Sunday, 23 March 2014

Weekly Update #23: The End Of The Trade Paperbacks

Previously on 'A Moment Of Cerebus':
Dave Sim, working with George Peter Gatsis, has remastered the first two collected volumes of Cerebus to restore details and quality in the artwork lost over the thirty years since they were originally published (as detailed here and here). After Cerebus' original printer Preney Print closed its doors, Dave Sim moved his printing to Lebonfon in 2007 as at that time they were still capable of working with photographic negatives and making printing plates as Preney had done. And then Lebonfon switched to digital scanning and printing - a technology which struggles to faithfully reproduce Cerebus' tone without creating moire patterns (as detailed in Crisis On Infinite Pixels). Dave Sim continues to work with Lebonfon to ensure the print-quality of the new Cerebus and High Society editions (as detailed in Collections Stalled). Now read  on...

  1. George Gatsis and Sean Robinson to produce "mixed" signature: 16 pages bitmapped, 16 pages not bitmapped.
  2. Lebonfon to provide quote for printing single signature / minimum number of copies possible (via Canada Post regular mail: no rush).
  3. Extended process, while unavoidable, is a drain on Aardvark-Vanaheim finances and there is "red line" up ahead where I'll have to choose to print EITHER CEREBUS or HIGH SOCIETY.
  4. There may come a point where I just let the trade paperbacks go out of print until printing processes improve and, instead, just do full-sized photocopies 600 dpi of the original art in the Cerebus Archive as stop-gap "Artist's Editions".
  5. Thanks to Ted Adams for his interview at my Patreon page. I'm hoping we can make this a regular feature every time I turn in an issue of THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND.
  6. George Gatsis is finishing high resolution versions or HIGH SOCIETY AUDIO DIGITAL for IDW and will move on, as he is able to find the time, to posting all 16 trade paperbacks at
  7. I only read the comments posted to the most recent WEEKLY UPDATE, so if you have something to contribute, please add your comments to the most recent WEEKLY UPDATE even though you are commenting on content from a previous WEEKLY UPDATE.

One of the major problems is that I'm not a big fan of digital printing and this tends to run afoul of my duties as THE custodian of the Cerebus Intellectual Property (a major element of which is "best reproduction possible") since -- whatever solution is arrived at -- in the early 21st century -- is going to involve digital printing. "Best reproduction possible" in my case becomes a problem because it depends on whether you're asking my opinion as the artist of the work or as the publisher of the work. My standards as an artist are much higher than my standards as a publisher.

The latter standards involve: "is this printing good enough for the average consumer?" Particularly in an age where most people have never seen anything besides digital printing, the erosion of visual standards are pretty much a given.

The former standards involve: "if someone becomes enamoured of my 1980s drawing style and wants to refer to it while developing their own style, is this printing good enough to give them what they're looking for?"

If I was to go looking for Eddie Campbell's work as reference -- say his style at the time he was doing THE DANCE OF LIFEY DEATH (which I did do for Alec's appearance in GUYS) -- I would go to the 1990's version that wasn't printed digitally, not the one in THE YEARS HAVE PANTS which was printed digitally.

Even though, on balance, more of the artwork has been recovered in producing the Omnibus collection, if I was looking to see how Eddie did something, I would just look for the "best reproduction possible" -- a page from THE DANCE OF LIFEY DEATH that was reproduced accurately using an upright camera, photographic negatives and printing plates.

Anything digital -- particularly extremely fine lines which are a staple of Eddie Campbell's drawing style -- is going to be like looking at the work through a sheet of gauze.

I'm still giving George the benefit of the doubt that what he has accomplished is "best DIGITAL reproduction possible" on CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY with his restorations. George, as can be seen from his last comment last week that I read, is also holding to this view:

Nothing needs to be done to his digital scans in his view.

I thought we were past that point and he had agreed that Sean should do the bitmapping necessary but evidently we're not.

So, I think the logical next step -- after getting a quote from Imprimerie Lebonfon for a single signature (which I still haven't got -- but with more prep work left to do, that isn't a MAJOR problem) -- is for half of the signature to be George's original digital files and half digital files bitmapped by Sean.

If there's no major difference, then George has won his point (that the problem is and was Lebonfon's printing). If there is a major difference, Sean will have won his point (and Aardvark-Vanaheim will have to reprint all of the printing done thus far).

I suspect my reaction is going to be: it's like looking at the pages through two different kinds of gauze and "which is the lesser of two digital evils?" But, having seen THE YEARS HAVE PANTS and having compared it to the original printings of the same material, I at least have an idea of what is possible in terms of shooting my work through layers of gauze.

One major variable will be: What do George and Sean have to say about the signature? That is, with their own experience in printing, has Imprimerie Lebonfon just done a bad job? If that is the case, then we have to go to another printer (or, very possibly, printers) and get the same signature printed and then compare that signature to the one in question.

A second major variable will be: can I see which pages are George's and which pages are Sean's and do I have a preference? So, I'm suggesting that I not be notified as to who did which pages in the "mixed" signature. If I can't tell the difference then I think George will have won his point. If I can tell the difference and think that Sean's pages are better, then I think Sean will have won his point.

My best guess is that -- combined with day-to-day expenses -- this will soon drain the company bank account down to the point where I can't afford to print both books anymore with Cash on Hand and will have to choose: CEREBUS or HIGH SOCIETY.

Probably CEREBUS.

It's the comic-book field and you always want to have #1 available wherever there is a #1 involved. And then hope that enough money comes in on CEREBUS over the course of a one-to-three year period to then print HIGH SOCIETY.

(this obliquely answers one suggestion that was made which was that the first priority was to keep all 16 trades in print. No. The first priority is to recognise the Reality of the comic-book field relative to CEREBUS which is: the stores, generally, are only willing to stock the first two books, so those are the two books to which I need to devote a disproportionate amount of focus and attention even though I think they're far from my best work: as a publisher, what the market thinks is my best work is far more important than what I think is my best work)

Since HIGH SOCIETY is the book with the most problem pages, it makes sense that the "mixed" signature would be from HS even though CEREBUS will be the first book printed.

I'm also, in my view, obligated to pay Imprimerie Lebonfon for some percentage of the work they've done so far, depending on how bad it proves to be. If it's as bad as George says it is -- VERY bad -- then a smaller percentage. If it's pretty well standard for digital printing -- that is, digital printing is, by nature, VERY bad and can't be made any better -- then a higher percentage.

I certainly can't rule out going back to Imprimerie Lebonfon if we do go to another printer and get a sample signature printed and it's of the same roughly VERY bad quality: because at that point the choice is between paying for VERY bad printing that is half done and VERY bad printing starting from scratch.

My ARTISTIC inclination at this point is to do one more printing of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY to allow Diamond to "cover" their substantial inventory of the other books and then let the books go out of print until EITHER digital printing becomes less "gauze-like" OR someone revives a boutique printing industry that uses upright cameras, photographic negatives and printing plates and then go with that, raising the cover price of both books to cover what would, undoubtedly, be substantially larger printing bills.

AND... (and I think this is probably in the foreseeable future)... produce full-sized digital photocopies on glossy paper of the original artwork for CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY that exists in the Cerebus Archive and sell those as "quick and dirty" Artists Editions through Aardvark-Vanaheim. They couldn't be reproduced from themselves without a loss of quality -- they would just be photocopies -- but they would "cover" the "artistic reference" problem. If someone buys a set of the photocopies because they want to refer to my early 1980s inking style, this would allow them to do so.

My PUBLISHER inclination is to minimize the "gauze problem" to the extent possible, accept that ALL that can be done is to minimize it, and find a printer who can produce a consistent "product" which doesn't worsen the "gauze problem" generally or only on specific signatures. This is going to cost thousands of dollars and take a great deal of time.

I haven't read Ted Adams' interview over at my Patreon page but I'm looking forward to it. As part of my "open governance" model for Aardvark-Vanaheim, I asked him to fill everyone in on what he said to me on the phone and -- depending on Ted's schedule -- hope we can make this a regular event each time I finish an issue of THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND. I've been working since March 10th on the two-page splash that introduces Part Three: "In His Wake".

Many thanks to everyone who has donated a monthly amount at "for dave sim"! The last time I looked it was up to $260 which is closing in on being able to pay the Aardvark-Vanaheim electric bill - $360 a month. If you live in Ontario, you're aware that Ontario Hydro is becoming one of the most expensive power-generating jurisdictions in the world.

The last I heard from George he was closing in on the end of producing high resolution digital files for IDW of HIGH SOCIETY AUDIO DIGITAL so -- depending on when he does get them done -- IDW's AUDIO DIGITAL version in gift box with booklet -- will probably be the earliest version of HIGH SOCIETY to come back into the comics market.

I've also supplied George with a price breakdown of the "bootleg the bootleggers" versions of the 16 trades for, substantially below the cover prices of the actual trade paperbacks -- topping out at $100 or so if you buy all 16 trades. This is going to take some time and George is still hard at work on his movie, so expect that this will be "phased in" as George gets each book prepped.

Because of time constraints -- with no revenue coming in from CEREBUS as an intellectual property -- I can only justify putting in an hour or two every Friday on my "open governance" model which keeps me from going back any further than the most recent WEEKLY UPDATE to review comments and questions. So if you are "catching up" on the WEEKLY UPDATES and you want to call my attention to something, the best solution is to post your comment or question after the most recent WEEKLY UPDATE and refer to any earlier subject matter when you do so (i.e. "Back in the January 14 'Weekly Update' you said...")

As you can see it's taking way too much time and way too much space to examine all of the nuances of the restoration of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY but, hopefully, we're coming to the end of that conversation (while just at the beginning of implementation) and I'll soon be able to address more long-term concerns and policy directions for Aardvark-Vanaheim.

See you next Friday!


Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon or a one-off Paypal donation.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.


George Peter Gatsis said...

Well this is a unexpected*, expected** update...

Since Lebonfon is keeping pace with the slow response to Dave Sim and myself... The BIG question is, have they even done anything with the completed digital files I sent to them, since January of this year?

If not... if the files have just been sitting there all this time ( which I suspect this may be the case, after reading the Lebonfon letter and Dave's current report that he is still waiting... ) then it's all clear for me and I can package up the entirety of v1 and v2, pass it on to SMR... have him go through the digital files and if he has any concerns, he can do the tweeks and we can resubmit to Lebonfon...

THAT IS ONLY IF LEBONFON HAS DONE NOTHING TO THIS POINT... otherwise, we are back to waiting for their schedule... whatever that may be.



*unexpected = it has dragged out this long
*expected = it has dragged out this long

crazyyears said...

If Dave were to print and publish through Aardvark-Vanaheim ersatz "artist editions" of any Cerebus volume I would be delighted. Firstly because I am a great admirer of Dave's self publishing ethos (no disrespect to Ted Adams or IDW as they produce fine artist editions, a few of which I own, and Ted Adams in particular has my respect due to the manner in which he courted Dave as a publisher), and secondly because I would likely by two copies of each volume. One I would have professionally bound and the other I would pull pages from to hang up around the house. Six thousand pages of full size Dave Sim art? What wouldn't I pay.

Eddie said...

Is there any way the files could be sent to Sean before getting a response back from Lebonfon? That is, is there something else that needs to be done to them on Lebonfon's end that would warrant holding off on sending them to Sean before he could try his methods (e.g. the bitmap conversion)? Or are we waiting on them just in case they've printed a set of proofs? It might make sense to forward them regardless, just in case the need arises to try and get proofs done through another printer and then they would be ready to go without having to wait for a response from Lebonfon. Also since the likelihood is Lebonfon hasn't done anything with the files, and you never know what may happen in the future (e.g. Sean wins the lottery and decides to buy his own island retire there).

Anonymous said...

"The End Of The Trade Paperbacks" seems quite apocalyptic! Cerebus falling out of print was inevitable, but I didn't expect it to be so soon. It's a shame that the reasons are on the supply side rather than the demand side. The latter would be fair enough, but the former is regrettable: readers who might want to discover Cerebus won't be able to.

I fear we are in the mid-times of digital media. Someday, the resolution of digital printers and video will simply exceed what our eye can discern, and then the "grid of square blocks" problem won't matter. But that day isn't here yet. Maybe the combination of digital editions on the low end and high-res, full-size photocopies of the originals on the high end is the best way to go in the meanwhile.

If Dave has "no revenue coming in from Cerebus as an intellectual property", can he make ends meet with revenues from other sources? As long as that is the case, and he can continue to work on Strange Death, then things continue moving forward.

And Dave's monthly electricity bill is $360? That's twice the provincial average! For a single man living alone? What's he doing, running all the lights, the stove, and the photocopier 29 hours a day?

-- Damian T. Lloyd, tpb

Anonymous said...

Was it only last year or so that Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics was trying to get Dave to let Fantagraphics reprint the books?