On The Hunt-- The Negative Side Of Negatives

Sean Michael Robinson:
Before we get to the meat-- we are still actively seeking any and all scans of Cerebus original artwork, from any era of the book. If you have access to any Cerebus original artwork, or know someone who does, please contact us at the above address. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a better idea of why we're looking for as much artwork as we can find, attempting to put this vase back together...
Yesterday morning I spent a bit of time on something I thought you all might be interested in seeing. At long last, the Church & State I solicitation will be in Previews, scheduled for the August 2015 catalog, available at your local stores October 2015-

There's a lot to talk about regarding the actual volume--mainly a discussion of the improving printing methods and paper and how much difference that will make in the quality of the finished book-- but that can wait for another post. We do, after all, have several months between now and then. 
So for today I wanted to concentrate on the images in the ad.
First off-- man o man, is that a great panel or what?

This is a great example of Dave and Gerhard really clicking together, the figures and the backgrounds integrated perfectly with each other. The way the window and wall tear away from the giant stone hand, the fragments of debris flying across the picture plane. It's also relatively rare at this stage in the series for there to be sustained physical action, so when it happens, and is carried out so well, it's extremely gratifying.
Anyway, we were lucky enough to be working from an original art scan for this page, which meant a lot of tone cleanup, but also meant an incredible amount of detail present, not just in the fine lines of the floor and white detail in the dense cross-hatching, but in the tone as well.

This is, as far as I know, the first time that Gerhard (or Dave) used etching on the surface of the tone, here used to indicate the transparency of the shattered glass. Many mechanical tones (though not all) could be etched with a very sharp exacto knife, taking off the printed surface of the tone but leaving the acetate carrier intact. Gerhard would go on to use this technique to great effect in at least three other books, for very different purposes (anyone care to guess which?).
There's a hint of this in the previous editions of Church & State I, but most of it was eliminated by the photography and newsprint paper. 
Speaking of "eliminated by photography," here's a better look at the bottom images in the ad.

It's a fragment of a panel from issue 74 page 3, a page that's all but ruined in the initial printings because of the amount of art that simply isn't present. Here's the bottom of the page, directly from the negative--

And here's a shot of the same area of the cleaned-up original art page. Click either one to embiggen.

So what's happened here?

There were most likely a few factors working against a page like this. Firstly, the ink in the background cross-hatching on this page, at least looking at the unadjusted scan, is more watery than might be ideal. More importantly, though, at this point the printer seemed to be experimenting with spiking the exposure significantly in order to anticipate the amount of gain they would have when printing as dark as they were on newsprint. That combined with the slightly weaker gray of the ink lines just wiped out a huge amount of information.

It's easy  to imagine the dialogue that might have led to these decisions. Dave calls the printer. "You know, the last two issues really have weak blacks." So they print darker, with, inevitably, more gain. Next phone call. "That last issue was really plugged up." So they photograph much lighter so they can preemptively catch some of the gain. Next call. "You know, there were a lot of blown-out lines in that last issue." And so the see-saw swings again...
Regardless of whether conversations like those were actually happening, the see-saw effect during this period of the book is real, and it's why I have to take a good look at the surrounding negatives each time we get another original art scan. How will this fit in with the rest? 
This will be less and less of a consideration as we get further into the series, and the negative scans will represent a lower percentage of the finished book.
One last observation about the panels above-- notice the dense cross-hatched areas of the negative, and how much plugging there is than the original art scan below? Any guesses why that might be? My best guess involves optics...
Please, please, please do keep those original art scans coming! Dave will be receiving, signing, and sending out the first round of Art Dragnet certificates sometime in the next week, and we would love nothing more than to send out another 150 or so to all you contributors out there. Have a lead on a page or pages? Own one yourself? Please send us an email at cerebusarthunt at gmail. Happy hunting!