Sunday, 18 August 2013

Cerebus: In My Life - Lee Thacker

Lee Thacker is the creator of (among other things) the 800 page graphic novel One For Sorrow, the Sim-inspired Holocaust book Yellow Stars, The Festive Fifty Illustrated, Snapshots (an anthology title illustrating a number of creator owned stories) and the ongoing Tales From The Wedding Present comic book series, written by David Gedge. He has been creating comic book stories and illustrated self published books in relative obscurity for the past twenty years.

A Moment Of Cerebus:
How did you discover Cerebus and how long did you read it for?

Lee Thacker:
I was a Marvel Zombie up until I started reading Epic Illustrated and Archie Goodwin's Epic line - that really opened my horizons to different types of comic books NOT published by Marvel and gradually weaned me off my superhero addiction. I noticed an advert for Cerebus in an issue of Epic, but wasn’t quite ready to move from X-Men to talking furry animals. I then basically went from Love & Rockets to Black Kiss, Yummy Fur, American Flagg and finally - Cerebus. I’d seen a few eye-catching covers in comics shops before my ‘conversion’, most notably issue 80 with the giant stone Thrunk (‘What’s The Thing doing on this comic cover?!’) and issue 82 with the swamp/man-thing parody. Man-Thing, along with anything else written by Steve Gerber, was my favourite Marvel Comics series. However, I didn’t pick up an issue of Cerebus until a local second hand book shop I frequented had a whole load of back issues for 50p each. I took a chance and purchased a batch of issues (105-111) - the climax of the Church & State storyline. To say it was like an epiphany is a vast understatement. I was instantly addicted and spent the rest of the year tracking down every back issue I could get my hands on (this was before I knew anything about the ‘phone books’). The bi-weekly reprints were easy enough to come by, but it took a lot of searching in comic shops/second hand book shops in the Midlands to complete my collection. The first ‘current’ issue I bought would have been towards the end of Jaka’s Story, issue 129, December 1989. Cerebus became one of the few constants in my life and (apart from Love & Rockets) was the only comic book I continued to buy from around 1995 onwards. I picked up every issue each month (from 129 up to 300) from my local comic shop (and often at the brilliant Page 45 in Nottingham, where Mark and Stephen turned me on to a load of brilliant comics over the years) and savoured every issue. The Torah commentaries issues are the only ones I can say I didn’t ‘thoroughly’ enjoy, but Cerebus still remains the most entertaining, original, thought-provoking, gob-smackingly brilliant comic in the history of the medium IMHO.

Less long winded answer: In a second hand bookshop in Birmingham called Reader’s World. Fifteen years.

How has your own creativity/comics been influenced by Cerebus?

Completely. Not so much artistically as I don’t even come close to Dave and Gerhard’s talent, but certainly creatively. One For Sorrow began as a sixty page story, but after reading the first few Cerebus storylines (up to and including Jaka’s Story) I decided to expand it and it turned into my Magnum Opus. Strangely enough, all of the covers for One For Sorrow were originally photographs, preceding Dave’s use of photography for his covers by two years! I was also lucky enough to get a Single Page submission printed in the back of a Church & State reprint comic (#22) along with a cheque for $171 (the ONLY time I’ve ever been paid for my comics work!) When Judenhass came out, I set about creating my own Holocaust book, using Dave’s photo-realistic approach, this became Yellow Stars. This then led to me spending a couple of years on The Festive Fifty Illustrated, again influenced by Dave’s photo-realism approach of tracing the picture and then inking using the finest lines possible, as beautifully evidenced in Glamourpuss. Great fun! I also got in touch with Steve Peters through a mutual love of Cerebus and I contributed a number of pieces (gratis) to his Sparky comics.

Has Cerebus influenced your approach to working in the comics industry?

I’d say that it’s informed rather than influenced. Dave’s integrity and advocacy of creator’s rights was a big inspiration as well as an eye-opener. Like a lot of fans, the Guide To Self Publishing was hugely important to me, but from a creative aspect rather than publishing. Without the advice, I certainly wouldn’t have written and drawn an 800 page graphic novel. I used Dave’s idea of writing something down every day on a calendar to keep track of my creative output. For four years I stuck to this and created 10 twenty pages comics for each of those years, working in complete obscurity with my only reader and fan being my girlfriend Kirstie. I was also holding down a full time job and partying at weekends! I wish I had that much energy nowadays! I sent the photocopied issues to a number of independent publishers and heard nothing back from any of them until I was halfway through book three, when Matt Silvie of The Comics Journal got in touch and wrote a flattering review in The Comics Journal. British comics legend Paul Gravett also got in touch around this time and featured some of my original artwork in an exhibition in London. When the book was finally completed, I sent the 8 (hand made, photocopied 100 page) books to Dave Sim as a thank you for inspiring me to keep going with a very personal and non-lucrative artistic endeavour. I had a very pleasant surprise when I discovered a glowing review of my work posted on the Cerebus Fan Girl site, written by Dave. He allowed me to edit it and include it as an introduction for the first book. This inspired me to look into better printing and I settled on using Lulu (print on demand). To date, I’ve sold about 300 (yes, that’s three HUNDRED) copies of One For Sorrow. Not very impressive really, is it?! I still enjoy working on comic book art, but I’m a lot slower these days and I’ve never made much money from it!
Cerebus #107 (February 1988)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Do you have a favourite scene/sequence from Cerebus?

There are so many!! The first sequence that blew me away was Cerebus’ ‘conversation’ with The Judge in Walking On The Moon; Gerhard’s backgrounds in these issues are beautiful. The scenes in Jaka’s Story where Cerebus is eavesdropping on Jaka and Rick and he overhears them having sex. Elrod’s return in High Society always makes me laugh out loud, and the scene at the end where Cerebus turns to the Regency Elf with tears in his eyes always makes my eyes a bit damp. The part in Reads (issue 183) where Dave tells us he decided long ago that Cerebus would only run until issue 200 but decided to keep it a secret – that really messed with my head at the time and his description of the reader’s reaction was spot on as far as this reader was concerned. The essay ‘Tangent’ also had a profound effect on me and changed my relationships with a lot of the women in my life (I really was a member of their ‘fan club’ and it had to stop!) Also, the scene with the Sphinx baby was quite shocking and sent a shiver up my spine. The ‘Comics Journal’ interview that Cerebus reads after he’s collected every issue of ‘Rabbi’ was highly entertaining too. As I said, there are so many I could list at least three hundred more!
Cerebus #107 (February 1988)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Would you recommend others read Cerebus, and if so why?

I’ve bought a number of female friends copies of the Jaka’s Story phone book over the years, to mixed or no reviews. Most of the people I know have little or no interest in comics, but to anyone who DOES like comics and graphic novels, reading Cerebus should be on a list of things to do before you die. Why? Because it’s insightful, intelligent, funny, thought- provoking, and beautifully drawn – graphic storytelling at its very best.

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