DIGITAL IMAGE RESTORATION - HOW IT'S DONE

EVERY IMAGE YOU'VE SEEN ON METROPOLISPLUS.COM HAS EITHER BEEN CREATED FROM WHOLE CLOTH (e.g., symbols from the Superman's Symbol Page) OR HAS BEEN RESTORED IN WHOLE OR IN PART BY BRIAN G. PHILBIN.

Back in the day (and for me, that's the late 60s through the 70s & 80s), there was a great dearth of lovingly reproduced comic book art. One had to purchase either the original art, a portfolio, or have traveled to another country where they didn't publish comics on newsprint or the like to see excellent comic art that hadn't been mangled by the production process.

As is evidenced by my work on this site, I understand the importance of restoring images so that they are palatable to the modern eye. All of the 100-Pagers have been reconstructed from scans I made of their front & rear covers and spines. Each was stitched together, color corrected and clarified. Many, many hours have been invested in clarifying colors, enlarging, correcting angles, cutting & pasting, airbrushing, stitching and generally trying to be extremely faithful to the original pages, so their clarity can come across to modern readers/viewers. 

As with so many other media, comics have undergone changes in their production and, as with film, for example, we have developed a taste for wondrous technological eye candy.

You can't quite fool the modern cinema-goers eye with Willis O'Brien's Lost World or King Kong any longer, as our eyes are trained to see the "kinks" in the stop-motion animation process. And the performance does not quite overcome the technique. Even more advanced stop-motion, such as Phil Trippet's "Go Motion", which moved the model at the same time that the frame was being shot, in order to obtain some blur to the movement. The results of this technique have been incorporated into all CGI to this day.

For the same types of reasons, modern printing so far outstrips the old newsprint days that it's necessary to "upgrade" images we present to our audiences on the WWW. 

I am a great enthusiast of comic books and comic book art. Every once in awhile I see restoration that's been done - how do I say this? It's not done lazily or absent an artistic intent, but - it's simply not to my liking because it doesn't appear that it was recreated on par with the original piece. 

A good example is the reprinting of DC 100-Page Super Spectacular. As a cover image, I was able to scan the front, back & spine and stitch them together with a considerable amount of restoration to the edges of the image. If you look at a copy of the "Replica Edition" printed in 2004 - here - it's so different from the original cover art (which I've reconstructed below), that there've been claims that Dick Giordano performed a "recreation" of the cover:

One such instance was Murphy Anderson's rendering of The Justice Society of America. Anderson's inks are absolutely remarkable. I always felt that his finishes over Curt Swan's were every bit the equal of the work of Neal Adams. No one else brought more realism & believability to the human form & face as the Swan/Anderson team (or "Swanderson", as they would become known among the fandom).

This image appeared somewhere in late Silver Age in the pages of Justice League of America #76. The piece was lovingly rendered and was later re-printed in 2000 in a faux "100 Page Super-Spectacular" for the JSA. Thing is, it would have been better to contact the owner and work from the original, but it was published from what appears to be Theaksonized pages (that's when they bleach actual comic book pages to remove the colored ink, leaving only the black). The problem is that the printed comic page is rather dulled from the original art and when you bleach those pages, the crispness that we're accustomed to these days is lost. Safer to do this digitally.  

Remember that it's always important to begin with the highest quality image possible. You can always scale down from there and - in order to ensure the highest quality resulting JPEG image for use on the web - that's exactly what you should do.

If you have Original Art, then scanning your beginning image at the highest resolution allowed is the best way to start. If you don't have that, scanning the best possible copy of the image at the highest resolution possible is the next best thing to use when attempting to restore an image to the level of today's tastes.

With the subject image, we don't have the original art. But there is an image of it at ComicArtFans. Let's start by taking a look the original image, the original art, which will give us a guideline.

The owner (only referred to as "CE" on ComicArtFans.com) has posted the original art here:

Okay, so - as you can probably see - this image is not something I can use to re-color or restore the spread. It's far too blurry from re-sizing and the blue pencil would get in the way a bit. If I were to zoom in too far, it would lose clarity - something we're trying to preserve, here.

What I needed was something from a higher-resolution scan. Even though I'm a member on ComicArtFans, I was unable to contact "CE" when I started, and I only own the reprinted version (restored in a manner I don't prefer), and I'd have to destroy an old comic to get the full image (see below) so I did a Google image search and found that Comic Book Resources had used the following image, which was a high-resolution scan from the actual comic book. 

If you take something like this - which is already a high-resolution scan - and then resize it to twice its original size, there's quite a lot of clarity that can be achieved by simply zooming in closely to address or clarify details, enhancing the blacks and re-coloring it.

IMPORTANT: you'll want to work in a "lossless" format - either TIFF or BMP (I prefer TIFF). The last step - once you've recolored, resized and saved in a new file, will be to convert to JPEG. The image quality from which you began will determine the quality of the finished project.

I recommend saving the largest example of your work as a separate file prior to resizing, etc., toward the JPEG version.

On to how it's done.

1) ENLARGE THE IMAGE
Once I have an image to work with, the limitations of the brushes in the program I use can sometimes limit how detailed I can get (i.e., anything smaller than 8 pixels is unlikely to be a good brush to paint with). When this is the case (as was in this particular instance), I will "resize" the image - usually about 500% larger than the image began. Once this is done, then both the automated tools included in the program, as well as the brushes and other tool palette options, are constrained from eliminating details which are important. The stray flourish of ink will be missed if you're not careful. And automated tools (automatic saturation, contrast, scratch remover, etc.) are processes you need to use sparingly - most of the work will need to be done by hand. When you use an automated tool, you really have to check the effect it has on the image. Regularly. On this one, when I "fixed" the color saturation, I had to apply it and undo it at least 20 times in order to provide enough adjustment to help the work along, but not so much that I would lose any of the details in the image.

2) ENHANCE THE IMAGE
Before you do anything else, it's recommended that you enhance the black in the image first thing. The ink on the page created all the black areas on any printed page - this is the basis for the entire image and is the mos t important aspect of the picture. You can lose everything else, but if you lose any black, you've lost clarity of the image. Using the "Color Replacer" tool in PaintShop Pro, I sample the areas which were meant to be black, taking care not to darken anything so much that any detail is lost from dark gray or navy blue colors. Balance is key. Then, using the Color Replacer again, we enhance the white areas. It may take a few times sampling the areas which were meant to be white, but have tanned over the years. The tanning can have multiple colors that might cross over into the yellows on the page, if you're not careful. Therefore, ensure that the tolerances are set so that the range of colors you're replacing with white are low enough so that you're not getting into the yellow aspect of the spectrum. EVEN IF THIS HAPPENS, it's okay - you'd rather have a black & white image to begin with, anyway - you can put the other colors back, you can't get the black ink aspects of the image back if you erase them.

3) BRUSH SIZES MATTER
In both instances, it's recommended that you use a smaller brush and not just wipe over the image willy-nilly with the biggest brush you have. If you find that you've got enough balance in the tool that you can do a larger brush by sampling several colors that are close to each other, wipe away. But always ensure you're not losing anything in the process.

 Smaller brush sizes make for less mistakes, overall. But larger brushes are quicker, so before you use a larger brush, ensure that you've tested a solid sample of the image which you can easily undo in order to make certain you're not losing something in the process.

You can also tell that there was some slight overall adjustment to the color contrast and hues in order to ensure we get a more vivid palette, which uses another tool set in PaintShop Pro. It's really not much, but once you get solid blacks & whites, the colors tend to "pop" a bit more, due to the way your brain interprets color.

4) SPLITTING THE DIFFERENCE
As you can see, there is overlap in the center of the piece. Actually, this piece was not originally printed as a center spread, as it's not really in the center of the comic. So it's almost impossible to get a full image unless you destroy the comic book. That all said, it was evident from the get-go that I'd have to split the center of the image, like so:

And then, I'd take both halves and arrange them so I could paste each one over the original art image (also sized-up to equal the large version of the color scan) - taking care to line them up at MAXIMUM ZOOM to help fill in the missing portion of the image. Once I'd done that (which, I should mention, will take a considerable amount of RAM on your PC), I had a decent starting place - like so:

5) TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
The above requires quite a bit of manual adjustment, as the two images were scanned at different angles - so there's also some drawing to fill in where the two images don't meet up. This should be done at a very high Zoom level, in order to ensure accuracy.

Pretty much anything that requires a deft touch should be done at the highest zoom/view level you can manage - it should be said that it's also important to balance the size of the page to the ability to draw on it. Sometimes, a "swooping" flourish requires a good bit of room. Other times, it's importand just to place a dot in the right place. Balance is everything.

Anyeay, you can see, again, that compared to the high-res scan from the comic, the original art is faint. Washed out. But from here, we have a basis to begin. 

6) COLORING
Then, color choices must be made from those colors already available on the comic book scan. This way, the original colors can be used to clarify and fill in where needed. I zoom in and use the "Eyedropper" tool to sample colors like red, blue, yellow & gray. Having left green for last, note the difference in the results between those colors and the green in the Spectre, Sandman, Mr. Terrific, and Green Lantern in the results below:

7) DONE BY HAND IS BETTER
Above, you can see where I've not only added color, but where those colors are now clarifying the black lines. This requires quite a bit of manual coloring & not just replacing other colors. Again - care has to be taken in order not to reduce the black, original art lines. 

Also, in the areas where I've had to re-draw lines from the original art that are too faint, I've zoomed in and used an airbrush tool with solid black - like with Dr. Fate's glove in the center. You can see the difference between his glove and Dr. Mid-Nite's, as McNider's fingers are faint next to the clarified gray of his gloves. Those lines which are black and next to color are now much clearer, because I worked from a very enlarged image, then colored in those openings, drawing understanding from the line art of the first image (original art, above). However, the center areas are still vague and require clarifying. There, I ended up carefully (very carefully, remembering that I'm not an artist) removing the centerline, manually straightening the lines of the roll call at the bottom and filling in lines I could be certain of. Trouble is, not having a super-clear image of the original to work from, I had to end up leaving out some of the lines used for shading in the center, for fear of ruining the lines I couldn't absolutely duplicate with confidence.

8) CUTTING AND PASTING IS FAIR... MOSTLY
Now, I have to admit that I cheated just a bit by using a DC Bullet I had restored for my backgrounds for this website. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I did what they always did in those days to recreate the DC bullet: "cut and paste" and back then, they were actually IN REALITY cutting and pasting. Further cheating involved correcting the rotation caused by scanning on both pages from the start. The seemingly straight line of the roll call - when you zoom in on it - looks like an arc when you scan from side-to-side. So I had to rotate both halves toward the center to begin with - and then even further when I went to straighten the roll call lines.

So, I'm almost done - taking into consideration that my only real contribution is as a colorist, what I did then was take it a step further. I used my knowledge of the characters and extrapolations of ethnicity and powers that had been made by other writers (John Byrne, for example, when he created the Next Men) and applied them here. 

For instance, Superman would never tan or have a sunburn - so his skin would be particularly fair. Same with Alan Scott/Green Lantern, who's protected by his ring's energy not only from environment, but from aging. Also, there's little sun exposure for Batman & Robin, whose operations were conducted at night and who - by extrapolation - sleep quite a bit of the daytime away. By that same logic, Starman, Dr. Mid-Nite & Black Canary, all of whose adventures were shown in the Golden Age to be primarily at night, would also have limited sun exposure. The Spectre, being... er - a ghost for lack of a better term, remains, well, white as a sheet. The Flash/Jay Garrick's speed force aura wouldn't protect him from the sun - only from friction while using his super-speed. Anyone else would likely be a little on the red side for having worked in the sun - particularly the Atom (Al Pratt), who was a bit of a blue collar gent. 

Further, Hawkman is Egyptian & Wonder Woman is of Mediterranean descent, which would lend them both more of an olive hue (I'm not sure why that term is used - it's not a green hue... maybe it's a Mediterranean term). 

I also wanted to vary the color schemes just a bit. There's no way all of them went to the same fabric store or tailor, right? I'd already done that with the blue in Batman's cape, etc., so I extended it to reds and yellows, as well. You'll note that Robin & Batman's yellows are "dirtier", carrying more of a grayish tinge, while Dr. Fate and Wonder Woman have a more golden color to their yellows. In the red spectrum, I didn't give a lot of variation, but Dr. Mid-Nite's tunic is dark red (bordering on maroon), Superman & Starman's red is deeper, Flash, Green Lantern & the Original Red Tornado remain brighter/tomato, while Red Tornado II is a bit brighter, still.

So, in the interest of showing them to be (albeit, only very slightly) a little more than just a big gang of white people in Crayola® costumes, this is what I came up with:

 

Here's an image of the stages all in one place.

Now, someone putting this together who was an actual artist would have been able to do a better job - particularly if they'd had the original image to work from, which I'm sure "CE" would have gladly provided in the form of a high-resolution scan.

That said, I envy him his wonderfully obtained piece, which I understand benefited Mr. Anderson directly from the auction. My only wish is that I had the skill to draw something so wonderful myself.

I'm adding a couple of bonus pieces that I've recently restored. 

The first is from the Amazing World of DC Comics #16. Another wraparound cover, this one also comes with a key (below). This is some early work by Walt Simonson, who started out doing a revival of Manhunter for DC. Here's his rendering of heroes from the Golden Age of Comics:

And the Key:

Lastly, another Murphy Anderson piece - this time, a recreation of the cover of All-Star Comics #3, as well as another rendering of the JSA Round Table with the rest of the team!

Hope this was useful for you in some fashion!

Pax, harmonia,

Brian G. Philbin

Please take a moment to check out the other sites on metropolisplus.com:

BACK TO COMICS MAIN PAGE
NEW - WHEN DOES "THE BRONZE AGE" BEGIN?
NEW - DC's BRONZE AGE "CHARACTER BULLETS" ART
RESTORING THE LEGION
SUPERMAN'S SYMBOL, SHIELD, LOGO AND ITS HISTORY!
THE AMAZING OUTFITS OF SUPERGIRL!

DC 100-PAGE SUPER SPECTACULARS

THE AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS INDEX

WHO'S WHO IN KURT BUSIEK'S ASTRO CITY

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE

BRIAN G. PHILBIN'S GUIDE TO THE BASICS OF COMICS, COMICS HISTORY, COMIC COLLECTING AND COMICS VALUES

 

All characters mentioned within these pages and associated images are © and ™ of DC Comics, Inc.   If you have any questions, comments or other items of interest concerning this page or DC Comics or what-have-you, please feel free to E-Mail Brian G. Philbin.  All items which are highlighted in blue text and underlined are links to the named item!

Text content is Copyright 1999 Brian G. Philbin