate secondary layers in places to capture a painterly effect, over what are some pretty uncharacteristiclly Gerhard marks/hatching. As well as some uncharacteristic Gerhard drawing. Most likely because he was working from a model-- the "many faces of KHEM" from waaay back in issue 2.

I asked Gerhard about this kind of "inherited device" when I interviewed him in December 2010.

Robinson: On 416, there’s a couple of visual devices that you inherited from issues that you didn’t work on.
Gerhard: Are you talking about the streams of light?
Robinson: Yeah. What was your reaction to those things that you were called upon to replicate?
Gerhard: Not happy. Not happy, no. It was difficult to try to emulate some of the things that Dave had done. I would have much rather he had done those streams of light, because I think he was better at it.
Regardless of his feelings about it while working on it, the "heads and skuwws" is an interesting example of something that started with a clear model but transformed pretty wildly over time to become something very different. As such, this is a pretty significant page in the artistic development of the book, and an early attempt at many of the techniques, largely-invisible to the reader, which would help Dave and Gerhard produce the book month after month.

Such as photocopies! China White! Scribble tone! Scribble tone on top of China White next to photocopies! &c &c &c

Quoting me to David Branning:
By the way, Dave's (photocopied) lettering in the upper right is most likely the only bit of drawing he did on this page. This is a great example of early Gerhard, almost if not entirely solo. (Although it's loosely based on the backgrounds of issue 2 of the series--- check out pg 45 in the first phonebook). Dave helped lay out/rough the backgrounds for the first two or so issues Ger was on, then it was mostly solo from there...

More me:

Yeah, the bigger the slabs of tone they used, the more problems there are in the restoration. The tone is shrinking every year, as a percentage of its overall area--so the bigger the tone, the more visible that shrinkage is. And the better burnished pieces of tone, like this massive one here, tend to tear as the different sections shrink away from each other, but remain affixed to the art board by the burnishing...

Special thanks to David Branning, and Donna and Steve Hay, for their time and generosity, and for sharing their Cerebus page with us.

(By the way, Donna is planning on selling this page, so if you're interested, and would like to make a preemptive offer at market value, feel free to send any inquiries to cerebusarthunt at gmail and I'll pass them on to David.)

More next week!


Anonymous said...

Yay! I won it! Notified on October 24th. And, since Gerhard and I are planning a ten-year reunion of the old Cerebus for next March, at S.P.A.C.E., I can get him to sign the page while we're there.


Travis Pelkie said...

Congrats anonymous.

Hmm, SPACE in March.... I'll have to look into that, see if I can make it out there. I have friends in Columbus....