Monday, 4 May 2015

The Distance Between 'Semi-Professional' & 'Professional' Cartoonist

Left: Conan Berserker (1968) by Frank Frazetta
Right: Cerebus Berserker (1978) by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlarge)
(from the notes to Cerebus Archive Number One, May 2014)
[Cerebus Berserker] is the earliest piece of published CEREBUS artwork in the Cerebus Archive, measuring 11.5 x 17.5 inches. The idea had been to have a third item to sell on our convention table in Toronto along with copies of CEREBUS No. 1 and 2 -- the image is such an iconic one, that I thought it would attract attention in that way.

It's a good example of having an exaggerated idea of your own commercial viability and your ability, as an artist, to attract attention to your work.

It was certainly exceptional -- at the time and since -- to get two issues of CEREBUS out two months apart -- an actual bi-monthly schedule -- but not nearly as noteworthy as I thought it would be seen at the time. Anything that wasn't DC and Marvel -- particularly at a late 1970s comic convention -- was a fanzine until proven otherwise. A fanzine on a bi-monthly schedule was still just a fanzine...

...It's characteristic of the semi-professional cartoonist. You know that you draw better than 99% of the human population and you know that you can produce relatively complicated pieces in relatively short periods of time compared to the "man in the street". But the distance between that status and being a professional -- and then aspiring to be a professional in the top ranks of your profession (which is what Barry Windsor-Smith was and I wasn't) is the shoals upon which most cartooning ships founder.

Basic amateur errors: like the pen lines which cross the design midway down the right hand border. The fact that the shadow patterns along the parallel lines don't fall consistently in the same direction. "I need to get this done." conflicting with the need to do it properly. "The more haste the less speed."

It was a great IDEA for a poster. But to be commercially viable, I had needed to take a LOT more time in execution, and didn't.

I don't even own any copies of the poster itself, but the colour was a real nightmare, as well. I tried to guess what colour combinations were needed, doing cyan, yellow and magenta overlays on acetate with mechanical tone, trying to imitate Frazetta's earth tones and, instead it came out pretty much as it was: a pastiche of light blue, largely because I wanted Cerebus to be the only toned part of the black plate and there's no way to fake Frazetta earth tones without using shades of grey WITH the cyan, magenta and yellow.

The answer would have been to create the necessary shades of grey with pen lines -- lots of cross-hatching and stippling with a Hunt 102. But I wanted to translate Frazetta's oil paint effects into Barry Windsor-Smith pen lines, the kind BWS used on his Gorblimy Press prints which DIDN'T include cross-hatching. Another amateur mistake: if you close off solutions to your rendering and printing problems on the basis of what you want the finished piece to look like and ignore what your own solutions are going to result in, you're going to end up with a very amateurish finished product.

I signed and numbered 500 of them.

I don't think we sold one, either at the convention or when it appeared on the back cover of CEREBUS No. 3 and 4. They just sat in a pile over the course of the first few years of Aardvark-Vanaheim, getting dog-eared, dusty and torn wherever they had been thrown and finally we just threw them all out. I willing to bet that Harry Kremer (1946-2002) at Now And Then Books bought way too many of them -- and that they probably suffered the same fate in the Now And Then Books basement.

I wish I had at least saved three of them for the Cerebus Archive.


Steve said...

My own copy is #272/500; it hangs near the computer along with my Sergio Aragones (Groo), Paul Chadwick (Concrete), and Don Rosa (Uncle Scrooge) artwork.

It would be an interesting project to attempt to track down the copies 'in the wild': who owns what number?

They do show up every few years on eBay (that's where I bought mine) and sell pretty cheaply.


Max West said...

It's an honest shame that those prints were just discarded. I'd have loved to have one of them. And it was such a loss of great artwork.