Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Art Dragnet Continues: The Collection of James G

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings everyone!

Last Monday I got a rare opportunity to examine a large collection of Cerebus original art up close and personal.

Awesome art collector and all-around nice guy James Guarnotta got in touch a few days before to let me know he would be in San Diego, and would I like to meet up and scan his pages? Uh, yes, yes I would. So we met at a location with a large enough scanner, James with a large black portfolio. Inside? Around thirty interior pages, one cover, and several other beautiful Dave and Gerhard goodies.

Most relevant to the work at hand were James' 13 or so Church & State pages, many of which will be replacing some really poorly-photographed negatives. It was an amazing experience to see these pages up close, to see how much detail and craftsmanship were lavished on the originals, detail that up until now would be unlikely to make it to the page at all.

Check out the above panel, the beautiful stand-along composition, the way that the stairs deform under Thrunk's hand. Beautiful stuff.

James also had a sizeable amount of surprises in his collection, for instance, this early piece that went along with Dave and Ger to conventions, and was also used on the cover of a fan publication. (Or a newsletter? Anyone know?)

James also owns something I've seen very little of so far-- a four-page sequence from Going Home, notable for how deeply Dave and Gerhard were drawing "into" the page. Here's a close-up of a single panel that ends up occupying only two inches or so in the finished book. 

More than anything, the experience of seeing James' collection in person reinforced just how much was actually lost on a per-page basis in the original photography, how much can be regained with access to any original art, even in the later periods of the book. Here's a page from Melmoth, one of my personal favorite books in the series. After sitting around for 200 or so pages, mourning and eating potatoes, Cerebus has finally been spurred on to action, only to find that he might not be able to handle the consequences of his grisly attack.

Here's the full scan of the page.

In the smoke rising up from the fire, there's a series of delicate patterned lines conveying the light of the fire, the movement of the smoke, and the haze of it as well. It's some really fine texturing, some great drawing, and very appropriate to the atmosphere of the rest of the page. 

And here's the same section from the original Melmoth graphic novel.

Contrary to my initial thoughts on this last summer, when I started on this project, there is significant benefit to all the original art we have access to, regardless of the time period it's from. Currently in the weeds with the remainder of the C+S I negatives, this is reinforced over and over again, as I find fine-line information turned into little dots by problems with the photography-- clogged tone, warped pages, strange additions and subtractions. Every page makes a difference, splits the distance between drawing board and book.

A huge thank-you to James for taking the time to have his pages scanned, and to chat Cerebus with me. And a huge thank-you as well to all the art owners who have contributed so far! It's never too late to send us scans-- each subsequent printing will be improved page by page as new scans come in. 

Want to help? If you know of anyone who has pages, please let us know at 'cerebusarthunt [at] gmail [dot] com'. We received a tip last week from Tim W, our host at AMOC, that looks like it's net a nice clutch of pages. Keep your eyes peeled!


Margaret said...

::drools in jealously over seeing all that original Cerebus art::

The picture of Cerebus on the boat holding the rope is the cover to Cerebus the Newsletter #12

See it here

Michael Grabowski said...

Off-topic, but Sean, I just got my copy of S&N gold logo HS yesterday and I am really thrilled to have it. It looks spectacular. Page 70, panel 3 is just one panel that stood out on an initial flip through without looking for any particular image. Cerebus and the PM rep's silhouettes are noticeably distinguishable from the dense tone on the floor below the spotlight. In my much-read, beaten-up first edition, the tone just looks like ink that wasn't as thoroughly filled in and Cerebus's lower half is completely obscured. Not that that's a fantastic panel or that it dramatically improves the narrative but it's just an example of the subtle but necessary improvements that should help to make this release worthy of note for more than just getting the book back in print.

Thanks to you and Mara and all involved in producing scans and funding this restoration! I'm hopeful that we'll see some new appreciation of this book from both people who have read and reviewed it in the past but also new readers made curious by recent attention to Sim's health issues and his comics.

Max West said...

This art is really amazing. I've only read as far as the end of Church & State; once I finish my Reid Fleming and Flaming Carrot books, I plan to reread Cerebus. Anyway, I know that Dave used nib pen in his work and it's just amazing how many fine details he can get out of that. That hatching and those pen strokes look extraordinary.

Sean R said...

Thanks Margaret!

Hey Michael-- thanks for the kind words. That page is an example of what you get working with the very same negatives, just recalibrating the exposure using the Cerebus tone as an objective measure. Looking at it now in print, I think I probably should have spiked the exposure a bit just on that panel, seeing how it's still pretty darn dark. Glad you're enjoying the book so far. I'd be very curious to hear any other thoughts you have.

Hey Max!

Not just pen nibs (mostly Hunts 102, earlier, some Speedball lettering nibs as well). Dave used brushes, toothbrushes (splatter), and Gerhard used mainly technical pens/rapidographs, after starting with a 102. You need a wide variety of rapidographs though if you want to get any line variety. The tell-tale sign of a nib? The type of taper on the line. A few dozen hours of practice with nibs and your taper becomes ingrained, automatic. It's a great tool. (I use a Gillotte myself. The Hunts 102s are too rigid for me, up until the point where they're ready to break. I used to go through 1-2 of them per page when I was working large-format. Now an Gillotte or an Esterbrook will last me ten pages or so, if I don't drop it and deform the tip)