Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Catching Up... in Hell?

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings folks!

It's been quite the seven day stretch, with lots of balls in the air...

Going Home is in production at Marquis. I received the "proofs" on Monday, which allowed me to catch a few minor last-minute items which needed to be discussed with their prepress department. Even though proofs are decidedly not what they used to be, it's still very helpful to see the entire thing in print, of some form, before running the press. After all, even if you think you set up everything perfectly on your end, even if you checked it twice or thrice—did you really send the right file for the interior cover? Did you make sure that the pages are all exactly in order, and have their page numbers? Really? Well, part of their prepress process involves pagination, stripping the book back to single pages and reassembling them in the order required by the forms and plates required to print those forms. This is mostly automated but also involved some individual judgment. Are you sure you want to trust this completely to automation? Did someone decide to "correct" a page that was tilted to indicate drunkenness or shock? Did someone flag a page because the text was unreadable, despite the fact that the story calls for it to be unreadable right there? Did you not notice that a panel of text had long-ago fallen off the original art board?

All of these things can happen. All of these things will happen, if you don't check, and then check again.


So I've been in quick-response mode the past week, so that any request from Marquis gets acted on immediately so as not to delay the book. Working on some advertisements for the books as well, as discussed by Dave in this space. And finally, prepping the files for Cerebus in Hell? #0 so that it can join the Marquis line-up for printing.

Huh? Prepping Cerebus in Hell? Isn't it done?

It's a really interesting thing to me, that Dave chose Gustave Dore's illustrations of Inferno (part one of The Divine Comedy) to use as raw material with Cerebus In Hell? Not only are they fantastically inventive, visually rich images, they're all of those things on the terms of the time. That is, the method they were produced, and reproduced, is very much linked to the culture and technology of the time period in which they were created.

Which is why it was so interesting to me when Dave suggested, via fax, that the strips would be less funny to him, personally, if Cerebus' dot tone was replaced with gray.

I've spent a lot of time on AMOC writing about why it is that, in a world where you can get magnificent color printing on a photocopy machine at your local office supply store, print products of historical materials still look so uniformly bad. More to the point is this post from three weeks ago, on what exactly can cause moire when reproducing line art with mechanical tones, like Cerebus' mechanical tone.

The short, philosophical version? The ever-present modern techniques of reproduction—be they halftoning for color reproduction, or low-resolution brick-stair-stepped additive color on a screen, are antithetical to the older techniques used to create the illusion of gray on paper with only black ink.

This applies just as much to Dore's illustrations for Inferno as it does to Cerebus.

A screen-resolution scan of an exceptional copy of a plate from Inferno. Notice the diagonal lines on the tomb surface? That's moire-- the actual hatching lines in that area follow the surface of the rock. The amount and severity of the moire depends on the scale of the scan, the softness of the image, and the pitch of the "screen" (whether pixels or printing dots) it's being viewed through. Seen soft and reduced, as it appears on the screen-res Cerebus In Hell, it's not a big deal. Seen in print, with halftoning thrown into the mix, and it can be the difference between really nice images and really nice images with random patterns splashed on them.

Have you ever seen an original edition of a Dore-illustrated book in person? They're truly a marvel. Rich black ink, raised on the surface so much that you can touch and feel it, an indentation at the edge of the impression where the pressure of the press and block have grooved the paper permanently. Consistent tone, sometimes with flat mechanical parallel strokes, on other surfaces perfectly rendered undulating lines that illustrate form and texture as well as light. All of this contributes the the stroboscopic effect of the illustration, the feeling that the foreground is rising above the surface of the page, in an attempt to leave the paper world behind.

These illustrations were created on large pieces of boxwood, which Dore drew on directly in pencil and chalk, carefully building up tone before sending them off to his collaborators, who engraved the wood to his specifications, cutting away the uninked areas of the image and using the tone drawings as a guide. They used a variety of tools to make the engravings, including mechanical ruling machines that could produce toned areas with great precision by moving a certain measured distance down after each stroke.These inverted engraved "originals" were them multiplied for print production purposes using a process called electrotyping,:

Electrotyping (also galvanoplasty) is a chemical method for forming metal parts that exactly reproduce a model. The method was invented by Moritz von Jacobi in Russia in 1838, and was immediately adopted for applications in printing and several other fields.[1] As described in an 1890 treatise, electrotyping produces "an exact facsimile of any object having an irregular surface, whether it be an engraved steel- or copper-plate, a wood-cut, or a form of set-up type, to be used for printing; or a medal, medallion, statue, bust, or even a natural object, for art purposes."[2] In art, several important "bronze" sculptures created in the 19th century are actually electrotyped copper, and not bronze at all;[3] sculptures were executed using electrotyping at least into the 1930s.[4] In printing, electrotyping had become a standard method for producing plates for letterpress printing by the late 1800s
Electrotyping was also used to produce entire printing plates directly from the formes composed from movable type and illustrations. In this application, electrotyping was a higher quality but more costly alternative to stereotyping, which involved casting of type metal into a mold prepared from the forme. Stereotyping had been invented around 1725, and was already well-established when electrotyping was invented in 1838. Both methods yielded plates that could be preserved in case of future needs, for example in the printing of novels and other books of unpredictable popularity. The movable type used to compose the original forme could then be re-used. Both methods could be used to prepared curved plates for rotary presses, which were used for the longest print runs. The widespread adoption of electrotyping for this use occurred after mechanical electrical generators (dynamos) became commonly available around 1872. These generators supplanted the whole rooms of chemical batteries (Smee cells) that were previously used to provide electricity for electrotyping. Batteries did not have the electrical capacity needed to rapidly deposit the electrotype (or "electro"). The advent of plating dynamos sped up electrotyping twenty times or more, so that an electrotype printing plate could be deposited in less than two hours. In addition, the chemical batteries gave off toxic fumes that had required their isolation in separate rooms.

Here's a look at a block (actually blocks, as boxwood was quite small) used in the production of Harper's Weekly. Thanks, BYU Library!)

But, just like the dot-tone used to make Cerebus appear gray, the mechanical hatching used to produce tone in these illustrations causes moire if subjected to what are now normal printing processes—halftoning, or display on a low-resolution screen. 

Additionally, because they were produced with such fine lines, if you want the effect of the original illustration, and not just the general sense of its composition, you'll need scans of a sufficiently high enough resolution to resolve these tiny lines.

Why hello, Satan, you're looking pretty good all smooth and reduced like that, now that I can't perceive any actual lines, only the tone that the lines used to create.

But, uh, what in the world is up with your rocks, Satan? Is there an unholy strobe light filling your chamber?

Virgil, Virgil, your infernal half-toning is only making it worse!!

Which is all to say, I'm replacing all of the Gustave Dore images (which look good on screen currently, but will look not very good in print) with higher-resolution scans  from the best-looking print copy of Inferno I can find. The Cerebus figures will be similarly scaled in such a way as to prevent moire as well.

The actual work will take very little time per page, once I can start it. But it is a bit of a delay getting access to a good copy of Inferno. Fortunately, they're very numerous, and thanks to the electrotyping process detailed above, some editions were being printed from the "original" blocks even into the 20th century, making purchasing a good edition not very painful on the wallet, once it's been located.

I'm wary of publicly stating which of these editions is undervalued until I've secured mine, so more on that later...

So! What have I been up to? Ensuring that, not only will CIH #0 be funny as... Hell? but that it'll be a beautiful book to boot!

Is it strange that a humor book might end up with the best-reproduced Inferno images in a century?

Or is it funny?



Dave Sim said...

Hi Sean! It definitely strikes me as God's sense of humour, given that comic books and comic book art are still generally "looked down upon".

It seems to me a really interesting confluence: the CEREBUS art in the first place; the fact of negative-to-plate printing going the way of the dodo; the scanning problems we were having with Lebonfon; deciding to talk openly about the problems here on AMOC; you, as "just" a CEREBUS fan with an interest in reproduction getting interested in the discussion and participating...

...the fact that, unbeknownst to me, you were working on your own Gustave Dore project while, unbeknownst to you, Sandeep and I were feverishly developing CEREBUS IN HELL? using Dore's pictures.

Yes, definitely strikes me as God's sense of humour.

"As long as Sean is working miles ahead of the traditional book market on reproducing fine-line art, he might as well do the definitive Dore reproductions. I mean, given that some of the most cash-rich publishing houses have NO idea what THEY"RE doing and how far behind the curve they are. And because they're cash-rich, no one is going to tell them how far behind the curve they are..."

Thanks for your exhaustive encapsulation of a VERY COMPLICATED subject!

We ALL appreciate it!!

Carson Grubaugh said...


You should really think about digitizing and selling (Dore has to be common public domain by now, yeah?) digital, retouched scans of all of those images. It is so hard to find good copies of the Dore stuff, even high res digital scans. I am always trying to get them when I am putting together lectures and am never satisfied. A lot of the ones on Wikipedia at under 1000 pixels in any direction.

I love reading these posts!

Michael Grabowski said...

The Dore Oversize Project, coming soon...

Dave Sim said...

God's sense of humour, I think, again.

Is there/will there be a market for accurate reproduction Dore prints sufficient (i.e. enough to cover printing and postage and Sean's cut) to warrant Sean "having a bash at it"?

Will there be a market for full-sized CEREBUS IN HELL? prints based on what we all KNOW -- because Sean's going to do them -- will be the absolute best Dore reproductions possible?

Will CEREBUS fans prefer their Dore "with" Cerebus or "without" Cerebus?

God alone knows. Literally.

Sean R said...

Carson and Michael--

Things proceed... :)