Sunday, 24 February 2013

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE JOHNNY FLAGG A FIGHTING CHANCE...?


Front cover to Titan edition

Back in 1989, I bought the MARVEL hardback featuring the FIGHTING AMERICAN stories by SIMON & KIRBY which had first appeared in the 1950s.  Some of the pages had been very obviously touched-up and, in some cases, re-created by tracing from the published comics.  Some captions and word balloons had been re-lettered also, meaning that the book, though worthy, was hardly archival in nature.

Back cover to Titan edition

Then, a couple of years back, over on the Simon & Kirby Museum, restorer HARRY MENDRYK posted 'before' and 'after' examples of pages from a new Fighting American reprint book which he was then working on.  There were pictorial comparisons with the earlier book, and the new presentation looked superior in every way.  Sadly, this doesn't seem to have transferred to the published result.

Panel from Titan edition

I managed to pick up a copy of the TITAN BOOKS softcover edition recently, and I have to be honest and say that I found it to be disappointing in certain respects.  Some pages and panels are so murky, and colours so dark, that the detail is practically invisible underneath.  Perhaps the problem is purely down to the printing, but what's the point of alleged 'faithful' reproduction of the original line-work if you can't even see it?

Panel from Marvel edition

I can't open the book wide enough to scan complete pages without creasing the spine, but I can show you a panel from each volume so that you can see the difference for yourselves.  The first picture, shown before the preceding paragraph, is an example from the Titan book, followed by the same panel, above, from the Marvel presentation of the tale.  Which one would you say was clearer?

Front cover to Marvel edition

Despite the imperfections of the 1989 release, it's a much easier reading experience and less likely to induce eye-strain and headaches in those who peruse its pages than the the 2011 Titan volume.  So don't be misled by its claims to superiority over the Marvel book - it would be a tad hasty to dispense with the earlier edition until a truly superior version is available to collectors.

Sad to say, that's still to happen.  Maybe one day?  In the meantime, I'd say that both volumes are essential items on any serious Simon & Kirby fan's bookshelf.

Back cover to Marvel edition

FOOTNOTE:  I played around with the Titan panel on my computer and this (below) was the result, so it seems that the murkiness is down to the way the book was printed rather than the way the pages were prepared for publication.  Hopefully Titan will release a superior, defect-free edition in the not too distant future.

Reworked Titan panel

9 comments:

DeadSpiderEye said...

Going on the panel examples you've supplied, my vote comes down in favour of Titan. I've not seen either so my opinion is only guesswork but I'd say the Marvel edition suffers from that supersaturated look that was common in the early 80's when the early card stock comics appeared. Don't know what Titan have done to the blacks but it looks as though they've tried to emulate the imperfect cover of oil based black to pulp stock. Which is fine by me because that's the finish artists had in mind when producing artwork but that's a kind of personal thing, dunno if the a market used the crisp lines of Jim Lee would take to it.

Kid said...

I'm surprised, DSE, because you can't see the detail in the man's jacket in the Titan version, and there are many instances of this throughout the book. As for the Marvel version, I'm not too keen on the choice of colours on some pages, but at least you can actually see the artwork.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Yeah I get what you mean, It's just that Marvel one jars so much especially when you look at the hi-lights, like the hair on the second and third figures from the left. There's something not right with the browns on the Titan one as well though, especially the jacket. It should be a solid yellow with a visible magenta screen. I'm not sure how the technique they use with modern inks works but it's come out solid but weirdly inconsistent, kinda yucky looking in close up. As I say, I haven't seen either of these but the Titan one still gets my vote for now, it's easier on the eye but let's not forget I'm looking through a dead spider so maybe it's just me.

Kid said...

It sounds like it's more the colour scheme (which is the original) of the Titan version which you prefer 'though, than the way it reproduces on the page. I also prefer the Titan choice of colours, but the Marvel one has clearer reproduction (in many instances) and is therefore easier to decipher, detail-wise.

John Freeman said...

There could be any number of reasons for the differences. Source material could is the main one: in 1989, Marvel might have had access to originall plates/ film from a later reprinting of the story than the original. You may remember Marvel UK used to get dupes of original film to reproduce US strip material but I imagine all that would be long gone by now. So then whoever scanned the comic for the Titan edition will have to scan from the comic - and again, different copies of the original comic will look different.

This is certainly the case on other collections I have worked on, where the collector involved has tracked down multiple copies of the source comic down the years, trying to find the best edition to work from. Ultmately it is far better to be able to work from original art but that just isn't possible in many cases.

The other issue is project cost. I do know that like you, the folk working on these kinds of projects often see it as a labour of love, but that has to be tempered, in my view, with the labour cost of how much time is spent on achieving the best result within the project budget.

Kid said...

Thanks for the interesting comments, John. Having worked on some Masterworks volumes as a restorer (and in some cases a re-creator), I understand just what kind of limitations the artists have to labour under. However, when Harry Mendryk displayed pages from the Titan edition on his blog, they looked crystal clear, so the problems with the published result seem to be down to a combination of the printing process and the paper they were printed on.

It shouldn't be too hard to fix in subsequent editions - all the hard work has already been done.

John Freeman said...

Does indeed sound like a printing issue, Kid. Do they do digital editions of these as well?

Kid said...

To be honest, John, I don't know if there's a digital edition of the book, but scans of various pages are on view on the Simon & Kirby site at the Jack Kirby Museum blog.

DeadSpiderEye said...

So you think it's the print quality that's causing the problem, I though they might have deliberately moderated the blacks, you know to get that authentic feel but I suppose that is a bit naive and the fans would balk at it anyway. You're right about the colour, not sure why the Marvel one goes for for different colours, is that because it was done without reference to the original?



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