Friday, April 28, 2017

Back to Business As Usual

I've been discussing my restoration of the color pages of the Sgt. Kirk series with pro restorer Manuel Caldas. It's an old discussion in which he defends thick black repro for drawings and I don't because I think the lines should be affected by the colors. If yellow ink falls over a black surface it will turn olive green, methinks, so, it's no longer just black. Also, in some instances, the thick blacks may detract from a shadow or other effect (as we can see below and was shown also here). As Manuel put it, black was printed first so the yellow fell over it. On top of that there may be some lack of black ink in this particular newspaper page. Anyway, it looks more convincing to me as it is than if the black was really a thick black.

Frank King and anonymous colorists, Gasoline Alley, August 29, 1926.

The real problem, if there is one, is that until now no one thought about comics restoration theory. As many things in comics, this is a field almost untouched by scholars. The first point that should worry us, as it worries any restorers in other visual art fields, is authenticity. I thought about it, with Nelson Goodman's huge help, here. Contrarily to what you may read in the aforementioned post it's precisely the color (when it is not what the French call "couleur directe" [direct color]) that I don't think is autographic. Kim Thompson made me see my mistake. The colorist's work is autographic, but the color guides are not. Colorists and separators are not the same people, that's why there are notations for colors in color guides and that's why coloring in comics is not an autographic process, but a allographic one. This doesn't mean that the latter isn't obliged to follow the former's indications of course, but since the process is two stage with notations linking them it is, by definition, definitely allographic.

This answers one of my questions: does the printing technique matter? Being the coloring process allographic, after all, the answer is no, of course not.

That said, who's right?, yours truly or Manuel Caldas? We both are because, being an allographic process, it all bogs down to personal taste. The truth is that I'm a Ben Day dots fetishist and I love old newspaper comics coloring (but so does Manuel), out of register colors and all... In the case that the restorer is also a colorist s/he must follow the original color guides. If the restorer is just that, a restorer, s/he must leave the colors alone cleaning ink blots and erasing the effects caused by the passing of time (mainly by the tanning and foxing of the pulp paper). Scanners may help in recovering the vividness of the original coloring.

A few days ago I decided to make an experiment. I decided to randomly choose a Sgt. Kirk page and do what Manuel wanted me to do. I also increased the color saturation as Diego told me to. You can see the result below. I hope that you like it. I have to confess that, contrarily to my beliefs I like it a lot, but the process is so laborious that I doubt I'll do another one.

Héctor Germán Oesterheld (w), Hugo Pratt (a), Stefan Strocen (c), "Cerco de muerte," Misterix # 316, October 10, 1954.

PS Look at the rich textures of those surfaces and the smooth transitions and tell me if I'm not right in being a dots fetishist! Imagine it all flat and dull. It would definitely ruin everything.


Diego Cordoba said...

Normally this is the way the original color proofs would look like (I'm referring to the Sgt. Kirk restoration you did). The problem is that printing back in the day suffered from many problems, the main being the support used: newsprint pulp paper. This sort of paper absorbs and repels certain colors: yellows are the first to go with the years due to the "tanning" of the paper as it ages. Also, the printing was done by "hammering" metal plates against the paper, one color at a time, and after a certain amount of passes (sometimes up to 12 depending on the percentages of colors), the paper would slide slightly creating those out of register colors. But that aside, the color proofs looked beautiful because they were done on photographic paper, and the blacks came out dark and the colors bright, as in your sample. So normally, this should be the correct way of printing. It can be done nowadays, but not back then, though chromolitography from the 19th century was even better than the four-color printing of the 20th.

That said, “couleur directe" is an old method: it was used in the Dan Dare strips in the 1950s, and many other British comics before it became the norm nowadays in France and Belgium.

BTW, I'd love seeing somehow a completely restored Sgt. Kirk as you're doing it.

Isabelinho said...

I would too, Diego, I would too! But, as I said from the beginning: I'm just an amateur enjoying himself. I'm incredibly slow because I'm doing this on my spare time, as a hobby.

Isn't someone in Argentina rich enough to pay pros to do this job, like Martin Scorsese does for films, restorations that cost millions? Isn't the Argentinian state interested in saving this heritage? I guess, not.

The worst problem in the old Misterix pages is black ink staining everything: colored surfaces in the color pages and the paper around the drawings in the b&w ones. The drawings also lack definition. If we compare the Italian and the Argentinian edition of Sgt. Kirk everything is crisp in the former and everything is blurred in the latter. I'll do a post showing these two problems. Oh, and there's also the problem of the formless letters. If we enlarge the lettering, the result is frightening.