Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Excerpts from 2,300 Words on Church & State I

Sean Michael Robinson:

Hello everyone! With only three days left to pledge on the best Cerebus Archive project yet, I thought I'd present a few excerpts from my essay in the back of the new, fully restored Church & State I volume currently making its way to this continent by ship.

Although I'd hoped that volume would be available by the time this campaign hit, scheduling with the printer didn't permit it. But until you can pick up your own copy (most likely the first week of January!), here's a little teaser of the back matter. It's a poor substitute for the book itself, I know, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.


The book which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and details ... a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end.

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables                    

There was a time when it seemed possible that comics, little packets of ink on paper, could be the true inheritors of ambitious serial storytelling—could carry the mantle of the sprawling, messy, glorious serial novels of the past, could inspire the devotion that those works did, the kind of devotion that, in 1841, on the eve of the publication of the final installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, caused more than 6,000 New Yorkers desperate to find the fate of Little Nell to crowd the wharf where the shipment from London was due to arrive.

Now, it seems clear, that mantle has been passed on— to television, of all media. Something that would have been unthinkable just two decades ago now seems like an historical inevitability. Comics, meanwhile, declined the opportunity. Maybe it was the structural problems with the industry, the lack of distribution channels. Maybe it was the shortsightedness, the contempt with which the creators of the material were treated by the monied interests. Maybe it was just a lack of ambition.

But we consider an exception.

There’s never been a work of art quite like Cerebus the Aardvark.

More relevant to the task at hand, there’s never been anything quite like Church & State, the under-two-covers epic that represents 1/5th of the entire 26-year, 6000+ page saga.

Like many an enthusiast before me, I’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to describe Church & State and its qualities to the deprived, the abstinent, the uninitiated. “It’s like, you know, a really dense serial novel,” I might start. “The kind that rambles from incident to incident, before somehow cohering into something new. Made on a tight-rope, while the public watches below. Politics and power. Religion and revolution. Pain and pleasure and persuasion. A deep and abiding enthusiasm for Looney Tunes and Duck Soup and...”

So, like, David Copperfield meets A Tale of Two Cities, then? Or Vanity FairLes Misérables?

“Sure, sure, exactly like Les Misérables... if you replace France with a sword-and-sorcery parody world that slowly morphs into an early-industrial environment with fantastical elements remaining as mystical and/or spiritual projections. And, you know, if Jean Valjean was  a pathologically self-interested, genocidal three-foot tall talking aardvark. So yes, exactly like Les Misérables.”


The synthesized visual look of the latter third of Church & State I, and indeed the majority of the next two books, Church & State II and Jaka’s Story, is of a quality unknown to virtually any other comic. Unlike the majority of black and white North American comics, presented with little more than a contour line and large swaths of Caniff-like black intended to anchor a color layer that will never come, these are fully rendered illustrations with widely varying values and detailed textures, on par with the work of the great pen and ink artists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Of course, you wouldn’t always know it from looking at the printed books.

The monthly installments of Cerebus, and every collection of the material up to this point, were printed on low-grade newsprint, a highly absorbent substrate that caused enormous amounts of dot gain (the tendency for inks to expand as they hit a surface). The desire for a rich black from these materials exacerbated the problem, oftentimes leaving the final product a muddier, mid-tone-heavy gray very different from the crisply-defined values of the original artwork.

For this edition of Church & State I, we’ve gone back to the source – creating fresh high-resolution scans of the photo negatives that have been used to generate printing plates since the original production of the monthly comic book – and, when possible, replacing those scans with as much original artwork as is available to us. All of these materials were then sorted through and selected on a page-by-page basis, to create a new digital “master” that can be used to produce the book going forward.

It sounds a bit simpler than it actually is.

Although the original artwork contains more detail than ever made it to the page initially, it has aged poorly. Specifically, the mechanical tones used to produce the gray of Cerebus’s fur, as well as a multitude of background textures and effects, have shrunk and migrated over time. Every bit of tone on a page sourced from original artwork was in need of some type of adjustment specific to the type of tone and its relationship to the surrounding line art. In the case of iterative patterns (like Cerebus’s dot tone), it’s a matter of digitally copying and cloning a segment of the exposed pattern, moving it to fill in the gap, and then “erasing” any excess and overlap with the existing areas. With the more random patterns, more varied methods of correction are available...


...I’ve written a lot here about the aesthetics of the work at hand, and very little, one might argue, about the “content.”

That’s primarily because a work of graphic art isn’t just a summary of its text -- it exists as a complex synthesis of its formal and narrative elements. Describing the “plot” of a work of true graphic literature is akin to summarizing the “narrative” of Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, or criticizing Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the combination of dramatic and parodic/comedic elements.

Simply put, the work IS the visual. The content IS the aesthetics. And in the realm of aesthetics, the quality of the reproduction matters. It is, in the literal sense, essential.

The “preservation window” available to great works of visual art intended for reproduction is perilously narrow, requiring the right combination of readily available source materials before they can erode, capital via commercial interests and/or a participatory audience, facilitating technology, and a copyright to the work free of legal entanglements. Just as it was Dave Sim’s ownership of his work and the patronage of his audience that gave him the creative freedom to follow his wildest ambitions to their conclusions, it is his continued ownership and his audience’s patronage that enables this restoration within that window.

Your purchase of Church & State I is one more link in that chain.


Unknown said...

Andres (from yesterday)
Steve Peters (from a couple of days ago)

There really isn't a timetable per se because there are too many variables that can't be accounted for. We're RE-CLIMBING "The Mount Everest of Comics". So looking out from the base camp we're in now, what we are looking at is The Church & State Bulge and all we can see is the near side of it: CHURCH & STATE I which is supposed to reach the States December 20 and be in stores January 6. IF that happens, fine, IF it doesn't, you don't want to be on record telling people that it will.

This is why it's an answer for you as well, Steve: how much will it cost to get past The Bulge.

No idea.

Depends on what gets thrown at me while volume 2 is in production. Which depends on how long the restoration takes. Depends on how long the pre-press takes. Depends on how long the printing takes. Depends on how long the shipping takes.

This is why we're posting so much information here. So people can see where we are. THEORETICALLY the comic store field in general but, in PRACTICAL TERMS the only people who are interested: CEREBUS fans in general and Kickstarter and Patreon people generally.

It's a lot of work by a lot of people who all have to get paid.

One of the things we're going to be doing is setting up a "No Deadline" donation environment at GoFundMe which will be dedicated to SCANNING only. That's what it will be there to finance and it will be All Digital Rewards because it doesn't cost anything to e-mail a Reward. It means you can pledge for an award at any time -- and not have to factor in things like Christmas which is obviously a problem with the current campaign -- and I know exactly how much "scanning money" there is at any point.

That's one of the biggest problems is mentally budgeting when all of the timelines are so...flexible...and everything needs to be financed simultaneously to keep us Moving Up The Mountain.

Unknown said...

THREE DAYS LEFT IN THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN AND THANKS TO EVERYONE FOR PUTTING US OVER THE $20K MARK...AGAIN! Which (I think we'll all agree) it didn't look as if it was going to happen a week ago!

Phone message from NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING GRAPHIC NOVELIST Jimmy Gownley asking if there was some way to help raise money for what we're doing here...and offering some digital print concepts.


Well, yes, REALLY! It's Jimmy Gownley. Jimmy Gownley has ALWAYS been a "stand-up guy" generally and CEREBUS "stand-up guy" particularly.

I called him RIGHT BACK! Here's an idea if you're up for it, Jimmy:

CEREBUS: THE ZELIG PAGES. Take a favourite sequence from CEREBUS, get Sean to e-mail you the restored/and or original art scans for that sequence and then draw your character -- AMELIA RULES! or whoever -- into the sequence and do that as a series of digital prints at the forthcoming GoFundMe site. The idea being that you do something that will appeal primarily to YOUR fans. Yes, we hope some/many/all CEREBUS fans will be interested, but this has to be something where the AMELIA RULES! fans go: "I HAVE to have this. I have NO idea who these other characters are, but I HAVE to have this."

This is another test, I think. If Dave Sim IS as highly regarded as everyone maintains then presumably it should be effortless to get some?/many?/a bunch? of the comic art professionals by whom I'm (theoretically) highly regarded to contribute.

I asked Jimmy to set whatever he thought was a fair split in revenue and, no, he wanted to DONATE the whole works. EXCEPTIONALLY generous, but that's Jimmy to a fault. Obviously he'll be able to use the page(s) whatever way he perpetuity.

I suggested the Mick & Keef sequence in CHURCH & STATE II because I know it's one of his favourites and asked him to do a sample panel and post it here (at his convenience since I'm sure he's hard at work on his next NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING graphic novel through Scholastic Books).

Any other NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING GRAPHIC NOVELISTS (say, how many of them ARE there, at this point?) who you think would want to do CEREBUS:A ZELIG PAGE?

We're going to have to limit AUTOMATIC ENTREE to people who are actually MAKING A LIVING from their "ZELIG" character(s), or the GoFundMe page is just going to be swamped. But leave it open for amateur/semi-pro contributions if they're, you know, actually FUNNY.

Not Just "Oh, HEY LOOK! Here's MY CHARACTER drawn into a CEREBUS page. Aren't. I. COOL?"

It'll probably just be Good Ol' Jimmy.

But, you never know.

Steve Peters said...

O.K., here's what I posted about the Kickstarter on my Facebook page:

"Cerebus is a 6,000 page graphic novel that took 26 years to complete and is an important part of comix history. It is currently being restored and digitized, which is a mammoth undertaking. Although this project is funded, a lot of backing is still needed in order to pay the people who are doing the endless job of cleaning up and preserving the deteriorating artwork.…/can4-cerebus-archive-number-f…


Dave, this may or may not be of any help at all depending on how many people see it in their news feed. The more people click "Like" on it, the more it "goes viral" and more people see it. It also depends on the time of day it was posted, when my friends go online, etc. etc. etc. For my past Kickstarters I usually post to Facebook about it every day, and even then you'll get people in the last few days saying "Oh, I didn't even know you were running a Kickstarter".

Ideally, you should have people posting about it on Facebook every day, or at least a few times a week (I'm thinking about future Kickstarter campaigns). Each post should spotlight a different aspect of the Kickstarter or a reward---one post about the artist's edition postcard, the next day a post showing the Alan Moore print, and so on. I would enlist the Cerebus supporters to help with this---say, Margaret, Oliver Simonsen, Sandeep, Menachem Lukens. Folks have to post to their own Facebook pages, not just to the Cerebus Facebook group. And like I said, they have to post about it regularly.

Jimmy Gownley said...

I'm on it. Stand by!

iestyn said...

SO that's two interesting ideas, I think, in as many days.

I really like the idea of being able to track the regularity of publishing for a title. That's a great idea.

I also like that you're going for an ongoing fundraiser for the restoration costs - I was thinking that something like indie go-go would serve.

I was also thinking that it might be worth considering merchandising routes - there are website dedicated to producing mugs, t-shirts etc. with peoples images on them. You have to be careful which you pick, because some try to claim ownership of the image for themselves...

Scam artists everywhere.

CerebusTV said...

Fantastic yeoman effort, Sean and Mara!