Jul 24, 2013

Pop Medicine: Quality Control

Pop Medicine is a column by Travis Hedge Coke for the Comics Cube! Click here for the archive!

Quality Control
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

I live in a one bedroom apartment in China. Most of my comics are in other people’s houses and storage units in America. I try to buy digitals anymore, and because comiXology doesn’t work so hot here, and I have a Kindle, I tend towards Amazon. Amazon is really good. I’ve read some awesome IDW comics via Kindle, I’ve never had a problem taking something off the device and reloading it, but DC in particular seems to just not give a fuck. I bought a bunch of DC collections recently, and a few were re-purchases, because someone said they’d been fixed (they had not).

Some things that bug me are not DC’s fault. Kindle will not allow you to magnify a whole page or choose where to magnify on your own. Kindle will not flip an image if you turn the device sideways, so two-page spreads are crammed in the middle, letterboxed as uselessly as possible. And, in DC’s defense, they know we’ll pay for stuff even with a ton of flaws, otherwise lettering and coloring mistakes would not be the casual norm in DC comics.

All four collections of 52 look good and read well. The lettering is clear enough I can read it without magnifying, except on double-page spreads, and even the credits magnify, which is a rarity for DC collections and maybe I want to know who colored this issue or what year the comic came out in. The pages are all there, in order, and several little flaws from the weekly comic were corrected, either of the collections in print, these digitals, or both. Awesome. Thumbs up, DC collections editor and all others involved.

Virtually anything published, on paper or digitally, has errors. Ridding a publication of all typos, glitches, or oversights is rarely going to happen. But, if something is going to stay in print, or be reprinted in a new form, once major flaws are identified, shouldn’t they be taken care of? We have technologies today that make altering lettering or color simple, adjusting panel magnification or line art, all of it is quick to change if you want to.

The entirety of Morrison’s Batman and Robin is packed with uncorrected errors, some of which couldn’t take awfully long to adjust. Some word balloons are misattributed, as they were in the monthly. At least one page is formatted wrong so it’s cropped to half a page instead of being either a full page or double-page spread (I can’t even tell) and I doubt the print looks like that. The lettering is sometimes difficult to make out, the magnified sections seem arbitrary, and you can’t magnify some of the nonstory pages/elements at all. And, to just make things really annoying, in the final collection, “Planet Gotham” is formatted much more sanely, including breaking up two-page spreads so you can see fully each page.

Mentioning this to someone recently, they pointed out that a lot of illegal scans do a spread and both sides as separate images, which yeah, messes with your page count maybe. That seems, to me, like a huge benefit for a little cost. I hadn’t noticed it as a thing, but it makes sense, especially if Amazon are determined to stop you from being able to rotate pages. A spread is meant to be big and broad, not cramped. The way they are formatted in those Batman and Robin collections is cramped as all hell (except for “Planet Gotham”, in what I’m beginning to think was just someone making a point).

But, to go back and repeat, DC knows we’ll pay anyway. If Tales of the Buddha (Before He Got Enlightened) is formatted poorly, miscolored, and you can’t read some pages even magnified, it’s going to get returned and never looked at again. If it’s the fourth collection in a sequence of nine collections featuring the goddammed Batman, well, they can mess up, not fix it, and we’ll deal.

And, Tales… is newly colored and (re-)lettered for the collection, that is extra effort added by Jamie Grant. Grant’s colors pop, everyone has the same skin color they start with and their clothes stay the same color, too, when they’re the same clothes. The digital (and I assume every other version) of Batman: RIP has excerpts of Batman’s writing on notebook pages formatted with lined notebook paper, and he doesn’t write on any of the lines. Okeh, we all get off the lines sometimes, but look at anyone’s writing filling up a lined notebook, and most of the words do format close to the lines. We’re trained to write on lined paper via the lines, that’s why it has them. The reason Batman does not is simple, it’s not characterization, it’s because that visual element isn’t being composited with the lines of dialogue sensibly, they’re just slapped together. In a recent Batman Inc issue, Chris Burnham has taken pains to keep a character's complex scars in the same shape panel to panel, and I hope he used a digital art program to help with that, but however he did it, it looks good. When the colorist on All-Star Batman and Robin dropped a dragon tattoo onto the Joker, it was done digitally, separate from the pencil and ink art, but it looks good and it looks in place.

In 52, whoever was responsible for in-universe documents actually puts legible, non-repeating, non-filler text on most of them. Early on, when Renee Montoya is writing in a notebook, not only does she write real readable words, following the lines of the page fairly even, when we see the notebook from another angle, panels later, deemphasized, its contents haven’t changed order or become nonsense. Rob Leigh and Alex Sinclair both kill on their jobs in that title, Dave Baron, and so many others, especially considering the weekly release schedule. There are a few flubs, sure, but the collections make corrections on top of the initial releases being surprisingly full of background content. The menorah in winter gets its proper number of holders, for example, and while there’s something funny with skin color and the guys in Australia, it’s blink and you miss it. Like the storytelling flub of a wedding celebration happening before the proposal, the details are fuzzy enough and far enough between, that it doesn’t impede the reading process the way Batwoman and Nightwing suddenly speaking each other’s dialogue pulls you up out of the comic.

If you make a mistake and it works better, go on and keep it. If you format poorly and it fucks up your product, go back and fix it, especially if you intend to keep the thing in print indefinitely. Pretend like you give a damn. I’m not asking this of a soulless corporation built only to make money, because corporations are not people. I’m directing this to the people who work at that soulless corporation built only to make money, and rhetorically, to other fans, other readers, all you out there in Comics-Readers’ Land. Publishers do this because we will put up with it, because most of us are too busy complaining about Doc Ock being Spider-Man as if it’s going to last forever, and calling for Dan Didio’s skin on a flag to focus on things as simple as not making every nonwhite character in a monthly book appear suddenly whitened for one panel a year or letting a writer or artist actually wrap up a story arc before bringing in replacements or derailing with an impetus and no followthrough.

Like it or not, we are the quality control.

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