Tuesday, November 04, 2008
  Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Comics
Control click heading to hear opening of Dirk Maggs' Batman Knightfall.

In this photo by Joanne Rathe, Rick Keene is retouching the original color of a Starman panel drawn in 1943 by Emil Gershwin for Adventure Comics 88 (October 1943). See finished panel below. This is from the second page of the story, "The Enigma of the Vanishing House". At bottom are three stages of restoration.

When I began working with DC Comics in 1989, it coincided with the first book in the DC Archives series, a vast project to collect 1940s DC Comics into hardback editions. It seemed obvious to just shoot the original pages dot-for-dot (which had worked effectively with reprints of The Spirit and Captain Marvel Adventures), but DC chose an approach that involved removing the original color, restoring the black lines and then recoloring. At that time, there were no computers in the DC offices. When I saw the complex task of restoration rushed through the DC production department with some art getting a quick re-inking by brush, it seemed like there was a problem brewing. As I recall, I said, "Hey, listen, I know this guy in Natick, Massachusetts, who could do this on a computer." To my surprise, there was no real interest in my suggestion, and the pages continued to get an assembly line treatment in the DC production department. Weeks passed, and a backlog began to develop. One day a worried production chief came to me and asked, "Hey, what's the phone number of that guy in Massachusetts?"

Soon Rick came to New York, solved the problem and signed a contract. He's been doing such computer restoration of comics for the past 18 years, creating his own secret techniques along the way.

Steve Maas of the Boston Globe just did a lengthy article on Rick, going into much detail on Rick's life and working methods:
©2008 Boston Globe
Bringing color back to the comics: Natick artist uses computer to restore luster to pages of yesteryear

By Steve Maas
Globe Correspondent / October 30, 2008

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman - those are just some of the superheroes who owe their future to Rick Keene.

The 54-year-old Natick artist restores comic books for DC Archive Editions, hardback collections of series that date back to the Depression. "I don't make these drawings better," Keene said. "I bring them back to life the way the original artist wanted them to look."

His ingenuity at the computer has made it possible to bring back stories once "considered 'lost,' " said John Clark, editor-in-chief for Gemstone Publishing's Disney comic books, which Keene also restores. The comics, originally printed on newspaper letterpresses, "were smudgy and out of register, so any attempts to make them reprintable were cost-prohibitive," Clark wrote in an e-mail.

Keene estimates he has restored 11,000 DC pages and 800 Disney pages. They often come in faded and tattered. Occasionally, he has to recreate dialogue or make an educated guess, say, as to whether the missing wrist in a torn panel had been wearing a watch.

He employs computer technology that not even the sci-fi comic creators of decades ago dreamed possible. When he started his restoration work 18 years ago, he pioneered techniques using computer components that today are considered museum pieces.

His office is on the second floor of his Civil War-era house, a couple blocks north of downtown Natick. A solar-powered prism sends lights dancing, disco-ball like, around his downstairs parlor, where he serves oatmeal cookies on a Felix-the-Cat table he made himself.

Game boards, advertising posters, and other pop culture treasures scavenged from flea markets decorate the house. In the front room are posters of art he did for the website of the band Van Halen; his work had caught the eye of Eddie Van Halen's then-wife, Valerie Bertinelli, after he depicted her as a dominatrix on an Internet mailing list.

But back to the comics and the magic Keene performs on his Mac. His current patient is Starman, a sci-fi superhero created in the early 1940s. In a departure from his earlier work for DC Archives, he is restoring the colors in addition to the line work.

Continued here...

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All of these "archive" things, DC, Marvel, Disney----are atrocious! Just compare any of the printed originals to the "deluxe" (read: ridiculously over-priced) reprints. The art looks like xeroxes of xeroxes.

You want to reprint old comic books or strips for which no proofs or stats exist, and actually allow people to see what these works actually LOOKED like? Photograph the printed pages(like the Smithsonian Books did) and reprint THAT.

You want to see what you're missing with this approach? Compare the PLASTIC MAN reprinted pages in Art Spiegelman's book on Jack Cole to the same pages in DC's hardcover reprints. There's absolutely no comparison. The lines and techniques that made Cole a revered master comic artist are GONE, replaced by art that looks like it was inked with a Q-Tip.

If these Golden Age greats were assessed on the basis of access only to these pathetic re-works, nobody would care about them at all.
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