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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/14/12 – 2 or 3 Things I Know About Gir)

Here we see Giraud, Dionnet and Druillet, three of the founders of Les Humanoïdes Associés, circa 1980 – Bernard Farkas, the Ismael Hernandez of the group, is not pictured. The image is cropped from a staff photo in Métal Hurlant #50, and I had planned to include it in last week’s post, but the artist best known as Moebius was positioned too close to the fold and I couldn’t get a scan done without a beam of light shining down the length of his body; I rarely expect precognition from my HP Deskjet All-in-One, but credit where it’s due.

Like many readers, I’ve found myself going through some old Moebius comics for the last few days. Above we see an odd little exhibit from the annals of English translation – a 1974 ‘drawn interview’ with the artist originally published in L’Écho des Savanes, with questions by Numa Sadoul, here reoriented for publication in the 1990 Atomeka Press comics anthology A1 #4, with lettering by Woodrow Phoenix and tones by Dave Elliott & Garry Leach. It catches the artist in a transitional period between his popular breakthrough in Pilote — the restrictions of which he had tired from — and the founding of Métal Hurlant later that year. When asked if he is planning to found his own magazine, Moebius cracks that he’d already bought Pilote on the sly in 1947.

Really, most of Giraud’s responses betray a puckish, sarcastic quality greatly foreign to the wise, elven spiritualist presiding astrally over the past 72 hours. This only reinforces the diversity of Moebius’ approaches to comics art, which, I find it useful to remember, were grown in no small part from the Kurtzman/Elder (especially Elder) satires that cradled many of the American underground comics, a scene Moebius later claimed had taught Europeans how to express true feelings in comics – that was in the 1990 Dark Horse-published Moebius 0, an Epic-style album devoted mainly to compiling his pre-Hurlant 1974 project The Horny Goof, an improvised fantasia of a man with a semi-permanent erection which reintroduced the Moebius name to comics and anticipated The Airtight Garage in terms of freewheeling composition.

And it wasn’t just the French that received a slightly more physical introduction to the artist:

The top image here comes from the 1977 paperback anthology National Lampoon Presents: French Comics (The Kind Men Like), translating works from Pilote, L’Écho des Savanes and Fluide Glacial as a sort of companion to the same year’s launch of the Métal Hurlant-based Heavy Metal magazine. That puts La tarte aux pommes — just published in Hurlant’s doomed sibling anthology Ah! Nana earlier that year — on par with Arzach as one of the very first Moebius comics ever seen in English… and it had words! The bottom version is from the 1988 Epic album Moebius 6, in which the artist reflects on the story, a collaboration with Claudine Conin, his spouse at the time, crediting it with “a special kind of dream-like feel to it that I’ve rarely achieved since.” Conin presented him with images depicting the half-aware erotic imaginings of an adolescent girl, which Moebius fused with American iconography and (to my eyes) not a little Crumb-like underground styling.

This is particularly evident in the b&w image, perhaps aided a bit by translators Sophie Balcoff, Valerie Marchant and/or Sean Kelly straining to make the text and title just a little more smutty. As it often goes, however, the more sniggering interpretation is also a touch more puritanical where it counts, as the motorcycle-riding brother character barks a slightly more active, demanding “C’mon, I’m taking you home,” to Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier’s gingerly “C’mon! I’ll take you home now,” placing the emphasis on the scene up top on the male figure and his comedic mistake at taking a child to such an adult place, while the bottom version squarely foregrounds the girl’s own experience, her brother standing as a more neutral facilitator to her agog witnessing.

The latter colors, by Claudine Giraud — I am unsure of the relation — make this focus extremely clear in isolating the girl in cool blues and whites from much of the activity going on around her, at least when not in the confines of her bedroom, a safe space, or the concluding kitchen, where she obviously cannot reveal her burgeoning sexuality to Mother. They are equally plain in the end, though the colors ensure us that some force exists in the girl’s head, though it is an uncontrollable, scary thing; I’m not thrilled to see so much intricate linework swallowed by color, but this collaboration does show how some aspects of a story can be intensified (or potentially preserved from the vagaries of translation) by certain aspects of the art.

There were other, personal sexual works by Moebius, many left alone in black & white. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the directness of erotic work kept the artist in touch with his origins. Take the above undated gag image from the ’60s…

And compare it with this, the best drawing from the 1994 album Angel Claw (translated by NBM in ’96), a collection of unrelated sex drawings presented on every right-hand page, while a new sequential set of images accompanies frantic, vamping text by Alejandro Jodorowsky on the left in a metronomic style similar to the pair’s first collaboration, 1978′s The Eyes of the Cat, though its real origins are in The Horny Goof, both in its start-and-stop visual style and the improvisatory nature of its construction. Moreover, while much of the book concerns itself with blood and masks and an utter fascination with bodily modification — climaxing in the image of a mutating woman suspended in mid-air, spilling voluminous cords of sausage-thick energy from every point of egress — you can see in those chomping male faces a reflection of the old, parodic Moebius, prone to caricature in way most of his later works were not.

Which is not to say there are no other commonalities between periods.

This is an early ’60s page from Hara-Kiri, the birthplace of the Moebius name; you could rightly call it juvenilia, though a good deal of earlier cowboy stuff exists in so long a career.

And here is the conclusion to The Airtight Garage, featuring much the same man-in-hat mystery imagery, though it is certainly an ‘adult’ work. “To me,” wrote the artist, again in Moebius 0, “‘adult’ means to be free in spirit, to know no bounds, to accept no moral restrictions, especially those imposed by somebody else.” The Airtight Garage embodied this philosophy, fusing together images from all over the artist’s still-young career in breakneck fashion, its latter-day colors again providing some isolating effect, though here as representative of not youth but adult triumph, of the confident secrets adults can hold while entering unfamiliar terrain, or even while stepping away from the drawing board as the ‘real’ world reasserts itself. This was the character of the artist’s ‘adult’ comics, at their best.

Above, we see the final images from Moebius’ contribution to 2011′s The Someday Funnies, the last page the artist saw published in English during his lifetime, though of course it dated from much earlier. This one is signed “Gir,” in keeping with the cowboy environment he populated through his Blueberry, but it retains a whiff of mystery. You can, of course, turn to the back of the book and realize it’s drawing a comparison between American natives and airplane hijackers of the ’60s, but the beauty of Moebius’ art is that it also carries both a specific personal resonance to him and his life of icons, along with a nearly subconscious pull that suggests a fully-fledged world inside the page, here, finally, again an expression of desire, and a joke as well.

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PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

Corto Maltese Vol. 1: The Ballad of the Salt Sea: Hey, more Eurocomics! You’ve been expecting this Hugo Pratt release, one of the classics of the ’60s, here presented as an 6.8″ x 9.5″ softcover with the colors from its 1991 revision. The publisher is Universe, a division of Rizzoli; $25.00.

Gary Gianni’s MonsterMen and Other Scary Stories: On the other hand, I was not expecting this 8″ x 11″, 168-page, Michael Chabon-introduced Dark Horse hardcover to pop up, since I hadn’t a clue it was being published. Nor can I find all that much information about it, although we can safely presume it will collect illustration classicist Gianni‘s various MonsterMen stories from the back of Hellboy and elsewhere. I recall this stuff being close in tone to Mignola’s wackier works — The Amazing Screw-On Head, for instance — but with the added touch of Gianni pushing his scrupulously-hatched images to absurd and grotesque ends. A revisit may prove interesting; when Dark Horse reprinted 2002′s Screw-On Head a few years back it read like some horrific, inadvertent catalyst for a full decade of nooseworthy whimsi-pop steampunk Victoriana, despite its individual merits, and I wonder if this even-more old-timey romp, 20th century setting or not, will carry some similarly sick grandeur in our troubled era of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Samples; $24.99.

PLUS!

Crossed: Badlands #1: In which Avatar fully embraces this Garth Ennis/Jacen Burrows-created semi-zombie comic as its flagship series by launching an ongoing iteration to be released at a biweekly clip. That sounds like an awful lot of survival-horror-in-a-world-where-most-of-humanity-is-reduced-to-base-desires to produce, but the publisher apparently has work scheduled through issue #13, so who knows? Of interest here is an inaugural three-issue storyline by the creators (each serial will stand alone), marking Burrows’ first comics work since Neonomicon wrapped; he’ll return in issue #10 with writer David Lapham (whose Crossed: Psychopath with former Eros Comix all-star Raulo Cáceres is out in collected form this week), while Jamie Delano & Leandro Rizzo handle issues #4-9. Preview; $3.99.

Saga #1: Also here for the duration if god’s willing & the creek don’t rise is a new Image ongoing, marking the return of Y: The Last Man co-creator Brian K. Vaughan — one of the preeminent front-of-Previews comic book writers of the ’00s for many readers — to longform comics serialization after some time spent as a scriptwriter for the television series Lost, among other pursuits. Created with artist Fiona Staples, it’s a sweeping thing about family and galactic war which the publisher’s solicitation eagerly compares to Star Wars and Game of Thrones, launching with a double-sized introductory chapter. Preview; $2.99.

Womanthology: Heroic: It’s easy to get lost in abstractions with as high-profile a discussion topic as this — an all-female anthology for charity boasting of 140 contributors of some sort, which famously raised over $100,000 through its Kickstarter funding drive — so the presence of 300 pages of IDW-published stuff on your local merchant’s shelf will surely prompt some interested flipping through comics, interviews, how-to guides, history bits and more. Contributors include Ann Nocenti (who just made a return to superhero comics last week in Green Arrow #7), Trina Robbins, Colleen Doran, Gail Simone, Miss Lasko-Gross, Jill Thompson and the aforementioned Fiona Staples. Official site; $50.00.

Crime Does Not Pay Archives Vol. 1: You got the sampler last year, so now Dark Horse launches into the obligatory costly comprehensive reprint phase of this ‘vintage disreputables’ effort. Samples; $49.99.

Showcase Presents: Young Love Vol. 1: Aw, but why turn to violence when you can enjoy the sweet agony of heartbreak all to yourself? This is DC’s line of b&w reprints, and now its doing early ’60s romance comics, collecting issues #39-56 of the title in 544 pages; $19.99.

Twin Spica Vol. 12 (of 12): Closing out Vertical’s release of Kou Yaginuma’s sensitive space school story with a 400-page package. The next big new release from the publisher is a summer all-in-one edition of Sakuran — an early ’00s serial about an ambitious Edo period courtesan from the very good Moyoko Anno — recently confirmed to include all of the color sequences from the Japanese original; $13.95.

The Smurfs Vol. 11: The Smurf Olympics: But enough of these ’80s French comics, how about some proper Belgian Smurfs from 1983? That’s what you’ll get in this latest NBM/Papercutz release, perfect for making your Corto Maltese purchase seem that much bigger; $5.99 ($10.99 in hardcover).

Stan Lee’s Secrets Behind the Comics: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week from the University Press of Missi… sorry, I mean Pure Imagination. It’s a softcover reprint of a 1947 Famous Enterprises paperback in which Stan the Man — then but a lad of 24 — turns your body on to the Secrets Behind the Comics. No doubt an interesting artifact of the era from an already uniquely-positioned perspective, and I’m told there’s an offer where you can send in your work for a personal evaluation by the future Moebius collaborator for the low price of $1.00 (may not be valid); $20.00.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: You may or may not encounter Nancy at the shop this week, but Diamond assures me that other collections are en route. First there’s a new printing of The Complete Crumb Vol. 1: The Early Years of Bitter Struggle, now expanded to 208 pages with newly-discovered Crumb brothers funnies from the early ’60s; $24.99. And The Complete Peanuts Vol. 17: 1983-1984 takes us further into the age of Spike and the like; $28.99.

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50 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/14/12 – 2 or 3 Things I Know About Gir)

  1. Pingback: Rest in Peace: Jean “Moebius” Giraud (8 May 1938 – 10 March 2012) » Ragged Claws Network

  2. Daniel Jose Mata says:


    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!

    It is a terrible terrible reproduction. Pixlated blacks, blurry colors, and an absolutely hideous font. I’ve been feverishly waiting so long for this ever since I’ve heard about it (let alone my waiting for an affordable edition), I literally blurted out a loud “WHAT THE FUCK?!?!” in the bookstore, startling a few sheepish mothers, a guy thumbing through Sweet Tooth, and a brat sitting on the ground reading Black Jack. After a few minutes of composure, an employee came over asked me what the problem was. I explained in furious detail how ugly the printing was, how I’ve been waiting so long for it, how digital printing has a long ways to go, how long I’ve been waiting for it, how annoying the font was, and how long I’ve been waiting for it. She just politely listened, and we quietly agreed that its probably best that I don’t buy it. I apologized and left quickly after, avoiding all eye contact.

    I repeat:

    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!
    DO NOT BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!!!

    • Anthony Thorne says:

      The long Amazon review that went up recently seems quite happy with it, and explains why in detail. From the preview pages I’ve seen, I also didn’t care for the font though.

    • BVS says:

      seeing as how it’s before 9 am on Wednesday I haven’t actually seen the book myself. but it sounds like your options are:
      hunt down the NBM corto albums from the 80′s at considerable cost. those are the ones ones with inconsistent lettering from one volume to the next. also you need to pick up the NMB corto comic books from the early 90s, your keen eye will be able to identify them by the covers that look like they were designed by the worlds first 5th grade photo shop class.

      or learn to read french or italian or spanish, and find foreign editions.

      books that don’t sell generally don’t get additional error corrective 2nd printings. but if you are holding out for some new and improved 2nd printing, shouldn’t you actually be loudly jumping up and down at the comics shop encouraging people to:
      PLEASE DO BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!
      PLEASE DO BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!
      PLEASE DO BUY THE CORTO MALTESE BOOK!

      and despite the comments posted here on tcj, not every comic book reader is so obsessed with print production, that they carry a jeweler’s loupe and micrometer with them to the comic book shop. you might be overreacting just a little.

      • Daniel Jose Mata says:

        I maybe overreacting. Heck, I know I am. In hindsight, I always am. I just wanted it so badly. I even have a $25 waterlogged album sitting on my shelf. But, as a cartoonist, printer, and bibliophile, I really can’t in good conscience tell anyone to buy a shoddy book if there are better options. It just gives the OK for publishers, particularly ones that established, to print up and sell such terrible books, particularly regarding those with such a history as Corto Maltese.

        Still, it’s pretty damn ugly.

      • Bvs says:

        I apologize, I just saw the book myself. Sheeeeeeeeiiit! That is one ugly book.

    • Dan Nadel says:

      I have to agree with Daniel. I just saw the book and… wow. It basically looks like it was printed from 72 dpi files. The line art is completely pixelated and the color, which is meant to repro Pratt’s watercolors, is a stew of pixels and digital blobs. I can’t remember the last time I saw a book this badly produced by a major publisher. I think maybe they just printed it at lo-res and never saw proofs? I know I can be picky, but… wow. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t been recalled. If it was PictureBox I would have to recall it.

  3. James says:

    I have to agree that the font used for the Pratt book is ugly. I can see that even in the tiny images released so far. But what does one expect from a digital font? It is as if humans have forgotten how to write by hand, so that even in comics which are the most refined products of human mark-making abilities, the art is continually violated, not by calligraphy in another hand than the artists’, bad enough of itself but unavoidable in the case of translations of work by deceased artists, but by typesetters, some of whom used to be calligraphers, but have been forced to abandon their craft entirely, for no discernable reason but that editors can continue to futz around with the text until the moment before the book must go to press.

    • ant says:

      “The most refined products of human mark-making”, I like that.

    • James says:

      I looked at it in a shop yesterday and… font, yuck. The color is not by Pratt; it’s not so bad, it’s watercolor at least but I prefer the work in black and white. So I guess I’ll be sticking with the pile of ugly little comics that NBM did.

  4. Kim Thompson says:

    “What does one expect from a digital font?” is a bit excessive. There’s a growing number of quite attractive, well-used fonts (including, I immodestly think, in all of Fantagraphics’ foreign editions — some of which I bet people don’t even realize are fonts: Tardi, Jason, Tillieux, Macherot, etc.). Moebius’s last book, ARZAK, used a font to in its original French version to astonishingly good effect. It’s true that the European publishers seem to have been a bit behind the curve for some reason, and have lumbered new reprints of translated works in particular with some real eyesores (I wouldn’t be surprised if the new English language edition uses a font provided by Casterman); an earlier edition of the Muñoz/Sampayo books made my eyes water. But they seem to be learning.

    It’s also true that there is a “straightness” and consistency to even the best font that can be noticeable or even distracting, but I would be surprised if font-makers continued to develop more and more sophisticated fonts that throw in a little bit of the subtle variety and inconsistency that makes hand lettering so appealing.

    • Scott Grammel says:

      I long ago read or saw enough Hugo Pratt work not to be terribly excited about more English editions of his work, but I gave the new book a good if quick look today and, yeah, the font is almost immediately oft-putting. Not terrible, but far too uniform in height, especially. I’d call it minimally functional. Otherwise, the book looked fine to me.

      More importantly, Shade #6 came out, the second of Javier Pulido’s three-issue arc on the James Robinson-written title, and, based on their first issue together, my early wager for best mainstream comics of the year.

    • Daniel Jose Mata says:

      As an obsessive with dysgraphia, I can tell. They are still quite good though.

    • James says:

      Why don’t they just do hand lettering instead of trying to emulate it? Or, call a spade a spade, if fonts are what is to be used then there is no reason to pretend that it is hand work.

      • Kim Thompson says:

        (1) Because hand lettering is much, much, much more expensive. And speaking as a translator, it is virtually impossible to get the translation exactly right on the first try both in terms of the actual content and in terms of having it fit the word balloons exactly. The captions in our Tardi translations fit Tardi’s idiosyncratic balloon designs (particularly in the Manchette stuff) so perfectly only through a long process of tweaking and adjusting not only of letter size but also of actual words. I can “cheat” a line by compressing it by 10% or substitute a shorter word or break a line differently in 3 seconds on the computer; a hand letterer would spend precious minutes re-doing it, scanning it, pasting it in.

        (2) Because in the case of classic material I think it’s important that the letterforms be from the artist’s hand. The slight loss in “hand lettering spontaneity” in the Macherot and Tillieux books by using a font is more than made up for by the fact that each letter is in fact in Macherot and Tillieux’s hand. (And frankly, I think 99% of people look at the SIBYL-ANNE and GIL JORDAN books and assume they’re hand lettered.) There are letterers who can do a stunningly precise imitation of other cartoonists’ lettering (Céline Merrien’s hand lettering for our Mahler work is mind-bogglingly exact, and Dirk Rehm has done some beautiful work) but there aren’t many and they aren’t cheap.

        (3) I think D+Q’s hand lettering of the chapters of Tardi’s “War of the Trenches” was state-of-the-art excellent. But even aside from questions of price and convenience, I prefer ours — again, the slight “fontiness” of the regularity is trumped by the fact that those are Tardi’s marks on paper, not someone else’s.

        (4) You shouldn’t object to font lettering as a whole because much of it is bad, you should object to bad font lettering.

      • James says:

        Kim, I just prefer hand lettering in a medium that has so many aspects of hand-wrought illumination. I’ll grant that it is more understandable in translated work. Maybe it seems like unnecessary busy-work to some—and not all artists are able to, or perhaps bother to take the effort to, produce legible lettering. The development of fonts certainly suits the purposes of editors, plus most importantly, it suits the the publishers who pay typesetters less than the people who did it by hand. It is a bad development for calligraphers to be sure who are deprived of a living or must do something that takes far less hands-on skill. In my mind, it diminishes the medium generally. Fortunately many “alt/lit” artists still hand letter, perhaps because like me, they prefer the intimacy of the artist’s hand, or they do it as a reaction against the coldness of the more corporate comics product.

      • Ian MacEwan says:

        The font is stiff, but not horrible, except maybe that the punctuation is too small. I’ve only read the first 50 pages so far, but I’ve read too many imaginary run-on sentences because the periods weren’t very noticeable. The translation however, has some rampant grammatical errors. I wish it wasn’t so distracting, but it really is. The art is a little pixelated too, and the curious lack of any kind of introduction/forward leaves me feeling like Universe doesn’t care too much about it. The book design is pretty, and there are some good pull quotes on the back by Frank Miller and Umberto Eco. But otherwise, I get the feeling that Universe lost interest in publishing the next Corto volume before they finished producing the first one.

        Which is sad because, while I agree with Daniel and Dan, they AREN’T better options. Not unless have a good $100 and the patience to hunt for it. I bought this book knowing about some of the flaws, and I still think that it doesn’t destroy the reading experience, even if it lessens it. This is all us English talkin folks have got, so I want to support it, give Universe feedback, and hope that they correct these problems.

      • Tony says:

        Speaking of Macherot and Tillieux, and SIBYL-ANNE and GIL JORDAN, how’s sales?

        Tell me not disastrous, and that follow-ups are in the pipeline.

      • dries says:

        I never taught about (2). I think it’s a very good reason. Btw you have to get guts to publish the Franco-Belge stuff (I do buy them in French, sorry)!
        I didn’t notice Jason’s book were with font lettering (I don’t know if I have to buy them in French or English, interesting also to see the different sizes of the books, Norwegian is not an option).
        As an OA-collector I prefer the hand lettered art (eg Richard Sala’s pages), it wouldn’t appeal as much without the lettering (but the pages are not the final “product” if it comes to “comics”). And even with empty balloons it can be astonishingly beautiful (e.g. Richard’s Little Lit art!). Some artist go above and beyond (e.g. Chris Ware, the art and “finished product” wouldn’t be the same without hand lettering, in the OA I own of him he even added Rusty Brown http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryPiece.asp?Piece=431159&GSub=67601)
        Some lettering you can very difficultly do with fonts – i think – e.g. Dominique Goblet’s “Faire semblance c’est mentir”. I bought it in French and Dutch partly because she also hand lettered the Dutch version.

  5. Kim Thompson says:

    I agree that hand lettering is almost always preferable for original work by a single cartoonist. If a cartoonist can develop his own lettering into a font that is so convincing it fools everyone but the most anal font-watcher, I don’t have a problem with it, though (cf. Jeff Smith, or Moebius on ARZAK); and if the cartoonist himself just simply doesn’t have the lettering skills and isn’t in a position to hire a letterer, a well-done and well-used font is fine. Not that they can’t be trained! Joe Daly’s RED MONKEY DOUBLE HAPPINESS book had one story lettered clumsily by hand and one story lettered in a horrible font, so we went in and created a Joe Daly font (from his best letters) and re-lettered the whole thing in the font and it looked immeasurably better. (It is another case where I bet most readers don’t realize it’s a font.) Then Joe sat down and worked hard to improve his lettering and after some not so great pages in the book he was working on (DUNGEONQUEST VOLUME 1) he hit his stride and turned into a genuinely good letterer, and so he looped back and re-lettered the unsatisfactory earlier pages of that book and now he’s a 100% hand lettering guy, which indeed is optimal.

    As for mainstream hand letterers, yeah, they’re pretty much shit out of luck.

    • Kit says:

      I remember bristling at the new stiffness that entered Bone when Smith switched to computer lettering, and how it became more and more highlighted as the series progressed; because he still did display and shouting and sound effects lettering by hand, but his hand-lettering skills were generally atrophying, these would stand out as looser and sloppier the later the issues became.

      One presumes that he’s long gone back and re-lettered the early issues on computer, so it’s probably a more consistent read for the vast majority of his audience who’ve come to the work. Digital lettering also probably feels more of a piece with the digital colourisation of the Scholastic editions.

      Dirk Rehm is really great at translatofonts that have careful built-in inconsistencies and variation in letterforms, so that the books have a feel respectful to the liveliness of, eg the Dupuy & Bereberian linework.

      Todd Klein’s the only Big Two letterer who managed to stay more than 30% as good as they were BC (Before Computer). Though if you have to switch, I really liked the (Starkings-designed?) sentence-case font that Marvel was using a lot in the Jemas era. It was really comfortable to read, and at least had the mild advantage of feeling like a “house style.”

      Has anyone seen a new English-language Tintin edition in the last three years? For no possibly comprehensible reason, the beautiful (consistent! house-style! [just like the studio-done art!]) lettering of the previous 40-odd years has been replaced with a badly-kerned, awkwardly-thin computer font. It’s made the pages feel quite unreadably stiff.

    • Daniel Jose Mata says:

      Do you guys use a randomizing font generator for the books you re-letter, or just take the cartoonist’s best letters? I think I remember reading an interview with Sarah Glidden with her saying that that is what the letterer did with her comic. It gave it a nicer, less discernable hand written quality despite being an obvious overlay.

      • Kim Thompson says:

        Although I understand the appeal of the randomizer, I’ve found it really works pretty well with just the best-letter-repeat system if the font is good.

    • R. Maheras says:

      Lettering in certain older comics and comic strips was an integral part of the art and page layout itself. For example, in the 1960s, under Stan Lee’s vision and guidance, Sam Rosen’s and Artie Simek’s lettering gave Marvel a very distinctive look for its covers, splash pages and even the interior art pages. Today, many covers, splashes and interior pages are interchangeable — regardless of which company is doing the publishing.

      Computerized lettering has many advantages, and some of it looks pretty cool, but nothing beats hand lettering and logo design for distinctiveness — if the artist has the chops for it. But good lettering takes years of practice, so it’s probably a helluva lot easier for artists to just use the computer-generated fonts.

      One of the things I always admired Wally Wood for beyond his amazing talent as an artist and inker, was his tremendous lettering skills. Despite being part of an industry that perfected production compartmentalization almost from Day One, Wood was an pleasant anomaly.

      Walt Kelly was another cartoonist whose lettering on his long-running strip “Pogo” was, very often, integral to the art.

      This final example (see link below) by the cartoonist Alan J. Hanley is an amazing example cartooning intertwined with lettering that would be difficult, if not impossible, for a the average letterer today to duplicate using computer fonts — or even illustration software. To do something like this requires some real artistic and layout skills most letterers today — and even 30-40 years ago — just did not have.

      http://home.comcast.net/~russ.maheras/Lettuce-Entertain-You-History-circa-1976-72dpi.jpg

  6. Kim Thompson says:

    Tillieux has sold well enough to break even and we’ve already contracted for a second GIL JORDAN book, to be released in February 2013, containing the 5th and 6th Belgian albums (i.e. the two following the two in MURDER BY HIGH TIDE). Macherot has not (solidly in the red!) but we’re gonna do one anyway because that’s how we roll: It will be the wrap-up of the “Ratticus diptych”; together with the first one it’ll pretty much form one big 120-page graphic novel.

  7. maroko says:

    With each book you find few reviewers (so called card core collectors etc) who do nto like th ebook for whatever reason.

    I have Corto books in many languages and I prefer this US edition the most. It is easy to store, handle, font is readable (I do not like complicated fonts) the book is not heavy like my other HC huge Corto books, printing i son excellent paper with nice plastisized flapped covers. As usual about 1% of readers will look for minute mistakes etc which are really negligable. Repeat; nothing bothered me about this excellent book. Sure, the lining should be better reproduced but no comic book reproduces lines perfectly unless done strictly in black/white editions; and we had too many of those b/w Corto book. Time for color Corto books.

    The only recent b/w reprint book that had excellent black lines repro is Johnny Hazard, but the publisher chose a wrong format for the book, so there you go. We should not be so nitpicky but enjoy the books instead of complaining for tiny issues which do not bother, repeat, do not bother 99.9% of readers.

    • Sean Michael Robinson says:

      >>>>Sure, the lining should be better reproduced but no comic book reproduces lines perfectly unless done strictly in black/white editions>>>

      Not to be the guy who chimes in every time an issue of reproduction comes up…but that’s just not true, not if the line work and color layers are available as separate files, as they certainly are in this case.

      I think not accepting/purchasing/accepting ugly/shoddy/poorly constructed/designed/translated material is a good thing, and any argument that an audience for a book should just take what they can get doesn’t seem very worthwhile. (not that I’ve seen the book in question! I’ve been waiting for more Pratt in English for a looong time though…fortunately I have a nice-sized French HC to tide me over…)

      • maroko says:

        It all depends how you look at it: I also have the best repro Fr editions including the 12 x 16 inch original size art Ballad book in black/white and even in that book you can find something to complain (if you want it to) about as the book reproduced Pratt’s lines some of them fading ink a little etc..overall Universe did this book for masses (hopefully introducing more readers to Pratt and comic book art); Trust me there is very few collectors out there and it would not be worth it for them to publish Luxurious editons (maybe few hundred at most) as they would be $75 to $100 (just guessing)…hopefully the do work more and line repro in the next book they publish though

  8. maroko says:

    Forgot to mention. One thing that bothered me is that rasist Frank Miller quoting on back cover (I hate that about US comics) seems like they like to find some so called famous person to suggest a book etc that annoys me..

    No need for phony introduction etc, just give me the story and the book.

    • Tony says:

      Oh, but you see, a blurb by “rasist Frank Miller” doesn’t bother 99.9% of readers, and therefore we shouldn’t complain for such tiny issues, right?

      • Kim Thompson says:

        Miller is “so called famous”? I think we can agree that Miller is genuinely famous.

        Yeah, I’ve noticed that Europeans hate/are baffled by the U.S. tradition of books being blurbed by other writers, cartoonists, etc. But in this context, what does it matter whether he’s “rasist”? He’s not judging the racial content of CORTO MALTESE, he’s admiring and recommending a classic, strikingly drawn adventure series, and for better or worse and you and I may disagree, Miller’s considered a master in the field.

        I say this as someone who’s despised pretty much everything Miller has done since the first SIN CITY and is highly skeptical of most of his other work (and who finds his politics loathsome), but if I were doing a CORTO MALTESE book you bet I’d slap Miller’s quote on it too.

        The debate over the CORTO book seems to have solidified into such extreme terms (“it’s great/it’s perfectly fine” vs. “it’s THE WORST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED IN COMICS”) that it seems futile to try to take a middling position. All I can say is that this book is one of the great, great classics of European comics, and you pretty much are gonna have to decide if you can see through the color (which, if you must color Pratt, I think is probably the best color you’re gonna get), the admittedly slightly iffy reproduction, the format, etc. — or are gonna sit tight and wait for the ideal English language version that, I’m sorry to tell you, is not really likely to come anytime soon. Or learn French (or Italian) and be done with it.

      • Dan Nadel says:

        Kim, as usual, is a solid voice of reason. I looked at it and could only see the production errors which are pretty bad. Then again, the pixelated coloring and linework bring it pretty much on par with your average DC “52″ comic, and you can certainly read the stuff, which of course is better than the alternative. But it’s a shame when an artist’s work is poorly treated.

      • Daniel Jose Mata says:

        I would learn another language if I could. I have tried on numerous occasions, but certain disabilities have prevented me from competently doing so. I may be overreacting, but I’m not saying that its the worst thing to ever happen in comics either. This is just a massive disappointment for me. True, you can read it. But the difference of pedigree between Corto Maltese and Deathstroke is astronomical. To accept that it’s “readable” shouldn’t be acceptable. The history of the work practically demands it, and saying that this edition has “admittedly slightly iffy reproduction” is probably the nicest thing a fellow publisher can say about it. Would you sell a book that looks like this?

      • Ian MacEwan says:

        I really value your thoughts on all this, Kim. You’ve clearly been around the block with this sort of thing, and I did completely agree with you, until today. Okay so, I’ve never read Corto at length before this. I thought it was reading just a little differently from bits I remember reading from a friend’s copy. Looked into it, and found this:

        Page 5 of the original Ballad of the Salt Sea

        Page 8 of the new Rizzoli/Universe edition

        The pages have been completely reformatted! Panels have been cropped, resized, and the comic is now almost twice as long. These are no longer complaints about the print quality, lettering, or translation. Those I could forgive, if only because this is my only option. But this dismantling of Pratt’s page composition and pacing of the story changes everything to me. It makes it very literally a different comic book from what Pratt made in 67.

        I really wanted to like this book, and to tell others to support it in hopes that more volumes would be published, but not any more. :(

  9. Tony says:

    I see. Thanks for going above and beyond the call of duty with these books.

  10. Kim Thompson says:

    It’s worth noting that of the four commenters on Amazon, three of them, who seem to be neither plants nor stooges nor dolts, are perfectly happy with the book. The perfectionist side of me (as is hopefully evident in our own releases) shudders at a number of production flaws and misjudgments of the book but it seems that if you approach it with a glass-half-full spirit ready to enjoy it it’s a perfectly good reading experience of an indisputably great book, like watching a great movie on a slightly wonky television monitor.

    Does Pratt deserve better? (Unquestionably. Also, Patrizia Zanotti probably deserved not to have her name misspelled “Patritzia” on the title page.)

    BTW, Rizzoli is Pratt’s publisher in Italy, further confirming that this version seems to be entirely Pratt-licensor-approved. They have FOUR separate editions of this specific book on their website, including a deluxe version with supplements, a standard full-size BW one, and this one which looks like it’s the same as the U.S. one format wise — note the page count, which is identical to the US version: http://lizard.rcslibri.corriere.it/libro/3133_ballata_del_mare_salato_pratt.html

    So much as you may hate this edition, it can’t go in the category of “American publisher mutilates European masterpiece” but “American branch of Italian publisher releases same mutilated version of European masterpiece Italian publisher released in Italy,” which should at least give us some solace as Americans.

    • Daniel Jose Mata says:

      A movie is a fleeting expierence from a few feet away, as opposed comics stationary one just a few inches from your face. I’m much more willing to forgive a crappy screen/transfer than crappy printing. Anway, thanks for the sleuthing. True, there is some solace to the fact that we’re getting the same book. I can understand if an American publisher fucked this up, but what’s even more saddening is that even in Italy he gets such shoddy treatment.

    • Sean Michael Robinson says:

      The additional point here is that this book isn’t someone’s print-on-demand vanity project–it’s a professionally produced offset-printed product. Good printing in a case like this shouldn’t cost any more than bad printing does–it’s not more expensive to have crisp-looking line art. Somehow that makes things like this worst to me–that it wouldn’t have cost any more to have a much better-looking book–just the cost of having someone with more visual awareness and know-how at the helm.

      • Kim Thompson says:

        I don’t think it’s the printing, I think it’s the underlying files supplied by the licensor. If I had the Italian or French edition of this iteration of the work I’d do a side-by-side comparison. It’s possible that the material was mistakenly output at a low resolution for this particular edition but my suspicion is that they all look about the same. Of course, I could be wrong.

      • Sean Michael Robinson says:

        Sounds like you’re right on the money—- http://meathaus.com/2012/03/08/corto-maltese-in-english/

        All the more unfortunate, then, that this is the print quality everyone gets to enjoy. Not crazy about the idea of altered layouts as well…

      • maroko says:

        I have the same book (254 pages) in French and it is slightly smaller (2-4 cm in both directions; I’m not home now to check) than the Universe edition. Maybe this is the reason why slightly the black lines are not superb. They are good but could be better. And reformatting and slightly adding additional art was all Hugo Pratt.

        And yes, Miller (who heavily swaps(pped) from euro and Japanese artists) is famous but hasn’t done anything good since way, way back…I would still not put his blurb on the back page but it is no big deal its just annoying (for me anyway).

        Can’t wait for more Tardi books :)

      • maroko says:

        Forgot to add, the french and italian editions also are a little not shapr with black lines, but it only seems like that probably when they did original coloring overlaying shaprness was lost/ But it is still superb book. The best US edition so far in beautiful color.

  11. ant says:

    I’m gonna buy the fucker. No Pratt currently graces my bookshelves. There, I said it. My bookshelves need Pratt.
    Was he really Boris Karloff’s uncle?

  12. Kim Thompson says:

    Since Karloff was born 40 years before Pratt, probably not uncle. I believe a semi-distant cousin, once or twice removed.

    I think it’s by now clear that the American edition isn’t some crazy Yank aberration, but a faithful version of a reduced, reworked, recolored version of Pratt’s work that was created by Pratt’s longtime colorist/collaborator Patrizia Zanotti during the last decade and released (apparently not to any particularly big scandal, at least so far as I can Google) in France and Italy, among other countries.

    I agree that I prefer the original black and white larger format, but I don’t think the reworking of the page design destroys the work (Pratt seemed more interested in panel to panel progression than in the overall design of his pages, so far as I can tell — heck, the gold-standard classic Casterman albums cut his pages in two and ran them in big landscape-format books), the color work is by a trusted (during his lifetime) collaborator of Pratt’s and seems about as good as you can get if you decide to color Pratt; why Zanotti apparently worked with a relatively degraded version of Pratt’s linework is a mystery, but as evidenced by reader response most readers seem not to notice or care, and it’s the kind of thing that’s maddening if you fixate on it but easy to ignore once you get swept into reading the work.

    The font also appears to have been derived from Pratt’s own hand lettering. I do get the impression, however, that Pratt didn’t necessarily letter his own work (as was the case with, say, Hergé, and Milton Caniff), cf. the two originals shown here in Italian: http://archivespratt.over-blog.com/categorie-10318693.html . Personally, I feel that in some cases when an artist’s own lettering reaches a certain level of idiosyncrasy it’s better to just fall back on a more generic font because its “mechnicalness” becomes more obvious the more eccentric the letter forms are (José Muñoz is an example of this), but then again I’ve seen and in some cases used excellent letter fonts for super-idiosyncratic letterers like Moebius, Blanquet, and Lewis Trondheim, so maybe the Pratt font could work better with a little tweaking.

  13. Ethan says:

    Apparently many others are somewhat pissed. Pissed enough to write angry letters to Casterman:
    “Horrible Production May Have Doomed Corto In the US Yet Again”

  14. James says:

    I had a look at this thing in the shop and I don’t really see it as THAT bad….I don’t care for the font and totally prefer black and white, but the color is sort of nice, at least it is watercolor instead of plastic photoshop fades. I didn’t notice any fuzziness of the blacks, but I didn’t look at it for very long. At any rate, is it worse than the NBM comics which are reproduced from the line art but have some of the lamest covers and design ever and every page had an intrusive graphic bullet on top?

  15. James says:

    Then, every American Pratt book I’ve seen has apparently been designed to sell as few copies as possible. Pratt did plenty of nice dramatic watercolors, but the publishers always use weak blowups from the interior art. The books look exceedingly boring…every time.

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