Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Going Home--Fun With Photocopiers and the Question of the Original Original

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings everyone,

Last week I finished off the interiors to Going Home, working my way through the last batch of originals and finding a few more pickup pages that I had missed the first time through. As this will be the first book printed from more than 90 percent original artwork, as opposed to negatives or print copies, it's a unique opportunity to peek inside the process and get a bit more insight into how the work was put together.

Sandeep and Gerhard both supplied me with a bunch of extras this time around while they were scanning, everything from production sketches to extra art boards that were used as a single step of the process. For instance, there's a sequence early in the book that was pieced together almost entirely from photocopies, leaving Dave and Gerhard's original work preserved on separate boards . Here's a page from the sequence, featuring only Dave's work. Notice there's indication of location for the panel borders of the page (which in the final artwork would be "reverse" white, borders by implication). There's also a rough indication of the perspective of the scene as well as some very light and loose rocks. Notice also the grass surrounding the figures, finished in expressive, tapered Hunts 102 lines.

It's interesting not just for what it says about these particular pages, but the insight it gives us into the two artist's collaborative work process. There are only a handful of pages that I've seen that let us see what the art looked like when it left Dave's drawing board.

Meanwhile, Gerhard's work for the four page sequence was executed on two separate pieces of board. All of these images were then photocopied at-size and collaged together to create the finished pages. In addition to the white border tape, careful examination of the photocopied final pages show some additional pen and ink work was added after pasting up the elements, to accent certain borders or to help the figures blend in to their surroundings—mainly added hatching lines or darkening existing textured areas for additional contrast.

Much later in the book, as the boat drifts along the river, there was the opportunity for a lot more photocopy trickiness, especially when things become a bit more visually static to facilitate the long dialogues. If your "camera" is stationary on the foreground figures while the shore rolls by, why not create those effects with the aid of a photocopier?

The above image is also an interesting example of something Gerhard used throughout the latter half of the book—the intentional creation of moire patterns to suggest unusual light effects, made with imperfect overlapping of different angles or pitches of tone. It's a technique not unknown in manga, but as far as I know, unique to Cerebus in North America. It's also suggestive of the painterly way that Eddie Campbell used tone in his Alec comics (Eddie Campbell, I would argue, being a significant visual influence throughout the first two books of Going Home.)

Probably the most interesting "extra" for me, though, is the original board for issue 246, page five, otherwise known as Going Home page 291. Although the finished page features only Gerhard's artwork, the below scan is of the page as it left Dave's drawing board. Notice the sketches for the visual effect intended for the top of the page, and some hand-written explication. "The mental picture I have is of the sun burning off the morning fog." (I've lowered the exposure here to make the text easier to read)

 In the finished version of the page, the position of the sun and the word balloons are reversed, which is presumably why this draft still exists and wasn't just erased when Gerhard worked on top of it.

It's an interesting change. On one hand, it arguably makes the page function better in the book—being a recto page, the balloons now lead the reader off the page to the next page turn. But as a page, you could argue it functions better in the original intended layout, the light effect snaking across the top row to the sun and then following through to the balloons, a pleasing arc carrying all the way through the page.

Either way, it's a beautiful page, the imagery jarring and incongruous with the vulgar jot of text.

More next week!


Eddie said...

Thanks for the posts Sean. I'm really enjoying these.

Just wondering (and perhaps it was already answered or obvious): Because of all the intricate tone and moire issues, is this volume going to be much more difficult and challenging to digitally remaster than the other ones? As you mentioned, it's a much more "tone heavy" volume ("This one goes to 11" in the immortal words of Spinal Tap)

Sean R said...

Hey Eddie,

It's not harder per se, but there's waaaaaay more opportunity for error. Teeny tiny dots being sampled by squares always presents danger, even if the squares are themselves teeny tiny. There are about a half dozen things that can cause unintentional moire, and all you can really do is avoid them as best as you can. Worst, they can be done at any step in the process. You can supply perfect files and someone in a prepress department at the printer can check the wrong check-box and you're in moire city.

So, yes, more opportunities for error. More opportunities for pulling my hair out. We're running a wet proof (an on-press proof) for this volume right now, though, and I've given them 32 pgs to proof, with the tiniest tone in the book. So hopefully if there turns out to be a problem, we'll catch it before going to press.

This, by the way, is what makes me grind my teeth. No joke.

Carson Grubaugh said...

This is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing these.

I was just looking at this book last night and stitching the pan shot together into one long panel. It is surprising to see that it was not drawn as one big image and chopped up.

The similarity to manga was also really striking to me. Honestly it makes Fall and the River the book I like the least, visually. It was too incongruous for my tastes.

Margaret said...

One of my fave phonebooks (I'm a sucker the Cerebus - Jaka - F. Stop "triangle" and the dialogue that ensues, plus Gerhard's backgrounds. . .wowza) - thank you Sean for a behind the scenes look at the original art.

Barry Deutsch said...

"Going Home" is one of my favorites too - I've just kept on going back and rereading it over the years. Thanks very much for posting stuff like this, Sean - it's fascinating.

Tony Dunlop said...

*sproing* *thud*

That's the sound of my eyes popping out and my jaw hitting the floor simultaneously. This stuff is even better than I remembered.

Tony again said...

(I envision a Basil Wolverton face to accompany my last post)

Dave Sim said...

Thanks, y'all.

It was Gerhard's idea to go "tone heavy" as I recall. Figuring that tone has to be less time-consuming than cross-hatching. It IS, but it comes with its own set of problems. One of which is that you're spending a lot of time "drawing with an exacto knife". A knife isn't a pencil or a pen or a brush and it becomes debilitating when you go Way Over There. I had a period around 1975 when I decided to do that and did for around three months: every comic story I did was all or mostly tone. My conclusion was: "Drawing with a knife isn't drawing. I don't know what it is, but it isn't drawing". So I stopped. I could do that because I was just doing commercial illustrations and short comics stories. The problem for Gerhard is, once you commit to it on a 350-page story you can't just stop on page 50. It's going to make the story look inconsistent.

Same as on FORM & VOID, he said, "Let's do just straight black and white. Like Mike Mignola." i.e. Lose the cross-hatching, lose the tone. No problem. Or, rather, its own set of problems.

I was trying to help with the overlay Sean reproduced. "Like Bernie Krigstein's IMPACT covers." Specify light densities and effects that mechanical tones "do" naturally. Honking great sheets. It's still a pain to get that sheet off the backing sheet in one piece and not have it fold up or catch or something. "This is less like drawing than like treating a burn victim of something."

Dave Sim said...

"or" something. Sleep dep. Hour #17. :)