After acquiring my first comics — a two-year run of “Kevin the Bold” — I decided I should publish a book somehow. First, I needed to figure out the best way to get images of them, and since they were too large for my present scanner, I thought of using a camera stand. I had a vague notion of what one would look like, so I jury-rigged one out of some dowels and thin pieces of pine.
It held my camera, a Canon PowerShot A40. The camera wasn’t very sleek, but a grip that bumped out on its side helped secure it onto the camera stand. It was March, 2004, so shooting indoors made sense.
Being a bit of a packrat, I still had some old light scoops and 3200K bulbs that dated back to college. I plugged them in by my camera stand and my ersatz photo studio seemed set. However, the resulting photos left much to be desired — my lighting was terrible!
I decided to try shooting outside; I figured the natural light would be perfect. It was now May, so going outside wasn’t out of the question. The light was ideal, but even a light breeze complicated everything.
Needless to say, I didn’t have a photo assistant. I could use weights to hold the comics in place, but having to deal with all these moving parts for each shot was less than ideal. It was a very slow, nerve-racking process — one gust and everything would be all over the back yard. Eventually I decided that shooting indoors on a sunny day near large windows was the most workable solution.
One way to say it would be that I didn’t know what I was doing; I prefer to think I was making it up as I went along. Regardless, it’s not the most confident way to start an endeavor, but I thought the most important thing was to just get started. I settled on using three 75-watt bulbs, my camera’s flash and the necessary color corrections in PhotoShop.
I shot my 105 comics, and proceeded to photograph new additions the same way, using a SanDisk card reader to upload the images to my iMac. My collection grew slowly, which was just as well, since the process was so time-consuming. I recalled vaguely that higher-end cameras had lenses with optics that produced images whose edges were square but the A40 was obviously not in that category. So I also used PhotoShop to square up the images. But again, what a slow process.
A guy who worked at a place where I freelanced knew how to use the company’s tabloid-sized photocopier as a scanner, and this seemed promising, but I wasn’t able to get permission to take advantage of this piece of equipment. As my comics collection grew, I become familiar with eBay, and I started looking into inexpensive tabloid scanners. Eventually I won an auction for a Microtek ScanMaker 9800XL. It makes nice square scans and easily accommodates half-page comics on its 12″ x 17″ bed. Lighting and wind are no longer problems. Even with its ultra-slow scanning speed, the $200 investment was well worth it. And it’s much more civilized than the old camera-stand process. The scanner is probably 15 years old but it still works fine (though I’ve had to purchase third-party software drivers to keep it functioning with the ever-changing Mac operating systems. I recommend VueScan from Hamrick software).
At this point, I have most of my comics scanned (duplicating my attempts with the camera stand). Color-correction lags way behind, though I have nearly worked my way through the 100 “Mitzi McCoys” extant. And with any luck, a Mitzi McCoy book will be published in 2016.
Happy New Year!