Saturday, February 15, 2014

Three covers for the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52

In issue #52 of the Fantastic Four "world's greatest comic magazine" Jack Kirby and Stan Lee introduce the Black Panther, the first black superhero. This is the famous cover

The cover Kirby prepared initially was rejected. The unused cover has been published, much later, by marvel Comics in the Masterworks series (I believe. I found it on the web)

Note that, unlike the final cover, the mask on the black panther does not cover the whole face.
What it is not widely known is the fact that Jack Kirby prepared a second cover, that was sent unretouched, as many others, to the Italian publisher Editoriale Corno in the '70s.

The above is the cover of  I Fantastici Quattro #48. Does it look familiar? Of course it does! It is "almost" the cover published in the US. Almost. Look at the Panther: the Italian publisher decided to color the face in black but the Panther clearly wears the same mask as Kirby's unused cover. And his short mantle is the same too. But wait, it seems the whole figure is taken directly from the first unused cover, flipped and rotated!

To prove it I selected the Panther from the first cover and superimposed, colored in green, to the Italian cover, to prove my point: they are identical.

So, after Kirby prepared this second cover, someone at Marvel decided to cover the face of the Panther. Or maybe Kirby simply forgot that inside the book the Panther's face was completely covered and when he realized that, he changed the cover at the very last minute. Here they are side by side

So, after all, a portion of the first cover prepared by Kirby ended up in the final published version, the third version! :)

Dario Bressanini

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Marvel Masterworks: reprint or recreations?

If you love old comics but you are not rich enough to own all the original collections, you are surely familiar with the various reprint series from Marvel and DC. They range from the black and white on cheap paper (Marvel Essentials and DC Showcase Presents) to the shiny colors on high quality paper (Marvel Masterworks and DC Archives). New volumes, like the various Omnibus, are appearing every month.

These volumes are great if you want to read all the stories of a particular character or group. I own some of them. If you are a collector you should be aware that, almost always, the stories have been recolored, and are different from the originals.

However, if you are a collector, you should also be aware that sometimes also the drawings are not originals. Yes. That's right. When Marvel decided to reprint all the classic stories for the Essentials and the Masterworks series they realized that some original art was missing. Maybe lost, sold, destroyed, go figure. Instead of reconstructing the originals starting from a scanned comic book Marvel decided to have the missing pages redrawn hiring an artist with the aim to "recreate" the originals as close as possible. Like this one
What is disturbing, if you are a collector, is that Marvel usually is not disclosing which particular pages have been redrawn. They only acknowledge that some redrawing has been done, for example, in the Amazing Spider-man Omnibus, but they do not tell you exactly where. Just imagine going to a museum with a sign "a few of our paintings are copies, but we are not telling you which one". Would you be happy?

When this fact was discovered it stirred a lot of angry discussions, from both sides of the arena.
It is now public knowledge, for example, that all the recent reprints (Omnibus, Masterworks, Essentials) of the entire Amazing Spider-man #29 story do not reprint Ditko's original art, lost forever, but the recreation of Michael Kelleher instead. Recreations, I must say, almost perfect and superbly done. But recreations alas, and when I but a reprint I would like to know which page is an exact reproduction of the original and which one has been redrawn.

Daniel Best lists some other pages that are known to have been redrawn, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. The above title/splash page from Amazing Spider-man annual #1 is a reconstruction, by Michael Kelleher as you can learn from his webpage. Are there any others? Yes. Michael Kelleher acknowledges that in the Spider-man Omnibus there are 32 recreated pages. Twenty pages are from ASM #29 and one is the title/splash from the Annual #1. What are the other eleven? We do not know.

Last week, while I was digitally cleaning the splash page (original), with Kraven the hunter, taken from ASM Annual #1, I was wondering if the one in the reprint titles has been recreated or it were the original.

My friend Maurizio Tommasini scanned for me the page from his copy of Essential Spider-man #1 and I compare it with the Italian vintage 1970 print from the original films

They look identical (the Essential is on the left). But even the above title/splash page looks exactly like the original if you compare it by eye. We need a more convincing proof so I colored the Essential in Red and the vintage in Cyan and superimposed them using Photoshop on two different layers (blending mode: multiply), trying to maximize the overlap using the command Edit>Auto-Align Layers... . When they overlap the result is black. Is you see color it means that that particular detail is present only in one of the two drawings.

Of course I cannot expect the overlap to be perfect: the paper can deform with the years, and the ink can spread differently. Some misalignment during the printing has to be expected too. However there are some (minor) details that trouble me. Take a look at this arm: again in cyan is the drawing from the Italian 1970 printing (I checked that it is the same as in Annual #1 and Annual #6, the first Marvel reprint of this story) while the red is taken from the Masterwork. When the two drawings overlap you see black. Where they do not overlap you see the color.

Apart from the big red spot present only in the recent reprints, you can clearly see that the details of the costumes do not overlap, and they are drawn differently.

Here is another detail from the tiger: one line (in cyan) is completely missing from the Essential, and a different thick one appears (in red) badly retracing, but not completely, a thin line of the 1970 issue.

In general it seems that large details, inked with a brush, are almost always super imposable but small thin curves are often quite different.

Like here below, around and above Kraven's head

Or here on Spider-man's shoulder

or the paw

So is this a restoration of the original Ditko's art? Or it is a recreation drawn from scratch?
What do you think?

Dario Bressanini

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ditko's Spider-man from Annual #1

Here is a splash page drawn by Steve Ditko for Amazing Spider-man annual #1 taken from the Italian magazine L'Uomo Ragno #14. Spider-man vs. Kraven. As I already told you, the first Italian issues of Marvel Comics were partially in black and white and it is always a pleasure to take a look at these panels.

I cleaned the art with the method I showed you last time.

Dario Bressanini

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Digitizing black and white comic book art

Restoring black and white comic book art is somewhat easier than to work on a color book.

1) Digitize the page. Usually scanners have the possibility to acquire the page in different modes: full color, grayscale (usually 256 tones, from white to black) or black and white only (sometimes called “lineart” or “fax” or something similar). Avoid this last mode since all the pixels are either black or white with no grays.
I prefer to scan in color mode even black and white comics and convert to grayscale later. Why? Sometimes old comics have dirty spots: ageing, mold, pizza ;) and if the spots are colored it is easy to eliminate them playing with the various color channels.

Anyway, acquire the page with your scanner. Rotate it if that’s the case, erase that old red pizza stain and convert it to grayscale (only if the paper is not too yellowed, otherwise we need a special treatment that we will show another time)

Image > Mode > Greyscale

(I bet you recognize the artist here ;) )

Do you see the texture of the paper? I prefer to eliminate most grain of the paper before touching the luminosity levels, to avoid altering minor details of the art. How much texture to leave is more a matter of “philosophy or restoration” than a technical matter. In the West, in this historic moment, artistic restoration tends to leave unaltered the original material: this is the reason why, in architectural restoration, or in restored paintings, or in restored statues, you see “patches” that are easily distinguishable from the original material.

Following this philosophy I should not eliminate the texture of the paper since here is how the printed comic book is.

I am guilty to adhere to the contrarian minority philosophy, more similar to the one followed in the East. In China whey they restore a temple they try to rebuild the “essence” of it, the “shape”, as if it were independent from the actual material that was used in the building. For this reason often they have little objections to use new bricks to substitute the old ones, since they care about the “ideal” temple, its shape and essence. They imagine an imaginary and perfect temple without distinguishing between old and new material. Following this approach I would surely rebuild the Coliseum ;)

Now, in my ideal world a comic book artist imagines a perfect paper, with a perfect white (I know, this is not always true) and pure colors. Paper texture and defects ad only accidents that the artist must learn to live with. However technology now allows us to obtain, digitally, what an artist could only dream a few years ago: pure form, ideal shape, perfect colors So I don’t care about leaving traces of the paper texture. This texture:

It’s a matter of philosophy, I know, and I am not interested in convincing you that this is the right one. But hey, it’s MY philosophy. For this exact reason I cannot stand classical music played on the so called “original instruments”. Bach, when he composed “The Art of Fugue”, had pure music in his head, without being constrained by the musical instruments (and bad musicians) of its time. Instruments that sounded much worse than the modern ones we have now. There are pieces of BWV 1080 (Die Kunst der Fuge) that cannot be played by any single instrument, unless of course you have more than 10 fingers. This means that Bach, when he was composing, did not want to be bothered by such minor details as the number of our fingers ;) And anyway, the “original instruments” that we play now obviously do not play as they did back in ‘700, since the wood has aged considerably since then.

By I digress, and we were talking about comic books ;)

I eliminate most of the paper texture with a marvelous Photoshop filter: Surface Blur: Filter > Blur > Surface Blur

In this case with Radius=30 and Threshold=20. See by yourself, with your page and with your resolution, what is a good tradeoff between the reduction of noise and the loss of small but important details of the ink.

Here I did not eliminate the noise completely. I will do it, maybe, at the end.

3) luminosity

Now the familiar step: for the web the black should be true black (0) and the white true white (255). Use the familiar Levels command (CTRL-L or Image > Adjustments > Levels… )

Move the black and white sliders just where the two peaks are starting to grow.

If there is still some undesired paper texture, or noise, you can erase it manually with the brush, or apply Surface Blur again, but beware not to erase delicate thin lines in the drawing.

For black and white figures I save in .tif format which is compressed but still lossless

Before and After

Dario Bressanini

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reconstruction of a double splash page (4) - Captain America #105

If you remember my little reconstruction project we left our double splash page from Captain America #105 at this stage
This time I will take care of the two panels that, as you can see, are not perfectly aligned. If you remember at the beginning of this project I cut the inner borders of the two panels, and saved in separate layers. Now, for this intermediate project, I like to make those layers visible again. I think it is great to see Captain America jumping out of the panel. It could be a poster by itself. We only need to align the left and right panels.
We can stretch a little the two panels to adjust them to the right place.
Let's use the marquee tool to select the top left panel just above Cap's leg.

Now drag the top side to align it with the top right panel

Do the same with the bottom right panel, and voilĂ  :)

Isn't it great?

Dario Bressanini