Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Interviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Dave Sim: The Kickstarter Q&A

The following Q&A with Dave Sim took place on 31 May 2014 in the final hours of the Cerebus Archive Number One Kickstarter campaign, with questions being posed by the Kickstarter pledgers. The following is an edited / reordered version of the full Q&A which can be found in the Kickstarter Comments section.

ON CEREBUS
DAMIN J. TOELL:
Do you feel that anything is lost from the experience when someone only reads the phonebooks?

DAVE SIM:
Yes, in a sense, I think that people miss a lot of the CEREBUS experience just reading the phonebooks, but then they also miss the experience of waiting for a month BETWEEN issues even if they're reading the individual issues. And it not being, you know, the mid-1980s anymore. It was definitely "of its time": Notes from the President, the newest 20 pages, the letters pages.

"You should have been there!" Dr. Winston O'Boogie

JEFFREY FLAM:
Are there any regrets storyline-wise, that Cerebus took, that looking back on it so many years later you wished you hadn't taken with the book? Not what you would do differently now, just wondering if there any paths you would've changed direction on?

DAVE SIM:
That's actually a more interesting question than you would suspect, touching on predestination and free will. I mean, I pretty much decided that Cerebus being who Cerebus was, he could really only follow one path in life. His obsession with Jaka would always pull him in that direction even though it was a VERY BAD idea. That's what I wanted to show him and the reader: look, this is how this goes. And knowing that Cerebus...and the readers...really didn't CARE! They just wanted Cerebus and Jaka to be together. Well, okay. But that ends up the way that it ends up the way it ended up. Happy now? Well, it's not as if I didn't warn you. Cerebus just didn't have the personality profile to be Mr. Jaka, which is who you have to be if you're going to be with her.

What I didn't realized was that I was talking about myself as well -- creator and creation. The more I became aware of predestination and free will as realities -- make that Realities -- the more I realized that I was setting a course for myself. Given who I am -- who I AM -- this is the only way that my life could have ended up. I have free will -- I can do whatever I want, but WANT is a bad way of looking at it, I ultimately realized. I WANT to eat a whole chocolate cake every day. I really WANT to. But it's a VERY BAD idea. It was a whole new way of looking at life. Start with GOOD IDEAS -- this is a GOOD IDEA of how to live. Forget about WANT and DESIRE. Pick from the list. As soon as I started doing that, my life starting improving exponentially.

It's one of the reasons that -- although I'm not really engaged with CEREBUS at any meaningful level in my life -- I definitely think myself obligated to maintain it. Because it got me HERE. Even though HERE is probably not where most CEREBUS fans would have wanted me to end up.

Preserve the intellectual property and the environment it was created in, because I really OWE it to all of you and to all of the people CEREBUS will be important to in the years to come. 6,000 pages are going to be important to different people for different reasons. But you really can't -- responsibly -- diminish importance like that.

It made me very aware of how I think God looks at us. "I can give you that [whatever it is] but it's a BAD IDEA. It leads you the wrong way. Trust me on this one. Humour me." And that's so difficult for us to do. We're so convinced that what we WANT the most is the best for us. THIS will make it all better! Mm. Probably not. "You can get what you want and still not be very happy."

EDDIE KHANNA:
Totally understand if you don't recall, but why is the the final Election Night tally considered the Core Moment in High Society?

DAVE SIM:
I don't think you can beat "Election Night" for a cliffhanger. That's one of those examples of "not really getting the same experience when you don't have to wait a month for the next one". It anticipated, I think, the 2000 election in the U.S. where you can tell that the overall Metaphysics of current Reality is reaching a state of (what would you call it?) Complete Adversarial Equilibrium? We seem to have moved a little ways out of that Reality since 2000 but for a while there it seemed that more elections were photo finishes than weren't. As with most Metaphysics, I'm not sure what that tells us, if anything, but it does seem interesting.

JEFF SEILER:
Since AMOC has been posting those old [Following Cerebus #3] reproduction covers, it occurred to me for the first time while looking at the Frazetta recreation: Did you get any flack from Marvel over doing the Wolveroach character (in multiples) again so many years after the "cease and desist" letter from Shooter? Or do you figure they just didn't see it, since it was a mag not a comic, or that they just didn't care after all those years?

DAVE SIM:
Actually, there never was a cease and desist letter on Wolverroach, I don't think. Was there? I know Jim Shooter came up to me after a panel at a convention. I was still sitting on the panel and -- he's Jim Shooter. I'm sitting down on a dais and he's standing in front of me and we're basically eye to eye. And he leaned forward and said, "About the Wolverroach thing. Next time, give me a call and ask permission, okay?" And I said, SURE! Even though I didn't think I was going to because I was pretty sure the answer would be No. I was also pretty sure that parody was -- and is -- protected free speech. What could they do? Order all copies of issues 54-56 destroyed? All you're going to do is make for One Rare Trilogy of Comic Books.

MARGARET LISS:
What was the name of the tavern near the wall of T'si where Cerebus spent his time during GUYS and later as a 'barkeeper' during RICK'S STORY? I can't find mention of it anywhere. Or is the namelessness of it supposed to serve as a metaphor of all taverns / bars?

DAVE SIM:
When the Cirinists took over and figured out what they were going to do with the taverns, they would have made them into "no name" environments. The idea would have been regimentation. You want a bartender who "toes the line" and you want everyone else killing themselves with alcohol 24 hours a day. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before. You know those little widgets resting against the wall on either side of the front door? That was a signal of the vacancy status of the tavern. There were "this many" beds available. Someone -- and I'm thinking the Eddie Campbell character is a likely suspect -- seeing that Cerebus didn't KNOW that, moved all of the widgets to show "no vacancy". Which is why the tavern went from busy to DEAD. Not that it really affected Cerebus. He had a lot of solo fuming and sulking to do.

JAKE CAPPS:
What books, poems, essays, films, and albums should I find to better appreciate/understand Cerebus?

DAVE SIM:
Let me see: Scott Fitzgerald, I would read THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED. Oscar Wilde PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. Hemingway A MOVEABLE FEAST. To understand the TONE of JAKA'S STORY I WOULD suggest watching the movie version of GYPSY. Jaka of JAKA'S STORY is very much based on Rose Louise. Theodore White's THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 1960.

Norman Mailer. If you don't want to read Mailer himself, I'd suggest MAILER: HIS LIFE AND TIMES. A guy who dealt with a multiplicity of levels to Reality and how people who really only dealt with "here and now" dealt with him. Gore Vidal's essays. Those would be the most influential stuff.

"Near Durham, ON... one of my favourite shots... didn't quite make it as a Going Home cover..."
(from Gerhard's Photo Album)

CEREBUS COVERS
TIM PHILLIPS:
Not sure if this has be covered elsewhere/when, but do you recall the reason for having photo covers for Going Home? Were they taken around Kitchener? It was such striking shift in cover design.

DAVE SIM:
The photo covers were taken around Kitchener. Various places. That's one of the things that's going to be a part of the COVERS book when we get there: where all the photos were taken. Gerhard knows that stuff. One of them was taken by Rose on a visit to France. It was really a matter of both of us running out of gas. Not having to draw a cover -- and in Gerhard's case, do the backgrounds and paint the damn thing! -- was a time saver. Of course that time just got eaten up as soon as we made the decision. It was like paddling on a raft that was being eaten around us by giant sea mammals. Can we get to issue 300 and still have some of the raft left? Some. But not a lot.

TIM PHILIPS:
Is there any news on the Cerebus Covers book coming out?

DAVE SIM:
I'd be guessing as to what is going on with the CEREBUS COVERS book. I got some pages from Scott Dunbier that are very basic. I think what needs to happen is that I have to get some full-sized photocopies done of the material that's too big for my colour copier and then do mock-ups of the first 10 or 12 pages to show Scott what I'm thinking of. I want to, as an example, do an exhaustive look at the cover of #1, all the different versions and forms there have been of it, including the counterfeit and the only copy that's cut to comic-book size, the cover of CEREBUS ARCHIVE #1, the 2004 Christmas card, etc. I want to DO the cover of #1 and then never have to do it again. Scott, I think, is thinking of it purely as an art book. We have to have a discussion about it at some point. But, I think, right now everyone at IDW is more inclined for me to keep working on THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND now that they can see how slow I've gotten. Let's finish one project instead of having several unfinished projects. I'm guessing. Once we have some answers, I think I can turn in a few pages of the COVERS book at the same rate as SDOAR -- basically the way that I did glamourpuss and CEREBUS ARCHIVE at the same time.


LIFE AFTER CEREBUS
MINT CITY COMICS:
How difficult was it to put Cerebus to bed (coffin?) and move on to the next portion of your creative career?

DAVE SIM:
How difficult was it to put Cerebus to bed (or his coffin)? Not really difficult at all. Again, that's a matter of predestination. When you know your character is coming to an end in March 2004, it gives you plenty of time to get completely adjusted to it. And it also gave me a better perspective on my own mortality. I have a fixed life of a fixed duration. I can't add or subtract a minute from it. In the fourth dimension, it's all already happened and it has gone a specific way. All that really matters is self-improvement. I can change anything in the construct. I haven't had a drink in 11 years but I can, if I choose, go out and get stinking drunk tonight. I either did or I didn't. The same way that I had my last drink January 24, 2003. Had you asked me at the time, "So how long do you think that's going to last" I would have said, "Probably not very long." But it turns out that it was eleven years. It was always eleven years. It will always be eleven years. God willing it's the rest of my life.

Predestination: that's what has always happened. Free will: I could have changed it at any moment in the last eleven years -- or in the rest of my life.

In terms of my creative career, when I had to start glamourpuss in order to raise money to repurchase Gerhard's share of the company, I thought, "It's too soon for this." That is, the level of animosity was still WAY HIGH! I only get one chance at a second chance after CEREBUS. 2008 was too soon. But I needed the money. It made things difficult and still makes things difficult in a way. But, Difficulty R Us. When things seem to get easier is when I start to worry. What's going on? What am I missing here?

JAMES MOORE:
I love seeing Cerebus in the "modern" world, like the few spots in the Guide to Publishing, or the pics of him in his hockey gear... any chance of us ever seeing him in the "real" world for 8 pages or so? After Strange Death, naturally.

DAVE SIM:
It was always interesting drawing Cerebus in a modern setting. Hmm. Maybe 8 pages of Cerebus walking around downtown Kitchener? Try and pick places that might stick around for a while. Like City Hall. Market Square (from SPAWN 10) is still there, but Peter's Place burned down back in '94. I actually get my hair cut at Black and White barbers which is pretty much where Peter's Place used to be.

I'm "blue skying" I'm afraid. To the extent that I think about doing other creative work the length of time it takes for me to do it militates against something as long as 8 pages. Chris Ryall wanted me to draw the X-FILES story I wrote. Which I would have loved to do. But, 8 pages -- that's a month's work these days or close to it.

When I think of doing Other Things, now, it's usually Kickstarter pledge items. Hmm. How about a recreation of the "baby throwing page"? More bang for your buck (so to speak).
 


(Click image to enlarge)

THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND
DANIEL W. CISEK:
I live right next to Westport CT [the scene of Alex Raymond's fatal car crash] and just wanted to let you know that if you need anything in the way of research from the area (photos or what-have-you), for The Strange Death, I'd be more than happy to oblige.

DAVE SIM:
You know, I might take you up on the Westport offer. I've been in contact with the Westport Police Department and actually got some information from them, including the original accident report and Stan Drake's official statement. Both of which figure prominently in the narrative. There were a few other leads I was trying to track down through Arlen Schumer (who IS in Westport) and a friend of his. But -- to be honest -- that's a WAYS down the road from where I am. And since it's all Official Stuff that has been in place since 1956, I figure it's not going anywhere.

I've gone back and forth on the idea that it's worth my while to go down to Westport and look at the accident site. Arlen took a bunch of photos for me and...I'm not seeing it. We've talked about it on the phone quite a bit and I get the impression that it's one of those distorted environments that doesn't show up on photos the way it actually looks. Like Dealey Plaza in Dallas. It looks sprawling and sloped in the photos. But when you're there it's the size of a postage stamp. Sitting on the concrete platform where Zapruder was standing when he shot his footage and the road is Right There. Not Over There. Okay, so where's the stockade fence? Turn to my right. YI! Right over my shoulder. Again, not WAY over there. If I can justify the expense, I think I do have to see the site of the crash.

JEFFREY FLAM:
This might be a little morbid but what the hey its all in good fun, if there was one comic creator you could bring back to life and have them making comics today...who would it be?

DAVE SIM:
Well as long as we're being MORBID, what about MORBID AND completely  SELF-INTERESTED? In that case, I would like Alex Raymond to come back from the dead and pick up right where he left off on RIP KIRBY. Actually, why don't we give him a few weeks in the next world and then he comes back and sees what kind of "Raymond Chops" this John Prentice kid has and hires him as his assistant?

Second choice would be Jeff Jones coming back in full "Idyll" mode and picking up right where HE (uh "she") left off.

Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman

EVIL DAVE SIM
JEFFREY FLAM:
If the shoe has ever been on the other foot, has a creators perceived personal politics ever stopped you from reading or caring about their work? Not asking to name names but given the whole evil Dave shenanigans wonder if that situation has ever been reversed for you.

DAVE SIM:
No, I've never been in the situation where I would Not Read someone else's work because of political or personal differences. At least part of that I think is because I've always known the work more than the person, whoever the person was. It would seem really weird to me to have someone's personal or political views get "in the way" of their work. It's either good work and worth looking at or it isn't. If it IS good work, how would you change your mind about it? I think you'd have to be dissociative by nature to be able to do that. To keep various Realities in different compartments in your head. "I liked this work in 1994 but then I had to stop liking it." How do you STOP liking something creative? Gives me the creeps to even think of thinking that way.

ERIC FENNESSEY:
Did the Neil Gaiman annual lithograph auction ever restart? My step-brother kindly got me the first one for my fortieth, but I've never seen another one offered.

DAVE SIM:
On the question about the Neil Gaiman Lithograph, no I'm afraid that was one of the casualties of the "I Don't Believe Dave Sim Is a Misogynist" petition. I thought, Neil of ALL people! Unfortunately the list of "of ALL people!" is as long as my arm. I'm very pleased to have the hand-rendered ones in the Archive that Neil did. I think he had a lot of fun doing them. There's definitely a frustrated artist very near Neil Gaiman's surface so the idea of a defacing a "lithograph" of himself with any medium he could think of (I think he borrowed a whole box of whatever-his-daughters were using at the time: glitter, sparkles, paints).

I've still got all of the un-doctored ones in the hall closet upstairs. Maybe things will change someday.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Dave Sim: The Lost Interview

The following interview with Dave Sim first appeared in Comics Buyers Guide #1267 in February 1998, and was conducted by Michael Cohen with Jimmy Gownley. This is the first reprinting of this interview since its initial appearance. Sincere thanks to Michael Cohen for making a copy of CBG #1267 available and for his permission to run the interview here.

FAX FROM ESTARCION
Dave Sim on the creative process, Gerhard's contribution, and whether it was all worth it.

With justification, Dave Sim is a man who said he's tired of answering questions. He has done numerous interviews in just about every comics-related magazine and marathon on-line question-and-answer sessions, not to mention 20 years of replying to the letters printed in Cerebus. He graciously consented to this interview but clearly didn't want to reiterate answers he had already given time and again; this focus is on his creative process and the business end of self-publishing. The interview was conducted by fax from October to December 1997.

THE MARKET FOR COMICS

CBG: 
Dave, if in the last 15 years, Cerebus had turned unprofitable, what would have been your course of action?

Dave Sim:
That’s a very difficult question for me to answer -- impossible in fact -- because I had to train myself very early to not deal in hypothetical questions, particularly hypothetical questions about the past.

Also, it wouldn't just be me having to decide "what now?" since Gerhard has a lot at stake, as well. If Gerhard is going to ask me about a course of action or vice-versa, there has to be a genuine and demonstrable crisis afoot. Otherwise, I’d just be interrupting or he would be interrupting there's. genuine work to done.

The closest we came to any discussion like that was through the "exclusives" war between Diamond and Capital, and Capital subsequently going out of business. At that point the dialogue was about "How much cash do we have on hand and how long will it last, at the present expenditure rate, assuming that sales stay flat and we have to reprint several of the trade paperbacks?" We picked a date about three months before the "flashpoint" and agreed to talk more specifically when we got there.

When the date arrived, sales had picked up and the slow sales period we had come out of meant we didn't have to reprint several of the trades as early as we thought. We're both pretty much in agreement that the best way to handle any crisis in the direct market (at least so far) is to get the next page and the next issue and the next trade paperback done.

Do you think price relating to value is a serious part of the sagging market problem? You’ve managed to hold the line at $2.25. A change to $2.95 probably wouldn't affect your sales, since you’ve got a fairly addicted regular readership. The question is: Is $2.25 where you think the actual entertainment value of Cerebus is?

That's a tough question to answer without sounding as if I’m indicting others. We've absorbed a lot of paper increases and general increases in the cost of doing business, because, well, in a lot of ways I think Cerebus should still be a buck. More than $3 in Canada seems like a lot of money for a comic book to someone who thought it was grand larceny when they went from 25¢ to 35¢. It's more important to me to know that a substantial part of the readership would pay $2.95 than to actually have the extra 25¢ a copy in the company bank account.

It's likely that we would have another price increase before issue #300, but I would hope it would be the last one. If it's at all possible to hold the line at $2.25, it would be really nice to see that on the cover of the last issue. Since Ger and I are the ones running the show, it really doesn't matter how the price is perceived -- too low or too high: It's how we perceive the price. All things considered, we both think the price is about right. We'd have to both decide it was too low or too high before we would change it.

Currently what are the payoffs to you from what you’re doing (outside of the vast fortune you rake in)? What makes all that slogging worth it? Have you considered what it's going to feel like when you’ve put that last ink line on #300?

Well, first of all, I can think of half a dozen things I could have done for the last 20 years 50 to 60 hours a week that would have produced a much larger fortune than Cerebus has. I'd say the greatest reward is just having a vehicle to explore what is possible on a comic-book page and in the comic-book medium. Particularly when the story lends itself to a new "tack" -- like Rick's Story.

Since I was intending to pull out all the stops on the writing side, dealing with good and evil -- or, in its context as an extrapolation of Guys, Good Guy and Bad Guy -- in a very condensed 12-issue span, it allowed me to allow myself as designer and penciller to pull out all the stops, as well. I usually restrain the designer-penciller aspect so that it doesn't interfere with or detract from the writing. Since the story was going to swing very far across many conventional boundaries of -- sanity, for want of a better word -- it was really the first time I let my designer-penciller self completely off the leash.

Of course, by the end of my 10- or 11-hour work day, I'm much more aware of being one page closer to the end of an issue, one page closer to March 2004. My biggest concern is getting the page completely finished so I have a full day to do the next page. For the last hour or hour and a half, that's uppermost in my mind. I have to finish this page and not mess it up in the last hour. The second biggest reward is getting to see what Gerhard has done with a page I finished a few weeks before. That's usually the last thing I do in my work day: go into Ger's studio and take a close look at how he solved his problem du jour -- what he decided to change, what he decided to emphasize, what he decided to leave "un-backgrounded".

I think it was Howard Chaykin who said that what interested him in other people's work was how they solved the problems that the page presented. With Gerhard, I know the finish is always going to be meticulous, so I'm usually looking past that to the thinking he did to solve the problems posed by the page. He's quite a problem-solver, Ger is.

Issue #300, if I don't get hit by the Bus of Damocles, is going to be the same as all the other issues -- finished in stages. My part of #300 will be done, then Ger's part of #300 will be done, then the "back of the book" stuff on #300 will be done, then #300 will go to the printer, then the blue lines for #300 will come back, then the printed version of #300 will come back, then #300 will be in the stores, then I'll have to write the introduction and do my part of the cover for the trade paperback for the last book (Cerebus #266-300 and, no, I'm not telling you the title).

Then Ger has to do his part of the cover of the last trade paperback, then the last trade paperback goes to the printers, then the blue lines of the last trade paperback come back, then we have to sign the first signature of the last trade paperback, then the last trade paperback comes back, then the last trade paperback is in the stores. I think you'll agree that that’s a long time to "feel" anything -- even if I was inclined to do so. Relief is about the only feeling I can picture when the last trade paperback is in the stores.

Have you seen any encouraging signs in the comics biz in the last six months?

I'd say the only encouraging signs that I've seen have been I with a few creators and a few retailers who seem to have decided that comic books are inherently and infinitely better than music, television, movies, toys, and card games. Very few in both cases. As for the doom and gloom among the comics-creator crowd, one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard of came from an unusual source. When Marlo Thomas was starting her acting career, her famous father, Danny Thomas, gave her a set of horse blinders and a card that said, "Run your own race". If you have your blinders on and are running your own race, I don't see where doom and gloom would have an access point to you.

Cerebus The Barbarian (November 1997)
Art by Dave Sim
THE CREATIVE PROCESS

Was there a point where you no longer needed to use outside reference to achieve the effects you wanted? Do you still check out how Bernie Wrightson achieved that ‘certain lighting effect or haul out that book on period clothing design or dig out your Burne Hogarth anatomy books to see what those pesky little muscles are supposed to look like?

I definitely don't refer to other people's artwork nearly as much as I used to -- in terms of "how do I create this or that effect?" I still look at Wrightson's Black Cat when I can -- and my Jeff Jones Idyll collection, Eisner's Contract With God, Sienkiewicz's Elektra -- but more to induce a pleasurable state in my artist personality than anything else. Mmm, mmm, good.

How much work is done on character and costume design before you commit things to the page?

Character designs I usually let evolve over the course of the storyline. I used to try to do a lot of sketches of the characters before introducing them, but they evolve anyway, so it just seemed like hitting a bucket of balls out at the driving range before going out to play softball. It didn't hurt but it didn't help enough to warrant making a fetish out of it.

Is there a conscious shifting from writer mode to artist mode to letterer mode, or is the creator really all these at once (as well as editor and publisher)?

A distinction that I actually make when I'm at work? There is a definite distinction but I couldn't say -- in any way -- that I "make" it.

Most times, starting a page, I either know what it looks like or I know what it has to say specifically, but I very seldom know both. If I know what it looks like, I start blocking in the pictures: The artist is "in", and the writer is dormant or has subsided below the threshold of my conscious awareness. If I know the specific dialogue, I start writing it left to right across the top of the page. The writer is "in", and the artist has subsided below the threshold of consciousness.

In the former case, the writer is definitely dormant. The artist is aware of the mood, the message, the overall statement that the picture or pictures have to make but has no internal communication with the writer (that I'm aware of, I should add -- it's very possible that they're jabbering away like rhesus monkeys below the threshold). The artist just keeps going until he's reached a plateau. If the artist is temporarily lost or satisfied with the "blueprint", the writer then takes over, using words to emphasize what the artist has rendered.

Usually, the writer and the letterer alternate at this point. The writer is doing various readings of the dialogue while looking at the face that is going to say the dialogue. The letterer is looking at the same face and is translating the words into characters -- glyphs -- of different sizes, shapes, and textures.

Likewise with the balloons. The alternating either leads to a smooth narrative flow, or it just isn't happening. Often it goes back to the artist then. The writer and the letterer give the artist the best "reading" they can come up with, and the artist takes his cue from that. Everything is in service to the writer, though. He's the final authority -- which is why it's carved in stone that the artist and the letterer don't do anything except the simplest guidelines until the writer is satisfied.

Otherwise, a pointless debate ensues with the artist or the letterer defending a really cool face or a really cool sound effect that they are loathe to erase while they try to persuade the writer to make changes to suit the needs of a backlit silhouette the artist wants to ink. If the writer says "erase it", the artist or letterer has to erase it. A few times the artist has kept going and had to put the page aside and start over, having wasted several hours of his and the writer's time. The writer has my dad's motto: "Be reasonable; do it my way."

The writer always wants to say more on the page than the page will comfortably accommodate. Writing one page a day is excruciating for a writer, which is why, although the writer is the final authority, the actual final authority is the story which is housed inside the writer. A lot of times the narrative flow is going to be served best by one small word in one small balloon. Very tough on a writer when all he gets to write that day is one word -- which he then has to write out 20 different times in 20 different spots until it suits the artist. The writer would definitely rather be digging ditches at that point.

Is inking just a technical exercise, or are creative decisions worked out at that stage?

To me, describing inking as a technical exercise is like describing championship figure skating as "sliding around on the ice". I don't think there are many creative decisions attached to it.

I find good inking to be all self-confidence and confidence in the creative decisions that have been made in the pencilling stage and I think it's difficult, if not impossible, to have the required level of self-confidence if you're still making creative decisions.

I'm curious how you rate yourself as a comics artist. Do you feel you’re in the same league as Steve Rude, Jaime Hernandez, Mark Schultz -- that on a pure drawing skill basis you're one of the best? Immodesty here will be forgiven.

I can't say that any of the names you mentioned intimidate me. Like, "How embarrassing to have my work on the same shelf as these giants, these masters." Rude and Hernandez have a far more austere line than I prefer. Mark Schultz is consistently the best of the Frazetta-Williamson school. That school didn't graduate until Wrightson's Black Cat story, from where I sit. It's all just personal opinion and personal preferences.

The last time I was actually jolted by someone's work was David Lapham with the first few issues of Stray Bullets. Even though I couldn't use it for anything, I thought he kicked the austere-line school up another grade or two. The latest issue of Bone (#29, I think) has kicked the austere-line school up another couple of grades from there. You can't fake lines like that. You have to know what you're doing.

I think all cartoonists have experienced the feeling of being creatively stuck on a certain level, and, no matter how hard we study, we can't make any improvement. Then suddenly we're doing the best work of our lives and we've magically moved up a level. Do you experience this phenomenon and, if so, do you have an explanation for it?

Oh, sure. That's really the "sweet spot" that I'm looking for when I'm easing up and bearing down in reaction to sweating and straining and being too casual. I once heard from someone that Mickey Mantle said that of the -- I don’t know how many -- career home runs he had, he only got all of the ball on two or three occasions. They talked about it during one of the World Series games. Evidently, when you get the ball square on the sweet spot on the bat, you don't even feel the impact, it's that pure, that clean, that sweet.

In my experience, if you continue to focus on easing up and bearing down when you hit one of those stretches, it makes them last longer. Hemingway's immortal advice also applies: Quit when you're going good. Don't pull an all-nighter, milking it dry. Walking away from the board in a state of peak confidence is going to do more for tomorrow's work than trying to do it all today.

You're able to portray an amazing variety of subtle facial expressions. Where did the information to achieve these evocative expressions come from? Are they something you just visualize? Is it from close observation of people? Mugging in front of a mirror? Or is it trial and error on the actual page?

Trial and error with occasional inspiration. I'm sure you know the "sweet spot" I'm talking about. Everything -- mood, message, statement, expression, words, word shapes, balloons, texture, contour, composition, location of blacks, and linework -- everything just lands on the page the way it's supposed to from the first pencil line to the last cross-hatching stroke. Siiighhh. Uh! Where was I? Oh, expression, right.

I definitely mug into my interior mirror. What does that expression look like? I don't have a mirror by the drawing board but I do tend to try out the expression and then follow the lines on my face (it's getting easier to find the lines, by the way) with my, fingertips. "When I go like this, what muscles are pulling, where are they pulling from, how hard are they pulling?" etc. If it takes me an hour to capture Rick wincing, say, my face will hurt from wincing by the time I'm done. Visualization helps. Micromanaging helps, as well: treating it as if it's a page, getting all the elements there in light pencil before I even consider tight pencilling.

I think one of the things that keeps a lot of guys from really working with expression is the pretty female face. I don't know who I heard the rule from, but anything more than a few lines on a woman's face was considered a no-no for years. Lines = ugly; no lines = beautiful.

You could get away with a few more lines on a man's face, but only a few, or the contrast would be too startling if you had a man and a woman in the same panel. Foster seemed to come closest to the solution and he still worked with a very limited range of lines when it came to faces.

Raymond opted for no lines and no expression on either men's or women's faces with Flash Gordon and seemed to modify Foster's solutions when he started Rip Kirby. Williamson seemed to take the best of the Flash Gordon Raymond and the Rip Kirby Raymond. When Neal Adams arrived in comic books, he seemed to say, "Oh, the heck with this", and leaned way into the "forbidden dichotomy" -- lots of lines on men's faces and few or no lines on the women's faces. Why not? On arrival there was no one in the comic-book field who outranked him in the pencilling, composition, realism divisions.

He'd achieve the balance through trade-offs -- an extreme close-up of a woman's face so he could put more lines in without violating the basic contour. A lot of it went into the mouth. The cheek was a clean brush line and there was nothing between the cheek and the mouth, where he would elaborately render the relationship between the top and bottom lip, the relationship between the lips and the teeth. Of course, inside of two decades we had the Image boys showing why the dichotomy was forbidden. The men and women look like two difierent species -- gazelles and elephants, no less.

Do you think that good graphic storytelling is a combination of good writing and good illustrating -- or is it something that could be independent of those technical skills.

Well, "good" is a very subjective thing. I think the seminal point or area of creation is a mystery to all of us. "Where do you get your ideas?" Consequently, the seminal point or area does exist apart from the technical skills; then the technical skills are brought to bear in putting that seminal point or area down on paper.

It always suffers in the translation, doesn't it? I know the creative work that I prefer -- and Roberta Gregory is a good example -- is the work that retains enough of that seminal point or area of creation that, no matter how much is lost in translation to the original page, enough is "nailed down" to make it very worthwhile. Ralph Kidson's work is right near the top of my list of favorites.

I certainly wouldn't use Naughty Bits to brush up on my anatomy. But there is certainly more authentic portrayal of women in a single issue of Roberta's work than in the last five years worth of, say, Cosmopolitan.

Could you explain a little bit how you go about designing, drawing, and coloring your covers?

Very much at odds with conventional thinking, I design the cover so as to give away as little as possible about what the issue is about -- nothing about what the issue is about, if I can manage it. I like the cover to have significance only alter you've read the issue. Ideally, I should be done with the previous issue before I have to come up with a cover for the Diamond solicitation -- finish page 20 of issue #228 the Friday before the cover to_#229 is due in Timonium.

I have no idea how Gerhard colors the covers. But I think he does a great job.

Cerebus is a work that is extremely complex, both in form and content. How do you balance the desire for complexity and detail with the "need for speed"?

With excruciating difficulty. This is definitely a game for guys in their 20s and 30s.

I console myself continually that the two full decades are done and that I will never again have to do a full decade of a monthly comic book. The back cover of issue #225 was only a slight exaggeration. I'm more than a little dazed every night when I leave the studio. Given that I don't have the stamina I used to, I have to wonder if I have seven years of stamina left. Since I wasn't issued with a stamina gauge when I started this little experiment, I guess it will take about six years and 11 months to know the answer.

Cerebus At The Local Tavern (Commission, 2001)
Art by Dave Sim and Gerhard
ON GERHARD

How has your working relationship with Gerhard evolved over the years?

I wouldn't say that the working relationship with Gerhard evolved at all. The first day he was working in the studio on the first page of issue #65, he did a really half-assed job because he was so intimidated. I wasn't happy with it, and that was nothing compared with how unhappy he was with it. I basically said, "Well, we'll try again tomorrow."

He got over the opening-night jitters pretty quickly; then it was a matter of both of us learning contrast. The characters came out more if I stuck to mostly white and shades of gray and left him black and shades of gray. I had followed the ongoing debate about creators' rights for many years and, on the creative side, that seemed to come down to jurisdiction. Good work comes from confidence, and confidence comes from jurisdiction: turf.

Apart from telling Ger or doing a rough sketch of what I pictured in the background, he had to have complete jurisdiction over the backgrounds or he would have no source for the necessary self-confidence and couldn't, as a result, produce his best work.

I think that's a key point that a lot of people miss. We don't produce the work together; we produce it separately. I don't think the team would've lasted five years, let alone 12 years (and counting), if Ger had to come running into my studio every time he put something on the page for my approval. "No, the flying buttress has to be more open. That cross-hatching is too tight; the window should be taller; the building shouldn't look that old; it should be more of a Tudor style."

It is evident that Gerhard's role has grown over the years, from "Backgrounds by Gerhard" to "Cerebus is copyright Dave Sim and Gerhard." How did Gerhard's position shift from assistant to co-creator and co-copyright holder?

On the business side, the creators' rights thing figured prominently. As we got to a point where Ger had worked on the majority of the Cerebus pages (issue #130), it seemed to me unethical to continue as employer/employee. Any business decision I made would affect his 10 years of creative work, so it was only ethical that we became business partners. We have a mutual veto over decisions. If we both don't agree, then we keep going the way we've gone up until now.

ON THE FUTURE

Have you had any success in marketing Cerebus overseas (non-UK) and will you pursue this in the future?

No, Ger and I really have no interest in translations. How would you translate Harrison Starkey's Liverpudlian lilt into French? Even assuming it could be done, how could I verify any translation, being unilingual? Who would do the lettering? The biggest obstacle is the loss of control, speaking for myself. To self-publish a translation I would have to start a foreign company, hire people to run it, etc. Otherwise, I would just be a cartoonist signing a contract with a publisher, which I ruled out as an option a long time ago.

Do you think the lack of a single definition for the much abused term graphic novel is detrimental to the maturation of this art form?

As I said before, I consider Cerebus to be a graphic novel, and think a persuasive argument can be made that a lack of a definition of what is and isn't a graphic novel could very well be holding us back. It would be pointless for me to define what a graphic novel is, in my view, because I'm so far removed from the popular viewpoint on the subject. It would be like asking a guy who makes 80-pound pizzas how much a pizza should weigh to be called a pizza. If your own preference as a creator is for graphic novels of 200 or more pages, then I think you should do graphic novels of that length and forget about what other people are going to call them. you could probably finish writing and drawing several of them before anyone begins to discuss the subject seriously.

I conceived Cerebus as a graphic novel of 6,000 pages, because I believed and believe that it takes at least that number of pages to even aspire to the structural validates of a really good prose novel. I haven't changed my mind. Cerebus is a graphic novel that is three-quarters completed, in my view.

There are funny little side-shows, of course. Gary Groth has declared Cerebus invalid, because it's "a comic book about an aardvark". By the same logic, Maus is "a comic book about mice and cats". All I can do is smile. As Capote said, "The dogs howl but the caravan rolls on."

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Colleen Doran: Restoring 'A Distant Soil'

The following Q&A with Colleen Doran was conducted by email by Eddie Khanna following Dave Sim's request to see the result of Colleen's restoration efforts on A Distant Soil and his subsequent comments (Weekly Update, 2 May 2014). Many thanks to Colleen and Eddie for allowing their exchange to be posted here.

A Distant Soil was a frontrunner of the '80s indie comics scene. Colleen Doran's sci-fi/adventure series originally broke several barriers: Colleen was one of the first women in the indie comics scene to write and draw creator-owned comics and A Distant Soil broke ground by featuring openly gay characters as series stars. After a recent hiatus, Colleen returned to complete A Distant Soil with publisher Image Comics/Shadowline. A Distant Soil #39 appeared in April 2013 and the series is scheduled to end at #50.

Eddie Khanna:
I think Dave may have assumed that the books are being printed in your home state because he's looking at saving his costs by having them printed as close to Diamond as possible.

Colleen Doran:
No worries, the point is that he made a bunch of assumptions and they simply don't reflect the reasoning behind why we used that printer. I really don't do many shows anymore. Image wouldn't choose a printer based on the shows I attend, they would choose a printer based on quality and the discount structure they get with that printer. One of our concerns was the die cut cover, and not every printer can pull that off. I haven't self published in decades, and I guess Mr Sim is just a bit out of the loop about what I am doing. But I don't want him to make printer decisions based on false info.

Eddie:
I have to admit, I didn't realize either that the books were done with Image Comics either, and thought it was self-published. I mean I think I knew somewhere in the back of my mind, and I figure that the books will say so on them, and I'm sure the info is out there pretty easily available, but I never really thought about it. I mean, Dave's not on the internet, and so isn't really in the loop when it comes to the current state of things. But I'm an internet user; you'd think I would have at least known or seen it or done some digging. At the very least it seems to add a new question to the mix: is it possible for a self-publisher to achieve those levels of quality on their books.

Colleen:
I am responsible for all of my restoration costs, so maybe that is why people are confused and think I self publish. I have to pay my assistant to restore the books out of pocket. I have not done a Kickstarter fundraiser or anything else of that kind to finance. I decided I wanted to be able to do with my money what I wanted - crowdfunding frowns on payments for living expenses. I cover costs entirely with art and book sales without having to go to the extra labor of producing more product, which takes time and energy from moving forward with new work.

I post things for sale and take them down based on when I actually need funds, and when I am able to take the time to pack and ship. Packing and shipping hundreds of orders is labor and time intensive, as I am sure you can well imagine.

It is more important for me to raise money to pay for my living expenses for the last 6.5 issues of the production of the series at this point: I've almost paid off all restoration costs already. So far I've raised over $40,000, which has paid for most of the restoration and my living expenses for the previous six months of production on new issues of the comic. I probably need to come up with a least $40,000 more to finish everything. I hope we'll raise the sales on the GN's while we go, as we really need to up the sales by a few hundred copies per volume at least. Not an insurmountable goal.

Of course, out of those funds come a chunk for packing and shipping, ebay and paypal fees, and taxes. So my own take on the amount is very modest.

Volume III is the last volume that requires restoration and we are only missing a handful of pages, but cleanup on the original art can still be time consuming - sometimes 2 hours per page. Fortunately, the latter art is cleaner and won't take as long to make ready for production.

During all this I am also working on other projects: I wrote and drew recent issues of The Vampire Diaries, am finishing up a graphic novel with Neil Gaiman, have a miniseries to start for Top Cow, and another series to do with J Michael Straczynski later this fall. So I am busy and finding time to work on ADS is a challenge.

And yes, working with Image is working with an 800 pound gorilla. You get better pricing and treatment from printers. It's a major reason I chucked self publishing. One of many.


Eddie:
I think it's that and also the fact that ADS is synonymous with Colleen Doran to such an extent (from what little I know, it sounds like you've had to fight hard to make sure it stayed that way) and important to you (I recall Dave's comment in an interview that it's such a personal work for you and that you could have made more money working in commercial illustration at the time), that people like me who aren't involved in the comics industry just naturally link the two and assume you're doing the publishing on it as well (if I didn't know better, I'd assume you're creating the art supplies for it as well). Is working on the other projects beneficial or helpful to your work on ADS, and not just in a financial or publicity sense, but in a creative sense? I'm sure it gives you the chance to 'flex' your other artistic muscles or use them in a different way, similar to Dave's cover work for IDW.

I don't know about anyone else, but to me, ADS is a 'Colleen Doran book' much, much more than an 'Image book,' and not just because it's creator owned (although that might change if you ever get pulled into one of those crazy company crossovers and normalman shows up). I am curious though, and this is as someone who grew up reading Cerebus and all about self-publishing, if it was ever to become feasible for you (which I don't know if you would ever consider it to be), would you ever consider self-publishing again? (reading between the lines, I think I know the answer).

I just found out that your assistant who's helping with the digital restoration happens to be one of your fans as well. I mean, it makes sense; someone who's a fan of the series and your work is obviously going to bring a level of attention and care to the matter that you're not going to get with just anybody (the only thing I could imagine being a better situation is having a printer also with the same level of interest in the material).

There's been debate on AMOC regarding the best digital techniques to use for reproduction and restoration (half-toning vs bit-mapping), which from what I understand, has to do with the problems of moire, picking up and maintaining 'fine line integrity' (I just made up that term), etc. I wonder if you'd like to mention what you and Allan found to be the best method to use, since it sounds like you're pouring a lot of work going over each and every page to make sure the work stands up not only for current digital printing processes, but hopefully future ones as well.

Colleen:
I'm flexible. If times change, and self publishing becomes something I want to do in future, yes. Or no. It depends.

I enjoy doing other work for other clients because of the challenge, the chance to work with other people, the income, and the prospect of stretching my skills. It is also very important not to get pigeonholed. I've done hundreds of assignments with other people.

My assistant Allan Harvey was a long time fan, and a photo restoration specialist with about 2 decades experience. I was reluctant to hire him at first, even though Allan is someone I liked very much, since I'd had several bad experiences with fans in the past. I've learned not to trust anyone who says they just "want to help out". There's a bill coming, and you may not be prepared to pay it.

The guy I tried to get to archive my work in the first place lied about his digital skills in hopes of learning on the job to try to worm his way into comics. He was also very anxious to get a crack at my client list.

Long story short, he walked off with the art for about two years and caused a huge mess for me on many levels. We're not friends anymore. I'm just so relieved to get the art back.

Anyway, while whining to Allan about it, I touched on if maybe he'd kinda sorta like to give it a go and he did some samples which knocked my socks off. I am so relieved to have taken the chance with Allan. He's the savior of my project. He is also paid a standard industry rate per hour. 

Allan scans all the art in greyscale and does all his touch ups in greyscale. This was such an important difference from the previous guy who scanned (and taught me to scan) as bitmaps. REALLY bad move. Scan at greyscale, do corrections at greyscale. Place the art on your template for printing and THEN convert to bitmap. My friend Val Trullinger made our digital templates, and we just place them on the blue lined guides and upload the finals. All art should always be scanned and archived at greyscale, as well as archived in final bitmap form.

Most of my original art is done very small: slightly larger than manga publishing standards. But my early art was done larger than standard American comic size. This is where you're going to have moire troubles, because fine tones will close up more when shrunk down from the larger sized art. We had some minor moire tones on some backgrounds on early art: maybe about a dozen panels or so. Not worth getting upset over considering it's a 250 page book.

On later pages drawn at the smaller size, I saw no moire tones at all. While Volume I had about a dozen panels with some minor moire in the background, I didn't find any moire in Volume II, and that is largely because of the size of my original art and use of Japanese tone sheets.

We scan at 1200 dpi greyscale, and then convert to bitmap at 50% threshold. There are a few pages I ran as diffusion dither to retain some grey tone digital effects. We got good results on those as well. I scan art I have here and send it to Allan in London via an FTP site. He uploads finished, camera ready pages after completion and then Image compiles the book. The editor and I go over them and make necessary changes, though there were very few on Volume II, especially. We learned a lot of Volume I and since the art gets cleaner as we go, it's easier to handle.

The only thing I can think of that we are doing differently is we decided not to use the original negatives that we do have. We got so much better results either shooting from original art, or making the effort of restoring the art from scanned pages in the book. We do have some negatives after issue 15 of the series, but to keep everything as uniform as possible, we are not using any of them. And the book looks better for it.

Eddie:
Thank you for this information Colleen, especially the detailed info about your processes and what you've gone through. I can't thank you enough, for this. I really can't. I'm pretty sure I can say that on behalf of EVERYONE who wants to see Cerebus books back on the market. You didn't have to relay any of this, and for that I sincerely thank you.
UPDATE:
Colleen followed-up this Q&A with two related blog posts about the use of comic art print negatives here and here.

The restored A Distant Soil Vol 1: The Gathering and Vol 2: The Ascendant are available directly from Colleen Doran and Image Comics are currently publishing the final run of the A Distant Soil series, which will conclude at #50.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Kevin Eastman Talks Turtles & Aardvarks!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Slabbing Cerebus: An Eye-Witness Account

In March 2004 CGC Grader Paul Litch supervised the signing of the 'Dave Sim File Copies' of Cerebus before they were sent to CGC’s Sarasota offices for grading and encapsulation.

Dave Sim & Gerhard Sign The File Copies Of Cerebus
(Photo from Following Cerebus #1, July 2004)
PAUL LITCH:
(from CGC Vol 3 #3, March 2004)
I consider myself a Cerebus fan. I love the artwork, I love that it is not really about an aardvark. I love the monumental stature of it. I love that this comic can humble a person. I love the diehard D.Y.I. integrity (and insanity) of self-publishing for 26+ years. I love the stubbornness of freedom shown not only by an aardvark, but by its creator as well. I am a fan.

I never would have imagined getting that phone call from Peter Dixon asking if I wanted to go to the Aardvark-Vanaheim studio in Kitchner, Ontario to witness a Signature Series signing and possibly do the Dave Sim File Copies. The first words out of my mouth, "Is Dave Sim going to be there!?!"

There was a pause. Peter replied, "No, Pauly, I figured I was going to sign them all myself." I can still hear him laughing at me.

Fast forward to March 12th, 2004. Flight delays due to snow in Cleveland delayed me for an hour and a half. Peter and Kevin Boyd pick me up at the airport and we head off for Kitchner, an hour away. We had tentative plans to go out that night with Dave Sim, but I was worried because my delayed flight put us in Kitchner at 11:30 pm. Luckily, he was still up for it. Chicken wings, pierogies, fried dill pickles (I had to try them) and a couple of pitchers and we were all planning the "Bank Heist" (as Dave dubbed it) for 8:30 in the morning.

We arrived at the studio and I tried to stay focused as I saw the most breathtaking pieces of framed original art covers from throughout the Cerebus run hung around the studio walls. Gerhard arrived shortly after us and we quickly got to work. Dave and Gerhard sat for the signings while the three of us un-bagged then re-bagged the file copies. Trying to keep up with two artists that are used to deadlines is not an easy task.

The five of us worked in silence for a while. Personally, I was still stunned that I was there. I could barely control the fanboy. "You're here representing Comics Guaranty, don't screw it up by geeking out," I kept telling myself. But Dave and Gerhard broke into the easy banter of friends and smiles abounded. Dave asked me many straightforward questions about CGC, which I was more than happy to answer. He was very excited about our Registry and the news that we were planning on including Cerebus the Aardvark into our sets so that collectors can track and rate their "Dave Sim File Copies." But the best part was just talking about comics; what we owned, what we regret selling, who our favorite creators are and were, which lead to reading aloud some of the tribute letters from CBG about the late Julie Schwartz.

We worked from 8:30 am to almost 8:30 pm with just a soda break. Peter Birkemoe, owner of The Beguiling, an underground comics store in Toronto, arrived at midday with a small television crew. So Dave not only had us to deal with, but he also gave an interview with, and wrote a three-page scripted scene for, Book TV, a popular Canadian Cable show. All the while he was signing file copies between takes.


It seems an understatement to say that it was a busy day. Dave & Gerhard signed approximately 20 copies of issues #65 to #135. Dave signed approximately 20 copies of #2 to #64. There are 10 Dave Sim File Copy #1's. He also opted to sign the other copies of the first issue that he has bought over time for the Signature Series. Plus they signed 100 copies of Cerebus the Aardvark #300 that Peter had pre-screened himself for the best copies. All told, we did approximately 2800 "Dave Sim File Copies" all signed for the Signature Series.

How did they look? Amazing. So far we have done two copies. The Cerebus #300 numbered 1/100 was CGC certified a 9.8. We also certified the highest graded CGC copy of Cerebus #1, which Dave has chosen to auction off for ACTOR at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon. This copy is an astounding CGC certified 9.4 with WHITE pages. Other issues of the file copies that stood out in my mind as extremely high grade were the first 10 or so of the run, including some very rare issues like #21, and the never reprinted #51. The Wolveroach issues were also stunning and I can't wait to see how they do.

By the end of the day we were all drained and quite amazed that we had done what we set out to accomplish. Gerhard had left after his part of the signings and after he had helped us a bit by taking some photos. The rest of us enjoyed a very nice dinner with Dave, one of his long time friends and the new owner of Now and Then Books, one of the oldest comic book stores in North America. It was a great night and the end of an exhausting and rewarding day.

One thing kept resonating through my mind the rest of the weekend. Before all of the chaos that befell us once the day got into full swing, Dave broke that awkward silence by saying, "You know, I got CGC right away. I read about it and I got it. You guys are for people who want the best of the best."

Dave Sim is correct; we are for people who want the best of the best and the extraordinary. It is an honor that he chose CGC for his file copies, the best of the best of his life's creation. Thanks Dave, on a personal level, for allowing this fan to be a part of it.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Tom Spurgeon on 'Dave Sim: Conversations'

TOM SPURGEON:
(from The Comics Reporter, 27 March 2013)
My giant 1996 interview with Dave Sim that ran in The Comics Journal is in here. I don't own that interview, and Fantagraphics has a good relationship with the series of interview books with which this is a part. I hope I get to see it someday! At any rate, not a lot of my interviews are republished in this way, so I'm looking forward to seeing this interview myself. I remember doing that interview in a way that I don't remember doing a lot of the others I've done. I was in an apartment in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle and at the end of our talk I told Sim, "I hope you feel that went well." And he said, "You mean you hope I think that went well." True story. He was very nice to me during that interview, though, and I liked the result. Those interview books are usually pretty entertaining.
Dave Sim Conversations is published by University Press of Mississippi and available now from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk. Edited by Eric Hoffman and Dominick Grace, Dave Sim Conversations is a collection of interviews spanning 1982 to 2006. A complete list of the interviews included in the book can be found here. Go read Eric and Dominick's Q&A about the book.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Miriad

Miriad #5 (1981)
Art by Dave Sim
KEVIN DAVIES:
(from the interview introduction, Miriad #5, 1981)
Dave Sim has been steadily growing in popularity as both writer, artist and comics personality since the introduction of his own character and independent comic book Cerebus The Aardvark to the comics scene in December 1977. The comic itself acquired its title through a succession of events which more than reflect the trials encountered by any publication when first making an effort to establish a publishing operation. Dave produced his first drawing of the character on request from an acquaintance, Denise Loubert (now his wife), as a logo for her intended sword and sorcery fanzine. Once completed, the book was shipped to a printer in California, with neither money nor material heard from again. But the aardvark survived!

Realising the potential which could incorporate the Cerebus character within a sword and sorcery setting, Denise offered Dave her financial support and the two struck up a partnership. With Dave acting as creator and Deni (as she refers to herself), fulfilling the role of publisher, the two set out and produced the first three issue of Cerebus as a bi-monthly experimental probe of the market, testing whether there existed enough interest to justify the continued publication of an independent magazine of this sort. The response was overwhelming and the rest, to the delight of all, is a very eventful history.

(Thanks to Eddie Khanna for the Miriad scans!)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dave Sim Conversations

Dave Sim Conversations is published by University Press of Mississippi and available now from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk. Edited by Eric Hoffman and Dominick Grace, Dave Sim Conversations is a collection of interviews spanning 1982 to 2006. A complete list of the interviews included in the book can be found here. Eric and Dominick kindly forwarded the following Q&A they pre-prepared for UPM's publicity department.

What drew you to Dave Sim's work?

Dominick Grace:
Several things drew me to it. One is that, as a Canadian, I tend to want to check out work by Canadian talents, so Cerebus automatically was something I needed to try out, once I heard of it. I first heard of it in The Buyer's Guide for Comics Fandom (later renamed The Comics Buyers' Guide), which gave glowing reviews to early issues and, more importantly, ran the one-page Prince Valiant parody strips Sim did early on as a promotional tool. As a Hal Foster fan (Foster was another Canadian, incidentally), I was predisposed to like this strip, and Sim did a great job of affectionately skewering that classic strip. It was a short step from there to Swords of Cerebus volume one--another attractor was that Sim made the early issues available in such an inexpensive and accessible format--and the current issues of the comic; I got the first Swords volume and issues 13-17 (the then-current issue) all around the same time and was quickly won over mainly by Sim's humour and deadly parodic skills.

Eric Hoffman:
When I began reading Cerebus I was still quite young, 13 or so, and was mainly interested in superhero comics, notably Alan Moore, John Totleben and Stephen R. Bissette's Swamp Thing. An employee of the comic shop I frequented showed me an issue of Cerebus that included a Swamp Thing parody and I was immediately struck not only by the clever dialogue but also the overall weirdness of the work (in that issue, the character Cerebus, an anthropomorphic aardvark, is perched atop a floating mountain made almost entirely of carved faces spinning through space on some unknown trajectory while engaging in a conversation with a three-headed monstrosity composed of equal parts wizard, Swamp Thing and Marvel's Swamp Thing-esque Man-Thing). Also of note was the cover design, a simple photographic image of a moon, and the interior artwork, particularly the detailed line work of Sim's collaborator, Gerhard. It was quite unlike anything else I had seen - and this sometime after the height of the black and white comics explosion of the mid-1980s.

What makes Cerebus stand apart from other comic book works?

Dominick:
Several things make Cerebus stand apart. One of the most significant is its scope. Sim was way ahead of the curve on using comics to develop long, complex narratives that stood up well to (indeed, really demanded) rereading when major arcs were completed. Another, and perhaps the most significant one, is its graphic innovations. There are few cartoonists with so complete a command of the panel, the page, the sequence, the long narrative in comics form--even of often invisible elements of cartooning such as lettering. When Sim hit his stride, almost every issue of Cerebus was not only hugely entertaining but also a master class in how to do innovative, medium-expanding comics. Gerhard's contribution to this aspect of the book cannot be overestimated, by the way; his sophisticated command of spatial relations and masterly draughtsmanship ground the funny animal protagonist in a fully realized world.

Eric:
When I first read Cerebus, I became thoroughly addicted, as the work came out in mostly monthly doses with little to no break in continuity (moreover, the 100 or so issues that came out before I started reading it were available in collected format and in bi-weekly reprints). I continued to read Cerebus for several years until my interest in comics waned. When I came back to the comic some ten years later, the first thing that jumped out at me was how Sim and Gerhard's work had progressed, in particular Sim's skill as writer, letterer and caricaturist and Gerhard's layouts and detailed line work. Going back and reading the material I had missed - some one hundred issues - was absolutely enthralling and engrossing. I can't say that any other comic, which if it does last for any length of time regularly changes creative teams and dispenses with continuity whenever possible, provides a reader with a similar experience.

Where should readers new to Dave Sim's work begin their explorations?

Eric:
Personally, I think it's always best to begin at the beginning, with the first Cerebus volume. It generally gets short shrift among fans, and it has been customary for readers new to Cerebus to pick up the second volume, High Society. I've never understood this. For one, the first volume does contain what is now called "The Palnu Trilogy" which must be read first in order for High Society to make perfect sense. Also, the work does marvellously display Sim's stunningly vast improvement in skill as artist and writer (it covers just over three years' worth of work) and there are a number of plot points and characters introduced in this work that are crucial later in the series. Finally, the comic is a painfully amusing send-up of popular 1970s comic books, most notably Conan the Barbarian and Howard the Duck. Like much of Cerebus, it helps if you are familiar with what he is lampooning, but, like Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, is not necessary to enjoy the work.

Dominick:
Actually, I would recommend starting with High Society. It does suffer a bit from plot points carried over from  the first volume, but not so much that it should really impede reading, and its general level of accomplishment is much higher. Besides, now is  a good time to be getting it, what with IDW contracting with Sim to release a digital version including lots of extras.

Did you have to work much with Dave Sim on this project, and if so, how did he contribute?

Eric:
This collection developed organically out of the collection of essays I'd edited, Cerebus the Barbarian Messiah: Essays on the Epic Graphic Satire of Dave Sim and Gerhard. I'd originally contacted Sim to obtain rights for reprints for that book and he was quite willing to grant them, which is to be expected considering his view that anyone engaged in what can be considered a new, creative work does not require his direct permission. But I got it anyway (other publishers have different views than Sim). I'd long admired University Press of Mississippi's Conversations with Comics Artists series and wanted to build on the Barbarian Messiah book with a collection of interviews. Again, Sim was quite straightforward in granting rights to reprint images and so forth, but that was about the extent of his involvement in either of these books.

How did you go about selecting images to accompany the interview selections?

Eric:
Well, there were two ways, actually. Many of these interviews, notably the Spurgeon and Bernstein, were published with a number of images with reference to the topics being discussed. We decided to forgo many of these illustrations and to provide our own selections, in part to assert this book's autonomy and position as a largely new work despite nearly all of the content being otherwise previously available in some form or another (though most of it out of print). Primarily, we followed suit by choosing images we felt best illustrated a certain topic or theme being addressed in the interview. In some cases, we chose images simply because we had a particular preference for them; for example, Dominick was quite adamant that we include images of Mick and Keef, Sim's caricatures of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Dominick:
I'd just add that, without trying to be programmatic about it, we tried to ensure that we produced images from across the run of the series, so that readers get to see samples of Sim and Gerhard's work from early on, from the middle of the run, and from late in the run. We ended up including images from most if not all of the individual collections.

Were there any interviews you wanted to include but could not?

Dominick:
One that leaps to mind is an early interview conducted for The Comics Journal, by Kim Thompson. It's a great, wide-ranging one, but also massive (as many Sim interviews are) and would have taken up a huge chunk of the available space. As it is, since interviews with Dave Sim do tend to be expansive, this book has fewer selections than some others in the Conversations series, so to include the Thompson one, we'd probably have had to cut two or three others. We opted instead to include only one, later Comics Journal interview, conducted by Tom Spurgeon shortly after the appearance of issue 186 of Cerebus and ranging extensively over Sim's career and grappling with his ideas. (The Comics Journal is, of course, one of the most consistent sources of insightful, expansive interviews with comics figures--perhaps the most consistent source--so it needed to be represented in our collection.)

Eric:
I for one would have liked to include some later interviews dealing with Sim's post-Cerebus work (notably Judenhass and glamourpuss) but as Dom says space was a concern and also the interviews included seem to have Cerebus as a natural focus, it being Sim's only major work and the bulk of his professional output to date. To include some of the later interviews, however fascinating, would have seemed a bit tacked on.

Why is a collection of Sim's interviews necessary? 

Dominick:
A collection of interviews is necessary, I think, because, like old floppies, these original records also often tended to disappear quickly into back issue bins, or oblivion. Comics and comics-related materials are often ephemeral. Many of the interviews we've included are inaccessible, or very hard to find, even for studious collectors--and even in these days of eBay. In a few cases (e.g. the Sandeep Atwal interview) the only reason we were able to include a piece at all is that we happened to have copies in our own collections, and in other cases, we had to rely on the great Margaret Liss, who probably has more Sim-related material than anyone else (visit her website at www.cerebusfangirl.com). And it's important, even essential, to look at these records because they present Sim in his own words. Given the controversies that dogged the latter years of his career, I think it's important to get back to his own explanations of his work and his ideas, rather than relying solely on what others have to say about him--which is often, to be frank, unfair to the work and to the man.

In what way has Sim's work changed the industry or the art form?

Dominick:
Sim made the graphic novel, as opposed to the floppy, the format of choice for comics, I'd argue. Pre-Cerebus, comics reprints were rare, and even rarer in book form--especially of new material,which in most instances was consigned to back issue bins within months (even weeks) of first appearing and had to be sought out and paid for through the nose, if you weren't lucky enough to be in on something when it started. I doubt we'd have the plethora of long serials designed to have clear endings, or the increasing number of original works produced at novel length, today without Sim's example.

Eric:
I'd add that without Sim's example such creators such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore would likely have continued working for the major publishers for a longer period of time and such works as From Hell and Sin City might have appeared in considerably different form.  Creator's rights would have been a more marginalized concern in the comics industry during the 1980s without Sim's presence as a viable self-publisher/alternative.  I'd say in part because of the example of Cerebus (there was also DC's well-publicized lawsuits over creative ownership of Superman, Jack Kirby's struggle to recover his original artwork from Marvel and Steve Gerber's lawsuit with Marvel over ownership of his character Howard the Duck), both DC and Marvel began to take creator's rights more seriously and to reconsider their very unfair and outdated contractual terms concerning restitution for creators - allowing creators to retain their rights, paying percentages as opposed to per-page pay rates, and so on.

What position do you believe Dave Sim occupies in the comic industry today?  Ultimately, what sort of legacy do you believe Sim has contributed to the comics field?

Dominick:
I think that the controversial nature of what Sim has had to say about feminism and to a lesser extent about religion has unfortunately marginalized him, at least to some extent. That said, many comics luminaries, both long-standing and more recently emerging, have acknowledged Sim's mastery of the medium (even when they object to Sim's ideology). He is recognized as a master of the comics form, though his influence is probably not as obvious as is that of some other comics masters. Certainly, one does not tend to see many Sim clones or imitators, as one has seen over the years with other figures, such as Neal Adams, Kirby, Eisner, and so on. Sim's more sui generis--a unique figure like Ditko, or Gene Colan--instantly recognizable, hard to imitate, but definitely foundational. In some ways, it's hard to imagine a figure more different from Sim than Chris Ware, for instance, but when I read Ware, I can't help thinking that his innovations with layout and format would have been unlikely without a precursor like Sim.

Eric:
I've already mentioned Sim's impact on creator's rights and certainly that has had a major impact not only on how comics creators publish and market their work but also on what kind of work creators choose to publish.  Cerebus is a long-form work ne plus ultra - there is literally nothing else like it in the discrete, monthly comic format (the closest form that comes to it is manga - a form with which Sim said he has little familiarity - and yet manga is designed to be read quickly and involves a more cinematic structure than its Western counterparts, most notably Cerebus which, with its many text interpolations, is a decidedly literary comic book).  Anything exceeding Cerebus' length is necessarily compromised by a variety of factors and always to the detriment of its tone, narrative structure and stability and even comprehension.  As Dom notes, the medium has somewhat regrettably shifted away from monthly comics as a viable publishing option for many creators and publishers -   the budgets are too tight and the work loads too demanding - in favor of graphic novels or longer collected works (and monthly comics are almost always written with an inevitable paperback collection of 6 or 10 issues in mind), so it is my feeling that, at least for the time being, Cerebus will remain an entirely unique work for its medium.

© University Press of Mississippi. Used with permission.