Friday, January 3, 2014

The dawn of comics digital restoration

In 1989 DC Comics published Superman archives, Vol 1, soon followed in 1990 by Batman archives Vol. 1. The original films used to print the comics were lost forever so DC, to reprint all the classic stories, had to work on the printed, often damaged, copies of the (precious) books.

The first thing you need to produce a restored reprint is the black and white line art drawn and inked by the artist. (sometimes the inker is a different artist).

Since the original art was not available anymore DC comics had to chemically remove the colors from the printed pages in a process called bleaching. This of course destroys the precious books.

Enters Rick Keene, a guy with his Atari ST computer. Great machine! I still have mine! After reading an article about the upcoming DC Comics archives reprint series:

"For the next year I worked with the Atari, trying to figure out how to restore the comics digitally. From the '30s to the '90s, comics were first laid out in pencil, then inked, colored, shot to film, and printed on pulp paper -- usually out-of-register and blotted. I had to reverse that and get the comics to look like the original inked drawings, not the original comic printing. Color had to be removed and the black lines had to be restored so they looked like they were laid down with a brush or pen. [...]
For a year, I'd work on a "Batman" panel and then send it to DC with a letter explaining that using my method, pages could be stored on disks and would never disintegrate like the film from the early days. I wasn't getting an answer, so I started sending samples of whole pages. I figured viewing a whole page at actual size might encourage a response."
He finally got a phone call from DC Comics. They wanted him to work on the upcoming The Dark Knight archives Vol. 1. Since then Rick restored thousands of pages of DC and Disney comics.
Rick Keene at work on Starman (1940s) Source: The Boston Globe

Below an example of Rick's work (from his website)

Original page Recovered black lineart Recolored version

The era of digital restoration of comic books was started
Dario Bressanini

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