I thought I’d take this moment to look back at one of the most iconic gags of the entire Longshot Comics series—the back cover.
When I first conceived of the joke, the priority was to get a scan of a public-domain Victorian drawing that would be a match for the contents of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers. In the pre-web, early-scanner days, this wasn’t a simple matter. Thankfully, I was already collecting antiquarian books, and a volume from 1896 led me to a page from the story “Mrs. Cliff’s Yacht” illustrated by E. W. Kemble. He is, I’m sure, still rolling over in his grave twenty-five years after first being unwittingly recruited for my often crass and puerile project. Scanner time was provided by a friend who lingered in university and had access to the computer lab where such exotic equipment could be found. I remember what a marvel of technology it was to see the scan from the book combined with a scan of a magnifying glass I owned to create one image that would be a key selling point for my epic experimental minicomic.
The original minicomic was an 80-page photocopied booklet that instantly caused waves in the comics industry. I was unconvinced anyone would ever buy it, but it was soon selling faster than I could produce new copies (painstakingly by hand). That original back cover was instrumental in putting across the whole premise to an audience who had never seen anything like it before.
When it came time for a new full-sized, widely distributed edition for Slave Labour Graphics, everything had to be reformatted and redone. That included the back cover, which was now going to be printed large enough to actually read the mock-up text of the comic page. I wrote a short extension of one of the scenes that could be read and understood around the edges of the magnifying glass, which, in turn, was rescanned at a higher resolution to go with Kemble’s drawing.
The subsequent German translation of The Long and Unlearned Life of Roland Gethers didn’t attempt to recreate the original back cover for their editions, however the Italian version went above and beyond to mimic everything I had done with the book to date (and then added lots of footnotes to explain many of the historical references and cultural in-jokes throughout). Although they didn’t have access to the Kemble sketch, they managed to find something very close.
It was back to the scanner for the latest edition (which also required a complete redo of all the artwork). With technology leaping forward, everything I needed on the software and hardware front was now standard issue in my home office. The newest reformat made the old magnified page obsolete, but it was a relatively simple matter to grab an actual page from the interior and make that part of the joke. The original magnifying glass was pressed into service to help me read all the tiny text I was transcribing, while the printed version was replaced by licenced art from a stock photography site.
The Failed Promise of Bradley Gethers and The Inauspicious Adventures of Filson Gethers now also feature the iconic gag, but with pages from their own volumes, and original Victorian illustrations from other artists and antiquarian books. Shout-out to V. Gribayédoff and F. H. Townsend who, though long dead, are probably similarly miffed about their work being subjected to such an indignity.
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