Wednesday 31 August 2011

Achtung Commando - (And A Brief History of Repro for Commercial Printing)

Behold there is a new batch of Commandos due to go on sale tomorrow and for your dear old blogmeister a moment of true nostalgia as the latest of the first twelve issues gets it's third revival.

When in July 1961, I saw the distinctive Ken Barr cover in my weekly Victor Comic I just couldn't believe a comic could look that good. It was the drama of the scene and the British paratrooper falling into the cliff side nest of Nazi gunners with their helmets all aglow with the last rays of the setting sun in the beautifully executed reflections that added so much extra punch to Barr''s work.

When this now historic comic appeared fifty years ago it looked great, it was an example of the wonders of commercial printing. In those days the artist would send in their artwork usually on board and it would be photographed and the transparencies would be the source of the plates used to print his artwork using four runs (sometimes more) which would print a sequence of dots in 1). Cyan 2). Magenta 3). Yellow and 4). Black. By the time Commando number four was printed the whole process was pretty refined and misalignments creating out of register prints were the exception rather than the rule.

Here you can see the results:

Now then let's spin the hands of the clock forward three decades or so and as the pages from the calendar whip past our heads we are in 1992 and here is the same issue again reprinted and as DC Thomson (canny Scots that they are - "och aye wuirrrrrrr nay fools ye ken") have hung onto their original Barr artwork they can now present you with an even sharper example of the painting via digital scanning, which in 1992 means DRUM scanning.

Now drum scanning is good - very good in fact for catching every little nuance that a camera in 1961 would have hinted at rather than reproduced in minute detail.

But ... there is a price to be paid. To get the artwork scanned you have to ever so, ever so, evvverrrr so carefully pull the artwork off it's backing board. In the 1980's illustrators could buy artboard specifically for this purpose - it was called stripper board and you would pull up the corner and then gently roll the corner away from you using a cardboard tube to wrap the thing around. This is what seems to have happened with Barr's painting, only the board he created the picture on was not being as co-operative as the person tasked to perform this operation might have hoped and it looks like the operative placed with this delicate task might had substituted an object of much smaller radius to anchor the paper on as he rolled it off it's board.

Something like a biro perhaps???...

You can almost sense the rivulets of sweat coursing down the operative's brow as Ken Barr's 30 year old gouache started to flake away from the surface leaving this cover as mute testimony to  the travails of studio bodging:

Now then we spin the clock hands forward another twenty years and here is the same cover again, in even sharper detail courtesy of further advances in the art of digital scanning and looky looky!

Yup by the hands of some studio whizz kid tiddling around in Photoshop we have a minor restorative miracle.

Not sure about the Green on the Denison smock though...

I'll post more about these comics tomorrow, I've had an email from my dear old mate Malcolm who has gently nudged me in the direction of reducing the gap the blog postings have been prone to.

There are a variety of excuses I can offer you guys, but one of them when it is made a bit more public will I am sure gain your approval.

All images © DC Thomson 2011.

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