Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Ten Years Ago

Cerebus #300 (March 2004)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
ROB SALKOWITZ:
(from Iest To Austin, IVC2, 3 March 2014)

...Ten years ago this month, in March of 2004, Cerebus completed its run of 300 continuous self-published monthly issues.  It's one of the most impressive accomplishments in comics history. For this achievement, creator/publisher/entrepreneur Dave Sim could have etched himself on comics' Mount Rushmore. Instead, Cerebus stands as comics' Borobodur Temple: a massive, lavishly-ornamented monument decaying in the jungle in the middle of nowhere. The cantankerous aardvark, despite his impressive staying power, died alone, unmourned and unloved - and remains even moreso to this day.

The reasons for Cerebus' decline into obscurity are numerous and well-documented elsewhere. But from a business perspective, the juxtaposition between self-publishing then and now is illuminating.

The Hyborean Age. 
When Sim launched his series in the late 1970s, comics were in the ditch. DC imploded, canceling dozens of announced books; over at Marvel, things were so bad that a revival of the X-Men, the failed title from the 1960s, was about the only interesting thing going on. There was no indie scene to speak of.  You could fit all the trade reprints of old comics on a single bookshelf, with room to spare.  Newsstand distribution was dying and the direct market was just getting off the ground.

On TV, you might be able to catch re-runs of "Zap! Bam! Pow!" Batman, and word was that someone was doing a Superman movie with some pretty big stars attached.  If there happened to be a story about comics in the media, the headline cliché talked about "hidden treasures in the attic!" because comics pretty much were still just for kids.

High Society. 
Into this discouraging scene jumped Dave Sim, a little-known writer/artist from Kitchener, Ontario with a self-published black and white comic featuring an ill-tempered aardvark barbarian, some promising but undeveloped drawing skills, and a penchant for poking fun at prevailing trends in the comics world.

Within two years, Sim hit his stride and announced that he planned for Cerebus to run as a continuous story for 300 issues.  He also became an evangelist for independent publishing, issuing manifestos extolling creator rights and excoriating DC and Marvel for their exploitive practices.

Along the way, he established the template for a generation of self-published comics, paved the way with distributors and retailers, and practically invented the practice of collecting back issues into trade paperbacks so new readers could catch up with the storyline. He also made some pretty amazing comics. The fact that he managed to piss all that away in Cerebus' final decade and a half is, in its way, almost as impressive an achievement as having done it all in the first place.

Form and Void.
It's hard to imagine what Dave Sim would have made of ComiXology Submit if it had been around at the time, or what fans of the platform would have made of Cerebus.  During the years that Sim was doing his most groundbreaking work in the mid-1980s, you got the strong sense that he was motivated at least in part by overcoming the obstacles placed in front of him and proving the doubters wrong. Leaving aside Sim's aversion to all things digital, having something as easy and accessible as Submit might have made the process less... rugged.

It's also the case that Cerebus and other acclaimed self-published titles from the direct market heyday benefited from a captive market. Though it was somewhat offbeat by superhero standards, Cerebus fit neatly into the tastes of old-school fandom, with an art style that was recognizably "good" according to prevailing standards and a constant undercurrent of inside jokes and references (which, unfortunately, give even the best of Cerebus a dated feel). Sim directly cultivated fans, critics and retailers within the community, and those gatekeepers helped attract attention to his book.

Guys.
These days, the market and the critical environment is broader and more diverse. Fans have more direct ways to interact with creators, and with so many conventions, blogs and Tumblrs going on, there are too many gates for gatekeepers to keep. Those who have success breaking through as entrepreneurs and self-publishers are creators like Mark Waid and Brian K. Vaughan, who already have large fanbases. Compared to 1977, an unknown like Sim was at the start of Cerebus would have an easier time getting heard, but a much harder time getting listened to.

Reads. 
A quick examination of ComiXology's Submit portal proves that out. The site is an embarrassment of riches. Established indie favorites like Shannon Wheeler’s Too Much Coffee Man share virtual shelf space with acclaimed newcomers like Karl Bollers and Rick Lionardi’s Watson and Holmes and Fabian Rangle's Doc Unknown. Even fans who pay attention and have money to spend need something to guide them through the clutter, just as Sim encouraged retailers to recommend Cerebus to fans in the 80s...

Rob Salkowitz is author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture and is curating a speaker series on “Comics and Digital Culture” at Emerald City Comic-Con in March. Disclosure: ICv2 has a business relationship with comiXology as a representative.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Society Of Illustrators Honours Alex Raymond

Alex Raymond (Glamourpuss #11, 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
Since 1958, the Society of Illustrators in NYC has elected to its Hall of Fame artists recognized for their distinguished achievement in the art of illustration. Artists are elected by former presidents of the Society and are chosen based on their body of work and the impact it has made on the field of illustration. This year the Society will induct Alex Raymond (along with Al Jaffee, Syd Mead, Mary Blair, Ed Sorel, Walter Everett, and William Cameron Menzies) into their Hall of Fame on 20th June 2014.

Alex Raymond (1901-1956)
Alex Raymond was an American cartoonist, best known for creating Flash Gordon in 1934, is known as “the artist’s artist” and his personal style has become much admired. His ability to combine craftsmanship with emotions and all the gimmicks of a good adventure strip earned his work immediate acclaim. Aside from his incredibly influential Flash Gordon comic, Raymond also worked on the jungle adventure saga Jungle Jim and Rip Kirby, a private detective comic strip. Numerous artists, including Jack Kirby and Bob Kane, have cited Raymond as a major influence. George Lucas also noted that Raymond was a major inspiration for Star Wars. He was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1996, and his influence on other cartoonists remains as considerable today as was during his lifetime. 

(via 13th Dimension)

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon or a one-off Paypal donation.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Dave Sim: Talk To The Hand

X-Files Annual 2014 (IDW, April 2014)
Variant cover art by Dave Sim
THE X-FILES ANNUAL 2014
IDW Publishing, $7.99
Writers: Frank Spotnitz, Gabe Rotter, Shannon Eric Denton & Dave Sim
Artists: Stuart Sayger & Andrew Currie
The X-Files writer / producer Frank Spotnitz returns with an untold tale from Mulder and Scully's first stint with the FBI. When a man returns from the dead with a warning for his wife, the agents investigate and cross paths with a very peculiar priest. And in the second story, Cerebus creator Dave Sim writes his first-ever The X-Files story and first scripted licensed work in... forever? with Talk To The Hand, a nightmarish tale starring a sleeping Dana Scully. Variant cover by Dave Sim.
Release Date: April 2014

...If Spotnitz's story were the only tale being showcased I might suggest you take a pass. But then came Talk to the Hand by Dave Sim, the semi-famous (and maybe semi-insane) creator of Cerebus. For those familiar with Cerebus, you already know the creator is a bit odd -- but in a powerful and brilliant way. Well, even though Talk to the Hand is only a few pages in length it makes this issue worth the cover price. It's haunting, heartfelt, and offers some of the richest characterization of Scully I've ever seen...

...In the second story, Scully talks to a disgusting looking hand that represents one of her ex-boyfriends. There's a great joke in there somewhere, but writer Dave Sim was actually going for the idea of a hand on Scully's heart. It’s a fairly mundane/bland plot, but some great pencils by Andrew Currie and powerful moments of dialogue by Sim manage to make it an enjoyable read...

FLORIDA GEEK SCENE:
...The second story was actually well executed on all levels. Scully wakes up to a strange hand with eyes on it, that apparently challenges her resolve to be an FBI agent every night. It was a great inside look at Scully's psyche, and her motivations to keep working where she is. There wasn't anything truly phenomenal that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium, but it still help my interest... 

...Scully is visited in her dreams by a rather disgusting hand, whose skin is full of eyes, and that claims to be the embodiment of Adam, her high school sweetheart. In this dream state, the hand carries on a conversation with her, where he reveals that they've held the same dream state conversation since the last time they saw each other. He gives her the option to contact him after all of these years, because he claims that she could love him more or as much as she loves being an FBI agent. 

He's giving her the opportunity because this could be the last time they "talk" - his normal self is about to meet a woman that could become his one and only, the one that will make him forget her. "Adam" tries to persuade Scully by presenting her with the possible future that they could have together, if she were to follow his instructions on how to contact him, preventing then the reality where they no longer love each other. The caveat is that she will only be able to call him as soon as she wakes up if she truly does love him more than being an FBI agent. Guess what choice our G-woman made?

For this second one included in the Annual, I had to do some research as to not hastily review a story without knowing the value behind Sim's approach and background. I've said it before, I'm a newbie when it comes to comic history in some aspects. Of that, I'd be at fault. After some of this research, I have to admit that I was able to look at this story with a different set of eyes, overcoming the initial shock that was left after my first read. Perhaps this makes this review not a completely spontaneous one, but I needed to have a better footing on this.

This is a bold yet exciting choice that IDW took to present to audiences that may not be as used to this style of story. I have to applaud them on that, but the problem I find with it is that it took me some research to appreciate it, and I do, because Cerebus is quite an important part of comic book history and that's something I can enjoy. I actually enjoyed my research because I rekindled with stories that I'd forgotten I'd read before in my childhood. My fear though is that many readers will not "get it" and I don't blame them; I hope that those will continue their comic book education by investigating, just like I did, or that I'm indeed underestimating the audience of these comic books and I'm proved wrong.

Having said that, the story is candid, and best enjoyed with an open mind, because when you do, is actually rather comical. I mean, we've all had logic-challenging dreams filled with impossible things such as bitter, chain smoking unicorns, right? Or is that just me? Though I find the age choice for Scully to be a little too on the older side which wouldn’t match the canon of the show, Currie's art and Rodriguez' colors, are good and to the point. I'm not saying this because I prefer to have artwork that is "naturalistic" in some sense and more into copying the looks of the actors that embody these characters, but because I enjoyed it more since the art served its purpose: to communicate the story effectively...

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Cerebus: In My Life - Greg Carlisle

In the final issue of Following Cerebus, Craig Miller wrote an article exploring similarities in the work of three Daves: Lynch, Sim, and Wallace. Greg Carlisle is the author of two books analyzing the work of David Foster Wallace -- Elegant Complexity and Nature's Nightmare -- both independently published by Sideshow Media Group, creators of music, film, books, and comics.

A MOMENT OF CEREBUS:
How did you discover Cerebus and for how long did you read it?

GREG CARLISLE:
I remembered someone in my dorm at Mississippi State showing me Cerebus sixty-something back in 1984 and raving about it, but it wasn't until 1988 that, mesmerized by the cover, I bought Cerebus #114 (Jaka's Story #1) at the now defunct Tattooed Lady comic shop in Huntsville AL. I was immediately hooked, and then had the pleasure of starting from #1 because A-V started publishing the bi-weeklies. I bought or ordered back issues until I had everything back to #64 and didn't need the bi-weeklies anymore, and then I continued buying monthly to #300 from comic shops in Louisville (Great Escape) and Lexington (Comic Interlude). Prompted by my wife's initial Christmas gift of the first 5 trades, I collected all of those as well and reread them often. I just finished a reread of the complete run several months ago.

How has your own creativity/comic reading been influenced by Cerebus?

The epic scope of Cerebus raised the bar for my comics reading and helped lead me to encyclopedic novels like Ulysses and Wallace's Infinite Jest. My decision to discover and articulate the structural and thematic unity of Wallace's Infinite Jest (deemed a chaotic mess by early critics) in my book Elegant Complexity was bolstered by the Torah commentaries in Latter Days. The drive to complete such a difficult task and to even dream that it could be published was inspired by Sim's example. 
Cerebus #180 (March 1994)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
What is your favorite scene or sequence from Cerebus?

When I turned the page in Jaka's Story to the 2-page spread where Jaka discovers that the party is actually for Astoria, I actually gasped and dropped the book from my hands to my lap. Of course the biggest novels, Church & State and Mothers & Daughters, are my favorites. Of the multiple favorite sequences across the run, I guess I'll go with the fight in the throne room between Cirin and Cerebus for many reasons: the audacity of upending (and elevating) comic-book fight conventions by 1) slowing the fight down and focusing on one or two moments an issue, 2) interrupting the fight with long text-only narratives, 3) putting some of the fight into a 2-page sound effect (BANG), and 4) having the significance of the fight and its participants dwarfed by Gerhard's architectural grandeur and the vastness of space.

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

Yes, unreservedly. No work expands the boundaries of the comic-book medium like Cerebus. Cerebus and Sim and Gerhard say to the comic-book creator: you can literally do anything you are inspired to do. One of the many innovations of Cerebus is the use of extreme, focused pacing to create storytelling tension unique to the comic-book medium: both in the frenetic, quick-cut juggling of story threads at the beginning of Mothers & Daughters and in the luxurious, cinematic pans at the end of Going Home and Latter Days. This is just one example of the innovative creativity throughout the entire run of Cerebus.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

'A Night In Iest' or 'Summit Enchanted Evening'

Cerebus #46 (January 1983)
Art by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlarge)

Friday, 25 April 2014

Weekly Update #28: Kickstarter Pre-ordering

LIMITED EDITION SETS OF 10 SIGNED PRINTS
Make a Kickstarter pledge now!
DAVE SIM:
Howdy, everyone! Dave Sim here!

We're taking a break this week from the TECHNICAL side of CEREBUS restoration and preservation because, frankly, the financial situation is getting pretty dicey (to say the least).  It's still do-able, but what I've had to face -- and what I now put to you in the spirit of the Open Governance I've been committed to here since I started these weekly updates six months ago -- is that we need what I describe as Sustainable Preservation.

And Sustainable Preservation needs to take into account a distinct possibility:  The CEREBUS Context itself is getting smaller all the time.  We don't know.  Yes, there are a record number of page views here and Tim tells me that the core audience is larger than it's been at any time in the history of the site. So that's good.  That's VERY good.

But, at this point, with CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY still out of print (and no sign of that changing anytime soon if the process is done properly: we still have a ways to go, no matter which way it shakes out) there is a need to generate some revenue.  Quite a lot of revenue.  Lebonfon is willing to come down on the printing bill of the unbound copies that proved unworkable.  That's VERY good. But the bill between the two books is $20,000.  Whatever they come down BY, it's still going to be a lot of money -- just to get us to the point where we're back to a clean slate.

Yes, "we", paleface.  :)

I WAS the creator and co-creator of CEREBUS but that was ten years ago.  Now my job description relative to CEREBUS is far more On-Site Custodian.

And YOU are -- potentially, anyway -- Supporting Custodians.

WE got CEREBUS this far, against ALL odds.  Whether we get CEREBUS any further "downfield", well, that's really up to YOU, the Supporting Custodians.  

So that's where CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE, essentially SIGNED AND NUMBERED ARTISTS EDITIONS of CEREBUS pages -- full size colour copies -- from the Cerebus Archive -- comes in.  Every three months a new campaign On Kickstarter for 30 days.  This one starting May 2nd.  CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE features the 10 earliest pages in the Cerebus Archive.

The Kickstarter Pledge Partners from 2012 have already been notified last week and are now ready to place orders reserving numbers.  There WERE 1,140 of them.  How many there are NOW, we have no idea. That's the concept behind Sustainable Preservation. To find out.  To be able to say next week when the actual campaign goes "live":  here's how many reservations we got a) from the Kickstarter campaign and b) from A Moment of Cerebus.

Basically, this is what we're down to.  Or UP to! Here are the hard numbers.  And 30 days after that we say, here's what we got from Kickstarter itself.

We're going to set what we consider a REALLY low target for the Kickstarter campaign:  $800.  Each folio is $79 so that means we need to sell 10.  If that's as small as we get -- hopefully not as small as we ARE, but as small as we GET -- well, better that we ALL know that and move forward from there, right? -- with 10 people representing the total CEREBUS audience with the ability to help finance the restoration and preservation, not only of the 6,000 page Archive, the Off-White House, the 3,800 pages in off-site storage, the foot high stack of newspaper tearsheets (back when it was OKAY to write about Dave Sim in the newspaper) that really need to be in sheet protectors.  Extensive foundation work on the left rear of the house.  Scott, next door, completely renovated his place and turned it into a triplex and when he dug down to see what condition the foundation was in There. Was. No. Foundation.

This place used to be called Sand Hills Creek for a reason.  His whole place was built on sand.  We don't KNOW that the Off-White House is, but odds are...

It's a very solid house, 130 years old.  But, you know, the ODDS are...

I've consulted with Leon Bensason, Kitchener's Heritage Planner about what can be done about restoring the house and he's going to put me in touch with groups who do that.  Weird "70s" touches like the owner who replaced the kitchen (now library) ceiling with plastic panels and tube lighting.  I mean, someone will know how to get rid of that and what should replace it.

Those kinds of things will be (God willing) covered by my insurance policy after I'm dead.  Aardvark-Vanaheim is the sole beneficiary (so anyone who's been nice to me because they're hoping to inherit something, well, no need to be nice to be anymore  :) ).  It would be nice to do some of those things while I'm still alive, but...well, how viable IS that?

I mean, just, while you're sitting there: think about it.  How many people do you see supporting this?  50? 100? 400?

Here's what I think is a good way of looking at it:  Here in 2014, we are as far away from CEREBUS No. 1 coming out in 1977 as CEREBUS No. 1 coming out was from, you know, The Battle of Britain.  1940.  We're halfway between CEREBUS No.1 coming out and the MIDDLE of the 21st century.  Yes, our brand new century.

Anyone who bought CEREBUS No.1 in 1977 off the comic store stand is now in their 50s.  Unless they were younger than 13, which is pretty unlikely.

It's LATER than all of us think.

See, in my experience the core CEREBUS fans are a really devoted group:  the people who regularly read this site and have stay focussed on CEREBUS for the ten years since it ended. That's pretty amazing.  That's REALLY amazing.  If there's 400 people willing to commit to $79 every three months, once we deduct all the expenses from the campaign, that should pay off a chunk of the printing bill if not the entire bill.  One or two campaigns and: Clean slate.  But, if there are only 25, well, at that point I have to say, "Look, I appreciate the fans I've got, I really do, but this just isn't viable.  I need to borrow against my life insurance, pay Lebonfon and say, Well, okay, almost made it to 40 years of CEREBUS" and just go ahead with THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND, advertising, selling the glamourpuss artwork.  Things like that. And let everything get done after I'm dead.

At worst, start selling pages to cover basic expenses.  Which I hate to do.  You can't preserve an Archive and sell it at the same time, using the money from selling it to preserve it.

Can we talk Mama Loshen, here?

I think one of the problems is that when you're a DEVOTED fan, you imagine that everyone who really thinks highly of CEREBUS is, you know, securely plugged in the same as you are.  And I don't think that's the case.  I don't know if sf fans still use the term GAFIATED (Getting Away From It All), but I think that's more common than exceptional.  Even the most DEVOTED CEREBUS fan is going to get away from it from time to time.  You have other interests.  It's the INTERNET!  EVERYTHING is on there! Like as not, the mental model I have is:  MOST CEREBUS fans wouldn't find out about CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE (how can I put this?) tanking for months if not years.  What?  WHAT happened?  SERIOUSLY?!!

So, what I'm hoping is, after I give you -- you the AMOC audience -- your subject line for your e-mail

Well, hey, let me do that right now, hey?

SUBJECT: AMOC -- ANY e-mail with that in the subject line which comes in to cerebusarchive [at] geps [dot] ca after 12:01 am ET Saturday morning (26 April) will reserve your number in one of three ways:
  • LOWEST NUMBER HOLD This means that you have obtained a specific number that you will retain in all future Kickstarter campaigns.
  • SPECIFIC NUMBER HOLD This means that you have a specific number -- a lucky number -- that you want and you want it from now on.  Even to the point where if we only sell 125 and your lucky number is 211, I will number yours #211 out of 125.  Sincerely.  I'll even make a note that I promised you could have that number no matter what so no one can doubt it's authentic.
  • LOWEST NUMBER STAND-BY This means that you want the lowest number that you can get.  If someone, for example, reserves a number but doesn't pay for it, it becomes available and everyone on the STAND-BY list moves up one in the "line"

What I'm hoping is that you can, you know, give me the benefit of the doubt.  Humour me.

How?

I'm glad you asked that question, Ma'am.  Trust me, I've never met the nice lady before:

Contact anyone you know that you think of as a solid CEREBUS fan who can afford to buy a signed and numbered CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE.

"Hi, [name] I'm pretty sure you knew about this but, uh, Cerebus is going down for the third time. Drowning. Or as close as possible to it.  Here's a link to Dave's posting on it. All hands on deck, eh?"

And ask them to pass it on to any Cerebus fans they can think of.

Yeah, just this side of spam or even over the edge (depending on the person).

Here's something else that might (or might not) make your head spin.

This is the first CEREBUS project that no one alive today will live to see completed.

WHAT!!?

Seriously!  There are 3,800 pages in the Cerebus Archive.  10 pages per quarter.  40 pages a year.  Give or take, that's 100 years.  At the Kickstarter site I gave the example of Drexel (Hi, Drexel! Happy birthday again!) who just turned 11.  HE won't live to see CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER 380.  If he has kids, his kid will probably be -- what -- 80?  His grandchildren will be -- what? -- 60?

Here's another one:  very few of those 380 "issues" will be signed and numbered.

They'll be made available through Diamond as unsigned versions, at the same $79 price.  Sustainable Preservation.  We can fill any sized order from Diamond.  If we don't get enough orders for CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE THE UNSIGNED UNNUMBERED EDITION, then we'll offer NUMBER ONE and NUMBER TWO when NUMBER TWO comes out.  If we don't get enough orders there, we'll solicit for NUMBER ONE, NUMBER TWO, NUMBER THREE.  Eventually we'll get a large enough order to fill out a minimum purchase order and then we fill any orders that come in from then on.  1, 2, 4.  It's sustainable.  We'll weather the storm.  How small can "they" make us?  Can they completely destroy us?  Simply put: can they get us below the 10 signed and numbered copies minimum I've set for keeping going?

No idea.  We'll definitely see where we're STARTING from by the first week in June, anyway.

CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE
Dave Sim with Lebonfon's Alain Roberge reviewing original Cerebus art (April 2014)

But, aside from there being unsigned copies ALWAYS available, I'M not going to live to see CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER THREE-EIGHTY.  As I said on the Kickstarter site:  if I live to be 88 -- which is quite long, actually -- I'll be gone around CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE TWENTY.  Only the first 120 will be signed and numbered.  And if we are, you know, Being Made Small, somewhere in there will be the RAREST CEREBUS ARCHIVE SIGNED AND NUMBERED folio.  #3 out of 10.  Or #3 out of 15.  Even funnier, #222 out of 10.  "To Troy: I said you could have #222 in perpetuity and Byyyyy GUM I meant it. *gum* *gum* *gum*"

And (as I also said at the Kickstarter site) you know what I would do if I were you?  Whenever I kick it. CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER EIGHTY-SEVEN, say.  As soon as you hear I kicked it:  Get those suckers up on eBay, TOOT SWEET!  I mean, if, you know, you don't plan on leaving them to your son or your grandson or granddaughter or whatever.  Auction those suckers!  

Seriously!  Cut and paste this right now.  Save it.  Anybody gives you flack:  "Hey, Dave himself said! Here look!"  I mean, they -- whoever they are -- will be doing hardcovers right away, as soon as CEREBUS is in the public domain, before my extremities are even completely cooled off, before my fingernails are even as long as Elton John's.

"We know Dave said he didn't want hardcovers done, but, we think Dave would approve of THESE hardcovers."

No.  He. Wouldn't.

But, when you're six feet under...you know, you'd be AMAZED what people will decide you changed your mind about.  Cerebus the Movie!!!!  DAVE WOULD HAVE LOVED THIS!

Auction them!  Have a happy, happy payday on me, as thanks for Being There when the Cerebus Archive needed you most.

In terms of the actual prints:  unlike a portfolio, I'll be autographing each of the prints.  So the folder they're in will be signed and numbered and so will each print.  If you have a favourite, you're guaranteed it will have an autograph on it.

When I sat down to write the commentary -- yes, there's about 2,000 words of commentary minimum attached to each CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER -- frankly, it was painful.  Painful?  Yes, painful.  The work is almost forty years old.  Picture what it would be like for someone to give you an essay you wrote in the first year of high school and asked you to write an essay ABOUT it.  "Uhhhh.  This is...really...bad. This is barely literate. I'm embarrassed.  What do you want me to say?  Can I go now?"

But, it was actually viable, particularly in light of what I'm doing with THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND.  "Is that pen?  Or brush?  What's the concept behind it?  What does Raymond think he's doing?"  Mostly guesswork.  Interesting guesswork, but you aren't getting definitive answers.  With CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE you are.  This is what I was using.  This is WHY I was using it.  Here's the parts that I'm really embarrassed about and why I'm embarrassed about them.  So, (God willing I don't kick it after CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO!) what you will be getting is a diary of my development as an artist.  10 pages at a time, so I can be as thorough-going as possible.  "I've never talked to anyone about this!"  Things that I -- I can't say remember -- except in terms of looking at the results.  "Okay, here's where the page fell apart."  A page I saved from #21 because I did Three. Really. Good. Panels!  That's one page in a row with three really good panels!   WHY it's a good page.

In order to avoid having only the earliest pages well documented before my extremities start, you know, to stiffen and corrode (hopefully them resisting doing that until I'm actually dead), I'm going to go book by book.  CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE is the ten earliest pages.  NUMBER TWO is the ten earliest HIGH SOCIETY pages.  NUMBER THREE is the ten earliest CHURCH & STATE I pages.  I don't know if Gerhard would be interested in doing his own commentaries or what he would want to get paid for them, but I'll certainly make the offer.

Which leads me to an important point for those of you who didn't participate in the first Kickstarter campaign.  ALL of the money will be accounted for.  Here's what came in, here is what -- specifically -- we are calling expenses and the exact amounts.  Here's what Lebonfon got paid.  Here is what we still owe them.  Funkmaster John (who is hosting this one along with Funkmistress Karen) are getting paid this much.  The agreement is 10% of the revenues after all expenses have been deducted.

So it would be a matter of Gerhard saying, This is what I need to get paid to do commentaries.  Or, I'm not interested in doing commentaries.  I won't be taking any money personally.  Some of it might go for company expenses, but I'll specify what it's for, but I'm pretty sure that I can keep everything glued together with chewing gum and spit for the next two years by various means without (and this is key to me) jeopardizing the ultimate preservation of the house and the Archive which means rock-bottom spending.

SOME cartoonists can retire, but I'm not one of  them.  I'm one of those guys who will die in harness for the simple reason that nothing -- nothing -- in my life compares with the satisfaction of doing a really good page.  Working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for the last year on THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND exclusively, I'm getting better.  And I never say that.  So there's no real need for me to take money.  $1,000 a month and I'm good.  And $200 of that is automatic withdrawal for charities.  We're about halfway to that already at Patreon.com and that's only been around for a couple of months.

There are some open questions about the Kickstarter campaign.  We were going to add postage costs but Kickstarter doesn't let you do that. You're expected to make it part of your pledge price.  So we might create different pledge packages for "The U.K. and Europe" and "Australia, New Zealand and Asia".  But, hopefully, it will be a simple math problem once we have the Kickstarter Partners pledge reservations and the AMOC (that's you guys) reservations.  We'll have a week to crunch the numbers and -- if you see the $79 come down -- that will be why.

For you folks in the good old U.S. of A (USA! USA! USA!) we are restricted to charging in our domestic currency.  So, you'll be paying $79 Canadian.  The exchange rate has been hovering around 90 cents for the last few weeks so unless something goes wonky (God forbid) with the economy of the U.S. (USA! USA! USA!) or Canada between now and the beginning of June, Americans should be paying around $72 U.S.  That's going to go up or down depending on when you get your credit card bill and what day and time they did the conversion.  It will say on your statement:  $79 Canadian and what that translates to on your bill.  If there are any substantial deviations in the exchange rate through the 30 days, I'll throw a warning flag onto the Kickstarter site,

So's you at least have some, you know, warning, that you're about to get "credit-card hosed" eh?

Like a, USA! "credit card soaker" eh?

Okay, beauty.

The start time -- 12:01 am ET tomorrow morning will be synchronized with...UTC?  I'm pretty sure that's what Funkmaster John said.  It sure LOOKS like UTC but my handwriting isn't the best these days.

Okay, now I've got to hike me out to Waterloo and get the mail.  Ted Adams tells me IDW sent the PREVIEWS ad for HIGH SOCIETY AUDIO DIGITAL for my approval and the deadline for changes is...Monday, I think?

No rest for the highly caffeinated.

Thanks for letting me bend your cybernetic ear.

Here we go, eh?

Dave

SPREAD THE WORD! PLEASE RETWEET:

RESERVE YOUR SET OF PRINTS:
Email 'cerebusarchive [at] geps [dot] ca' right now to reserve your print number. Specify whether you want:
 - the lowest number available and 'hold' for all future campaigns;
 - the lowest number available and be put on 'standby' for an earlier number as they become available; or
 - reserve a specific number (if available) and 'hold' for all future campaigns.
Remember to confirm your reservation with a Kickstarter pledge after 2 May to guarantee receiving your prints!
Full details at the Cerebus Archive Kickstarter FAQs.

ONLINE REACTION:
  - Bleeding Cool
  - The Comics Reporter (Twitter)
  - The Comics Reporter (Blog)
  - TCJ.com (Sales & Spending Opportunities)

Kevin Eastman Talks Turtles & Aardvarks!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Actions Tell All...

Cerebus #267 (June 2001)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
RANTZ A. HOSELEY:
(from Weaponised Ink, 18 November 2013)
Today brought another round of discussion on Twitter about "the issues women have in comics." Because I have four daughters who love comics and have attended SDCC since they were five, and because they want to be comic creators, I lamented…
"I've always been vexed & annoyed about the treatment of women in the comic biz, but now... having 4 daughters, it flat out pisses me off..."
This set off a chain discussion on how bad it really is in comics for women and girls compared to other industries.

Which lead to this post.  Now, in case you haven't put 2 and 2 together, I'm a straight white American male. While my life has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, I've always been acutely aware of the advantages that are present and available to me because of genetics and geolocation.  I don't feel guilty about this fact, but I've always felt distinctly uncomfortable when I've been in situations where "guys talk shit".  This was true in high school in the 80s when guys would insult other guys by calling them "fag". It was true when I was in college in the 90s and guys would call a female co-worker a "slutty whore".  It's still true today.

I've been working in comics professionally since 1989. On the positive side, there are more visible female comic creators in this business than anyone thought likely or possible "back in the day". On the negative side, many still have to put up with the kind of crap that was part and parcel of being one of the scant female creators in comics back in the 80s.

The other thing I've seen over the last 25 years? The thing that remains as true today as it was back then?

You cannot make surface assumptions on who's "safe" or trustworthy, because it’s frequently not who you'd expect.

Example I:
In the early 90s, I went to a fairly well known comic creator's place for a week to join a group of "rookies" in doing a marathon session to help pencil, ink, and color 24 pages in 5 days.  The mix was 3 guys and 2 girls (in addition to the aforementioned comic creator).

Said comic creator was "known" for having "progressive" ideas about female creators... that they were just as good as men, that there needed to be more of them in comics, that they needed to not put up with shit from men... and the fact that there were 2 women on the team seemed to reinforce that.  As someone who had looked up to this creator for years, it was inspiring to see someone bucking the trend, putting his money (he paid all of us) where his mouth was.  As a group, we stayed up making comics most of the 5 days, catnapping for a couple hours, coffee on constantly, loud music, laughter. It made me think, at multiple points, "this is awesome!"  The book got done, and the Comic Creator took us to a sauna/spa for drinks and "to unwind".

I can't speak for the two women, but I was certainly a bit uncomfortable when we got there and I realized "Oh, we're all going to be in this hot tub... together... naked?!"  Everyone else stripped down without hesitation, hopped in, started drinking and BSing.  I convinced myself I was being "uptight", and stripped down hopped in, grabbed a beer and tried to not feel too self-conscious.

That ended when said comic creator lifted himself out of the hot tub with an erection, and looked back and forth between the two women before asking "OK, who’s gonna help daddy out?"

My reaction was a simple and loud "What the fuck?!? Dude... what the?!?" as I scrambled out of the tub, grabbing at my clothes, determined to get away from this situation as fast as possible.  The Comic Creator lowered himself back into the tub, laughing it off saying "it’s a joke, kid lighten up!" insisting I mellow out and get back in the tub.  I didn't.  I was too freaked out... I kept feeling like "I'm an idiot, I thought we were a team, that we were all 'bonding' over comics, but..."

It was a January in Seattle, I had pulled my clothes on over my wet skin, not even stopping to dry off, and I walked to the bus station (a good 3+ miles) and went home, cold and wet and freaked as hell.  The entire 8 hour ride back I beat myself up... "The women didn’t seem bothered by it, why did you get freaked out?  You overreacted, you’ll never get another chance to work on..." Those feelings got reinforced when I didn’t get paid for the work. Further compounding the self loathing and confusion was the moment I ran into one of the women a couple years later and her first question was "why did you freak out and run off?"

Example II: Dave Sim
Now, immediately, I know a huge number of people reading this are thinking "Oh HO! What did Dave do?!" Expecting the worst.

In '92 Dave was doing a US Tour for Cerebus, and my friend Randy and I were helping him organize the Seattle stop. There ended up being a scheduling conflict, and the majority of the retailers at what was supposed to be a "one day con" bailed in order to go to Vancouver or Olympia for some event where a couple of the newly launched Image creators were appearing.  Dave responded by telling us "Let every creator in the area know that they have a table for free, get the word out, fuck having 20 guys selling back issues, let’s just make it about the creators." Dave did that even though it meant he'd eat most of the cost of the ballroom that was being rented for the show.

So the show goes off with a number of local indie creators in attendance. There's maybe 100-200 people that show up to check it out at most. Not completely a ghost town, but not bustling either.  The end result was that Dave and every creator there ended up spending a LOT of time with each person who had something to sign. A lot of original sketches got done. No one was making money, but it was genuinely enjoyable. I was sitting next to Dave when this girl approached with a portfolio under one arm. She was in her early 20s, blonde, and looked like a model. It's no exaggeration to say that she was stunning.  She walked up, and asked Dave, glancing occasionally to me and Randy, "I want to be a comic artist... I love comics, can you tell me what I should do?"  Dave and I looked at each other for a moment, expressions blank... knowing all too well what a dozen comic editors would say at that moment… before Dave said to me "Tell her what NOT to do, and I’ll look at her art."  She looked puzzled for a minute until I started talking...

"Don’t go to a 'meeting' alone in an editor, writer or artist’s hotel room, don’t go out 'for drinks' with the just the two of you so you can 'discuss opportunities', don’t go over to his house alone so he can 'show you the proper technique'..." I kept going on, and on, and on as Dave flipped through her portfolio, chiming in with the occasional addition, such as, "Remember it is 'not the way it gets done' no matter what any dirty old man tells you."

After I’d gone on for a while, Dave started critiquing her work.  It was OK, definitely in the "beginner" category.  The classic stage of "Keep at it for two years and do these kinds of things, and maybe you'll be ready."  He wasn’t mean about it, he gave very specific, helpful advice, and told her before she left "If you want to make comics, make sure you’re doing it your way." I don't know her name, I don't know if she followed through and stuck with it.

Driving back the next day, Randy... one of the few people who knows about the hot tub story... said to me "You know, everyone thinks that one Comic Creator is such a nice-guy feminist, and Dave is such a sexist misogynist, but..." and I said something like... 

"Yeah, but fucking actions tell all."

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Passing "The Bechdel Test"

Cerebus Vol 8: Women (1994)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
THE BECHDEL TEST:
What is now known as the Bechdel test was introduced in Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. In a 1985 strip titled "The Rule", an unnamed female character says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements:
  • it has to have at least two women in it,
  • who talk to each other,
  • about something besides a man.
Bechdel credited the idea for the test to a friend and karate training partner, Liz Wallace. She later wrote that she was pretty certain that Wallace was inspired by Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of One’s Own... The test, which has been described as "the standard by which feminist critics judge television, movies, books, and other media", moved into mainstream criticism in the 2010s. By 2013, an Internet newspaper described it as "almost a household phrase, common shorthand to capture whether a film is woman-friendly", and the failure of major Hollywood productions such as Pacific Rim (2013) to pass it was addressed in depth in the media. According to Neda Ulaby, the test still resonates because "it articulates something often missing in popular culture: not the number of women we see on screen, but the depth of their stories, and the range of their concerns."
Dykes To Watch Out For: The Rule (1985)
by Alison Bechdel
(Click image to enlarge)
(via Wikipiedia

Monday, 21 April 2014

Famous Misogynists: Philip Roth

Philip Roth (2007)
by John Cuneo
PHILIP ROTH:
(from My Life As A Writer, New York Times, 2 March 2014)
...Misogyny, a hatred of women, provides my work with neither a structure, a meaning, a motive, a message, a conviction, a perspective, or a guiding principle. This is contrary, say, to how another noxious form of psychopathic abhorrence -- and misogyny's equivalent in the sweeping inclusiveness of its pervasive malice -- anti-Semitism, a hatred of Jews, provides all those essentials to "Mein Kampf." My traducers propound my alleged malefaction as though I have spewed venom on women for half a century. But only a madman would go to the trouble of writing 31 books in order to affirm his hatred.

It is my comic fate to be the writer these traducers have decided I am not. They practice a rather commonplace form of social control: You are not what you think you are. You are what we think you are. You are what we choose for you to be. Well, welcome to the subjective human race. The imposition of a cause’s idea of reality on the writer’s idea of reality can only mistakenly be called "reading." And in the case at hand, it is not necessarily a harmless amusement. In some quarters, "misogynist" is now a word used almost as laxly as was "Communist" by the McCarthyite right in the 1950s -- and for very like the same purpose.

Yet every writer learns over a lifetime to be tolerant of the stupid inferences that are drawn from literature and the fantasies implausibly imposed upon it. As for the kind of writer I am? I am who I don't pretend to be...

Philip Roth (1933- ) is one of the most awarded U.S. writers of his generation.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream

GERHARD:
(from Gerz Blog, 7/17 April 2014)
I received this commission request from Erik:
"I'd like you to design a full color cover for a fictitious Little Nemo story. As paper size I have 15x20 in mind (your Gerhard Dreams print format). I would like a dream scene with Nemo in which there are also (dreamlike) buildings and animals. And I would like you to design the lettering for the title of this 'book'."
...Thanks to Lou Copeland who saw the pencilled version of this on a previous blog post and alerted me to this amazing project -- Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream. I contacted them and let them know I was doing this commission. I said that I didn't know if they'd be interested in including this in their book. I just thought that I'd show it to them and I thought it was an interesting coincidence. I received this reply:
"Wow, what a wonderful surprise! We're enormous fans of your work, and it's both lucky and amazing (not to mention flattering) that you'd reach out to us while in the midst of a Nemo commission. Of course we'd be honored to include this in the book! It looks incredible already."
So... how cool is that?
Commission: Little Nemo In Slumberland (2014)
Art by Gerhard 

 -- See the final coloured version at Gerz Blog --

LOCUST MOON PRESS:
(from the Locust Moon blog, 6 August 2013)
Winsor McCay was perhaps the greatest cartoonist of all time, and the Sunday newspaper strip Little Nemo In Slumberland is his most enduring creation. Detailing the adventures of its titular character in The Land of Wonderful Dreams, the early twentieth century opus is one of the most inventive and visually stunning works of American art. A century later, the comic medium is still racing to keep up with the richness, draftsmanship, imagination, and wonder of McCay's fantastic storytelling and wild Slumberland universe.

In Locust Moon Press’ upcoming anthology Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, many of the world’s finest cartoonists will pay tribute to the master and his masterpiece by creating new Little Nemo strips, following their own voices down paths lit by McCay. Contributors include Paul Pope, JH Williams III, Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Carla Speed McNeil, Charles Vess, Peter Bagge, Dean Haspiel, Farel Dalrymple, Marc Hempel, Brandon Graham, P. Craig Russell, Jeremy Bastian, Jim Rugg, Ron Wimberly, Scott Morse, David Petersen, J.G. Jones, Mike Allred, Dean Motter, Yuko Shimizu, Roger Langridge, and Mark Buckingham, among many others.

To be published in the fall of 2014 as both a newspaper and a hardcover book at the full size of the original Little Nemo broadsheet pages (16″ x 21″), this book will celebrate McCay's endless legacy, chart his influence on generations of modern cartoonists, and most of all shine a light back on an artist who has given his art form so much, and whose work should be more widely known.

This is a love song for Winsor McCay, Little Nemo, and the limitless possibilities of comics.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Mugshots: Lady Gaga & Cerebus

Mugshots: Lady Gaga & Cerebus (2011)
Art by Dave Sim
JOHN SCRUDDER:
When I was doing CEREBUS TV with Dave Sim, we were always trying to come up with revenue ideas. Unfortunately, this was the ONLY piece that we weren't able to sell. I got to keep the piece since the concept was my idea. Oh well, looks great in my collection!
 
(via ComicArtFans)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Weekly Update #27: George & Sean

Previously on 'A Moment Of Cerebus':
Dave Sim, working with George Peter Gatsis, has remastered the first two collected volumes of Cerebus to restore details and quality in the artwork lost over the thirty years since they were originally published (as detailed here and here). After Cerebus' original printer Preney Print closed its doors, Dave Sim moved his printing to Lebonfon in 2007 as at that time they were still capable of working with photographic negatives and making printing plates as Preney had done. And then Lebonfon switched to digital scanning and printing - a technology which struggles to faithfully reproduce Cerebus' tone without creating moire patterns (as detailed in Crisis On Infinite Pixels). Dave Sim continues to work with Lebonfon to ensure the print-quality of the new Cerebus and High Society editions (as detailed in Collections Stalled). Now read  on...
Cerebus #36 (March 1982)
Art by Dave Sim
DAVE SIM:
Okay, here I am!

Thanks for ChrisW and Anonymous for posting their comments last week.

The situation, unfortunately, is a lot less flexible than that.  I really can't afford to come up with ideas -- I have plenty of my own -- of what might work.  You have to calculate how much time it would take to analyze what collection of Cerebus' Greatest Hits might work.  Then what would be the best page length, cover price, etc. etc.  Then you have to see what you have in terms of digital files and whether the package is doable in that sense.  Then you have to solicit for it.  If you sell, say, 2,000 copies, that's great!  If you sell, say, 412 copies, that's not so great.  Then you have a printing bill for 2,000 copies, revenue from 412 copies and you have to store 1,600 copies that are probably never going to sell.

Not good.

And the point of doing such a package would be to drive sales on the trade paperbacks.  The retailers are not going to be impressed if they're selling a comic book or small trade that instantly raises the question:  Wow! This is really good!  How do I start reading it?

Uh, well, you can't.  CEREBUS which is the beginning and HIGH SOCIETY which is the preferred starting point are both out of print.

No, I'm afraid there's no way around getting CEREBUS and/or HIGH SOCIETY back into print. Until that happens, CEREBUS is DOA from a retail standpoint.

Progress on that front:

George sent Sean the raw digital files and George's finished digital files for "The Night Before", #36 (part of HIGH SOCIETY) and Sean is working on them.  George called and left a message saying he was sending me print-outs of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY.  Which sounded good until I thought about it and went, "No, we're past that point.  We've already determined that, one way or the other, what are called proofs in 2014 are really just one-off copies.  The ability to do an accurate one-off copy isn't in doubt.  What is in doubt is the ability to match that one-off copy to the finished printing."  So I sent George a fax saying to hang onto them unless or until we see a need for them.

So it seems to me we're in the situation of still determining what is going to be in the sample signature.  "The Night Before" is a good bet, because it was really a mess from front to back in the unbound copy that Lebonfon did.  BUT!  "The Night Before" was shot from the original artwork in the Cerebus Archive, which means it's apt to be a different matter from most of HIGH SOCIETY which was either scanned from printed copies (after the negatives went up in smoke) or from the negatives (before they went up in smoke).  So, yes, we want SOME pages from "The Night Before" but not ALL pages from "The Night Before".  I'm thinking 4 pages from "The Night Before" (I'm going to check my unbound copy and see which are the worst 4):  George's best version, Sean's best version and Lebonfon's best version (I'm pretty sure they had scanned those negatives before the fire).

And then I have to look at the other "worst cases" in the unbound HIGH SOCIETY volume and see what other suggestions I have.  Again, as far as I can see, it needs to be 4 pages from each version: George's, Sean's and Lebonfon's.  That will bring us up to 24 pages leaving 8 pages -- so two more pages of -- something -- from each version: George's, Sean's and Lebonfon's.

In that situation, I think the best idea would be to do 8 pages that have been arrived at by a different method and to have that kept track of.  This was Dean's suggestion and George's suggestion both:  if we keep track of HOW each page was produced, if we see a particularly good example, then that will tell us what tweaking is needed.

Comic Art Metaphysics being what it is, no sooner had I told George to hang onto his most recent printouts of CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY than Sean phoned and said that the proofs that HE had printed out and which were on the way to me had looked good at first, but looking at them again, he had discovered that the REALLY fine lines were breaking up.

He works at a printing place so he said he has consulted with the other pre-press guys there to find out: a) why they think the fine lines are breaking up and b) what it's going to take to get the fine lines back.

So, still a very slow motion process, but if Sean can figure out why he's losing the really fine lines and we can get that nailed down as a flawless way to produce digital files, then we can start making faster forward progress.

Or we're coming closer to discovering that we're not there yet in terms of the technology:  that the fine lines that George is picking up with his grey-scaling are just naturally going to get lost if you convert to bitmap.

I'm going to make a request that comments attached to these Weekly Updates stick to the reproduction issues we're dealing with.  I appreciate that everyone has ideas as to how to make CEREBUS a success in 2014 but, as I said, that's not really where we are.  I welcome any feedback in that way at PO Box 1674 Stn. C, Kitchener, Ontario Canada, N2G 4R2.

But the primary motivation here is to, hopefully, attract the attention of people who work in the printing trade and are HUGE comic book/comic strip fans and have experience in how to pick up fine lines, grey-scaling, bit-mapping, etc.

Next Friday:  I'm going to take a break from CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY to discuss CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER ONE as a means of fund-raising to, first of all, get Lebonfon paid for a percentage of their work so far and then start determining what we're going to do in the Restoration and Preservation end of things.  This will centre on the thing that I am 100% positive about when it comes to digital printing:  the one-off full-size photocopy 600 dpi RGB on glossy card stock as the best way to preserve the look of the original artwork.

The BEST reproduction possible, no excuses.


Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by making a monthly donation at Patreon or a one-off Paypal donation.

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

Chris & Julie

Chris Ryall & Family (2014)
Art by Dave Sim
CHRIS RYALL:
(from Ryall Files, 3 April 2014)
Me and the family as visualized through the brush of Dave Sim. Seemed appropriate to post today on my 10th wedding anniversary (even though the kid came along a couple years later). Also, it's insane for me to think that Dave Sim drew us at all, so any reason to post this, I'll take it.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Tribute Art Round-Up No.8

Fred Hembeck (1999)

Alex Robinson (2014)

Alex Toth (1982)


This is my take on Dave Sim's Cerebus the Aardvark. The main character of the outstanding epic comic saga. Spanning over almost three decades and 6000 pages it’s the longest comic ever published. Cerebus was sculpted freehand and retopologized in ZBrush and then brought into modo for more retopo, modeling, posing and rendering. Comp done in Photoshop. I was going for a very stylized version to keep true to Dave Sim’s 2D renderings.

Joe Murray (1990)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Michael Cohen: Twenty Down, Seven To Go!

MICHAEL COHEN:
(from Comics Buyers Guide #1267, 27 February 1998)
Remember all those wonderful comics that were coming out in December 1977? Who could forget such classics as Nova #18 or Freedom Fighters #13? Two decades later, people are still talking about Spidey Super Stories #32 and The Human Fly #7. Well, those comics may actually have their fans, but the most significant comic hook that came out that year was pretty much ignored. Now, 20 years later, however, it is considered a classic.

Despite creator Dave Sim's achievements with Cerebus -- and there are many -- I would wager that the majority of comics readers have never read a single issue of the (so far) more than 225-issue run. Perhaps they have heard about that "weird aardvark comic book" but have gone no further because they were told it was too complex or they thought it was just another funny-animal comic book or because it was black-and-white or because their retailer never ordered copies in the first place.

Indeed, Sim has created a bit of a dilemma for himself by attempting a comics project of this magnitude. How do you get new readers to come on board in the middle of a 300-issue (6000-page) graphic novel! Convincing a non-Cerebus reader that an epic story about a talking aardvark is not only entertaining but is great art (which it is) is a pretty hard sell. Even if someone were willing to take a stab at the series, where should he start?

With the first issue, one would think. Although a first-edition copy of that rare issue would set you back a couple hundred bucks, there are other alternatives. In 1988 Sim started publishing Cerebus Biweekly, reprinting the early issues in sequence, complete with letter columns and all; these might be found in back-issue bins for a reasonable price. A more daring move would be to go all out and plop down $25 for a copy of the first "phone book", as these colossal compendiums are called. Titled simply Cerebus, it reprints the first 25 issues of the run. Another option would be to track down a copy of an early reprint volume, Swords of Cerebus, from 1981, which reprints issues #1-4. Does that solve the "where do I start" dilemma for the inquisitive comics reader? Actually, no, because there is a debate on whether Cerebus #1 is the best place to begin.

You wouldn't ask someone to start watching a movie in the middle or jump into Lord of the Rings with Chapter 12, so why does this question present itself here? Because the early issues of Cerebus, though clever, funny parodies of the time worn formulas of sword-and-sorcery (in particular, Roy Thomas and Barry Smith's Conan the Barbarian comic hook adapting Robert E Howard's pulp hero) really give little hint of the depth and artistry that the mature, later works would have. It would be a shame if a potential reader for the entire series was turned off by issue #2, but it's certainly possible, especially if Sim's brand of humor is not your cup of tea.

But there's lots of wonderful stuff in those early issues. Sim's drawing and writing abilities grew in leaps and bounds, as he had his wandering barbarian aardvark encounter a wide range of hysterically funny characters, broad parodies of classic fantasy archetypes: the wizard, the tavern girl, the thief, the lady warrior -- and several of these early characters became part of the regular cast of the strip.

There is a certain sentiment prevailing among the Cerebus cognoscenti that issues #14-16, known as the Palnu trilogy, are the place to start. Sim at this point had sloughed off broad parody and had established an art style and stroytelling mode of his own. In these issues, he began laying the groundwork for what would become the major focus of Cerebus for many issues: political machinations in the city-state of Palnu and, in particular its ruler, Lord Julius (Sims dead-on tribute to Groucho Marx). From here, the story start growing in complexity, planting plot seeds that had an impact on later storylines. It was around this time that Sim first mentioned his plan of having Cerebus run 300 issues, though few took him seriously on that point.
Another reasonable jumping-on spot would be the second phone book, High Society, collecting issues #26-50. While the first 25 issues were still fairly episodic, Sim here started dealing with his story, not as a series of funny episodes, but as a truly major work, grouped as a series of self-contained storylines. There was no coming in on the middle of this one; it was a wild ride, as Cerebus became involved in corrupt Iestian politics, and it followed him through a nail-biting election for Prime Minister. Along the way, Sim introduced amazing characters: the mysterious Regency Elf; The Roach, in the first of his many incarnations; and Lord Julius' niece Astoria, the brilliant behind-the-scenes manipulator of everyone and everything.

The Roach became Sim's vehicle for parodying whatever was the current trend in super-hero comics, since this schizophrenic was always assuming new identities, such as The Cockroach (a Batman parody), Captain Cockroach (Captain America), The Moonroach (Moon Knight), Wolveroach, Secret Sacred Wars Roach (Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars), normalroach (Jim Valentino's first hero, normalman, published by Aardvark-Vanaheim), Punisher Roach, and finally Swoon (Dream from The Sandman).

In High Society, Sim tackled a topic rarely touched before in comics: finance. Much of the plot. hinged on the manipulation of money: taxes, tariffs, hiring troops, buying elections, the economic juggling act that either keeps a society flourishing or plummets it into war and decay -- heady stuff for a comic book about an aardvark. Sim also embarked on innovative graphic storytelling, most notably a run of issues printed sideways and a sequence in issue #49, wherein Cerebus' drunken state was reflected in the fact that the issue must constantly be rotated to be properly read.

High Society has all the elements in place that make Cerebus a great work and is certainly a suitable introduction to it, one which will probably have the reader panting for more, including earlier issues.
Church & State dwarfed its predecessor. This story arc was so massive that it took two phone-book collections to contain it. Book 1 reprints issues #52-80, in which Cerebus is elevated from Prime Minister to Pope, due to the manipulations of the power brokers of this complex society. Sim's comics world is layered and convoluted, mirroring the real world in its subtleties, contradictions, and ambiguities. A lively debate on the intricacies of Sim's devious tangle of theologies is ongoing in the letter columns, and one of the beauties of the book is that it can be thoroughly enjoyed on the surface level, as well as afford a wealth of buried treasure for those curious and patient enough to do the excavating.

Occasionally Sim's graphic and storytelling experiments are truly revolutionary, in particular, the "Mind Game" issues (#20, #28, #63, #156, and #157), wherein Cerebus is thrust into a mysterious phantom world of disembodied objects and voices. Issue #63 is a tour-de-force; Cerebus sits almost motionless in a self-pitying, drunken stupor, while his thoughts float around him like ghosts, a technique Sim brings to outrageous full flower in the current Rick's Story storyline, wherein the "good" and "bad" Cerebus personalities engage in an endless debate inside his head.

The look of Cerebus took another interesting turn in issue #65, when Sim took on Gerhard as an assistant to do backgrounds. Gerhard soon grew to be a master of pen-and-ink technique. Breath- takingly detailed backgrounds grace every page, complementing Sim's well-drawn, expressive figures. Gerhard's work is so meticulous that he is known to have built scale models of some of the story settings, so as to guarantee absolute consistency when viewed at different angles in differing lighting conditions. Sim has since acknowledged Gerhard as a full partner in every aspect of the project.

As in High Society, Church & State casts a cynical eye of the use and abuse of power. Lord Julius and Astoria surface again, and the reader is never quite sure who is pulling who's strings or to what purpose. Cerebus seems to be at the height of power but may be nothing more than a pawn. As usual, he abuses whatever authority is given to him.

Church & State Vol. 2 (reprinting #81-111) picks up with a usurper dethroning Cerebus and follows his efforts to undergo the "final ascension". Much of the religious conflict that had been simmering in the back of the series comes to the fore here, and, as the series approaches #100, Sim drops humorous subplots and parodies and builds up an enormous bubble of tension which explodes in issues #99-102. In #102, Sim freezes time at the instant of the previous issue's climax, taking us on a tour of what is transpiring at that exact moment elsewhere to some of his cast of characters.

No one will ever accuse Dave Sim of being predictable. At the height of the tension in Church & State, Sim deflated it utterly. After a bit of slapstick, the volume ends with Cerebus on the moon, listening silently for several issues, as a character called The Judge expounds on cosmology. Though many in the puzzled readership wondered if Dave had flipped, he was introducing material which would be important thematically in the next phase. We have since learned that Sim has planned an intricate architecture for the entire series, that parts will presage, mirror, or paraphrase the themes of other parts.
Following the puzzling end of Church & State, Sim began Jaka's Story (#114-136). For someone of a literary bent, Jaka's Story could serve as an interesting jumping-on point for the series; not only is the artwork exquisite, but interspersed throughout is a beautifully composed text story concerning Jaka's childhood, written in the style of Oscar Wilde and illustrated with lush, evocative. large drawings.

Oscar himself is one of the small cast of characters in this story, as Cerebus takes refuge in the home of his old flame, Jaka, who is now married to the unmotivated Rick. Jaka dances nightly in the tavern belonging to Pud, a lonely widower, and it is the interaction between these five characters that provides the meat of the story. The counterpoint between the cinematic telling of the ongoing story and the poetic flash-backs to Jaka's past is very effective.
Sim followed up the critically acclaimed Jaka's Story with what is perhaps his least popular work, Melmoth (#139- 150). Whereas Jaka's Story focused on Cerebus and Jaka, who stand at the heart of the story; Melmoth threw readers for a loop by being, in essence, a retelling of the dismal last days of a dying Oscar Wilde. Readers were puzzled by the fact that the dying Melmoth of this story seems to be an older version of the Oscar of Jaka's Story but is actually another character completely (or is he?). Compounding this confusion was the fact that the star of the series, Cerebus, spends the length of this novel in a daze, sitting passively, clutching a rag doll, while the world swirls around him. Sim maintains that Melmoth is an integral part of the overall structure of the work.
With Mothers & Daughters (#151-200) Sim put Cerebus back in the whirl of politics and religion. The new power to be reckoned with is Cirin, the second aardvark character to be introduced (we knew from very early on that there were three), and Cerebus is an outcast in this world ruled by a religious matriarchal tyranny. The first part is entitled Flight (#151-162) and concerns itself with an uprising against the oppressive Cirinists.

Cerebus is again being manipulated by higher powers, but this time they seem to be godlike. A host of baffling manifestations appear and, as is Sim's wont, are left unexplained. But readers were overjoyed, seeing in Mothers & Daughters a return to the sword- wielding, angry Cerebus they hadn't seen in quite a while. The second volume, Women (#163- 174), gives us a closer view of life under the Matriarchy.

Volume 3, Reads (#175-186), finds Sim at his most experimental, pushing the limit of what can be considered a comic book and also the boundary between story content and editorial content. Much of Reads is pure text: at first the story of Victor Reid, an author whose troubles seem to mirror the plight of the creator in today's comics industry. Halfway through Reads, the text becomes the voice of Victor Davis, a thinly (if at all) disguised Dave Sim. It was confusing for the reader, since the kind of commentary Sim often made in his editorial pages was now appearing as part of the story. Was this fact or fiction?

The amount of actual comic-book art in each issue had ebbed and flowed but reached its nadir in issue #186, with only five pages of art. This issue might go down in history as one of the most controversial comics ever, because the text section is Sim espousing a worldview that is, to put it mildly, inflammatory.

A firestorm of discussion (if you can call it that) erupted throughout the comics media, from The Comics Journal (which reviled him on the cover) to the internet, where the issue still hasn't sub- sided.

The thread of the comics story that ran through Reads was also controversial, much of it consisting of a carefully choreographed battle between two of the main characters, very bloody, extremely long, and in more detail than many wanted to see. Sim even threw in a disturbing revelation about his protagonist.

Minds (#187-200) is the last volume of Mothers & Daughters and contains some of Sim's (and Gerhard's) strongest work to date. Minds has the appearance of pulling the curtain on many of the themes that have run through the series, and, even with 100 issues left to go, it seems in some ways to be an ending. Through most of Minds, the focus is on Cerebus alone, though Sim brings in another character whose impact is unsettling. At the end, one is really left wondering: Where can he go from here? As should be expected with Sim, the answer is totally unexpected. Minds is expansive; its territory is the whole Solar System and time itself.
The next volume, Guys (#201-219), brings the focus in tight, down to a tavern where Cerebus and a host of fellas (and a few gals) are engaged in the sport of -- well, whatever it is that goes on in taverns. Sim uses this very limited setting to introduce a whole new vocabulary of cartooning techniques, making what could have been a monotonous sequence a veritable orgy of creativity.

The biggest creative break-through here is Sim's use of word balloons and lettering, pushing their use in many new direction. Sim also pushes the use of heavily accented dialogue to the limit; essentially much of this dialogue must be read out loud to get to the bottom of what the characters are saying. Much of the humor in Guys consists of in jokes, since most of the patrons of this tavern are thinly disguised parodies of other self-published comics characters.

As of this writing, Sim is up to part five of Rick's Story (#220- 231). Readers who want to sample Cerebus but don't feel ambitious enough to hunt down any phone books or back issues may find that picking up the new issue of Rick's Story is all they need to get hooked.