Pipeline

Tue, May 4th, 2010 at 2:28pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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WHAT DO BLU-RAYS AND COMICS HAVE IN COMMON?

Yes, comics fans are hard to please. We all have our lists of favorite comics that never got trade paperback collections. Some of us even complain that our most favorite collections were never released in hardcover.

But, man, I took a look through some Blu-ray forums recently, and was amazed at how astounded some people are that Movie X, Movie Y, and Movie Z aren't out on Blu-ray yet. There are a couple of reasons for this, but let's get a grip: These movies were just, in many cases, released on DVD in the last few years. It took a decade for DVDs to saturate the market, but the hard core Blu-ray fans are wondering why all those movies haven't been painstakingly cleaned up again and released again for them, usually with new bonus features.

Yikes, I can remember when LucasFilm was still waiting for the millionth DVD player to be sold before releasing any of their titles.

But there's also the matter of technology, which also has a parallel in the comics world. Blu-ray movies can only be as good as the original movie prints or negatives. Many of the movies people are demanding high gloss super-clean transfers of today were never shot that way originally. Hilariously, people complain about the grain on their Blu-ray movie releases, when that grain is there on purpose. Or they want the movie studios to "clean up" the grain that the director chose to leave there. Blu-ray is really only good for movies released in the last few years in that way, if what you're looking for is the super-glossy superslick high def look.

Now take a look at some modern day reprints in the comics world, where we have the same problems with remastering colors. There have been some projects that got new coloring, such as DC's "Absolute Watchmen." Other, more run-of-the-mill products, stick as close to the original colors as they can, but the new paper stock is a real problem. Colors meant for ink-soaking newsprint look different on superslick shiny modern paper stock. Scanning the original film or comics themselves leads to the loss of some fine ink lines. If you look too carefully at many modern reprints, they're kind of a mess. It's nice to have them so easily filed away on a bookshelf together, but the original crappy paperstock is how it was always meant to be seen. Short of reshooting the black and white film and recoloring everything from scratch, the reprints will almost never look better. And those fixes are time-consuming and, thus, wallet-draining.

Like anything in life, it's all a compromise. You get relatively cheap and easy, but you lose some quality. It's the old "Faster, Cheaper, Better. Pick any two."

The brings us to the recent DC reprints of "Swamp Thing" and many of their hardcover Jack Kirby offerings. They basically replicate the newsprint feel and quality of the printing. Many readers/collectors don't like that. They expected their upscale hardcover offering to have modern print quality and more durable paperstock. But would that be a more accurate reprinting? I don't think it would be. While the books may often feel cheap and light, I think they look better than they would had they been done in the more traditional computer touch-up method.

So, yes, let's laugh at those complaining that they're favorite 2007 DVD hasn't shown up on Blu-ray yet, but then let's realize we say some similarly silly things in the comics world sometimes. I'm no exception.


It's all done out of love for the medium, though. That has to be a good thing, right?

(And where is my lovingly-restored "Rocketeer" Blu-ray to make up for that godawful barebones poor-print DVD release of a few years back? "The Phantom" is on Blu-ray, but not the superlative "Rocketeer?!?")

MOTION OR NOT, MAKE UP YOUR MIND

Bear with me for a moment. This circles back to comics fairly quickly.

There's a technique in photography called "panning." It's used in pictures where you want to show action with a still image. Simply put, you move your camera with the action, usually horizontally. This allows you to keep in sharp focus the object that's moving (race car, horse, bicyclist), and blurs everything else out behind him/her/it, in a streaky way that indicates direction. It is not an easy thing to do, and even the professionals get as many misses as hits. You have to time it just perfectly. Even better: with race cars, you want to do all that and make it look like the wheels are still spinning. Set your shutter speed accordingly!

It's the exact opposite of what happens when you try to take a still shot of your daughter or nephew, who's too busy running around to stop for a photo. The kid looks blurry, but the background is in sharp focus.

In this example, the speedlines are coming out at you, while the headlights of the car up ahead are, theoretically, the subject of the picture.

To put it in comic book terms, it adds speed lines behind the object or person doing the quick movement in the foreground.

Physically, it's impossible for a single frame to have both speedlines and perfectly sharp items in the background. It makes no sense. You're moving the frame with the object in motion.

That's why I flinched when I saw the first image from Dark Horse's recent "Hellcyon" #1 over on the Robot 6 blog. It's a well drawn image, but it only makes sense if you look at the top half or the bottom half. Combine the two and your brain blows a vessel. The bottom half is perfect. You get the vehicle racing towards the reader, down the frame. The road is streaky vertically, along with the motion. The bullets are tracking down the frame, as well.

But, then, just behind the action, everything in the background is in crisp focus, completely destroying the technique. You can't make your camera perfectly still for half the image and in motion for the second half.

There are two possibilities here to explain this image. First, there are no speedlines and no motion blur in the road. The colorist just chose to draw the road in the same direction as the bike speeding towards the reader. The second is that this is comics, not the movies. Comics are allowed to break the rules. There's no problem here.

What do you think? Am I overthinking this? Or are we breaking a rule of photography to get a desired effect?

PIPELINE WEBCOMICS PROJECT WEEK 2

"The Space Between," by Shane McCarthy

I always figured reading a month's worth of strips for any webcomic would be enough to get a sense of what they're about and if I should continue reading them. As it's turning out, it might not take that much work. It's amazing the number of webcomics I've read in the last couple of weeks that my first impressions of turned out to be dead on, even after reading a good number of strips in the archive.

The other thing that isn't surprising, really, but is a little frustrating, in a way, is the number of webcomics drawn in a manga-like style. I don't want to ignite a holy way here of "comics vs. manga," because all of the same problems that young creators inspired by American superhero comics have are echoed in the modern manga reading generation. There's a surface understanding of the art and the stories feel like rehashes, but everything is a cheap third generation photocopy of the original.

"The Space Between" began on November 2, 2009, and is scheduled for updates on Mondays and Fridays. From what I can tell, creator Shane McCarthy has stuck to that schedule, though there have been hiccups along the way. At least two strips (Strip #19 is the first) in the first three months that I saw were unfinished pencils for the strip, with finalized lettering added in. McCarthy didn't have time to finish the strip, as he mentions in the connected blog.

And so "TSB" begins to take on the characteristics of a clichéd webcomic. Oh, and there's also a news post asking for guest strips, with the promise of a daily guest strip for two weeks straight at some unspecified future time this summer.

If your webcomic is less than six months old and you're already asking for help to get the job done, you're in trouble. Just saying. McCarthy says that the guest strips would be used at the conclusion of the first story arc, so at least he's planning them, and not using them as a last minute dodge.

The art style is a rehashed manga look, with awkward figures that have Very Large Colorful Eyes. No wonder, then, that the creator's list of recommended comics at the bottom of the page features lots of that kind of material, too, judging by their buttons.

Ink lines have a uniform weight. Anatomy is awkward, though I suppose one might favorably look upon that as a stylistic choice. I don't think that's what it is, but you tell yourself what you need to.

The comic itself is about a guy and his female friend, his roommate and his friend's co-worker/romantic interest. If you're in your early 20s and struggling to make it through life financially and romantically, there's probably a lot in here for you to sympathize with. It's all rather familiar and staid for me, though. There's nothing here that presents the material in a new or interesting way. It's just another crazy collection of characters having relationship problems, often with the perky girls getting all the wrong attention from the boys. (I did laugh at "Chicken Stripping," which I had never heard of. I clearly lead a sheltered life.) You can see clear bits of the artist's life leaking through to the strip, such as with the musical and sports references. That's fine, but it often seems to be namechecking something for no reason other than that you're a fan. It doesn't add anything.

The art gets you through the story and provides very little else. This might as well be radio drama. It's a little annoying when word balloons have no tails. Colors are bright, but flat, with shadows added in inconsistently, and backgrounds simplified to flat colors with the barest hint of a closet door or turn in the wall.

I'm sure this comic will have a devoted group of fans, and it's sure to hit some people just the right way. I just don't think it's currently built in such a way that it's going to attract a more mainstream audience to become the next big thing. It's just too simple and too unattractive, as it stands today.

Speaking of photography, check out the ultimate phototracer on Flickr. Made me laugh out loud.

I did two CBR Reviews this week, for "Usagi Yojimbo" and "Fraggle Rock." So if you want more reviews in Pipeline, I point you in those particular directions.

Pipeline returns next week, with more thoughts on some of the ideas and concepts presented above.

In my spare time: I'm podcasting. I'm Twittering, photoblogging, and blogging.. E-mail me!

Come chat at the Pipeline Message Board, and catch up on nearly 13 years of columns in the Pipeline Archives.

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