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Committed: “Director’s Cut” Comic Books

With all of the luxury, hard cover reprints of comic books, why is it so rare to see  any involvement by the original authors? And why isn’t this more of a selling point, as it would be with movies when directors, writers and actors assemble to create a the “special features” on DVDs? As I begin to look at my books with a more critical eye, I can see that in many instances, collected reprints often aren’t any better than the original comic books.

While I love the medium of the slim, monthly comic book, I do enjoy being able to pick up one book and read 6 or more months of story all in one go. Those collections are a hell of a lot easier to loan out to people too, and sometimes they even have extra bits of text, story, sketchbook material or background stuff. But what about when the compilation engenders a pagination change, or an inferior paper or print quality? Just because the comic books are now collected between a shiny, dust-jacketed hard cover does not automatically indicate a better product inside.

Back in the 1980′s Giffen, DeMatteis, Maguire created some damn fine comic books about Justice League International. I bought a few of the monthly comic books as they came out, but without a local comic books store I missed some. I missed enough to make it worth buying a compilation of the first 7 issues when the trade paperback “A New Beginning” came out and for the last 20 years or so I loved it. I read this and believed this to be the comic book that the authors intended me to read, with all of the pacing and rhythm intact. Then I got the hardcover to replace this much borrowed book and mindlessly shelved it. Yesterday I took it out to reread while simultaneously loaning a friend the old paperback version. For the first time I had the two books side-by-side and saw that there were some major differences.

Immediately I noticed the thinner paper used for the hard cover book, and the washed out inks. I was disappointed, but these differences were understandable. However, most worrying to me was that the pagination had changed. Left-facing pages had become right-facing pages and so pages which had once had cliff-hangers before the page turn now didn’t involve a page turn at all, but a scan across to the other side. How do I know which was the reprint more faithful to the authors’ original intention? When the pages were thumbnails and the artists sought to create lines of vision that would pull people into the story, where they allowing for the fact that the pagination could change? How am I to know how the original comic book flowed unless I now seek out those original monthly comic books? I don’t want to have to buy a lot of impossible back issues, but I really want to know how the authors intended it to be read.

It isn’t just the Justice League that faces these problems. The first trade collection of Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones’ Marvel Boy famously had a horrible repagination, where the opening sequence double-page-spread that was turned into a right-hand page and then on page turn, a following left-hand page. Obviously cutting in half a double-page-spread in the opening pages of a book is far more egregious than simply changing things around a bit and a lot more noticeable. There is talk that this was fixed in the 2008 hard cover reprint, but I haven’t been able to get a look at that yet.

When the translations of the Japanese Lone Wolf and Cub came out it was widely accepted that (in order to create a left-to-right reading western comic book) the publishers had taken each page and mirrored it, i.e. flipping it horizontally. At the time this was deemed acceptable as it wasn’t felt that it would make any difference to the story. However, printing a book about a sword fighter and having him (and all of his opponents) depicted as left-handed can be rather jarring in any fight scenes. It is because of that that I eventually sought out some of the original manga, just to get a look at the artwork as it was intended.

I do enjoy my compilations and I understand that the book format is that much more accessible than the monthly comic book “floppy”, but I would like to add a caveat to that appreciation; I’d love to see publishers need to respect the medium enough to reprint the stories as the authors intended them to be read. It isn’t just the big, fancy, famous comic books that deserve lovingly crafted reprints. Even those so-called disposable stories have value, some of them really did expand and progress the comic book medium and they deserve to be lovingly reproduced too. There are companies who will bind old runs of monthly comic books into hard cover volumes, which I initially couldn’t understand. Now that I begin to see the potential for change in the reprints, I can more easily understand the value of having those monthly comic books lovingly hand bound in order to preserve the original experience of reading them in that format.

Skilled authors create stories with flow and pacing, shepherding the audience through the story, using the medium to create a unique rhythm and pace. If changes are made to the pagination then this in turn affects the flow and everyone suffers. There is a case here for museum-like preservation of original comic books, up to and including the terrible ads interspersed in them, if we are truly to preserve the originally intended story.

Alternatively, the reprint could be treated as a kind of “director’s cut” of the story, with the original comic book authors being given final approval of the book layouts before they go to print in a similar way that great directors are able to polish and hone their best films for re-release. In this way we could create a way in which readers have access to the author’s purest version of the intended story. Perhaps this seems excessive or time-consuming to publishers, but with this kind of care I think the increase in quality could also create a commensurate increase in respect and consumption for the medium. At the very least, I know that this slightly OCD comic book reader would love “director’s cut” versions.

9 Comments

So how was correct pagination preserved in the trade of JLI? Blank pages? I’m just curious because I never even think to notice these sorts of things. I just read whatever the library has. The manga stuff should just be printed to be read backwards (by Western standards). The kids don’t have any problems with it and neither do I. You’d think there’d be a label like “pagination preserved” somewhere on the back cover just to indicate contents/quality of the reprint. But I guess that’s too much to ask.

I think the US version of Blade of the Immortal had its panels cut apart and reordered for a left-to-right page order. That was the author’s preferred method for the US version, as he didn’t want the art flipped but wanted a standard US page order for the US readers. Of course, at the time the manga market in the US was much smaller, and page flipping was the standard approach.

But a director’s cut raises the issue of what about when the author’s intentions change over time, or even if for some reason or another they run counter to what made the initial release special. For a non-comic book example, consider George Lucas and Star Wars. As time passed, Lucas’ vision for the original trilogy changed, and some such changes made it into his Special Edition versions to the anger of fans. (It didn’t help that the more freedom and power Lucas was given, the worse his Star Wars films became.)

For a comic book example, I believe Oh! Great supported censorship of the US release of his manga because he felt a lower rating would result in greater sales. He happens to be known for pornographic work, and it figured heavily in the title in question.

For completely hypothetical but possible situations, what if an artist decided he wanted all the coloring redone in fancy CG style, resulting in a director’s cut that would look dated within a few years. Wasn’t there a recoloring concern with The Killing Joke?

I agree with the article, but seriously, comics do not have directors or “cuts”. Publishers who re-release issues as “director’s cuts” are idiots.

‘Director’s cuts’ are a scam. Sure movies like Blade Runner and Brazil deserve a recut, but I don’t see why The Town needed one. Editors are artists too, I dont know why hollywood is hell bent on shitting all over their work.

“I’d love to see publishers need to respect the medium enough to reprint the stories as the authors intended them to be read. ”

I think you’re either missing a word or have too many in this sentence from the middle section with the Lone Wolf and Cub pics. I think dropping the “need to” bit would clear it up.

But as to your main point, yeah, it’d be nice for publishers to respect the intentions of the creators, but that might mean that the creators would expect to get, y’know, PAID for it. I’m guessing that none of this stuff is worth it to the publishers to involve the original creators at all, especially if it might mean they’d need to pay the people more.

Steve Bissette (who I believe was unhappy with how the Swamp Thing HCs have looked, especially the first one) and Dave Sim just wrapped up an interesting conversation about self publishing et al at http://www.srbissette.com While they didn’t specifically discuss this issue, other issues related to this were brought up. One thing I’m thinking is how Bissette talked about his friend Steve Perry, who was murdered last year, who had written for Thundercats and other cartoons and comics, and was very ill and basically homeless. Bissette made the point that it was the FANS, not the companies who had previously employed Perry, who gave money to things like the HERO Initiative to help him out in his time of need. So when the companies won’t help out a guy who made them money in the past when that guy is homeless, I don’t see that they’re going to put up the cash on making the trades look the way the creators wanted.

“So how was correct pagination preserved in the trade of JLI? Blank pages?”

I don’t know that specific example but, generally, yes. Or they’ll put a blank page in, but fill it with some color that vaguely matches the stuff it’s around, so it’s not totally jarring.

I’m pretty sure that some or all of the Alan Moore ‘Swamp Thing’s do this to preserve the spreads.

“The first trade collection of Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones’ Marvel Boy famously had a horrible repagination, where the opening sequence double-page-spread that was turned into a right-hand page and then on page turn, a following left-hand page.”

Does anybody have any pictures of this? I have a really old trade — it’s got the “Marvel Knights” logo and says it’s a first printing — and my copy has the double page spread that you’re talking about correct. The only thing I can find on-line about this specifically is Cameron Stewart’s posting, and he says that the page that you cite would be correct but that non-title page double-page spreads were messed up. Again, in my copy, this is incorrect. Every double-page spread that I can see is correct. (Oddly, with no apparent blank pages in between.) Can somebody give a definitive, “If your trade is fucked, this page will be bad” to check? Because this seems like Internet disinformation to me [not that I don't trust Stewart, but perhaps the individual copy he got was bad instead of the whole batch?].

“Again, in my copy, this is incorrect.” — for clarity, let’s make that “untrue”.

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