Thursday, December 24, 2009

GIJOE, BATTLESTAR, and the LOST ART RANT





Hello everyone;

Happy Holidays! As both CEO and Creative Director of BLAM! Ventures, I often find myself in the unique position where I can be as picky about the quality of our releases as I want to be. In our earlier offerings (pre 2008) there were numerous faux pas made by myself and our staff, some of which unfortunately didn't get caught until after the book in question was published. We were growing and learning as a studio, and the purpose of those earlier projects was in fact to attract the attention of larger publishers who could support the full release of a monthly comic series (as was the case with Critical Millennium being picked up by Archaia Studios).

Many of our current projects (on the schedule for release in 2010) involve, to some degree, reprinting classic comic material from the 1940s to the 1970s. For Space: 1999, BLAM! will be releasing for the first time the reprints of the comic series from Charlton and other publishers. For the BLAM! Comics Anthology: Fully Loaded Edition, we will be reprinting several seminal works that haven't seen the light of day since the 1940s - 1950s, the main characters of which will play an important role in BLAM! Ventures future comic lines.

One of the reasons these works haven't seen reprint is that in several cases, the art (or part of it) is missing or in the hands of collectors who simply do not wish to help a studio release the work again. Sometimes the original publisher kept photostat copies of the art, and reprints can be generated from those negatives, but again, in many case, these films have made their way into the hands of collectors.

So how to put these works back in the public's hands again? God bless Photoshop.

In the hands of capable artists, a piece of art can be restored to 99.9% of its former glory by scanning the printed page and painstakingly correcting the scan to make a meticulous approximation of the original. Completing work of this kind is an arduous and time consuming task, and is something that should only be undertaken by a professional with a respect and admiration for the work of the original artist.

As production assistant on several releases by Vanguard Productions, I put my skills on the subject to task. There I worked under Vanguard's publisher David Spurlock to restore several pieces of art by Steve Ditko, St. John, Roy G. Krenkel, and others, wherein the originals have been lost to time. At Vanguard, the quality of the restorations cannot be questioned. Vanguard's books are hailed as important archival works, preserving the life portfolios of comics' and fantasy's founders that otherwise would have disappeared into obscurity. It is nearly impossible to tell which pages in a Vanguard release were reprinted from the original artwork and which were restored by Mr. Spurlock and myself. BLAM!s restoration team, under my guidance, is treating the works we will be reprinting with the same respect and reverence.

So what does this have to do with G.I.Joe or Battlestar, where am I going with all this, and why the long rant?

Yesterday, my copy of Classic G.I. Joe, Volume 6 arrived from Amazon. Published by IDW, Volume 6 showcases Marvel's run of G.I.Joe issues #51-60; comics that until now have not seen print since the mid 1980s. The previous G.I.Joe license holder, Devil's Due, had released the first five volumes a few years ago, giving us reprints of issues #1-50 in the process. I was extremely disappointed when Devil's Due stopped reprinting the Classic Joe Line at #50, especially since as a kid I had stopped collecting the original issues around issue #80 and was hoping to get a chance to read the final arc of Larry Hama's intense saga. Imagine my joy when IDW announced their intention to continue the reprint line!

So, here we are, two days before Christmas, and my copy of Volume 6 arrives. Unable to wait, I stopped everything I was doing and sat down for the long read.

Sadly, my glee quickly turned to disappointment.

The restoration of the art in Volume 6 leaves something to be desired. Instead of crisp black line work, the strokes are broken up and fuzzy. In some cases, the original line work is almost destroyed by a thickening of every line combined with an over saturation of blacks which bleed into the rest of the artwork (see page 42 - sample on the right). In some cases, the quality of the line work is so bad it is difficult to read the lettering, and some balloons are even missing parts of dialogue (page 31, panel 2 below)!



Then there is the coloring. In some panels, background characters that were in color in the original releases have inadvertently (I can only hope) been left black and white (page 30, panel 4, below).



On top of that, coloring mistakes from the original issues have NOT been corrected but simply duplicated, as in the case of a Crimson (i.e. RED) Guardsman rendered in blue (page 27, below-left)!

I am not going to complain too much about the coloring in this edition, however, because in fact it is the only thing that saves the artwork: it's vibrant color and intensity helps hide the sloppy restoration of the black and white art.


A related issue crops up in Titan Books' reprint editions of Marvel's Battlestar Galactica comic series from 2005. The first volume, Saga of a Starworld, starts out with beautiful art, either restored or taken from original pages or film, and combines it with restored color that evokes the same emotion as the original did in 1978.

Four issues in, however, all that ends. The reprints of issue #5 and #6 in that volume are simply, well, reprints. The pages were scanned from the original comic releases, and not retouched at all! No new coloring was added, and in fact, the scanners used were most likely NOT on the proper settings, making the art look grainy and well, dirty - and not in a good way. In Titan's defense, the second volume of the series they released, The Memory Machine was fully restored to grandeur just as the first 2/3rds of Starworld were. Another reason (but not an excuse) for Titan's messy job could have been a deadline issue in regards to Starworld having to go to print without full restoration, as the release date for that book was pushed back over and over again.

At least, however, Titan really tried. What's IDW's excuse?

IDW is one of the top comic companies today. They are the holders of some of the biggest grossing licenses ever in comics. And they have had the G.I. Joe license for a few years now. Surely if they had no access to the original films of the art, they do have access to top talent that could restore the pages. Surely.

Don't take this the wrong way, I don't want to come across simply as a basher of IDW. I have in fact enjoyed reading several of their releases over the past few years, including 30 Days of Night, Star Trek: Countdown, Star Trek: Nero, and G.I. Joe Origins. I am ecstatic about their announcement to continue the original G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero comic line this coming summer with issue #156, and with Larry Hama writing to boot! I even enjoyed reading the aforementioned Classic G.I.Joe Volume 6.

Huh? Didn't I just complain about Volume 6? Yes, yes I did. And the answer that makes all that make sense is in the statement "I have in fact enjoyed reading."

The issue I have with this reprint volume is indicative of what I see as a larger problem. The writing on all the above mentioned releases was top-notch - some of the best I have read in a while. The art on most of them, on the other hand, is another story.

The anatomy problems in Countdown are too numerous to mention, backgrounds in several panels of Nero were simply screengrabs from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and weren't even traced! I didn't know they still made Star Trek fotonovels!), and you know my issues with Volume 6. Of all the above-mentioned titles, Origins and 30 Days of Night were the only ones I can say the art was enjoyable in.

The art in comics in general is slacking, and IDW (along with a few others in the industry) is on the leading edge of it. As comic art of this caliber continues to be published, comics itself is threatening to become a lost art.

As I am sure you know, I'm not the only one with a rant. On message boards everywhere, fans are complaining. While many people would say that that is the nature of fandom, maybe some of these companies should listen to what the fans are complaining about once in a while and do something about it.

Of course, with the G.I. Joe movie (shudder) doing as well as it did, and a public awareness of the license that has never been seen before, IDW stood to make some serious green on releasing older Joe material that hasn't been out in decades. Especially with the success of Hasbro's 25th Anniversary line of G.I. Joe action figures released 2 years ago that proved that fans want their classic Joes back. Those fans, like me, clamored to order this book and continue the line. Was the decision made to spend as little on this project as possible by hiring substandard retouchers in order to make a larger profit margin, or does the art director assigned to this book simply need new glasses?

Either way, shame on you IDW. You should know better.

-Drew G.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Setting up shop once again on the blogosphere

Hey all, the gang from BLAM! Ventures is planning on returning to the web in a big way in 2009. We've promised before, but this time it's true, with multiple projects arriving in the second half of 2009, including two soon to be announced licenses.

More to come in the next few weeks, stay tuned...