Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Costly Continuing Contributions

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings all,

The Cerebus Original Art Dragnet suffered a pretty serious blow this week when we heard definitively from a prominent art collector who owns several hundred (!) originals. No, he would not be contributing scans of any of his originals to the art hunt, nor will he be selling any of these pages in the foreseeable future.

This was particularly hard news as this person's collection represents a significant chunk of "in the wild" Cerebus art pages, pages that will now never be scanned for this project, will now forever be represented in print by second, third, or fourth-generation images rather than the pristine reproduction possible when sourcing from the original art.

I'm trying to be sanguine about this, but it's hard to be so while still finishing up work on High Society, a book that would benefit tremendously from any original art Cerebus fans supply us with. As most of you know, for both Cerebus and High Society, none of the negatives exist. In the case of High Society, a good 3/5ths of them were scanned by Sandeep Atwal before his tragic apartment fire, but the remainder of those pages can only be sourced by newsprint scans. And even the negatives are less than ideal, in many cases having been underexposed during initial photography. I've learned several tricks to correct for this, but, as I've said many times before, in many different ways, you can beat your head against the wall trying to make something look better through clever manipulation, but it will ALWAYS be better to fix it at the source. In other words, you could conceivably spend three hours on every page of High Society sourced from newsprint, and it still wouldn't look as good as if someone who currently owns the page drove to their local copy center and sent us a scan.

It's a depressing thought. Every page of High Society that we have original art, or even negatives, will soon look better in print than it ever has before. Every page sourced from newsprint, at best, will look almost as good as it did before, and only after tremendous amounts of work to make it so.

But I'm still hopeful. Mostly, because of people like Greg Kessler and Dean Reeves, who not only have contributed their own collections of scans, but continue to send us leads of auctions as they see them. People like Alan Kleinberger, who just this weekend sent us a scan of a great page you see above, that he just sold on ebay. People like Larry Wooten, who emailed Alan to let him know about the art hunt, and who has in fact continued to email people for the past few months hoping to net us pages. People like Dagon James, who sent us almost a dozen scans of pages he doesn't even own anymore, who scanned them for his own pleasure, but was willing to share with us what he had saved. Jason Crosby at ComicLink, who has twice now taken time out of his incredibly busy schedule to scan pages they have up for auction, for no reason other than it being the right thing to do.

And really, what better way to bring utility to a collection than the actual preservation of art that you care about? Not just in some abstract, locked-in-a-vault way of preservation, but active in the world, duplicated, helping to represent in print one of the singular achievements in comics?

The full list -- so far! -- of Cerebus Art Dragnet contributors-

Dean Reeves
Trent Rogers
Kevin Bonawitz
Thomas K.
Rodney Ascher
Greg Kessler
Dan Parker
Steve Hendricks
Oystein Sorensen
Jason Crosby
Matt Levin
Nat Gertler
Conrad Felber
Jean-Paul Gabilliet
Jeffrey Laurenz
Dagon James
Alan Kleinberger
Larry Wooten
Brian Stockton
Glen McFerren

And our other heroes, the Cerebus Scan Brigade, flying in the face of spine-bends since July of 2014-

Margaret Liss
Lee Thacker
Daniel Elven
Paul Slade
Carl Hommel
Eddie Khanna
David Birdsong

Lots of news coming up the pipeline, so keep the eyes peeled and the ears large and mobile!


Anonymous said...

Wow, this "prominent art collector" sounds like a bit of a dick. This is the same regressive attitude that prevents you from being allowed to take a photo of a painting in a museum; the photo in no way diminishes the value of the art, it just makes it a little less the owner's private possession.

Jeff Striker

Sean R said...

Hey Jeff,

Thanks for the comment and the support.

Things are rarely that simple, though. I'm not trying to vilify this person for not contributing, I'm just stating this on a factual basis-- these pages will never be available to us, and thus it becomes even more important to snag the ones that ARE available, mainly, the ones that happen to come up for auction, but also just getting the general awareness of the Art Dragnet out there. I still don't know how many Cerebus art collectors even know this is happening, which is why I keep beating on this drum. We've gotten very kind links by a few prominent people, but it's really something that's most effective on a person by person basis.

Also, for art museum nerds out there-- most museums that refuse cameras do so because of idiots that don't know how to turn off their flashes, flashes degrading the paintings over time. Although many museums will also refuse photography when the work is still under copyright, or, like the Musee d' Orsay, when they just can't be bothered with dealing with it :)

Anonymous said...

There is labor involved in sharing this material. Average scan of a page at a professional resolution on a good scanner is going to be in the 200MB+ range. The scanning alone of a sizable collection is a major chore (though I would hope he has already done it for archival/insurance purposes, but who am I to tell someone how to run his collection?), but the uploading of that material - Dropbox, yousendit, a third-party FTP, you name it - represents an enormous pile of bandwidth, and a lot of time spent uploading. The big advantages of someone having a large collection are definitely offset by the practicalities of it becoming unwieldy from a sharing perspective.
So perhaps this person - and I suspect many of this board's regulars know who it is, and how longtime a fan he has been - simply wasn't willing to undertake the very real labor required to transfer his collection into the pipeline.
Philosophically, I'd certainly like to see him share given that the goal is to assemble the truest representation of the work ever published, and I'd hope he at least feels some small sense of responsibility to supporting that prospect.
That aside, he bought the stuff, he holds the stuff very closely, and he is ultimately not responsible for being Aardvark-Vanaheim's offsite archivist. If the goal was to have super-crisp reproduction in the future, all Dave had to do was hold all the pages and wait for reproduction technology to catch up to the work. You can say that's an impossible standard, but there's an 1100+ Walter Simonson Thor omnibus assembled from fresh scans that would beg to differ.
So, disappointing? Sure. Dick? Wouldn't go there.
- Bill Kremer

Sean R said...

Hey Bill,

Thanks for pointing out the very real costs. A/V would be happy to reimburse anyone contributing for any expenses related to this, and it is incredibly generous of people to come forward and volunteer their time that way. I know that if I had some pages, say, in storage, in a frame on my wall, it would take an awful lot to motivate me to get them scanned.

As I said before, I can think of many reasons why someone wouldn't want to go to the trouble of getting something like this done, which makes me all the more grateful to the people who are willing to contribute, and all the more motivated to perfect the techniques involved in trying to reproduce from newsprint.

Jeff Seiler said...

There *are* intangibles in the equation, but my understanding is that A/V is willing to pay the costs of de- and re-framing. Assuming one has deep enough pockets to buy hundreds (!) of original pages (and numerous commissions?), then that someone ought to own or have access to a decent scanner.

I think an active encouragement campaign, peacefully done, could possibly change his mind, if done en masse. Dave might want to contact him directly, perhaps.

What book/s are these pages from? Is there *time* to come up with some approach/es to get him to change his mind?

Sean R said...

Hey Jeff,

I'm afraid "encouragement" often looks like "harassment" when it comes repeatedly, or from strangers.

We're not going to get scans of the pages. It's really not about those particular pages, other than to say that the pool of potentials is now about ten percent shallower than it was before, and that has an effect on the urgency of the rest of the hunt.

Theoretically, if someone had enough pages, and not enough time on their hands to have it done by their local printer, I could fly to them and scan them myself. The expense really isn't an issue, as it would be saving money while improving the books at the same time, assuming enough pages were involved.

As far as bandwidth goes, jump drives are now ridiculously cheap. I've now received several in the mail, all at minimum expense.

As I've said, it's not really about the particulars of this case. It's what this means going forward. Going forward, as before, we can reimburse expenses, whatever those expenses may be.

Sean R said...

(Saving money because each neg scan costs about $7, the scanning itself being slow due to the particular requirements of dealing with those materials-- cutting them off the flats, mounting them to the scanner assembly etc. ) So if someone had, say, 50 pages, and didn't have the time or ability to scan them, taking a budget flight or sending a friend in the area out to scan them would actually be cost-effective.)

Anonymous said...

I would guess that far more concerning than incurred costs related to framing is the sheer outlay of time required to accomplish something like what we are talking about here.

As I mentioned above, I would sort of hope anyone with a substantial collection has already taken steps to archive it, so I would further hope the actual scanning of the work is not a problem, but it may well be. If that's the case, pro-quality scans are quite time-consuming. If it takes three minutes a page from start to finish, and that's a conservative estimate based on my experience doing such things, one hundred pages of scanning is a five-hour project.

Uploading the material represents a similar time commitment. I can say that if someone came to me tomorrow and asked me to submit hi-res scans of my entire art collection, my first thought would be that the time requirement to accomplish such a thing would be wholly undesirable. And I say that as a someone who has most of my work scanned and backed up on a few external drives for easy access. I'd probably land on copying the work to a thumb drive and mailing that off if I needed to get it done, but even that would be something of a painful process, and my stuff is reasonably well organized.

I would love it if the owner changed his mind and decided to submit his pages, but I respect that his decision not to do so may be for valid reasons. And either way, if they're valid in his eyes, that's ultimately going to have to be good enough, because they're his.
- Bill Kremer

Anonymous said...

Sean -
I would be fascinated in this particular circumstance to see whether any big-time collector would allow someone to come to his or her house and scan material there. I am speaking very generally here, but the people with the biggest Smaug Hoards are generally people I expect would rather receive discount colonoscopies than have people in their lair, pawing through their stuff.

Not in any way saying that about anyone in particular - I'd just find it fascinating to learn how the average collector would respond to that request - I'm guessing it's not something that would get much traction.

Either way, your expressing willingness to do such work can't do anything but help as an additional option on the table. With any luck, it yields some results.
- Bill Kremer

Sean R said...


Can I come to your house and scan your pages?



That's a really great point that I never considered. It seems eminently practical to me, but I'm sure you're right, the suggestion would probably be repugnant to a lot of collectors. Never occurred to me at all.

Anonymous said...

I'd hope the guy would reconsider under the particular circumstances.

Obviously Sean has gone to the greatest effort and care with this work and would show the same in scanning these pages. And this will surely be the only opportunity to improve the source material.

It also seems a shame considering the communal effort among and donations by the remaining Cerebus fans to preserve this work.

It's very disappointing to hear.

- Reginald P.

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that this particular collector also purchased the original art to the Cerebus art dragnet certificate and has it displayed as part of his collection is the ultimate irony. I guess that's what he'd have to do since he isn't going to be getting one for doing a kindness for the rest of the fans. Like everyone else here said, though, that's definitely his prerogative.

Dave said...

As sort of a high end art collector I have experienced people around my collection. At my house a lot of rooms are covered in comic art and commissions . And the closet is full :( I love to share. But theft is a concern. But in this situation I don't think security enters into it. Hopefully something changes and the pages become available. Perhaps if you could offer a decent football coach as reward for scanning the pages.

Jake said...

The real irony is who won the original Cerebus Dragnet art on ebay a few weeks back. It's someone who hasn't supported any the Kickstarters, and blogs about how worthless they are. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if it was him. His collection is massive, and borders on a Howard Hughes level of OCD.

Jeff Seiler said...

Sean, this is probably a stupid question, but do u think money (read: bribe) would change the equation?

I think, though, that we all pretty much know who we're discussing here, so, no, asked and answered: Money is probably not going to change his mind.

Anonymous said...

I didn't have much else to say, but wanted to congratulate Dave on making a relevant Brady Hoke joke above - never would have expected to see that on this page.

I think it is worth keeping in mind that, as easy as it is to judge the person who won't turn over his property for the enjoyment of others - and yeah, the fact that he has 150 interior pages from Cerebus posted in a public gallery does give the scenario a rather raw edge - it should not be ignored that he has supported the book for years, and continues to do so. Sure, he has said the Kickstarter program holds no appeal for him, and that is his prerogative.

But we should not forget that he paid about 800 bucks including shipping for the Art Dragnet piece a few weeks ago, and that money went straight into the A-V coffers. All roads lead to Rome, so if people want to suggest he is some sort of miser watching the future of the Cerebus project fade away while diving into his Scrooge Money Pit full of Cerebus pages (which unfortunately stands to render them non-mint), they should not forget that he plays as legitimate a role in the upkeep of the project as anyone.

Again, I get it - it sure does hurt to know that a guy who could supply the better part of 10% of ALL pages in the hands of the art community isn't going to do so. But this is not a project for which he signed on, and he has no obligation to support it. He has paid substantial amounts of cash over the years for the right to self-determine in this situation, and although his decision clearly does not synch up with the overall project goal, I would not bury a guy whose only crime here is not doing what a bunch of people want him to do with his property.
- Bill Kremer

Jake said...

I just see it akin to sending Dave brushes. How often do you actually get to help/aid an artist in creating something? I was going to say that he can't take those pages with him.....but now I'm imagining some sort of bristol mache coffin.

Anonymous said...

Let's review:

- This collector is the only person who can provide assistance
- He knows this assistance would benefit others
- He's being asked for assistance
- He refuses to provide the assistance
- He basically has nothing to lose by providing the assistance

The defence seems to be "he's not obliged to help".

I believe that the next thing that happens in this story is that Uncle Ben gets shot dead.

If you're reading my friend: "With great power comes great responsibility!"

Wise words.

- Reginald P.

CerebusTV said...

The person didn't sign the petition, and won't, so discussions or interaction with Dave are out of the question, for those who thought that possible.

CerebusTV said...

I've corresponded with the person, one of the nicest guys I know, and extraordinarily beyond just normally generous - just ask Gerhard. Perspectives are different and he just has a different one from the fan project, one that is totally valid and I support him in as a friend. Purchasing original art for a very generous price, because he appreciates it and considered it worthwhile - not to speculate or profit from as many do, who are not being insulted - does not incur any moral obligation on his part to be forced into supporting others' projects. For shame about wishing him an "Uncle Ben scenario."

Anonymous said...

This is a whole 'nother rabbit hole, but if there's a chance Dave negotiating delivery of the scans could be accomplished, but it can't happen because the owner of the pages hasn't signed the petition, that is on Dave.

The nature of what is desired here is transactional. If Dave wants those pages for the remaster, then I suppose he needs to weigh that desire against how he adheres to his communication policy, in the same way he makes exceptions to it every day to live his life. He went to the grocery store today, and I expect he did not first ensure Lou at the deli had signed the petition before ordering half a pound of muenster.

Before you say the two aren't comparable, consider context. Dave has a communication policy that presumes something very specific: you want to talk to me, but you're not willing to stand by me in public while my name is dragged through the mud. Therefore, if you want to communicate with me, I ask only that you do me the courtesy of declaring accusations against me to be untrue.

The problem is that, at the grocery store or post office or any other place Dave might frequent to live his daily life, that standard gets set aside for practical reasons all the time. Basically, if you're not a comic fan, you're exempt. In part because his relationship with those people isn't on that level, but also because it is a pragmatic, practical way to do business with the world.

So now there's this guy. He's a guy Dave knows, and a guy who has not defended Dave in the simple way Dave demands. But that doesn't really matter to the guy, who can clearly get everything he wants out of Dave (as evidenced by the drawing Dave did on the Dragnet piece at his request after winning the auction) without ever signing the petition. So he's set.

Problem is, if Dave is invested in doing the remaster right, Dave needs him. And in the world of the petition, there is no mechanism for Dave needing a comic fan the way he would the butcher, or the postal clerk, or the guy redoing the foundation of his house. As a result, the one guy who stands the best chance of negotiating a settlement to get the scans (I would suggest that offering to trade a good-sized, custom-drawn thing of his choice in exchange for scans of the pages he possesses stands as much chance as anything of getting an avid collector of Dave's art to change his mind here) is out of action for the discussion.

That said, for all I know, that offer already was made unsuccessfully through an intermediary, or maybe it's just not worth that kind of effort to Dave. I don't know how it went down, or why the decision landed as it did.

But I do know that the guy who owns the pages neither sells nor trades, and as such, it is a circumstance that requires a different approach, so if one of the lead parties won't bend to forge that different approach, he is party to the outcome as the person who holds the artwork. Mind you, I'm not saying Dave is wrong for not talking to someone who won't sign his petition - he's a grown man, and that's up to him - but it must be recognized that finding compromise usually means both parties giving something.
--Bill Kremer

CerebusTV said...

It's true the rule about allowing communicating based on the petition isn't entirely consistent: there are those who are subject to similar shunning (Dave grew up in and lives in an area heavily populated by cultural Amish and Mennonite societal shunning) who *have* signed the petition.

The Cerebus community - its most important members - are divided. The other member of the Cerebus creative team has a totally different take on this.

Anonymous said...

@Cerebus TV

Totally off base that I wished on him an "Uncle Ben Scenario".

I was only saying that he was acting like Peter Parker before he saw the light. Not wishing harm on the guy. It was a very gentle comment. Geez.

- Reginald P.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Cerebus TV,

"Perspectives are different and he just has a different one from the fan project, one that is totally valid and I support him in as a friend."

That's pretty insulting. Sean's restoration efforts go way beyond a 'fan project'. He is being paid for his time and the end result will be remastered Cerebus collections.

I have to admit I'm struggling to come up with any reasons why Brian wouldn't participate. Care to enlighten us all?

CerebusTV said...

Those who know the several parties' addresses should contact them and ask them if they will comment on the record.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why anyone would struggle to find a reason why the person who owns the art does wouldn't participate. I think it's reasonably obvious. He doesn't want to.

Expressions of disappointment about his stance are completely natural, but not productive. There are only two possibilities - make a deal with him for the use of his property, or don't make the deal, and live with the consequences.

That's all this is - a deal that can't get closed because no one is willing to step up to close it. One party wants an asset that another party wholly owns (physically speaking - obviously, Dave still retains the reproduction rights for the pages), and the other party - presumably - wants to make use of that asset. It might as well be a cottage rental.

It really is that simple. Dave actually holds a HUGE upper hand in any negotiation. The owner has a sizable chunk of pages, but Dave has, what, 3800 in hand? Does anyone honestly believe that if Dave made an offer of, say, for every page you submit for scanning, I will give you a page of your choice from the archive, that the owner wouldn't jump at it? Of course he would. Now, that's obviously too much to offer, but my point is that there is a deal there to be made. And Dave has the lion's share of the resources in any deal, plus the enormous benefit of being the only person who can actually manufacture more resources the other party values whenever he wants to.

Sure, he'd have to stop pretending that the Cerebus Archive is sacred ground if he dealt some pages, but he's been there before - he used to sell pages because he viewed it as raw material in the process of generating income for a self-publishing enterprise. This is much the same as that - use of a company resource to achieve a desired end.

Unlike the people who express annoyance at the refusal of the pages' owner to participate in this project - which is very clearly a fan project so long as it follows Blanche DuBois' lead and relies entirely upon the kindness of strangers, so the term is hardly a slap in anyone's face - I am firmly of the opinion that the owner deserves to be rewarded - generously rewarded - for having been a careful steward of this material that is clearly so valuable to this enterprise. I said it before in this thread - I would start with the offer to do a big custom illustration for the guy if I were in Dave's shoes AND I really wanted to fresh scans. And if Dave doesn't want them, then what's the problem here?

The guy has been a supporter for years, and has paid handsomely for the rights he now holds. Can we be disappointed that he has not chosen to donate scans of them to the project? Sure. But the expectation of, "I want what you own, and oh yeah by the way make sure you give it to me for free" is a pretty presumptuous stance.

And please leave the guy's name out of it. That's unnecessary and unfair.

--Bill Kremer

Anonymous said...

We seem to be getting two very different stories here.

The first seems to be that the collector is stubbornly unwilling to provide the work despite Sean/Dave's willingness to reasonably compensate the collector. This is at least implied, if not stated overtly.

The second story is that the collector simply wants some form of compensation that Dave is unwilling to negotiate because of the petition or some other holdup on Dave's end.

It would be good to get some clarification on this, as I think that a commission would certainly be reasonable compensation for the chance to reproduce the missing pages.

- Reginald P.

Eddie said...

Especially if the commission also involved Gerhard, if all parties were so inclined.

Anonymous said...

Both of the scenarios you outline are the same thing, but blaming different people. "Stubborn guy" is the star of the first story, "unbending Dave" of the second.

But both stories are exactly the same - there is no agreement to obtain for the reprint scans of the work in a private collection. His price has not been met, and Dave has not met his price. That's it, however you look at it.

There is of course the possibility that the owner of the art will not allow the work to be scanned at ANY price, but it consider that a dubious prospect. His price might be astronomically high (certainly relative to Dave's willingness to provide it), but I have to imagine that there is an enticement within Dave's ability that would change his mind.

Either way, clarification for people not in a position to negotiate for one side of another is moot. The only thing that matters to onlookers is the result.

CerebusTV said...

Someone with the brand-new Wikipedia account "Destructiondecision" defaced the Wikipedia page of the art owner, as just reported to us by the author of "Cerebus The Barbarian Messiah." I think to forestall hasty actions with consequences, folks should remember both Wikipedia and this blog log the IP addresses of commenters.

Jake said...

"Now, that's obviously too much to offer, but my point is that there is a deal there to be made." You get credit for your support in future phonebooks, and a Dragnet card. Anything else, and it just seems like petty blackmail.

"I think to forestall hasty actions with consequences, folks should remember both Wikipedia and this blog log the IP addresses of commenters." This made me laugh pretty hard as anyone with the means of doing this cares at all about a Wikipedia page.

Anonymous said...

The notion that terms like "blackmail" can be tossed around as part of this discussion, however frivolously, is curious. It respects neither the property, nor the rights, of the person who owns the pages.

Take a step back, and consider: over a period of decades, a man who enjoys the book has assembled a strong assortment of Cerebus pages. They don't have any utility, they aren't an investment he's looking to leverage at a later date. They're just something he enjoys, so he buys them. LOTS of them.

Now, all of a sudden, other people have a use for these things. And so it is communicated to him that the people working this project sure would love scans of those lots of pages.

But see, that's not what the guy signed on for. He bought the pages with nothing in mind but keeping them for his long-term enjoyment. And he clearly doesn't have much interest in participating in the project. And suggesting that he should be satisfied with the credit/badge offer in exchange for the time and trouble of submitting nearly 10% of all Cerebus pages in private hands is just this side of ludicrous.

So he has declined to participate, as he is well within his rights to do. How to get him to change his mind?

Offer him something sufficient to do so. He owns and controls an asset, and if the people working the reprint project want the pages badly enough, they should offer him something sufficient to change his mind. And if they don't want to make him such an offer, they should go away. That's not blackmail. That's the appropriate ending to the story.

--Bill Kremer

Lee Thacker said...

Anyone ever seen this before?