Sunday, 17 September 2017

Pressed Aardvark #3: 1991 to 1995

1980-83 | 1984-90 | 1991-95 | 1996-97 | 2005-09

PAUL SLADE:
I love researching bizarre stories from America’s past, so a few years ago I treated myself to a subscription to newspapers.com. This gives me access to a huge searchable database of old US newspapers – the oldest dating back to the 1700s. On a whim the other night, I plugged the word “Cerebus” into the site’s excellent search engine, selected the years 1978-2017, and started rootling through everything that came up. I’m pulling out only the most noteworthy items here, of course. This time round, we’ll be covering the years 1991 to 1995, a period which saw the publication of Cerebus 142–201. In terms of the phone books, that’s Melmoth, Flight, Women and Reads.

The Observer (England), January 13, 1991.

Cerebus is given a paragraph in the “What to Read” round-up running alongside this piece, but it’s the article’s headline I found most striking.

Even in a decade of truly awful headlines on comics articles – mostly of the “Zap! Pow! Comics aren’t just for kids any more!” variety – this one manages to distinguish itself. Pretty clearly, the sub-editor responsible found he’d filled only two of the three decks required, and opted to fix this problem simply by adding “Aarrgh!” at the end.

I don’t know why we don’t see this technique deployed by other headline writers, really. Here’s just a few of the opportunities they’ve missed:

*****

St Louis Post-Dispatch, April 5, 1992.

Dave and Gerhard were doing an American tour in 1992, and this piece represents the many city papers which gave them a story as they roamed round the country. Each one gives its readers the usual Cerebus 101 information, which it would be tedious to repeat here. But many also included a few quotes from Dave, and you’ll find my selection of the most interesting ones below.

The pics I’ve added after these quotes come from June 4’s Star Tribune and July 7’s Indianapolis Star respectively.

Dave on refusing to deal with corporate publishers:
“If you can do something exactly the way you want, you’re gonna have more fun.” – Star Tribune, June 4, 1992.

“One of the problems with co-operating with a corporation is that new pressures are brought in. They want changes in the characters.” – Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1992.

“I basically don’t want to deal with those people.” – St Louis Post-Dispatch, April 5, 1992.

“With any contract, I would only get 10 per cent of the money. Gerhard and I make much more doing it this way than we could at any large company. Here, once our expenses are covered, the rest is ours.” – Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1992.

Dave on Cerebus himself:
“Loathsome, reprehensible, self-absorbed, self-centred, greedy and a raging alcoholic.” – Indianapolis Star, July 7, 1992.

“I think everybody knows someone like Cerebus. Someone who you wish wasn’t your friend, who makes you so mad, you swear you’ll never speak to him again, and then he does something unexpectedly nice and you can’t help liking him.” – St Louis Post-Dispatch, April 5, 1992.

Dave on his audience:
“With our small, dedicated audience, we can take chances. In fact, they demand it. It’s much more artistically satisfying.” – Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1992.

“I’m comfortable having a specific audience to write to. I like the idea that my audience doesn’t see what I do as controversial. […] Most of them are people who gave up on comics.” – South Florida Sun Sentinel, May 3, 1992.

“Most of them started reading it when they were 17 or 18, and a lot of them are in their late 20s or early 30s by this point.” – Indianapolis Star, July 7, 1992.

Dave on the importance of ambiguity:
“Wilde said, ‘An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable manner of style’. You quickly get to the point where all your characters are two-dimensional, good or bad.” – Star Tribune, June 4, 1992.

“There are a lot of different interpretations of the story. Not everyone sees the same characters as good or bad, rulers or followers. I meant it to be that way. I find life to be universally ambiguous.” – Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1992.

Dave on resisting the temptations of merchandising:
“I want the book to stand on its own for the art and writing, not as a trinket. […] As soon as you go into merchandising, everyone nods sagely and says ‘Ah, now we know why you are doing it’.” – South Florida Sun Sentinel, May 3, 1992.

Dave on the early days of Cerebus:
“I tried to do Cerebus so it looked like the whole issue was drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith except Cerebus, who I wanted to look like he was drawn by Chuck Jones. Because I thought that hadn’t been played with. When they were doing Howard The Duck, Howard was always rendered with the same kind of texture as everybody else.” - St Louis Post-Dispatch, April 5, 1992.

Dave on what he’ll do after completing Cerebus:
“You shouldn’t ask a prisoner halfway through a 26-year prison term what he plans to do when he gets out.” – St Louis Post-Dispatch, April 5, 1992.

“I will continue to do comic books. I’ll just do stories as they occur to me. Basically I’m still 16 years old at heart. I mean, this is how I used to spend my summer vacations.” – Indianapolis Star, July 7, 1992.

Dave on the numbers:
No direct quotes here, but Dave was presumably the source for each paper’s estimate of Cerebus’s circulation. The Indianapolis Star and the Star Tribune both put this figure at 20,000 copies a month, while the South Florida Sun Sentinel opts for 18,000-19,000. The Star Tribune adds that he was then getting 400 to 500 readers’ letters per month, about 20% of them from women. 

 

*****

Lansing State Journal (Michigan), May 4, 1992.

Another “not just for kids anymore” article, and another god-awful headline to go with it. The picture shows Michigan State University librarian Randall Scott with a few selections from the library’s collection of 70,000 comics.

Also quoted is an MSU graduate student called Peter Coogan, who planned to write his thesis on superhero comics. “Every time a new medium comes about, people frequently think it’s bad for other people,” he points out. “Novels, films and jazz all started out as disreputable art forms. Comics did the same thing. Gradually, they all get accepted and are now being studied academically.”

Naming Cerebus as “the best comic being produced”, Coogan continues: “It’s basically for adults and quite serious. It deals with big issues – religion, politics, rape.”

*****

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 9, 1995.

The occasion here was Dave’s Pittsburgh stop in 1995’s Spirits of Independence tour, where he and Gerhard appeared with fellow self-publishers Don Simpson, Steve Bissette, Jim Valentino, Paul Pope and David Lapham.

Comparing the tour (a little optimistically) to Lollapalooza, the Post-Gazette calls it “a travelling circus of today’s hottest and most relevant self-publishing cartoonists”. Dave, it adds, “is believed to be a very wealthy man after nearly two decades of doing things his way”.

Pausing only to note a hollow laugh from the direction of Kitchener, we come to the story’s direct quotes. “It’s taken a while for the idea to sink in with the creative community,” Dave says of self publishing. “Certainly the publishers work hard to make comic publishing look like brain surgery. But if you can balance a checkbook, you can publish your own comics. It isn’t that much different.

“As long as you’re not stupid or greedy and keep your expectations modest, it’s pretty much risk-free at this point. […] Here’s the solicitation. You send it to the distributor who puts it in his catalog. Retailers order this many. The distributor sends you a purchase order. You tell the printer that many. You send the comics to the distributor. Thirty days later he pays you. You pay the printer and you do it again. Simple.”

How much of that model would still work today I have no idea. Back in 1995, though, Steve Bissette was just as keen to promote the idea. “When I worked on Swamp Thing for DC, at its peak it sold 65,000,” he says. “But when you’re working for a company like DC or Marvel, the money you earn is paying for editors, lawyers, book keepers and the leather covers on the seat of the helicopter owned by the executives. The barest amount of money is trickling down to you.

“ But I don’t resent it anymore. That’s the ecology of business. I learned their jobs; they can never learn my job. They can never produce a comic book. So who’s at a disadvantage?”

*****

South Florida Sun Sentinel, December 7, 1995.

An extract here from a column listing the day’s upcoming events online – don’t ask me – and an amusingly inaccurate description of Dave. I do hope some eager parent logged on with little Johnny in her lap and that both were suitably baffled by the result.

*****

 
Observer (England), December 24, 1995.

The Observer got a lot of letters responding to its December 10 “100 Women Who Shook The World” article. Sean Goldithorpe’s contribution was this balancing list of equally remarkable men .

Ranked at number 63, he places one “Dave Sim (creator of graphic book Cerebus)”. This puts our hero just 58 places behind Jesus Christ and only 40 behind William Shakespeare. Among those left eating Dave’s dust, we find Henry Ford (73), Ernest Hemingway (84) and all three Marx Brothers (sharing number 99).


For more of Paul Slade’s writing – including a history of Reg Smythe’s Andy Capp strip and a look back at some notable comic book lawsuits – visit PlanetSlade.com.

6 comments:

Mouse Skull Entertainment said...

The POW ZAP article talks about "Dave Simm".

Paging Proof-Reader Lad!

Matt Dow

Travis Pelkie said...

I, too, noticed that one, Matt.

That...is definitely a list, that last bit.

Anonymous said...

Umm, yeah, Matt. Saw that one. Like Russell Crowe in "A Beautiful Mind", I see the mistakes first (in his case, the numbers).

Thanks for thinking of me. My best, please, to the lovely ladies in your life.

--Jeff

Anonymous said...

"Although cagey...Sim is believed to be a very wealthy man..."

Gerhard once said to me, "Don't let him fool you...Dave's got money."

Just out of curiosity, does anyone else out here think that that idiot Mr. whatisname is a fool for bequeathing a buttload of money to Dave?

I mean, I'm a disinterested party, but...

Is Dave rich?

He lives like a pauper...which is not inadvisable, but he is, or seems to be, very cagey about his finances.

So, that's me--a poor guy--looking in from the outside.

--Jeff

Paul Slade said...

Does anyone know anything about the Pope Cerebus doll Dave's posing with just above the "Pow! Zap!" headline? It looks great.

Glen said...

I believe Dave lives modestly partly because of his faith.

I've made this point in a previous post. Dave is sitting on a boat load of original art including covers (yes I understand he wants to save it for his archive). So if he needs the money he could always auction off some of that art to survive.