Friday, 4 April 2014

Weekly Update #25: Different Printing 'Churches'

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...

  1. CEREBUS hardcovers are not possible in the present situation.
  2. Kickstarter campaign being developed to make the BEST possible reproduction of CEREBUS artwork in the CEREBUS ARCHIVE available to collectors
  3. George Gatsis forwards raw CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY digital files and what he considers his Finished files to Sean Robinson
  4. Imprimerie Lebonfon President Alain Roberge to visit Aardvark-Vanaheim Wednesday 9th

I'm HERE, Tim!  I'm HERE!  At least, I hope I am. We'll see what happens when I hit PUBLISH.

This was my idea, to give Tim a day off.  Type and PUBLISH instead of Type and SAVE.

First off: to Dave Kopperman and "adampasz" in their comments on last week's Update.

Believe me, if I could just snap my fingers and make it happen, I would.  But unfortunately, we have to deal with the Reality of Dave Sim and CEREBUS as constituted, much of which is hidden from us -- ALL of us.  To me, CEREBUS being self-published is of central importance.  If it isn't possible to self-publish the books, I'm inclined to just let them go out of print.  I own the material.  That's the important thing.  CONAN, to cite one intellectual property "close to home" was completely out of print for decades and then had this Surge Of Interest in the 1960s with Frank Frazetta's paperback covers.  And cruised on that for a while and then had a Surge Of Interest when the Arnold S. films came out.  And now CONAN isn't -- non-existent -- but there just isn't the Surge of Interest.  Different properties behave in different ways. They have different internal rhythms.  

No, the photocopies that I'm talking about are full-sized copies on glossy card stock of 600 dpi colour scans.  Speaking as someone who is looking at fine-line photorealism comics material through a magnifier lamp and trying to reconstruct what size the original penlines were for, you know, a living right now I'm HYPER-aware of what the best reproduction is.

That would be my pick.

In fact if anyone is inclined to download RIP KIRBY or HEART OF JULIET JONES or Al Williamson from and print them out on glossy card stock at or close to the original size and send them to me, I will give thanks for you in perpetuity.

With full-size 600 dpi copies on glossy stock, it's still pixilated, but the size of the reproduction makes it more accurate than MOST of what you are looking at in the high-priced reprint books.

I'm finalizing plans right now for the first batch of 10 -- the earliest CEREBUS pages in the Cerebus Archive -- Artist's Editions, first generation copies from the original artwork.  It'll be done through Kickstarter and -- if you're a Kickstarter pledge partner from 2012, you'll be hearing about it first.  Hopefully within the next two or three weeks.  The only thing in question is the frequency.  When do I do the "next 10"?  I'm guessing quarterly but I can't rule out bi-monthly if there's a large enough core of reader/patrons.

See, I can get confirmation of that.  Here's how many people.  Here's the level of quality that I want to have to be a Good Custodian of the Intellectual Property.

With hardcovers I can't have that.  I appreciate that you two guys will buy them, but I don't know how many people there are. And if there aren't enough then I've got ONE hardcover of the CEREBUS volume and no plausible way to do the second one.  Or the first three and no way to do the fourth one -- the situation in France, Italy and Spain right now where I signed to do reprints and all three companies are either moribund "just resting" or vanished having only done HIGH SOCIETY and CHURCH & STATE I.  When that's the Given -- rather than the "given" -- about an intellectual property, that's the Given and you deal with the Given if, like me, you're the custodian.

We Really Want CEREBUS Hardcovers To Be Viable is worlds away from CEREBUS Hardcovers Are Viable and, unfortunately, most fans and collectors don't understand the wide difference between those two things. The French, Italian and Spanish publishers Wanted CEREBUS Hardcover Translations to be viable.  And they weren't. Lesson learned.

I note that the Pinis have licensed Dark Horse to do a 722 page volume of the first ELFQUEST serial -- in a black and white popular edition.  It's the most viable thing, I think, a self-publisher can do.  X number of people can afford this.  2014, economically, is not what 1995 was.  Folks don't have a lot of walking around money.

The same as stores really only wanting to stock CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY. There's only so many dollars to go around. At least it IS CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY.

Speaking of which:  on the reproduction issues.

I got a letter from Eddie Khanna mentioning a chat that he had with his LCS (they haven't signed the petition, so I don't want to blow their "street cred" with the Zero Tolerance People by associating them with Dave Sim the evil misogynist) where a couple of their customers' book just got picked up by Diamond and they were showing the LCS two versions of the printing and the LCS liked one version and the creators liked the other.  A couple of things occur to me:

a) it illustrates how many options there are with digital printing.  More on this in a minute.  

b) if I was a creator, I'd tend to go with what the store liked. A store owner or manager looks at a work as a "surrogate customer":  "this is what folks who buy comics like".  Starting out, that's what you want your book to be: customer friendly.  This is part of my idea in wanting STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND to be available as a colour comic book.  It's the age of digital colour printing.  That's what a comic book LOOKS like.  And it's really about the only thing in the world that DOES look like that, apart from 3D movies and video games.  You shouldn't give someone an excuse to put your book back on the rack, because with dollars as scarce as they are, they are looking for an excuse.  NOT looking like what the customer expects a comic book to look like is apt to constitute an excuse.
My best guess, anyway.  Okay back to a):

With the multiplicity of ways of reproducing comics, we really have a variety of different systems of reproduction belief.  There are a BUNCH of different printing "churches".  George Gatsis belongs to one kind of printing "church".  Sean Robinson belongs to another printing "church".  Lebonfon belongs to another.  It's a natural outgrowth of anything linked to computers.  People BELIEVE in their computer and BELIEVE in their computer's solution.  Everyone else is a heretic.

George is not alone in his gray-scaling preferences.

Rick Norwood of COMICS REVUE was running Al Williamson's SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN a while back and he was definitely "grey-scaling" the strip.  Which I can understand.  There are tiny little lines you are trying to get and not lose.  Williamson's work is notorious for not reproducing.  I remember Russ Heath saying so pointedly to me on the phone.  "You lose half of the drawing".  Well, yes, but Williamson's work is a LOT more popular than Russ' work -- even though Russ' work reproduces a lot better.

Yoram M. actually gave me some of Williamson's personal CORRIGAN proof sheets. And Williamson has marked a bunch of panels where the lines didn't come up.  That's the PROOF sheets for heaven's sake! The proof sheets are better than the book reprint reproduction -- ANY book reprint -- but the best Al Williamson I have on hand are the full-size photocopies I shot of the SECRET AGENT CORRIGAN originals that Yoram had when he visited a couple of times.  SLIGHT loss of quality because they aren't on glossy stock, just 11x17 bond paper, but when I need to see HOW Williamson did something, that's the place that I go.

Among the "bitmap" adherents, we can add Lou Copeland -- who did all of the digital work on JUDENHASS and sent me a letter coming down vehemently on Sean's side.  Which, at this point, I can only count as he and Sean going to, at least roughly, the same computer "church".  I'm just trying to get what I consider the best reproduction possible in the trade paperback format.

It's not going to be a SWIFT process, to say the least:  which is one of the ideas behind making the BEST possible reproduction available through Kickstarter through Artist's Editions.  It means that I don't have to decide how to print the books because I've run out of time/money.  The Artist's Editions will finance making sure that the decisions I make are based on "best evidence":  what I see in front of me.

Okay, I'm coming to the end of my allotted "2 hours every Friday" getting people caught up here and at the site.

The latest word I have from George Gatsis is that he has shipped print-outs of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY to me of his final digital files (final as far as he's concerned) and will be sending Sean the raw files and the final files.  70 gigabytes of data.  I think it would be better to send it on a thumb drive -- or thumb driveS -- and bill me for them.  Uploading and downloading that much is just going to be an imposition and a headache for Sean.  So, please, George, send Sean thumb drives.

I got a phone message from Josee at Lebonfon (Bonjour, Josee!) saying that Lebonfon president Alain Roberge will be in the K-W area next week and would I be willing to meet with him?

Bien Sur!  

So that meeting (God willing) will be taking place 10 am next Wednesday.

I'll let you know next Friday what we come up with.

Entree nous.

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon or a one-off Paypal donation.

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.


George Peter Gatsis said...


I am not sending anything to Dave.

What I said in the phone message I left was:

that I have FEDEX'd hirez High Society Digital videos to IDW.

Everything else is correct... I am still collecting the data into one central area and will put on a couple of sticks... shipping it off to Sean.

Dave Kopperman said...

Thanks for the response, Dave!

I should clarify that I'm not arguing in favor of hardcovers. Would it be great to have them? Yes. But I recognize (now as always) that there isn't the market for them. Even hugely successful, mainstream perennial titles like Watchmen and Sandman have only have hardcovers put out in the last few years, after a couple of decades in print as trades.

What I am arguing in favor of, and what I do think will help draw both new readers and broader retailer interest, is if the quality of the paper stock was upped. Nice white archival stock is what people have become accustomed to with even the most minor of comic reprints, so they likely equate the newsprint of the Cerebus volumes as meaning the work is of a lesser value.

It could also be viewed as a loss leader - the argument I've seen here is that without Cerebus and High Society it print, it's harder to move the later trades. Well, what can be done to encourage more people to pick up those first two trades so that they will become interested in following the story through to its completion? Beyond the obvious answer of 'keeping them in print'?

Lower price, maybe? Better printing quality? Color cover? More extensive notes, second-party introductory essay? Cover blurbs? Advertising is likely outside of the budget - and comics sites such as TCJ always do link back to AMOC when new initiatives are posted here, so that's covered as well as it can be.

I liken Cerebus to Star Wars or Harry Potter, or any long-running, successful episodic narrative. Getting people hooked on the first one will mean they'll keep going, particularly if the irk keeps getting better. If 'Cerebus' is the 'New Hope' of the series, that makes 'High Society' the 'Empire Strikes Back' (oh, this analogy is paining me, but I'm typing off the cuff, here).

So how can that be capitalized on? The assumption seems to be that 'High Society' is the 'best' of the books. Although I disagree with that assessment, I would agree that it has all of the elements to grab a casual reader and make them a fan. And if the goal is a sell-through to later volumes, we can also safely assume that 'Church & State' and 'Jaka's Story' would be very popular - my experience with most people that I've lent my trades to is that they love it up through there, and then start to falter with 'Melmoth'. So there will be a smaller percentage of new readers who will follow to the end, but that still sells a full half of the series in trades.

Anyway, I could keep going on - I was a fan of the Fantagraphics plan, after all - but my experience is as a reader/enthusiast and not a creator/publisher. so I can only speak from that perspective. Please do what's best for the work and for your own continued security. And thanks, again.

Dave Kopperman said...

Ooh. I meant 'only if the WORK keeps getting better', but I also like the idea of people sticking around as the work grows more irksome...

Jeff Seiler said...

Well, Dave, I think that one president REACHING OUT to another is a very, very good sign. Clearly, he was irked by the difficulties in communicating with you (very few people aren't), so for him to offer to visit and sit down across that glass coffee table with you, in your own studio, is, as I say, a VERY, VERY good sign. (Sorry for all the "shouting", but there's to way to italicize here.)

I wish you all the best of luck, inshallah, that this will go a long ways towards rebuilding a positive working relationship with Lebonfon and that moving FORWARD will be the outcome. I mean that as sincerely as I can, from the bottom of the heart of one of your longest active supporters, as I hope you know.

Jeff Seiler said...

Oops, that should have been "but there's NO way to italicize here".

Anonymous said...

Oops, that should have been "but there's NO way to italicize here".

Anonymous said...

The No Tolerance folks are getting worse, it seems to me. Of course, I'm not omniscient or anything, but I note that it's nearly impossible to go to comic book (or even genre film) related forums/sites/news sources without bumping into discussions about (or accusations of) misogyny or homophobia or some such. It can occasionally be interesting or funny, but for the most part it's really , really obnoxious (and a little worrisome- ).

What's funny (frustrating?) about this is that there's a much larger female audience for comics these days, and Cerebus would be prime reading for them- it's funny, it emphasizes character over traditional comic book action, the female characters are interesting and have their own personalities and motivations, the art is gorgeous, and the pastiches of early 1900's novels/costuming/settings seem more suited to female tastes than what your average male comic fan reads. Dave, I admire that you've stuck to your guns on your ideals, but man, you've kinda shot yourself in the foot here.

Good luck on your meeting, Dave!

-Wes Smith

Jeff Seiler said...

All right, smart guy, tell me HOW to italicize here. I tried CONTROL I but that didn't work. Don't see any icons for bold, underline, italicize anywhere, either.

Keith said...

HTML tags for the win!

Margaret said...

Jeff - some basic html a < on one side of a letter and a > on another side. Use i for italics, b for bold, a href="" for a linky link. So for italics < i >this text will be italics< / i >. just remove all the spaces in the < >.

You can try it out here at this link.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Thanks for the update, Dave.

Just to clarity, bitmap versus "grayscale" isn't a digital argument, although the IDW/Artist Edition style is doubtlessly influenced by how cheap color printing has become in the digital era.... It's fundamentally an argument over half-toned (grayscale) or not halftoned (bitmap). As all ink drawing and wood engraving from the history of printing technology up until this century has been focused on not half-toned when dealing with line art, as half-tone screens are visible to the naked eye, that's what, for me, is the right decision. It's not a digital argument at all, except in the sense that, you know, bitmap images look terrible on a computer screen, even though they print much much sharper.

Looking forward to being able to send you some files.