I’ve finally had time to start analyzing a little of the material from the Amsterdam News that I scanned in Washington. The first thing I wanted to determine is how my scans compared to the ProQuest digitized version of the newspapers. I’d been told by several correspondents that I should look into using the ProQuest material rather than beating my head against a wall trying to use that terrible PlanOn wand scanner.
Well, the results are in, and although I’m still very unhappy with the scanner’s performance, it still compares favorably with the samples I printed from Proquest. This first example is an Ollie Harrington Dark Laughter panel. Here’s the ProQuest version (be sure to click on these samples to see them at a larger size):
Now here’s the scanned panel cleaned up about as well as I can. If you compare the Proquest version with this retouched scan you can see the obvious difference in quality. Harrington’s lovely grease pencil tone work is reasonably well-preserved, at least by comparison. Since Proquest reduces their images to black and white (no grays at all) they end up with a rather pointillist interpretation of any tone used. The result is very harsh and, I’m sure you’ll agree, not a fair representation of Harrington’s work at all.
Keep in mind, of course, that you’re only seeing what I can show you at lo-res screen resolution. When the samples are compared printed from my laser printer at 600 dpi the difference is much more stark.
Unfortunately the quality of the scans tended to be all over the map. The Harrington example above, while not exactly terrific, came out pretty darn good in my opinion. Here’s another scan that didn’t come out as well. First the raw version:
Although at first blush it doesn’t look too bad, the resolution, supposedly 400 dpi according to PlanOn, is revealed on close-up inspection to be much less than that — I’m guess more like 200 dpi. Lo-res scans tend to turn everything blocky, squaring off edges and adding haloes around areas of high contrast. Here’s the scan after retouching; it’s quite dark and the lettering is blurry. I might be tempted to zap the existing lettering and re-letter it with an appropriate font:
Now here are the same two strips from ProQuest. The difference in quality isn’t as pronounced as on the Dark Laughter sample, but even here the scanned version is better. Note the shading on the wings of the plane in the first panel of Jive Gray. In my scan each line is visible, while in the ProQuest version a good portion of it has simply disappeared. Also note that Proquest’s version has cut off the bottom edge of the Jack Davis strip. I see this sort of thing happen quite a bit with ProQuest. On the other hand, ProQuest’s version has crisper lettering, a result of their extreme high-contrast scanning.
Am I any further on making a decision about how to proceed? Well, I’m still unhappy with the scans, but they certainly seem to be a better bet than ProQuest. Are they good enough for book reproduction? My opinion is no, but perhaps I should get off my high horse on the matter and see what a publisher thinks. Nancy Goldstein, if you’re reading this, I’d be very interested in hearing your opinion.