Thursday, 25 May 2017

Cover Art for the Comics Journal

MARGARET LISS:
A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

We last looked at Dave Sim's Albatross #5 back in November of last year in The Deciding Vote and Cerebus' New Republic.  It covered Cerebus #45 through 49 and had 79 of the 80 pages in the notebook scanned.

Around that same time, Dave and Deni did an interview for the Comics Journal. Dave did the cover for issues 82 and 83. Looking through the scans of the notebook I found a preliminary sketch for the cover. That seemed pretty much done to me:

Notebook #5, page 62
Only a few minor differences from the finished covers:

The Comics Journal #82-83 (July-August 1983)


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Batvark #1 -- Hell Awaits You At Your LCS, the Last Wednesday of Each Month...

JUN171076 BATVARK #1 Order from your Local Comics Shop now!

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again part 17

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 

A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Part 17
Working with "Bad" Negatives, B

Greetings!

This is the seventeenth installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.


And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!

***

It would be hard to talk about bad photography in the original Cerebus series without discussing Gerhard's debut on the book, which happened to coincide with the with the worst photography since the issue we discussed last week. Did Preney Print and Litho have a turnover of their technical staff? Were they experimenting with different film, or new techniques to deal with the increasing levels of fine detail they were being asked to print on pulpy newsprint? We'll never know for sure, but if you have an original printing of issues 65 and 66 handy, the results speak for themselves.

The problem seemed to be the same as the issue we discussed last week— the exposure contrast point being set in a place that caused all kinds of unintentional "detail" to be printed on the negative along with the intentional. Sometimes this manifested itself as clogged Cerebus dot-tone (faint unerased pencil coming through the image). And other pages?

In issue 66, Gerhard's second issue on the book, there's a six page scene in which Posey and Cerebus discuss/rehearse the speech he's planning to give later on. The strange fog in the basement is suddenly cut by the "strange glowing white thingy."

Here's a peek at what that sequence looked like in print—


I actually asked Gerhard about this sequence in my interview with him way back in December 2010. Here's what he had to say:

Robinson: When we hit 305, is this some type of splatter on top of a Letratone?
Gerhard: Nope, again it’s the stipple tone. I would use two layers of it. The lighter gray is one layer, and I would put another layer of the stipple tone on top of it. If you look at the original pages it looks really good. If you look at this page reduced and printed on newsprint, it’s like “Ugh, that looks muddy. Don’t do that again!” That was the other thing learning to draw for reproduction. Most of the stuff I had done up till then was for framing, not reduced and reproduced. I would do the pages and I wouldn’t actually see how it turned out until the printed book came in. And I would look at it and go “Oh, that didn’t work; that did. Do that again; don’t do that again!” These issues were pretty much done without the knowledge of what it was going to look like in the final book.
When I started to work on this section of the Church & State I restoration, I wanted to know what the original art actually looked like. What would it have reproduced like under the best of circumstances, and could I bring the negatives to that state?

Fortunately, I was helped by a visit by the very generous James Guarnotta, who came down to San Diego from his native Los Angeles and brought with him his large Cerebus collection to be scanned for the restoration project.

And he happened to own one page from this sequence!



As you can see from the reproduction here, the original looks extremely different from the reproduction. Gerhard used what's been called a "mezzotint" tone (emulating the traditional mezzotint pattern produced by roughening the printing plate with a rocker, and then smoothing/shaving areas to lighten it). Gerhard used multiple layers of this light fleck tone to create the streams of rolling fog, visually adding to the density of the effect with each layer. He used up to three layers per page to "paint" with the fleck tone, in a really interesting way.

But as you can see from the image above, it reproduced horribly, the two-tiered areas of tone reproducing almost completely black and obscuring almost all of the hatching below with the exception of the thicker contour lines.

Here's a peek at the actual negative.





So, in the grayscale scan, we can already see lots more information than in the newsprint reproduction. I suspect there's more hiding in there. Let's make a fairly extreme levels adjustment, to bring the lightest tone more in line with how it looks on the original art scan.

I bring up the Levels command (Ctrl-L) and move the Mid-point Arrow/Gamma Control to the left, fairly extremely. And lo and behold, the detail begins to appear, and starts to make clear what happened.



Look at the new detail that's opened up on the darkest patches. This is the same problem as the previously discussed issue, with a poorly calibrated stat camera. The overlapping tone has created unintentional dark patches, muddying up the entire effect even before the ink has hit the page.

Although our extreme Gamma adjustment has shown us the detail hiding beneath the fog, we still haven't made it stick. Now instead of running our negative Action, we're going to do the following manually—

a. resize to the desired size (you can even play back just this line of your previous Action)
b. make a copy of the layer, as normal, and name it "Sharpened" (or play back this line of your previous Action)
c. make a Threshold adjustment layer ( (or play back this line of your previous Action)

Now we'll sharpen and adjust manually, in an attempt to keep all the good information while eliminating the bad.

Bring up the Unsharpen Mask filter, 500 percent and 1.3 px radius, and then play with the Threshold command until it's grabbing all of the obvious detail in the light fleck tone but is largely not affecting the noise.



Now I'm going to go in really close, and bring up the Levels command again. Another reduction in the Gamma (Mids) control, and a reduction in the Lights control as well, trying to knock out some more of the noise.



Now repeat those two steps again, until you've knocked out the majority of the noise.

And here's the full result, in direct comparison. The first image below is raw scan, bitmap-converted. The second is the adjusted and enhanced scan, bitmap-converted.





There are still a few weird artifacts in some of the overlapping fog areas, and there's plenty of new noise to clean up in the black areas and lettering, but it's remarkable how similar the image now is to the page of original art we have. 

Next week: The last post on negatives—I swear!

To download the negative scan we've been working from this week, click here.

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at LivingtheLine.com.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Snikt!

Snikt!
Wolverine Meets Wolveroach (198?)
Art by Dave Sim

Monday, 22 May 2017

Swords Of Cerebus Vol 5: Cerebus #19


PAUL SLADE:
Published between 1981 and 1984, Dave’s six Swords of Cerebus volumes were his first attempt to collect the book in a more permanent form. He gave each story included in these volumes a prose introduction, explaining where the book stood when he’d been working on that particular issue and how he was thinking of its prospects at the time. This is the third of his five introductions in Swords volume 5.

"I wanted to show that Lord Julius (like Elrod) always lands on his feet
and that (unlike Elrod) it is as a result of his own political timing
and manipulation of resources at hand," says Dave.

Next week: Neal Adams inspires Dave to walk the extra mile.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Diamond Preview Picks: May 2017

Travis Pelkie returns with his regular monthly selection for Cerebus fans of comics and books featured in the latest Diamond Previews catalog. Travis is co-founder of the Atomic Junk Shop, a site about comics and other fun pop culture. To see your comics featured here or at the Atomic Junk Shop feel free to send an email to Travis at: atomicjunkshoptravis [at] outlook [dot] com.


War Of The Independents #4
by Don Simpson & Others
Red Anvil Inc, $3.99
In stores: 26 July 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY171763

The publisher says:
Joined by a team of The Tick, Gumby & Pokey, Bone, Flaming Carrot, Felix the Cat, Milk & Cheese, Rat Bastard, Reid Fleming, Usagi Yojimbo, Mr. Spook, Zippy the Pinhead, Toxie, Protoplasman and Too Much Coffee Man, our hero Cerebus looks for his helmet, only to find it in the hands of Public Enemy!

Travis says:
Oh. My. Goodness.  I did not expect to ever see this series again.  A must have for Cerebus fans, as the little grey guy plays a key role in the series, as well as any fan of indie comics from the '80s, '90s, and '00s.  For some reason, I didn't get issue 2, so I have to find that, but the third issue was out about 5 or 6 years ago.  Talk about a long wait!


Groo: Play Of The Gods #1
by Sergio Aragones & Mark Evanier
Dark Horse Comics, $3.99
In stores: 12 July 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY170050

The publisher says:
Shakespeare wrote, "The play's the thing." Or was that Nathan Lane? Either way, the play matters, whether you be man or god... or even Groo. In this, the first installment in the newest Groo miniseries (which is continued from the last Groo miniseries), the stupidest hero in the comic book shop finds himself in a new village... a village where you pray to the proper god or you pray for your life. And even the other gods know that they are all players. It's from the award-winning team of Sergio Aragon├ęs and Mark Evanier, with lettering by Stan Sakai, coloring by Tom Luth, and a running commentary by the gods above.

Travis says:
One of the series in the running to match or surpass Cerebus in number of issues, Groo is also a funny barbarian parody (and the characters met on the cover of an Amazing Heroes Annual -- I think).  More Groo is always good.


Hard Boiled (HC)
by Frank Miller & Jeof Darrow
Dark Horse Comics, $19.99
In stores: 13 September 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY170012

The publisher says:
Carl Seltz is a suburban insurance investigator, a loving husband, and a devoted father. Nixon is a berserk, homicidal tax collector racking up mind-boggling body counts in a diseased urban slaughterhouse. Unit Four is the ultimate robot killing machine-and the last hope of the future's enslaved mechanical servants. And they're all the same psychotic entity.

Travis says:
One of the early things Frank Miller did after leaving the Marvel and DC treadmills.  This is a newly recolored version and people suggest to me that I should get it.


Mr X: The Modern Age
by Dean Motter
Dark Horse Comics, $29.99
In stores: 20 September 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY170040

The publisher says:
In the retrofuturistic metropolis of Radiant City, its mysterious creator, Mister X, must protect the city and its residents from the architecture of the city itself, which poses a danger to all those within it! Collecting every Mister X comic published by Dark Horse Comics, this trade includes Condemned, Excavations, and Razed, along with never-before-seen behind-the-scenes material! All of Dark Horse's Mister X material collected in an affordable paperback!

Travis says:
Originally from Canada's own Vortex Comics, Mister X was revived in recent years at Dark Horse, and this is a collection of the stuff they have published of the character.


TMNT Usagi Yojimbo
by Stan Sakai
IDW, $7.99
In stores: 12 July 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY170382

The publisher says:
The TMNT are teleported to a world of talking animals-the world of Usagi Yojimbo! When the samarai rabbit embarks on a quest to save Japan and the deadly Jei blocks his path, a Turtle team-up may be the only chance for survival!

Travis says:
Two other long running indie cartoon animals here, with Usagi Yojimbo meeting up with the more recent versions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Should be fun, and there's also a HC version with extras offered.


Mage: The Hero Denied #0
by Matt Wagner
Image Comics, $1.99
In stores: 12 July 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY170639

The publisher says:
Matt Wagner returns with the third and final volume of his epic fantasy trilogy. This long-awaited conclusion follows the adventures of the reluctant everyman hero Kevin Matchstick, who, after encountering a shaggy and beguiling wizard, discovers he is the reincarnation of the legendary Pendragon and able to wield the power of the mystical weapon, Excalibur. The story picks up several years after the fateful climax of The Hero Defined and finds Kevin beginning to once again doubt the virtue of his actions and the course of his destiny.  This introductory, half-sized issue #0 continues Mage's tradition of an "Interlude" short-adventure, bridging the gap between this series and the previous storyline.

Travis says:
Matt Wagner's roman a superhero clef is finally beginning its final phase with The Hero Denied, and The Hero Discovered reprints (I believe) the Comico series.  Presumably the middle series (Defined) will be published soon, and you can see the Dave Sim and Gerhard stand-ins then.


Street Angel Gang
by Brian Maruca & Jim Rugg
Image Comics, $19.99
In stores: 26 July 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY170648

The publisher says:
What if Kal El had been found by the Warriors instead of the Kents? The deadliest girl alive accidentally joins a super violent street gang. Are the Bleeders the family Jesse never had, or is Jesse the child they never wanted? What? Free snacks at the gang tryout party! Also, SCANDAL-one of the Bleeders is a spy!

Travis says:
I believe Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca were influenced at least a certain degree by Dave Sim (some of the lettering in the SLG run had a Cerebus feel to it, to me).  This is the second new book of the character, whose adventures are damn fine funnybooks.


Kirby 100
edited by John Morrow & Jon B. Cooke
TwoMorrows Publishing, $34.95
In stores: 16 August 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY171932

The publisher says:
The party starts here! TwoMorrows and the Jack Kirby Collector magazine celebrate Jack Kirby's 100th birthday in style with the release of KIRBY100, a full-color visual holiday for the King of comics! It features an all-star line-up of 100 comics pros who critique key images from Kirby's 50-year career, admiring his page layouts, dramatics, and storytelling skills, and lovingly reminiscing about their favorite characters and stories. Featured are Bruce Timm, Alex Ross, Walter Simonson, John Byrne, Alan Davis, Joe Sinnott, Steve Rude, Adam Hughes, Wendy Pini, John Romita Sr., Dave Gibbons, P. Craig Russell, and dozens more of the top names in comics. Their essays serve to honor Jack's place in comics history, and prove (as if there's any doubt) that Kirby is King!

Travis says:
A big book celebrating the centennial of the King.  Cool.


Bernie Wrightson:
Art & Design For Gang Of Seven Animation Studio
by Bernie Wrightson
Hermes Press, $60.00
In stores: 23 August 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY172114

The publisher says:
Bernie Wrightson, comic book artist and illustrator extraordinaire has worked creating comic books, illustration, and conceptual design for film. Wrightson's extensive design work for the Gang of Seven Animation Studio, while known, has never been documented until now with the creation of this new in-depth monograph that utilizes the archives of the studio. Marvel at concept drawings, model sheets, and hundreds of designs for projects including Biker Mice From Mars, The Juice, and Freak Show. All of the artwork in this book has been scanned directly from the original artwork so fans can savior Wrighton's genius up close and personal. Also included in this monograph is an introductory essay, an in-depth interview, and photographs taken during his tenure as an associate partner of the studio.

Travis says:
A Bernie Wrightson art book! Should be pretty to look at!


Sh*t My President Says
by Shannon Wheeler
IDW, $14.99
In stores: 16 August 2017
Diamond Order Code: MAY170525

The publisher says:
Some people are saying, I don't know, you tell me, but a lot of people are saying this is the greatest book of the year. This guy, Shannon Wheeler, he draws these cartoons for the New Yorker, MAD, the Onion-he's very, very, good, okay? Now he's illustrated the most incredible tweets. Wow! You won't believe what he does with these tweets. I mean, these tweets changed the world, folks. It's true! It's very true. EVERYONE is going to want this book - even the haters and losers (Sad!).

Travis says:
Too Much Coffee Man's Shannon Wheeler goes for low hanging fruit with this book of illustrated tweets of the US president.


More Diamond Previews picks at Atomic Junk Shop's regular Flippin' Through Previews column.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Don't Piss Off Tarim

MARGARET LISS:
A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

Time for a little something different. Loose pages. While Dave sent me many notebooks with many pages, there were a couple loose pages. Not the loose pages that were still with their notebook, these pages weren't with their notebook any more. There were eight loose pages, and seven appear to be torn from a sketchbook while the eighth appears to be a piece of typing paper.  When I scanned them in, I put them in a sleeve with an arbitrarily given number so we knew which scans went with which pages.

This loose page shows Cerebus pissing himself and the thinking to himself about how he shouldn't piss off Tarim.

Loose page #2
I looked in Minds, and the closest to the Cerebus wetting himself I could find was a young Cerebus listening to the preacher on page 103 (Cerebus # 191 page 17). However, that Cerebus isn't standing, but sitting down.  He also didn't immediately start in on the monologue shown. On page 114 Cerebus does start praying to Tarim with a similar theme, but not this dialogue.

These first seven loose pages all appear to be from Minds, with page number six being a full page sketch of a preliminary layout for page 150 of Minds (Cerebus #194, page 4):

Loose page #6
Once again, similar to the final page, but there are multiple differences.  The dialogue doesn't match up - for either Dave's character or Cirin and Cerebus and Cirin's poses are different:

Minds, page 150


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Happy 61st Birthday Dave Sim!

Spider-Man vs Dave Sim!

Cerebus In Hell? -- Batvark #1

JUN171076 E BATVARK #1 Order from your Local Comics Shop now!


Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, part 16

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 

A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Part 16
Working with "Bad" Negatives, A

Greetings!

This is the sixteenth installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.


And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!

***
In the previous installment, we wrote a Photoshop Action for adjusting and sharpening our scans of production negatives. That previous installment made the assumption that the photography on those pages was fairly uniform, and mostly of a high quality.

Well, that won't always be the case. But with careful attention at the early adjustment stages, we can wring an extraordinary amount of detail from even poorly photographed or developed negatives, representing a significant improvement over any previous printings from those photo elements.

Because these are really case-by-case kinds of problems, I'll present specific examples and elaborate on how the issues were dealt with.

Bad negatives, part one— Cerebus Issue 26

Issue 26 of Cerebus represented several changes in the book. It was Dave's first attempt at a sustained continuous story that would rise, evolve, and then resolve itself at a predetermined point. It was the first issue printed by the new printer that would end up having a sustained relationship with the book, Preney Print and Litho. And, perhaps owing to their newness on the job, it represents an early low point in the photography of the book.

These photo negatives were shot with stat cameras that were fitted with high-contrast film and shot with high-contrast filters, in order to produce an image, and eventually, a printing plate, that was binary—either an inked surface, or an uninked surface. Occasionally, though, through either a poorly adjusted contrast filter, or even a poor quality of film, the negatives either don't have the contrast required, or have that contrast point placed too dark on the spectrum of what information the camera is picking up. When this happened, incidental unerased pencil, smeared pencil schmutz, or even just staining on the art board was brought up into the visible range of the exposure, and consequently clogs the image with unintended "information."  

As you can see in the above detail, this problem also affects the China white-produced white-on-black effects, which are hit and miss anyway even in the best of circumstances. 

It's no surprise that this problem affected the majority of the issue, though which pages were most adversely effected is mostly due to the randomness of where there happened to be pencil schmutz to bring up. The below pages was particularly affected.

But in many cases like this, extreme digital adjustment allows us to separate the intended information from the unintended. 


Hit Ctrl-L to bring up the Levels command, and move the Gamma control (the Mid arrow) to the left, changing the overall exposure of the page. Unlike adjusting a normal negative, where we might bring this arrow over only far enough to get the desired exposure of the page. this time we'll move the arrow until the schmutz disappears, or almost so. Check out the example above.

Now instead of running our negative Action, we're going to do the following manually—

a. resize to the desired size (you can even play back just this line of your previous Action)
b. make a copy of the layer, as normal, and name it "Sharpened" (or play back this line of your previous Action)
c. make a Threshold adjustment layer ( (or play back this line of your previous Action)

Now we'll sharpen and adjust manually, in an attempt to keep all the good information while eliminating the bad.


Zoom in on an area where the schmutz is particularly bad, ideally also an area that has fine information of another type nearby. Now bring up the Unsharp Mask dialogue. We're going to look for the right Threshold where our sharpening will only affect the desired areas and not the schmutz, so temporarily bring up your Amount to 500 percent. (The Radius should be at or just above 1 px, as normal).

After this, bring up the Levels command again and this time move the White point to the left, knocking out the lightest end of the image. Then try sharpening again, and knocking out the white again. Depending on if there are any other oddities for the page or for your scan, or any other "weak" information you might want to selectively sharpen, this could be all you need, or you might need some spot adjustment in some areas. You can also try individually adjusting just a selection of the page in very extreme cases. In this case, that wasn't necessary!

The result, prior to cleanup—

...continued next week!

Click here to download the scan used for this week's example. Please note—this scan is not to the specifications noted in previous installments, as it was scanned prior to my coming on to the project.

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at LivingtheLine.com.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

On Sale 22 Years Ago: Cerebus #194

Cerebus #194 (May 1995)
Cover art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Issue contents included:
The Page 45 'Now or Never' Manifesto
Misunderstanding Comics essay by Dave Sim
A Cerebus Preview: Hilly Rose by B.C. Boyer
The Spirits Of Independence: Columbus Report
The 'Cerebus the Prime Minister' resin statue by Bruno Aprea
...and 20 pages of Cerebus!

Diamond Order Code: OCT140536