Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Earliest Pages of Jaka's Story-- A Closer Look

Sean Michael Robinson:


In honor of the currently running, totally bitchen Jaka's Story restoration Kickstarter, I thought I'd take a look at the original artwork of the first few pages of Jaka's Story. Although the restoration work hasn't been started yet, all of the original artwork has been scanned by Sandeep and Gerhard and I've had a chance to sort through and file the digital materials and assess the condition. (Verdict? It's going to be a fantastic looking book!)

Here's a look at the first page on offer in the portfolio (the second page of the book, after the "prologue" lettering). On the left we have a very effective illustration of Nurse-as-Missy, and to the right an early sketch of Jaka with Missy herself, an image that appears to be a preparatory drawing for another one-page illustration later in the same issue (page 25 in the completed book).

Unlike most pages, this one was intended as a step to the "original," rather than a finished page itself. In addition to the stray pen marks at the top of the page (doubtless to get the ink flowing again on a nib that was giving Dave some trouble), there's also some instruction below. "57% PMT." PMT means "photo mechanical transfer"—Dave is requesting that the printer make a positive print of the image at a 57 percent reduction. (57 percent was the amount of reduction from original artwork to printed page all through Jaka's Story and most of Church & State as well. The original artwork's "active area" was 10 inches across, which means that during this area of the book, the printed artwork was approximately 5.7" across. Why the reduction from the previous 60 percent reduction? No one seems to remember, but I'd guess it has to do with the trades, which were now being considered as the monthly book was being produced.)

But that plan to make the PMT seems to have been abandoned, if I had to guess, because of the complexity of having to communicate the layout of the resulting page made the image quality tradeoff not worth it. So the finished page appears to be a photocopy instead. Take a look at the enlargements of the post for a comparison of the two at-size. The photocopy looks pretty good compared to some of the earlier photocopied pages, though there's some expansion in the dark/dense areas, and there's the very fine photocopy dusting (little flecks of stray toner that have darkened or accumulated in the paper over time) that I've come to expect at this point. Of course, since all of the process has been preserved, this page will be reconstructed from the original drawing, and the type reset, for the restoration.

And here's the actual finished page/layout that was shot for the book, all photocopy in one form or another. I've exaggerated the cyan channel in the scan to make it easier to see the blue line pencil.

And here's a closeup of the majuscule — a very small but very telling example of how the photocopier changed and informed the work that Dave and Gerhard did on every book. 

It looks like the majuscules were produced by collaging various photocopied elements together, the cap coming from one source, and then paced upon a hand-drawn box with a borrowed floral motif that was then decorated further with a bit of fleck tone. Much of this detail is obscured in the trade, my copy at least, but it'll certainly be present in future restored volumes.

Page seven of the same issue was constructed in a similar way. (At least, it's page seven now. More than any book I've restored so far, Jaka's Story seems to have endured some significant mid-issue shuffling, if the page numbers are to be believed. That kind of shuffling is a lot harder with linear narratives, but the prose chunks running parallel to the comics sequence makes it possible without revision)

The second page is a paste-up version of photocopies of the main illustration and the text.

I've always found this to be a stunning image, in a book of stunning images, and a perfect example of complimentary use of values and texture for narrative purposes. And the device of nesting panels as visual tells of overlapping interpretation is already hitting its stride, the impassive face of Nurse/Missy as young Jaka struggles with the routine hardships of childhood. Beautifully conceived, beautifully executed on all levels.

And, just because I can, here's a closer look at that beautiful reflection on the floor. Pull out your copy and take a look for comparison.

click to embiggen

In closeup and in color, you can see what a worked surface this is — after an initial application of black except around the circles, china white hatching to the black, then hatching above the china white to blend the effect a bit, along with some stippling in the circles. 

The other pages on offer for the Kickstarter are an almost silent domestic sequence, with striking drawing. The six-panel grid that will undergird the majority of the comics sections of the book keeps them rhythmically consistent and character-focused. To me, the most remarkable aspect of them is the consistency and grounded feel. From the acting to the setting, these are real-seeming people moving and interacting in real environments, expressive and stunningly-rendered textures, careful value balances and masterful use of line weight. Like a virtuoso single-illustration pen and ink drawing come to life. 

And how exactly was all of this done? On a monthly deadline, no less?

More as the restoration proceeds...


Carson Grubaugh said...

These are so awesome. Thank you, Sean!

Jeff Seiler said...

Does this mean that Ger's floor plans will be included in the remastered Jaka's Story? IIRC, that was the first storyline for which Ger did architectural designs/layouts.

Sean R said...

Hey Jeff,

We'll see if there's room in the back matter.

And FYI, I've seen floor plans for Michelle's kitchen and Astoria's cell (the latter both in Daves notebooks and a shaded lighting-centric floor plan by Gerhard. Jaka's Story is the first time all he locations were designed ahead of time, though.

Dave Sim said...

Sean R.: I THINK the majuscules were straight off of a Letraset sheet. I thought they needed more JUMP to them, so I asked Gerhard to put a 935 fleck tone on the background but not on the letter itself. The fact that he had to cut around the white part of the letter on what is really just a thin piece of transferred black plastic makes it look as if additional work was done on the background. He might even have photocopied the majuscules from the Letraset sheets to make them easier to work with.

Jeff (and Sean) - It really depends on whether we'd have to add another signature to the book or if we have some pages left over after Sean's described the restoration process -- which is a "late math problem" -- for Sean -- in the equation. And that will depend on whether Sean's new "miracle paper" adds as much bulk as the paper the Singapore printer used (READS looked roughly the same size but it's a much thinner book than JAKA'S STORY so it's hard to tell).