Tag Archives: Restoration

Some Comments About Restoration for Comic Book Reprints

The Comic Journal has recently reviewed Titan’s new trade-back “Fighting American” (Preview: Fighting American). I understand some have already obtained copies of the book but I have yet to see any in the comic book store I use. I do not have a copy but I have had a chance to briefly look at one belonging to Joe Simon. The material included in this trade-back is the same found in the previously released “The Simon and Kirby Superheroes”. So if you already have the Superheroes book you may not feel the need to pick up the “Fighting American” trade-back.

But TCJ’s article is not just a review, it is a preview as well. With Titan’s permission they provide the complete story “Home-Coming Year 3000”). So if you do not have either the Superheroes or the new “Fighting American” books you can see what you are missing.

There is an interesting comment that someone has made to The Comic Journal article. The commenter claims that the art has been touched up and in particular the some of the line art in the book was thicker than in the original comics. I will discuss his claim later in this post but I thought I would use this as an opportunity to discuss a little bit about the restoration of line art that I do for Titan’s Simon and Kirby books.

Readers of my previous posts on the subject of restoration should know that I do not recreate line art (a process that Marvel still continues to use for their reprints of golden age material). However the end result of my restorations is by no means just a scan. I have no problems with describing what I do as “touch ups” only not in the manner that the TCJ commenter uses the term. Frankly the original printing used in these comics was pretty poor. Now as far as I am concerned reprints of just scans is far superior to art recreation however I prefer to try to correct some of the printing flaws.

Close Up of Flaws in the Original Printing

The above image gives an example of the types of printing flaws typically found in gold and silver age comics. Note that the area of solid black is not actually solid or black. Instead there are spots that the ink did not cover at all and even where the black ink is applied it is so thin that the underlying magenta ink can be seen*. Also note how the in the upper right there appears to be two closely spaced horizontal lines. Actually there really was only supposed to be one horizontal line but the printing left ink only on the edges of the original line and failed to reach the center of the line.

When selecting an image for this post I debated with myself whether to use the original scan or after it had been processed with Photoshop to enhance the colors. There appears to be no yellow in the area shown but actually almost all of it had yellow. If the reader looks at the very top of the image and compares it to the left edge you should be able to see the very faint yellow remains. With Photoshop I can bring out the colors better which allows for more accurate color restoration.

Close Up of the Restored Art

Above shows an image of the same area after restoration. The solid black is now truly solid, the center of the horizontal line are filled and similar flaws throughout are corrected. But I am not recreating the line art just doing touch ups.

Some may find the restored version rather glaring. The blacks may now seem a bit too much black. However I am not doing restorations for viewing on a computer monitor. The final product is a printed book and things will look different. The image presented is blown up and in the printed version occupies only a very small area of the page. Further the black will not look quite so black when printed.

Close up from the Original Comic Version of “Home-Coming Year 3000”

As mentioned earlier, a TCJ commenter claimed that the art lines had been thickened in the restoration. Unfortunately he did not give an specific examples nor have I been able to find any in the story previewed by the Comics Journal. so I can have provided a close-up from the original scan only this time showing it in black and white. Simon and Kirby did not use very fine lines but I selected an area where the lines are as fine as they get in the story.

Close up of the Restored Version  of “Home-Coming Year 3000”

Above is the same area after restoration. Note that small flakes of black can be seen attached or nearby the line art. These are printing flaws in the original printing. They maybe a little hard to see in the scan of the original comic because they are obscured by the colored inks that come out as black dots in the unprocessed original scan but look at the area without such dots on the right and you can see the flaws there as well. I do not try to remove every printing flaw only the ones the more serious ones.

Close up of the Restoration Overlaid of the Original Version  of “Home-Coming Year 3000”

In the above image I have changed the restored version from black to magenta and overlaid it over the original scan. The restoration was so precise that all that magenta of the restored version could not be seen. Had the lines really been thickened in the restoration the blacks would have been ringed with magenta. To bring out how perfectly it is aligned I purposely erased a strip from the original scan so that the magenta version of the restoration could be seen.

So why did the TCJ commenter claim the lines were thicker in the restored versions? I suspect it is all a matter of perception. The blacks are blacker in the restoration than in the original comic book printing. Blacker lines could give the impression of thicker lines. But I believe the most important reason for the TCJ commenter’s error was due to his comparison of Internet images with the original printing. My restorations are based on scans done at 600 dots per inch. Generally everything from 400 dpi and above have fine enough resolution that the human eye can not detect that the image is actually composed of small dots. Actually most people have trouble seeing it at 300 dpi but at lower resolutions the deterioration of the image quality is easily detected. Computer monitors have very low resolution. Monitors differ in size and resolution but for example my monitor has approximately 85 dots per inch. The resolution is so low that the color in “Home-Coming Year 3000” looks solid when in the original comic the dots used for the coloring are clearly visible. You simply cannot make a good judgment on the thickness of lines based on an Internet image of a full page. Which is why I used close-ups to make the comparison.

To see how inaccurate the restorations was in the previous Fighting American reprint see my post “Simon and Kirby Superheroes”, A Must Buy. For further observations about my restoratios see my Newsarama interview.


* Although the magenta plate has shifted toward the left that is not why there is colored ink under the black. This was done on purpose to help mask such registration problems. Had the magenta plate shifted to the right the nearby area would still be color correctly but without the overlap a white band would have appeared bordering black. The extending of colored inks under areas meant for black is called trapping. Today trapping is usually created by computer software but before that photographic processes were often used. However when trapping was done for comic books it was done by hand.

Marvel Masterwork’s Daring Mystery Volume 2

Some time ago I posted about the practice of reconstructing art that Marvel was using in their Masterworks reprint volumes (Recreation Vs. Restoration, How Should Reprints Be Done?). I was, and still am, rather critical of that approach. My criticism is not just theoretical, some of the reconstructions made in the past have been very poor indeed (The Human Torch #2). I concluded my Recreation Vs. Restoration post with the observation that the use of reconstructed art makes Marvel reprints of little use for me and that I would no longer be buying them. But of course, one should never say never.

I have long been on the look-out for a copy of Daring Mystery #5 (June 1940). Some have claimed that the Trojak story contained in the issue was drawn by Joe Simon. This was altogether possible because I believe Joe did do the Trojak in Daring Mystery #4 (May 1940) and he certainly drew the Fiery Mask story in Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940). Even if Simon had not drawn Trojak story in DM #5 I still thought it would be nice to see the story of this Simon created character. However Daring Mystery comics are rare in any shape and I have searched for many years in vain for an affordable copy of issue #5. So when I saw the recently released Marvel Masterwork’s Daring Mystery Volume 2 I decided that even reconstructed art was good enough for my purposes and bought a copy.

Although I had not bought a Masterwork volume for some time I did have an occasion to see the quality of the reconstruction was done in a Marvel Mystery Comics reprint volume. When the Best of Simon and Kirby book came out I received some criticism on the Marvel Masterwork forum for the restoration that I did on the volume. At one point someone posted a scan of the splash page of the Vision story from a Masterwork book. A comparison of the scan with one from the same splash from BoSK showed some rather poor reconstruction in certain areas in the Masterwork version.

Daring Mystery #6 (September 1940) “The Fiery Mask” page 4, pencils by Joe Simon

Now that I had the Daring Mystery volume I was curious on how well the reconstruction was done. Of course I did not have a copy of DM #5 but I did have copies of the other issues. At a glance the reconstruction of the story art (by Pacific Rim Graphics) looked pretty good. But I decided to take one example (the demon figure from the Fiery Mask page shown above) and overlay scans from the original comic and the reprint.

I digitally bleached both scans so that for the most part only the line art remained. I changed the line art of the original comic to red and that from the Masterwork to cyan (blue). If both were identical the resulting lines would look black but deviations would show up in one of the two colors. Experience has shown that you never get perfect overlays. Even scans from the same comic will vary from day to day. Paper “breaths”, it expands or contracts with humidity changes.

Daring Mystery comparison
Original: red line art
Masterwork: blue line art

To illustrate what I found I have shown a close-up of the Demon’s foot. I have marked the most glaring difference as item 1. However the error in this case is due to the digital bleaching I did. The robe was red while the background was green. The registration was not perfect and the cyan (blue) of the background printed over a portion of red. The red (magenta and yellow) and cyan inks combined to form black. Chemical bleaching would have removed the erroneous black but digital bleaching does not. But the black due to the registration error and the black ink of the line art are not identical. If I were doing the restoration I would edit the result based on that difference and as far as I can tell the Masterwork’s reconstruction is accurate.

My registration is not perfect and as I described above variations due to paper expansion or contraction are also expected. Therefore I would not judge most of the failures to overlay correctly to be of any significance. The one I marked as 5 shows that the original comic was slightly to our right. However the line on the opposite side of the foot is also slightly to the right. I expect both “errors” are due to the problems I described above and are not reconstruction errors. There are also other variations in line width that could be explained by variations in the printing. However it is also possible that they are reconstruction errors but I cannot tell without seeing the actual comic used in the Masterwork reconstruction.

Now look closely at the heel (marked as 2). The bottom of the heel in the original comic was not smooth but deviated slightly near the end. This cannot be explained by the factors discussed above and is I believe an error in the reconstruction. On the opposite side of the foot (marked 3) is a case were the reconstruction has added an angle that was not present in the original. The fold spotting pointed to by item 4 also deviates in ways that seem to reconstruction errors.

One might think that I am criticizing Pacific Rim Graphics for the reconstruction job they did. Actually far from it, I believe they did an excellent job. These are really small errors that can only be seen when magnified and would be difficult to spot with the naked eye.

The covers were reconstructed by another (Michael Kelleher). This is same reconstructor that I mentioned in my earlier post who admitted to using a primitive reconstruction method (inking on tracing paper) and was completely clueless why some would find this objectionable. I did not do an overlay of his work but careful examination suggests it was accurate. The only thing I noticed was that his lines were consistently narrower than those from the original comics. Perhaps the original comics he used had been better printed or perhaps this was done on purpose.

I did not have time to make detailed comparisons of all the work from Daring Mystery issues 6 to 8 with the Masterwork volume but overall they looked good. I feel this volume does justice to the original artists. Does that mean I approve of the use of reconstructed art? Not at all, I still prefer scans. No matter how well done, a reconstruction is still one artist’s interpretation of another artist’s work. But let us be frank, the reader will unlikely to find a single coverless issue of Daring Mystery for the price of the Masterwork volume.

One little warning about the Masterwork book, the cover for Daring Mystery #7 was not drawn by Joe Simon. I have no idea how such an obvious mistake was made.