Thursday, 31 December 2015

Assorted Cerebus

MARGARET LISS:
A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

There are a bunch of Cerebus short stories that don't appear in the phonebooks, but are still considered canon. Many of them were reprinted in Cerebus: World Tour Book 1995 (and later reprinted in Cerebus: Not The World Tour Book 1995, same book, just a reprint with the text 'Not The' stamped on the cover in red). It seems that Dave was thinking about reprinting these stories as early as 1987.

In notebook #8, which covers issues 96 to 102, we see a thumbnail for Assorted Cerebus #1 with a listing of what would be in it.


Notebook #8, page 89
The listing includes the short stories that were originally printed in the Swords of Cerebus volumes, but Exodus, which is issue #51, Elfguest from issue #52 - but was never reprinted - and Cerebus Dreams from AV in 3D.

The only story from the Swords collections left out is "What Happened Between Issues Twenty & Twenty-One".

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Comic Book Greats #1

Alex Toth: The Crushed Gardena, 1953
Bernie Krigstein: More Blessed to Give, 1954
Art by Dave Sim
(Glamourpuss #4, November 2008)

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The 1995 Distributor Wars

Internal Correspondence (June 1995)
Art by Dave Sim 
DAVE SIM:
(from Patreon Update "Bone & The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond Part 5", 27 December 2015)
...Capital City being driven out of business because Steve Geppi had perceived -- accurately, I think -- "This town ain't big enough for the both of us". If Diamond had to do without Marvel's business, Diamond was going to need ALL of DC's business and ALL of Dark Horse's business and ALL of Image's business to plug the hole Marvel had left in Diamond's waterline. 

Diamond hadn't moved first. Marvel had moved first. And Marvel's move -- which, in retrospect looks really dumb -- would actually have been Very Good 800 lb. Gorilla Business had Steve Geppi not played good "d". Steve Geppi playing good "d" was what made Marvel's move dumb.

There was no way to "scale up" Heroes World to Marvel Exclusive Size without pretty much crashing the Direct Market OR Heroes World which (the latter, permanently; the former temporarily) is what happened. Marvel could afford to Thrash Around For A Few Months because Marvel was the only entity large enough to Thrash Around For A Few Months and then pick up what was left standing.

Diamond basically made sure that they made their own ship large enough and solid enough to survive the Thrashing Around by making themselves -- with their exclusives -- into the Largest Surviving Entity next to Marvel. Which is what happened. And eventually Marvel had to go back to Diamond because Marvel wasn't prepared to re-imagine the Direct Market from the ground up when they compared the cost of doing that to the cost of just coming to terms with Diamond... [Read the full article at Patreon]

Monday, 28 December 2015

2015: The AMOC Year In Review

Here's a handy guide to the 'A Moment Of Cerebus' highlights during 2015! 
Stay tuned. More to come in 2016!

January:

February:
March:
April:





October:
November:


Sunday, 27 December 2015

Spider-Ham Goes Mad!

Dave Sim's Tribute to Spider-Man #24 (1965) by Steve Ditko
(Click image to enlarge)
DAVE SIM:
(from Dave Sim's Blog & Mail, 12 February 2007)
...Okay, so I arrived back home and found that I had a package from ACTOR (now renamed HERO) which Jim McLauchlin had promised me was on its way which included my contributors copies ACTOR Comics Presents. And there I was on the cover -- one of the headliners! Yes, strange but true. "SIM": Right after Stan Lee, Linsner, Waid and Dini. Heady company. They don't come along every day, but there are these moments when the Pariah King of Comics feels decidedly less Pariah-like and this was one of them. I have to say that this issue's Stan Lee story is my new favourite Stan Lee story of all time. I'm sure they still have a bunch of these available so why not order a copy and see if you don't agree with me that this is one of the best (if not THE best) Stan Lee stories of all time? www.HeroInitiative.org.

Also in the package were two copies of Ultimate Spider-man issue 100 which Jim had told me about over the phone. As you might have seen in your local newspaper Marvel was having a bit of a celebration that Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley were about to become the first Marvel creative team since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the Fantastic Four to do a hundred consecutive issues of one title. It became a bit controversial (as claims go) with a number of you Yahoos pointing out that the Pariah King of Comics and Gerhard had done 236 consecutive issues and Mark Evanier pointing out that he and Sergio Aragones had broken the 100 consecutive issue streak with Groo as part of Marvel's own Epic Comics line. Which got more peculiar when Marvel announced that Groo didn't qualify as a Marvel title because it was creator-owned! I appreciated people -- especially Jeff Seiler who contacted the Dallas Morning News to run a correction: thanks, Jeff! -- feeling bad on my behalf, but it's really sincerely misplaced in this case. A hundred issues is a hundred issues and there are only so many people in the Century Club and only those in the Century Club know exactly how hard it is to do that many consecutive issues of a title so the last thing anyone wants to do (or the last thing the Pariah King of Comics wants to do) is to dump on anyone who has subjected themselves to and endured the gauntlet of that singular form of creative torture. Also, doing comics in a corporate context comes with its own brand of trouble and impediments. To do a hundred consecutive issues of a comic book in a context where it often isn't clear who is running the show or what they want or what they will allow today and still allow tomorrow -- well, let's just say that Mark and Sergio and Ger and the Pariah King of Comics never experienced that particular series of high hurdles in addition to the problems inherent in writing and drawing that many comic pages.

So, anyway, Jim told me that Marvel was printing up a batch of Ultimate Spider-man #100 with the cover image blanked out and was sending them to HERO to forward to 100 different cartoonists to embellish and to auction to benefit HERO and that they were wondering if the Pariah King of Comics would do one. Well, hey, it's not often that you get two sincerely non-Pariah moments in one Fed Ex box (I have to say that Jim McLauchlin and his ACTOR people have always treated me with the utmost respect) and I readily agreed. In fact, to mark just so extraordinary achievement struck me as calling for a completely unprecedented contribution from the Pariah King of Comics: Dave Sim doing his first ever Spider-Ham cover!

[For those not aware of the history, way back when the earth was still cooling and I had done my three consecutive Wolverroach covers on Cerebus 54, 55 and 56 -- thereby sincerely pushing the boundary between misappropriation of a trademarked character and legitimate parody -- I suspect that Marvel decided to fire a warning shot across my bow by coming up with a funny animal version of Spider-man that was basically Cerebus in a Spider-man costume. I don't know whose idea it was (Jim Shooter his own self?) but I have to say that I always admired the thinking behind it. It was a very measured response along the lines of "See? How do YOU like it?" while also a creative one and, ultimately, a profitable one! According to my Overstreet Guide, Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham ran for seventeen issues from May 1985 to September 1987 as part of Marvel's Star Comics children's line. Not a bad run for the mid-80s]

Anyway, I always thought it would be interesting if an opportunity arose where I could draw Spider-Ham (just for the experience if nothing else) and this benefit project seemed like the moment I had been waiting for. So, straight off the bus from Toronto, there I was photocopying Steve Ditko's cover to Spider-man No.24 from an Essential Spider-man volume and tracing it off, size as, onto the blank Ultimate Spider-man #100 cover and then tightening it up in pencil. The next day I went looking for my copy of Spider-man No.24 so I could colour the cover before inking it and try to match the colours as closely as I could. I found my other four original Ditko Spider-man copies, but could not find my copy of issue No.24 anywhere. I phoned Pete Dixon at Paradise Comics to see if he could send me a colour photocopy of the cover or bring a copy up that I could borrow. I had no idea that I was about to be felled by the Seriously Strange Illness in roughly 48 hours and that that would be it for me and drawing and writing for a good month. I was going to let Jim McLauchlin and the HERO folks down big time (the deadline was January 15). As you can see, this is still as far as I have gotten. I figure what I will do is run this pencilled version here and then try again to find some colour reference for it and watercolour it and ink it and maybe HERO can auction it later in the year as the Last of the 100 Versions of Ultimate Spider-man 100. And maybe some generous Cerebus Yahoo will bid WAY,WAY, too much money for it so Jim McLauchlin will forgive me.

Anyway, major hats off and cheers to Bendis and Bagley on their remarkable achievement and to Marvel for coming up with such an original way to celebrate that achievement and to raise some money for a worthy cause.

I'm here to do my part, I'm just going to be unbelievably late doing it. Hope everyone likes the tight pencilled version, anyway.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

JEFF SEILER:
Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. Now, I have a foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so. I'll be running interesting excerpts from those letters each week.

Today's entry is a letter from Dave to me, dated 17 September, 2004:

Dear Jeff:

Thank you for your letter of August 31. I was just coming to the end of a three-page letter to you when the computer went on the fritz and I lost it, along with two or three others. I really don’t have time to reconstruct it the first part, so here are the highlights:

1. I think Keith’s [Ed: Keith’s Comics, in Dallas, across the highway from SMU] is a Sandman and not a Cerebus kind of store, so at this point I’m done with my own efforts. If you want to monitor their supplies, you’re welcome to do so, but I suspect they will always just have another excuse as to why they don’t have Cerebus on the shelves.

2. I don’t think you’re right that I’m viewed favourably by City Council [Ed: Dave was going weekly in 2004-2005 to City Council meetings to observe the proceedings.]. I think they suspect my motives as the only person in the room who isn’t getting paid to be there.

3. I don’t expect to get a reply to my latest letter to Mr. Jeffrey at Hillsdale [Ed: He did; it will be posted here on next week.], nor do I consider what I got from him to be a reply in any meaningful sense of the term, but I’ll be happy to send you [a copy of] any further response from him, in the unlikely event that they arrive.

4. I quite agree with you that [John] Kerry is way off-base in pushing for a larger global role in U.S. decision-making. As you point out, “haven’t they already shown us what they have to say?” Too true.

5. My comment on yours and Billy [Beach’s] Phariseeism was far more about just ignoring the obvious in front of you and resorting to dictionary definitions and sophistry to try to evade what is obviously implied by “two men in a bed, two women grinding together” than anything having to do with whatever spiritual shortcomings either of you might have. I don’t know either of you at all as people and spiritual shortcomings are much deeper than that. I was reacting to your observations, not to you as people or to your spirits. I can only know the first and can’t possibly know the second two.

6. I don’t consider either you or Billy to be supporters of mine. I mean, in the sense that you’ve bought Cerebus comic and books, certainly. And I’m very appreciative as I am with everyone who contributes to my livelihood in that way. You have your own viewpoints which are diametrically opposed to my own--and to each other--as are (so far as I know) all other viewpoints in the world. The notion of “being ganged up on” went by the board years ago, implying as it does that I would think myself a victim in some way. I’m not a victim. I think my viewpoints are grounded in hard thinking coupled with common sense. I have no hesitation in defending them, as you may have noticed. I’m always willing to entertain contrary viewpoints, but I don’t share them for what is, in my view, good reason. But I certainly never expect anyone under any circumstances to be “on my side” or a “supporter” in any meaningful sense of the term.

7. Please don’t send me any more gifts. I don’t like to sound ungracious, but, as you say, my own views don’t encompass those of people who pray “for” things. If I had seen this book [Ed: Robert Louis Stevenson’s book of prayers] in a bookstore, for instance, I would’ve walked right past it for these reasons: I have my prayer which I consider to be my covenant with God: here is what I firmly believe and renew five times a day so there can be no question or doubt of my sincerity. If I couldn’t say all of the things I say in my prayer with sincerity, I wouldn’t say them. Most of the prayers in this book appear to be directed toward the “Lord” and I know nothing about Stevenson, except that I have read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. So this just becomes another chore and another source of conflict in my life. Do I keep the book or throw it away? Evidently, Stevenson chose to live the remainder of his like in Samoa and die in a pagan context. Or was the context pagan? Was Stevenson a believer in God or just another person in thrall to YHWH and Rousseau’s “noble savage”? If he was an actual believer in God it would be hazardous, I think, to throw the book away. If he was just another pagan, joining gods with God, then it is hazardous for me to keep the book. People give me things for a variety of reasons and then I have to determine for myself what it is that they have given me, not knowing them and not knowing their innermost motivations or the extent to which they are controlled by outside agencies and what the possible price is that I will have pay for accepting their gift if I’m guessing wrong. I’ve already spent the better part of two hours writing and rewriting this point seven, going out to eat so I could mull it over further, thereby consuming most of a Friday when I could be doing any number of things which need doing. As I said to Billy in my last letter, I’ll be happy to address viewpoints that you want to advance towards me and give you my opinion of them--newspaper clippings or excerpts from books (Billy sent me a Watchtower which I just threw away. I’m certainly not going to get in the habit of rebutting thirty some-odd pages of Jehovah’s Witness Central every month) but that does not extend to accepting gifts and all of the attendant problems which result. There is just no way for me to win out of this. I will be held accountable for being ungracious or I will be held accountable for accepting something I shouldn’t have accepted or I will be held accountable for throwing away something I shouldn’t have thrown away or I will be held accountable for not accepting something I should have accepted. Again, I’m sorry to sound ungracious, but it just irritates me because it isn’t my doing in an area where I try to be extremely careful and I’m the one who has to pay the multi-layered price. I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but please don’t send me any more gifts.

8. On the subject of Mr. Kristof’s column on the possibility of an Islamic Reformation, I quite agree that it is in the offing and long overdue. Because I only know the Koran, I have often been perplexed by what passes for received wisdom among many--if not most--Muslims that seems to bear no relationship to the Koran that I have read and do read. One of the reasons that I’m so enthusiastic about the United States’ flexing its muscle in the Middle East is that it brings so many valuable qualities to Islamic countries, foremost among them the idea that debate is, in and of itself, a good thing, particularly as regards Scriptural interpretation. Islam is still in its infancy with the infallibility of the imams, the inviolability of the Koran and the carved-in-stone quality of conventional interpretations being societal givens. Imams can’t be wrong. The Koran can’t be wrong. The universal interpretations can’t be wrong. Well, obviously they can be, or otherwise why are there so many different forms of Islam? Why the fundamental split between Shiite and Sunni? Somebody has to be wrong. Where I think this leads us (where I hope this leads us) is to the recurrent motif in the Koran of “You to your religion and me to mine.” When I was staying with Billy on the Sunday (July 4) and we read scripture together, at my suggestion, I read Numbers 22-24 and then suggested that he read one. Well he wanted to discuss what I had read, so fine, I have no problem with that. Here’s what it meant to me. Then he read Matthew 24-25 and explained what it meant to him. The key element to me--and something he touched on in his most recent letter--is that he and I would at least agree that reading Scripture is more efficacious than our debates about it. YES! Quite so. THis is the point that I hope to see our civilization come to: there is a right interpretation of Scripture, but none of us has any idea of what it is. As it says in the Koran, on the Day of Judgment, God will tell us of those things in which we differed. It is a pleasant pastime, to me, to interpret Scripture--better than going to a movie, but well below praying five times a day, paying the zakat, fasting in Ramadan and acknowledging God’s sovereignty. The cornerstones of Islam are, to me, the right choices. There’s the reason, to me, that “interpreting Scripture” isn’t one of the cornerstones. It would imply that it’s our job to know God’s secrets, to know the things hidden or to devote most of our energies to ferreting them out. And that, to me, is a combination of silly and blasphemous: not just “joining gods with God,” that’s promoting yourself to the level of God. “Here are the things that only God and I know.” Even Muhammad was most emphatic that he didn’t know the things hidden, that he did not have secret powers, that he was a man like any other man who wore clothes and shopped for food and ate it. He was just a conduit for the Koran to come through. The most exalted level of any man, Prophethood, was still on the entirely human level. The Prophet doesn’t create a prophecy. The prophecy is God’s. Our three-way debate about Luke 17:35 is a good example of the difference between Christendom and Islam. I think I’m right. You think you’re right. But we have at least (I hope) moved past the point where we would think that the way to get a definitive answer would be to go and find a priest or a minister and have him tell us. All he can do is to give us his opinion, as a man. He could be right or he could be wrong. For me, that even extends to “getting into heaven”. I just don’t see that as part of the equation, personally, what I am here for. The only thing I see as relevant in this world and in this life is deciding for yourself what you are going to do relative to your relationship with God because your soul is at stake, so your decisions are very serious in that area. To me, that’s a given. I may be wrong. But that’s what I’m staking my OWN soul on. These are my decisions, win lose, or draw--this is what I think is most pleasing to God. I’m always happy to listen to what someone else thinks is most pleasing to God, but I’m not apt to change my mind, because it’s my soul at stake and I think I’ve thought it through pretty thoroughly. I just don’t think in terms of heaven. For all I know, there may be a dozen tests after I die before I get into heaven, either through reincarnation or various levels that need to be traversed in the next world. I’ve seen too many top-ranked hockey teams get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs (the Kitchener Rangers, Memorial Cup Champs last year, first-round elimination victims this year, leap to mind) because they were thinking two round up ahead and taking their present competition for granted. The last time I was down visiting Chet [ED: Chester Brown], he asked, “You don’t believe in reincarnation?” And what I said to him was, I try not to. I don’t think believing in reincarnation is helpful. If I really thought I had a nearly infinite number of lives to “get where I’m going” why would I expend any effort in this life? If I believed in reincarnation, I’d be going with Chet to the Internet cafe to look up hookers and diving in face first. If it’s a major sin, oh well, I’ll try and get it right next time. I tend to see our lives as being like the Olympics: years of training and one chance to get it right. I think I put forth a better effort if I stay fixed on this being my one chance. If I get another fifty chances, well, hey, bonus! But that’s not an area where belief enters into it, for me. I make the choice and the decision that is going to put the most pressure on me to make my life count at a near-absolute level because, to me, that’s the only thing that’s going to give me a fighting chance. Believing or disbelieving in reincarnation is just too far away from the playing field, like daydreaming about where you’re going for a beer after the game instead of executing the basics on this play, here and now. But these ideas are all very far from modern Islam, which so far as I can see is still at the same point that Christianity was five-hundred years ago in seeing intermediaries between God and man. It would be unthinkable for a Muslim not to consult his local imam about anything he or she was going to do or think or believe. And, speaking as someone who has read the Koran pretty extensively, it is very much like the Torah in that the number of topics it covers are very few in number and the way the topics are expressed is very much open to interpretation any number of ways. The black-eyed virgins just don’t make that many appearances in the Koran to make giving them a moment’s thought anything but pure masturbatory wish fulfillment. If they’re the “aye blooming youths” then they are more on the order of waitresses. They make sure your glass is full with blissful nectar which doesn’t make you drunk. If they’re the “wives of stainless purity” then presumably they aren’t there for sex, otherwise they wouldn’t be stainless or pure for very long. The criteria for getting there is always “those who have done those things which are right”. In my view, knowing right from wrong is inbuilt. To me, it comes down to: today’s women are structurally messy. Virtually everything about them makes distinctions between right and wrong problematic, in my experience. It seems to me a given that if you want to do what is right, the easiest way to be consistent is to avoid today’s women. If you associate with today’s women in whatever way, you will find yourself doing things that you think are wrong or contemplating irresolvable questions and having to make an educated guess. This, to me, is where Mr. Kristoff’s thesis falls down. “Islamic feminists are emerging to argue for religious interpretations leading to greater gender equality,” he writes. Well, this is lunacy, to me. The genders aren’t equal and the Koran says so specifically, that God favoured men above women. We have only to look around our society to see what happens when you move toward “greater gender equality”. I’m more and more certain that this is the direction we’re going: worldwide feminist lunacy. That’s the nightmare scenario we have to go through to get to wherever it is that we’re going. But, I figure we just have to go there. We will have universal temptation, all vices legalized and readily available, an exponential increase in soul-degrading choices. It’s the hard option, I think, but the West is so far along in it that it’s hard to picture Islam slamming on the brakes, even if Muslims were inclined to do so. But, I do think that the Internet and blogosphere and the number of Muslims who are functioning therein are going to bring about a revolution comparable to what Protestantism accomplished against Catholicism, with the vital difference that I think there’ll be a lot more bloodshed. There is no “Meeker Than Thou” dichotomy in Islam. “Who can turn the most cheeks?”, which is what kept everyone’s feet on the ground in the Christian Reformation. The biggest victim is the biggest winner. Picture Salem, MA, only the entire non-Muslim world is considered to be witches. That’s the level of bloodshed that I see as being imminent. The question, to me, will be “Where does Islam break and how big a piece goes which way?” There’s no question that the critical Western mind, which doubts everything including whether the sky is blue, is having an effect on the intellectual side of Islam. It’s inescapable that virtually every conflict in the world today, big or small, is between Islam and non-Islam or between two Islamic peoples. They’re the only people on the face of the earth who still see beheading as a valid political statement. That’s a very tough “sell” for Muslims who like to think of themselves as civilized and intellectual. Try defending holding a thousand schoolchildren hostage and blowing up and shooting 300 of them. Where would you start? The only defense is that anything a good Muslim does is right because he or she is a good Muslim. The United States will be invaluable, since it has raised hair-splitting Talmudic-scholar-style sophistry to a foremost national trait and that constituency has only begun to debunk a lot of Islamic self-mythologizing. If I have a part to play, it is way, way, way down the line, as far as I can see, hinging on my certainty that only the Koran is Scripture in Islam. The Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet are just Muhammed the man’s thoughts on various subjects. Most Islamic anti-Semitism and xenophobia, from what I infer, stems from Muhammed as an individual and an Arab. Muhammad, God’s messenger, is very good. Muhammad the Muslim is very good. Muhammad the Arab is very bad. I infer this because I don’t see anti-Semitism or xenophobia in the Koran in any meaningful amount. Mostly there are generalized and very blunt observations on how most of the Jews of Mecca and Medina in the seventh century were no good, either. Virtually everyone in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century were no good. This, again--in my construct--is dealing with irrelevancies and, at this point in history, I’m one of the few people to see them as irrelevant. What is pertinent, to me, is praying five times a day, fasting in Ramadan, paying the zakat and acknowledging God’s sovereignty. All other viewpoints, including lunatic fanaticism have to be protected. Everyone needs to be able to go to heaven or to hell by his or her own choice, given that it will usually be an accident. No one knowingly does wrong to make sure that they go to hell. So far as I know I’m in the minority of Muslims who have worked through the debate to that point. In any debate with Muslims, all I could do would be to discuss these things for fifteen minutes at a time and then shout, “YOU TO YOUR RELIGION AND ME TO MINE” and force everyone to give me an “Allahu Akhbar” on it every time out because it’s a direct quote from the Prophet from the Koran. That’s the real Ground Zero for the 21st century as far as I can see. Mr. Nikolas’ assertion “only when people are able to debate issues freely--when religious taboos fade--can intellectual inquiry lead to scientific discovery, economic revolution and powerful new civilizations” is a fine atheistic sentiment (which is a nice way of saying “intrinsically stupid”), but completely irrelevant to Islam. Scientific discovery like birth control and abortion, to cite two examples, just aren’t going to fly in Islamic countries as progress. Remember, these people don’t drink, so it’s very difficult to sneak something by them like birth control or abortion that seem’s like the duck’s nuts in an alcohol-soaked secular society. That’s just seduction to a Muslim, away from the Path of God (which I would agree with). Likewise economic revolution. Islamic countries don’t look at Resident Evil 2 and think, “Wow. Why do we not have these great cultural leaps forward?” The Islamic vantage-point on The Exorcist or Resident Evil 2 or all the rest of it is that the West has already chosen to go to hell and they are so far along on their journey that they can’t even see the signposts anymore. We’re like a junkie sitting there trying to convince them that all their troubles will go away if they’ll just, you know shoot up with us. It’s pointless to say to a junkie, “Are you kidding? Look at yourself. All you’re doing is making your problems WORSE.” The junkie is just going to scratch and nod for a while and go, “No, no, no. You don’t understand. It really does make your troubles go away. Here, let me stick this in your arm.” From the standpoint of Orthodox Islam, we are past the discussion stage years ago, we are beyond reasoning with. We are junkies looking for newer and more potent junk to distract ourselves from the hopelessness of the situation. So, when Mr. Nikolas says, “The world has a huge stake in seeing the Islamic world get on its feet again,” he betrays his junkie-eye view of the situation. The Islamic world isn’t on its feet. It’s on its knees and prostrate on its face before God, five times a day. “On your feet” is not an improvement on that. That’s where the debate is right now: the West saying to Islam, “On your feet,” and Islam saying to the West, “No, on your knees and prostrate before God.” As I said, my part of the debate is decades, if not centuries away: Scripture. Agree on the efficacy of scripture and prayer and agree to disagree on all interpretations. “YOU TO YOUR RELIGION AND ME TO MINE!” God is the Only One who knows who is right and who is wrong and all verdicts are in His hand alone. Stop trying to climb into the Judgment Seat with Him. Bow before Him and do the things that are right AS YOU SEE THEM TO BE and realize that your soul is at stake. As I say, I see that as being much, much, MUCH later in the debate than where we are now. So that, apart from reading these things into the record for future generations, there’s really not much point in my attempting to enter the discussing anywhere, with anyone.

Glad to hear that you’re making more of an effort to actually get out of bed and put in a full school year so you don’t have to worry about temporary employment through the summer. I would imagine that that’s all God wanted you to figure out. Now you can move on to more difficult and important (and, uh, less pointless) challenges.

Thanks for the “Christians shouldn’t vote” letter to the editor. You might have a more interesting discussion sending it to Billy since, so far as I know, this is the viewpoint of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Don’t share it myself, but couldn’t rule out that it might be the One True Path and that my own political interests and participation are just foolish and self-destructive. “You to your religion and me to mine.”

Sorry I didn’t answer your question about Weisshaupt. No, he wasn’t based on Robert Walpole. You can usually take it as a given that if I don’t answer a question in a letter that my answer is no. As in: “No, that has absolutely no application.” Like your question about whether I had bought the books at Now & Then Books because of the stamp on the backing board. No, that’s the way Now & Then sells their backing boards, with the stamp on them.

Thank you, by the way, for sending the American flag card that you got at your church. There was a bit of a wave of American flags sprouting up three years ago up here, which I thought was a little overstated. Like those fathers who tell you, “I love my kids,” in a tone of voice that makes it sound like they’re the only ones who actually do. Of course, I had no idea that it was mostly Canadian hypocrisy (comparable to the Paris newspaper that declared “We’re All Americans Now!” in its headline September 12th, just before France turned on the United States at the U.N.). So, now that this country is awash in anti-Americanism, I am glad to have your card to tape up in the front window. They’ll have to pass a law and actually send a cop to get me to take it down.

Sincerely,
Dave

Friday, 25 December 2015

Weekly Update #114: Merry Christmas!


Dave Sim reads from First Chapter John for Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Amazing Heroes #201 (May 1992)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Talking With Dave Again

MARGARET LISS:
A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

Last week we looked at pages #25 through 27 in Dave Sim's notebook #21 which covered Dave's discussion with Cerebus that started on page 5 of issue #199 or if you're following around in the phonebook Minds, page 251. We ended with page 27 and the question "Why do you (Dave) keep telling Cerebus' story?"

In the phonebook, we see on page 256 it was to find out what Cerebus would do, but on page 27 of the notebook we saw something else, that Dave was searching for an answer to the question of "how can God let so much pain exist!?!"

On page 28 of the notebook we see the start of Dave's response, that as far as I can tell, didn't make the cut for the finished page:

Notebook 21, page 29
Dave basically says that he sees his life as a series of tests - and the question isn't why did this happen, but how will he react to this happening. That "interesting choices make for interesting stories".

Dave continues his line of reasoning on the next notebook page - that if he does it to his creation, "how could (he) fault (his) creator for doing the same to (him)?"

Notebook 21, page 29
Then on the next page Dave wraps up this discussion with Cerebus in the notebook asking Cerebus "What was the state of your mind, what sentiment expressed internally caused you to get that little slap on the wrist?"

Notebook 21, page 30
"Are you living your life in such a way that the natural ending, the natural repercussion is that you will die alone, unmourned and unloved? So far you have." Pretty harsh words from Dave to Cerebus - but Cerebus still didn't get the message.








Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Passion


DAVE SIM:
(from Following Cerebus #7, February 2006)
...This is definitely a situation of me against the world. Everyone besides me accepts the fact that passion is an inherent good, and I see it as an inherent evil. It represents extreme emotion, and to me, emotional extremes are the root of most of society's problems. Letting emotion rule your life, or, even worse, letting extreme emotions rule your life, is a very unwise choice. It was something that I learned from doing Cerebus, actually. Anytime I had an idea that I was passionately enthusiastic about, I'd end up doing a half-assed job because I was too ardent about it. I was trying too hard. The more I slowed down and just solved the individual creative problems in sequence and with as much patience and as devoid of emotion as I could be, the more effectively I could communicate what I wanted to communicate. I could write a book - and have, in fact, written several books - about the undesirable baggage that comes with passion, but I have yet to find any flaw in living a passionless life...

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Gerhard's Art: "It's Really All I Know How To Do"


THE CAMBRIDGE CITIZEN:
(from an article by Shelly Byers, The Cambridge Citizen, June 2012)
"I realized I wanted my art to hang on walls, not line the bottom of bird cages," says local artist, Gerhard. With a variety of pencils, pens and watercolors surrounding his drawing board he sets to work on his latest project: a four foot square tracing of a tapestry to be recreated in silk by Chinese masters.

Best known for his backgrounds and environmental designs for Cerebus, Gerhard's work spans over 30 years. Cerebus would become the longest running, self-published graphic novel in Canadian history and open the flood gates for other comic book artists breaking free of the confines of the business at the time, including the authors of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Right now, however, Gerhard is tackling the tapestry putting it aside on occasion to work on the illustrations for a children's story, The Wish and a few of the commissions he has received from people around Canada, United States and Europe. Long-time fans have been coming out of the wood work since he started drawing again happy to see that his signature crosshatching technique, the "Gerhard touch", still tingles the senses.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Gerhard's family roamed around Waterloo Region moving 12 times in as many years. Like many kids from middle-class, working families, Gerhard was often in the care of babysitters. One special caretaker took an interest in the art of the young boy sitting silently at his Formica kitchen table drawing his thoughts onto paper with a pencil. Bread was needed more than crayons.

"I don't know her name, but she certainly changed my life," Gerhard recalls.

To help the youngster add interest and tone, she showed him how different shades of gray could be used to fill in areas without the need for colour. She would never know that years later he would win awards for his crosshatching technique using tiny lines to shade and create dimensions in gray and black.

In high school his now colourful and sophisticated "doodles" of dragons and bell-bottomed self-portraits tattooed the covers of duo-tangs. His art won him acclaim from students and teachers, though he struggled for a passing grade in the subject.  "My art didn't fit into that mold. They tried, but I wasn't interested."

Once out of high school, Gerhard tested his patience with uninspired jobs, always dreaming that his art was his ticket out of the daily grind. Drawing pictures of winter tires and hamburgers in fliers (that would one day line bird cages) was a good place to start. Working in an art store was another. Located in bustling downtown Waterloo, Gerhard delivered art supplies to local artists including Dave Sim, the budding author of Cerebus a graphic novel based around the title character who happened to be an aardvark with attitude. Gerhard was invited to draw the backgrounds behind the characters on issue number 65 and stayed.

Fans began using magnifying glasses to study his designs. His coloured covers became known throughout the comic book community as unique and distinctive.

The book became a cult favourite and the duo traveled to the United States and Europe to promote the book, sign copies and find quiet places, like Hawaii, to create the world of Cerebus. "We felt like rock stars," says Gerhard. "But we were always working. No matter where we were, the book had a deadline. I saw a lot of hotel rooms during those trips."

Dave was in the foreground casting the characters and creating the story while gaining notoriety as a rebel self-publisher whose sometimes overbearing thoughts on life filtered into his story line and onto the back pages of the monthly issues. Gerhard quietly stayed in the background where he created intricate environments that told a whispered story behind the characters and gave them a solid place to exist. It was art imitating reality.

Cerebus would die at the end of issue 300 (sorry to kill the ending for you) and conclude a 20 year collaboration.

After a grueling schedule for so many years, Gerhard took a long break. "Drawing at such a pace took the fun out of the process," says the artist. He went sailing.

But you can't take the art out of the artist.  A friend and fan commissioned the World Without Cerebus series based on Gerhard's backgrounds, omitting the aardvark.  Reluctantly, but with pencil back in hand, Gerhard started drawing again. Now, with renewed fervor, he has launched his website and continues to push the boundaries of his talent to create his own visions.

"It's always been about the art," he says crossing his arms and stepping back from his work to study it. "It's really all I know how to do."

Gerhard can be found online at Gerhard Art and Gerz Blog...
...along with details of Gerhard's prints for sale.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Oneupmanship

TOM WHITELEY:
(from Suggested For Mature Readers, 30 November 2015)
...At the opening of [Glamourpuss] #14 there’s a splash page, as if he’d out-of-the-blue remembered the grammar of comics and how it can be used, of a gull-wing Mercedes and a story begins. The story of Alex Raymond’s final day of life, September 6th 1956, when he uncharacteristically visited fellow comic-strip artist Stan Drake and the two went for a drive in Drake’s new Corvette. Raymond, a sports-car enthusiast, was at the wheel when it crashed. He died. Drake doesn’t remember what happened. Dave Sim, a very different kind of comic artist working more than half-a-century later, decides to reconstruct the whole thing. And in doing so, you’re reminded why anyone paid attention to Sim in the first place; because he’s good.

The story, later titled The Strange Death of Alex Raymond and the last thing Sim was working on, takes up roughly half – between 10 and 12 pages – of each issue from #14 to #26, the final issue. It isn’t interspersed with the Glamourpuss stuff anymore, but gets an uninterrupted stretch of its own. It isn’t, of course, without its late-stage Sim touches. As the last 30-odd issues of Cerebus proved, he was no longer capable of and/or willing to create comics that weren’t expressions of his personal philosophies. The authorial voice that’s been the only thing holding the photorealism sections of the comic together is still there. Raymond is left standing at a door, waiting for his knock to be answered, while Sim analyses signatures and cross-hatching in The Heart of Juliet Jones for seven pages. But there is now action to get back to, an actual narrative with propulsive force, that makes that analysis a digression with a point. And the art’s changed. The photorealism influence is still there in the cars and the objects, but for Raymond, Drake and the other characters Sim’s back to the cartooning he mastered over 20 years, figures and faces realistic enough but always with that expressive, rubbery feel that keeps them bouncing through the panels and the reader’s eye powerless not to follow.
The return of panels returns Sim to the music of his art, using layout to play with perception and expectation and the flow of time like he used to. A fantastic cruciform page layout showing Raymond entering Drake’s office is an example of the vision, the fluency, a lifetime in comics allows you to do. A page in #18 showing Raymond and Drake from the back, the latter clearly flirting and the former seething, is poetic in composition, in detail, in heavy blacks and whisper-fine linework, making the words around it redundant...

The above is a short excerpt from a longer review of Dave Sim's Glamourpuss. Full article here...
Help Dave Sim complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' at Patreon.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Vark Wars: The Biography Of A Commission

Vark Wars (2006)
by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlarge)

DAVE SIM:
(from Dave Sim's Blog & Mail, 13-14 February 2007)
It's certainly interesting doing these commissioned pieces. I mean, on the one hand it makes me feel like a much older artist than the fifty year-old that I am. Commissions are sort of an Legendary Veteran kind of thing, but then being the Pariah King of Comics puts you in various contexts that you might otherwise not be in. Producer of Commissioned Work being one of them (although I've yet to tie it in with my discussions with Chester about prostitution). The interesting part is that I end up drawing things that I would never in a million years choose to draw on my own. It's no big secret that I am definitely not in the Star Wars fan category. I had gone to see the first film when it came out and loved it (more vicariously through Gene Day who L*O*V*E*D IT) and then went to see the second film when it came out and, well, that was it for me. I went to see the last instalment when that came out a couple of summers ago, part of me wondering, "How did I get so easily put off by these things? Wasn't there enough Gene Day Juice in the first one to keep me coming out to see every one of the films the day it was released?" The answer came at some point in that final instalment when Yoda showed up on the screen. Oh, right. Fozzy Bear. Frank Oz doing his Fozzy Bear voice with that strange syntax. That was what had done it all right. My willing suspension of disbelief went from willing to unwilling the moment I was being asked to accept a Muppet with Fozzy Bear's voice as a Jedi Master. Mm. Sorry. No can do.

No offence to all the Star Wars fans who are legion in the ranks of the Cerebus Yahoos, but that was it.

So it was interesting going to get reference at the library for the piece. There was a picture book that was just tailor-made for my purposes, Star Wars The Visual Dictionary (D.K. Publishing Inc.). Big display publicity shot of Harrison Ford from the first movie looking as if George Lucas is somewhere off-camera explaining to him exactly how to pose as Flash Gordon as drawn by Al Williamson. This was one of those "luck of the draw" things for John H. that he was asking for a Star Wars commission and that Al Williamson had drawn the original Star Wars newspaper strip. I would get a chance to do my best Al Williamson impression on the page and John was pretty much guaranteed to get a much nicer drawing as a result as I tried to impress my inner Al Williamson.

I had already warned John over the phone that Cerebus as Han Solo was going to pose some difficulties since Han Solo is a distinctly vertical figure. The more vertical a character is, visually, the more difficult it is to compress him to Cerebus size. The leg holster was a good example. It was either going to be too large if I drew the blaster accurately, taking up most if not all of Cerebus' leg, or it would look like a toy if I drew it to Cerebus scale. The Flash Gordon jackboots are a big part of the look and there was no way to do them on the shape of Cerebus' leg. The best I could manage was shiny leggings. John expressed confidence in whatever solutions I came up with. "At least he has the same vest," he said hopefully. Han Solo had a Cerebus vest? Sure enough when I got the book out -- cut differently but definitely a black vest.

Anyway, this serendipitous publicity shot of Harrison Ford looking exactly like an Al Williamson Flash Gordon pushed me in an entirely different direction. I just HAD to use the whole thing and traced it off in short order manufacturing my rationalization as I went. What if Cerebus is using the legs as stilts? That way I could draw the legs and boots as much like Al Williamson as I wanted and it would look kind of funny to have Cerebus' own legs bulging up Harrison Ford's svelte waistline. I even decided to include Harrison Ford's hair as if someone had taken extraordinary pains to make this aardvark character look as much like the actor as possible. I tightened up the figure in pencil on tracing paper and got out a sheet of 11 x 17 S-172 artboard to figure out how much space he was going to take up.

That was when I noticed that the book had a nice Star Wars logo in gold against a white backdrop, which meant that I could trace it off without even shooting a photocopy. It only took a few minutes to change Star Wars to Vark Wars. Then it was time for Jaka as Princess Leia. I tried the traditional all-white robe and the hairstyle that looked like two cheese Danish stuck on either side of her head from the first movie. It just didn't work for me somehow. It was hard to tell why. The basic answer is that the outfit is pretty much featureless—a nun's habit is more distinctive!—and it was pretty much tailored to Carrie Fisher's body type which is very different from Jaka's body type. I could trace off the publicity photo in the book, but pretty much everything would have to be redrawn anyway including the posture of the figure. What a strange outfit. Did they cast Carrie Fisher before they designed the costume? These are the sorts of questions you find yourself asking yourself when you're hip-deep in a strange commission and mentally analyzing the physical components. Under what other circumstances would Dave Sim find himself asking himself if Carrie Fisher or her costume came first in the first Star Wars movie?

On the facing page was a smaller shot of Carrie Fisher dressed as Jabba the Hutt's slave girl. It certainly seemed more suited to Jaka with her dancer costumes (and I suspect if your average Star Wars fan was to choose a favourite Princess Leia outfit the slave girl outfit would be the one) (I wonder how many slave girl publicity stills Carrie Fisher sells versus the other publicity stills at show signings these days?). This raised even more layers of speculation that I had no idea I had inside of me. How did George Lucas talk Carrie Fisher into the slave girl thing? I mean, that was pretty far along in the series and presumably Carrie Fisher was still thinking and hoping that this Star Wars gig might be a stepping stone to other roles in "major motion pictures". "Barely there" costumes are not exactly something with which actresses with hard-won screen cred are known to willingly associate. Did he just blindside her with the script? Throw it onto her front steps in the middle of the night? PRINCESS LEIA DRESSED AS SLAVE GIRL ENTERS FROM RIGHT OF SCENE. When did she first get a good look at the costume? Did she call George Lucas up screaming? Can you even do that to George Lucas or did everyone have a "Whatever George wants George gets" clause in their contract? That might explain my favourite Harrison Ford quote where he said that George Lucas should be tied to a chair and forced to read his own dialogue out loud.

Where was I dredging all this stuff up from?

Were there negotiations about how much skin would be showing? Or was the outfit just presented as a fait accompli? I mean, it's a very good costume, based solidly in the Alex Raymond/Dale Arden mode (I assume it was one of the things on George Lucas' mental checklist) but with all of the high-end Hollywood costume artistry brought to bear. "Here's Alex Raymond/Dale Arden and here's Carrie Fisher's body type. Now, how do we do work them both in?" Pretty flawlessly, I would say. In the publicity shot she certainly doesn't look very happy (which I suppose could be just "in character" for a slave girl). Looks like she had to work out pretty hard to get that toned. How old was she at that time? Early thirties? No love handles, no pot belly. She did a great job.

As I say, it's bizarre what goes through your mind when you actually work on something like this. In the same vein, it was an unexpectedly happy nostalgia jolt to have John Williams' Star Wars soundtrack running through my head for days on end. Took me right back to 1978-79 when that was what you listened to most mornings at Gene Day's studio in Gananoque. "What'll it be? John Williams' Star Wars soundtrack or John Williams' Superman soundtrack?" It certainly made writing and drawing comic books seem incredibly heroic at the time.

I really have to give George Lucas credit as a thorough-going storyteller, assuming that all of the detailed information included in this book came from him personally. I mean, I'm probably just outside the loop, but I had no idea that that broken red racing stripe on the side of Han Solo's pants is a "Corellian blood stripe" or that his belt is equipped with a Droid caller and blaster power cell. Or that the blaster consists of a scope, enhanced blast delivery circuits, power pack release lever, low power pulse warning, power pack, cooling unit, final stage collimator (with "puree" setting?) and flash suppressor. Or that it's officially a DL-44 pistol. I think I managed to get them all on there, although I'll frankly admit that the proportions are probably off by quite a bit.

Anyway, I did a quick Jaka as Jabba the Hutt slave girl drawing on tracing paper and then reduced it a bit on the photocopier so she didn't look TOO much larger than Han Solo (although I did want her to look larger—this is, after all, Cerebus and Jaka), turned over the photocopy on the light table to trace off onto another piece of tracing paper…

…and the next day promptly fell ill for nearly a month.

Shall a bore you with my illness? Not the Full Horror Story. I'm saving that one. But just the sheer surprise that I had never been through anything like this before. All of my recent experience of the last twenty years or so has been that when you feel sick the best thing to do is to just go straight to bed for twenty-four hours. My experience has been that if you catch it early in the gestation, you sleep and let your body—by itself—get rid of the virus or whatever it is. Usually involves staying as warm as possible in bed and letting that body warmth crest until the fever breaks (that is, you wake up bathed in sweat from head to foot, towel off, change night clothes and go back to sleep for another six to eight hours). Worked like a charm for years. The difference this time was that I went to bed but I didn't sleep. I didn't really even notice that I didn't sleep (which was very weird in itself). I also couldn't get my body temperature to go up no matter how many night clothes I put on (up to and including my winter coat). So I just had this feverish weight on my brain that made even basic thought processes really difficult and then virtually impossible but which just stayed up there on my scalp and refused to come down into the rest of my body. Since I run on my thought processes this posed no small problem. The biggest concern, as always, was my prayer times and for a couple of days I struggled out of bed and attempted the ritual ablutions and changing into my prayer clothes and kneeling down until that just became impossible and I would, instead, just lie in bed with my hands crossed over my chest and recite my prayer. With my impossibly slowed-down thought processes it took me about a week to realize exactly how strange this ailment was. It did finally dawn on me that this was something that I had speculated about. What happens when you get too old and you can no longer kneel down to pray? My assumption was that you just lie in bed and pray that way (but how interesting to be that close to The End: "I'll never actually kneel down to pray again"). So, the strange ailment suddenly became a dress rehearsal for my own Last Days. And then I started wondering—with my incredibly slowed down thought processes (a stroke? A brain tumour?) if it was a dress rehearsal or if this was the real thing. I found that either way I was fine with it. Obviously swimming upstream every day of your life as the Pariah King of Comics can get to be a drag and the idea that I might just be headed down the exit ramp was fine by me. "If I keep going downhill like this, I could actually be Out of Here by the end of January."

Cool beans!

There really wasn't much that I could do, so I'd recite my prayer and when I was done, I'd recite it again. I'd drift off for strange brief periods like ten minutes or twelve minutes and then snap wide awake. It was only two weeks in where I had actually managed one morning to sleep for a two-hour stretch—what a sense of accomplishment!—that it sunk in exactly how strange this ailment was. "I've basically been wide awake for two weeks." My mind and brain were really, really slow but at that point I started wondering (really, really slowly) about sleep deprivation. I mean it isn't natural to not sleep for two weeks but it's even more unnatural to not really feel any ill effects from it. No delusions, no hallucinations, no light-strobing in the corner of your eyes, no paranoia. Just really, really slow thought processes. I never doubted my faith in God or came anywhere close to recrimination against God ("God, after all my faith and prayers how can you DO this to me?"). It seems to me one of those things about faith in God that the more you have the more you pretty much anticipate that life is going to be something of an ordeal when the time comes for that. The Job Rule seems to me to always be in effect. The more you have absolute faith in God, the more you become a potential contending ground against God's adversary. "Sure he's got faith in You now, but take away his ability to think, take away his health, his mobility and see how much faith he has then." Well, quite simply it didn't work. "Unto death" was my simple response. If that's what this was: I was dying of a stroke or a brain tumour then that's what it was. It would be hard not to see it as a failing grade on my report card being that abrupt: I had guessed wrong too many times, had written way too many controversial Blog & Mails in way too short a space of time and now I was being taken out of the game because I was over-throwing all my pitches. Trying too hard and missing. Well, so be it. I had no cause for complaint. Especially in the last ten years of my life, I had made each of my own calls every step along the way. People had tried to get in the way and tried to coerce me into different paths but I couldn't say with a straight face that any of them had had any success. No, all of my decisions were my decisions. "Dave Sim Fails at Fifty." Well, okay, Dave Sim fails at fifty.

What was interesting was that this was also my first month running Aardvark-Vanaheim completely on my own with Ger's decision to leave the company at the end of 2006. I suspect that might have been part of God's point: even with my diminished capacity where I had to plan one or two half hour stints per day a day ahead of time just getting the basics done -- bills still had to get paid, invoices had to be sent out, the mail still needed to be picked up -- I was able to run Aardvark-Vanaheim even though I was flat on my back for the better part of a month. I shepherded the first printing of a Cerebus trade paperback anywhere outside of Preney Print & Litho. A FedEx package came in containing three copies of the fourth printing of Form & Void from Lebonfon in Montreal -- and they did an excellent job! The mail piled up. I'd take a cab to the post office and back once a week (I'm putting on my coat and the scarf Linda Parker knitted me. I'm standing in the doorway waiting for the cab. I WILL remain vertical and I WILL walk out to the cab and get in when it gets here) and just pull out the cheques and the bills that needed to be dealt with. Mid-month was about the worst: it actually took me the better part of an hour to write four cheques, put them in envelopes and put postage on them. Mid-month I'd get the newspaper in the morning and force myself to read the headlines on the front page until I understood what they said. Then I'd flip through the front section in about ten seconds and go back to bed where I would lie awake repeating my prayer over and over and having these weird eight to ten minute naps every two hours or so.

Finally, whatever the mystery ailment was was... well, not gone, but no longer had a stranglehold on me... and about two o'clock one morning in the third week, I went upstairs and started tracing the Jaka figure for the commissioned piece. What an adventure that turned out to be. I had to do everything at least eight times before it was even remotely close to what I intended. "It's a picture of Jaka, Dave. You can draw Jaka in your sleep." Maybe so, but this morning? Not so much.

It was interesting because by that point I had such a clear mental image of what the piece was supposed to look like that it became hard to tell if I was doing everything eight times because I was still sick and incompetent or if I was doing everything eight times because I wasn't going to rest until this picture looked exactly the way it did in my mind's eye. I had done the "Vark Wars" lettering in a double outline, as an example, and intended to colour between the two lines. As I looked at it, though, I could see that the space for the outline was off about a sixteenth of an inch. It needed to be a little bit wider. Not too wide. I didn't want the lettering to be the first thing you saw. I wanted the first impression to be of a nice Al Williamson splash panel. Only once that had registered did I want the viewer to see the "Vark Wars" lettering. I don't know how long it actually took me to expand that outline by a sixteenth of an inch, but it definitely took a while. Then I filled in all of the areas where the space backdrop would show through with brushed in solid black—as close to the pencil lines as I could get -- and then filled in the remaining spaces with a Hunt 102 instead of a rapidograph. Using a Hunt 102 to fill in solid blacks. Only a very sick and/or very obsessive person could come up with something like that and stick with it, but I wanted every straight edge as straight as an arrow. My inner Al Williamson was watching closely. I wanted every corner as sharp as I could get it, coming to a precise point with no extraneous line intruding or extending beyond where it was supposed to be. I was also determined not to have to white anything out. I was aiming for an Al Williamson level of accuracy and precision and I can't think of a higher level of accuracy and precision than that. I forget how long that took. I also made the choice to not outline the Vark Wars lettering in black which added a whole other level of precision to the inking stage. I forget how long that took. I remember it took the better part of a day to colour Jaka's fleshtones, adding layer upon layer of light orange, pink, pink and yellow blended, building it up and building it up. Bright! Brighter! Brightest! Al Williamson Bright! After a month you forget how good it feels to be actually drawing and to have the picture coming out right how it would colour your entire day so you didn't even think about strokes and brain tumours. I'd just sit and look at it while I was getting my shoes on (which meant I had plenty of time: putting on my shoes took a while) or waiting for a cab or getting ready to actually walk downtown on one of my "half-hour of health" sojourns. Looking at all the sharp lines, looking at that bright colour of Jaka's fleshtone and the pretty close match on the slave girl skirt colour.

"Don't screw it up, now" I'd think, looking at everything else that needed to be done.

John had asked when I wanted to get paid and I told him to send a cheque. The cheque came in Monday and at that point there was a sense of obligation. Nothing worse than getting paid for a piece and to have it sitting there three quarters done. What if I have a relapse? So I spent most of Monday working on it. I mean, literally most of Monday. I woke up almost exactly at midnight with the Sabbath over and I went out and sat down and worked on it, inch by painstaking inch from midnight to roughly three-thirty when the newspaper arrived which I was finally able to read from front to back while resting in bed. Apart from picking up the mail, I had nothing planned for my "half hours of health" on Monday, so I alternated resting in bed (and actually sleeping for a change!) with each inch by painstaking inch of the picture. And then, unbelievably, twenty-two hours later it was done. And apart from a few minor glitches, it was about as precise and accurate a piece of work as I've ever done.

In fact, I'm so pleased with it, that I decided to make it this year's Thanks for Showing Up Print at SPACE in Columbus, Ohio (i.e. it will only be available at the show). I'm getting 50 high quality cardstock colour photocopies done of it and I'm going to sign and number them and sell them exclusively at SPACE for $20 each. Except the #1 out of 50 which I'm going to auction on eBay. If I have any of them left over, I'll sell the remainder at Torontocon.

Just called and told John Higashi that his commission is done and chatted with him a bit about his art collection. Has he gotten a lot of these Star Wars commissions done? Turns out he's been collecting them since 2000 and at this point he has (get this) SIX HUNDRED individual Star Wars pieces that he's commissioned. You think I'm kidding? Click on ComicArtFans... and he tells me that you can see just about all of them. Since I know most of the Cerebus Yahoos are raving Star Wars fans as well, I figured I better mention it.

It's a funny thing about drawing. It exists in a world all its own. Out of the six thousand pages of Cerebus, I can tell you what was happening in my life on the day I drew the page with maybe a half dozen of them. If that.

I wonder if that will be true of the Sickbed Star Wars Commission? Probably not, now that I've told the whole story here. But I've forgotten other pages that I thought I would always associate with specific events.

And, at one point in the depths of my feverishness I thought, "Lord Julius as a WOOKIE!" Now I'm never going to my final rest in peace until I get THAT one out of my system.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Star Wars: Cease & Desist


DAVE SIM:
(from Cerebus Bi-Weekly #1, December 1988)
The inside back cover of Cerebus 1 featured an ad for a Star Wars portfolio by Gene Day. When permission to do the portfolio was denied by Lucusfilms, all copies of the portfolio were destroyed except for Gene Day's personal copies which are in the possession of the Gene Day Estate.


 

Friday, 18 December 2015

Weekly Update #113: In The Court Of The Comic King


Comics? We've got comics! Boxes? We've got boxes! Boxes of comics? We've got boxes of comics! Watch in awe as we take an all-too-brief tour of Wes Hagen's Warehouse of Wonders. Also, a quick look at the recently-organized boxes of all of the remaining issues of Dave Sim's Cerebus. Lots of work to do, but we're getting there...

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Talking With Dave

MARGARET LISS:
A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

We've looked at Dave Sim's notebook #21 twice before, most recently on August 13 in "Calling Dave Sim". With titles like "Calling Dave Sim" and now "Talking With Dave", you've probably deduced that this notebook deals with the phonebook Minds, issues 197 to 211 to be specific.

I have a text file with 'ideas for which pages to use' and one stated "Notebook 21 p025, 026. . .what Dave says to Cerebus at the end of minds".  So I went back to take a look, and it is actually pages 25 through 30, a total of six pages. The text on page 25 of the notebook starts on page 251 of Minds, or issue #199 page 5 if you're following along in the monthly installments.

Though while the dialogue in the notebook is similar to the finished product, it isn't the same. The line on the notebook that was crossed out "When was the last time you asked someone about themselves?" didn't make the cut.

Notebook 21, page 25
The last line on the page "What other ending have you written for yourself" was changed to "what other ending to your story makes sense to you? Think about it."

As far as I can tell the next page didn't make it in Dave's talk with Cerebus.

Notebook 21, page 26
Neither did some of the next page, though the 'Why did you create Cerebus" did show up.  Dave answers that the same way he did on the notebook page, though with some extra dialogue on the notebook page. He also poses the next question in both the notebook and the finished page: "Why do you keep telling Cerebus's story?"

Notebook 21, page 27
On the finished page Dave answers that question with "basic curiosity" of what Cerebus was going to do next. On the notebook page, he says "to try to reach an understanding I guess. One of the commonest questions in the world is 'how can God let so much pain exist!?!"

Next week, page 28 though 30 and the rest of Dave's response.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

One For Sorrow

Book One: Secrets (2006)
by Lee Thacker
DAVE SIM:
(from the introduction to One For Sorrow Book One, December 2005)
I couldn't quite believe it when Lee Thacker referred (quite casually and in various spots) to his 800-page graphic novel in another publication of his which he sent me (My Year, a daily diary he was keeping in comics form): his completed 800-page graphic novel One For Sorrow. In commenting on the initial work, I -- in an equally casual fashion -- mentioned that I was interested in reading it and wondered if he was willing to trade for a copy. He has to produce them on a photocopier individually so it seemed a little presumptuous to just ask him to assemble one for me gratis. They arrived -- eight hand-bound volumes of 100 pages each -- a couple of days into Ramadan. I read the first handful of pages and realized it was distinctly not Ramadan reading material and put it aside. And then I never got around to picking up the first one again until Ramadan had been over for a number of weeks. On the one hand unforgivable but on the other hand, hey, it is an 800-page graphic novel.

I motored through it in about a week of reading in between getting my regular work done. It wasn't oppressive in the sense of being completely amateurish. Reading 800 pages of amateur material would really be pushing the limits of endurance. Lee's artwork exists on an interesting borderline between amateur and professional. Mostly he reminds me of early Jaime Hernandez and Adrian Tomine both in terms of his subject matter and in terms of his drawing style which is a very difficult style to master. You do the face in a mere handful of lines and how it comes out depends on any number of variables. Overall there's improvement but it is fitful. A handful of pages that compete with the best that Jaime and Adrian bring to their work and then flattening out (intentionally?) into something more iconic that owes more to Charles Burns. It makes full use of icons, One For Sorrow does.

The story is its greatest strength. To whatever extent it isn't locked into a pure "eye candy" motif the story is going to have to be strong enough to carry the reader through and One For Sorrow certainly is. With most early attempts at a graphic novel, you're going to get a lot of traditional story and storytelling devices with a few good moments here and there. The situation with my own reading of One For Sorrow was the reverse. The whole thing is incredibly inventive and engaging with a mere handful of sequences that I would characterize as traditional. That's no mean trick the first time out of the gate. The story is told out of sequence (the Prologue comes almost at the end -- you can't get much further out of order -- or more inventive -- than that) and there any number of moments where I would think "Nope, he's lost the thread" and have to remind myself that this is an unpublished creator, I have to lower my expectations, etc. And virtually every time -- not all the time -- but virtually every time it would turn out that he was being intentionally confusing -- losing the reader in a general sense rather than me specifically -- and then the events would start falling into place again. I get it, I get it. And the Need To Know What Happens Next was pretty much relentless from the first twenty pages onward. It was only when I was done reading the book that I read his annotations and found out that in his youth, he had gone from reading the Fantastic Four to reading Cerebus to reading Love & Rockets to reading Howard Chaykin's Big Black Kiss in a very short space of time. That explains a great deal when you are discussing a germinating graphic novelist and what that would lead him to attempt.

What would be a good litmus test of whether or not you would want to buy your own copy of One For Sorrow? I'd say buy the first one and if you can stand not knowing what happens next when you come to the end of the first 100 pages, then I've missed my guess and you'll only be out the 8 quid (roughly 16 dollars American). There were a number of times in the course of my reading when I had to reassure myself "It's all here -- beginning, middle and end." Had he sent me only, say, the first five volumes as a work in progress I would've been sweating bullets partway through the fifth one. I say this by way of warning because if your reaction is the same as mine or roughly the same as mine and you order, say, the first two and come to the end you're probably going to try and phone Lee and get him to act the rest out over the phone or get him to FedEx the other six volumes to you and imagine how much that's going to cost?

When he writes in his notes for Book Three "The Big Issue": `Matt Silvie at Fantagraphics corresponded with me for some time and eventually wrote a very flattering review in The Comics Journal [issue 205] This caught the attention of a handful of people, including British Small Press legend Paul Gravett. He phoned me out of the blue one day asking if I'd be interested in contributing to `CRISP' a now defunct annual `comics happening' in London. I sent him some pages for the exhibition and Kirstie and I got soaked running through London one weekend trying to find the gallery. It was small, nobody was there, and my stuff was displayed downstairs with no explanation of who I was or what the story was about. The pages had been spray mounted onto thick card and hung on the wall. They weren't even in glass frames! I was gutted. But it was a thrill all the same. That was my only moment of fame during the entire time it took to complete this project. No wonder I became reticent to carry on in later years'.

There is really something in that. If it's extremely unlikely that someone would finish an 800-page graphic novel in the first place it seems (at least!) doubly unlikely once the lack of reaction is factored in. Kirstie, his long-time girlfriend, was virtually his only reader throughout.

So, anyway, fair warning. If you want the whole thing it will cost you roughly $128 US and I'm pretty sure that if you read the first one you'll pay it, uncomplainingly. I could have been a real "smarty- boots" and just suggested that you all buy the first one KNOWING that the $16 initiation would lead directly to the $128 investment but I'm being as up-front as I can. And look at it this way -- each copy will be put together by hand and autographed by Lee himself. And what do you suppose those will be going for in twenty years time when One For Sorrow finally gets the wider distribution it deserves?

Yes, exactly.