Monday, 18 April 2011

Book Palace Books Wulf - First Reactions

We're starting to receive feedback on all three of the Book Palace Books new releases. Steve Holland has been keeping readers of Bear Alley posted on some of the responses as well as plans for his own Bear Alley Books for which he is now taking pre-orders. As Steve says on his blog, none of these books are exactly going to be gathering the kind of readership that the late Stieg Larsson's books attract, but then the whole beauty of niche market publishing is that you know your readership and you share their enthusiasms. In doing so you make a contract of good faith with them to deliver the kind of book worthy of their time and money.

Never is this requirement more pressing than when publisher and editor go out on a limb to produce a book whose production specs are such that the cost of the book itself will make significant demands on the purse strings of it's target audience.


And never did a book more embody this principle than does Ron Embleton's Wulf the Briton - The Complete Adventures. This book was a joy to work on and was a huge learning curve in terms of all aspects of the production but there comes a moment when you have looked at the last set of proofs, made the final small adjustments and then comes the time to give the red light to the guys in Shenzhen Province to set the presses rolling. Which when one thinks about it for more than a moment is a truly alarming prospect because at this stage there is no going back.

My relief when I finally got to hold one of those very few copies that were air freighted over in early March was palpable, but as I said to Geoff West, who is in many ways the creative force behind BPB, "It doesn't matter really what we think. It's the reaction of the people who have stumped up the readies to buy this book that is really going to count. It's a small world and the opinion of our readership is crucial in this regard."

Well I am pleased, well delighted would be more apt, to say that the reaction we have had has been overwhelming. Despite the high price, people love this book and have been emailing and phoning us up as well as sharing their enthusiasm on discussion groups where it was described on the UK Comics Forum as "The Book of the Century". A slight exaggeration perhaps but very flattering nonetheless.

Here's some of the emails we have received so far:




Dave Gibbons:

Just received the Wulf volume. I'm stunned: I was expecting something wonderful and it exceeded all my expectations!

The repro, the production and the features are all beyond excellent. You should all be very proud of a job very, very well done.

Thanks so much for letting me be a small part of it!

Best

-- Dave


Andrew Skilleter (illustrator and long time friend of Ron Embleton)

Hello Peter,

I meant to mail you yesterday but what with things and going out today it hadn't been done. Just wanted to say my special edition of Wulf has arrived and I am speechless - I am going to reply properly and blog on it  - I never expected anything so original and sumptuous and BIG!  To own this book is a privilege and I know you've worked so hard ...will reply and comment further in a day or two...

Best,

Andrew


David Slinn:

The book itself, Peter, is not only a triumph that does live up to Alan’s (Vince) assessment, and sits very comfortably with your own thoughts on what Alastair achieved with Tomorrow Revisited, but puts the efforts of a particular bête noire well and truly in the shade.  Like Phil Rushton, I’m a bit lost for the right words – but trust you’ll get the picture... ... ...
Will follow this up, when I have absorbed the overall effect of reading it as intended – like a really good book?  For the moment, again many thanks.

David Simpson:

Hi Peter
I'm one of the people who bought your Wulf The Briton book, and I thought that you'd like to know that I'm one very happy customer.  I've read a lot of comic books in my time, plus a lot of collections of old comics, and Wulf is right up there with the best I've read both in content and in the superlative packaging.
I'm not (quite) old enough to have read Wulf first time around (I was born in 1957) but I do have a handful of back issues of Express Weekly, plus a long time liking for Ron Embleton's work.  That's one reason why I bought the book but, truth be told, what prompted me to actually shell out for it were the enthusiasm of a friend of mine, who is just old enough to have read at least the later episodes of Wulf when they came out, and the coverage you gave to it on the Cloud 109 blogsite.  that coverage made it clear that you were going the extra mile (mile?  More like a whole Marathon) to make this a great book.
It is a great book, and I'm so glad I bought it.
Thank you
David Simpson

Alan Stephen:

Received your e-mail from a friend just wanted to thank you for the hard work and dedication put into a book that I'll  enjoy and treasure for a long time - the wonderful Wulf the Briton


Steve Taylor:

Hello Peter,

Just to let you know that today I have received: The Thriller Libraries, Don Lawrence's Westerns AND Wulf the Briton. I will send Geoff a separate Thank You, but I am totally impressed with Wulf - you did great work (which gives me a warm feeling about the McLoughlin venture). The reproduction is super - did you use original artwork?

Andoni from Spain:

Yesterday I have receive my copy of RON EMBLETON'S WULF THE BRITON. It's amazing! Extraordinary beautiful! Big size. Wonderful job with the restoration of the Technicolor. The best comic book of the year.
Now I can rest in peace.
Andoni



In addition to these generous and heart warming emails, we had many phone callers including  David Ashford, Alan Vince and the artist Oliver Frey who all described the book as sumptuous and made particular mention of the sheer size and amazing production values of the book.



But perhaps the most amazing call of all came from Ron Embleton's widow Elizabeth, who was just over the moon with the book and so pleased that Ron's artistry hadn't been forgotten. I think all of us are very firmly of the opinion that artist's of the stature of Ron Embleton will never be forgotten.









































 Wulf the Briton © Express Newspapers 2011.

12 comments:

  1. georges RAMAIOLI19 April 2011 at 07:45

    GLORY ALLELUJAH !!!! I lived enought to have "the adventures of
    WULF" (ROCK) in is entirety...I'd known all the weekly's in french
    but never saw the annuals..During this half century of my quest about
    RON's works and specialy "WULF"I ve found some issues of "EXPRESS
    WEEKLY" and it is a wonderful job to reproduce "à l'identique" the plates
    in this book...I can now see the beauties of the cloudy skies , the reflections of light on the waters, the armors the faces, the bodies..
    Only a little "bémol"...Sometimes the impression of Red and Black inks
    are too "loud" too "thick" some details very thin not are seeing..
    Like the superb page in ex-libris about the vikings so different
    in color, without doubt faithfull too "EXPRESS W"'s work but we don't
    see all the subtilities of the drawing..Like the mesh of the armors
    for example...
    curiously, in the bad french reproduction, we can see all the details
    and the thinner designs of RON..I don't know what is the process
    the plates photographed in black, white and grey and poorely
    re-colored approximatively like the original..Some images are
    wildely cut,others re-designed by a poor O.Di MARCO, who do
    much better elsewhere..But in that approximatively reproduction
    we caould see what a designer is behind !!!!
    I place everyfrench page inside MY(now) WULF BOOK et i'll
    tart to read again that story...The french translation is not too bad
    and help me really..
    Thanks PETER for that joy who his for me a "foutain of jouvence"
    A wonderfull book !!!!

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  2. Many thanks for your comments Georges. As regards your caveats, they have been considerations that I have wrestled with all the way though this project, which is why the restoration took as long as it did and was a significant contributory factor to the delay of the book - for which once again I apologize.

    The problems of reds becoming a little too heavy along with blacks are a constant source of concern on a project like this as well as subtle shades of blue being lost. It's a consequence of the restoration process and something which I was constantly striving to avoid but there are a few instances where this has happened on flesh tones in particular. But in general I was happy with the balance that we achieved particularly in instances where we were able to reveal more of Ron's subtle flesh tone cross hatching than was immediately evident in the copies of Express Weekly that I was reproducing from. I would cite pages 210-221 as an example of what I am referring to here.

    My source for the repro for the pages of the Wulf saga was a set of Express Weeklys that had been painstakingly assembled over many years to provide the best source of printed Wulfs attainable.

    The reasons for this were twofold;

    Firstly, unlike Dan Dare there is precious little Wulf artwork that is locatable, one can only speculate where it might be but this did mean that our only recourse was to source from the Bemrose printed comics. Using the comics did provide us with a potentially less degraded source in terms of color fade which affects a lot of Embleton's artwork which was created using Pelikan inks. However the downside was that it exposed us to printing artifacts as well as the knowledge that we were stuck with whatever loss of detail had occurred between transferring the original artwork to print all those years ago when printing techniques were a lot less sophisticated than they are now.

    That being said if you compare page 174 with page 359 (in the limited leather edition) you can actually see the the line work on the central panel of Garak is sharper in the Bemrose sourced reproduction than the repro from the original artwork. This because the whole area of tone is lighter in repro than it was on he original artwork.

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  3. Secondly we wanted to maintain a chromatic consistency throughout the whole book, which would be undermined if pages sourced from original artwork were dropped in next to pages sourced from the printed comics.

    The page (242) of Vikings that you refer to again illustrates some of the worst problems we had with this aspect of this epic project. Even before we saw the original artwork I knew we had a problem with this page as it just looked too dark and to make matters worse it was also slightly off register (by this stage of Wulf Bemrose quality control seemed to be slipping as this appears to have happened more frequently). I did the best I could without intrusively reworking it (a big no-no as far as I am concerned) and overall I feel we achieved the best result possible.

    We didn't get to see the original artwork for this page until the book had gone to press, but as everyone that pre-ordered this book now has a copy you can immediately compare and see the differences.

    What is immediately apparent is how much more subtle (even allowing for a degree of fade) the original artwork is in comparison to the Bemrose page. As you say you can see far more of the chain mail links on the sleeve of the Viking in panel 6 and far more of the subtle brush work on the helmets of the vikings.

    However where this scan which unlike the other artworks was not my creation, does slightly stumble for me is that the levels have been boosted to clean up the image resulting in a loss of background tone in panel 9 and too much red entering the color balance - look at Wulf's hair on panel 8 and then go back to page 242 in the book to see what I am referring to.

    To see a better scan of this art try this link:

    http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=717113&gsub=20064

    On top of all this one then has to contend with slight variations from the proofs your printer supplies you with and the way the book eventually turns out. For example on page 172 there is a very slight and subtle color shift on Wulf's eye on panel 5, it wasn't there on the proofs but it turned up in the finished books.

    What do you do???

    In the end (it it was possible) I could go back and rework pages here and there but I am not sure that we would have a significantly better product. Some pages might end up better and some worse but overall and allowing for a degree of compromise I think we really do have something which all devotees of Wulf and Ron Embleton's artistry can treasure.

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  4. georges RAMAIOLI19 April 2011 at 11:15

    Impassioned defense PETER ! But i'm not "attacking"..
    I know very well how difficult it is to restitute real colors
    of an original...I'm very sure you 've done your best
    for the splendor of this incomparable book...
    Certainly the cost of fabrication of that énormous book
    makes your choice for China..But is there in European
    Community very precise and competitive printers...
    I used to work with one in Barcelona..Not too expensive
    who (in 8 books) had never loose one..
    Nethertheless, Thanks again PETER...I enjoy your "WULF".

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  5. I really did appreciate your comments Georges and I was very grateful as it did give me an opportunity to talk a bit more about what went into the production of this book.

    Just like you as an artist as well as collector, I am very picky about repro, so it's something that I find a really fascinating area to discuss.

    There was a lot of Photoshop work we had to do to achieve the level of fidelity that we did with this book and really the bulk of the plaudits as well as any criticisms must rest with this part of the procedure.

    Overall we are really pleased with the work that Prolong Press did. They are a very helpful and professional team to work with and importantly we know how they work and we are always confident of great results from these guys, minor glicks as in the example I cited notwithstanding.

    It's worth checking out their website to see some of the other projects they are working on and their client list some of whom might well be familiar to many of the people who check out this blog.

    Once again many thanks for your feedback Georges and I hope that WULF brings you many hours of pleasure.

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  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. Spammers on the loose again I thought I'd remove the link as;

    a). It has nothing to do with the discussion

    and

    b). just in case anybody was dumb enough (like me) to go and check the link. I can save you the misery of endless solicitations from Noida Software Technology Park located somewhere in Uttarakhand India.

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  8. Ron Embleton was never the sort of artist who rested on his laurels. It's notable that when asked to provide an illustration for the Official Souvenir Brochure of the 1980 'Eaglecon' he avoided the temptation to recall past glories with a sketch of Wulf or Johnny Frog but chose instead to send a beautiful b&w drawing of a ragged victorian street vendor, along with a hand-lettered caption which declared it to be a "Portrait of the renowned Eagle artist at the height of his fame - Ron Embleton".

    Throughout his career he never once stopped moving forward - looking for fresh challenges that would stretch his talent in new directions. It was almost as if he couldn't bear to relax or slow down: as though every time something started to become easy for him he was compelled to work that much harder, adding ever more detail and complexity.

    Given that degree of perfectionism I suspect that Ron would have been almost embarrassed to have his old work on Wulf the Briton collected in this way - finding fault in every panel and reflecting on how much better he could have drawn it; how much more accurate the historical details could have been made.

    Yet in spite of his own exacting standards I feel that the laurels now being showered on this wonderful book are all the more deserved. The fact is that for the post-war 'baby boom' generation who grew up in Britain during the 1950s and 1960s every single one of us owes a huge debt to the way in which Ron's creations shaped our imagination at every turn - often without us even realizing it. Whether his artwork first caught our eye on the breakfast table from the back of a Corn Flakes box, on the TV screen with Captain Scarlet, on bubble gum cards, children's books, 'adult' mags, framed prints, historical texts, adverts, fishing tips - or the countless comic strips which catered for every conceivable genre and age-group - he provided the visual backdrop for our lives!

    What's more I think we owe you a debt of gratitude for reminding us of that fact Peter...!

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  9. Many, many thanks for your kind words Phil. Your comment regarding Ron's having never stopped moving forward prompted me to dig out a couple of treasured letters I was privileged to receive from the artist some thirty plus years ago.

    Amongst other things I had asked him about a title spread in The Book Of Heroes, depicting a shackled Christopher Columbus standing in a dimly lit cell, with the jailer about to lock him in for the duration. The figure of Columbus looked to be based on Chuck Connors and I had asked Ron about this.

    Not only did he have no recollection of the illustration, he couldn't remember the book either. Not surprising I suppose bearing in mind his prodigious output.

    When in a followup letter I asked him if he would care to see the book this is what he wrote:

    "Kind of you to offer to let me see the book of Heroes, but I think I'll decline. It doesn't give me much pleasure to see my earlier work. I'm a compulsive destroyer of early work. Every few years I have a large ceremonial bonfire - believing (rightly or wrongly) that the only way to face, workwise is forwards."

    I'd like to think that Ron would have been in an agony of elation mixed with self flagellation much along the lines you describe Phil. He was really made up with Alastair Crompton's first book on Frank Hampson and did broach the idea of ultimately being the subject of a similar production.

    Hopefully, such a book may yet happen, but in the meantime I would like to think that Wulf is a worthy first step.

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  10. georges RAMAIOLI20 April 2011 at 10:19

    I suppose no creator, designer or else, except some egocentric,
    liked to see his old works, looking only at his mistaking and faults..
    Last sunday i go to a "Vide-greniers"..I dont' know the name in
    english.."vacuum attic" "fair of flees""second hand selling goods" ??
    I brought for 2 or 3 Euros 2 albums with many issues of
    "JOURNAL de PIERROT" inside it was the beginning of a story
    named in french "FLECHE D'OR"..In fact , it is a very bad reproduction
    of "STRONGBOW the MIGHTY" with horrible coloring.. after some
    issues the impression is better, only 2 colors or white & black,
    and we could see it is a "RON" !!! That i have mist some years before
    now, i know..!!! The poor RON if he saw that very bad printing
    he get mad, mad ,mad !!!!

    Oh, yes PETER, i hope you continue to give a second life at
    others masterpieces of RON...I dream of a book "compilation"
    of his works about "ROGERS, in MICKEY MOUSE and LOOK &
    LEARN + DON'O THE DRUMS + many illustrations about the
    indians Iroquois, Hurons ect...
    You can see some very funny, hyper realistic attack of
    iroquese destroying a farm and a voice inside saying
    "HENRY ! I THINK THERE'S SOMEONE AT THE DOOR"
    In the beautiful blog "FLINTLOCK AND TOMAHAWK"
    search "EMBLETON"...

    I have never understood why during all these past years
    the British designers who was so strong, had very, very good
    comics in the fisties , sixties, turn to only illustration
    and why the treasures they made rest inexploited....
    All these works of RON, HAMPTON, BELLAMY, LAWRENCE
    NICOLLE, EYLES...A treasure superior than those of ALI BABA
    BLACKBEARD and so on..

    Courage, Peter !! lead on !!!

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  11. I'd really love to do more on Ron's comic strip work and there is so much to choose from Georges.

    Don o' the Drums for me is a must and in fact there is a page or two featured on the excellent Flintlock and Tomahawk blog that you mentioned.

    Phil Rushton sent me page of Gerry Embleton's Strongbow the Mighty, which he took over from Ron and again that was in color, presumably a lot better than the coloring on the version of Ron's strip that you came across. It would be fun to include both Ron and Gery's work on this strip in a possible future collection of Ron's early strip work

    Battleground and Colonel Pinto and of course Wrath of the Gods would be a super addition to such an ongoing Ron Embleton project in much the same way that Rob Van Bavel has done such a marvelous job with republishing Don Lawrence's work.

    We'll have to see how Wulf fares but the amazing responses are still coming in and we have had a really ecstatic phone call from someone with long experience in the publishing industry who again thinks that this is the best book of it's kind that has ever been produced in the UK.

    So reaction is still good and sales are encouraging.

    We've even had a couple of customers who were so knocked out with the regular version of the book that they decided they need a copy of the slipcased limited leather edition. Apparently so they can pour over the original artworks at the back of the book as well as enjoying the sumptuous production values that this edition offers.

    Might also prove to be a good investment for when the leather editions become really scarce.

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    ReplyDelete