Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Coloring of the Prince Valiant Series Published By Fantagraphics - A Coda of Sorts

Frank King and Chris Ware (c and d), Sundays With Walt and Skeezix ["Gasoline Alley"], Sunday Press, 2007 [1921 - 1934].

After my last post I thought a lot about newspaper comics reprint coloring. According to my (Nelson Goodman's) theory, recoloring is out of the question, but being "amenable to notation" (it was Kim Thompson who called my attention to the fact that color guides are indeed notations) colors may be remade from scratch if the guide is respected. On the other hand colors may be autographic if color proofs are used (as in Fantagraphics' Prince Valiant edition) or fac-similes of printed pages are made.

Anyway, I think that, thankfully, the days of recoloring (usually with appalling results) are over and most reprint collections today respect the original color. 

Are they all equally successful, though? That's another problem entirely...

The most (only?) important text about these matters was written by Zavier Cabarga in his intro to Gasoline Alley The Complete Sundays, volume 1 (Dark Horse, 2014). Here are three quotes with some comments by yours truly:
Typically in old newspaper comics the color registration [...] was pitiful and the ink saturation weak.
I remember a time when I liked the out of register colors. This may be linked to the modernist idea that artists should show their process, but it's more likely that I wanted to see fallible human hands behind the machinery. I like imperfections. I may admire the craft involved in folk art, but it's the naivete that I find appealing. Anyway, all this has nothing to do with coloring... As for the weak saturation, I rather prefer it because it respects the drawings. Highly saturated or highly shaded colors provoke a muddiness and a visual heaviness that I find unappealing as we have seen in my last post. Thankfully I don't need to deal in this post with that scourge of recoloring: computer generated gradients!...
[In color proofs] the hues are usually very dark.
Hear! Hear! I absolutely agree (again, as we have seen in my last post). Below we can see Zavier Cabarga's laborious process (that's what Paul Baresh should have done, but didn't!).

Frank King as restored by Zavier Cabarga, header for the July 10, 1921 Sunday page. Gasoline Alley, The Complete Sundays, 1920 - 1922 volume 1, Dark Horse, March 2014. 
CMYK process inks are crass and unappealing. In old comics, the colors were richer, more somber, more elegant, such as Prussian blue or deep turquoise, vermilion orange-red or burnt sienna [sic], and golden yellow or ochre. In my restorations I have tried to retain these wonderful old-time colors.
Indeed! In the Dark Horse Gasoline Alley edition yellow may be wheat and red may be amaranth or crimson, for instance, which is great, but there are three minor problems in my humble opinion: 1) the paper is glossy which is a no no in my book (fortunately it's not bright white, but magnolia); 2) in spite of what Zavier Cabarga says above some hues are still too dark (this may be the printer's fault though); 3) the drawing is always reproduced in a thick black which, paradoxically, may be distracting if there's a certain amount of it as in Walt's pants (see below).

Frank King, October 9, 1921 Sunday page (Dark Horse). Sunday Press' edition avoids the problem because Walt's pants are light onyx instead of a very dark pastel green.

Sunday Press. My scanner darkened the original black. Notice the light yellow in the tree canopy. As I found out during my research old newspaper colorists preferred it to other, more aggressive, yellow variations.

Frank King, August 29, 1926 Sunday page, Sunday Press.

The gray above is a shadow. Being a thick black it would simply be a blot.

Don't get me wrong though, as I said, this is me clearly nitpicking. 

My favorite Gasoline Alley reprint is Peter Maresca's Sunday Press wonderful (wonderfully standard sized - Dark Horse's, by the way, is tabloid) Sundays With Walt and Skeezix (see above). It's a fac-simile project reproducing the original newspaper pages in their glorious colors (huge dots and all). It's very similar to an old Drawn & Quarterly reprint (see below). The matte paper color of the Sunday Press edition is absolutely perfect (not so their Little Nemo's which is a bit too deep).

Frank King, November 28, 1926 Sunday page, Drawn & Quarterly volume 3, May 2000.

Sunday Press.

The whole page in Drawn & Quarterly volume 3. It was published four times smaller than the newspaper standard size.

Drawn & Quarterly's also has the same problems (to me), with glossy paper and thick black, as the Dark Horse edition, but it's a pioneering effort with wonderful results. Being smaller though, Walt's trousers don't jump at us (so to speak) as much...

Chris Ware's pastiche colors in the cover of the Sunday Press book above are great (I don't like the electric yellow though), but lack the dots diminishing the contrast between the 25%, 50%, 100% areas and turning everything a lot more impersonal and dull (as he usually does). On the other hand the fac-simile colors and drawing lines aren't as sharp sometimes, but.nothing's perfect...

Note: many thanks to Manuel Caldas for our conversation about comics coloring during last week!

1 comment:

Diego Cordoba said...

There's something you're not taking into consideration, and that is that colors (ink) on newsprint paper fade with the passing years. You can see this even to this day. If you store a newspaper for a year, and look at it later, the colors have begun to fade and what once was bright and crisp, now is dull and faded. And the first color to disappear is the yellow (sometimes disappearing all together if it's a light yellow).

That's why attempting to restore these old strips by keeping those pastel, faded colors is also the wrong idea, and why the color proofs, if they survived, look so bright and darker.

Though since then (at around the 60s) they've added some blue to the red ink, and red to the blue ink, which is why the reds back then looked much lighter (apparently sponsors insisted on a darker red to announce their products, which explains why they are much darker now).

That said, I'd rather they reprint these strips in book form at larger sizes, than the standard book size most of them are reprinted today.

Interesting topic, though.