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

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