Concerning my earlier post about Scanner Quality: Here is a photograph scanned with a $100 home scanner I bought because it sat up vertically on the desktop, taking up less space. It is worthless. Above is a 1.5 inch section of photograph I scanned at 300 dpi and saved uncompressed, showing all the same jagginess and lack of nuance that I talked about below.
Somebody at Fantagraphics doubted that cheap scanners had anything to do with this binary phenomenon but, yes, they do. They are the devil's work. As I said.
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Time for a new installment of Steven Weissman's in-progress pages from "Blue Jay," an epic 32-page story from Chocolate Cheeks, the next collection of the Yikes! gang's adventures. In this week's episode: Steven challenges you to find the continuity error that will be fixed for the book! (Remember, you must be registered and logged in to read.)
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I should make time for posts like this more often but here's a little rundown on why people shouldn't use cheap scanners to archive material.
Take a look at this scan of an original old pin-up page that was sent to me this week, compressed as a jpg. At a glance it looks great with the watercolor paper really showing its tooth. (Technically the page has also not been laid down flat enough and we're getting an uneven light but let's overlook that.) Above shows the full art which was scanned large--about 11" tall at 300dpi.
Looking closer you can see that the mottling (modelling? now I'm not sure which.) is actually quite inconsistent, made up more of a kind of binary than a continuous tone. Her skin looks blemished. The wall just looks awful. Cheap scanners tend to blow out the highlights and sink the shadows. It's like getting the box of 8 crayons instead of 64, so the scanner relies more on contrast to form the image and you lose detail.
If you then compress that file as a jpg, it makes those tones crumple into jaggy pixelation. Everyone should know this by now but it's amazing how few people do: Jpg files are for the web. It makes your file size small so windows load more quickly. Most of the time there's no good reason for large files to be saved as jpgs. You want .tif (or .psd) for your precious artwork. If you save it as a .jpg you better have a reason. If you don't have a reason I hope you get stuck in an elevator with Jordan Crane, who will tear you apart without pity. (Go NOW to download his Reproguide at the bottom of this page .)
This last detail really showcases what makes cheap scanners the devil's work. The artwork is technically high resolution enough for print but if it were run at actual size you would see how awful the shading really looks. You would see how the highlight shading is a bunch of tiny gray boxes. The jpg compression is also making for all the little noise that's going on along the edges of lines.
As it is I'm probably going to use this file for print but run about a third of the size of the original. For the purposes of a non-archival project such as the Pin-Up series I simply don't have the luxury of controlling the work as much I'd like, besides the fact that most of the material will be scanned from old pulp digests.
It helps to explore compensatory tricks-- I originally planned the pin-up series to be embellished with a second spot color not just because it looked cool and mirrored the coloring of the digest covers but specifically to draw the eye away from the generational loss of scanning continuous tone artwork off of crummy, 50 year old pulp.
Throughout the late midcentury, Dan DeCarlo was simultaneously defining the look of tight-sweatered Riverdale girls in Archie comics for little Billy while drawing titillating Riverdale-esque women losing their sweaters in Humorama magazines for Bill senior. Like Playboy being produced by Disney, the utter American-ness of it resonates deeply and rather disturbingly. It's the ultimate subversion to see these Archie girls squeaky-clean and wide-eyed in a slick, crass, Man's World of viral virile impotence. And I can't stop admiring DeCarlo because of and in spite of it...
[Ha. I misspelled 'virile.' And, no, I'm not going to explain myself.]
Tonight at 7:00, see Mome contributor Robert Goodin at Meltdown in LA for the release of his new comic one-shot from our pals at Top Shelf, The Man Who Loved Breasts. Momes will, of course, also be available, as well as other Goodinalia.
(I dare you not to sing the title of this post to yourself to the tune of the theme from Entertainment Tonight now that I have put the suggestion in your head.)
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