Art by Dave Sim
(from the introduction to The Animated Cerebus Portfolio, 1983)
It was last August when, after a tentative offer by an animation studio to look at any proposals for a Cerebus animated film, that I finally sat down and tried to picture what a Cerebus animated film would be like.
Actually, like a number of people I have talked to, I at first thought that High Society would make a good feature length animated film. Of course, that was before Elrod and Jaka and Lord Julius and the Cootie started popping up. I either had to abandon the idea of doing it as a film, or try to talk someone into printing up programs to hand out at the box office to explain who everyone was.
It was at this point that I decided the best course of action would be to write a story that took place before #1, which would avoid complicated introductions for the major characters or (shudder) new versions of their first appearance for the sake of filmic continuity (double shudder).
Well, I wandered around for a few weeks after that, complimenting myself on being such a clever chap. Yes sir, that was the best way to go. It would all take place before #1. From there I tried to start on a 'treatment'. A quick five or six paragraphs that would have every producer of animation who read it rolling in the aisles (or behind his desk). Something witty and at the same time poignant. Hilarious but thought provoking. It took me a could of weeks to figure out that those five or six paragraphs don't exist, which returned me to square one.
Then I thought of the idea of producing a portfolio of short vignettes that would appear in the film. Just quick little stories that would give people a clearer idea of what kind of a film it was I intended to make some day. I finally had a goal that was clear enough that I could sit down and give it a try.
So, there I sat tapping a pencil on the edge of the dining room table, trying to do a thing I absolutely hate trying to do: writing pictures.
A Well Equipped Bar
Please don't read this until you've looked at the story... not that anyone would, but who knows? Somewhere out there, is some disturbed individual (a lot of them are Cerebus fans, you know) who upon opening this portfolio decided to read the fine print before he looked at the pictures. Well, whoever you are, this is your last warning. Don't read this until you look at the plates. Onward.
I started sifting through the Earth-Pig's past (he does have one, I just haven't spilled the cat all over the bean bag yet) going over locations and incidents. Naturally the one that came up the most frequently was 'the bar', 'the tavern', 'a corner table'.
I heard a joke some years ago (like, when I was ten) about two fellows having a bet that no one in the bar would dare drink the contents of the spittoon nearby. There is an elaborate description of each patron of the bar having a try. So and so tries and he barely tilts it up before he gets sick. So and so tries etc. etc. Finally one guys drinks it all down. and one of the first two fellows says, "that's amazing. How can you do that?" The answer is the punch line and for the life of me I can't remember it. But it was this story that my mind strayed to (as is its wont when forced to write pictures). I had this over-riding feeling that if I could just remember the punchline, I would have the ideal vignette. After twisting my limited grey matter this way and that I had a sudden burst of insight. The punch-line wasn't the key element. The key element was the profound chord that the words "drink the contents of the spittoon" strike in the human animal. I did a quick sketch of the first frames, then jotted down little notes like (2) looks left (3) looks right (4) tiptoeing. The next day I went in and drew it. One down.
Add One Mummified Bat
It was Deni who suggested the idea for this one. Deni always suggests ideas when I'm chewing the drapes and the carpet and threatening to go out and drink myself into oblivion. Sometimes it works. "Why don't you do one about the time he was a magician's apprentice? Everyone wants to know about that." She was right, so I told her it was impossible and that I had already thought of that and why didn't she go somewhere and publish something.
Fortunately I had a mouthful of broadloom so it didn't come out clearly enough for her to take offence.
I thought about it tapping my pencil on the dining room table, picking broadloom fibres out of my teeth. I always pictured Magnus Doran's studio as one that Gene Day had drawn years ago for an animation sample. The picture was dominated by a bubbling cauldron, while the over-laid cells were of a magician gesturing over his head with his arms. Gene never took it any further and I always wondered what would have come out of that cauldron. I decided it would be a gaseous spirit like one in The Wizard of Id.
This story featured the youngest Cerebus I had drawn to date. Looks nice in a turtleneck, don't you think?
His First Sword
I went through a number of ideas before I came up with this one. Again. Not much to say about it really.
I had recently seen a Fleischer Popeye cartoon that I recalled quite vividly from my days as a wee tad when I would watch an hour of Popeye every morning. All the action took place in a blacksmith shop as Popeye and Bluto competed in shoe-ing horses. So Bluto was very much on my mind as an archetype Blacksmith as I contemplated young Cerebus eagerly awaiting the completion of his first sword. It's also something of a comment on the mentality of those enamoured of articles of destruction. But primarily it is just another incident in the young earth-pig's life.
The cover was originally going to feature 'His Sixth Birthday', but I decided you weren't ready for that young an aardvark yet. Maybe in the next portfolio.
All of these vignettes happen before the opening credits in that grand and far-off dream of a one-hour special hovering in the back of my mind.
Most of it is still pretty hazy at this point, but one thing is for sure. It won't have a single heart-warming moment in it.
Take that, Walt.
Dave Sim, February 18, 1983