Tone sheets and the challenge of restoring those black and white comics. A MOMENT OF CEREBUS and dispatches from A DISTANT SOIL
One of my kind readers, Traci, directed me to this interesting post.
At the MOMENT OF CEREBUS blog, Dave Sim goes over the printing challenges on Cerebus High Society, which mirror many of the challenges we faced with restoring A Distant Soil for the new edition.
The biggest problem is the tone on Cerebus. Literally there are dozens of mistakes and maybe three of them AREN’T the tone on Cerebus. I have to ride herd on the printers more than I’ve been doing. I accept that you can’t hit 30% exactly every time out, but I really need for them to find a lower range: between say 27% and 32%. There are just too many Cerebuses between 35 and 40%. The other problem is scanning from the original artwork where the adhesive UNDER the tone has gone bad over the years, peeling up, bubbling or discolouring. That’s the thing that didn’t show up in the proof stage but did on a number of pages in the printed stage.
As you can see at this article on the Publishers Weekly website, my restoration guru Allan Harvey did a stupendous job making the A Distant Soil art shine. This took a helluva lot of work, but we also had access to well over half the original art, thanks in part to generous readers who loaned us some of their collections. Any art we did not have access to was completely stripped and re-toned digitally, which meant going into every single panel, cleaning out the hand-applied tone, and replacing it by computer. It was the only way to get clean reproduction. Scanning from the books was a disaster without this restoration. More info about our restoration HERE.
Sim faced the same problems obviously, but since many of my tones were imported from Japan and were acid free, we had fewer problems with tone sheet deterioration.
I’m sort of appalled at how badly many classic BW comics are reproduced, particularly those which use original hand applied tones. Much of the manga I’ve seen looks pretty awful, especially some of the classic manga I bought more than five years ago. Many publishers just didn’t have access to good scans of higher then 400 dpi. You really need 1200 dpi for this sort of work. In the 1990’s, my printer could not do more than 400, and we opted for photo-reproduction instead. This was the better option for BW printing at the time, but both Sim and I, and a number of other creators, later found ourselves without those negatives. Which was bummerific. This cost me about $20,000 in production work. The restoration, alas, will cost significantly more than that. I hope you’ll take a look at my Book Store, or try ordering from your local comic shop or online retailer.
Tone sheets are a unique holdover from the photographic printing process. Art looks better shot from a negative. It’s very tricky to get the pages to look good scanned on computer. But thanks to Allan, the book looks better than it ever could have before. The technology simply wasn’t up to the task 17 years ago.
Where flaws showed up in my original tones, I went in and cleaned the pages digitally (or Allan did,) and then I, pixel by pixel, picked out the flaws. This was not funny.
Anyway, as you can see, getting good quality books to you isn’t just a matter of scanning something and throwing it online, like your random digital pirate. It takes hundreds and hundreds of hours of meticulous labor. The restoration on Volume I of A Distant Soil took four people over 500 hours of work, and that’s just since November.
It’ll be out next month! Watch for it!