Friday, October 03, 2008
Victories and Defeats (Mostly the Latter)
But the real reason I'm here is, as I said, to scan the comics of the Amsterdam News bound volumes. It took a day and a half of in-person arm twisting to get the first of those bound volumes -- the way they protect them you would never guess that they spent the last thirty years or so tossing bound volumes in the dumpster. Finally, though, after explaining to seemingly every employee of the library that we really, honesty, truly do need to work with the bound volumes, not the microfilm or the digitized simulacrum of that microfilm they gave in.
The first bound volumes of the Amsterdam News (1942, they have nothing earlier) are in beautiful condition. They were restored and rebound using a very fancy and expensive German process where they actually shave the pages in two (an amazing accomplishment if I do say) and then affix each side of the pages onto thick backing paper. I have to mention that the paper they affix it to looks to me to be very acidic (you can see the wood chips in it) so I can't see how this process isn't going to backfire on them bigtime in short order.
Since we had such fantastic source material to work with I had very high hopes for the scanning. As you read in the previous post my new PlanOn wand scanner is pretty much the only game in town and I knew when I bought it that the reviews were definitely not complimentary. But beggars can't be choosers, so I bought it and hoped that its shortcomings wouldn't cause me too many problems.
Fat chance. Everything about the PlanOn scanner and its software is rinky-dink crap. How do I hate thee -- let me count the ways:
* the stupid thing is CONSTANTLY turning itself off. You're lucky if it will stay on long enough to complete a scan.
* the settings just love to revert to their defaults constantly. Since the defaults are pretty much exactly opposite of what I'm trying to do, if I don't keep a watch on it I end up with a bunch of useless scans.
* the memory that they load in the thing is beyond ridiculous. The scanner as you buy it can only hold 5 Mb of data, which of course gets you barely one 400 dpi scan. I immediately added a 1 Gb micro-SD card to take care of that problem. But at $300 they couldn't have included this standard?
* the software is pathetic. Although it gives every impression of handling multiple scans in a reasonable manner, I found out today that there is no way to just get it to save off all the stored scans on the unit. You have to do it one image at a time. Great fun when you've made 40 or 50 scans.
* in order to even review the scans you've made, you have to download them from the unit with the software. That process takes an absolutely insane amount of time. For 20 scans (the most I attempted between downloads) the process took half an hour. That's half an hour of downtime when I could accomplish nothing. And don't forget, now you still have to individually save each image after that. If that weren't enough, then you will want to clear the images off the scanner memory. That's another 5 minutes or so.
* ... and I would gladly put up with all that crap to get the good scans I was hoping for. Keep in mind that this paper is available on microfilm (but the photography is crappy) and digitized on ProQuest (unfortunately they used the microfilm as their source, so the quality is the same). So I was looking for good clean scans that would be suitable for reproduction in a book. The PlanOn scanner claims a maximum resolution of 400 dpi -- not tremendous, but not bad. And here's the rub. The scans I made today at 400 dpi are indeed 400 dpi, but the actual physical resolution of that scanner cannot possibly be 400 dpi. 200 dpi maybe, but not 400. The scans have to be made in color (their grayscale mode is just awful) and they all come out shifted way over to the red. They have a calibration utility that I thought might have been needed to be run, but it claimed that the calibration was already in good shape. Once I took the scans over into Photoshop, switched them to grayscale and played with the levels the line art is undeniably blocky -- no way that is really 400 dpi. Here's a sample where Ollie Harrington's delicate grease-pencil shading has been turned into a composition of blocks. Take my word that the reproduction in the newspaper was in fine shape, and my flatbed scanner would have had no trouble at all with this:
I would be ashamed of putting something of this quality in a book, and I imagine Harrington would be spinning in his grave. If I was willing to settle for this quality I could probably get this good (or pretty close) off the microfilm or digitized versions.
Color me disgusted....
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Into The Belly Of The Beast
The second mission is a real crapshoot. As a few of you know I have a pretty good start already made on a book about the comic strips of the black newspapers. My problem is, though, that the microfilm of these papers is in horrid condition and I own only a small stack of black papers (they're VERY scarce). I can't put the book to bed without lots and lots of good quality scanned samples that I don't have. Cole Johnson verified that the LoC has a pretty good run of the Amsterdam News in bound volumes, which would yield lots of good samples (though nowhere near enough to complete the book). I verified with the LoC that I can have access to the volumes, but was told definitely not to the idea of bringing in a flatbed scanner. So I invested $300 in a PlanOn wand scanner, which the LoC doesn't seem to object to. Problem is that in my preliminary testing of the PlanOn scanner it -- how do I say this politely -- has some major deficiencies. It is a real pain to use, slow, undependable and can't be trusted to make a decent scan. So although I have high hopes for getting lots of scans from the Amsterdam News and thus making a great stride forward in completing my book I am also fully prepared to be stymied once again.
If there's any posts in the coming week they'll probably be reports on my progress at the LoC or profanity laden harangues about the PlanOn scanner. Stay tooned folks.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Van Boring
Van Boring was a very Tinseltown kind of strip. It was distributed by the LA Times Syndicate as one of their very few cartoon offerings in the 1930s, it featured a main character who was a simulacrum for Oliver Hardy, and the feature was penned by Frank Tashlin, an animator and later screenwriter.
Van Boring, a pantomine panel, ran from January 6 1934 until sometime in 1938 (sorry, I haven't figured out a definite end date yet). Tashlin used the pseudonym 'Tish Tash' to sign the strip, apparently because he was moonlighting to produce the strip while he was working at the Warner Borthers animation studio. According to Wiki the main character of the feature, though having a pronounced resemblance to Oliver Hardy, was actually modelled after Tashlin's former animation boss, Amadee Van Beuren.
Like most pantomime features, Van Boring's gags were hit and miss; any cartoonist will tell you that sustaining the gags in a daily pantomime feature is a very tough row to hoe. The art, on the other hand, was a consistent delight.
The strip did not sell at all well, especially after the phenomenal debut of Henry as a newspaper strip at the end of 1934. Few papers wanted two pantomime features, and Henry had a built-in audience from his appearances in the Saturday Evening Post. The strip was also hobbled by being distributed by the then minor LA Times Syndicate, an outfit that had only this one cartoon feature available at the time.
Tashlin was credited in some WB cartoons as "Tish Tash" as well.
I have a run of Van Borings copied from Frank Tashlin's files. The earliest one is 1/16/1934 and the last one is 6/20/1936. Are you pretty certain about the start date? Thanks, Mark Kausler
Worse problems with the end of the feature. The 1938 end year I cited is based on the E&P listings (I too have never seen any past 1936). But a closer look at those listings reveals problems. The 1934 listing is for LA Times. So far so good. But the 1935 listing is for Consolidated News Features, and I know that's bogus cuz I've got samples from 35 and 36 that still have the LA Times stamp on them (unless CN was an alternate distributor -- not unheard of). Then in 1936-38 the syndicate is listed as Dominion News Bureau, which handled Canadian distribution of strips (mostly Hearst material). Did Dominion sell the material in reprints to the Canadian market and the feature did end in 1936, or are the listings completely bogus. I dunno!
I am writing a book-length study of Tashlin's work (on which Mark K. helped me several years ago - hi, Mark!), and I have used the following resource from the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, as a fairly reliable reference (link goes directly to a PDF download): SFACA Finding Aid.
Maybe this will help?
Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics
Order Jim Ivey's retrospective book Cartoons I Liked at Lulu.com or order direct from Ivey and get the book autographed with a free original sketch.
Labels: Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics
Ah, the glory days...