Following up on this post which goes into detail about comic art negatives. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THAT, you may be lost if you read the rest of this.

I wrote in that post about how Allan and I are not entirely certain our printer shot the first edition of the A Distant Soil graphic novel from negatives. You get a very different result shooting a page of original comic art with tone sheets using negatives than you do improperly using a scanner.

This is a scan of a page from A Distant Soil #3 printed in 1992 from negatives. I know it was printed from a negative because digital scanning wasn’t an issue then and I handled the negatives myself. Take special note of the grey tones in the sky. While this is a fairly low res scan from the comic, you can see how even the tone is. The printed page is lighter than this scan appears on your computer.

Now take a look at this scan. This is from the first edition of the graphic novel. Note the darker tone, even though it is the exact same art as before. I have made no changes to this art from the first printing of the comic, except to add stars. This page has been scanned here for the website at the same resolution as the last page. The white areas appear lighter because the paper in the comic has yellowed significantly, and the paper in the graphic novel is very clean.


Look at those blotchy areas in the sky. You would not be able to see those if the art was shot from a negative. Allan succinctly explains in the previous post that negatives aren’t a true picture of your art, and here’s proof.

I made inking errors and fixed them with white out. Then I finished my art by putting my tone sheet on top of the area. If this art had been shot from a negative, you should not have been able to see those blotches. Flaws in the art, including pencil lines and editor notes written in non-photo blue pencil should disappear when the art is photographed. As Allan said to me yesterday, negatives are very forgiving.

However, the digital scanner sees every flaw and magnifies it. From the look of this reproduction, it appears that our printer scanned the art as a bitmap file in an effort to avoid creating moire patters.

A tone sheet is a clear plastic sheet printed with little dots in an even pattern that, when reduced for print, create the illusion of a clean grey area. When you scan the original art in greyscale, you put another pattern on top of that sheet creating an odd plaid effect.

If you scan the art as a bitmap, a pure black and while file with no greys, the moire pattern will disappear, but your art will look like this final image. The lines will be heavier and darker, artifacts under your tones will appear as blotches and blobs, and every tiny flaw you never knew was there will be magnified. Look closely at the first scan. In the sky in the left of the piece, there is an almost invisible scratch on the tone. Yet on the second scan, that scratch is glaringly obvious.

If you scan the art as a high resolution greyscale file, most moire tones will disappear entirely, but you will probably still get some minor moire patterns. A skilled technician can eliminate or minimize most of them, and in our case, scanning at 1200 dpi (not possible 20 years ago) solved our problems. In cases where our tones were significantly damaged, Allan Harvey either carefully selected the areas and replaced the tones digitally, or I found a copy of the art – usually a photostat – without a tone, and Allan was able to use that for the final work. In one case, removing the tones from a single page of art took ten hours.

The first edition of the A Distant Soil graphic novel was published almost 20 years ago, and I have learned a lot about the technical aspects of printing since then. Our printer assured me that the book was shot from negatives, and this was the best result they could get. I assumed they were telling the truth. With what I know now, I am pretty sure we were paying the higher cost for negatives on much of the project while getting poor quality digital scanning. Some volumes of my original graphic novels were printed from a hodgepodge of sources: both negatives and digital scans. It explains a lot about the odd variance in quality of the look of the books.

The first edition of the graphic novel has heavier lines and darker tones than the new edition because of the production process, not because it more closely resembles my original art.

As I mentioned before, you can also get wildly different results from negatives. I paid thousands of dollars to a professional photographer to archive my paintings. Yet now that I have the technical skill to properly examine and digitize those negatives, I realize I wasted my money. Most of them are so fuzzy, so off-color, they are unusable. I recall an edition of an art book by Jeffrey Jones had the same issues: poor quality negatives, and no other archives from which to reproduce the works.

It was technically impossible for me to do this work over a decade ago because computers simply could not scan at the high resolutions we use now. 300-400 dpi was standard, but we now scan interiors at 1200 and color art at 600. Scanning art on my old computer at 600 dpi crashed the system every time, which was one of the reasons I hired out for my archiving. Until 2008, I did not have a computer that could handle the job. In 1998, this magical MAC computer did not exist.

An artist who is unable to archive their own work is at the mercy of whomever they hire. Until I hired Allan, I spent well over a decade pouring my money down a hole and getting very poor results. Almost all of my archives prior to 2010 are useless. Entire stories, such as the short Super Idol, which I did with Warren Ellis, are lost.

Now that I have a tech specialist who has expertise in this area doing my production, we are able to make the books look better than they ever did, but I know many artists are in the same position as I am, and a few publishers, too.

Thanks for reading.

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A Distant Soil Volume iI

A Distant Soil Volume I