Saturday, 4 July 2015

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. Now, I have at foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so.

For the last month or so I've been running excerpts from Dave's letters on Twitter, but the 140-character limit is frustrating, so here we go with the reformatted Dave Sim And Me, which will be running on AMOC every Saturday!

From a letter dated 13 November, 2004, from Dave to me:
I’m not really sure if I pioneered the sequential reprinting. That honour probably goes to Russ Cochran with his E.C. Library when he decide to reprint the entire runs of the E.C. titles, including colour covers. I think if you look at most collections of reprints, they include the covers and sometimes the advertisements. I was driving at something else, modeled more on the serialization that used to be done in Dickens’ and Dostoevsky’s time, where the completed serialization was collected into book form. In fact, I’ve taken a lot of flack over the years for not reprinting the Cerebus covers in the trades. Just another example of me swimming upstream against the tide. To me, if you call them graphic novels, they should read sequentially from front to back with no outside material. In fact, I worked very hard to get to the point where it would be difficult if not impossible to tell where one issue ended and another began in the reprintings. That’s the exact opposite from the effect created by reprinting the covers.
Okay, AMOC-ites, check in again next Saturday for another pithy paragraph from the same letter from Dave. We're still in year one, carrying over from Twitter, of the ten years of letters I have in the box...

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Restoration Bulletin-- seeking Church + State I reprint essays

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings folks!

I'm in the midst of putting together the back matter for the new Church & State I printing, and with eight pages to fill, I'm looking for some help with the content.

Does anyone reading this happen to have copies of the  Church & State I reprints, published as an extension of the Cerebus Biweekly reprint series? What I'm looking for specifically are the essays that Dave wrote for these editions, or any other material unique to the reprints. These don't need to be fancy-pants high-res scans or anything, only readable scans (or photographs) of the pages in question.

If you can help me out with this, please send scans (or photos) to CerebusArtHunt at gmail. And please leave a message here stating which issues you've sent, so that people don't waste their time sending pages that have already been sent.

Thanks for your time everyone!

US Tour 1992 tour diary

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

We've already seen a bit from Dave's notebook #17 - see "Po's monologue about Bran" and then the a three column series on "The Good and Bad of Comics in the Early 90s". As this notebook covers issues 153 to 164 in the early 1990s, there is a bit more in it I'd like to show you. A tour diary of sorts, from his US Tour 1992.

On the notebook's page 55 and 56 Dave was writing some dialogue for Suenteus Po, and the on page 57 we see he must've been at his hotel as he jolts down "Oops, Mitch just got here for the Midnight Comics signing."

Notebook 17, page 57 (as always, click to enlarge)
It looks like Steve Bissette and Julie Doucet were to be at the signing at Midnight Comics in Albany, NY. We also see that Dave tells a short story of how he met Tom Palmer from Marvel Comics. The signing was part the US Tour 1992 and happened on June 20, 1992 according to the back cover of Cerebus #158.

Then on the next page we see Dave writing about how Mitch wasn't coming to pick him up for another half hour for the Midnight Comics signing? This is actually part of the Note From the President for issue #160. Though it is way down the bottom of the note.

Notebook 17, page 58
The rest of the page appears to be a prologue the rest of the NFtP that was in the back of the issue on a page long note with super tiny text. The next page in the notebook is used in the NFtP in issue #160 as well, though edited down and put before the Albany tour stop info.

Notebook 17, page 59
It deals with the Minneapolis stop of the tour, on June 7, 1992. So perhaps Dave started his tour diary at the back of the notebook, and his Cerebus stuff at the front, and the pages before 57 where there is he Suenteus Po dialogue were not done right before he was interrupted by Mitch from Midnight Comics. Perhaps he was in the middle of the line on the bottom of page 57 which is why it just ends mysteriously, we don't find out who the first two people he met were.

This starting out at the back of the notebook would also explain why on the next page - page 60 - we see what becomes the start of the NFtP for Cerebus #160, a bit about the Kansas City tour stop on May 31, 1992.

Notebook 17, page 60
As you can see down the bottom of  page 60, which happens to be the last page in this notebook, is the start of the Minneapolis note, which is continued on page 59.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Dissecting the Trauma Pages

Mara Sedlins:

The cleanup work is almost complete for Church & State I - soon we’ll be moving on to the book layout stage (followed by the print-and-double-check-everything stage)!

This week I’m also preparing the before and after plates for the C & S I Trauma pages, including a summary of the restoration work done on each page. Many thanks to our page donors! As I take a step back to consider the process, I’m curious to see what cleanup issues ended up being the most prevalent in these special attention pages.

Given the amount of time I’ve spent working on them, it seems like it would be a straightforward task to come up with a taxonomy of issues that were addressed. But it’s not immediately clear how to categorize all the things we do to “fix” a page. After thinking about it for a bit, I realized this is because there are (at least) two different ways of viewing the problems on a page: 1) in terms of what caused the problem (e.g., shrunk tone, smudged ink, tape damage) or 2) what concrete actions need to be taken in order to fix the problem.

Of course, the latter is informed by the former - but it’s not a one-to-one relationship. That is, the same solution (blacking in white noise with the brush tool) can address several different causes of noise (light ink, dust on the page, edges of tone). And vice versa: the same issue (damaged tone) can require different restoration techniques depending on various factors (the extent and placement of damage, the type of tone). So when I start to list the issues on a page, I have some choices to make about how to describe what was done and why.

Here are some before-and-after examples from the pages I’ve been looking at:







Playing “spot the differences,” what I see is the actions I took to get from “before” to “after”. But I think it’ll be valuable to document both the how and the why of what was restored. Next week I'll follow up with the final list of issues that I come up with. 

Meanwhile, I was glad to see some new leads on original art pages in our inbox recently. Thanks again for keeping the hunt going!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Aardvarkian Empire

Cerebus ad designed by Richard Bruning

For further information on Richard Bruning see the in-depth profile in
Comic Book Creator #7 (TwoMorrows, Spring 2015).

Monday, 29 June 2015

Meeting People At Conventions

Cerebus ad designed by Richard Bruning

For further information on Richard Bruning see the in-depth profile in
Comic Book Creator #7 (TwoMorrows, Spring 2015).

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Jules Feiffer: The Man In The Ceiling

The Man In The Ceiling
by Jules Feiffer
Harper Collins, 1993

(from a review first published in Cerebus #200, November 1995)
Two years have passed since Jules Feiffer's The Man In The Ceiling was published. Not being a fan of the New York literary 'scene', I'm not sure if it was reviewed extensively or at all. If it was, the certainty exists that the point of the book was lost on the reviewers if those reviewers were just... well... reviewers (and not creators). Art Spiegelman's back-cover blurb left a bad taste in my mouth. While it would make sense from the standpoint of a New York publisher to have the creator of Maus endorse a new work by Feiffer (successful New York Jewish cartoonist gives thumbs up to successful New York Jewish cartoonist), there is an apples-and-oranges quality at work, from my vantage point. It makes about as much sense as having Charles Burns do the back-cover blurb for Eisner's Dropsie Avenue. Spiegelman can't help but be aware (at some level) of the inappropriateness -- working 'Batman's punch' into his endorsement is an eyebrow sufficiently arched to induce a universal wince among Feiffer's devotees.

As a card-carrying Feiffer devotee, permit me to redress the balance in my own small way (mindful of the fact that a Harvey award for Best Cartoonist offers meagre literary firepower in a shoot-out with a Pulitzer -- even a 'special' Pulitzer):

The Man In The Ceiling is a deceptive work. It's a book intended for children -- at the least that's what it purports to be -- more accurately that's what it's dust jacket purports it to be. I prefer not to take the dust jacket's word for it, myself.

On the one hand, the dust jacket has a case. The language, sentence structure, composition are all of the straightforward variety favoured by authors addressing adult buyers of children's books as demographic quarry. One can picture Aunt Tilly in a Fifth Avenue bookstore in search of a 'nice book' for her nephew. She reads the dust jacket, skims through a few paragraphs and decides it's just the thing for little Timmy who spends all of his time in the basement drawing his funny books. We must trust to the tender mercy of Fate that Aunt Tilly's cursory examination misses any of the pithy, characteristically Feifferesque depreciations about the value of school (nil, of course) and any other assertions guaranteed to raise Aunt Tillian ire.

The Man In The Ceiling is a Trojan horse, you see.

The thought occurs in anticipation of the imminent thesis that perhaps Spiegelman is 'in on the game'. Perhaps 'Batman's punch' is his own contribution to the equine subterfuge. If such is the case, the Harvey apologizes, abjectly, to the 'special' Pulitzer.

Distilled to its essence, The Man In The Ceiling concerns Jimmy Jibbel, a young boy who writes and draws his own comic books in the basement of his parents house. He has two sisters. Lisi, the elder, makes his life a living hell but is also the most avidly interested in his creativity. Susu, the younger, is simply devoted to him in all regards, particularly the stories he TELLS her. (Feiffer makes a key point of this. Despite the boy's drawing ability, his younger sister on;y wants him to TELL her stories. She has no interest in seeing the characters drawn.)  The boy's mother is a fashion illustrator. His father is a white-collar drone. At a critical juncture in the story we are presented with Uncle Lester, a creator of Broadway musicals who has never had a show produced despite twelve years of trying. (The musical with which Uncle Lester finally 'gets it right' is called Robotica, which, from its description, bears am uncanny resemblance to an early '60s Feiffer peice, The Lonely Machine, which appeared in an issue of Playboy. Whether the allusion is just that -- or whether some treatment of The Lonely Machine as a musical comedy actually exists in some form -- my interest was piqued by the reference.) There is also Charlie Beemer, the most popular and accomplished 'all-boy' student in Jimmy's school. Interspersed with Feiffer's ink and wash drawings of the events in the story are crude pencil comic book pages from Jimmy's laborious pre-teen efforts as a comic-book creator.

Back in Aunt Tilly Land, one pictures little Timmy being horrified by his present. Two sentences in he knows he is being condescended to (despite Art Spiegelman's assurances to the contrary on the back-cover -- if only Spiegelman had pencilled an issue of Youngblood. Alas...). It's a calculated risk on Feiffer's part. He is too much aware of his own childhood to be unmindful of the delicate balance that must be struck. He has something to tell the little Timmy's of this world. But, in order to get little Timmy, he has to go through a) a New York book publisher, b) mainstream bookstores, c) Aunt Tilly, d) Mum and Dad. From the point of view of all four hurdles he has psychic molestation as his agenda. The only hope is to come across as kindly old Uncle Jules with a perfectly harmless little children's book (the first ten pages wouldn't furrow the brow of Mother Teresa). To extend our speculative scenario, Little Timmy thanks Aunt Tilly in the desultory way common to all boys who have just gotten a sucker punch to their age group for Christmas. He puts it aside. But a week later, maybe a month, maybe six months (Uncle Jules is very patient, Little Timmy), he's reread the latest Spawn for the fourth time and decides...ah, what the fuck.

And then he and kindly old Uncle Jules are...



Now, understand that the menace implied there is purely from the standpoint of Aunt Tilly and Mum and Dad. What is compelling about The Man In The Ceiling (and what makes it a seminal work of its kind) is that it constitutes a creator's direct communication with the would-be creator. This is an avenue near and dear to whatever I'm using for a heart these days. The realisation is abroad the land that there is a secondary birth in the life of the creative individual. Blood relation jockeys for position and prominence with Creative relation(influence and peer) -- a meaty theme hidden from popular sentiment by its 'outlaw' nature. In The Man In The Ceiling this is sharply focused to a laser-like intensity beneath its cosmetic exterior of being and innocent, nice book about 'a boy just like me'. It documents the birth of the creative mind, creative awareness, creative sensibility. The effect (assuming it 'worked' -- we won't know until Little Timmy's another ten or fifteen years older) is not dissimilar to the effect Feiffer's 1971 interview in Playboy had on the fifteen-year-old version of the chap typing these words.


Jules Feiffer KNOWS that I don't fit in anywhere. He knows that the best I can manage is a grudging acceptance of the fact of my existence. He KNOWS that comic books are more important to than my family. He KNOWS that the comic books I draw in the basement are more real to me than school or a job (please God, no!) or my friends or what I read in the newspaper or whatever grown-ups happen to be flipping out about this week.

He's OLD! But he KNOWS!

(Now -- being almost forty -- I don't use the term 'old' quite so casually.)

There is an eerie, Stephen King quality about it. No, more accurately, an 'occult' (hidden) quality about it. Impenetrable mystery, that so few 'connect' with comic books at a visceral level or at the core of the psyche. The veil, the fog, is at its thickest, its murkiest as a child picks up a pencil and a piece of paper and KNOWS (just KNOWS) that 'the thing' has been found. The Man In The Ceiling documents the particular effects attendant upon that discovery, the fact that the birth of a creative sensibility induces a kind of creeping insanity in the uncreative individuals in proximity to it. At any moment a benign friend or family member can flare into an inescapable malignancy. Beneath the mask of concern, benevolence, camaraderie is the fear and hatred of the 'different one', which (one is left to suppose) is as ancient as society itself.

In the story (as in life) this exists everywhere just as the creative sensibility encounters it: the inexplicable imposition of a needless impediment that recalls the belief in demonic possession. Whether the impediment is thrust in the way by a parent, sibling, friend -- the overwhelming urge is to ask: Who are you? I know you have the face of (my father, my teacher, my best friend), but WHO'S IN THERE?

It is  only Uncle Lester, the creator of Broadway musicals, who implies no threat. (Suspect at various junctures in the story, but he always comes through.) He encourages, he is a good audience, he pays attention. He expresses preferences (knows INSTINCTIVELY when his nephew is drawing his comics for some other purpose than serving his own creative sensibility).  He is Feiffer's stand-in in the proceedings. Like Feiffer, he has that success snatched from him by the New York reviewers.

The message is implicit. It never stops, Little Timmy. You can get past your parents and your teachers and all the rest just by getting older and getting out on your own. But those demons pursue you. They inhabit people at inopportune moments, interpose themselves between you and your audience.

The first and only time I met Jules Feiffer, I remember telling him how much I liked his strip about Irwin Corpulent. I quoted it badly (a Feiffer strip has an internal melody that is lost in encapsulation): I'm a pillar of the community, got a big promotion, a fancy new office. But inside I'm thinking, you're a fraud. Someday they're going to find you out and come and take it all away. I get awards, testimonial dinners. But inside I'm thinking, you're a sham. Someday they're going to find you out and come and take it all away.

Etcetera, etcetera in that vein. How wonderful the guy's life is and the inner voice always saying: Someday they're going to find you out and come and take it all away.

The punch line is that, one day, he's sitting in his office and a delegation of people come in. He figures they're there to give him a good citizenship award or something. One of them says, "Irwin Corpulent, we've found you out and come to take it all away."

"So I cleaned out my desk and I left. When they find you out, they find you out... why argue?"

I told him how much I identified with that strip. He asked me if I knew why I identified with that strip so much. I really didn't. He said, "Because you've never had a large failure in your life. I used to identify with the strip myself until Little Murders closed on Broadway after a handful of performances. Now I don't identify with that strip. You find out that life goes on. They can't take anything away from you that really matters."

The reassurance that I got from that simple observation could only have come from another creator. I try to pass that on where I can. The conclusion of The Man In The Ceiling  resonates with that observation and the experience -- the hard experience -- from which it issued and which was transformed by Feiffer's indefatigable (hell, let's use the word) Spirit into a shining piece of creative armour.

The Man In The Ceiling should be in every comic-book store in the world. If you know a kid around the age of ten or eleven who is starting to draw his own comic books, you can do him (or her) no greater favour than to give him (yeah, probably him) a copy.

Just don't let his Aunt Tilly or his Mum or Dad read past the first ten pages.

All Feiffer fans will be eager to learn of Jules Feiffer and director Dan Mirvish's ongoing Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for their upcoming film Bernard & Huey The Movie. Don't delay -- the fund-raiser ends on Saturday, 4 July!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Neal Adams, Niagara Falls & Other Forces Of Nature

Cover by Dave Sim
(from a review of Following Cerebus #9 posted on 6 November 2006)
I’ve been a fan of Dave Sim and Cerebus for many, many years. I started with issue #19, way back when, and I pretty much stayed with Sim all the way through to issue #300. I recently picked up issue #1, which has been kind of a holy grail of mine for years. And I’ve read many things by and about Dave Sim, including the first eight issues of Following Cerebus. But the piece in this issue is about the most charming, fun and wonderful piece I think I’ve ever read by Dave Sim.

The entire 100-page issue of Following Cerebus is devoted to a visit that Dave has with Neal Adams, a real hero to him, as Dave, Neal and Neal’s family visit Niagara Falls, a place that Dave really loves. The result is a part interview, part travelogue, part blog entry as we really get to see inside Dave’s mind. And it is absolutely fascinating.

First of all, and most interesting to me, is the sheer love and passion that Dave has for Niagara Falls. As he takes Adams and his family through the attractions, it’s clear how much Sim knows and loves the Falls. He’s awed by the natural beauty of the area so much that I found myself inspired to visit the Falls. As Dave writes with detail and authority about the journeys of the boat the Maid of the Mist, the Cave of the Winds, the Journey Behind the Falls, and more, his writing shines with details and remembrances. Dave understands why the Falls have captured his imagination, why he’s so enchanted with them, and he does a great job of conveying that passion to readers.

Of course, to the average comics fan, the key topic of this issue is Dave’s visit with the legendary Neal Adams. Maybe because this issue is as much about two quick friends having a great time together, the article feels more like eavesdropping on a conversation than an interview. Adams tells some wonderful stories in the course of the men’s chat. Adams’s story about how he got DC to display more colors in their comics is precious. I also loved Adams’s stories about working for Johnstone & Cushing, the legendary advertising company of the 1960s. It’s obvious that that Adams was always a supremely talented artist, a real prodigy for his age, as Adams talks about the envy that older cartoonists felt for him as Adams got a newspaper strip at a very young age.

But the center of the two men’s’ conversations is a discussion of Adams’s rather unique theory of continental drift, the dinosaurs, and everything else under the sun. It’s a fairly loopy theory, but Sim does a great job of drawing all the details from Adams, listening in that kind of non-judgmental way that only real friends can have.

So in the end, Following Cerebus #9 is many things. It’s a travelogue and a conversation, a visit between two friends and a scientific treatise. More than anything, it’s an exploration of two very interesting men, Dave Sim and Neal Adams, and any fan of either man shouldn’t miss this issue.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Weekly Update #88: 'No Referral' MRI Clinic Found!

Dave Sim's Weekly Update: In which Jimmy (Amelia Rules!) Gownley points Dave in the direction of a 'No Referral' MRI clinic! Plus an 'Off-White House Copies' update.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Notebook #25 And Rick's Story

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

So far in looking at the thirty-six notebooks that Dave Sim used while creating Cerebus, we haven't looked  at notebook #25. When Dave sent me the notebooks, he would put a small post-it note on the cover of the notebook with the issue number(s) covered in the notebook. For notebook #25 the post-it said 'issue 227'. Notebook #25 stated 100 pages, but only 40 were scanned and there were 40 blank pages and 20 missing pages.

Going through those 40 pages, while it starts with issue #227 in Rick's Story, there is a bit of a few later issues and even Going Home in notebook #25 as well. On page 2 of notebook #25, we see dialogue for page 11 of issue #227 - page 157 in the Rick's Story phonebook. It starts with Joanne talking to Rick with Cerebus sitting nearby thinking to himself and listening to the conversation.

Notebook #25, page 2
Dave has crossed out some dialogue between Rick and Joanne where Joanne states Rick rather spend time with Cerebus then with her. Instead on the finished page we see Cerebus sitting there trying to make a reason - cleaning the wood stove with a stick - to stay around and listen to their conversation.

We'll skip to page 5 in the notebook, where see a sketch of Cirin and a thumbnail for pages 16 and 17 of issue #225 (pages 162 & 163 of the phonebook).

Notebook #25, page 5
The thumbnails don't match the finished pages panel for panel, but the intent is still there: Cirin coming up the stairs with a sword to do something to Cerebus. I can't find the dialogue in the Rick's Story. It sounds like it is Cerebus thinking about where Rick went and what he thinks happened to him.

Then on page 6 we see a sketch of Cirin with her sword and then a quick glimpse from issue #229 wherein Dave appears:

Notebook #25, page 6
We also see a quote from Dave "After five years it was just about time to leave." He must be talking about Peter's Place, the bar in Kitchener he used to go to.  Though in issue #229 he says he spent the better part of ten years there, not five.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Soundtrack to Cerebus (Restoration)

Mara Sedlins:

This week we’re excited to be wrapping up restoration work on the C & S I Trauma pages. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to spend the time necessary to bring these pages as close as possible to the original intention. It’s very satisfying to look back at a page after spending hours absorbed in its details, toggle the visibility of my “adjustments” layer(s), and watch the time-damaged image heal itself and come into focus.

Not to say that the absorbed-in-details work isn’t sometimes tedious. For these time-intensive pages in particular, the thing that’s saved my sanity (I think!) is listening to an almost-constant stream of music while working. There’s evidence that listening to music while doing the kinds of immersive, repetitive tasks involved in restoration work actually improves productivity too, by improving your mood and facilitating a state of “relaxed focus.”

The choice of music is crucial, though. Some types of music that work better for these purposes than others - like, Motörhead wouldn’t be ideal. The best music to work to should be ambient, mellow, without too many highs or lows in the sound, repetitive, familiar, and obviously something that you like. Lyrics can be distracting, although this isn’t as important for non-verbal tasks. The presence of music has been such an integral part of my work experience that I’ve come to think of my choice of what to listen to as almost part of the restoration process, to think of myself as a curator of Mara-optimizing sounds.

I wonder how common it is to listen to music while creating comics? What did Dave and Gerhard listen to while working on Cerebus? Or are there songs that aficionados of the series associate with particular issues, that you were listening to while you read?

I didn’t see the article I linked to above until just now, so I’ve been making my choices through trial and error, mostly just listening to stuff I like and then changing it if it gets too distracting. Putting the same album on repeat works really well. If the music’s too slow, though, it’s easy to get bogged down in details that won’t show up on the page - so as we approach our target deadline for finishing cleanup, I’ve been opting for music with a faster beat.

The reason I’m writing about this now is that last week I noticed a particularly beautiful confluence of music choice with the page I was working on. Since I was looking for faster music, a friend introduced me to footwork - specifically, this album. The music (and art) that I like best is emotionally complex, and these songs definitely meet that requirement. They’re fast and energetic, rhythmically fascinating, while having a depth and melodic flow that create a state of intense focus without being intrusive.

I listened to that EP over and over while working on Issue 75, page 20 (phonebook page 492), a Trauma One page with shrunk tone in every panel. It was only as I finished cleaning the last panel that I zoomed out and took in what was being depicted, the sampled and deconstructed lyrics still running through my head:
"I’m rollin’ down a lonely highway
Asking god to please forgive me
I’m rollin’ down a lonely highway
She’ll come back and she’ll forgive me"
(And, inexplicably: “We got tamales”)

(The last track on the EP, “Broken Heart” runs in obvious parallel too.)

This page, in isolation, may be my favorite yet. In focusing on the restoration work I’ve been enjoying my imaginations about the plot nearly as much as reading the book itself (if you’re interested in my half-made-up plot summary of Church & State I, see the response to Reginald’s comment on my last blog post).

Thinking about sample-based music more broadly, I realized that there are not only emotional and thematic parallels between what I’ve been listening to and the work I’m restoring, but structural and creative parallels as well. One of the principal features of Cerebus (from what I’ve read) is the way Dave creatively parodied ("sampled"?) characters from literature, history, and other comics. By situating these references within a new context, he created a work that became more than the sum of its parts, just as sampling in music - or, in visual art, collage - recycles existing elements to create something new and valuable in its own right (despite legal controversies over copyright infringement). Much of the artwork in Cerebus could literally be considered mixed-media collage as well, if you consider the combination of line drawing with cut-out pieces of tone and xeroxes.

To me, one of the appeals of collage-based work is that the creation process appears transparent to the casual observer. You can see what the thing is made out of and imaging putting it together yourself. You can see the "mistakes," the edges of things. This is especially true looking at the original art pages for Cerebus, even being a step removed working with black and white scans. In the restoration and printing processes, this textural quality gets smoothed and refined. After all, the intended final product was always a two-dimensional black and white image. The edges of the tone are supposed to disappear into the surrounding black ink. The blue pencil lines were never meant to be visible.

One of the ongoing decisions we have to make in restoring the work is how much process ends up being visible. Ultimately, what adds to a viewer’s experience of the page, and what distracts? In any case, it’s been a privilege to work with these unrefined, imperfect, process-transparent, and now time-distorted pages. I’m sure this in large part explains the pleasure of owning original art in the first place, too.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Pott Shots

Pott Shots
by Stu Potts
The Comics Journal #86 (November 1983)

JIM SHOOTER (ex-Editor-In-Chief, Marvel Comics):
(from, 29 August 2011)
The S'ym character was a friendly nod to Dave by Chris Claremont. They were friends. There was even talk between them about an X-Men Cerebus crossover, which Mike Hobson and I were okay with, mostly to humor Chris. It never got done for some reason. Not because of Marvel. Hobson had a contract drafted, generous terms, and sent it to Sim, but Sim never got back to us about it.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Cerebus Replaced!

Cerebus ad designed by Richard Bruning

For further information on Richard Bruning see the in-depth profile in
Comic Book Creator #7 (TwoMorrows, Spring 2015).

Sunday, 21 June 2015

NewsWatch: Marvel Threatens Aardvark-Vanaheim

'NewsWatch' reporting by Tom Heintjes & Kim Thompson
The Comics Journal #91 (July 1984)

See the offending covers to Cerebus #54-56 here...

JIM SHOOTER (ex-Editor-In-Chief, Marvel Comics):
(from, 29 August 2011)
...The legal issue was because Sim did a Wolverine parody, "Wolveroach," in Cerebus. No problem with that. But it sold well, and therefore, Dave kept doing it. One use of a trademarked character as parody is protected, but multiple uses constitute infringement, which if left unchallenged, can weaken a trademark. Marvel's legal beagles sent Dave a cease and desist letter. Dave went ballistic (though he was wrong) and ranted against Marvel in his book. When I heard about the mess, I went to our in-house counsel, convinced them that Dave was actually a friend and that we should solve the trademark problem by retroactively licensing the use of the Wolverine trademark for Dave's parodies for a dollar. Marvel did exactly that. When a subsequent issue of Cerebus came out, I was expecting that Dave would say something nice about Marvel. No, he continued ranting. I ran into him at a convention later and asked him why he did that. He said he'd gotten such an enthusiastic response to his ranting that he didn't want to stop. And he seemed stunned that I would be offended... 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The World's Shortest Cerebus Story

Cerebus: The Frost Giant's Wedgie (2006)
By Dave Sim

Friday, 19 June 2015

Weekly Update #87: Can You Hang On Just A Second?

Dave Sim's Weekly Update:
Organizing the Off-White House Archives continues with a meticulous invoicing of all extant material. Plus, "Talk To The Hand!". The beginning of a hilarious new sit-com starring Dave Sim and his wrist-brace? You decide! Also, Charles M. Schulz, world-famous creator of Li'l Folks. Stay tuned until the very end to see The Hand of Dave Sim Doing Something.

Bonus Item:
A copy of this Cerebus Art Dragnet certificate could be yours! Just send Agent Sean and Agent Mara a scan of any Cerebus original art in your possession.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Characters of Melmoth

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

The first and only time so far we've seen images from Dave's notebook #16, it was way back in August 2014 in "Melmoth and Tiny Thumbnails".  Notebook #16 covers issues #141 to 149 and is another Hilroy notebook which the covers says had eighty pages. Only 47 pages were scanned and there were 19 blank pages and it was missing 14 pages. There were some copies of pages from notebook #15 glued to different pages (yes, I scanned those in).

Since this week has been a crazy busy week for me, I'm just going to show you some of the full page sketches Dave did in this notebook.

First we see Dino, owner of Dino's Cafe, on page #3:

Notebook #16, page 3
You can see through to page 4 that there is another sketch of Dino. Basically Dave recreated the scene between Dino and Cerebus where Cerebus offers Dino a gold coin for a room to sleep in and food for the rest of his life.

Here is Cerebus agreeing to Dino's question of Cerebus' offer, seen on page 17:

Notebook #16, page 17
Then a bit later on page 33 we see Doris, the friendly replacement to Janice's angry waitressing style.

Notebook #16, page 33
What you can barely see on the other side is a rough layout for the cover to issue #144.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

On the Hunt-- the Negative Side of Negatives

Sean Michael Robinson:

Before we get to the meat-- we are still actively seeking any and all scans of Cerebus original artwork, from any era of the book. If you have access to any Cerebus original artwork, or know someone who does, please contact us at the above address. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a better idea of why we're looking for as much artwork as we can find, attempting to put this vase back together...

Yesterday morning I spent a bit of time on something I thought you all might be interested in seeing. At long last, the Church & State I solicitation will be in Previews, scheduled for the August 2015 catalog, available at your local stores October 2015-

There's a lot to talk about regarding the actual volume--mainly a discussion of the improving printing methods and paper and how much difference that will make in the quality of the finished book-- but that can wait for another post. We do, after all, have several months between now and then. 

So for today I wanted to concentrate on the images in the ad.

First off-- man o man, is that a great panel or what?

This is a great example of Dave and Gerhard really clicking together, the figures and the backgrounds integrated perfectly with each other. The way the window and wall tear away from the giant stone hand, the fragments of debris flying across the picture plane. It's also relatively rare at this stage in the series for there to be sustained physical action, so when it happens, and is carried out so well, it's extremely gratifying.

Anyway, we were lucky enough to be working from an original art scan for this page, which meant a lot of tone cleanup, but also meant an incredible amount of detail present, not just in the fine lines of the floor and white detail in the dense cross-hatching, but in the tone as well.

This is, as far as I know, the first time that Gerhard (or Dave) used etching on the surface of the tone, here used to indicate the transparency of the shattered glass. Many mechanical tones (though not all) could be etched with a very sharp exacto knife, taking off the printed surface of the tone but leaving the acetate carrier intact. Gerhard would go on to use this technique to great effect in at least three other books, for very different purposes (anyone care to guess which?).

There's a hint of this in the previous editions of Church & State I, but most of it was eliminated by the photography and newsprint paper. 

Speaking of "eliminated by photography," here's a better look at the bottom images in the ad.

It's a fragment of a panel from issue 74 page 3, a page that's all but ruined in the initial printings because of the amount of art that simply isn't present. Here's the bottom of the page, directly from the negative--

And here's a shot of the same area of the cleaned-up original art page. Click either one to embiggen.

So what's happened here?

There were most likely a few factors working against a page like this. Firstly, the ink in the background cross-hatching on this page, at least looking at the unadjusted scan, is more watery than might be ideal. More importantly, though, at this point the printer seemed to be experimenting with spiking the exposure significantly in order to anticipate the amount of gain they would have when printing as dark as they were on newsprint. That combined with the slightly weaker gray of the ink lines just wiped out a huge amount of information.

It's easy  to imagine the dialogue that might have led to these decisions. Dave calls the printer. "You know, the last two issues really have weak blacks." So they print darker, with, inevitably, more gain. Next phone call. "That last issue was really plugged up." So they photograph much lighter so they can preemptively catch some of the gain. Next call. "You know, there were a lot of blown-out lines in that last issue." And so the see-saw swings again...

Regardless of whether conversations like those were actually happening, the see-saw effect during this period of the book is real, and it's why I have to take a good look at the surrounding negatives each time we get another original art scan. How will this fit in with the rest? 

This will be less and less of a consideration as we get further into the series, and the negative scans will represent a lower percentage of the finished book.

One last observation about the panels above-- notice the dense cross-hatched areas of the negative, and how much plugging there is than the original art scan below? Any guesses why that might be? My best guess involves optics...

Please, please, please do keep those original art scans coming! Dave will be receiving, signing, and sending out the first round of Art Dragnet certificates sometime in the next week, and we would love nothing more than to send out another 150 or so to all you contributors out there. Have a lead on a page or pages? Own one yourself? Please send us an email at cerebusarthunt at gmail. Happy hunting!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Eisner Unchained

Will Eisner's Spirit Magazine #39
(Kitchen Sink, February 1983)
Art by Will Eisner

Letters Page: Will Eisner's Spirit Magazine #39
(Kitchen Sink, February 1983)