Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Gustave Dore in Hell?

Sean Michael Robinson:


On Monday afternoon I received a very special package from Dan Malan, the world's foremost expert on Gustave Dore, and, as far as I know, his only English-language biographer in a century or so (1995's Adrift on Dreams of Splendor) Dan and I (and Dan and Dave!) have been talking periodically about our various overlapping projects and interests, and when I called him last week to talk about the image quality of the various editions of Inferno out there, Dan turned around and made an extremely generous offer that made my search unnecessary. He packed up and mailed to me all 75 illustrated plates from a "parts" edition of the very best printing of Inferno that's ever been.

Parts editions were versions of books sold chapter by chapter, unbound except for a single thread to keep the pages in place. As you can imagine, scanning 75 flat unbound plates is an awful lot easier than attempting to do the same to 75 plates that have been bound in an oversized book that you're trying your hardest not to damage. Other than wearing gloves while I scan to keep from adding skin oils to the paper, this is now a pretty straightforward scanning job. 

I spent the first bit of yesterday morning sorting the images, and scanning the ones I'd be needing first. And ever since then I've been working on the actual production work for Cerebus in Hell? #0, getting it ready as quickly as I'm able so we can get it printed and into your hands. And it looks like, all things remaining the same, I'll be able to get it out sometime tomorrow.

Hence the late post here! Hence the short post.

So rather than taking up any more time here, I'll be updating this post through the day with any closeups of the images I think are particularly striking.

These are truly some amazing images, and it makes the work, tight as the timetable is, a real pleasure.

Until Dore's work, this technique was associated almost exlusively with steel engraving, not wood engraving. But the technology of wood finally made this sharp edge tapered hatching possible, using different types of boxwood that had a harder surface and could maintain detail over a longer run of impressions.

Above—a multiple-generation low-res scan, below replaced by a scan from the page Dan sent me. Notice there appears to be some kind of patch or alteration on the foliage below the roots. The invention of electrotyping gave publishers the ability to reproduce their printing blocks infinitely, ensuring that worn blocks wouldn't have to stay in service. But the lack of international copyright agreements meant that piracy was rampant, and so popular illustrations would often be transferred and re-engraved completely to meet the reading demands of another continent (or in the case of his Bible illustrations, the religious needs of other sects or countries. The blocks could be copied and then the offending details touched out of the surface)

Talk about drawing deep into the page. The head is less than a centimeter across. This is from the first plate of the book (second if you could the portrait of Dante)

Is this not the most metal image that's ever existed? Why exactly has this not been an album cover?

Want a 20th century woodcut style? Magnify a portion of a Dore woodcut a few hundred percent.


Anonymous said...

I have been interested about Gustave Dore for some time now but there isn't that much of information about him as a person. It seems that he was a child prodigy on early age and never married in his lifetime. He was truly devoted on his art. Got to respect that.

Dave Sim said...

Needless to say, a HUGE debt to Sean and Dan for going...MANY...extra miles on this.

Really hoping that CEREBUS IN HELL #0 is enough of a hit so that I can commission Dan to write a definitive introduction on the MANY parodies of DORE'S INFERNO over the years. The last time I spoke with him on the phone, he indicated that there's circumstantial but compelling evidence that Tolstoy got the title WAR AND PEACE from Dore's project of the same name (the chronology matches and WAR AND PEACE was called something else originally. This is the same Dan Malan who is the definitive CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED collector and scholar and whose credited research has been included in every OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE for the last...30 years? Long time, anyway.

Definitely JAW-DROPPING reproduction -- particularly now that I'm as familiar with the plates as I am. Up until today, I would have called that lead-in shot of Dante a top quality version.

We're all standing by on pins and needles waiting to see when Marquis will be able to slot us in.

Oh, and Sean? TimF's cheque came in, so payment in full for the JAKA'S STORY restoration is on its way to you.

Sean R said...

Hello Anonymous!

See if you can find the biography written by his collaborator, English writer Blanchard Jerrold. It's a good introduction written by a friend. There's lots of primary source information out there, letters etc, a virtual avalanche of paper—but very little on the internet.

Also oodles of information at Dan's site,

Dave—my pleasure! Thanks for bringing me on board.

Carson Grubaugh said...

I am speechless...

Dave Kopperman said...

One thing that would be interesting to see (perhaps Sean and Dave do as a 'From Hell' style dialogue) is a discussion on the different engraver styles. Definitely the forerunner of comic inkers. It's a bit surprising how wide the style is between the different plates depending on engraver.

Dave Kopperman said...

BTW: I don't know if that particular image has ever been used as an album cover, but a recent Dave Gilmour video did a nice Doré Divine Comedy homage.

Anonymous said...

How about an oversized book that reproduces the Dore artwork, with commentary by Dave, Dan, and Sean? It'd make a nice companion to Cerebus in Hell?, and have broad sales appeal.

--Claude Flowers

iestyn said...

I love the swirls on that guy's knee!!

Jeff Seiler said...

You know, and I'm just sayin', the "swirls on the guy's knee" sorta, kinda, form a capital "G".

Just sayin'.

I could be totally wrong 'cause, to the extent of my knowledge, no artist ever before put any self-references or references to other loved ones into their art.