Friday, 11 April 2014

Weekly Update #26: Meeting Alain Roberge

Previously on 'A Moment Of Cerebus':
Dave Sim, working with George Peter Gatsis, has remastered the first two collected volumes of Cerebus to restore details and quality in the artwork lost over the thirty years since they were originally published (as detailed here and here). After Cerebus' original printer Preney Print closed its doors, Dave Sim moved his printing to Lebonfon in 2007 as at that time they were still capable of working with photographic negatives and making printing plates as Preney had done. And then Lebonfon switched to digital scanning and printing - a technology which struggles to faithfully reproduce Cerebus' tone without creating moire patterns (as detailed in Crisis On Infinite Pixels). Dave Sim continues to work with Lebonfon to ensure the print-quality of the new Cerebus and High Society editions (as detailed in Collections Stalled). Now read  on...

Executive Summary
  1. Lebonfon offers to produce the sample signature free of charge: offer VERY gladly accepted
  2. Reduction in "to date" printing bill to be agreed upon when the sample signature has been approved
  3. Sample signature to be used to solicit printing quotes from other printers who deal regularly with Diamond
  4. Next steps in Restoration/Preservation of the entire 6,000-page graphic novel to be funded by sale of CEREBUS ARCHIVE FULL-SIZE ART PRINTS to be offered:
          a) through quarterly Kickstarter campaigns on signed and numbered prints
          b) through Diamond on unsigned and unnumbered prints which should be always available

1. The meeting went very well. I could tell that Alain Roberge is one of those people who is far more comfortable in-person where I'm pretty much the opposite: I find looking at someone's face distracting because I'm trying to picture how to pencil and ink it and quickly lose the "drift" of what they're saying.  But over the last year the entire discussion has become pretty well-trodden for me so I know where to identify differences of opinion.

But I have to say Monsieur Roberge was very accommodating, as I tried to be.  I was very pleased when he suggested doing the sample signature for free because I'd been trying to figure out how to ask.

As is usually the case, we ended up being on the same wavelength after all this time of going around in circles:  particularly, I said that hindsight is 20-20 and, when George had suggested printing unbound copies of the books for approval, what I should have anticipated was:  okay, what happens if the printing isn't good enough?  That's a lot of printing to just put in the dumpster or send to the recycling centre.  Monsieur Roberge had thought this as well, the same as me, after the fact when the damage has already been done.  So that brought us to item two on the agenda:

2.  Lebonfon needs to be compensated for the "half a printing job" that we have right now.  This is one of those obvious things that, again, you should anticipate is going to colour everything else and get on top of.  Just to emphasize the "wavelength" part of it:  I had a letter from Lou Copeland (who did the computer work on JUDENHASS) in the mail today where he was speaking as a guy whose job is doing pre-press for a living at a printer.  And he said that's one of the first things that needs to be addressed:  get THAT part of both books paid for and then we're starting with a clean slate.

As I said to Monsieur Roberge (and his Director of Business Development, Dean McCory: we're coming to you, here, soon, Dean!) I wasn't going to put him on the spot and say, Okay, how much can I get off of the original printing bill? Tell me right now.  And he was fine with that. We will arrive at a price somewhere south of where it started.

As I've mulled it over for the balance of the week (was that REALLY just Wednesday?  Seems like a hundred years ago!), what I think I have to do is to cut Lebonfon a cheque for, say, 25% of the bill on the understanding that there will be another cheque or two cheques after we've actually arrived at a way to print these books -- or arrived at the decision that Lebonfon isn't the right "fit" if that's the conclusion we come to.  If -- as wouldn't surprise me -- we realize ALL of us were wrong in different ways, then we can pretty much split the difference.  If Lebonfon was "MORE right" then they should get the full amount -- even if Aardvark-Vanaheim ends up not going with them.  Although, presumably, in THAT scenario it would make sense to go with them after figuring out how to get from "MORE right" to "TOTALLY right".  Right?

Which brings us to point three:

3.  It seems to me to make sense that, once we have gotten to "clean slate" territory --  Lebonfon has been paid for all of the work they have done to date -- that would be foolish not to do the same thing with other printers who work with Diamond regularly.  Get a printing quote and send them a copy of the sample signature and digital files and say, Can you do better than this?  How much will you charge to do better than this? And WHY do you think you can do better than this?

It's a little "high pressure" on Lebonfon, I grant you, but this, unfortunately, is the HIGHEST pressure part of this whole procedure.  It's not just a matter of getting a really nice looking 32-page signature, it's a matter of getting everything figured out about reproduction of the CEREBUS material so that we have something that works, invariably, no matter which book we're working on.

Dean jumped in at this point and said it would make sense for each person to document what he did with his part of the sample signature.  I started at A and I did B, D and E.  That way if someone does G and it solves a major problem, then we know the answer is A, B, D, E, G.  Even if no one else has done that before or it's completely counter-intuitive.

I emphasized Dean's point by pointing out that CEREBUS is a REALLY unique printing challenge.  The Big Variables are: the lines are really really tiny and there's lot's of solid black. As a Rule.  CEREBUS is less of a problem than HIGH SOCIETY for the exact reason that my lines were getting tinier at around issue 22 and by issue 26, when HIGH SOCIETY begins, they're off the charts and stay off for the remaining 270 or so issues.  Also, the title character IS dot tone.  That's very different from using tone to fill in some background space or to balance a panel.  You are always looking at Cerebus. He's the lead. If his tone is wrong, it really messes with the reading experience.

And it's 500 pages.  The "short" books are 250 pages.  That was when Monsieur Roberge said, it definitely adds to the workload.  You have x number of spots in a book with those three Big Variables where you are going to have to babysit every inch of the panel at every stage of the process.  Over 500 pages, that's a lot of babysitting.  Which is another reason that you have to get everything figured out as much as possible ahead of time.  It's a pain and it seems as if you aren't getting anywhere, but it's better to do that and Make Sure than to get 1,200 pages done and go, "Oh, wait. No -- this will work a lot better."  That's to much work to just throw away.

George made a good point along the lines of what Dean came up with: If we do every possible variation of a proof that's possible on the sample signature, then -- at least theoretically -- we should get a reasonably clear idea of what method, paper stock, settings, tweaks are suited to CEREBUS pages.  It probably won't tell you what would work with a book that didn't have the same Big Variables. But, we aren't looking for a GENERAL one-size-fits-all proofing/printing method, we're looking for a proofing method that when you get THAT right, that's how the printing is going to come out.

4.  Needless to say the price of a brand new car that I had in then bank would not buy me a brand new car today.  In fact, I had another one of those "hindsight is 20-20" things happen.  The Lebonfon inventory that Diamond bought (and thank you again, Diamond) and will be paying for over two years in quarterly instalments I ended up having to declare as 2013 income.  The books were delivered in 2013.  D'OH!  I KNEW that one!  How did I MISS that?  This is the "gift that keeps on giving", unfortunately:  not only did Aardvark-Vanaheim have a huge tax bill to pay but the company's tax instalments for 2014 are going to be based on that amount.  It's how corporate taxes work. "We assume if you did this good in 2013, you'll do just as good in 2014".  Creativity-based corporations get that whoopee cushion a lot.  Your favourite band that has a hit record that sells 900,000 copies will not only get taxed on that money the year the song comes out, but also the next year.  Which is fine if you have another record that sells 900,000 copies but if you end up being a one-hit wonder and you spend the money on the 900,000 selling record because HEY you're a rich successful band -- you're in for a surprise in the next fiscal year if that doesn't happen.  Even The Beatles fell into that one because they had such a CLUMP of gold records in 1964/65.  How many years can you have the top 8 or 9 singles for weeks on end?

Anyway, way, way, way back down here on planet earth I will eventually get the money back in 2016 but that does leave the problem of how to move forward with this on-going-and-nowhere-near-to-seeing-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel Restoration/Preservation project.

No idea if it will work, but I'm going to try doing quarterly KICKSTARTER campaigns.  A lot of you are aware of how I've been crunching the numbers and trying to figure out -- not so much how to bring in $63,000 as we did in 2012 (and then promptly had the whole thing end up costing about $72,000 because -- again, hindsight is 20-20 -- because I didn't look at what it was going to cost to SHIP all of this stuff around the world) but how to work it so that the program works smoothly this time and we can hit a sensible ratio where, if, say we bring in $10,000 (that might be optimistic), after Amazon and Kickstarter take their share, the printer/shipper gets paid, the shipping is paid, the packaging is paid for that there is...say...$3,000 left.  Well, that money goes to Lebonfon because that's the immediate problem.  They really need to get paid a chunk of the printing bill to date.  So, it might be THREE KICKSTARTER campaigns before Lebonfon has been paid and we're back at the clean slate.  Or, they could be all paid up after the first one, if that's successful.

KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) told me to do

a) full-sized colour photocopies of the earliest 10 interior CEREBUS pages in the CEREBUS ARCHIVE.  I had them up on the wall in the studio and Dean took a picture of me and Monsieur Roberge looking at them, so hopefully he can post the photos here.

b) do them in a plain white cardstock photo mailer

c) put that mailer and a sheet of cardboard in a bubble pack mailer

d) ALL of the prints will be signed so if you want to frame one of them, it doesn't have to be the "front one" even if it's not your favourite. Only the white cardstock photo mailer will be numbered, though.

I'll have more details about this first CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE (that's what the white cardstock photo mailer is doing to say:  as distinct from CEREBUS ARCHIVE #1, the comic book -- each quarterly campaign will be 10 pages.  CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO; CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER THREE, etc.)  KICKSTARTER campaign next week. Basically you'll get an e-mail address and a "Friday at midnight" launch point to reserve the earliest numbers.  Starting with #4 -- #1,2 and 3 always go in the Cerebus Archive.  Once you've reserved a number, you get to keep that number for each successive KICKSTARTER.  You aren't obligated to.  In fact, if you get a low enough number you're more than welcome to auction it on eBay if you think you can turn a profit on the deal  :).  The e-mail address is just to make sure that it's straight ahead, first come first served.  You'll go through the actual Kickstarter site to pay, but it just makes sure that the number if covered for you.  You'll get an e-mail back saying your reservation came in and what number you're getting.  You can even reserve a specific number.  In fact, if you reserve #123 and we only sell 85 of them, I WILL sign it #123 out of 85 and write next to it "Hey, I promised him (or her) whatever number he/she wanted" so people know it's legit.

Okay, late for my prayer time, and then I have to come back and pitch all this to the Kickstarter people.

They -- most of them -- had to wait MONTHS last time, so I swore they would get "first dibs" if I ever did another one.

Looking on the bright side, there's ONLY first dibs and second dibs.

And you guys will be getting second dibs April 25 if all goes according to plan.

Or you can get in on first dibs if you can pry the e-mail address out of any Kickstarter person.  They'll be getting it April 17.

If you're a Kickstarter person, I'll see you over there around 3:30.

And I'll see the rest of you next Thursday (no Good Friday Update).

See you then!


Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
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Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.


Birdsong said...

After all the knee-jerk reactions (me included) and every idea under the sun thrown out for consideration there is finally some progress. I do believe CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY will see the light of day all dressed up in their shinny new clothes. Thanks Dave for taking the time to make sure the job is done to your exacting standards. God willing, we'll get the books this year.

Jeff Seiler said...

So good to see, too, Dave, that after all of his initial, apparent intractability, Monsieur Roberge turned out to be a guy interested in trying to do the right thing after all. Bon fortune in the coming days and weeks.

ChrisW said...

Forgive my saying so, but regarding the KISS principle, it seems to me that extensively pre-planning for the printing and reproduction of all 6000 pages in advance is the opposite of KISS, and in many ways, is the opposite of the spirit under which those 6000 pages were created in the first place.

I realize that bringing the Cerebus books back into print is a monumental undertaking, and it's obviously important to start with the first (and best-selling) of the books. It's not like we can just push "Minds" back into print and start building from that.

I still maintain that a good 'starter' book for "Cerebus" would be to select pieces from the entire era to create a new phone book. My advice - which I've said before - would be to pick it on the basis of key issues (#1, #300, "This Aardvark, This Shepherd, etc.) and humor.

Put together as many of the Elrod/Marx Brothers/Three Stooges/Woody Allen/etc. bits as you can, take them completely out of context, add only the minimal narrative bridging - "After a bad experience that ended his term as Pope, Cerebus moved in with Jaka, the 'love of his life,' her husband Rick, and tavern owner Pud Withers. They also had a neighbor, a fat writer named Oscar. One day, while Oscar was painting in the street..."

I remain convinced that this would be the most appealing form of introducing the "Cerebus" epic, while demonstrating Dave and Ger's ever-expanding artistic chops, and creating a work that makes as much sense as, say, a Marx Brothers movie, a Three Stooges short, a Warner Brothers cartoon or a Woody Allen monologue.

From the standpoint of figuring out how to bring the books back into print, it would also have the advantage of covering many-if-not-most of the problems that different eras of "Cerebus" would present in doing the whole series. The Konigsberg/Wise Fellow sequences were radically different from the mostly-black funny pages of "High Society," after all.

Sandeep Atwal said...

"If you're going through Hell, keep going."

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to second Chris W's idea. Maybe this would be the neo-Swords of Cerebus- four issues in one new cover (per IDW tradition, have a bunch of freaking variant covers by random artists), with some bridging commentary to give the issues context. Sort of a 'greatest hits' thing.

Hell, I'd pick them up, if only to have something I can hand to a friend when I'm recommending Cerebus that isn't a hard-to-replace phonebook (also something they're more likely to read than a massive phonebook). Or so I can have a taste of one of the phonebooks I'm missing.

Thinkin' this is a great idea, honestly.

Anonymous said...

We're just about ready to test print......stand by.

Dean (Lebonfon Printing)