For someone who’s built as diverse a comics bibliography as P. Craig Russell has in his career, there are a few specific characters he’s kept coming back to over the years: Doctor Strange, Morpheus, Siegfried, and Elric of Melnibone.
Russell’s relationship with the albino prince of Michael Moorcock’s ‘Eternal Champion’ story-cycle began back in 1981 with “The Dreaming City” and concluded with “Stormbringer” in 1997. The second Elric story he worked on, a short one called “While The Gods Laugh”, originally appearing in “Epic Illustrated” #14 in 1982 and is the subject of the latest in a series of crowd-funding campaigns to restore original art from early in Russell’s career for both archival purposes and future reproduction.
I got a chance to speak with Russell’s art dealer/documentarian Wayne Alan Harold about the current IndieGoGo campaign for “While The Gods Laugh” and what we can look forward to down the road.
Before we get to the restoration campaign proper, let’s focus on you for a bit. Your name’s popped up in conjunction with P. Craig Russell’s work for years. What was the first piece of his art you remember having an impact on you?
How did the two of you meet and what’s the scope of your duties when it comes to him and his work?
WAH: Craig had moved to Kent, Ohio at some point and we eventually met through Marc Andreyko. This was pre-comics professional Marc -— he was a Kent State Theatre Major and was good friends with a girl I was dating at the time. Marc had recently met Craig and invited him to a party. Of course, I acted a major fanboy the first time I met him!
Through Craig, I also met comic artists Jay Geldhof and Jill Thompson, who were also both living in Kent at the time. I was making shot-on-video Z-grade movies at the time and actually roped both Craig and Jay into acting in my no-budget flick, TOWNIES, which was probably the first time that I actually “worked” with Craig on anything major.
At some point in the 90s, Craig was attempting to sell some of his original art and not enjoying the minutia of it, so I eventually because his original art agent . . . much to his relief! (laughs)
You directed the 90-minute Night Music documentary on Russell. Right now it’s only available in a shorter cut on Vimeo and on DVD thru third-parties via Amazon. Are there any plans to make the full version more widely available? Possibly in conjunction with this new round of instructional videos?
WAH: The “shorter” version IS actually the “definitive” version. The DVD incarnation included quite a bit of extra interview footage but that was pretty much intended to be considered an “extra” for folks who bought the disk.
On a similar tangent, I’m thrilled to see the instructional video series return! With the next installment covering the works recently restored, does he (or you) have any idea where the topics will go from here? Is there any interest in him interviewing or ‘talking shop’ with other creators on camera?
(Note: the link goes to a talk Russell gave that is in the style of the instructional DVDs since direct videos are unavailable.)
WAH: We’re going to be shooting the new incarnation of the series in 4k and I also set up a green screen studio so we will be able to do much more interesting stuff visually. I know for sure that Craig is going to cover storytelling sequences from both “The Dreaming City” and “While The Gods Laugh” and that we will be using the newly-restored art from both projects for the insert shots. There will be bonus segments — including two sequences with Craig extensively discussing the work of (respectively) Neal Adams and Steve Ditko and their influence on his own work. As far as other talking to creators goes — if any of our pals come into town between now and the time that I have to lock down the final video, that’s a definite possibility!Continued below
WAH: Most of the pages are in great shape, but some weren’t with the main batch in Columbus and have to actually be restored “manually” by Craig — meaning with actual analog paint!
The original hand-colored pages are also “lettering-free,” so in addition to scanning those pages full-sized at 600 dpi, I also have to restore the lettering for each and every page and panel. The caption boxes, balloons and lettering were all pasted up on totally separate sheets, over photostats of Craig’s b&w art. Right now, it’s looking like we’ll get more accurate results by actually peeling each and every caption and balloon off and repasting it down in the appropriate spots on clean white paper using a light box. Then each page of that “new” lettering will have to be scanned and combined with the hand-colored original art. So, yeah, we have our work cut out for us! (laughs)
WAH: I know that he wanted to escape the limitations of standard comics-coloring at the time, which was relatively primitive. He also colored most of his creator-owned stuff in the same way thought the 80s, until digital coloring actually became the norm in the early 90s.
I know Colleen Doran has had headaches getting early work on “A Distant Soil” back up to modern printing standards, with things like dealing with the large amounts of gradient tones that are so hard to scan properly. Have there been any moments of particular anxiety for you in getting results to the level that Russell is happy with? Maybe in scanning or locating artwork or some other unforeseen obstacle?
WAH: The problems with “The Dreaming City” and the current “While The Gods Laugh” restorations have primarily been the fading of pages that weren’t kept at the Cartoon Library and the lettering. With the previously-completed “Ariane and Bluebeard” restoration -— and all our upcoming restorations — the problem is mainly that the original color is physically “rotting.” Here are some more details from the “Ariane” campaign:
Back in the 1980s and early 90s, well before computer coloring, Craig decided that he wanted to hand-color a number of his creator-owned projects using mixed media to allow for more gradations in color, mood and effect. To start with, he had his original black-and-white line art reproduced on letter-sized sheets of clear plastic. He then placed that plastic copy over another piece of letter-sized art paper. When hand-coloring, he would lift the plastic sheet repeatedly, over and over and over again, so that he could apply the mixed-media color to the bottom sheet. It was an insanely time-intensive process, but the end results were uniquely and undeniably beautiful. When the art was published, it was shot from the reduced color “masters” with the reduced black & white linework overlaid via the plastic.
In recent years, this original original color art has deteriorated badly, with much of it becoming “mottled,” chipped, faded and decayed. The plastic overlays with the black and white line art have also yellowed, shrunk and flaked away. These first color “masters” are pretty much unusable for any future presentation of these groundbreaking stories. All are in dire need of both restoration and preservation.
You’re moving through restoring his body of work at a fairly good clip. What’s coming down the pipeline that we should be saving our pennies (or full paychecks) for in the near future?
WAH: Most definitely! There will be two campaigns a year for the next two and a half years. Craig and I actually just set up a loose “ordering” of how we’re going to proceed, and here’s an exclusive peek:Continued below
So if our dedicated pledge partners continue with their support, we’ll (hopefully) be done by the end of (gasp) 2018! We couldn’t have gotten even this far without our supporters and Craig and I really want them to know how much we appreciate their support!
A few notes:
- Unlike most crowdfunding efforts of this nature, you don’t actually get to buy a copy of the material being restored directly. There are certainly plenty of reward goals to make it worth your contribution, but the restored “While The Gods Laugh” artwork will most likely come out as part of Titan Comics’ continuing “Elric” TPB reprints when that series reaches the issues of the First Comics’ “Weird of the White Wolf” mini that reprinted the story from “Epic Illustrated”. (The PCR Elric publishing chronology map is…complicated.)
- Most of the remaining projects to be restored originally saw print in Russell’s “Night Music” anthology series from Eclipse Comics circa 1984-1988. Again, like with “While The Gods Laugh”, the individual projects aren’t necessarily long enough to warrant separate releases, but they would definitely make a nice TPB-sized collection. Whether that would come out from Titan or another publisher (possibly Dark Horse? NBM?) remains to be seen.