Johnny the Digicidal Maniac: UPDATE DEUX

Funny, I mentioned watching Star Trek: Voyager in the last update about these JTHM digitals, had a marathon of it running while doing a lot of the scanning for the JTHM pages, and I realized that Voyager had premiered the exact same year that JTHM comics began infiltrating comic book stores around the world.

Coincidence?  YES.

Alright, maybe I mentioned I’ve scanned about four issues worth of JTHM already, but since then I’ve done a fair amount of work in doing the cleanup, corrections and layout for issue #1.  It was a much more time consuming and harrowing ordeal than I had planned on, but here I am, still alive to tell the tale.

Before I get to that tale, however, I think now’s a good time to share a curious reaction to my announcement that digital versions of the JTHM series were even going to happen.   More than a few people wrote to me to say that I shouldn’t be touching the series at all, that to change alone.  I get what they’re saying, but it seems too weird to me to think that fixing typos, mistakes that were made not creatively, but simply on a grammatical level, changes the overall vibe or message of the book (be kind to others or stab them).  Like I said, I get it, but I think the reaction is a bit…reactionary.  I even made a joke about it in the announcement in the form of a George Lucas joke, but it went over some heads and those heads be upset about me adding Yodas into scenes where there weren’t Yodas before.

Other people have asked if and how the digital versions would offer anything new or different from the original run of the print versions.

Here I continue my harrowing tale about reconstructing issue #1, a tale which answers, assuages, or confirms some of each curious/fearful fans’ hopes and fears!

I knew from the start, just digging up the original pages for the comics, comics drawn on paper almost a thousand years ago, that things were going to be rough.  See, the comics you know and love or hate but still buy because you’re fucking weird, those weren’t terribly digital at all.  In fact, most of those pages, front to back, entered the printed comic world via photography.  Those cover paintings, those pages were photographed and  went through a few generations of transfer until they ended up as comic pages.  This means that they lost a little bit of information with each generation, and that’s not really a bad thing in the case of JTHM books.

When I looked at the original art, I was a bit horrified at how lax I was in cleaning the pages up at all before apparently sending them off to become a professionally made comic product.  These bristol pages were attacked with heavy #2 pencils for sketches, not non-photo reproducible  blue-line pencil, and then that same piece of paper, usually, was gone over with ink for the inking stage.  The original art still has a LOT of the original pencil work all over it, which makes me wonder if I owned an eraser back then.

Now, photographing those pages and losing information over a few passes sorta helped out there, leaving the mostly sharp lifework to be visible, but scanning these pages digitally, well that isn’t nearly as merciful as that original process.  For the pages that were simply black and white lifework, it’s not as bad, but, depending on the page, it could still be pretty bad, with the pencil work translating as crusty black pixellation, and no amount of adjusting the image threshold results in a perfect image.  Those pages I’d have to go into Photoshop and whittle away with the eraser until all the horrible black smudges were mostly removed, being careful to reference the paper comics to see which smudges had simply just become part of the book by this point and which were simply ugly blemishes.

This was bad, but not really bad bad.

Then there were the pages that had the grayscale work on them.  Holy crap.  So those pages were done with markers on photocopies of the original artwork, and those had to be scanned as grayscale images, and that meant less ability to just nullify the smudges without nullifying the range of gray shades.  Then you had the fact that the paper texture made its way into the file as well, along with every Cheeto stain or whatnot that might have been on the original.  Cleaning those pages up was actually not very fun at all, and I guess now I know how it feels to work in those diamond mines you see in those movies about people who work in diamond mines starring Djimon Honsou.

So “fixing” JTHM for digital versions partly means cleaning up stuff that people haven’t ever seen thanks to how much less clarity there was originally.  They’ll still be treated to artwork that’s much much more detailed than the originals, and that’s kind of cool, but my job was to keep all the filth out so as not to have the digital versions actually be less attractive and polished than what people have been used to.  The difference is like knowing someone only from their Facebook photos and then meeting them in person and suddenly being horrified at how much hair they have in places that should not have hair.  WHY do they have hairy eyelids?  This date was a mistake…A TERRIBLE MISTAKE.

The thing is, I understand wanting to “fix” things so much they’re no longer what they used to be, and I have to be very aware of that while simply cleaning up these pages or changing bad spelling or bizarre grammar.  I have to approach each page with a kind of detachment from how annoying or outright ugly something is to me NOW.  The books are what they are, and what they are is the product of someone just floundering around with pen and paper having fun doing something they’ve no clue how to do.

Issue one isn’t so bad to me on that front, but there’s plenty about it that bugs the living shit out of me, mainly the bits where Johnny opens his mouth to say ANYTHING that’s supposed to be serious (to Johnny anyhow).  The gags still make me smile, but the bits where Johnny is supposed to be a moping or ranting drama queen make me incredibly uncomfortable.  The character was always supposed to come off as something of a joke, someone who’s so up their ass in their role as judge, jury and executioner that they’ve completely lost sight of how ridiculous they sound and act. It’s still a thing I have fun with, but back then I don’t think I pushed the joke far enough and my inbox is proof of that all these years later, peppered with mail from readers who “see beyond the veil of stupidity” or who “suffer at the hands of the inferior sheep-masses”, sounding like third rate parrots of a character that himself was trying way too hard to sound cool while being nothing more than a puppet for the real badness behind his walls.

Would I change the writing of these comics to make it clearer to highly suggestible, cartoonishly arrogant assholes that I myself was just laughing my ass off writing them and then being pretty well-adjusted in the universe when not writing about characters who spoke in stilted absolutes?  Nah.  They’re fun for what they are, and that’s where I agree with people that changing anything about that changes what makes them memorable.

Now, am I adding anything to differentiate these digitals from the books people already own, not so much, but yes. Here be why!

I don’t know if you remember, but some of the pages, in issue one at least so far, weren’t exactly formatted for a standard comic page, and were instead designed to originally be published in a  magazine format, so they had these enormous margins on the top and bottoms of the page.  It always bothered me, even way back when, and so now I am filling those margins with Yodas.

HAHAH!  I lied to you just now.  No Yodas.  You fell for that?  Stupid…

No, what’s happening with those pages  (there’s maybe two or three of them in issue 1) is that I’m sliding the original comic up and making one huge margin instead of two smaller ones and then filling that space with Fillerbunny comics.  Fillerbunny will be back to perform his original function as a space-filling rabbit, so that’s fun for me to do, and hopefully infuriating for you to imagine.

One thing that might HAVE to be different is the front cover of the first issue. All of those cover paintings were actual paintings done on canvas paper, and all but the one for this issue are sitting in storage in a box covered in bugs and dust and rat feces. It’s partly why this update comes so late after the first one, I’ve been holding off, waiting to see if SLG could find a hi-res scan or photograph of the front cover. Not sure what I’ll do if one doesn’t show up. It’d be weird to go back and do a new cover for such an old book!

The only real omissions beyond that possibly big one will probably be the inside front and back cover pages which were usually full of ads that are now obsolete and blocks of text that had nothing to do with the actual comics.  In their place?