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

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