Is That Line Supposed To Be There?

By | 4:47 PM 1 comment
I've been doing some work today digitally touching up some old comic art. Old meaning coming from the 1940s. The original art is long since lost, so I'm working from scans of the printed books. Many of these books seem to have printed particularly cheaply, so not only are the colors severely mis-registered, but the individual color plates appear to have moved while they were on the paper, causing some ghosting and smudging and other unpleasantness. I could swear some of these printing plates were carved out of a potato.

Suffice to say that some of these touch-ups are going slowly because there's simply a lot to do.

But as I'm going through each page, I find myself asking again and again, "Is that line supposed to be there?"

A lot of the things I'm cleaning up are fairly obvious errors. Mis-registrations, for example, or folds and tears in the comic pages. Some issues are less obvious, but still reasonably decipherable. An extra drop of ink between two lines, say. But many times, there are marks that I can't figure out if they're problems that stem from the printer or the original artist, who may have inked some lines he shouldn't have, but left them in place because he was on a deadline and who's going to notice anyway since it's a cheap comic book being sold in the 1940s.

My question, then, is an internal debate over whether it's better to present the page as close as possible to the final version that was sent off to the printers or as close as possible to the intention of the artist. Which approach serves the audience better? Historical accuracy or overall readability?

Easy example. I just came across a speech balloon that had been fully enclosed...
Clearly, the tail should not be cut off from the balloon like that. But that's how it was inked and, consequently, printed. Is that something I should correct?

It's a rhetorical question in this case because I know the audience here and how they'll be approaching the work. But I can't help but think of a comic book inker approaching another artist's pencils. How often do you suppose Vince Colletta looked at a page drawn up by Jack Kirby and thought, "Does this line need to be here?" I know I've asked myself that a dozen times on almost every page I've been working on today; how many more times did that get asked when the artwork was still in pencil form?
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I'm gonna go with historical accuracy. of course there were lots of mistakes, but that's part of the fun of looking back at old comics. They ALL had the "human error" in them somewhere. I say leave it. thanks! Oh, and check out my comic if you get a chance...