Saturday, 24 June 2017

Dave Sim: Warhol, Hal Foster & The Right Of First Refusal

26 February 06

Dear Robert:

Thanks for your letter of 15 February.

I always have to temper my criticism of Warhol with the fact that he did, indeed, make a mark and that he had to swim upstream a fair distance to do so. He certainly ultimately got marketplace revenge on everyone who said that paintings of Campbell’s soup cans couldn’t under any circumstances be considered art (if nothing else) and it IS almost fifty years later which is quite a span to still have credibility. Same with bringing High and Low and Pop and Fine Art within hailing distance of each other with some interesting net effects. It did a disservice to comic books by marginalizing them as “camp” -- a catch-all category for homosexuals to put things they thought to be beneath them. But it meant that we were still there (with our pasted-on clown nose) when irony became unfashionable in the post-9/11 and comic books proved to be one of the few non-ironic environments left: A whole subculture of people who believed (and believe!) in the intrinsic nobility of guys in leotards wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes and behaving like vigilantes. You can’t get much more UN-ironic than that.

I didn’t know that Roy Lichtenstein had served under Irv Novick and I agree that would have made an interesting interview. It might worth tracking down family members and guys he worked with to see if he ever mentioned anything. It must’ve come up on a semi-regular basis from the 1960s on, you would guess.

I had no idea that Brian Kane was doing a book on Bob Peak. I was very hard on Brian, I’m afraid, at a SPACE party at the Laughing Ogre a couple (a few?) years back, going through the Foster book page by page and critiquing his choice of illustrations using a number of pieces when he didn’t have either the original or a good copy to shoot from -- the whole point of the book for me was to see Foster’s actual pen and brush strokes on slick paper and any page where he had a 5th generation copy or a bad stat instead of an original or a proof was just like an ice pick in my brain and, of course, there was too much family stuff in there for my taste. I read the book again when I was asked to deliver the acceptance speech for Foster's Shuster Hall of Fame Award last year and I realized that it was actually a very good book. It wasn’t my kind of book but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t any good. And Foster was enough of a family man (or a good husband, anyway) that Brian’s book would probably be a lot closer to how he saw himself than anything that I could have put together. So all I can do is to hope that Bob Peak is represented only by originals and clear proof copies and that I’ll get to find out the names of his children and see what his Christmas cards looked like and maybe some vacation snaps with his wife. I’ll buy it on the same basis as the Foster book. If there are only ten clear images with world-class reproduction, that will tell me how much each of them cost. I think the Foster book proved to be about five dollars a page for me. And I agree about your assessment of Arn Saba’s interview of Foster being superior. I’ve really got to dig up my copy [The Comics Journal #102, September 1985] and reread it now that you’ve mentioned it.

As regards your question of "right of first refusal" I don’t think that was really the issue that Gary addressed as directly as he did. Basically what he was saying is “Look, if the creators as a general rule don’t feel obligated to live up to their side of the bargain, there’s not much purpose in fine-tuning the bargain or inventing a new form of bargain. The problem isn’t the nature of the bargain, the problem is the unwillingness to observe the terms of the bargain.” Which I have to say was pretty astute and miles beyond my own thinking. “What are we trying not to tell ourselves here?” The answer was, as far as I can see, “Creators are generally dishonest and dishonourable people” for a number of understandable reasons. The urge to be published, period, when you aren’t being published outweighs everything else. The average creator will literally sign anything just to get his book green-lighted. Once the book is out there, the creator finds out that he could get more. He could be published by a larger publisher, he could get better terms and he goes from abjectly grateful to bitterly resentful. He thinks of himself as having been fooled into agreeing to too little. His incompetent publisher is standing in the way of his success. A little vanity goes a long way with most creators, too. No matter what his book is selling he always believes it would sell more if it was advertised more or if there was more promotion and he becomes a sucker for people who promise that. There’s no such thing as impunity, though, and I think we’ve ended up in the situation we’re in because of those collective creator decisions. Having that many creators act that extensively in bad faith over that many years brought about what it brought about -- the smaller publishers like Gary Reed folded their tents and now all the creators have is Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image none of which are known for taking a chance on unproven or marginalised talent. What Gary showed me was that the question isn’t “How can we keep the Big Four from exploiting creators?” so much as “We have no choice but to start over at square one and see if the creators behave better this time.” So far it doesn’t look very good. Using your own example, if non-famous Frank Miller becomes famous Frank Miller, he’s going to do whatever he damn well pleases and Dark Horse is going to have to just bite down on the fact that if Frank chooses to screw them there’s nothing they can do about it without looking like the heartless exploitative corporation. Where there is no way for the company to keep from being treated disadvantageously they get forced into a corner where they have to treat every project and every relationship as temporary so as to keep from getting caught with their pants down as Gary Reed was just for playing fair and square. It’s a real problem because too many of the ‘givens’ are working at cross-purposes. Creator vanity and desperation are built in to the equation. “If it’s in the best interests of my own creativity and longevity to cripple you, I’ll just have to cripple you. Sorry.” As Larry Marder once said to me “The comic-book field is filled with charming, ruthless people.” Which is really true and also built in. It can take five years to finish a decent graphic novel and the creator is going to be charming and ruthless about doing the best for himself and this book it took him five years to finish and the publishers are going to be charming and ruthless because so few projects are “in play” at any given time. A viable finished graphic novel is like bleeding meat in the water in an environment largely made up of various breeds of shark.

I’m waiting to see what else Al sends me once he has a website exclusively dedicated to Creator’s rights issues, but right now the Gary Reed model seems like the most accurate one. If the creators aren’t going to demonstrate a fundamental loyalty over fixed periods of time and a “playing fair” approach with the guys who took a chance on them -- in a general behavioural sense -- then they will have gotten what they deserved, however unhappy that makes them.

Thanks again for writing.



From "Dave Sim's Collected Letters 2006", a Cerebus Archive Kickstarter reward.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Weekly Update #188: The Pork Knight Secret

Aardvark Comics #1-- Eternal Torment, the Last Wednesday of Every Month!

Order at your Local Comics Shop now! Diamond Order Code: JUL171242.

ICYMI: Sim On Trump

(from an AMOC Comment, 21 June 2017)
...I think President Trump BELIEVES everything that he says. I think that's what got him the presidency. I think what everyone overlooks is that he lost once through the whole election cycle. In my experience -- as a political junkie of 50 years standing -- that's unheard of. HOW did he do that? Sheer impenetrable BELIEF in self, I think.

And that, I think, stems from his experience on THE APPRENTICE franchise. Reality TV is all staged. It's performance art. He spent more than a decade (no, really, THINK about that) watching himself on TV and doing different takes of anything that he didn't see as being HIM. What got the ratings, what didn't. This is what DJT looks like when he says this. This is what DJT looks like when he says that. And he learned concision. You've got 21.6 seconds to communicate this before you say "You're fired!" HOW do you say that in 21.6 seconds? (that's why he took to Twitter: "this is the only way to DO this job. This is like TV but more finely-tuned")

The Democrats are going to have to find someone who has that same skill set for 2020. What Democrat has the decade-plus experience of creating themselves on a Reality TV franchise? And is interested in the job? Pretty short list, I would guess...

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Blasphemous Lies

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 only looked at Dave Sim's notebook #28 once before in June of 2015. The notebook was labeled as Cerebus #227, but covers more of Rick's Story, and as I looked at it, I saw some of one of my favorite Cerebus issues: Cerebus #244.

Pages #23 and 24 are just text, some crossed out and more written in. They would become a couple pages in the chapter called Singularity in F. Stop's novel Pleasure's Simple Life.

Notebook #28 page 23

Notebook #28 page 24
The pages are from the middle of Cerebus #244, pages 12 and 13 - or Going Home pages 258 and 259.

Pleasure's Simple Life pages 55 & 56

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 20

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Part 20
Still Working With Multi-generation Sources


This is the twentieth installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.

And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!


Last week, we left off on our script with splitting off copies of our original upscaled scan. Now we're going to apply separate treatments to each of those layers in the hopes of making a script that can prepare our scan for a wide variety of needs (and with the scans themselves having a lot of variation to them). If you have nothing but time you might not script any of this, just use these different techniques on a case by case basis.

First, select the "noise reduction" layer. As you saw last week, this scan is fairly noisy, owing to its origins as some ink on newsprint. Generally, anything you can do to reduce this noise manually also has a negative effect on the areas of detail. But there are some exceptions that'll effect things minimally, in most situations.

We're going to use the filter Surface Blur. Go to Filter-> Noise -> Surface Blur to bring up the dialogue.

Surface Blur is a really powerful tool, but has a pretty simple interface. It spreads a blurriness over the image at the Radius you set, affecting or not affecting varying amounts of contrast, depending on the Threshold. The larger the Radius, the wider the spread of the effect. The lower the Threshold, the more areas it effects.

Play around with the control until you get something that reduces your noise without impacting your details (or not very much, anyway. There's a reason we're working with two layers here). You might find that it helps you to temporarily turn on your Threshold Adjustment layer while you do this, so you can see what the effect will actually be when your file is a bitmap.

Next, still on the same layer. we'll take another counter-intuitive step and use Unsharp Mask on the layer. Treat it normally, just as you would have with previous applications, but be sure to very carefully set the Threshold of the effect so that it's not undoing any of the work you did with the Surface Blur tool!
Now run Surface Blur again. (And unless you live in the future, where computers are much faster, you're probably now getting why I recommended you script all of this. These processor-intensive plugins really eat into your time!)

And here's the result.

As to whether it's really worth it, that depends on how detailed the artwork is you're trying to replicate, and how much of a time crunch you have. I used this because I could-- I just threw it in the script, and when this layer (or a section of this layer) was useful, I used it. And certainly someone looking to do a bunch of work in a hurry while still keeping most detail could do a lot worse than this. But my opinion as to how useful it was definitely changed over time...

Anyway, our second layer is our "Sharpened" layer. We're going to treat it exactly the same as we have other materials in the past, so go ahead and reread the relevant sections from previous installments if you're unsure. The only real caveat is that the very noisy blacks can mean that your sharpening brings out a lot more undesired artifacts than normal, causing that noise to be captured in a way that it wouldn't otherwise.

Okay, now that I'm done sharpening (lightly) my "sharpened" layer, I'm going to select the "cleanup" layer and then turn off the script. The script is done! Now all that's left is our cleanup.

Just like when we discussed cleanup of original artwork, there are a ton of ways to address the basic problems—

1. Strengthening up the solid black areas while 2. Keeping as much detail as possible.

When I'm faced with a page I'm restoring from newsprint, the first thing I do is hold the actual print copy I'm restoring from and scan my eyes across the page, looking for any special areas of interest. Any really tiny fine lines? Any color noise/paper noise that my eye might accidentally read as detail now that I'm looking at it in black and white on a screen? Any splatter or teeny tiny tone or other things that need to be addressed in a special way?

First thing first, I'll use the lasso tool (L) to grab any of these specialty areas, and copy and paste them onto their own layer for safe keeping.

Then I'll start the standard, "Do this on every page" kinds of things. Make a Marquee (M) selection of the entirety of the "outside the panel" section of the page, and fill this with white (G for Paint Bucket tool). Do the same (except filling with black) for any large, Marquee-appropriate black areas. And then, before anything else happens, do some careful analysis of my "noise reduction" layer versus my "sharpened" layer, clicking them on and off, zooming in on various areas and seeing how they compare to each other. 

Then we're going to do something very simple—we're going to take the eraser tool (or make a layer mask and use the same procedure) and erase through the "sharpened" layer to reveal the "noise reduction" layer underneath, to whatever degree that's useful to us, essentially keeping the best of the sharpened layer and getting rid of the worst.

After you've done this, bring up the Burn and Dodge tools and use those to eliminate any remaining amounts of noise you'd like to. (See previous installments for more details on settings, etc).

...and the rest will have to wait for next week!

To download the scan we've been working with, go here and click on "Load Full Resolution File"

Next week: Cleaning up the mess!

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

YDKJ! Update: Ctherpes ridden Assathoth


Been plugging away at issue #1 of You Don't Know Jack: Two-Fisted Comic Store Manager for the last couple of months and am a couple small drawings away from being done.

I just finished up the most difficult image required so far for either book and figured that was a good reason to report in.

We needed a drawing of Cthulu for a gag. This was problematic for me. I have always disliked images of Lovecraftian horrors. Lovecraft is one of the rare prose writers I do like, exactly because his work relies so heavily on the formal nature of prose. He is so good at conveying impossible horrors that shatter perception so it strikes me as a betrayal of the work to inscribe an image of said impossible horrors. "A big nasty octopus thing? Ooooo, soooo scary."

Anyway, we needed a Cthulu, so I drew a big, nasty, octopus thing...

...and tried to toe a fine line between being able to still see the thing and having everything be a bit too cluttered and low in contrast to fully perceive. Besides, I know Sean Robinson will do magic with the pre-press and preserve an insane level of resolution in all of that clutter.

Even with all of the purposeful cluttering I felt the image still looked far too standard. I wanted more confusion. The phrase "fearsome geometries" popped into my head (is that a Lovecraft phrase?) so I set out to add a kaleidoscope effect to the whole thing.

Using Photoshop I messed about with some photos and created the following pattern.

That was placed over top of the drawing on a separate layer, the white areas used to select the drawing below, and the resulting selection flipped horizontally along a vertical axis. That got me where I wanted to be.

Somewhere under all of that chaos there are the strict symmetries of the kaleidoscope, but hell if I can see them, which satisfied my need to try to capture the true horror at the center of the Lovecraftian mythos as I see it, the re-consumption of order by chaos.

A very sick part of me has the urge to re-draw the whole thing as it looks with the digital shenanigans applied to it, but there are better things to do.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Swords Of Cerebus Vol 6: Cerebus #23-25

Published between 1981 and 1984, Dave’s six Swords of Cerebus volumes were his first attempt to collect the book in a more permanent form. He gave each story included in these volumes a prose introduction, explaining where the book stood when he’d been working on that particular issue and how he was thinking of its prospects at the time. This is the second of Swords volume 6’s three introductions, so make the most of it – we’re nearly at the finish line. Also check out the full 'Swords Of Cerebus' Introductions Index.

The news Dave refers to near the end of this intro is the murder of John Lennon, who was shot dead on December 8, 1980. For more on Dave’s Rochester trip, see his intro to The Morning After.

“I had decided to make Chris X. Claremont this enormous negative force
who wants to destroy everything around him,” says Dave.

Next week: Spunky, the Charming Giant

Sunday, 18 June 2017

James Kochalka's Cerebus!

"I did this drawing of Dave Sim's Cerebus for someone recently"
by James Kochalka
(via Twitter, May 2017)

Cerebus vs Sophie The Dog

Cerebus vs Sophie The Dog (2017)
Art by Gerhard

Gerhard's 2017 Convention & Signing Itinerary:

Keep up to date with Gerhard's latest news at Gerz Blog!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Chester Brown: Reasons For Thinking That Sex-Work Is Wrong

Cerebus In Hell? #4 (April 2017)
by Dave Sim & Sandeep Atwal

A Fake Name's Reasons For Thinking That Sex-Work Is Wrong 
by Chester Brown 
(first published on Patreon, 14 June 2017)

In response to my request, the individual who goes by the name A Fake Name has politely explained why he-or-she thinks sex-work is morally wrong and should be illegal over on A Moment Of Cerebus.

When I'm quoting other people in this piece, I'll do so in italics, but I'll put A Fake Name's positions in bold type, like this:
"Prostitution is damaging to men because it’s saying they can’t attract a woman on their own."
In relation to this proposition, we can broadly divide the clients of sex-workers into four types of guys.

Type One: According to sex-workers, the majority of their clients are men who are married or are in a romantic relationship. They’re not guys who can’t attract a romantic partner, they’re guys who have attracted one and yet want to have sex with sex-workers for a variety of reasons.

Type Two: Some guys can get romantic partners, but see sex-workers in-between serious romantic relationships.

Type Three: There are also guys (like me) who are not in a romantic relationship, who do not want to be in romantic relationships, and who prefer being with sex-workers. I've had girl-friends, so I know the difference between being in a romantic relationship and paying for sex, and I like the latter better. So it’s not emotionally “damaging” for me (and other Type Three guys) to pay for sex, quite the opposite.

Type Four: Of course, there are some guys who want romantic partners but can’t attract them and visit sex-workers as a substitute. But sex-work and sex-workers have not caused the problem there. The problem is the inability of those guys to attract romantic partners. Blaming sex-work for that is misplacing the blame.

(Not all clients of sex-workers fit into those four categories. For one thing, some clients are women. And some clients have unusual circumstances, like the guy who was a virgin, got cancer, and wanted to get laid before he died. His story, written by his twin sister, can be found at under the name MsLeigh, posted March 1st 2017.)
"Instead of honest self-assessment and fixing things within themselves, [the clients of prostitutes have] chosen to pay for a fleeting illusion, knowing any orgasm and accompanying feelings are based on a financial transaction, creating a mental and emotional dissonance. In place of self-improvement, putting in the effort to be a better version of themselves, thereby increasing their confidence, achieving more in life and thus attracting women they’d want to have sex and relationships with, they’ve settled for a damaging shortcut."
The assumption here seems to be that, if sex-work didn’t exist, Type Four guys would be forced to better themselves and would then be able to get romantic partners, so, therefore, sex-work is bad. The thing is, Type Four guys want romance but can’t figure out how to get it. Even if all sex-workers magically disappeared from the planet, the majority of Type Four guys would still not be able to get romantic partners. I have a friend who’s a Type Four guy who pays for sex regularly. Believe me, he put lots of effort into trying to find a girlfriend before he resorted to paying sex-workers. Sex-work wasn’t responsible for his failure with women. He doesn’t feel “damaged” by sex-work — he’s glad it gives him a way to experience sexual intimacy despite the fact that he can’t find a girlfriend.

There are actually some guys out there who were Type Four guys and who, through their interactions with sex-workers, were able to learn how to be with women, and, as a result, were then able to attract girlfriends. (There’s a story very similar to this at but it’s about a woman who was having difficulty relating to men but wanted a romantic relationship. So she hired a male sex-worker, and her experiences with this guy led her to feel “at home in my body, able to not just tolerate another’s touch, but enjoy and relish the sensation of skin on skin.” As a result, she was able to start dating and found a guy she’s now been married to for two years. Her story’s under the name Sheila and was posted on April 23rd 2017.) Far from damaging, as I've said before, sex-work often has therapeutic value.
"On top of that, men risk developing feelings for a prostitute, deluding themselves and missing out on real opportunities with the opposite sex. Unrequited love is bad enough without having to pay for it.”
It does happen that some clients fall in love with sex-workers, and such a client can imagine that his sex-worker loves him back. A lot of sex-workers wouldn’t lead on such a client, but some would — this happened to two guys I know. (Neither of them is the friend I mentioned above.) But these sorts of guys sooner or later figure out that the sex-worker doesn’t really romantically love them. (Having to continue to pay for sex is usually a clue.) If such a guy has “real [romantic] opportunities with” non-sex-workers while he's in love with a sex-worker, then he’ll likely still have real opportunities after he realizes that the sex-worker doesn’t love him. The two guys I mentioned who fell in love with sex-workers and were taken advantage of by them? Both of those situations happened several years ago. One of the guys hasn’t seen a sex-worker since then, but, even though he wants a girlfriend, he hasn’t found one in the intervening years, so I very much doubt he missed any opportunities for real love during the few months that he was in love with that sex-worker. The other guy has seen a few sex-workers since then, but not many. He’d like a girlfriend too, but knowing this guy well (he’s a friend) I can assure you that his inability to attract women has nothing to do with seeing sex-workers. I’m completely positive that he didn’t miss any romantic opportunities while he was in love with a sex-worker.

And this says nothing about the profession in general. The fact that some sex-workers can exploit the emotional vulnerability of some clients doesn’t mean that all sex-work is wrong. There are people who pretend to be in love with someone in order to marry for money, but that doesn’t mean that all marriage is wrong.
"While it’s quite possible one can switch from prostitute/client to a relationship, I’m skeptical since the beginning of the relationship comes down to: Would she have fucked you if you hadn’t pay her? […] I doubt any relationship in which the man directly pays the woman can ever be as legitimate as those who don’t, the obligation casting a shadow over any and all interactions."
I have a female friend (who is NOT a sex-worker) who has a well-paying job and, many years ago, was able to buy a relatively large condo. She met a guy who seemed very loving and affectionate. He didn’t make as much money as she did, but that wasn’t an issue for her because his personality seemed so wonderful. So they decided to live together, and he moved into her place. (Given his financial situation, he’d been renting a much smaller apartment.) They seemed like the perfect couple. Only years later did she admit to me that, as soon as he moved in, his personality changed — he became cold and unaffectionate when they were alone. She didn’t speculate about this to me, but I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ever loved her. It seemed to me like he'd been pretending to be a certain kind of guy in order to get her to want him to move in with her. Once that was accomplished, and he was ensconced in a nicer setting (one in which he didn’t have to pay rent), he felt able to be his real, unloving self.

What I'm saying is that financial concerns also cast a shadow over a lot of romantic relationships between people who have no connection to sex-work. There are a lot of romantic relationships between people who are financially unequal. Even romantic partners who are financially equal can and do fight over money. Despite the experience of my above-mentioned female friend, there are good romantic relationships between financial unequals. If one can recognize that that can be true for romantic relationships, then one should also be able to recognize that there are good (non-romantic) relationships between sex-workers and clients who are financial unequals.

Aside from my own experience with Denise, I’ve read many sincere, heartfelt declarations of affection for their favourite clients written by sex-workers in various books and on the internet. I don’t doubt that sex-workers can genuinely like their clients. An example can be found in this interview with Annie Sprinkle
“I had this client I’ll call Samuel. […] I saw him steadily for twenty years [….] Over twenty years you really get to know someone. […] He was someone I wouldn’t be having sex with had he not been paying me. But I cared about him deeply and genuinely wanted to know about how his life was going. […] Looking back I’d have to say it was definitely a type of long-term relationship. The only reason it ended was because I moved out of New York. He was a great guy. […] He was a client, and also a friend. Such things are more common than people might think.”
Since Annie’s relationship with Samuel sounds very similar to the one I have with Denise, I know she’s right that “such things are more common than people might think."

It’s inconsistent to use financial dependence as a reason to dismiss real connections between sex-workers and their favourite clients while ignoring that financial concerns also affect romantic relationships. If one uses financial dependence to argue that all sex-work is wrong, one should be condemning all romantic relationships for the same reason.

Another thing to mention is that the financial inequality between sex-workers and clients often goes the other way. Many of the escorts I used to see (maybe all of them) made more money annually than I did (probably much more for most of them). When I first met Denise, she was certainly earning more than I was. An individual client, even a wealthy one, doesn’t really have much financial power over a popular sex-worker who already has many regular clients.
"What about the damaging effects on women? My experience is women are happiest inside a relationship if the man is perceived as worthy of their emotion and time. Sure prostitutes can compartmentalize clients from boyfriends/relationships but I still think they want to be loved. The romantic cliches exist because they are true and fundamental to how people are. There are always exceptions […] but most women want to be in a relationship. Brazen Lee said she’s a “…romantic at heart.” So even someone who sells sex for money still retains the primal drive to date, be in love. From a strictly utilitarian point of view, most men won’t be interested in a woman who has the level of sexual partners that a prostitute has. It may not seem fair, but I’m being honest, most men would be turned off. So, by being a prostitute she’s running the risk of ruining a shot at a real, longterm relationship.”
Sex-work is wrong because sex-workers are risking "ruining a shot at a real, longterm [sic] relationship”? Not all sex-workers want a conventional romantic relationship. Some of the ones who do want such relationships have been able to find them. Still, A Fake Name is right that sex-workers who want romantic partners have challenges finding them, but that doesn’t mean that sex-work is morally wrong — it means that our society has screwed up sexual values. A Fake Name states that people have “utilitarian” reasons for not getting romantically involved with sex-workers. From a utilitarian perspective, what is a romantic partner for? Sex-workers can be and usually are loving people. The prejudice against having a sex-worker for a romantic partner has nothing to do with their value as individuals or their ability to be loving partners and everything to do with an emotionally insecure reaction to the idea of a romantic partner having sex with someone else. This isn’t something to condemn sex-work for, it’s a reason to condemn our society’s immature sexual values. A change in our values — a change that would recognize and honour sex-workers for what they do — would make it easier for them to find romantic partners (male, female, or gender-fluid, depending on the orientation of the sex-worker). (A Fake Name seems to strangely assume that all female sex-workers are heterosexual.) (Would A Fake Name be making this argument about male sex-workers? And if he-or-she wouldn’t, does he-or-she think male sex-work is okay and should be legal?)

Since this is part of his-or-her justification keeping prostitution illegal, what A Fake Name is calling for here is social engineering. A Fake Name thinks that law-makers should recognize that, because most women supposedly want to be in monogamous heterosexual relationships, the law should force women to make choices that increase their chances of ending up in such relationships. For most sex-workers, engaging in the profession earns them more money than they could get doing any other sort of work. Sex-workers are aware that their occupation reduces their chances of finding a romantic partner. The ones who want such partners know that they’re balancing money against romance and that is a choice that should be left to them. No one else can say which they should be valuing more. Law-makers should not be trying to influence the choice by making one of the options illegal.

Stripped down to it’s essential point, A Fake Name is saying that sex-workers are making a mistake in choosing money (career) over romance, but these days lots of women who aren’t sex-workers are doing that. It’s not immoral for women to choose to focus on their careers at the expense of their love-lives.
"For women, accepting money for sex is saying you have no other way to generate money other than on the most base level of existence. That’s not mentally healthy in the longterm. […] Having sex, surrendering an intimate part of themselves to men who pay for it is mentally damaging in the long term.”
The assumption here is that sex-work is base and that all sex-workers would agree that it is. That’s not the case. Here’s ex-sex-worker Norma Jean Almodovar on the subject:
“On a scale of pain or pleasure human beings can inflict on each other, if murder, rape, and torture are the worst, certainly giving another person an orgasm must be among the best. I cannot fathom how one could think that making another human being feel good for a fee could be degrading or demeaning [….] I derive a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I’m turning some guy on”. [From the 1993 book Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do by the late, great Peter McWilliams.]
A sex-worker who agrees with A Fake Name that sex-work is base might find sex-work mentally damaging, but they might not. I’m sure there are people who clean toilets for money and consider it to be base and yet aren’t mentally damaged by doing that work. What mentally upsets people is going to vary widely from individual to individual. I heard a piece on the radio recently about the high incidence of violence that nurses face and how many of them are experiencing P-T-S-D as a result. The fact that some people in a profession will experience mental health problems as a result of doing that work doesn’t indicate that the profession as a whole is morally wrong and should be outlawed.

When there’s a stigma against a certain activity that causes mental health problems in people who engage in that activity, that doesn’t demonstrate that the activity itself is necessarily “base". As I wrote in Paying For It:
“Many gays prior to the sexual revolution experienced shame, depression, guilt, and disgust about being gay. That doesn’t mean that homosexuality is wrong, it means that, at a certain point in time, homosexuality was reviled, and many gays internalized the gay-negative values of the culture they lived in. Today, many prostitutes internalize the whoring-is-bad attitude of the culture we live in. That doesn’t mean that sex-work is bad.”
Counter-balancing the potential negative mental problems is the fact that sex-work can also benefitthe mental health of prostitutes, in large part because earning good money is good for one’s mental well-being. An article that addresses this is this one by ex-sex-worker Mitzi Poesner. From that piece:
“[C]ontrary to popular view of sex work, it is not a one way ticket to a breakdown. […]

“What drove me to sex work was a need to exist without aching poverty, to have time to see my many doctors, to work on being as healthy mentally and physically as possible, and to be able to claw back my life from the jaws of zero hours contracts and gaping overdrafts. You may see those things as separate to my mental health, but let me tell you: if you have never been poor you cannot understand the grip money holds you in. […]

“Sex work was messy, dirty, weird, confusing, and scary. It took me to places I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit again. But it also scooped me out of abject poverty and enabled me to start living life with joy.”
There can be other mental health benefits to being a sex-worker. In the interview with Annie Sprinkle that I linked to above, she says this:
“My johns adored and worshipped me, therefore they empowered me. When I was 18, 19, and 20, I had a poor self-image and needed attention. It’s hard for people who haven’t been prostitutes to imagine, but I think it’s often true.”
Back to A Fake Name:
“For society I think [prostitution] could damage civilization in ways I can’t quite explicate. A society with billboards advertising prostitution would be a place further down a spectrum of degradation.”
As Norma Jean implied in the quote that I reproduced above, consensual sex is generally good for people. A society that decriminalized prostitution would be a society in which more people would be having their sexual needs met. I think there’s a lot of unrecognized healing work going on in sex-work that benefits society in subtle ways.

As for the matter of billboards, there’s plenty of sexually suggestive advertising out there already. Using sex to sell sex seems more honest than using it to sell cars or beer. Such billboards wouldn’t have to be any more explicit than advertising already is.
"I don’t think prostitution should be legal […] but nor do I think the prostitution that Chester speaks of should be bothered by those in law enforcement.”
The easiest way to make sure that “the prostitution that Chester speaks of” isn’t “bothered by those in law enforcement” is to decriminalize sex-work between consenting adults. Why not? Especially since A Fake Name was not able to come up with good reasons for keeping it illegal. Let’s review A Fake Name’s reason’s again:
  1.  — Prostitution damages the clients who can’t attract a romantic partner.
  2.  — Clients fall in love with prostitutes and miss opportunities for real love.
  3.  — A sex-for-pay relationship can’t be as legitimate as other relationships since money can influence the sex-for-pay relationship.
  4.  — Women need romantic love and are less likely to get it if they’re prostitutes.
  5.  — Being paid for sex is base, so being a sex-worker it is mentally damaging.
  6.  — Decriminalized prostitution will “damage civilization”.
Reason One isn’t true. Reason Two is unlikely. Reason Three ignores the influence of money on other sorts of relationships. Reason Four is partially true, but societal attitudes are to blame for the problem, not sex-work. Reason Five is partially true, in that some sex-workers might feel that sex-for-pay is base, and they might, therefore, find the work to be emotionally difficult, but that’s offset by the fact that many other sex-workers do not think of prostitution as base, and many of them report that the work actually improves their mental health. Regarding Reason Six, A Fake Name honestly admits that he-or-she does not know what civilizational damage could result from decriminalizing sex-work.

A Fake Name doesn’t have strong reasons for thinking that sex-work should be illegal, but I appreciate that A Fake Name has made the attempt to explain why he-or-she thinks the profession is wrong, even if I don’t find his-or-her reasoning persuasive. And I admire A Fake Name’s civil (if sometimes exasperated and weary) tone throughout all of his-or-her comments on my posts. I hope A Fake Name has a sexual partner who brings him-or-her as much happiness as Denise brings me.


In the same comments section, Jeff Seiler writes:
“While it is an old, old joke, the statement remains valid: ‘You don’t pay a hooker for sex, you pay her to go away afterwards.’ "
Yes, it’s an old joke, but it has limited validity. I’m sure there are clients who, after their orgasm, want the sex-worker they’ve hired to go away, but almost any sex-worker will tell you that a sizeable percentage (probably the majority) of her-or-his clients would be only too happy to spend as much (unpaid) time hanging out with the sex-worker as she-or-he would allow.

According to Seiler:
“The culture of strippers and sex-workers […] includes a lot of damaged people."
It seems to me that we're all “damaged” in some way. Are sex-workers more damaged than other people? Not in my experience. People are at their most vulnerable — literally naked — when having sex. We’re more likely to see the damaged aspects and insecurities of our sexual partners — particularly of partners we’ve been having sex with for a while — than of people we meet in more superficial circumstances. Yes, I can see ways that Denise seems “damaged”, but I’m sure that I seem just as damaged to her. And she doesn’t seem more damaged than the non-sex-workers I’ve slept with. She’s actually a remarkably well-adjusted person.


Damien Lloyd writes:
“I do not think Chester is correct that someone practicing in a field will automatically know more than an academic who studies that field.”
I tend to think that real learning comes from doing, not studying, so that a cartoonist who’s created comics for many years will understand the medium better than an academic who’s never created comics but who’s read a lot of them and has interviewed creators. But I can imagine that a very intelligent and well-read academic could understand the medium better than a stupid and untalented cartoonist, so I concede the point to Lloyd.

Chester Brown has been writing and drawing comics and graphic novels since the 1980s: Yummy Fur, Ed The Happy Clown, I Never Liked You, Louis Riel, Paying For It, Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus. You can help provide him with a stable source of income while he works on his next graphic novel by donating at Patreon.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Happy 87th Birthday, Frank Thorne!

Cerebus #7 (December 1978)
Art by Frank Thorne
(Interesting Fact: This is the only Cerebus series cover not drawn by Dave Sim or Gerhard)

Weekly Update #187: A Call From Rob Walton

...featuring Ragmop's Rob Walton!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Sixteen Questions Before Breakfast

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 final Cerebus notebook, #36, four times already, the most recent was in September of 2016 in Listening to Dead Cirinists. Notebook #36 only had 58 of the 108 pages scanned and covered Cerebus issues #266 through 300.

On page 451 of Latter Days - Cerebus #288, page 11, if you're following along in the single issues - Cerebus asks his interviewer about "the sixteen questions we (meaning you) would loooove to ask Cerebus before...breakfast." The interviewer manages to ask Cerebus questions #14, about Cerebus and Rick both being in love with Joanne.

However, we don't see what the rest of her questions were - there were a few others, about Leah. . .no Rachel, and Cerebus' calendar being wrong, but only a couple of the sixteen total questions. Dave's notes in the back, Notes on Latter Days, doesn't mention anything about these sixteen questions.

On page 67 of the final notebook, we see the start of Dave's notes for Cerebus #288, along with question number fourteen.

Notebook #36, page 67
Then on page 68 we see a few of the sixteen questions that weren't asked:

"Why did Cerebus stop trying to reform society after the sermon on the Mount of Dead Lawyers?"

"What did Cerebus do for twenty years after he dropped out of sight?"

Notebook #36, page 68
It looks like some of the answers are on the page, but not all of them. Nor do we get all of the sixteen questions.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 19

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20

A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Part 19
Working With Multi-generation Sources


This is the nineteenth installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.

And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!

Alright, everyone, this is the big one, the reason (probably) that I'm writing this thing in the first place, the place where there's the biggest gulf between the general "received wisdom" and what's actually possible in print—working with multiple-generation materials. That is, restoring work from print copies of that work.

For the examples in this section, I'm going to be using the first issue of Cerebus, since it's a. very well-known to the AMOC crowd, and b. looked so terrible over the years. If you have a copy of the newly-restored Cerebus Volume One (out from Diamond in January 2017) and an older  copy of the book as well, you can follow along with the books.

But first—some background.

All Else Being Equal, Closest to the Source is Best

Just because you can produce working versions of books from multi-generational materials, doesn't mean you should. All things being equal, if you have access to (or can otherwise dig up!) earlier generations of materials—be that original artwork, production negatives, blue-line proofs of a book (which don't exhibit dot gain), or versions of the same material printed in a better manner on paper that exhibits less gain (tear sheets, for instance), then do so! It is almost always better to fix your image at the source than to try to "fix" something after the fact.

That being said, materials disintegrate. Negatives are thrown away or recycled. Tone shrinks. And sometimes what scans you have of an earlier generation might be inadequate compared to what you could have done were the actual materials still on hand. Hence, this series.

Different Editions of Materials Will Have Wildly Different Qualities

This goes along with the maxim above quite neatly. If you're restoring a work that's been printed multiple times, different copies, and especially different printings, will most likely have very different qualities, and the qualities you'll be looking for are different depending on your intentions with the restoration you'll be doing. Do you want as little to fuss with as possible, as little manual cleanup as you'll have to do? Then you might look for a printing of the material that has richer black than others. Want as much detail as there is to get? Then you'll most likely want to find the opposite—a lighter printing that has less dot-gain overall, and has a corresponding level of increase to the amount of detail in the darker, finer, denser areas of crosshatching or tone.

For my work, it's only been the latter, looking for printings that exhibit the finest details with minimum gain. In the case of, for instance, the High Society material, the Bi-Weekly reprints often have much more fine detail (and much weaker black) than the corresponding monthly issues, and the collections almost uniformly have much less detail than even the monthly issues. If you're serious about getting the best possible result, then checking a range of printings side-by-side is the way forward.

More caveats along the way. But now it's time to dive on in!

Dr. Mara scans the first issue of Cerebus waaaay back in 2014. My how time flies!

As I said in the above, different printings of the same materials can be wildly different from each other, even when the printer was working from the same negative. The first issue of Cerebus (and indeed, the majority of the first 25 issues) are a special case, in that the original negatives appeared to be discarded after their initial use. So barring the original art showing up for the first issue, working from the first printing print copies are the best that it gets.

As with the negatives, we're going to scan at 1200 ppi. Unlike the negatives, this time we'll scan in color, as it will enable us the most flexibility possible for manipulating our scan after the fact.

Here's the raw scan of the first page. Special features—Deni Loubert's hand-written notation in the corner, indicating...what, exactly? I'm not sure. This copy (and the other copies I have in San Diego of the first 50 issues) were the office "file copies," kept around to refer to when reprinting an issue, making an ad, etc, or any other time the issue needed to be referenced. So oftentimes they have mysterious markings, post-it-notes, etc in them.

We're going to write a script for working with newsprint, but unlike our other scripts, this one will require some work on the back end to get the most out of it. And first, we'll need to adjust the, erm, lean that this scan currently has.

When I restored this book, I did the rotation (and making the image grayscale) in advance for all of the pages, using Lightroom, as as I indicated in an earlier installment. But for now, we're going to do this in Photoshop.

Bring up the Layers menu, double-click the layer and then hit Enter to unlock it, and then hit Control-T to bring up the Free Transform feature. Now align the border boxes with the grid, and when you're done, hit Enter to complete the transformation.

Okay, now that our page is straightened, we're going to take a look and really see what our blacks look like up close, and if any particular color channel in our scan is better than another. 

Zoom in on the portrait of Young Dave Sim in the second panel. (What's that? You never noticed Dave's appearance in Cerebus,seventeen years before Minds? Well, he's also in issue 4. See for yourself!) 

Up close, we can see that, although the blacks are far from rich in color, there's not quite the snowstorm in the solid blacks that I was expecting. So this will be a bit easier than it appears.

I'm now going to bring up the Channels control and flip through the channels to find if any particular one has a stronger image (or less noise) than the others. (If you were doing this in Lightroom, the procedure would be different, but the principle the same).

I flip around on the Channels dialogue, selecting each one in turn and deleting the worst-looking ones until I'm left with the Yellow channel as the sharpest impression. Now I change the color mode of the document to Grayscale.

Here's the resulting image.

Okay, now we're going to bring up the Levels command (Control-L) and try to knock out our paper noise and bring the blacks up to a reasonable level of blackness.

Keeping my eye on the histogram, I move the Blacks point (far left arrow) to the first peak, shaving off the empty area of the histogram. Then I move the White point to the left in a similar fashion, while watching the finest areas of detail to make sure they're not disappearing or otherwise being modified. Once you have these in place, you can move the Mid point (the Gamma correction/exposure/gray arrow) to see if you can either a. get a slightly richer black without losing any detail, or b. bring any hidden detail out in your dense dark areas. If your scan is good, either is unlikely, but give it a shot anyway.

And now our page is ready for the next stage! Save (or save-as) and then start your script.

(Why can't we script this stage as well, like we did with the original art? Because there's so much variation in the blackness from page to page, especially if an issue was printed on a web press, and on newsprint, both of which are true of every issues of Cerebus. You can script this, but for the best result, do this stage manually, and then script the rest. Or, if you prefer, break your script into two stages, with your manual intervention (rotation, and then Levels) in between or before stages.)

And now—

We Start Our Script

Begin a new Action in the Actions panel. I'll name mine "Cerebus V1 Newsprint Pt 2".

I'm going to list these steps below in a fairly perfunctory way. If you have trouble following along, please read over the first few installments again concerning original art, where I go into all of the above in a much more detailed way. The steps—

1. Hit Flatten Image. (Good in case you end up running the script on images in progress in some way.

2. Hit Control-Alt-I to bring up the Image Size dialogue. First, change the Percentage box to whatever amount of enlargement or shrinkage you want overall from the original scanned size of the image. In this case, I'm keeping it the same size, so I'll leave it at 100 percent. Then change your resolution from our scanned resolution (should be 1200) to your target resolution (should be 2400). Make sure the algorithym is set to Preserve Details, Photoshop's excellent fractal-based upscaling routine, and then hit OK.

2. Make a copy of the Background layer, and name it "noise reduction."

3. Make another copy of the Background layer, and name it "sharpened"

4. Make a blank new layer and name it "cleanup"

5. Make a new Threshold Adjustment Layer, and then turn it off.

Here's what your panel should look like so far.

Now, for the good stuff...

Next week: More newsprint scripting! Making the most of your many options.

Sean Michael Robinson is a writer, artist, and musician. See more at