Sunday, 22 June 2014

Opinion: Preserving The Cerebus Archive - Why?


DAMIAN T. LLOYD:
Dave says he is "determined to preserving the house and the Cerebus Archive", but (in the spirit of "everything on the table"), why?

Dave isn't the kind of celebrity that fans will make pilgrimmages his house after he's dead to see "This is where he worked, and this is where he slept, and this is where he brushed his teeth ..." He's not Jim Morrison.

Likewise the artefacts themselves. I know some fans get great pleasure from looking at the Cerebus original pages on the wall, and good for them, but for most fans (and, Dave has said, more importantly) readers, it's the content that matters. Cerebus's legacy, whatever it turns out to be, is better served by having the material available to an audience -- which today, probably means scanning everything (first, the work itself; second, supplementary material) and putting it on the Web (until they can figure out a way to beam Cerebus pages directly into our brains).

Then all the original material could be sold to interested fans who like that sort of thing -- perhaps with a registry of some kind in case new developments in technology merit re-scanning (as long as it's not the kind of contractual obligation Marvel famously stuck in its Jack Kirby artwork-return release). That'll raise a few extra bucks for Dave to work on his own stuff in the here and now.

Dave has pinned his hopes on posterity, hoping that Cerebus will receive the acclaim after he's dead that he feels it should have earned during his lifetime. Only Dave can answer the question, but I'd be interested to see what other readers think: Is the reward worth the investment? Is the slim chance of Cerebus being "rediscovered" as a lost classic and inspiring pilgrims to visit Kitchener) worth the commitment of finite resources to Dave's "Museum of Me", when those resources could allow Dave to work today without the spectre of poverty hovering over his door?

Cerebus is done; it's finished. Dave has very little to add to that (the exception -- of interest to a minority of readers -- being the Cerebus Archive material that lets us infer Dave's creative approaches to the material).

But new Dave Sim comics are a limited resource; Dave's got another 20 years (hopefully more) to live. Here's a fellow who always maintained that the quality of the work should be paramount, not the brand name; here's a fellow who has had over three decades of experience writing and drawing the story he wanted to tell without interference. If (as Dave has implied) creativity is like muscle, growing stronger as you exercise it, then I'm interested to see what that fellow can create.

Dave once asked, "What's the good of owning all your original pages for your first three issues but not being able to afford to print your fourth?"

So what's the point of preserving a house at the cost of an incomplete Strange Death of Alex Raymond?


Send in your Cerebus-related thoughts to 'Aardvark Comment'. Email:  momentofcerebus [at] gmail [dot] com

14 comments:

crazyyears said...

This is a very interesting question, and it's really a two-part queston:
1. Does Dave need/want material wealth and what would he do with it? How would Dave answer the, "What would you do if you won the lottery," question?
Hell if I know, but I'd be interested to hear him answer the question.
2. Is there any need for a place of pilgrimage for Cerebus fans?
No. And yes.
I would love to meet Dave, maybe buy him dinner, talk a little Cerebus and SDOAR, talk a LOT of comics in general and whatever else might come up. mainly because he seems like a polite, intelligent, urbane fellow whom has lived an interesting life. I'd also like to see the off-white house and take a look at some original Sim/Gerhard work. My interest could be sustained for perhaps an afternoon. After that the excruciatiing minutiae and the sheer overwhelming volume of material would have my head spinning and I'd have to leave. But am I likely to travel to Kitchener to make that happen? Eh. Probably not. But that's me.
I think the real answer here is that as comics inevitably (the evidence is everywhere) become more popular and accepted as a valid art form in North America the entire industry is going to come under scrutiny by academics. Cerebus by the work's very nature and the circumstances of it's creation and publishing is absolutely singular in its environment. Sim's and Cerebus' impact on publishing practices, creator rights, and the variety of currently available content in the comics medium in incalculable. There is a little doubt in my mind that it will be taught in schools and that documentaries and biographies will follow. The preservation of all that head-spinning excruciating minutiae is vital to that precess, whether at the off-white house or a university library.

jonbly said...

Personally... I don't see the point in preserving the house or the archive. (And the archive doesn't merit a capital 'A').

Preserving Cerebus for posterity means getting it back into print. This should be Dave's number one priority.

I'm still surprised that hardback collections aren't viable, as they feel like the right way to go (by generating new sales from existing fans - especially given the shabby binding on early phonebooks).

I'd love to see some original work from Dave... but I seriously doubt that SDOAR is commercially viable. Which wouldn't matter if Dave were financially secure...

Anonymous said...

I'm almost certain of two things:

1) Dave has his reasons.
2) We won't be changing his mind.

If Dave wants Cerebus to continue after he dies, in my opinion he should give all the rights to one person, rather than letting it fall into the public domain, so that that person will have a financial incentive to promote Cerebus.

Yoko Ono and Priscilla Presley are two examples where one person who was very close to the artist was able to continue to keep the artist relevant after his death in ways that seem to me consistent with the integrity and ethics of the artist while alive.

Simply give all the rights to Cerebus to someone like Tim or Margaret Liss, and this would create a financial impetus to maintain Cerebus in the hands of someone with a personal relationship with the work.

That'll be $50.

- Reginald Periwinkle

Ray Cornwall said...

One point: Cerebus *is* scanned, and wholly available at CerebusDownloads.com. The scans may not be suitable for printing the phonebooks, an issue Dave's working on, but they're certainly fine enough for reading on an iPad, which I did on my last reread of the work.

I have no comment on the house. That's Dave's decision.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to set up a credit card payment option on Cerebusdownloads? I don't use Paypal and it seems like a pain to set up the account.

- Reginald P.

L. Jámal Walton said...

If you just add it to your PayPal cart and then go to PayPal there is an option to pay by credit card without setting up a PayPal account.

Anonymous said...

I think that preserving the Off-White House is an interesting idea, but I can't imagine going to check it out (I'm in Oklahoma, which is kinda far removed from the Great White North- of course, in the intervening years between now and whenever Dave schleps off this mortal coil I may move close enough to make that trip feasible).

It does seem like a really weird thing to do, but then Dave is Dave. (not an insult!)

I really wish the Words an Pictures Museum still existed- that would have been, I think, a more apropos resting place for the Cerebus Archives. Hopefully one of these days we'll get a comic book museum that sticks around.

- Wes Smith

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Reginald,

I think you're completely wrong.

There are tons of examples. Clearly public domain status of quality art causes proliferation! The Stranger and the Trial are two of Orson Welles' best-know and widely watched movies of his post-Kane career. Why? Freely distributed and sold, without fear of consequence.

Night of the Living Dead. It's a Wonderful Life. Both wildly proliferated because of their p.d. status.

In literature, we see the pre-Forever Copyright era is incredibly popular. Victorian-era literature continues to sell while books from the 20's through the 70's are virtually invisible with the exception of a few bestsellers of each era.

The last missing key? Making sure that your will gives the Public Domain the keys to the castle. In the case of Cerebus, I'd argue, that would include, as an action of the estate, digitally distributing or making available files that would serve as a digital negative that could be used to print books, what have you. In other words, make the whole enchilada available to the public.

It's pretty brilliant, making your work freely available as a legal fact of your passing. It seems to me like a recipe for success. And really, if you consider the alternatives, what's Dave to do? How much do you have to trust a university that they'll keep your papers straight and secure, make your work available to the research public?

Jeff Seiler said...

Speaking as someone who has had the Off-White House tour, having made the pilgrimage all the way from Wisconsin, I can say that it was worth it. Of course, having the owner and resident artist as the tour guide was a huge part of the experience. I think it is a worthwhile idea and, face it, it's Dave's life insurance that is currently tabbed to pay for it. He's not going to liquidate that to pay printing bills. Not gonna happen, even if he were to get some other funding source for the Archive.

David Birdsong said...

Sean you are absolutely right. Get the best possible versions on Cerebus Downloads while Dave is alive and then make the downloads absolutely free after his passing with a donate button for those that can or will pay for the service. I would also understand if George continued to charge for the downloads to cover his time and efforts and perhaps start making a profit. After all, that is what anyone else could do once the series is in the public domain. I would go one step farther and include each individual issue in the same format as the High Society issues with covers, letters pages, notes and all supplemental material. All 300 issues, all complete, all scanned at 2400dpi.

If I were going to release a printed edition of the complete Cerebus there would be two versions. The first would be a set of square bound trade paperbacks like Dave has issued, but with better paper and the best square bound printing available. The sixteen books (plus issue 0) are the story with no distractions or side projects or crossovers or alternate realities and for a lot of people that is enough. For a more complete version I think I would start with Cerebus Archive (too bad Dave didn't finish it because he was almost there, but still close enough to start with) and then include everything: Every cover, every letters page, the Swords Of Cerebus stories, all the supplemental material, every poster, print, ad, guest appearance, any and all pin-ups and sketches that could be found, (drawings of other characters and interviews where available, the copyright issues would be a pain, but I'm just fantasizing here), all of it, all. Get it together in chronological order and release it in large hardbound editions that would probably expand it to 25 or 30 volumes. Every. Last. Thing. Then it would be complete and then the most hardcore worry wart would have it all.

Someone let me know when you have it done so I can order it.

As for the house I agree with Dave's decision. You can visit Ernest Hemingway's house in Key West, Florida, but when I was there I was more interested in the pub crawl. Why not preserve Dave Sim's home? For me it is a bit more personal than the comic books, but I would think that Kitchener, Ontario or Canada would be interested in marking it as an historical home the way we do in the States. Meanwhile back in Realville I suspect a member of his family will attempt to take possession of his home and effects and sell as much of it as they can and then sell the house. It is a harsh reality, but it would not surprise me at all.

Anonymous said...


Sean:

The Trial is not an example of the public domain single-handedly promulgating a movie.

According to Wikipedia, for decades, the Trial was only available in "cheaply-made home video of inferior quality, not produced under licence. In 2012, a remastered high-definition version was released on Blu-ray by Studio Canal which owns the worldwide copyright."

The public domain supported an inferior version of the Trial. Copyright supported a high-quality version. Surely you see the parallel with the Cerebus restoration?

Although your commendable work in restoring Cerebus has been, to my knowledge, without remuneration, handling Cerebus demands money and leadership. Dave has already spent ~ $20,000.00, which may not yield a released work. I’d argue that as creator and copyright holder he has been uniquely able to draw support. It is seriously doubtful that someone without Dave's legitimacy in relation to Cerebus could muster the same.

If Dave appoints a person with authority over Cerebus, it would provide that person the legitimacy and wherewithal needed to take care of Cerebus. If the restoration teaches nothing else, it is that Cerebus is a 6,000-page richly-detailed work that requires something akin to a curator to be handled properly.

- Reginald P.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

Reginald,

To the best of my knowledge, The Trial, in its original form, is in the public domain, StudioCanal's efforts to the contrary. Additionally, their release of it truncates the original, eliminating the credits sequence and voice over as well as several other small scenes, presumably so that their "edit" could be considered a newly-created work.

The public domain version I've watched looked great.

If things played out how I suggested above, there would be no reason for versions of inferior quality anyway, as anyone would have access to the best possible version.

Compare this to the state of Welles' other films, including, say, Chimes at Midnight or Othello, both of which continue to be unavailable as one of his daughters has threatened to sue anyone attempting to secure release rights.

And yes, as of last week, Dave is paying me. Check out tomorrow's update.

:)

S

Kit said...

Hopefully one of these days we'll get a comic book museum that sticks around.

The Cartoon Library & Museum at OSU in Columbus, Ohio, has been open since 1977.

http://cartoons.osu.edu/about-us/

Brian John Mitchell said...

Last fall I went to the Robert E Howard museum, which is the house he grew up in. It's run by some local group & open by appointment only & only has a few hundred visitors a year. I think it would be great if Dave's house becomes something like that 70 years after his death & someone like me has the opportunity to go & see it.