Reproductive Strategies


Thursday, October 28, 2010

This month has seen the publication of two anthologies of pre-Code horror comics. One was put out by Abrams, a prestigious art-book house of long standing, and the other was published by a small comics publisher named after the result of mashing together the words “Fantasy” “Fantastic” and “Graphics.” Covering similar territory, both books include several of the same stories, but follow very different presentation strategies—and possibly not the strategies you would expect, at least not based on the previous information.

Last night, it was clear to me which book’s visual aesthetic was preferable, and the contest wasn’t even close. This morning, I am not quite so sure that the matter is a simple matter of right and wrong. But, using images from Basil Wolverton’s classic story “Nightmare World”, why don’t I let you decide? Which do you think is a better way to publish a comic story more than a half-century old? This?:

Or this?:

One is certainly a lot easier to read than the other, but by upping the contrast, you also lose some of the drawing’s detail. (See the hatching in the top left panel, for example.)

Another page to help us:

And again:

So which is better, the method that presents the comic as a comic, a physical object in close to its original context (though apparently enlarged), with clearly visible tape marks and yellowing paper, or the method that cleans up the original art so that it appears almost as if published today?

Incidentally, the reason I haven’t told you which pages come from which book is because I am curious to see how you will react without already knowing.

(By the way, just for those of you considering which book to buy, the text in a collection like this matters, too, at least to some of us, and in that regard Greg Sadowski’s work is preferable by a wide margin. Then again The Horror! comes with a pretty interesting DVD.)

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52 Responses to “Reproductive Strategies”
  1. John Platt says:

    Wow, I don’t like either approach here. The scans of old comics need to be cleaned up better, and the cleaned up versions look awful, with too many drop-outs and garish colors that aren’t really true to the originals. I think the best approach would be somewhere in the middle.

  2. DerikB says:

    Assuming its not just the your scans, the more photographic scan of the pages looks better to me, primarily because of the fine line work that is getting lost in the high contrast version.

  3. Jeremy says:

    If I had to choose I’d prefer the version that includes all the imperfections of the original comic. Without the original art the printed piece is the closest representation of the artist’s intentions.

    • T. Hodler says:

      Both versions appear to have been shot from the comic-book page, and I’m not sure it’s so clear which is now really the closest representation of Wolverton’s intentions. After all, the comic wasn’t on yellow paper when it was first published. But I understand your point — just pointing out another side of the issue.

      • Jeremy says:

        The un-restored version has only been through Wolverton and the original printer.

        The restored version has been through Wolverton, the original printer and then a digital retouching. It’s adding another hand into the mix, which (to me) muddies the waters.

        That’s not even taking into account the scanning of the original comic book page, which in itself could be an issue (low dpi, poor color reproduction, etc.)

        I’ve seen some really good retouched pages in Archive, Essential and Masterwork editions, but more often than not they lose detail. Cross-hatching in particular tends to drop.

  4. They are both OK, but honestly, I like the cleaned up version. The colors look fine, even great to me. And I’d guess that those artists back then would like the consistency of today’s printing. But I’m not a purist, I just like to read the stories…

  5. dan nadel says:

    I of course prefer the straight scans of old pages, pre-cleaning, especially since I popularized that strategy with Art Out of Time from that prestigious company you mention.

    Repro in this case may be a matter of preference and whichever you prefer the Greg Sadowski book is still better by a wide margin in terms concept, text, information and basic integrity.

    I was going to write a review of The Horror!… but have been putting it off. Now it can just be a comment! My big beef with the Trombetta book is that it’s a conceptual mess. It actually fails to make any kind of point, and despite what its marketing would lead you to believe, it doesn’t actually include the comics that were part of the of Congressional testimony or part of Wertham’s book. No Jack Cole needle-to-the-eye, no Wonder Woman, no homo-Batman, not even a Jack Davis skull baseball game. Nary a one in sight. Instead we get a dubious selection of horror, sci-fi and crime comics from the 1950s and a buncha extremely dubious “facts” and theories. Jim Trombetta is very focused on the famous Robert Warshow essay about his son Paul’s EC fandom, as well as, of course, Wertham and David Hajdu. In other words, he didn’t try very hard. Nary a citation for John Benson, Ron Goulart, Greg Sadowski, Bhob Stewart, et al in sight. Bart Beaty wrote an entire book about Wertham and it isn’t cited save for a passing mention as a “Wertham defender”.

    The first of Trombetta’s claims is one of his most ludicrous: “The book you are holding now is one of the few places to see these comics as they were meant to be seen — in full size, in full color, and fully empowered.” Well, not unless you count the Sadowski book, or happened to miss a zillion 1970s full color, full size reprints from Marvel and DC, or, say, my two books from the same publisher, or, um, Eclipse’s reprints in the 1980s, or, shit that Jack Cole book that Chronicle put out. From there it’s a steady slide into nonsense. The book is organized thematically in chapters imaginatively titled things like “The Werewolf”, “Crime”, “Skeletons”, etc. There are art credits (though some are incorrect, like giving Howard Nostrand credit for Warren Kremer’s Colorama cover) but absolutely no biographical information about the artists. Zilch. Twice we’re told William M. Gaines was a great “auteur” and once that L.B. Cole was same. By no stretch of the definition, even to the most ardent EC fan was Gaines an auteur: A smart publisher and brilliant raconteur, yes. A good writer sometimes and brilliant talent scout. But not an auteur. L.B. Cole was a wonderful cover artist, and, later (which Trombetta doesn’t seem to realize) a brilliant editor of the horror comics of John Stanley, but not an auteur.

    What’s worse, instead of any contextual information (oh wait, there’s some, but it’s either (a) wrong, as in the case of dating the beginning of horror comics to 1950, when it’s been established, as Sadowski points out, as early as 1945 or (b) just oddly off kilter, as with the omission for the real reason Gaines’ testimony was so strange: He was accidentally high.) Instead the book is stuffed to the gills with dubious sociology and brilliant observations like this one: Of all the classical apparitions, the werewolf has always has the most inner suffering.” Or this boner: “Bernard Bailey’s classic cover for Mister Mystery no. 12 (July 1953) gives the old saying ‘better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick” a whole new resonance” Laffs! And that’s leaving aside that Bailey ran a studio, so it’s impossible to know if “he” actually drew the cover — someone get this man an editor! Or there’s this bit: “If as, described in these pages, fifties horror comics caricatured the policies of the official society of the time, this relationship was revived in the more recent war on terror”.

    Therein lies the crux: For Trombetta all of these comics are cyphers for something else, never standing on their own, and heaven forbid, never the product of human beings. What irritates me most about this book is how craven its intentions are. This is not history — it’s yet another exploitation of helpless (because they are dead) artists work in the name of some “great” idea. Yet more corpse-fucking in the name of “comics” or “fun” or whatever you want. Trombetta’s book replaces aesthetic and cultural insight with bullshit pop psychology and flakey-to-false claims.

  6. patrick ford says:

    I strongly prefer the straight scans (either approach is far preferable to heavily retouched/recreated art).
    Once you start adjusting the colour all kinds of things can go wrong.
    Even more noticeable than the Fantagraphics book above are the problems seen in the new Titan book collecting work by Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and others.
    The “faded” colours were adjusted far to dark with the result being a murkiness which almost swallows line work where blues, greens, browns, and purples have been selected in values far darker than the original printed pages.
    It’s worth noting that Abrams is an art book publisher.
    Here are some comments asking for respect for the form I posted previously.
    The reason I like to use Japanese woodblock prints as an example is because they are printed.
    Japanese prints are a particularly good example because they mirror in certain ways comic book art. Woodblock prints were considered cheap, and disposable not high art. The artist who’s name is applied to the print had about the same control over the print as did the artist who penciled a comic book page. The artist who produced the drawing the print was based on didn’t cut the linework into the wood block, and he didn’t apply the colour to the block. The artist supplied only a simple three colour guide to the printer.
    I want to add I dispute the notion that the colour in old newspaper strips was poor. In almost every instance I’ve seen it’s better than what you see today. This is even more true before 1930 in newspaper strips, but the colour in almost any old comic book I’ve seen is very appealing. This is a matter of taste, but I would never consider the colour work of Stan Goldberg, and dozens of other comic book colourists to be examples of poor colour.

    James Michener wrote in his introduction to “Japanese Prints:”
    “Why is it that Japanese connoisseurs with refined taste refuse to accept woodblock prints as fine art?”
    Michener answers this question at length.
    First the print was considered “common,” and not of the same intellectual content as tradition Japanese painting and drawing.
    Michener discusses the line quality of the print medium.
    “From your ownership of a Harunobu print you attain an increased an increased appreciation of line, as a component of art. It is a line that sings…
    Yet Harunobu himself had nothing to do with the line you see. Harunobu did not transfer his drawing onto the woodblock the print was made from”
    Michener moves on to describe the colour process where Harunobu gave a rough guide to the printer who selected, mixed, applied, and printed the final colours.
    In the end Michener says, “At no time did Harunobu paint the the print as you see it now. The print is not a copy of an original work of art. The print is a scrap of paper to which certain things have been done, but never by Harunobo.
    In their day Japanese prints weren’t seen as legitimate art. They reached Europe not as works of art, but crumpled up in crates as packing material.
    As I said before speaking for myself I have no problem seeing comic book art as worthy of respect (the writing is often another matter).
    There may be people who find my opinion to be mildly amusing, or hysterically funny. That’s fine by me.
    I think the printed art deserves the same respect as any other printed art.

  7. Jordan Crane says:

    It’s obvious. Scan the original comic books in color on a good scanner at 1200dpi, don’t clean up the colors or contrast them at all, and print in standard CMYK on a coated paper using diffusion dither rather than halftone in order to preserve all original detail. The idea behind this is that if the only record of the artwork we have is the comic book itself, then this must be treated as the *actual* artwork – thus, any fucking around with it presumes artistic license where none exists.

  8. Justin Fox says:

    I greatly prefer the recolored version here, and it looks like another excellent example of how to recolor these correctly.

    I think so little detail is lost that the benefits of legibility and presentation outweigh any other concern. I don’t have a real problem with straight scans of old pages (and don’t want to insult anyone that prefers them), but I don’t understand the aesthetic choice at all. Especially here. The red plate is so far off on that first page that I don’t see what is possibly being preserved by retaining something that obscures and distorts the linework.

  9. patrick ford says:

    Jordan is exactly correct. If the original art or high quality copies (film/stats, even photocopies) are missing then the printed object is all you have to work with. Altering it is making assumptions. I would really question if the colour in the interior pages is faded much at all given that the interior pages aren’t exposed to light much at all.
    Using darker colour values really obscures the line work, you can see it in the Fantagaphics book as pointed out by Tim.
    It would be best to seek out the best possible copies of the printed comics to scan from.
    I see no advantage in showing tape repairs, or pages with printing defects particular to isolated copies (ink blots/smears).
    My primary consideration is line work first.
    If anything were going to be adjusted, I’d go for white panels borders. Poor color registration doesn’t bother me.
    Maybe the best example I’ve seen to this point is the D&Q “Thirteen going on Eighteen” book.

  10. Dan Nadel says:

    It’s funny, I worry about these sort of issues as well, which spark a ton of debate (rightfully so, as it involved the integrity of the art) but am amazed at how easily people give a pass to bad writing, shabby ideas, etc. I’d like to see more debate about that.

    • T. Hodler says:

      I know what you mean, but as I said in the post (& as you said in your earlier comment), in this particular case, there’s no contest—the Sadowski is far, far better in those terms—so there’s not much to debate.

      I haven’t actually read any reviews of these books yet, though — are people giving the Trombetta a pass?

  11. Tom Devlin says:

    The way the art was printed in those days is not necessarily how the artist intended it to be printed, especially in terms of color. I think there are a variety of ways to treat art like this and every one of them is wrong!

  12. Ditto what Tom D. said. Also the scans above misrepresent the situation somewhat. I don’t have access to the hard copy of the The Horror!…, but the scans above are quite a bit harsher and muddier than how the work actually appears on the printed pages of Four Color Fear. Maybe it’s my screen…

  13. Gotta agree 100% with Jordan Crane– original comics art pages ARE the work of art. They are a multiple (albeit in a very large edition) and should therefore be treated in the same way as a reproduction of lithograph or an etching in an exhibition catalog. Nobody goes around retouching or recoloring reproductions of works of art or prints (unless you are Dinos and Jake Chapman fucking around with Goya). Cartoonists do prep work which leads to what is eventually the finalized work of art– the printed page. This includes the paper it is printed on, the original inks, the defects of the press, right down to the way the pages are bound. All of these elements that are part of the original work should be respected, otherwise it is no longer an image of the original work.

  14. patrick ford says:

    Taking this geek-fest one step further my own preference when the original art is available is to reproduce it as original art.
    If the page is a typical inked comic book page the work would be reproduced right from the art, no colour added, and “shot/scanned” in such as way that fingerprints, white-out, erased pencils, and the blood of squashed mosquitoes are all reproduced.

  15. jasontmiles says:

    For once, Tom and I are in agreement (after all we’re both company men).

    I used to see it Jordan’s way until I started working for a publisher trying to archive and in some cases restore old comics. When I was working on HUMBUG it made no sense to present the comics as objects. The original printing was very poor and incredibly inconsistent. We recreated the 2nd color using at least 3 different copies of the same original issue when we didn’t have originals or mechanicals to shoot from. I “proof read” the 2nd color with a jewelers loop and 3 or four issues of each comic within reach for reference to try to make we didn’t fuck up (by the way the color was off register and had aged radically different for each copy of the same comic book). And theres a couple of places where I wonder if we got the color shape right… I know theres a page in the 2nd volume that looks worse than if we’d shot from the original comic book because the original art we used was pretty dirty and damaged. At one point we considered shooting from the original comic books because the restoration process seemed too daunting, but we had about 70% of the original artwork/original film at our finger tips and try telling Al Jaffee, Arnold Roth and Will Elder that your going to scan the crappy printed version of their work instead of their original artwork AND don’t forget that they hated the way it originally printed (The Great Elder passed away before we finished).

    Personally, I’m glad Criterion restores image/sound quality rather than sell a shitty transfer of a beat up old film print.

    That said, shooting comics as objects can look good and read swell. Dan’s ART OUT/IN TIME books look good and I think the Abrams horror book looks good. Dark Horse’s HERBIE and TARZAN collection look crappy to me and I think the John Stanley collections print too dark, but I’m stoked to be able to read that stuff!

    Yesterday I was talking to a printer about original art reproduction and he tried to pull out what little hair he had left as he described how difficult it is to color match paintings:'s+world&hl=en&prmd=ivo&source=lnms&tbs=isch:1&ei=MAnKTLOwJYfEsAO23YGQDg&sa=X&oi=mode_link&ct=mode&ved=0CBoQ_AU&biw=1577&bih=851

    • jasontmiles says:

      Too Much Coffee Edits:

      “We recreated the 2nd color using at least 3 different copies of the same ISSUE OF THE ORIGINAL COMIC BOOKS when we didn’t have originals or mechanicals to shoot from. I “proof read” the 2nd color with a jewelers loop and 3 or four COPIES of each OF THE ORIGINAL COMIC BOOKS within reach for reference AND to try AND make we didn’t fuck up (by the way the color was off register and had aged radically different for each copy of the same ISSUE NUMBER OF THE ORIGINAL COMIC BOOKS).”

  16. Abhay says:

    I like the “imperfect” versions because you can see the drawings of the monster. It’s a monster comic– I want to be able to see the monster. Hopefully that’s just a bad scan but I can’t see the monster in the “clean” version. Not without squinting anyways. Why would I want to read a monster comic where I can’t see the drawing of the monster? I look at a glowing screen at work all day, though, so maybe my eyes are completely shot.

  17. Re: jasontmiles:
    The film print analogy is a pretty good one. And man, what a great job that was on Humbug! In the end, as has been pointed out, if the source material is available and there is the possibility of printing it the way it was originally intended (if the responsible parties have input or there is documentation– to extend the film analogy, Welles’ Universal memo re: ‘Touch of Evil’ is apropos). Therefore the printing should be addressed on a case-by-case basis. There is also an appropriate amount of re-touching and then there is something which is obviously heavy-handed. I think all would be in agreement that the “day-glo” approach is verboten.

  18. Bill Kartalopoulos says:

    I think, Ryan, you’re a bit off base here. We’re talking about a history where in many cases even “the greats” weren’t always able to ink their own work, let alone control the coloring, choose paper stock, select a printer, etc. The artists whose work is being preserved in these kinds of books most often simply made drawings that they knew could survive the production process. And it has survived, but it’s silly to conflate a production process with an artistic process.

    There are two good reasons to print directly from scanned comic books. 1) it tells us something about the processes and culture within which these comics were produced; 2) some people, myself included, find this aged newsprint to be aesthetically lovely. The latter will probably become an increasingly specialized taste in the future, when the last people who remember buying comic books from a newsstand are all dead. The former will always be crucial, but doesn’t have to be the only way to present this material. It’s true, as Jordan points out, that restoration introduces uncertainty into the reproduction of historical work, but it’s just as true, as Jason points out, that reproducing directly from a crumbling comic book over-privileges the condition of the aged comic book being reproduced. This goes to Ryan’s point about honoring the intention of the artist: I’m pretty sure that most of these guys weren’t thinking: “This’ll be on browned out paper one day!” Unless you want to ascribe artistic intent to the comic book industry and collector culture?

    As far as restoration goes, if it’s going to happen what makes sense to me is the Maresca approach, which I think was articulated as something like “the best case scenario of what the artist could expect to come off the press.” Obviously, this includes not re-coloring or introducing computer gradient effects or whatever, but I think it allows for some intervention. Looking at the above examples, I think Fantagraphics went a little too far, but at the same time I don’t see how it hurts to fill in a faded out black spot, correct some egregious mis-registration, or fill in a broken panel border. As I said above, I do think it is important to preserve a record of the historical processes by which these kinds of works were produced/published, but I don’t think that needs to be central to the mission of every reprint collection. (Though it would be cool if every book indicated the extent to which the work has been “retouched.”)

    • Bill Kartalopoulos says:

      Geez, edit already: I meant, at the top of my 2nd para: “There are two good reasons to print directly from scanned comic books WITHOUT RESTORATION”

      • Bill Kartalopoulos says:

        Also: I wrote my above response before I read Ryan’s more nuanced second post. I think “case-by-case” is right.

        • Glad you eventually read my follow-up comments Bill. Don’t want to remain “off base.” It’s lonely off base. I’m coming back into the base now and heading into the mess tent…

  19. patrick ford says:

    The film print restoration comparison is a good comparison when you are talking about something along the lines of the Fantagraphics “Humbug” where original art, or stats of the original art are available.
    Film restoration does not involve taking an old washed out print like many of us saw on TV growing up in the 60’s and 70’s and restoring that ruined print.
    Restoring a film almost always starts with using the original negative, or with simply finding and putting together the best quality prints in existence. There are restorations where in part certain scenes or parts of scenes exist only as part of a bad print, and those instances are always easy to see.
    What the discussion is here is assuming the printed comic book is the only source. I don’t think anyone would say, “Russ Cochran made a mistake by using the original art when he reprinted the E.C, comics, or that Fantagraphics should have scanned printed copies of “Blazing Combat!” rather than using the pristine printers film they had access to for the reprint.
    I think everyone would agree that when you begin adjusting the colour levels on scans things can go wrong if the colour choices are too aggressive.
    As Tim pointed out substituting very dark blue for a blue of a lighter value almost completely obscures Wolverton’s linework in the panel he mentioned, and in others as well.
    Looking at the examples above it isn’t even close from my point of view as to which method better presents the linwork, and I prefer the muted colour as well.
    The best thing might be to correct registration problems, remove obvious printing errors like bad ink blots (assuming no better printed copy can be found), adjust the browning of the paper to a soft off white in the balloons, and panel borders, but just leave the colours alone.
    If I had one thing to say to the restorers it would be, “Hey guys…lighten up.”

  20. Heidi M. says:

    I agree with the first poster actually…somewhere in between would have kept the integrity of the “object” but made it a little more readable.

    There are truly some horrible reprints books coming out in the rush to get it all on the shelf. I’m beginning to see (or notice, perhaps) a lot of awful scans of old books printed on glossy paper that just look ad bad as that sounds. The painstaking “Humbug” and “Maresca” processes mentioned above are probably far too expensive for a lot of these potboilers, and it shows.

  21. Lastworthy says:

    I like the first/cleaner version, even if it’s maybe a bit redder than it needs to be.

    I have no interest in what happens to a byproduct of the actual work decades after it was made. Paper shouldn’t be yellow. Barring direct artist involvement, I just want the work as clear and “neutral” as possible so I can get at the ideas and shapes. Then again, with this specific kind of work I’m really more interested in the academic writing than the actual comics, so the 19-40’s/50’s/60’s-in-2010 aesthetic isn’t really a dealbreaker either.

    I think this is one of those things that is going to be a much bigger deal in the future. By the time I’m an old man most of the original comics from that era will be dust. I hope some sort of national digital database gets established before we lose too much work.

  22. Bill Kartalopoulos says:

    Totally tangential, but if anyone digs reading scanned old comics printed on paper, these are pretty cool (though they sell out fast):

  23. Robert Fiore says:

    An important point to make is that the reproductions on this website really don’t do justice to the Sadowski book. These scans make the pages look more heavily altered than does the book in your hands. I believe the Fantagraphics middle way is the best of several bad options. To defer to the original printed version because it’s the earliest one you have is in many cases tantamount to canonizing shoddy production practices. When you’re working from something that’s well printed then you want to practice fidelity to the original. When as is so often the case the printing is indifferent to poor then you have to apply judgment, and if possible supply the craftsmanship that the original printers failed to bring to bear. To blindly defer to a copy you know to be poor is to abandon judgment.

  24. J. Overby says:

    “To defer to the original printed version because it’s the earliest one you have is in many cases tantamount to canonizing shoddy production practices.”

    Good comment. I prefer the Fanta version. One thing I don’t like about the Abrams book is that it seems kitschy. In my opinion, it’s actually refusing to recognize the work as art and exalting the yellowed, original comic book because of the associations we have with that culture. There is, for sure, something really nostalgic about old comics, but, for me, stripping the cultural vestiges from the content is the best way to respect it.

  25. J. Overby says:

    Don’t mean to sound glib – “stripping the cultural vestiges from the content” is much easier said than done!

  26. J. Overby says:

    …and conceptually, for what the Abrams book is going for (nostalgia, kitsch, etc. for the general public), the way they’ve chosen to present the comics makes a lot of sense.

  27. Patrick says:

    To my eyes, something is gained and lost in both versions.

    If the book’s aim is scholarship, or it’s an art book, I say go with the original. But if it’s intended simply as a reprinting of the stories for a new audience, clean it up. I don’t need to read Shakespeare with the original spellings intact (valid comparison?), but it’s nice to know I can.

  28. T. Hodler says:

    Thanks everyone. This has been extremely interesting so far, and it hasn’t really gone the way I expected, which is always fun.

    Commenters who have mentioned that these scans don’t quite capture how the pages look in the actual books are right. They’re fairly close approximations, but still slightly off from their appearance in book form. I should probably have made that more clear in the original post, and not assumed it was a given.

    In other words, if you want to make an informed judgment on this, you shouldn’t rely on just this post — look at the books themselves. Sorry for the pedantry of this, but it seemed like something I should say.

  29. Paul Karasik says:

    “I Shall Destroy All The Civilized Planets”
    “You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation”

  30. patrick ford says:

    Tim, I wonder if you could post a page from the Steven Brower book on Meskin.
    The book was published by Fantagraphics, but Steven as the author/designer asked the scans be left unrestored.
    Dan commented he’d like to see more discussion of the scholarship in the books.
    How many who have commented have seen the books?
    I won’t be buying either book because there are so many reprint books coming out it’s forced me to be selective.
    I’d far rather have a collection of stories by a single cartoonist than a themed collection.
    While I’m very much looking forward to more Stanley, and the announced books on Toth, Wolverton, and Cole, any broad based collection containing mostly poorly written “sausage factory” comics with a mix of artists is a book I wouldn’t buy unless the scholarship was a major component of the book, and well done.
    That is the strength of Dan’s two books. He pointed out that within apparently shallow genre work, any artist who is intellectually committed to the material will inevitably create something which is personally expressive. I say “inevitably” because unless an artist/writer is just grinding out formula the art will naturally embody the artists thoughts and ideas.

    • Dan Nadel says:

      I think the Meskin book looks great and I look forward to more. I come down the middle on the repro thing, and it really is project-by-project. And Pat, I hear you and it’s certainly not my job to convince anyone to buy anything, but I gotta say, Sadowski’s book is REALLY worth owning and spending time with. His commentary is incredibly informative and insightful and there is a John Benson essay in there that is, alone, worth the price of the book. As for the scholarship thing: It’s not often discussed because people are focused on just having the material. I obviously have a vested interest in this stuff being done “right”, which is obviously a fairly subjective thing. My own books have their problems, though I’m proud of them, and to me the gold standard are volumes like the Jeet Heer/Chris Ware Frank King books, Rosenkranz’s Irons and Holmes books. These are not for everyone, and of course there’s room for the kitsch/pop approach (the book above, Yoe’s stuff, etc.), I suppose. But I just feel like in 2010 the artists deserve better. As Tom Spurgeon has so eloquently written, the original sin of comics is still with us, and I feel like it’s a shame when “history” books perpetuate it. I can be more or less grumpy about it depending on the day, but there ya go.

      • patrick ford says:

        Dan, I take it you’re saying the Sadowski book has considerable editorial content?
        The Abrams book as a raw concept sounds like a great idea, it’s a shame the author got it wrong (your objections sound well founded; I haven’t seen the book).
        The “Ten Cent Plague” covered the same general territory really well, I thought, but lacked a full context because it didn’t include any reprints.
        It’s always frustrating when you see a book come out on a topic worth close examination, and for what ever reason the book falls well short. Part of this is a possible reluctance on the part of publishers to put out a book on a given subject which has already been covered. In effect a lesser book can discourage another book on the same subject which might be better because the first book “beat it to the punch.”
        And again on the scans. The main thing for me is make sure dark colour values don’t obscure the linework.

    • T. Hodler says:

      I don’t have immediate access to the Meskin book, so I can’t post a page right now, but there’s a pdf excerpt of it on the Fantagraphics site which you can download here.

  31. Jeet Heer says:

    Well, a big reason why there’s not enough comments on scholarship is that there’s not enough people who know the material well enough and have a sense of what good scholarship is. Which is why I really appreciate all of Dan’s posts on this topic (these two books, the Jerry Robinson book, the Rand Holmes book etc.) I think these books are usually treated in an uncritical fashion, so it’s good to start creating a dialogue about them to raise expectations and standards. What’s annoying about the pop/kitsch approach is that it creates the illusion of engagement with the work but it really is often a product of laziness.

    On the issue of reproduction, I’m with Jason T. Miles. It has to be case-by-case depending on the material, the intent of the book, the audience, etc. The Maresca/Humbug approach is the gold standard but not every project deserves such painstaking care. The Dark Horse Lulu and Tubby books are a good example: there kind of slap-dash but it’s good to have those comics available in a cheap readers copy. If Dark Horse or another publisher were to put out a best of Lulu book or a best of John Stanley book though, I’d have higher standards: I’d want the book to be done along the lines of Drawn and Quarterly’s John Stanley Library.

  32. I’m with Overby.

    “it’s actually refusing to recognize the work as art and exalting the yellowed, original comic book because of the associations we have with that culture.”

    The contextual “noise” of these types of reprints may be personally pleasing to some, but it is presenting the work not as “work” but as a photograph of a “thing” and the story of each page becomes removed from the “insides” to the external cultural and physical environmental forces at play.

    There’s a contextual barrier to the work itself and it implies a story where there ought not be one. A story outside of the story. A difference between READING comics and LOOKING AT comics.

  33. Gabe fowler says:

    I personally like the photograph of the thing. It’s another layer of information.

  34. Alec Trench says:

    ” … apply judgment, and if possible supply the craftsmanship that the original printers failed to bring to bear.”

    This makes a lot of sense to me.
    Hap-hazard printing (and colouring) has obscured and defaced the vast majority of comic-book art from those early decades.

    As to the above scanned scans:
    one is rather low in contrast (faded/absorbed ink against age-darkened paper) with too many obtrusive printing errors e.g. the patchiness, and there seems to be some reflected light from behind the paper making the reverse page visible;
    the other is certainly too high in contrast and sort of clinically vivid, the paper’s invisibilty does seem a bit extreme, but I do like the registration correction.
    Surely, bad registration is one of the most disruptive influences on pictoral integrity and almost an argument (in retrospect) for not colouring it in the first place.

    Whitening only the margins/gutters and speech bubbles?
    Hmm, what about the eyeballs and teeth?
    I don’t like this idea of isolating certain elements for special treatment, they’re all part of the same composition and removing the “grain” from one set of shapes would make a feature of its presence elsewhere.

    overall, I think intelligent, perceptive compromise gets my vote for best approach.
    The examples above, while both are definitely tickling my shopping glands, are a little too far in either direction.

  35. Joe Williams says:

    I’m with those who’d like to see it cleaned up a bit but not so poorly that it destroys fine line work and makes the colors garish. I’ve been buying old Kamandi and 2001 issues for cheap whenever I can because I can’t stand how badly Marvel and DC do those reprint books- recoloring them in a way that doesn’t “fit” the period or the style. It’s going to look like garbage is someone just uses “Auto Levels” and doesn’t actually care how it turns out because they need to correct 40 pages before lunch.

    I find it odd that people would want them to look exactly like the old comics… which still exist and can be purchased by those that so desire. I would prefer to see how they’d look on paper that hasn’t yellowed over the decades and weren’t printed on a rickety press that can’t register color. Why be stuck with the technical limitations of the period or the process of decay from half a century passing since publication? I doubt Wolverton or the colorist WANTED the magenta plate to be off 1/2″ so why should that be considered the “ideal” way to present the work? As stated before it wasn’t like they printed on yellow paper to begin with either.

    Of course, all of us are commenting on printed images that we’re seeing on a computer monitor which may not accurately represent the colors/contrast, etc.

  36. Chris Duffy says:

    Karasik is making those weird threats again.

  37. Paul Karasik says:

    Watch out, Duffy, or I will destroy all your civilized creations.

  38. greg sadowski says:

    My approach to restorations is basically to retain the printing methods of an old comic, but with slightly better paper (glossy only for covers) and correct registration. I was generally okay with FOUR COLOR FEAR, except that on a few stories (the above Wolverton included) the cyan channel was too dark, causing the aforementioned indistinct line. I have an adjusted version, and would be happy to send over jpegs for comparison.

    I always try to be faithful to the original colors. At times I’ll remove a “plate burn,” an underlying smudge caused by an unclean plate. I’ll correct coloring misses or mistakes, but the color is always “cloned” from another section of the page, never taken from the Photoshop color palette. I work with the intention of being true to the artist, who I assume would prefer to see his art reproduced with clean colors and good registration. My colors can still be too rich, though. With each book I keep knocking them back more and more…

    There is an undeniable charm to old newsprint and faded color, but, as Joe points out, the old comics didn’t look that way when new. Near-mint books have whitish paper and fairly vibrant colors, and we all know the joy of finding old comics with dead-on registration. So that’s the experience I’m striving for.

  39. patrick ford says:

    Greg, Nice to see you agree the colour was too dark on that story. Are you saying the problem can arise because of something the printer is doing which doesn’t match your intent?
    If so is there a way to communicate this to the printer, or do you have to anticipate how the printing process will affect the colours, and adjust your end taking that into account?
    Really the overall dark browns, blues, greens, and purples, are the only substantial issue I have with the look of some of the scanned books. The Titan S&K book has nice margins, and the art is reproduced large enough,but the colours are all very dark obscuring the line work.
    One other problem I have with the Fantagraphics books is (excepting the Hanks books) the art is reproduced smaller then originally printed. The earliest golden age comic books very often featured more than ten panels per page this means the art in the panels was very small, and any further reduction is unfortunate.
    Registration problems in the original have never much bothered me. Although they are obviously an error they almost create (albeit unintentionally) the look of reflected light.
    Correcting them is probably the best thing to do however.

  40. greg sadowski says:

    It was entirely my fault about the dark cyans. It’s not quite as noticeable on the monitor so you just have to be aware and stay on top of it. Another problem was that I was so horribly late in turning in 4CF that I never got a chance to see the proofs.

    I agree that the size should match the original comic whenever possible. I think I was around 96% to 100% on 4CF. Each company had their own unique page formats, and you have to adjust a little so the art fits the page consistently. The art for the Toth book I’ve been working on came from a single company (Standard) and is 100% throughout.

  41. patrick ford says:

    Greg, Thanks. Cyan seems to be the bane of scanned comic book page reproduction. I’ve been told it can also be responsible for giving what should be warm yellows an unpleasant greenish cast.
    On the issue of size. While there is a definite graphic attraction in seeing pages larger than original printed size, the downside is you magnify poorly printed black lines. Lines begin to look ragged or slightly fuzzy when magnified.
    This might not be as true for some publishers as for others.
    Quality (the publisher) Comics featured very sharp clear reproduction. I’ve got some old Plastic Man comics from the 40’s which are pretty remarkable. The sharp edged line reproduction they have might stand up to being reproduced at a larger size.
    Reproducing at a smaller than originally printed size makes the line work look sharper, but the trade-off is the very small panels in the late 30’s early 40’s comics.
    I appreciate you r comments, and want to add I’m very happy scans seem to be pushing out the old “retouched/recolored” methods, even bad scans look at least okay to me.

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