Friday 4 March 2011

Wulf Is On His Way!!!

I was up in town yesterday for lunch with Geoff West, chief Svengali and head honcho of Book Palace Books (hence the absence of a posting yesterday). It was a moment that we'd anticipated almost a year ago.

It was the moment when the project that we were working on would finally see fruition.

It was the moment when ...

we'd actually be holding the final printed books featuring Ron Embleton's magnificent run of Wulf the Briton.

In the intervening time the project that I naively thought would not be THAT time consuming had swallowed up months and months of work, from tracking down people who knew both the artist and his work on Wulf, from ferreting out the few surviving original art boards and from the scanning and digital reconstruction required to make the original Express Weekly pages sing with a life and vivacity that has eluded so many similar projects.

And that's even before we get to writing and designing the book!

Needless to say, I was in a state of some trepidation as Geoff handed me the first two books from his bag of imminent Book Palace Books arrivals. These being the second part of The Complete Fleetway Index and Don Lawrence's Wells Fargo. Both these books are, I am pleased to say, really first rate and in the case of The Fleetway Index, is even better than it's predecessor, with full color throughout and many magnificent examples of original art for Thriller Comics Library and Cowboy Picture Library.

But try as I did to forestall the inevitable, the moment was finally on hand when I would have to look at the book that has occupied so much of my time for so much of last year. As I gingerly took the hefty looking leather clad tome complete with slipcase onto my lap, all the nightmares that had assailed me in the intervening months when the last lot of corrected pdfs had gone winging their way to Prolong, our superb Chinese printer, ran through my mind:

Will that double page spread marry up correctly?

Will some areas of digital surgery be in any way evident?

Will the endpapers be there? (irrational I know but...)

Will there be any glaring typos that we missed, pages out of sequence or other disasters unimaginable until you are faced with them?

Will the pages look as good as the original comics? This last one a real cause for concern as the scanning and restoration process can throw up as many problems as it solves and there is a lot of so-so material out in print already that bears mute testimony to this conundrum.

I opened the book tentatively...

Wowee Kazowee!!!


Yup this book is every bit as good as I could have hoped for. The leather slipcased edition is a magnificent beast, with gold edged pages and the most amazing looking cover and slipcase complete with sword, Wulf icons and title in gold block. The regular edition is also a truly handsome book with laminate relief on the Wulf icons on front, back and spine. The paper is just exquisite, archival matte (similar to Fantagraphics new Prince Valiant series), it has a slight off-white bias (whiter than it appears in these photos where there is the warm glow from an angle-poise lamp) and is just perfect for creating the right feel to these amazing stories, giving the reader a very similar experience to the one they would have experienced reading Wulf when it was first published.

Where the two editions differ in terms of content is that the slipcased edition also includes an additional 24 pages showcasing some truly amazing examples of Ron Embleton's original artwork for this series. Some of these pages took some real serious tracking down and were still being sourced while the first set of proofs were being sent back to us from the printers.

The quality of the scans and the repro on this paper is the best I have seen to date. Not only have the pages been able to retain the subtlety and nuances of the original printing, but in many cases a lot of Embleton's phenomenal brush work is more appreciable in the book than it is in the comics from which it was sourced.

The whole book just oozes quality and I am not only very relieved but also very happy that we are putting the best work we could create into the hands of readers who have been prepared to make a significant financial commitment to accessing.

Which brings me to a question that I am occasionally asked regarding possible future and less expensive editions of this book. The fact is that it all goes back to the kind of number crunching decisions that have to be made when publishing books for a specialist market. The bottom line with a project such as this is that there are only so many people who will want to buy a book devoted to a comic strip that nobody outside of a select coterie of comic aficionados has ever heard of. Publishing costs per unit go down when you do large print runs. So in the case of Wulf you could commit to a sufficiently large print run so that everyone that wants a copy can have one for less than thirty quid. But even with a larger print run you will need to make some economies in terms of production, so the book has to shrink both in terms of page dimension and page run. So perhaps smaller format in three volumes?

And guess what??? Because even less people are aware of Wulf than they are Dan Dare you will never sell the bulk of your print run - sure you'll sell a few more copies but you will be tripping over those piles of unsold books for years to come. And in the meantime you'll have taken a big hit in terms of your publishing costs. Costs that you will never clear.

So the logic of going in the opposite direction and putting as much love, care and thought into producing a book that readers will treasure becomes pretty unbeatable. OK so the price tag is high but even the leather edition is still a lot less expensive then trying to hoover up back copies of Express Weekly at anything up to £10.00 a throw multiplied by the  200+ you will need to complete the run and the time it will take.

So there are no plans to do any additional less expensive editions of Wulf, it just isn't financially feasible. It's far more exciting just to concentrate on future projects and for those lucky owners of this book which will be arriving in bulk on these shores shortly (see Steve Holland's update) they will have the nice warm feeling that they have a book of beauty and something that they can rightly regard as a real investment.

It really is that good!

I've included photos of the new arrivals and a couple of pix where you can see the original comics side by side with the newly printed versions. Thus you can at least gain a rough idea of the overall fidelity of the color balance. What you can't see is the fabulous detail of Embleton's exquisite brush work.

Nor can you smell the fantastic aroma of that archival matte paper.

Further details of how to obtain a copy of this book is at the Book Palace Website. It seems that there are now just a few remaining copies of the Leather Lettered edition which is the edition that comes with the giant sized print and all three editions are selling very well, which is indeed promising. The pre-publication discounts hold good until March 31st and every order received by then will receive an additional print of Wulf and the Vikings again sourced from original artwork provided by Paul Stephenson of PS Publishing, whose recent book by Alastair Crompton "Tomorrow Revisited" is the most authoritative and engrossing book ever on the subject of Frank Hampson and Dan Dare.


  1. Sure looks beautiful... But dare I? Oh dear...

  2. Yessssssssssssssssssssss!!!!!

    You won't regret it.

    Seriously though Dave, this book is just stunning! What really surprised and pleased me was that rare feeling of being a cook, familiar with all the ingredients and their preparation, the cooking times involved but still enjoying the dish that results.

    I'm stuck in the horrible position of sounding immodest as this epic tome is my baby, but it really is a book that I know people will treasure.

    I've kept a very few of the mega books that I have incautiously bought over the years and the one that I think of as I turn the pages of Wulf is my giant Burne Hogarth's The Golden Age of Tarzan which I've had for over twenty years now and still gives me a frisson of excitement when I carefully pull it from it's slipcase and leaf through the giant size repros.

    Wulf is the same kind of experience, the smell, the feel, the weight of the book and then as you immerse yourself in the contents a real feeling of exhilaration.

    I promise that if you do plump for one of these babies that I will desist from raving about anything else that I suspect you might be interested in until I divine that your poor old flexible friend is back to good health.

  3. Well, I guess I'll have to hold off on getting those new shoes... Oh well!!

  4. Looks wonderful Peter - I can't wait!

    With Titan's mass-market edition of Frank Bellamy's Heros the Spartan still scheduled to be released at the beginning of May (though I'll believe that when I see it!) it'll be interesting to compare the two business plans in action. Given that Amazon are currently offering Heros at under £10 my own flexible pal really hopes it's every bit as impressive - unfortunately I've a sinking feeling it'll turn out to be yet another substandard product that not only fails to do justice to Bellamy's gorgeous artwork but also queers the pitch for anyone capable of reproducing it in the style it deserves.

    I guess it really depends on whether your main interest is the artwork or the story...

  5. I'd be thrilled if you do decide to invest in a copy of this book Urban. We've had a surprising number of people from the U.S. order these books and it gives us a real thrill every time we think of another copy of Wulf heading Stateside.

    It's been mentioned before but has come back to me very vividly as I've been leafing through this beautiful book that one of Ron Embleton's big influences was Will Eisner, and you can see it in the way that he inks with a brush, particularly on drapes and clothing. And I am sure that if he was looking at Eisner then he must have been aware of artists like Reed Crandall, whose knowledge and understanding of anatomy would have been an inspiration to the young Embleton.

    The shoes would be fun but they will eventually wear out, whereas this book is for life, it's something you will really treasure.

  6. Interestingly enough Phil, there was a discussion somewhere on this blog about Heros and how it should be done. The conclusion was landscape format, heavier grade paper than even the Wulf book. This necessitated by publishing a book to these dimensions. Ivory leather binding with gold block, book slipcased, dimensions large enough to accommodate printing same size as published comic. Pages carefully scanned and digitally restored to:

    1). Remove page discoloration and see-through evident on the original comics pages.

    2). Careful use of Photoshop filters to remove the slight degree of out of focus softening that occurs with all scanning.

    3). Digital restoration to remove creases, and print artifacts.

    4). Digital reconstruction to:

    a). avoid drop out of light colors, particularly fine brush strokes, abutting large areas of white.

    b). degradation of blues, particularly light blues which are a frequent early casualty in the scanning process.

    c). re-registration of out of register pages. Very delicate operation as straight painting over in Photoshop of the offending areas just won't work, the eye will immediately detect the reconstructed area as being different to the host page.

    d). further to c and all preceding points - all reconstruction work to match the grain and finish of the original source pages.

    Careful matching to pages throughout to maintain consistency and fidelity to the original source.

    Original artwork sourced and ideally Bellamy's working drawings and roughs sourced. Interviews and contributions from people close to the artist and with a knowledge of the editorial staff involved.

    Book design to reflect and capture the atmosphere and dynamic of this glorious strip and excite the reader from the moment he holds the book in his hands.

    This is most definitely NOT what you are going to get from Titan books should they produce a Hero book. When I was working on Wulf I had a copy of their Safari in Space book to hand, along with copies of the original Eagle as a guide of how not to do our book, insofar as I could see how compromised the repro of this book was and all that could go wrong if we were to take our eye of the ball in terms of the scanning as well as the all important sourcing of the correct grade of paper - scanning although incredibly time consuming isn't the end of the story.

    I think Heros would be a great BPB project but whether it ever happens is a moot point with Titan already with their foot in the door.

  7. Presumably the same considerations would apply to 'Wrath of the Gods' - at least as far as Ron Embleton's original episodes are concerned. In many ways this would seem to make the perfect companion to Wulf!

  8. I think a "Wrath of the Gods" book would be a really lovely project Phil. There are however only twenty three spreads of Wrath by Embleton before John Burns took up the series.

    What would make this a truly perfect companion to Wulf is if we could add Ron's post Wulf work on Express Weekly - Battleground, Biggles and Colonel Pinto.

    Or just do all of Wrath as in terms of John Burns artistry this was the strip where his style really took off.

    Suggestions please?

  9. P.S. Having just re-read my earlier response to your comment re Heros Phil, I should qualify my use of the word scanning to include all the post production work entailed. Scanning itself once you have configured the correct settings is relatively straightforward - it's everything else after that stage that is demanding.

    But fun - when it works out well!

  10. 'Wrath' is probably my all-time favourite strip, but even so I'm not convinced that John Burns's later episodes were of a sufficiently high calibre to justify the same expensive format (especially as many of them don't really require the landscape treatment). The same thing probably applies to Luis Bermejo's 'Heros' stories.

    While Ron's other TV Express features have the virtue of coming from the same period in his career I can't help but feel there would be something of mismatch between the subject matter - in addition to which I seem to recall that a significant number of pages were in black & white. If it was possible to combine different types of printing within the same volume (as in so many old British 'Annuals') Ron's B&W run on 'Strongbow' from Mickey Mouse Weekly and Zip might be a better match in terms of content.

    However, if one wanted to concentrate on his colour work it occurs to me that another alternative would be to include some of his fantasy strips from Look & Learn and Once Upon A Time (eg the Ring of the Nibelungs and the Secret of the Trolls). An advantage of working with the current owners of the Look & Learn archive in this way would be the possibility of a third colour volume in which Ron's Express war material could be combined with a selection of the many similarly-themed features in their possession.

    (...Well you did ask for suggestions! :-) )

  11. ...On the other hand it *would* be nice to have a definitive edition of The Complete Wrath of the Gods - especially as John Burns is still around to provide a new introduction...

    Oh the indecision!

  12. Arrggghhhhh!!!!

    Yes, you're right Phil and it would be fantastic to get some insight into the whole strip from John Burns whose work amazingly still continues to get better and better.

  13. It might also be worth contacting Michael Moorcock as well; I know that Ron was mistaken in thinking that he was the original writer of 'Wrath' instead of Willie Patterson, but I suspect that he may have scripted some of the Burns episodes. If so his name on the cover could easily sell a few extra copies (in addition to which there's also that Alexander the Great strip he plotted for Ron and Barrington Bayley during the same period!).

  14. Wow! Many thanks Phil, just about every comment you post on this blog is a real revelation to me and this sounds like a really promising avenue to explore.