What was the secret of maintaining (the longest running?) creative partnership in comics with Gerhard and would you recommend other cartoonists to collaborate (even on sorter projects). If so, what are the potential benefits?
I'm not sure there was any one particular secret to maintaining the partnership. We were dependant on each other so, as guys, you tend to be supremely conscious of that. You can sense a problem area coming up, so you just taper off and forget it. Once something is said it can't be unsaid, so you have a lot of things that you don't say. If there's tension, you really have to assess, is there ACTUAL tension here or am I just being paranoid? If there IS tension, what is causing the tension? Did I do or say something wrong? For me, that's always been the way with people in general. Whatever pleasure I get from the company of people, I'm always aware that there's this level of tension there that seems always on the verge of them going berserk and saying "THAT'S IT!"
Gerhard wasn't just a person, Gerhard was also an idea -- the idea of someone working on this book and what was the fair way to treat him? Only it isn't theoretical, it's an actual person. So, I always tried to make sure he was compensated well, that he had the things that were important to him. You know, I didn't want a brand new car or a sailboat, but he did, so that becomes something that has to be important to me BECAUSE they're important to him. I pay him piecework rates until he proves he's reliable and then I pay him a salary and then ultimately give him 40% of the company. His contribution is so huge, you can't make it remotely work-made-for-hire.
I don't really recommend too much these days. I had a very long conversation with Steve McNiven at The Last Signing. Very nice guy, definitely reminded me of Gerhard at that age. And he was thinking of starting a studio and since I had run a studio did I have any advice for him? He wanted to hire a friend who was an inker and go into business together. Only the guy had a regular paying gig already at a University -- but definitely seemed like he would like to make the leap into comics.
It's just him and me, so I said, "Is he married?" And he said, yes, he was married. And I said, if you're going to talk to him about it, you better talk to both of them because she's going to have a very big effect no matter what happens. It's a surreal conversation for me, because I'm basically talking to Dave who reminds me of Gerhard and giving him advice on how to deal with a potential Gerhard.
Comic-book guys are married to their work. They sort of have to be because it takes way too many hours to do a competent job and way more hours than that to get better at it. You're running ahead of the freight train. The pages need to get done. So you have one marriage competing with another marriage in a lot of ways.
It's not easy, because work is not at all like a real marriage. It IS just work. A guy knows the difference between work and relationship. Working on CEREBUS had nothing to do with my relationship with Susan. Working on CEREBUS had nothing to do with Gerhard's relationship with Rose. But for women it's a matter of seeing where the attention and time is going. There's going to be an emotional reaction to that. And women don't want to be that way. So when they get that way, you have a double irritant: how she doesn't want to be and how she's being.
The potential benefits are good work. Two guys who are determined to get better at what they do will provoke each other to get better without consciously intending to do it. We were at an insane level of fine pen line by the end there. He'd go fine so I'd go fine to match him, then he'd go finer to match me and I'd go finer to match him.
There tends to be an awful human toll. Most guys don't look at it that way because of the inner drive to get better and then the urge to keep getting better. But a lot of very human things go out the window.
Now let's head over to the MINDLESS ONES for a very long question from Igmus. Here's the short version(!):
I want to know why most current comics creators have personalities that are so similar to one another, and similar to their audience as well.
Hit the link to the MINDLESS ONES for the answer... and be here tomorrow for more HARDtalk.