|Following Cerebus #1-4 (2004-2005)|
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Meet The Comics Press, The Comics Journal #271, October 2005)
In this magazine's "Sayonara Cerebus" seminar (TCJ #263) I opined, among other things, that Dave Sim's recently concluded epic would subsequently benefit from some fresh, ongoing material presence in comic shops and bookstores. The finished title could use - and would certainly support - some kind of extended, tangible booster shot of insight and dry goods to keep at bay the inevitable slippage in a fickle public's attention, the out-of-sight dismissal through which a completed work becomes a closed work.
So far the three issues of Following Cerebus have admirably risen to the task. The (roughly) quarterly, comic-sized magazine is from Craig Miller and John Thorne, the same duo who complied two issues of the Cerebus Companion back in the earlier '90s; publisher Win-Mill Productions additionally releases Wrapped In Plastic, devoted to David Lynch and his Twin Peaks, and Spectrum, on pop culture creations that might inspire analogous fascination for followers, the most prominent of which appears to be Buffy The Vampire Slayer. From this collection of titles and subjects, it appears obvious that the line has a tradition in maintaining an editorial balance between fannish devotion, credible commentary and creator sufferance or, as here, generous cooperation. Such governing poise is particularly important with Cerebus and his originator.
Each issue has offered substantive material relating to Cerebus' content and intent, to the industry at large, and to Sim's thought on an irrepressible range of subjects, not necessarily in that order. The 48-page instalments are bound by that dexterous editorial stance, propelled by a sincere, developed regard for the material, and spiced by a fanzine's giddy inclusiveness.
Miller and Thorne's keynote editorial appears in the premiere issue where they grapple with the highly relevant matter of who gets to interpret artistic works and the implications of the most readily available answers. Their prose is congenial and their rationale down-to-earth. Their conclusion - that we get to respond to and interpret art, however much those reactions differ in degree, sophistication, or impact - is likewise sensible and functional. They then proceed on their initial exploration of a Cerebus-related matter undertaken without Sim as authoritarian tour guide, that of the running mystery of the "something fell" episodes throughout the comic.
Every issue of Following Cerebus features at least one interview with Sim and so far there have been interviews with consummate artist Gerhard, the latest entirely devoted to sailing. All issues but the first have included an "About Last Issue" response from Sim which tends to further clarify or elaborate on preceding topics. Sim's participation in this follow-up capacity proves unique and invaluable (I'm not wholly convinced that 'Something fell' isn't the singular obsession of a mere handful of Cerebus readers, and that it just so happened that one of those readers turned out to be the co-producer of Following Cerebus").
The inaugural trio of issues of the magazine have also included interviews conducted by Sim with Barry Windsor-Smith from 1973 ("What's so good about illustrators? Just because he's called a bleedin' illustrator doesn't mean he can draw any better than anybody else") and Harvey Kurtzman from 1974. The latter is accompanied by a transcript of a speech Kurtzman gave in Toronto and packaged within the nominally themed issue addressing parody, censorship, copyright and trademarks. (The fourth issue is planned as a tribute to Will Eisner).
|Following Cerebus #5-8 (2005-2006)|
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
As any good zine of this nature, there is a grab-bag largess to its features, which include ranging news reports, a sporadic letter column, and portfolios of art from diverse sources, including even a "lost" story from the aardvark's early history. The covers by Sim and Gerhard have been sensational, particularly issue thee's trrifecta which pays homage to classic comic covers of the past.
The title of that article of mine back in TCJ #263 was "Can Cerebus Survive Dave Sim?" and seems just as relevant a question to ask in the case of Following Cerebus as well. The magazine benefits handsomely from Sim's participation. The collaboration appears to stem from an admirable working relationship arising from good will, support for mutual goals, and cultivation of common ground. With so strongly opinionated and outspoken, so autonomous an industry and creative maverick as Sim, tact and reciprocal integrity would seems to be an absolute must. Sympathetic interests confirmed, a slippery slope beckons, one dropping away from forbearance and tolerance toward compromise, accommodation and concession. At some point matters of journalistic responsibility are inevitably going to be raised and the less one appreciates the social, political, or religious point Sim presently espouses, the quicker those questions are going to bubble up.
To take an indicative if comparatively innocuous example, issues two and three have included "Dave Sim's Favourite Buffy Pic This Month" where he gets to deride at some length selected publicity stills of Sarah Michelle Gellar by illuminating the secret messages encoded in her expression and posture (he leads off in his second instalment, "This gentlemen, is what I used to know as Shopping Emergency Face"). Gratuitous, mean-spirited, and polemically fatuous, the feature undermines and diminishes the position that elsewhere Sim, I'm sure, would rather have readers take seriously. Worse, it's not funny. (But as a collateral benefit, he gets to tweak his hosts for a topical preoccupation of a sister publication.) A more telling indulgence is shown Sim during the opportunity to display his clairvoyance, through footnotes, as he reads the minds of Kurtzman and his audience during the course of that Toronto speech.
|Following Cerebus #9-12 (2006-2011)|
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Sim can make fine use of the latitudes of Following Cerebus, revealing himself as a conscientious, thoughtful creator who has scrupulously considered, well-articulated insight into Cerebus and the matters it addresses. The pity is that Sim is ever ready if not eager to vault the rim and descend into a personal snake pit of personal beliefs cobbled from his readings and buttressed by firsthand experience. It would be easy - real easy - to quote some of his disturbing humdingers here, but the counterclaim of "taking things out of context" seems more valid for him than for most (I think it may be a matter of his sincerity, however woeful that may strike me and many). Yet one of his remarks seems fair game as both clear statement of his purpose and all-points alarm for the rest of us: "a lot of what I'm doing is just 'reading into the record' for the sake of future society".
As for approaching Cerebus as a formidable and rich artistic creation, those who have or can reconcile themselves to Dave Sim's present state of mind and method will find Following Cerebus a valuable source of information and an aid to discernment. Others will find the magazine as an invitation for Sim to yank as furiously as ever at his own petard. But at least in this forum and through the format Miller and Thorne have devised, they have made it easier for the reader to separate the wheat from the ergot.
Following Cerebus #1-12 were published by Craig Miller and John Thorne's Win-Mill Productions between 2004 and 2011. Most of the individual issues are still available to buy here.