The Restoration Game
By Steven Bove
It’s hard to say exactly when the idea of restoring comic art pages became a necessity. Perhaps its origins can be traced to ‘The Trick’ as Daniel Best once wrote of. In any case we live in a time when the demand for the classic material of both DC and Marvel must be met. I still maintain that the idea of restoration should be considered as a last resort. The classic Marvel stories, for instance, have been reprinted many times and with each reprint new film was created so there was always a secondary source to go to. An example of this was Marvel Masterworks vol. 10 – The Amazing Spider-Man where Marvel Tales film was used to substitute SP #28, it even said so on the final page of the story!
While at DC Comics I was one of a select few who handled restoration of art. 75% of the time I would find film to insure that customers of collected editions would get the original artists work and not a restoration by myself or anyone else.
The Crimson Avenger would bring me to the forefront of the restoration game in a big way.
The Crimson Avenger was a golden age hero who in 1988 would get a 4-issue mini-series. It wasn’t very good but when the book appeared on my desk for production work I gave it my usual best before letting it go to print. In retrospect no one really cared what the book looked like and there are several very interesting stories about the remaining issues of the series, only they’re not my stories to tell.
I remember this book especially because it came to me at a time when virtually every editor in the office was on vacation doing conventions. When the final pages came in I was told by the Art Director to print a piece of art by the writer’s pal on the letters page. It was suppose to be a faithful recreation of the cover of Detective Comics #34, the first appearance of the Crimson Avenger. The ineptitude of the piece just disturbed me with the amateurish hand lettering and lack of artistic ability applied to the figures. It simply missed the point completely. I told the AD that printing this would be a mistake and offered to do a restoration, gratis. The AD knew my abilities and said to go for it.
The first step in any restoration is research. Luckily there was a copy of Detective Comics #34 in the library so I grabbed it and made a photocopy (the cover was badly damaged and fading away) for reference. At this point I sat down and studied the piece realizing I had a couple obstacles to overcome. The original art seemed to feature a gray-tone that could have been dry brush or a crayon effect that I would have to mimic. The art also featured a causal fine-line brush weight. The piece felt very much of its particular time period, 1939, so I would have to put myself into that frame of mind.
After creating a very detailed tracing of the photocopy I tightened up the pencils paying close attention to the facial expressions of the characters. The inks were the most fun as I used my trusty Windsor-Newton #1 to get the look I desired. For the gray-tone I used a Prismacolor black pencil working light-to-dark. When all was done I pulled stats that had the proper logos and images and created the final piece that was published on the last page of Crimson Avenger #1 and later used in a Detective Comics Archives edition. I was given full credit for it and it did help my credibility as an artist greatly.
It also brought attention to the idea of restorations in comics and Greg Theakston did catch my handy work at times as he has that critical eye for spotting such things. Actually I find it curious that he hasn’t spoken out on this subject as he’s written about it on occasion. I would consider him an authority and he could have certainly told you whether the Avengers #1 splash page was authentic or not.
I haven’t done such restoration work in years (seeing the piece today I would have to say it’s a bit too slick) and as I stated earlier I don’t believe restoration is necessary at times. However it would never occur to me to offer this Crimson Avenger piece for sale as the original. It’s a restoration… and not a bad one at that.