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Author Topic: Scanning comic books?  (Read 5723 times)
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madbrad
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« on: September 24, 2003, 05:31:20 AM »

I'm a long-time comics reader and collector and have spent quite a bit of time over the years scanning comic book pages.  However, I've never been able to attain the quality of the scans that are on this web site, and would like to ask how you were able to produce them.

This seemed to be the most relevant forum; please redirect me if there is a more appropriate venue for my question.

In scanning comic panels to any significant resolution I've never been able to get anything close to the excellent 'uniform' colouring that you have iin your scans here on this site.  How do you do it?  My scans always capture all the colouring inaccuracies and imperfections that are in the actual comic (the reddish 'dots' for facial/skin features being the worst blemish in the image).

Do you somehow scan only the linework and then colour it in yourself afterwards?  If so, can you do this from an actual comic (is there software that will only scan the lines - or even produce lines from the raster image) or is another method involved?

I'd love to be able to scan some of my comics resulting in images to the standard of what I've seen on your web site, so would appreciate any pointers or advice on how you do it!

Thanks,


Brad
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« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2003, 07:20:11 PM »

I do my work in Adobe Photoshop, one page at a time.  First I'll scan an individual page at 300 dpi.  Then I'll choose "Auto Adjust Brightness and Contrast" which instantly fixes up the colors.  This one step can restore vibrant life to an otherwise ancient and faded story.  After that's done, I'll increase the brightness just a little bit more otherwise the colors will be much too dark.  Depending on how the line work looks at that point, I might darken them if they're too light (just selecting that color and going over it with black).  But not usually, so far I've only really done this in the Special Edition.  (I do a lot more than just what I describe in this post when working on the Special Edition, see this page for some more info.)

As far as the gutter space, I try to wipe that out and complety replace it with pure white, although I usually miss a few dots here and there.

Here's a sample of how a page looks when I scan it:



This image is shrunk down, the original scan was 2200 pixels wide.  When working on a page, I do so at the full scan size.

Here's how the same page looks after I've trimmed it, adjusted the brightness and contrast, and cleaned out the gutters (and, like above, shrunk it down for display in this forum):



This example is from one of the older comics.  The new ones (like the Elseworlds 80-Page Giant or the Challengers excerpt) end up looking much nicer after they've gone through this same process because the pages aren't faded or dirty and the printing is sharper. (ie, the colors don't run past the lines or overlap each other.)

Once all the cleanup  is done, I'll shrink the page down to 600 pixels wide to display it on the site.  Make sure you are in RGB mode when you do this, and that all the layers are flattened.  I chose 600 pixels so that the page wouldn't be wider than anyone's monitor (the smallest monitor size is 640 x 480, and 600 pixels leaves room for the browser's scroll bar) but would still be large enough to make out the dialogue.  The shrinking has the added bonus of smoothing out all the patterns within the colors.  ie, all the red-dots-on-white used for a flesh pattern will be shrunk down so much that they'll all merge and become an actual flesh tone.

When scanning comics, I don't really do any recoloring or reconstruction unless there's an obvious mistake, like Superman's costume accidently colored green in one panel or some illegible dialogue or something.  Usually it's pretty clear that I've made a change.  For instance, in the splash page from DCCP annual #2, Superwoman's costume was miscolored on the right hand page.  The top red pieces on her thighs weren't red in the comic, they were yellow or purple or something (I don't remember) so I used a matching red to fix them.  And you can tell, because that's the only part on the page where the colors are smooth.

The only exception to this is the three part Bogdanove story where I did some artwork editing and panel re-arranging in order to remove all the "Dominus" story-line references.  The changes were minimal in part one, but by the time I reached part three, they were pretty massive.  The story is a lot better for it, though :-)

Many of the comics on this site are scanned from DC's archive editions or trade paperbacks so the coloring in those is already very clean.  This may be what you're noticing.  See How Luthor Met Superboy, which I didn't recolor at all, but it came from one of the high quality reprints so it looks pretty good.

S!
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"The bottom line involves choices.  Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever.  Good or evil, they are bound to choose.  And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us.  As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose.  If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be?  As a writer and an artist, I've drawn my answer."   - Jack Kirby
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« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2003, 10:37:33 PM »

As far as recoloring goes, I do recolor things, but not entire stories.  For instance, this picture



used on the Jimmy Olsen Signal Watch page, is taken from the bottom right of this page.  As you can see, the original colors are pretty sloppy.

I basically grabbed the linework and did all new coloring for it.  This is fairly easy to do if you have Photoshop, but the astute viewer will note that in my haste I accidently deleted Jimmy's left thumb. :-)

S!
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"The bottom line involves choices.  Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever.  Good or evil, they are bound to choose.  And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us.  As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose.  If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be?  As a writer and an artist, I've drawn my answer."   - Jack Kirby
madbrad
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« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2003, 05:27:56 AM »

First up, Rao, thank you very much for the time you put into your reply.  I found your advice most interesting.  I've been 'scanning' comic panels and such for 15 or 20 years (well, starting off with photographic techniques and then proceeding into the digitial era).  However it's only in the last couple of years that I've become aware of the facilities available in applications like Adobe Photoshop.  I've done a *little* bit of work with its Linux equivalent - 'The Gimp' - so I have some dawning comprehension of the procedures you've described.

The biggest difference in our aims is that I've been endeavouring to produce large-scale - 'blown up' - images of single panels, whereas your work is concerned with resolving an entire page to something around the same size (or smaller) on a monitor.  With my enlargements I've come across classic problems, like:

a.  The 'red dots in flesh colours' problem; or

b.  enlarged lines become very 'fat' and lose any 'crispness' in the figures' outlines

which you perhaps haven't had to worry about.

Still, you've given me some valuable pointers.  I think I'll have to abandon any idea of keeping any of the original colouring (I've tried removing the 'red dots', for example, based on their colour grouping, but lose too much from other parts of the panel) and instead just keep the outlines and then do my own colouring from scratch.  I've explored how to do this with The Gimp (discovering 'layers' and the like - novice user here!) with some success.  But just bland one-tone colours so far, no idea - or artistic intuition - on how to do any colour 'gradients', such as what a 'real' picture would exhibit under a light source, etc.

I've performed this preliminary investigative work on colouring with black & white panels because I didn't have a clear idea on how to reduce a normal coloured comic into just its linework.  You've given me a hint ("just selecting that color and going over it with black").  Do you 'go over it' manually, or is there a Photoshop function that can 'retrace' a line?  You mention in your second Jimmy Olsen post that you "basically grabbed the linework" - can you elaborate any further on just that procedure?

Thanks again for your detailed response thus far!  I had a look at your references to your 'Special Edition' pages - amazing the amount of work that you've put into this.

Regards,


Brad
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« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2003, 08:05:09 PM »

madbrad,

I'm glad to be of any help.  I agree, we are trying to accomplish two different things.  The fact that I shrink the images down really smooths out and covers up a lot of rough spots.

Quote
I've performed this preliminary investigative work on colouring with black & white panels because I didn't have a clear idea on how to reduce a normal coloured comic into just its linework. You've given me a hint ("just selecting that color and going over it with black"). Do you 'go over it' manually, or is there a Photoshop function that can 'retrace' a line? You mention in your second Jimmy Olsen post that you "basically grabbed the linework" - can you elaborate any further on just that procedure?


Copying the linework for a new image, and turning it black in an existing image, are two separate things.  In the latter, I'll actually select it and then hit the delete key after I've set the background color to black, just to darken the lines.  Pretty simple to do.

As for the former, there are many different ways depending on what the comic you've scanned is like.  I'd suggest extensive experimentation with the gimp and maybe do a google search to get some advice on techniques.

Here's a rough description of what I'll sometimes do:

After I've increased the contrast, I'll "select" everything that is the color of the lines (usually with the select percentage set up at 150% or 200% to make sure I get all of the line work.)

"copy" it all.

"paste" it into a new, empty image the same size as the original image, preferably in its own layer.

Now that you've got the line work, you need to turn it all black.  If what you've pasted is selected, you could use the paint bucket or a large size brush.  I generally merge everything down, change mode to "black and white", then select the lines again to put them in a separate layer via copy or cut and then paste.

Coloring should be done in a layer under the linework in order to preserve the lines.

Using the "select color" method to copy the line work can result in also getting some extraneous stuff, which I generally clean up with the eraser.  For that kind of work, I'll zoom in a lot and work on the individual pixels.

The method described here is the same one that I used to colorize the three portaits of Lana Lang in her Encylopaedia entry.  I scanned the pictures from Fleisher's Great Superman Book.  They were just the linework, printed on some pretty faded and yellowed paper.

S!
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"The bottom line involves choices.  Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever.  Good or evil, they are bound to choose.  And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us.  As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose.  If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be?  As a writer and an artist, I've drawn my answer."   - Jack Kirby
madbrad
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2003, 05:35:52 AM »

Rao, thanks for that.  Just one more question - I suspect it's more teaching me about a Photoshop term than anything else:

  "Now that you've got the line work, you need to turn it all black. If what you've
   pasted is selected, you could use the paint bucket or a large size brush. I generally
   merge everything down, change mode to "black and white", then select the lines
   again to put them in a separate layer via copy or cut and then paste."

What do you/Photoshop mean by 'merge'?  Does this THIN the lines down in any way?

One of the problems of enlarging single panels is that the individual lines become much 'fatter' in themselves.  Even if/when I do everything else you advocate - withdrawing the lines to a separate layer, colouring anew in a layer below, etc - this problem would remain.

I was wondering if Photoshop is clever enough these days to 'thin' lines down; perhaps vectorising a raster image of a line.  Or if there is other software out there clever enough to recognise linework from a scanned image.

Cheers,


Brad
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2003, 07:06:51 PM »

Quote

What do you/Photoshop mean by 'merge'? Does this THIN the lines down in any way?

It doesn't thin the lines.  'merge' basically means to flatten layers.

I don't exactly see how the lines could be "too thick."  Wouldn't anything that you enlarge naturally get larger?

There may be a way to extract or "thin" the lines down, but I don't know of it.  If I had to do what it sounds like you're trying to do, I'd probably redraw the lines at the desired thickness in a new layer, over the originals using them as a guide, then hide the old layer.

I hope that's helpful to some degree.

S!
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"The bottom line involves choices.  Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever.  Good or evil, they are bound to choose.  And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us.  As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose.  If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be?  As a writer and an artist, I've drawn my answer."   - Jack Kirby
madbrad
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« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2003, 03:38:35 AM »

Quote
I don't exactly see how the lines could be "too thick." Wouldn't anything that you enlarge naturally get larger?

Exactly.  I've found that many - well, some - panels, if blown up to A4 size, have lines much thicker than if you'd approached an artist and asked him to draw the same picture from the start at that size.  I.e. the lines on an enlarged image look like they were drawn by a thick brush rather than by a 'pencil', which is what I'd prefer for the image to look as good as possible.

Quote
There may be a way to extract or "thin" the lines down, but I don't know of it. If I had to do what it sounds like you're trying to do, I'd probably redraw the lines at the desired thickness in a new layer, over the originals using them as a guide, then hide the old layer.

That's a great idea!  I know it seems obvious to you, but I'm such a novice at using these programs that such things don't occur to me.  Now that you've mentioned it, of course ...

I'm pretty lousy at free-drawing lines with a mouse, but I imagine Photoshop et al have thingies which will draw a line connecting arbitrary points supplied by the artist.  If I can think of such a thing either a) it's already been done, or b) I'm only dredging up a memory of such an existing facility anyway.  Something like that should help me do what you advocate and get the thin lines that I want.

Thanks for your help Rao!  I'll keep your advice in mind the next time I do some scanning/imaging.


Brad
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