Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Devil In the Details for Small Publishing-- ISBN, bar codes, matching fonts, and more

Sean Michael Robinson:


First off, a hearty thank-you to all the contributors to Cerebus Archive Number Five, which ended this weekend. If you haven't had a chance yet, take a look at Dave's posts from Friday for some thought-provoking discussion on how the archive project is evolving, and give some input, if you have the time!

Some good news — Going Home is currently on the schedule at Marquis, the files have been delivered, and it will most likely be shipping a little over two weeks from now, assuming there are no more bumps in the road. For those keeping track, this book has the highest percentage of original artwork of any book that's been restored so far, with about ten percent of the book sourced from photo negatives and only two pages total restored from print copies. I'm thrilled with the result and am eagerly awaiting delivery of my comp copies of the book...

For this week's post, I thought it might be interesting (or, more likely, useful) to take a look at some of the minutia that surround book publication, all of the tiny details that need to be attended to before sending a book out to the printer.

To the left you'll see a raw scan of my fourth-printing copy of Going Home, circa 2004. 

I'd say there are two basic approaches to putting together a design for which you no longer have original files or negatives to work with. One is essentially reconstruction, using the original design as a template and recreating the image from available sources. The second type is restoration, using only print images to make a workable file.

In the case of the Reads cover, I had every element that Dave and Gerhard had sent to the printer to construct the cover originally, every drawing, every photograph, every scrap-paper mockup with detailed instructions on the side, blue-line pencil indicating shading areas and percentage value and even screen numbers (lines per inch). 

With Going Home I have almost none of that. Just my print copy of the book, a scan of the hand-drawn logo for the front cover, a print copy of the first issue of Going Home which features the same image in a different cropping, and a scan of a match print of the cover of the book, sans spine info. 

The cover is based on a blowup of a slide by Gerhard taken "from my driveway at 'Camp Woolner', located out past Chicopee Ski Hill in Kitchener." Unfortunately, the original slide is MIA, so I had to restore the main image from a print copy (a detailed how-to post about that here).

But, that still leaves an awful lot of elements missing. Hence the scan to the left.

For a variety of reasons, I'll be better off finding matching fonts and redoing the rest of the cover text in my design program of choice. So how to find the fonts?

There are a few "free" services out there that will match fonts for you, or give you a list of likely subjects, based on uploaded images. And that's what I did here, using my favorite font service, Font Squirrel Matcherator. Upload the images, and in a few seconds you'll see a list of fonts with similar characteristics, along with download links. 

I used the scare quotes around "free" above because the service actually runs on referrals, taking a cut of linked font sales. In this case, though, once I had the identity of the font family, I was able to find a free and functional version of the font in question. Belwe Roman, designed by German typographer Georg Belwe way back in 1907 and thus firmly in the public domain.

(Want to make a Cerebus mockup of your own? Belwe Bold, 33 pt for the title and 14 pt for the author's names.)

As for the design element at the bottom of the page, George Gatsis had previously reworked this box from scratch, but I would need a new numeral. Another Font Squirrel search netted me the name of the second font family — Bodoni, once again, a historic face in the public domain. I found a workable free version (Libre Bodoni, appropriately) and matched the numeral at 22 pt.

Once I had my font information, it was time to drop it all in the layout program. Marquis' prepress department send me a mockup of the cover with the appropriate measurements, which I used to make a new Indesign document. I then dropped the flattened, restored image in, pulled down some blue-line guides to keep the text aligned, and then added all of the text elements. It took a bit to match the color of the logo and other text to my two print samples, but I finally settled on C0 M10 Y40 K0, or ten percent magenta and 40 percent yellow. 

And here's where that brings us —

Now all we're missing is the dreaded barcode!

ISBNs and barcodes are really, really large and really, really, boring topics. So rather than diving all the way into it here, let me just point out a few resources to you —

BookOW has a free barcode generator that packs in a lot more options than most. You can also manipulate and edit your barcode afterwards using your favorite image editor of choice, as long as you flatten it to a one-bit bitmap afterwards so it isn't halftoned when it's printed. There are also a lot of esoteric rules governing size of the barcode itself, specifically, its vertical height. You are of course welcome to memorize these — or, hey, you could borrow on the expertise of others by finding books with barcodes that you find unobtrusive and taking some measurements from those. 

Publishing a book that will be sold in a modern retail environment? Then you'll need an ISBN, which you can get here. In the case of Going Home, though, all I needed was, and the new price of the book, which will also be included in the extended barcode.

And that, friends, is how it's done.

Of course, I'm missing the part where you agonize for half an hour, moving it back and forth and wondering how you'll ever find the perfect spot, what part of your glorious artwork will be covered by this abomination...

I only had to worry about this once, though. I sent Dave a fax of the High Society cover, with a potential placement and a host of other options. Should I put it up in the sky where there's white space? A little higher so it's aligned with the stairs? Back came the reply. "It's just covering some crosshatched stairs. There's more on the front." Or something to that effect.

Oh, right. This big ugly machine thing is on everything. It's ubiquitous. No one notices it anyway unless it's pointed out to them.

That's what I tell myself at night...

By the way, anyone notice anything about the two cover fonts, Belwe and Bodoni? Do the names give you any insight how they might ave been selected?

(Find any of this useful? Interesting? Let me know in the comments...)


Travis Pelkie said...

A barcode where you can read the price of the book? CRAZY! (Especially if you've been buying comics at the comic store in recent years. Even when I know a book's price beforehand, it's hard to find sometimes!)

Cool stuff. Will Reads and Going Home be featured in next month's Previews? It seems...less than optimal to rely on those of us reading here to 1. remember to order our own copies and 2. try to spread the word online to others. Having them in Previews (which I look at monthly and give a list to my comics shop guy each month with what I want) will most likely improve sales.

Of course, from what people were saying, Diamond didn't have the new version of Reads in the system yet anyway...

See, that's the thing, I want to see a listing in the catalog to ensure that if I put an order in with my guy, I'll get the new remastered version, not risk getting one of the last of the old versions sent (which I'm sure would happen to me!).


Anyway. This was interesting. Were the fonts picked because they were the first ones alphabetically after Arial?

Sean R said...

Hey Travis,

I'm not sure how they'll be handled in Previews. I know that there are no old versions of READS at Diamond, so you're for sure safe in ordering that one!

And yeah, you got my font guess :) That they were picked out of a typeface sample guide that listed alphabetically (or alphabetically within another categorization?) These were really common in the pre-digital takeover era, and very handy--all available faces in lots of different sizes and styles.

Dave Kopperman said...

Good Lord, is "Going Home" actually retailing for $40 USD?

Dave Sim said...

Hi Travis & Sean - I'm pretty sure Diamond has their own decision-making process for what makes it into PREVIEWS and what doesn't. The emphasis (understandably) is CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY since those are the book mostly purchased by the retailers anyway.

I'll be talking to Matt about doing an ad for GOING HOME now that we're reasonably certain (God willing) it's going to exist. Up until a couple of weeks ago, we didn't know if it was going to be the "next book" or if another printing of CEREBUS was going to be. Bad news if we had booked a "restored GOING HOME" ad and then have to wait for CEREBUS to be done!

We're also still waiting for our numbers on CEREBUS IN HELL #0 which, presumably, is going to be next after GOING HOME (unless we get into -- or are already in -- a CEREBUS V1 crisis situation).

I also need to talk to Matt about CEREBUS ARCHIVE. Diamond takes 200 of each on the understanding that we keep them in print, so I think we're overdue for a CANO through CAN5 ad and solicitation to move some of that inventory.

Do we do that before the GOING HOME ad/solicitation or after?

Dave Sim said...

On the typefaces, Gerhard would have made the selections, since he was the Letraset/paste-up guy on EVERYTHING and he would have either picked them out of the on-hand Letraset sheets inventory or decided that we needed a "dedicated" typeface (i.e. I would have made the point that this is going on HIGH SOCIETY in 1986, but we're going to want it to go on every book from now on -- off, off, off into the distant future of 2004 when we'll be flying around in our personalized rocket-packs and living on the moon).

It was certainly easier when all he had to do was to check the LETRASET catalogue when we had a new book done. WHAT were those typefaces again? And having them on file with Preney when we got to the point where Preney was doing a lot of the pre-press.

Dave Sim said...

Dave Kopperman - Yep. GOING HOME was the first volume I priced at $30 even though it wasn't the same size as CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY and that was, like, fourteen years ago? We are in a high inflation time period (I would argue that the G7 countries are actually just calling inflation growth since both are running at about 2% compounded annually: our economies are getting bigger because everything is more expensive) (let me know how that's working out for you) and I've avoided participating as long as possible but, I'm paying more for everything in watered-down currency the same as you are.

So far, so good, eh?

Anonymous said...

Personally I loathe barcodes.
There is always the option of having the printer apply it as a sticker. Everyone who buys it then has the option of peeling it off.

Travis Pelkie said...

Well, Melmoth is the one listed in the current Previews, so I'm not sure how Diamond chooses which book to list (I think they mostly cycle through them in order). If they are essentially partnering with you on the run of Reads and Going Home, one would think it in their best interest to promote the newest, shiniest (most expensive, too) versions of the books, but, well, some things that Diamond does puzzle me. We'll leave it at that.

OK, or not, because how do you guys not have numbers for Cerebus in Hell? 0 yet? Aren't you supposed to have it out this month? Oy.

Guess I'll have to let my guy know that I want a copy of the new Reads, though. If all the old ones are gone, then I can safely order!

And a big thank you on the digital rewards for the latest Kickstarter! (Although you guys probably should have Bcc'd the addresses in the email, but I trust other Cerebus fans like they probably shouldn't trust me ;) )

Dave Sim said...

Travis - The problem is LEAD TIME. I spoke to Matt yesterday and specifically asked him your question about whether the UNREMASTERED GOING HOMES are still "in the mix" and he checked and the answer is No, they are completely out of GOING HOME so if you order a copy, you will get the REMASTERED version. Besides it will have a different product code specifically for the REMASTERED version.

Then he told me that GOING HOME is in the next catalogue. That was an "override" from upstairs, TimL, his boss who is the guy I talk to about MAJOR POLICY choices said "Get GOING HOME in the next catalogue" and that PREVIEWS is now on the way to the printer...

[picture putting PREVIEWS together: all of the information streaming in from x number of publishers through their rep and then into PREVIEWS with a DROP DEADLINE that is immoveable: thousands of these multi-hundred page catalogues have to get everywhere in the English-speaking world virtually overnight. When an issue gets "capped" It Is Capped] no chance of getting an ad in there. So instead we'll be doing a banner ad on their Retailer Site timed for when the book comes in (assuming Marquis can keep it on schedule) and then up ahead we're going to do a REMASTERED AD for the books Diamond has that have been Remastered: HIGH SOCIETY, CHURCH & STATE I, READS and (as of 9/23 theoretically) GOING HOME.

But! That's the catalogue that's in stores in November. So the REMASTERED GOING HOME will have been available for two months before the Consumers (of which you are one) hear about it.

The not-especially-viable alternative is to book an ad and put it in and then find out that CEREBUS instead of GOING HOME is the next book and have everyone order it and not have it available for two months.

Dave Sim said...

Anonymous! I'm not crazy about barcodes either, but you are talking about a labour-intensive gig putting stickers on books at a time when it's particularly important to keep the costs down. All of the inventory that WE have has been "stickered" -- and the stickers are easily removable light adhesive -- but that's a matter of a hundred or so at a time when they get ordered.

Two thousand is a different matter.

Also, Diamond is back-stopping all of this to the tune of 10's of thousands of dollars a year. I figure the least I can do is to have their order code and the bar code and price ON the books. And large enough to be readable and scannable. This IS art, but this is ALSO a business -- and you need to treat it that way.

Dave Kopperman said...

I hope it finds its market - Going Home is perhaps the finest hour of the series, a subtle layered story with Sim's most convincing author pastiche (he really found the Fitzgerald voice and made it work). And the drawing is absurdly gorgeous.

Michael Grabowski said...

Suggested reward for the next kickstarter: barcode-covering stickers that restore the art blocked out by the barcode.

Travis Pelkie said...

Thank you for looking into things, Dave (although it's in your best interest, too!). I will probably put in an order for Reads with my guy when I send him my order for the current Previews, and will look forward to the new Going Home listing next month!

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

A bit surprising that the comics industry still operates on shipping multi-hundred-page catalogues. I'm sure Diamond could set up an online system that would enable easier, faster, more up-to-date, less error-prone, more responsive ordering. Heck, write an app for the store-owners to make their job easier. It's the rare example of the Internet being used for good.

-- Damian

Dave Sim said...

Thanks Dave K -- It's my favourite, technically, for sure. I was hoping that I'd get Matthew Broccoli's (sp?) imprimatur when he was alive -- Roy Thomas' wife, Dann, gave me an intro to him -- alas, he turned out to be majorly not a comic fan (although he was nice enough to send me autographed, personalized copies of a couple of his books. Without Matthew Brocolli (sp?) we'll just have to hope the leading edge of FSF fandom bumps up against us at some point.

Travis - I appreciate it.

Damian - Actually the retailers get a digital copy of PREVIEWS about a week before they get the printed copy and, as far as I know, they all order digitally. I think it's a matter of how many pages you're willing to look through on a computer screen vs. how many pages you're willing to look through in a printed catalogue. Marty Grosser -- who I've known since his days at Comics & Comix -- should probably put in for ocular hazard pay.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Dave: Thanks for correcting my ignorance about the comics-ordering process. I was taken aback at the thought that it would still be a paper-and-pencil thing. I think the one thing computers do really well is add up masses of numbers. I'm not sure what the print catalogue is for today, but I remember knowing individuals back in the 1990s who collected Previews as well as their comics, so perhaps it brings people some joy.

-- Damian

Travis Pelkie said...

Some of us co-write entire columns about the Previews catalog.... (this is the last one that's been posted)

My guy does his tallies on paper, as far as I know, but I guess he must actually input the numbers onto Diamond's site for the actual order. I'll have to ask him if I remember when I'm in next.