The following (edited and reordered) Q&A with Dave Sim originally appeared in the final hours of the Cerebus Archive Number Two Kickstarter campaign in October 2014.
Any parts of Cerebus you'd like to re-do? Art or writing? Did it go as you had planned or was there a moment or moments where you thought "Wow, this isn't what I had in mind at all, but here we go!". Thanks for all the years of entertainment too! I first picked up Cerebus at issue 112/113 and it's been a hell of ride.
Re-do? For me, no. It was built in with a 6,000-page 26 year comic book story that you just couldn't re-do it or any part of it. It was one long narrative string. I tended not to plan, per se. I had an overall direction I was going. The example of Fitzgerald / Hemingway / The Bible. I certainly didn't plan to be as unimpressed with Hemingway as I was. You can't plan that so you don't. You say, "I'm going to read everything Hemingway wrote and then create a Hemingway character and say what I have to say based on my reaction to all of it."
Reading Mary Hemingway's HOW IT WAS was definitely in the category you're talking about. I just couldn't find a centre to Hemingway. I read everything he wrote and nothing jumped out at me. I could rank it personally according to my preferences, but you can't build a graphic novel out of "I liked this", "Didn't much care for this." When I got to the page where she and Hemingway ate the lion meat. "Oh, now THIS can't end happily." STRONG visuals. STRONG Metaphysics. Badda-Bing, Badda-BOOOOMMM!
And I was almost AT that part when I found it. Oh boy. HERE we go. This better work.
It has been a hell of a ride, hasn't it? Even 10 years later on.
Cerebus 1-25 read like a parody with minimal narrative string threading through issue to issue. With #26, start of High Society, the structure moved from parody into satire (not that parody was lacking, but the story reads as more a satire of politics and society than a sword & sorcery parody) and from a more “done-in-one” to a (very) multi-issue extended storyline. Preamble over... the questions: (1) Do you recall what compelled you to commit to this drastic change in storytelling style? (2) What provided you the confidence that the market (and readership) would be committed (or that you were committed!) to 25 issues of High Society?
1) Well, in order: a) this is viable. I can keep dong this so how long am I going to keep doing this? b) if I do 300 issues that puts me in a very select mainstream company of success (156 issues when it was bi-monthly and then when I saw that I could handle monthly, I doubled it). c) Okay, how do you FILL 300 issues? You can't just do 3 and 4-issue story arcs or you'll be repeating yourself all the time.
2) I didn't really have the confidence in the market. That was the open question: how much will the market bear of my experimenting like this? Comic book characters were expected to -- and did -- stay roughly the same. It was a kind of sacred covenant and as a long-time comic-book fan I was aware of that. But I also wanted to do a graphic NOVEL. The novels I liked, the characters didn't stay the same. That was the kind of novel I wanted to write. It really had to -- and did -- thin out the audience.
1) Regarding your study, and then the use, of various authors over the course of the story (from Wilde to Hemingway): If Cerebus had continued past 300, which authors would you also like to have covered? 2) Have you kept up with Woody Allen's more recent films? If so, I'd be interested in your opinion and thoughts.
1) I would have liked to have done Norman Mailer. But, that was one of those "time and place" things. In the year 2000, you have to say that Hemingway had held his spot as The Apex Author he had held since mid-century. Fitzgerald, too. Mailer, we're not going to know for another couple of decades, but it's looking good, I think.
2) No, I don't see any movies, although I do read the reviews in the NATIONAL POST every Friday. That's about as much as movies interest me: as a cultural touchstone filtered through "time and place" reviewers. Not really worth 90 minutes of my life. Through that filter BIRDMAN and LISTEN UP PHILIP are the movies I would see if I was going to see a movie this week.
Religion informs a lot of the latter third (or more) of Cerebus, but when you conceived a 300 issue series that wasn't really part of your philosophy. Can you share how you envisaged, in broad terms, that last 100 issues or so going before your conversion?
In BROAD terms? Really just Cerebus living the life I was living at the time, GUYS, then "What happens if Jaka comes back?" Which wasn't really carved in stone, just "That's all he wants, so he has to get that" and to keep with the Up! Up! Up! Higher and Higher and Higher motif, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and the Bible. Because that --as far as I know -- is sort of "received literary wisdom" of Up Up and Away. So, that's the route and we'll see where it takes me.
Hemingway, when I got there, was a giant step down from Fitzgerald, so the mid-point of my Up Up Up was already "off". But, by then I had read The Bible, so it was Up (Fitzgerald) Down (Hemingway) and then WAY! UP! The Bible by the time I was DOING Hemingway.
How did you come about also incorporating the Koran into your belief system? As I recall, it was about '96, '97 when you read the Bible in preparation for Rick's Story, and that led to your religious conversion (forgive me if I'm oversimplifying), but I would say at that point in time, many Westerners would have gotten to the Bible, converted, and not necessarily continued to search. I suppose the question is "how were you as a non-religious Westerner exposed to the Koran enough to make that the 'next step' in your religious awakening?"
The first time I just read the Bible as if it was a novel. So, the Torah -- the Law and the Prophets was definitely rising action pointing towards a resolution. Then I read the Apocrypha (Jewish) because that's next in the 1611 King James. And it was the wrong voice (of Voice). Then when I read the Gospels, it was the right Voice again, but it was skewed, and the John's Gospel skewed it again a different way and then there were a bunch of incoherent commentaries (personal opinion) and then John's Revelation. But it wasn't resolved for me as a reader. Where's the next Book? And I basically just picked up religious texts at the library and read the first page. Wrong voice. I read the Christian Apocrypha because a lot of people were very big on this in the late 90s. Some of the Gnostic material was interesting. It wasn't the right voice, but it was the right subject. But most of it... feh. It made the Jewish Apocrypha read like Isaiah : )
And then I picked up a translation of the Koran, again, at the library and it was strange because the first page was "Clots of Blood" which was the first Sura revealed to Prophet Muhammad but is the 96th Sura in the Koran. To this day, I can't figure out who would have done that: published a Koran that started with "Clots of Blood".
"Oh, here we are. This is the voice."
And basically (spoiler warning) it said, No, he wasn't the son of God. God doesn't have a son. "It would not beseem the God of mercy to have a son" as it says in one part.
"Well, no, I didn't think so" was my reaction to reading the next part of the novel. It's accusing God of committing a carnal act.
Of course I debate that internally between my Muslim and Jewish and Christian self, but... I think we may have lost half the viewers right there! : )
One of the problems for the graphic novelist (as opposed to the writer) is that revision of the published work is almost impossible. When the Tintin portfolios were redrawn on-model they lost a lot of their character. Revisiting the artwork in the detail required for the conservation project are you grateful or irritated that you have so little opportunity to rework Cerebus?
Grateful. Grateful, really, that I have the sensibility that I do about Comic Art Metaphysics. I did a classic 1980s indy comics character so, to me, you have to have the appropriate respect for that. There is no such thing as "on-model" in the context as I perceive it. Cerebus in 1977 looked one way and in 1985 looked another way and in 1995 looked another way. All you can responsibly do is to use the technical advances that exist to restore the original quality with as little physical interference as possible and as necessary.
I don't relate to it in terms of CEREBUS so much as I do the photorealists. Seeing what Alex Raymond's originals look like on Heritage Auctions' website and then seeing how RIP KIRBY has been reproduced over the years.
As Bill Clinton said, "We can do better."
Any chance giving the rest of Cerebus the same digital treatment as High Society where each digital issue includes all the back matter, or is this a stupid question because that has been the plan all along?
No, it's not a stupid question, but it is another example of being pulled in too many directions at once. After I'm dead, the Cerebus Archive -- God willing -- will still exist and DIGITAL HIGH SOCIETY will exist as a template. What will be missing is me and -- in most cases -- I'm the only one who could identify the "back matter" or explain what it means. And that depends on my memory holding out sufficiently to retain all of that.
That being said, a lot will depend on future detective work on the available materials. It will be all in the public domain and, hopefully, scanned and readily available. Then it's a competition between the Most Devoted Second Generation CEREBUS Fans as to who has the greatest familiarity and, consequently, can produce the definitive JAKA'S STORY or the definitive GOING HOME and then have it STAY definitive. That's the tough part.
There have been a lot of Dicken's biographies but I'd be surprised if anything will replace Peter Ackroyd's in my lifetime. Or Richard Ellman's OSCAR WILDE.
With the focus on the restoration of the phone books, I'm curious about the "in between" issues like 51, 112/113, 137/138. Does 51 get restored with High Society, or with Church & State I, or at some later point (or is that not even on the radar?). Also do you have ant plans for these issues down the road. Personally I'd love them to be inserted in the books for the "Legacy" editions, but I understand if that's not really on the cards. Do you think they're likely to be collected again, in some sort of volume of miscellaneous material?
112/113 was the first Cerebus issue I picked up (I had a TMNT 8, and at least one other book with a guest appearance at that time). It may not be the best intro to the book for everyone, but it just blew me away. I didn't know what was happening, but I "wanted" to know so badly I saved up and bought the phonebooks as soon as I could (which took a bit, because either I had the money and couldn't find them, or couldn't afford them when I saw them).
Not on the PRIMARY radar screen, but I am aware of them. We'll have to see how many pages of each (original and negs) we have/can get. That's certainly the intention -- Vol. 17 CEREBUS MISCELLANY BLACK & WHITE. Whether there's enough demand to do it while I'm alive is another question. We'll find that out.
Great story, Jason! I don't think you're alone in having 112/113 be your first exposure or in your reaction to it. All I can say DEFINITIVELY at this point is that 51, 112/113, 137/138 are never going to be "expunged" from CEREBUS. The question will come up after I'm dead: "Should we print these if Dave never did after the early 1990s?" The answer is "Yes" but it will be up to anyone who chooses to reprint the trades once they are in the public domain as to WHERE. One publisher might include it with HIGH SOCIETY at the end another might include it with CHURCH & STATE at the beginning. Someone else might want to do a "stand-alone" volume with all four issues. Someone else might want to do just another "popular edition" like CEREBUS ZERO.
CEREBUS ARCHIVE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGNS
Is it possible for future kickstarter campaigns to have "themed" bonus prints instead of just a collection of prints? For example, all Cerebus covers, SDOAR pages, glamourpuss pages just for 1 archive. I had a Cerebus bookmark from Friends of Cerebus and lost it. Aaarghh! So for future kickstarter campaigns incentives bookmarks would be a great edition.
Thanks for your idea about the Art Folio. I hope you get a few like-minded people together and we can work at getting exclusive features for you that will work with the standardized Folio itself.
Anything is POSSIBLE. In this instance, I basically went through scans that I had from back in the day when Sandeep did all my scanning because I know where those are and how to access them. But I'm not computer adept, so what we're pointing towards right now is me getting all of the information on the various hard drives I've got duplicated and send that to Sean or -- I don;t know -- YOU maybe? And say, "Here, you're a major CEREBUS fan -- go through a;; of this stuff and see what you think would make for a good Bonus Print... or Bonus Item" Sean is a good choice because he can also see how it would reproduce. Which is why we can have half-sized Prints on some of the pieces. The scanning wasn't detailed enough to sustain 11x17.
I'm trying to avoid the CEREBUS covers because of the IDW book. I don't want to compete with that or "kill their action". And I'm trying to stick with Cerebus items for the most part. Cerebus is what I'm known for and these Kickstarter campaigns, I think, SHOULD respect that. A thrice yearly CEREBUSfest. EVERYthing's got the Aardvark on it if we can manage it.
I'm definitely thinking of bookmarks but I need to talk to John about what the limits are with the Akuafoil process. It would be interesting to go gold and purple Akuafoil on Cerebus' "Pope scarf" billowing on a bookmark.
THE CEREBUS ARCHIVE
When Cerebus Archive number 18 (the comic book came out -- did you know that was going to be the last issue? Did you have additional pages done to go forward with issue #19? Would you like to finish what you started? Maybe having a supplement to SDOAR.
1) Yes, it was pretty clear that even at a $4 price point it wasn't selling enough to sustain it. Maybe 40 copies on first release and a thin trickle after that. It was the shipping problem again. There was -- and is -- no commercially viable way to sell individual comic books by mail. It just makes them too expensive.
2) I had the "next things" in the Cerebus Archive -- printed strips, unpublished strips, BEAVERS strips, letters, etc. -- pulled and ready to be copied and documented. All of them have been put back where they belong.
3) Part of me would like to. A BIGGER part of me has seen what CEREBUS ARCHIVE and CEREBUS TV did to "orderliness" here at the Off-White House. A lot depends on how long it takes to do SDOAR and what shape I'm in -- eyesight, stamina, etc. -- at that point. I think I would be more inclined to just "putter" in the Archive. I could enjoy putting all the photos in photo albums and writing comments on them rather than feeding the insatiable Audience Beast which (naturally enough) W!A!N!T!S! #19 the minute they finish reading #18 AND the next this AND the next that. With my 60s just around the corner, I have to start seriously considering scaling back. Getting pulled in too many directions at once -- which is how I've lived my entire adult life -- at a specific point becomes "getting pulled apart" and I want to stop well before that happens.
CEREBUS ACTION FIGURE
JAKE A. CAPPS:
The production of the Cerebus action figure seems to scream for a Kickstarter to taking it across the finish line, and into everyones hands. Has this option been considered?
We still haven't worked out the logistics on the figure and "into everyone's hands" is a logistical nightmare until we know exactly how it would be packaged as a product and then packaged for shipping domestically here in Canada, internationally in the U.S. and around the world. Not to mention how it would be painted, what accessories would be included, how they would be packaged (product pkg. and shipping pkg.).
The key to all these things is working backward from the result -- a MINT action figure & package arriving everywhere we want to send it in perfect condition -- and then costing everything out to the penny and then considering what the average CEREBUS fan is going to be willing to pay. And the average store. And "Is this a Gold Medal Deep Pockets item because there's no rational way to keep the costs below a threshold beyond the average person's budget."
We haven't even started answering those questions as yet.
Concerning the Cerebus action figure. You may be able to get some helpful information from Jill Thompson, creator of Scary Godmother. She did a Kickstarter to produce a figure last year and has run into some interesting hurdles that she is still working on... I was thinking more in terms of the trouble she was having with the production houses in China. What I have seen of the Action Figure looks amazing.
Jill really helped lead the charge of the on-line tarring and feathering of me back in '94. The last time I saw here was at a Blue Jays game in Toronto a comics retailer brought us all to when she and her husband were sitting in front of me and she offered me some of her candy floss and we made amiable chit-chat (her husband -- who's actually a famous comics guy, but I forget who -- was very funny on the subject of the pitcher he remembered and loathed when they had him in Chicago. "Just stand there. He can't throw a strike to save his life." And sure enough. As long as you didn't swing, he walked you. But the Blue Jays kept swinging and striking out. And it was this major comeback. They were almost going to tie it. And he's going. "No, you swung. Don't swing, just stand there." It was hilarious. Those were the kind of things that made me come up with the petition. Does she think I'm a misogynist or doesn't she?
THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND
BRIAN JOHN MITCHELL:
For the average page of The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond, how many hours are spent on research versus writing versus pencilling versus inking?
Depends on where I am in the story at any given moment. Today -- this is the second time this has happened! -- Eddie [Khanna] FedExed me the stuff I needed right this minute. Stan Drake Comic Art Metaphysics examples from his 1940-41 stint at Centaur Publications. So you have to factor in: 1) how long did it take Eddie to find it. It's a LOT of online public domain comics to read -- really bad primitive 1940s comics -- to find a "resonance". Although in this case, it's really looking for Stanley Allen Drake signed stories. I want all of those. So I have three stories in addition to to the one I just got. But where are they? Dig through and find them. Okay. I know what I saw in here but I don't have room for all seven pages. Where's the panel that makes the point? Do I have to use two panels? Which two? Okay, I've got four panels that make the first point, two panels that make the second point and a splash panel that makes the fourth point. So that's the page. Now I need to design the page, compose where the three go. Okay, do that. Now I want to tilt them, so I need to photograph them at the right angle. Do that. Now I want to know what size to print the photos of the panels out at before I trace them. Don't know. So, let's just do 100% and see how they are. Print them out at 100%. They're too big. I need 70 to 75%. And that's as far as I got before it was time to do this campaign ending Q&A. Because they're primitive 1940s comics they're easier to trace and pencil and ink, so THAT part of this page of this page should only take a day or so. Most of the time will be taken up moving my captions commenting on them around so you can still read the original panels and still read the SDOAR narrative in the right order.
Compare that to the CHIP MARTIN Neal Adams (attributed) Johnston and Cushing advertising strip I had to recreate with a portrait of Neal hovering over it. That was pure tracing, pencilling and inking and almost none of the pure design I was doing today. But it needed to be the whole strip. It's a Bell Telephone ad so people need to see the whole strip and the (hand lettered) Bell Telephone logo in the last panel. "This will look really cool SOMEDAY when I finish it." I said that a lot.
SELF-PUBLISHING & THE INTERNET
What are your thoughts on web-comics and web-publishing? Also, have you ever thought about writing and drawing new Cerebus stories to possibly generate interest from new readers via print or webcomic? As far as I know, no one has taken an established character / story and released it as a webcomic. Thank you for being a pioneer in indie comics publishing. Your work really inspired me to create comics at an early age, and today my wife and I have our own webcomic [Nemu Nemu]! aloha!
I've THOUGHT about it, but I don't think "Don't Believe The Hype It's A Sequel" is pretty much carved in stone. the Comic Art Metaphysics just militates against that working. CEREBUS was successful BECAUSE it came out in 1977. Had it come out in 1970 or 1985 it wouldn't have been. Things are "of their time". All you can do is disappoint the people who believe in the intellectual property the most.
On web comics and web publishing -- if I'd have known that that was coming up ahead, I could have saved myself a LOT of time and trouble promoting self-publishing as HARD as I did. "We have to do this now! This chance will never happen again." Now it happens everyday. Hundreds and hundreds of webcomic publishers who will NEVER be exploited by major corporations or get robbed blind because there's no need to go THERE if you don't want. There's a HERE you can stay -- the Internet. I spent a good 20 years of my life digging earthworks and building battlements and then suddenly behind me PING! An impregnable fortress pops into existence. "Oh. Uh. Yeah. THAT will work, too, won't it?"