Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Coloring of the Prince Valiant Series Published By Fantagraphics

Fantagraphics blew their own horn in 2011 (or... Kim Thompson did; I miss you terribly, Kim!) praising their new Prince Valiant reprint collection. Kim gave a "special tip of the sword" back then to Paul Baresh who retouched/corrected the old color proofs donated by Foster to Syracuse University and used (Fanta deserves all the credit for it) for the first time in this reprint collection. Unfortunately, I can't say that I agree with Kim (we rarely agreed on anything, by the way, but I respected his intelligence and everything that he did for comics)...

I don't want to put Manuel Caldas' (in Spanish) shoes on, of course! He's, after all, the foremost authority in all Valiant and Foster related things (him and Brian M. Kane, I guess). If you don't read Spanish, I'll just sum up his opinion saying that Manuel thought that Fantagraphics used the best possible material to do a definitive Prince Valiant edition, but didn't. Among other things he mentioned the small size of the books and how poorly the material was scanned (by Syracuse U., it seems, not by Fanta) blurring the art. In his own Cerebus TV, Dave Sim says more or less the same thing while comparing the reprinted pages with old newspaper pages. 

That's what I'll do below too adding what, to me, is the biggest problem in these reprints: color saturation.  

Hal Foster (et al), "Prince Valiant" Sunday page # 726, January 7, 1951 (l); the same panel as published in Prince Valiant # 8, Fantagraphics, January 2014 (r).

As you can see above the colors are a lot less saturated on the newspaper page. The result is a lot lighter; so, the drawing isn't blurred and overwhelmed by the coloring. (The out of register red on the character's lips is another story.) 

Hal Foster (et al), "Prince Valiant" Sunday page # 504, October 6, 1946 (l); the same panel as published in Prince Valiant # 5, Fantagraphics, April 2012 (r).

In the example above we can see how Prince Valiant's cape became a formless blot. Notice also how some lines blurred and bleed until becoming (or almost becoming) black surfaces (the stick on the left, the shadows on the snow).

Hal Foster (et al), "Prince Valiant" Sunday page # 1016, July 29, 1956 (l); the same panel as published in Prince Valiant # 10, Fantagraphics, January 2015 (r).

The example above is the more telling of the three, methinks. The Fanta panel is so heavy that the drawing details disappear almost completely under the saturated color.

Hal Foster (et al), "Prince Valiant" Sunday page # 470, February 2, 1946 as published in Prince Valiant # 5, Fantagraphics, April 2012 (l) and Tarzan # 6, NBM, 1994 (r).

I'm comparing above the Fanta edition with a page published in one of the Tarzan volumes published by NBM. Do I need to say more?

All in all, it's a shame that Kim Thompson didn't accept Manuel Caldas' offer to work in this collection. With a little increase in size it would definitely be the definitive Prince Valiant reprint. No doubt about it.


amwul said...

Do you know the outstanding edition by the German publisher Bocola?

Isabelinho said...

Hi amwul: I don't own any Prince Valiant Bocola reprints, but judging from these samples, it looks like the real deal.

Isabelinho said...

On the other hand it seems that I stumbled upon a particularly good sample. Other examples on the same site are not that good.

Nona Arte's edition seems great:

Zoran Djukanovic said...

The Prince Valiant Bocola digital processing & remastering is the best color version. The Dutch publisher Silvester is using Bocola's restoration.

Manuel Caldas' digital restoration is the best black & white version of Prince Valiant.

amwul said...

Nona Arte, Silvester, Soleil, and Planeta use the Bocola pages.

Isabelinho said...

Hi Zoran!

Those on Facebook are really great, but what about these? The black isn't really black or are these poor scans of the Bocola pages?

Zoran Djukanovic said...

Hi Isabelinho,

These are simply poor scans of the Bocola masterfully restored pages. I have checked the first 24 restored years in the Silvester edition. They are of the same excellent quality.

Bocola uses the complete digitally restored Warren Tufts' "Lance" by Manuel Caldas. I connected Caldas with Serbian publisher Makondo. Makodo is going to publish complete "Lance"" in four volumes, starting with end of May this year. I am writing introductions for all four volumes, plus making interview with Caldas on digital restoration of comic classics.

Isabelinho said...

That's great news, Zoran! Manuel is, hands down, the best comics restorer in the world. As I said above: it was a shame that Kim Thompson didn't recognize this in spite of all the evidence. What Manuel could have done with the Syracuse U. material boggles the mind!

hey hey big daddio said...

The original color looks terrible in comparison. Way too blue, too light, and washed out. The new colors may not be authentic, but they add a weight , solidity and naturalness that the originals lack. Reads much better from a distance, though I can't comment on your point about line work clarity without better images to compare

Isabelinho said...

Oh, but the new colors are as authentic as they could possibly be. If I remember correctly Kim Thompson asked readers if the new Famta edition should use the original proofs kept at Syracuse University. I, for one, said "yes, of course," of course.

As for your comment (thanks for writing it) I agree with the "washed out" part, but the "line work" part doesn't make much sense (sorry for saying so!). It's obvious that a drawing with too saturated colors on top of it loses the line work readability (so to speak). That's why I think that the NBM image is perfect: the colors are not too washed out (to the point of non exintence in some places), but they're not too saturated either.