Sunday, 1 January 2017

Swords Of Cerebus Vol 1: Cerebus The Aardvark #1

Swords Of Cerebus Vol 1
(1st Edition, January 1981)
 
PAUL SLADE:
The six Swords Of Cerebus volumes, published between 1981 and 1984, were Dave's first attempt to collect the book's individual issues in a more permanent form. Each volume contains four early issues of Cerebus, plus a bonus short story often involving a guest artist. Marshall Rogers, Joe Rubenstein, Gene Day, Barry Windsor-Smith and Gerhard all contributed to these.

What interests us here, however, are the Swords introductions. Dave wrote 26 of these ranging in length from half a page to six pages in length. Some, like the one below, tackle just a single issue of Cerebus, while others stretch out to cover a whole arc, such as The Palnu Trilogy's run in issues 14-16. Each of the bonus short stories gets its own introduction too.

In these essays, we meet a rather different Dave Sim to the one we know today -- he'd have been in his middle-to-late twenties when writing them -- hear a lot of very entertaining anecdotes and learn a lot about his experience of producing the book in its first three years. They're a lot of fun. With Tim's indulgence, I'm going to present one of the Swords introductions here every week. They'll be appearing in chronological order, each accompanied by a panel or two illustrating one of points Dave mentions in that particular essay. I'm using scans because none of the free OCR software available online seems able to cope with files of this size, and because I don't have time to retype all the introductions from scratch. I hope the scans will be legible on whatever device you're using and that you enjoy reading them as much as I always have.


Cerebus #1: "The severed hand bit served to establish that tho this might be a
cute and furry aardvark, this was also a mean and lethal aardvark," says Dave.

Next week: Dave-the-writer and Dave-the-penciller negotiate a deal.

27 comments:

Michael Grabowski said...

Thank you! These intros are so valuable and it's something I definitely miss about the re-reading experience since I ─║ong ago gave up my set for the single volume.

Dominick Grace said...

I really wish that these introductions had been reprinted in the phone book collections. Fortunately, I have all the Swords volumes so have them, but it is a real loss, imo, that they are not easily accessible any more--or weren't until now, anyway!

Jeff Seiler said...

This is a great new regular feature. I was in Tulsa, OK, recently and had some time to kill and, so, visited Comics Empire, which has been owned and operated by Mike for well over 30 years. It's where I bought my first ever issue (and subsequent ones) of Cerebus, starting in 1982. After we talked for way too long, I asked Mike if he had any signed and numbered phonebooks. He said he didn't think so but went to look. Lo and behold, he found a Swords volume that was water damaged (badly) but was signed and sketched by Dave.

Six bucks later it was added to my collection. I also bought many (most) of the (hard to find) Gene Day MOKF issues at two or three bucks a piece and a Savage Sword of Conan #1 (VF to NM) for $150.

It's always fun to visit your old LCS's. And Mike enjoyed getting an update on all things Simian and Gerrish (Hardly?), as well as getting a $200+ windfall at closing time on a Tuesday.

crazyyears said...

I can't help but wonder if Carson Grubaugh ever read SoC or their introductions. This intro in particular in regards to Grubaugh's Serial Personality take on Sim within his Cerebus commentaries.
--- Michael Hunt

Steve said...


Dave -

Something I've wondered about for years: why the change in the cover for Swords #1?

As an ex-pressman, my guess was that the print quality wasn't up to snuff, especially on the knockout text on the back, that the printer was trying to run a 4-color job on a 1-color press and not keeping the registration tight enough.

Also, I have a signed 'cover proof' for the original printing, but without color bars or registration marks - any idea how many of these you sold?

Thanks!

Steve

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Off topic, but with a number of tangential relations to Cerebus: Woody Allen ("Konigsberg the not-so-good Samaratin") reviews a graphic novel about Mary Astor (partial model for "Astoria") by Edward Sorel: www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/books/review/woody-allen-edward-sorel-mary-astors-purple-diary.html.

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Somewhat more on-topic: it's always interested me that the first issue of Cerebus isn't a comedy. Apart from the visual absurdity of an aardvark protagonist, it's a standard sword-and-sorcery tale. I count three jokes: "You're a guest," "My aim's getting lousy," and "Aw, nuts." The book went on to be much funnier, but you can see why people's reactions would be, as Dave attributed, "Weird stuff."

Steve: My copy of Swords volume one is the second printing (March 1982) with the black, white, and pink cover. The colours are on-registration and the white-on-black text is fine.

-- Damian

Carson Grubaugh said...

Michael,
A lot of the scans I have do include these. I am pretty sure I mentioned this one at some point. Maybe not. I wasn't taking screen shots of textual evidence early in the re-read.

Jeff Seiler said...

BTW, once again:

A boob the size of your head..."

Jeff Seiler said...

Erm...insert open qoute marks before the A.

Forry, forry, forry.

Travis Pelkie said...

A boob the size of our Jeff, how 'bout?

In other off topic news, Roarin' Rick is publishing an issue of Rarebit Fiends again:

https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/01/01/rick-veitch-brings-back-rare-bit-fiends-new-issue/

Rich manages to name-check Dave twice in the post.

I'm also not sure if he means Veitch is doing print on demand through Amazon, or if the "CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform" listed on Amazon as the publisher is the POD firm.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Damian,
Great Edward Sorel review. Link added to the post.
Thanks,
Tim

Dave Sim said...

Michael G. - I think "invaluable" probably overstates the case, but thank you.

This one's pretty glib -- obviously intended as entertainment rather than information. It would be an interesting discussion: pencillers who ink themselves. I think you'd find that there's a lot more room for improvisation that way: you don't tight-pencil for yourself the way that you tight-pencil for someone else.

"The writer however has just decided that all the dialogue that was ready for page one is unusable tripe and (after punching all the available walls) sits down with a blue pencil to write something worthy of black ink."

Well, (LOL), no. You don't DO that going a page at a time. The Writer gets his turn and then it's the Letterer's turn. By the time the Penciller and the Inker are working on the page, the Writing has become the Lettering (long ago).

There are a number of False Start pages in the Cerebus Archive but they all (for obvious reasons) are made up of hand lettering. The Writer was done, the Letterer got partway in and the Writer changed his mind.

Like I say: entertainment. I'm trying to write a funny introduction here.

Dave Sim said...

Hi Dominick - The problem is that ALL the SWORDS introductions would be in Volume 1 and Volume 1 is already MORE THAN big enough. "Phone book collection, singular" Some of those introductions are multiple pages. So you'd be talking about upwards of 40 or 50 additional pages.

It was a judgement call to decide to include the SILVERSPOON strips, which I think was justified by the fact that they explain how Cerebus GOT to Palnu and WHY he's IN Palnu. It was also a judgement call to include Sean's notes on the restoration, but that seemed to me to be justified in that it explains why you might want a RESTORED trade instead of just A trade. That is, if you buy Volume One and you read Sean's commentaries, hopefully, you get sold on helping us finance the restoration (which isn't getting any cheaper as we continue our slow progress).

Dave Sim said...

Jeff - Wonder how a water-damaged SWORDS ONE made its way to Tulsa Oklahoma? Obviously (appearances to the contrary) didn't swim. Nyuck nyuck nyuck.

Watch for your phone message re: Fayetteville's ROCK BOTTOM COMICS coming up on this week's Weekly Update! God willing! Had a nice chat with owner Alan Adair and manager Joshua over the holidays.

Dave Sim said...

Steve - I thought the SWORDS ONE cover was really UGLY! I still think it's really ugly. The biggest problem with it was that I was colouring it with markers on illustration board. I really didn't "get" that when Bernie Wrightson worked with coloured markers, he made sure he was working on Strathmore or something that would "take" the colours and retain the "oomph".

Illustration board, the colour just sat on the surface and (even worse) just "washed out" to a lighter version of itself: as you can see particularly with the grey -- or, rather, "grey" -- on Cerebus. That condition was further exacerbated by my decision to use coloured pencils and crayons to enhance the colour. The coloured pencils show up WAY too dark (Sophia's chest, the turquoise-green on Elrod's tunic).

And the logo I did in too much of a hurry. I was always in too much of a hurry to get to the finished thing. But, then, if I hadn't been CEREBUS probably would never have been a monthly title.

Dave Sim said...

Damian I - Fortunately SWORDS ONE sold very well so I was able, almost immediately, to do a much better cover -- the one that you have. Of course, that collided head-on with the impression that I was doing a new cover just to get everyone to buy SWORDS ONE all over again. It was really the only cover that I remember redoing because I just couldn't live with what it looked like.

Damian II - Woody Allen's PARIS movie is still his biggest box office success, isn't it? He should maybe consider going through CEREBUS for source material: the more CEREBUS parody characters he does, the more successful the movie is.

That's a joke, BTW.

Dave Sim said...

Steve II - I just had a bunch of SWORDS ONE covers in my personal collection that gradually seemed to make their way out into the world, either because I gave one to someone and they sold it or they gave it to someone else.

Dave Sim said...

If you think about it, SWORDS is really the more enduring publishing innovation, if you're comparing SWORDS to the trade paperbacks. Four or five issues for $20: I think there are a lot more examples of that than there are of the "phone book" format. We'll see if CEREBUS IN HELL? the trade proves that right!

Jeff Seiler said...

Nice of you to call Alan and Joshua, Dave. I had a feeling (thought) that you might. It's the uber (not UBER) nice sort of thing you have been (shh!) rumored to do.

I am also about 98.5% sure that, if I were to call them to ask them about their "nice chat" with you, they would have a...slightly different...description of that conversation.

I know my "nice chat" with Alan that day (while my less-than-usual evil twin brother was bored out of his mind) was the highlight of my trip to Fayetteville. At one point, Alan asked me, "How do you know so much about these guys?" (Meaning you and Ger.)

I had to take a VERY long pause before I said, "conventions", knowing I was being slightly disengenuous. But, there's answers and there's really long, drawn-out, boring answers.

Anyway, thanks!

Jeff Seiler said...

BTW, Dave, the water damage bled through the cover and blended with your blue (Bic?) pen sketch of Cerebus, in profile, to make a nice little red, green, and blue wash. Helped convince me to buy it.

Oh, and the shipping canal that connects to the Arkansas River, outside of Tulsa, connects the world to Tulsa. Especially for oil.

And, maybe, comics.

Jeff Seiler said...

By "slightly different", I mean...

It probably made their day, month...

year. They've probably already nailed the audiotape from the phone on the wall behind the counter.

Steve said...


Dave -

Thank you so much for the added info on the Swords #1 cover!

I'm very grateful when you share tidbits like this, things I've personally wondered about - in this case, for years!

Do you remember, what was the print run on the first printing, and did you use the same printer for all the Swords volumes?

Steve

Travis Pelkie said...

"But, there's answers and there's really long, drawn-out, boring answers."

And occasionally you know the difference, Jeff. HEH!

I don't know if I've made the argument well or often online elsewhere, but I definitely agree that the big innovation/one reason Dave is one of the most important people to the comics medium is that he not only thought his work was worthy of being collected in books that would (possibly) hold up better than monthly floppy comics, but didn't try to gussy them up when collecting them. For example, the earliest Elfquest collections, so far as I know, colored the original comics, as did the Marvel/Epic versions. But Dave went ahead and collected his works in smaller collections and I think that "innovation" (I know some will argue it was done other places first) is one of the keys to not only Cerebus's success, but I daresay is a keystone to the continued success of the direct market and comics medium.

And that's some heady territory, so I'll come back to earth.

The Swords intros were reprinted in the Bi-Weekly reprint issues, right?

Jeff Seiler said...

Thanks for recognizing me for recognizing the difference, Trav.

I once wrote to Dave that I thought that he had revolutionalized (invented) the graphic novel. He immediately wrote back that, no, that person was Will Eisner.

I could only agree.

My bad. As the kids say.

But.

David Victor Sim invented the phonebooks.

D.V.S. invented (kinda, sorta) doing it by yerself; all of it.

And, then, he got smarter, and said, "hey, Ger, howzabout we do it all by our lonesome, you and me,
for...um...well, 'til we get to #300?"

Eisner had a factory.

Sim had Deni, early on, doing spot blacks, and then Dave had the, THE, best ever background artist, EVER, in the history of comics.

Two guys, thirty years.

I spent six days at my brother's home, recently, and only narrowly avoided a fight.

If Dave and Ger ever fought, we never knew of it, until the end. And, of course, the end was inevitable.

Side-by-side; two separate drawing boards; talking, bullshitting, smoking God-knows-what;

Creating a lasting masterpiece.

Two disparate but, somehow, sychronized, guys.

Synchronized? You doubt me?

Look back. They wrote; especially, Dave wrote (though I have had some nice talks with Ger about it) that, when they were on point, they...

Um...what are the words?...

When they were in sync...

They were among the best ever.

Lee/Kirby.

I think, maybe, that's the only really valid comparison.

Lee/Kirby for their variety.

Sim/Gerhard for their continuously, consistently brilliant collaboration.

And, just so you know, I'm not being paid to write all of the above.

These guys, just the two of them, will go down as the most-talented, longest-tenured tandem in comic book history.

Even though Ger just kinda wants to fade away. Nicest guy and most "background" guy I've ever known--both literally and figuratively.

So, there ya goes, Trav.

Travis Pelkie said...

That one was just long and drawn out, Jeff, but not boring.

Ya know I like to kid with ya, right?!

Hmm, pondering...

With the phonebook format, did Dave invent the "selling you the same comic in multiple formats" model we seem to have today? Single issues, then Swords reprints, then phonebooks, then (or were these before the phonebooks?) the Bi-Weekly reprints.

DC and Marvel seem to have taken that approach to their stuff. Deluxe HCs of stuff at a slightly larger trim size, Absolute/Omnibus editions with long runs of titles in one book, smaller TPBs, digest size, and so on and so forth. Not that Archie didn't repackage some stuff earlier than Dave, perhaps, but it seems that Dave was the one to recognize that what he was doing required more than just relying on the DM to have extensive back issue collections. He was creating comics that required you to have access to all of it to be able to get all of the nuances.

Gettin' long-winded here. It's the Dave magnifier effect, methinks!

Dave Sim said...

Well, there were several bad experiences along the way: people forget how outraged everyone was that I put back-up stories in the SWORDS volumes. "I already bought the comic books and now I have to PAY FIVE BUCKS FOR THE COLLECTED TO GET ONE FRIGGING EXTRA STORY?"

There's really no way to win in those situations but I definitely err on the side of "stripped down" as a result. i.e. the CEREBUS IN HELL? trade will JUST include the four issues with the four covers reproduced on the back. "Nothing NEW to see here!" Even though it would be really easy to throw ten or twenty unpublished strips in there.

Steve - No idea of what the print run was on SWORDS ONE. The information is in the Cerebus Archive somewhere in the 1981 entries along with purchase orders and printing bills. No time to look, I'm afraid. But it's in there. We overprinted by a certain amount, but it was the biggest printing bill we had had to that point, so we cut it pretty close to the bone.

Cash FLOW became a problem for the first time, because we were paying to print the monthly issue, then also paying to print SWORDS, then paying to reprint SWORDS, then paying to do the next volume of SWORDS. Phil Seuling wasn't happy because his model was the underground: you keep all of the ISSUES in print. "Yeah, but Phil, they only do an issue of FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROS. once a year. If that." No dice with Phil ("Fine! Fine! Live on nuts and berries for the rest of your life!")