Sunday, 24 May 2015

Aardvark News Round-Up #3

Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing
The recent release of the digital download version of the long out-of-print Guide To Self-Publishing drew a guarded response from Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter who noted:
My hunch without re-reading is that this may serve better as a historical document than a how-to and as a world of insight into the unique publishing achievement that was the 300-issue Cerebus best of all. 
Other opinions strongly disagreed and argued that it is still a highly relevant resource, most notably by Stephen Holland at the Page 45 store in Nottingham, UK. In a review of the first edition back in 1997, Stephen said, "Without a doubt I would not want to enter this industry as a creator without having read this first, regardless of whether I intended to self-publish or sell my creativity to/through other publishers...".  A recent tweet confirmed that his opinion still stood:

Why not risk $9 and decide for yourself?

Gerhard At Motor City Con
Gerz Blog this week posted a wall of photos from Gerhard's guest appearance at last weekend's Motor City Con. Here's just a couple of great Cerebus illustrations swiped from that post:

Charles Burns At The Believer
The McSweeney's Store is now offering a giant poster of 130 portraits drawn by Charles 'Black Hole' Burns for the cover of The Believer magazine. Sadly, that poster doesn't include the Cerebus illustration the magazine ran back in 2005, but it's all the excuse I need to run that picture again. As Dave Sim said at the time: "Wow. A Charles Burns Cerebus. Hitler or Rembrandt: once a fanboy always a fanboy." A gallery of Charles Burns' portraits can still be seen online at the Adam Baumgold Gallery.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Diana Schutz: Remembering The Self-Publishing Movement

Diana Schutz & Will Eisner, San Diego Con, 2003
(from, March 2008)
Like Rick Veitch, my introduction to Cerebus was also my introduction to the concept of self-publishing -- it was early 1979, and Ron Norton, co-owner of Vancouver's ComicShop (where I was working at the time), handed me the first seven issues of what became Dave Sim's magnum opus. I didn't stop reading until Cerebus #300, becoming Dave's proofreader for some years along the way -- just the text pieces, as the story pages were considered hallowed ground.  An offshoot of that gig, interestingly enough, was the Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing, which I helped Dave put together in 1997 -- despite being gainfully employed as a Dark Horse Comics senior editor!

In 1992 and 1993, I tagged along with Dave to several of his convention and store appearances, meeting many of the principals of what later came to be known as The Self-Publishing Movement - including Jeff Smith. I had been a little late to Bone, too; this time it was Matt Wagner who handed me the first few issues to read, but I had already written Jeff a fan letter by the time Dave introduced us, in ’93, at that year's ProCon/WonderCon. We’ve been friends ever since. The early nineties were a pretty good time for comics. We’d recovered from the black-and-white boom -- and then disastrous glut -- of the late eighties; the comics specialty (or "direct") market was well established by then; and guys like Jim Hanley, Rory Root, and Bill Liebowitz, among others, were really taking comics retail up a major notch. A lotta dollars were flowing, and a lotta comics were being bought. Frank Miller had sworn off his first love affair with Hollywood and had returned to comics full-time, with an even stronger passion than before -- surprising everyone by hooking up with a then-small, upstart company named Dark Horse to publish Give Me Liberty and, later, Sin City. In 1992, several very high-profile artists left Marvel as a group, to form first their own imprint and, pretty shortly thereafter, their own publishing company. And what’s more important: the readers went with them. It was the era of the creator. Finally!

By 1992, after fifteen years of an awful lot of hard work, Dave Sim was an "overnight" success.  Jeff Smith had been toiling away at various incarnations of Bone since the early eighties, and by 1994 -- having won four Eisner Awards and three Harveys that year alone -- he, too, had become an "overnight" success.  Talent, determination, and a receptive marketplace provided fertile ground for a self-publishing movement to take root. I remember conventions, late-night parties, spirited discussions -- many drinks.  We were all a lot younger then! 

Larry Marder was a critical part of the mix, too.  The creator of Tales of the Beanworld was then putting his background in advertising to use at Moondog's, Gary Colabuono's Chicago chain of comics stores (stores that I don't think survived his departure, but I could be wrong about that).  In the pages of Cerebus, Larry had already been dubbed Nexus of All Comic Book Realities -- or The Nexus for short! -- and his unique position between the beans and the moon, so to speak, really did mean that a lot of different industry elements (including many key people) converged around Larry.

I'm betting it was Larry who planted the seeds of an idea that Dave and Jeff popularized among the self-publishers: the strategic formula of direct communication with the retail base -- and ultimately the consumer. In other words, the business side of self-publishing. Dave and Jeff -- and Larry -- are darn good at it. Some artists just aren't, and some artists don't want to be bothered. Sadly, it would turn out that some artists didn't want to be bothered with the creative side of self-publishing either.  It's one thing to talk the talk, but you gotta walk the walk, too, and one unfortunate legacy of the self-publishing movement is the number of promising cartoonists who wound up dropping out of comics altogether when they didn't become overnight sensations. On the upside, for every person who dropped out, there were others who stuck around -- and it's thanks, in part, to the self-publishing movement that people like Paul Pope, Terry Moore, and Rick Veitch, among others, are still making great comics today.

As are Dave and Jeff. Not only have they provided shining examples of just how far talent and determination can take a person in a receptive marketplace, but they also have given unselfishly of their time and advice -- and outright help -- to any and all who are interested. What's more, Dave and Jeff set the stage for the current comics scene in (at least) two really important ways.

First, they published -- and continually reprinted -- collected book versions of their comics.  In 1986, nine years after Cerebus #1, when Dave came out with that first "phone book", very few publishers were routinely collecting serialized comics into what Will Eisner (and others) had earlier called a "graphic novel". And if they were, they seldom kept those books in print. Comics publishers were still working under a periodical, disposable, print-to-sell-out model of publication -- as opposed to the perennial model favored by prose publishers, not to mention libraries and bookstores. Jeff immediately followed Dave's lead, waiting only a couple years before collecting Bone #1-6 into book form. This was a revolutionary idea in those days; despite the introduction of the "limited series" during the eighties, the dominant paradigm was still the monthly, ongoing floppy comic -- not the perfect-bound volume with a place on your bookshelf. And both creators had good, solid, long stories to collect -- stories with a beginning, middle, and (most important) an end. Like, y'know, a novel. And like the best novels, the Cerebus and Bone books were reprinted over and over. And over again.

This, in fact, is one of the major benefits of self-publishing: as a self-publisher, you get to control the reprinting of your work. When your work is published by someone else, you basically give up that right -- and it's a pretty important one. Learned that from Dave. Had never thought about it before.

To my mind, the other important legacy of the self-publishing movement of the early nineties is the 1994 debut of the Alternative Press Expo, followed by the Small Press Expo that same year (and later the Ignatz Awards) -- both of which begat Columbus, Ohio's Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo and Portland, Oregon's Stumptown Comics Fest. By touring together -- at conventions, store signings, and distributor trade shows -- the self-publishers, spearheaded in 1993 by Dave and Jeff, established a serious DIY presence within the industry, generating tremendous enthusiasm and proving that shows dedicated to self-publishers (and alternative cartoonists generally) could be financially viable as well as creatively fruitful. I will never forget walking around SPX 2000 with Will Eisner, introducing him to several of the young cartoonists set up at that show. Not only were they blown away, but Will said he was so caught up in the infectious energy there that he felt inspired, too -- and needed to get back to his drawing board because of all the young cartoonists nipping at his heels! These shows are all about comics, and the love of comics, and while commercial publishers started bedding down with Hollywood in the early nineties, the self-publishers were there to remind us what it's really all about.

Diana Schutz is the widely respected comics editor who has spent her career working with some of the industry's most significant creators, including Will Eisner and Frank Miller. After twenty-five years at Dark Horse Comics, Schutz retired in 2015.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Weekly Update #83: The Search For Ultrasound

A Call To Action!
elp Dave Sim find the most modern ultrasound digital imaging or MRI clinic in upstate New York.

Bonus Feature:
What’s Wrong With Dave’s Hand Exactly?
"Still getting pain -- right here specifically -- Guyons canal, the ulnar canal tunnel -- the anatomical term for the canal containing the ulnar artery and ulnar nerve right here at the base of your pinkie. The best current guess, and it is just a guess because the physiotherapy isn’t taking the pain away, that what it is is a tear of the triangular fibro cartilage complex, which you can see right here -- that’s the TFCC. Possibly that or possibly damage to the meniscus (Gesundheit!) a disc of cartilage found in some joints serving to adapt the artricular surfaces to each other. You have one meniscus in your wrist and two meniscuses in your knee."
 ~ Dave Sim (Weekly Update #83, 22 May 2015)

Thursday, 21 May 2015


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 in last week's comments section, Sean asked if we could see Dave's notebook pages for Cerebus #80, Thrunk's return.  Issue #80 is in notebook #6, which covers 80 through 86. I've covered notebook #6 a couple times before: "Touch Not The Priestess" and "Fat Elvis Period".

There are 6 pages total of notebook #6 that have some issue #80 material on them, so let's start at the beginning, page 1:

Notebook #6, page 1
Some dialogue for Lord Storm'send that doesn't show up in the issue. Or in issue #78 or 79 for that matter. Looks like the guy we all know as the Wuffa Wuffa guy wanted to tell Cerebus about the black tower empire and how the tower was growing. "Last time it blew up pieces were found four days march."

We also get the outline for the issue - let's just say a lot happens. We don't see one of my favorite lines from the series, how Lord Storm'send opens up the issue: "The road t'hell is paved with wasted efforts."

And yes, the pages ends with 'Farmer tells Cerebus', we don't get to see what. . .

Page 2 of the notebook is an outline for the next ten or show issues, so let's skip to page 3:

Notebook #6, page 3
The top of the page has Dave's schedule for November and the dates Nov 21, Dec 17,  Jan. Then we get some of the dialogue between Sophia and Cerebus when she comes back to tell him whats what: "You thought I had it easy. Easy! Playing knowing you're 'hiding the pee-pee' with the POPE. . .?!

Then on the next page we get some roughs for page 14 and 15 of the issue (page 586 and 587 of Church & State I).

Notebook #6, page 4
Cerebus witnesses Bran MacMuffin take drastic measures upon seeing Thrunk. The rest of the sketches show what happens in the rest of issue. And yes, I said there were 6 pages of issue #80 material. The other 3 are rough sketches, perhaps someday we'll get to them. But not today. 'Flick'

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Gerhard Part the Second: the Next Few Months

Sean Michael Robinson:

When I began work on Church & State I back in January, I started thinking back to my interview with Gerhard. Seeing direct scans of all of this original artwork, I'm struck by how much different the experience can be viewing the work in color, all of the mechanical process exposed, rather than the more familiar experience of line art reproduction on newsprint. The mammoth interview, which focused on pen and ink technique and the evolving craft in Cerebus, originally ran at, but now lives at the Hooded Utilitarian

I thought it might be interesting to run a few excerpts here, with the original newsprint scans replaced with color scans of the original artwork under discussion. This is part two, covering the remainder of Gerhard's first few months of the book. You can read part one here.

Robinson: In my estimation, around 466, 500, somewhere around there, it really starts to gel.

newsprint scan of C + S I, page 444-- Issue 73, page 12.

Adjusted original art scan of the above page, courtesy of the collection of James Guarnotta.

Adjusted and cleaned.

Gerhard: Even this one, 444, where Cerebus goes down in the basement and he gets the case of whisky. I like that. That bottom panel. That’s very reminiscent of the Epic stories too. Yeah, more like that.

From "His First Fifth." Note the similar textures and depth cues.

Robinson: There’s a kind of coordination that seems to be at work there.

Gerhard: Yeah. 449’s not too bad.

Newsprint scan of page 449, i.e. issue 73 page 17.

Original art scan of the same panel.

Gerhard: Lost it for a little bit there. And then … Oh yeah, the room with Jaka. I think that’s when it really started. I was still doing too much grain on the door — that’s too much. The stipple stuff worked out well. And I started putting down the stipple and then having just a little bit of crosshatching in the corner to give it some weight. That would come back from the printer and I would go, “Ohh, OK, that works. That’s one.”

Robinson: It’s an unusual combination. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before: stipple tone on top of crosshatching.

Gerhard: In some cases I would do it the other way around — I would put the stipple tone down, say, “That’s too flat,” then I would crosshatch on top of the tone. On the job training.

Issue 74 page 7, courtesy of the collection of Dean Reeves.

Gerhard: And one of Dave’s philosophies, which I really credit him for, was to do stuff just because it occurred to you. I remember where the little farmer guy comes in and there’s one panel where he’s looking out the window — there it is — 573 — and as I was penciling it I said to Dave, “Oh shit. All of a sudden it occurs to me that I want to do the reflection of the sun coming up in the window.”

And he said, “How are you going to do that?”

I said, “I dunno.”

He said, “Do you think you’re gonna be able to pull it off?”

And I said, “I dunno.” [Laughing.]

Sorry, no original art for this one!

Robinson: From then on it seems like the experiments are constructive and expanding the boundaries. More than just confidence, it seems like you have some mastery over your skills.

Gerhard: Wow, mastery already, huh? That’s very generous of you. Well, we’re that many issues into it, and it does like a lot better already. So, I guess, thankfully, I’m a fairly quick learner. [Laughter.] I wouldn't quite call it mastery.

Robinson: Well, of the things that are in the repertoire.

Gerhard: Yes, slowly building up the bag of tricks. Get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work, refine the stuff that does. But you know, it’s funny. Just because of the sheer size of this story and the sheer number of pages involved, after a while your bag of tricks slowly fills up and you can refine them. I would look at the page, and I would see what needed to be done in my estimation, and I would decide which technique, which little trick from my toolbox I was going to use in any given situation. And as the years go by that starts to feel like hackwork. I’m just doing the same stuff over and over again. And it’s like, I would almost become hesitant to try new techniques, because it was a monthly book. We had to average a page and a half a day to get this thing out every month. I guess every once in a while if the situation was right and I was feeling confident I would try something else, but otherwise it was stick with what works. Day in, day out, month after month, year after year. It just started to feel like hack work, almost.

Robinson: It must have been tempting to get more conservative in a certain way.

Gerhard: Yeah. But it was also just developing a style; you have to stay with a style. Also, because I stayed fairly consistent, it gave Dave the freedom to change up styles, a different feel for a different character, and as long as the backgrounds stayed the same it wasn’t a jarring change in the overall look of the book. I guess my point was that after so long the bag of tricks gets full and it seems like I’m doing the same thing over and over again.

Robinson: On 416, there’s a couple of visual devices that you inherited from issues that you didn’t work on.

Gerhard: Are you talking about the streams of light?

Robinson: Yeah. What was your reaction to those things that you were called upon to replicate?

Gerhard: Not happy. Not happy, no. It was difficult to try to emulate some of the things that Dave had done. I would have much rather he had done those streams of light, because I think he was better at it.

Issue 61, page 11. An example of Dave's "streaming light."

Ger's streaming light-- Issue 71 page 17, courtesy of the collection of Oystein Sorensen. The issues where these appeared happened to suffer from pretty bad photography, thickening and clogging the lines. This might have contributed to Gerhard's reaction to the work.

Robinson: So 513 is the “Odd Transformations” story. And it seems like the first time that what’s happening in the foreground is completely dependent on what’s happening on the background.

Gerhard: I loved all the dream sequences. I loved doing that stuff.

Robinson: So how did you guys coordinate those types of things? [Long pause.] Or did you coordinate? [Laughter.]

Gerhard: Well, this is probably the reason I loved doing them so much. Because it was a dream sequence, I guess I didn't feel that I was constricted as much. It could look different and it didn’t matter. Because it was a dream somehow that liberated me from feeling like I had to stay just in the background. You know, page 512 I always liked, the panel on the bottom.

Not the page in question, but another very similar panel from the same issue. How many kinds of tone can you count in this panel? Notice anything strange about the curtains? (click to enbiggen)

Robinson: That’s another one where the lighting is so dramatic that it’s hard for me to imagine how you guys could coordinate that without doing some type of joint planning.

Gerhard: From the shadows on the character I could tell which way the light was coming from. So I knew where I would have to put the table lamp. Then it was just a matter of designing the room around him and getting the perspective right, and then putting the shadows where they would fall if there was a light sitting on the table. And then bingo bango, there you are.

Robinson: How did you develop your pre-visualization? I would imagine it wasn't always that keen. When you’re looking at a page like that, what process is going on as far as being able to visualize the elements you need on the page?

Gerhard: With this one, there’s two elements I’m considering first. The first one is where’s the light source, and the second one is finding the horizon line. For this, he’s on the floor and we’re looking straight down like we’re a fly on the ceiling, so I knew right away that this one would be one point perspective. And again, determining the light source from the shadows on the character. After I’ve determined those things it’s just a matter of building the room.

Robinson: Of construction.

Gerhard: Yeah, constructing a room and then going back to the light source and figuring out where the shadows would be. So getting back to the dream — when the characters interacted with the background, Dave would usually just draw with a pencil line — indicating, say, the edge of a table. Sometimes if it would be important to the story he would draw a rectangle or whatever with the word window in it — or he would just very quickly sketch a window in.

Newsprint scan. We have only one original from this issue, unfortunately. 

On page 516 where the nurse character is in the partial sphere there, and she’s getting enveloped in the water, I remember that was me — I’m not exactly sure what Dave had intended there — he gave me no real indication. And again, because it was a dream issue, and because of Dave’s philosophy of doing something just because it occurs to you, well, that’s what I did. And then at the bottom left, where Cerebus breaks through the panel borders, and you can see all the reflections in the water, that was me too. There was no indication from Dave that that was supposed to happen. The dream issues were always a little liberating for me because all bets were off. On 521 where the one tree snakes from one panel to the other, that was my decision. Dave really gave me free rein on the backgrounds.

For the longest time Dave would work only a page or two ahead of me, and I was on a need-to-know basis. I still enjoyed reading the book one page at a time. So if there was something really important to the story that needed to be on the page, he would either quickly rough it in, or write window or whatever.

Robinson: So if you wouldn’t mind moving to Church and State 2… In a certain way I have less to ask you about as your skills …

Gerhard: As it became more obvious what I was trying to do? [Laughter.]

Robinson: You added so much in the first 600, 700 pages, there’s just an incredible amount of forward progress. And your technique becomes more invisible.

Gerhard: That was another thing that I was always trying to do, not to make what I was doing too obvious. All the early stuff just looks too obvious.


If you enjoyed this segment of the interview, take a look at the whole shebang over at the Hooded Utilitarian. Or continue to enjoy snippets of it with original art for the next, oh, four years or so as we work our way through this massive project.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Nasty Habits: The Voice Of Hard Experience

"Falling in love makes smoking pot all day look like the ultimate in restraint." ~ Dave Sim, 1987
(Photo by Gerhard)
(from Note From The President, Cerebus #98, May 1987)
On the subject of last issue's back cover photo, captioned "Nasty Habits", I suppose there are a number of people out there for whom marijuana and its use are still considered "controversial" (a fair number of them are comic fans judging by the clucking of tongues that goes on in the letter columns whenever the subject is broached). So be it. I gave up weed whilst in Honolulu, and I'm here to tell about it. 

It's actually a very good place to give it up since Hawaiian grass is among the most legendary in the drug counter-culture (I remember the first time I smoked it when Deni and I were still living on Weber Street. Totally zoo'd we was and several of our friends as well. Eric Hope and I were eating ju jubes when he suddenly voiced the thought that had just popped into my own head "Ooh. Don't eat the ju-jubes. Feels like you're chewing on your brains." We both cracked up for about a half-hour). Since Ger and I didn't have a phone and made no friends to speak of while there, there was no pressure to straighten up at any point and behave like a human being. It was straight out of bed, two or three tokes and I was fucked up 'til lunch. Two or three more and I was fucked up 'til dinner. Two or three more and I was fucked up 'til bedtime. Two or three more and the night had a thousand eyes. Those of you wondering how I managed to do the book while fucked up should be advised of the fact that I was not stoned for maybe a total of three months out of the last ten years. I had always done Cerebus stoned. I did everything stoned. 

But the whole time I was smoking the Hawaiian weed (my Toronto supplier Dr. Vilebliss was indirectly sending care packages until I found a local source, whereupon the Dr.'s weed - the best in Canada - was used to flesh out joints of Hawaiian and was christened Hawaiian Helper) a line from a John Lennon song kept running round my head. "Everybody's smoking, No one's getting high". 

I really wasn't. I was getting stoned. I was getting fucked up. But I was definitely not getting high. Nature of the beast, kids. You can only do so much of any drug and it's just not going to do it for you anymore. 

I'm not dumping on it and I'm not saying don't do it. I have done way too much of just about anything you'd care to name on at least one occasion and I've never had cause to regret it. But anything past that first "way too much" go-round and you are eating lotus. Intake valve stuck on wide open. Looking for a new and improved nipple. I still take a toke if I'm offered. Everyone is very generous at cons and signings (very generous). But I no longer feel compelled to own the shit; to do it all day every day. 

That goes for drinking and smoking and over eating. 

And to all you smug straights out there, it also goes for some of your vices too. 

Like coffee and tea and sugar and junk food and Falling in love. 

Falling in love makes smoking pot all day look like the ultimate in restraint. 

Just check the look on your face, junkie.

(from the HARDtalk Interview, August 2012), I wouldn't advocate the use of LSD or other drugs by anyone. But, at this point, I wouldn't advocate masturbation, cigarettes, fats, sugars, popular music, most fiction, dancing, movies, card-playing... very little besides reading Scripture aloud, working 12 hours a day six days a week, fasting nine days out of ten, eating very little when you're done fasting, exercise... you see where I'm going with this? :)

But that's the voice of hard experience: that you never know what things in life are going to prove to have an Enormous Adhesive Aspect until they're stuck to you good and proper. It's received wisdom that pot isn't physically addictive. Well, it sure was for me. For a couple of decades there, if I had pot and I was stoned, I was okay, I was wonderful. If I didn't, I was cranky and jonesing for it. By the time I knew that that was my relationship with it, it was too late. It might as well have been grafted onto me with sutures. Buy a quarter-pound for personal use. You know, a dealer's quantity. When I was down to a half ounce, I was "almost out" -- time to buy more. Just trying things to find out if that's the way you are with them, it's Russian Roulette. When you get burned you get burned but GOOD!

At the same time, OUR society is in advanced adolescence, young adulthood (the civilization formerly known as Christendom, I mean) where it's really your decision. I mean, REALLY your decision. Not "You better be VERY careful". You want to try heroin? Take a vacation to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. You can shoot up in the street and no one will bat an eye. Contrasted with Islam which is still in its relative infancy:  get hooked on something you shouldn't and its a capital offence. Homosexuality is a capital offence. A lot of things we in the West have come to look at as, hey, whatever, Dude are capital offences in Muslim countries. Want to know what you can do and what you can't do? Go ask the Imam. But bet on it being "No, you can't do that. In fact you should be flogged just for asking about it. Don't move while I consider whether you will be or not." Christendom was like that for a LONG time...

...For me, it's forty years of bad decisions and -- to this point -- sixteen years of repentance. SERIOUS repentance. Don't apologize for it. STOP DOING IT and apologize to God for how long you did it. 22 years of fornication and 16 years of repentance. Six more years and I'm even. Theoretically.

But, I do think it's a free will thing. I'm pretty sure it's where God wants us to get as a civilization and as individuals. When it's a capital offence, you aren't REALLY being tested. When heroin is just a plane ticket to Vancouver and a jaunt down to Junkie Heaven, that's when you are REALLY being tested.

Good luck to anyone reading this who thought they'd just try something and now find that it might as well be grafted onto them with sutures. I can't even imagine what access to online pornography must be like. Any perversion that comes into your pointy little head(s) just the click of a mouse away. I feel guilty just watching the occasional music video. It takes all kinds.

Monday, 18 May 2015

From The Archive: Will Eisner Studios

Treasures From The Cerebus Archive: The letter of agreement with WILL EISNER STUDIOS for The Spirit/Cerebus crossover in CEREBUS JAM No.1... with my name spelled wrong! AAAAAGGHHH!

From The Archive: A Fan Letter From Kevin Eastman

Treasures From The Cerebus Archive: Fan letter from Kevin Eastman in 1984 accompanying a copy of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES No.2. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Happy 59th Birthday, Dave Sim!

Dave Sim
Photo by Sandeep Atwal, taken on 16 April 2015

Aardvark News Round-Up #2

Gerhard's The Walking Dead
Over at Gerz Blog this week, Gerhard posted the above stunning variant cover for The Walking Dead:
"I was asked to do the exclusive variant cover for the Wizard World St. Louis edition of The Walking Dead... (any Cerebus fans recognize the sunset?)... and there will be a black & white variant edition as well... These will be available at the Wizard World St. Louis show, also coming up soon."
Gerhard's limited edition cover will only be available to attendees at the Wizard World St. Louis con to be held on 22-24 May. VIP attendees also receive an additional black & white sketch version of the comic.

Neil Gaiman: Thinking Of Metal Bikinis
Game developer Larin Studios took some flack this week for their game Divinity: Original Sin. News site Games Skinny reported that: "...gamers were less than pleased about the advertising art for one of the characters: Scarlett. Scarlett had been decked out in the RPG worlds favorite piece of female armor: the metal bikini. And possibly no pants or underwear. From the image, I'm not actually sure where her underwear would go." The back-lash forced Larin Studios to redesign her costume, and prompted a tweet from Neil Gaiman invoking Red Sophia in Cerebus #10:

Bill Sienkiewicz: Ask Me Anything
While promoting his latest project H8 Society with an AMA session over at Reddit this week, Bill (Elektra Assassin, Moon Knight) Sienkiewicz was asked for his thoughts on Cerebus:
"Dave's an old friend. I think Cerebus is one of the greatest accomplishments in comics, not only as a work of art, but as a commitment to a vision."

Jeff Seiler: Dave & Me
Jeff Seiler has been busy tweeting exerpts from letters he has received from Dave Sim over the years. Here are a few examples to whet your appetite from letters Dave wrote back in 2004:
"If it wasn't for missing prayer times, I seriously considered getting a job after I was done Cerebus. No usable job skills, no recommendations from previous employers and I'm just this side of 50 years old. So, I figure washing floors or dishes would probably be about it and it would probably take me 5 tries to get in on the ground floor there."
"That's what I always think about when Gerhard says that he doesn't know why anyone would be interested in the piles of crap I'm carefully sorting through." [This was a reference to Dave and Ger organizing the Archive, back in '04.]
"As you'll find in The Last Day annotations, I was less concerned with who was or wasn't in the light than in the larger point that virtually everyone Cerebus knew was there, emphasizing the 2:98 neutrino ratio from [issues] 289/290. Yes, I did decide to leave Bran Mak Mufin out because of his suicide (and left Ham in because it was murder, in my You never hear about suicides who are rescued from the brink of death having the same near-death experience with the light and all that."
"Well, yes, the tunnel of demon heads and skulls from the end of 'Church & State' could be seen as a kind of "anti-light" tunnel. There are a lot of physical metaphors for the same things throughout the story. I knew that was where I was headed for."

1970's Cerebus Stuffed Toy
I don't normally feature eBay auctions on AMOC but the current auction for the little fella above took me aback. The current bids are already over $500. Yikes! Is that some kind of record? If you can't live without your very own Cerebus, you'd better hurry. That auction ends today.

Update from Margaret Liss:
It isn't a bid that is over $500, it is the 'buy it now'  feature that is at $519.99. There is no way that will sell at that price. While the dolls are rare, it isn't nearly worth that much. This is the 16" version, which is the 2nd version of the dolls,  and is more common from what I've seen. The smaller, 12" version with longer snout, is more valuable. However, I would say neither is worth $519.99.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Colleen Doran: Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

(via Twitter, 13 May 2015)
If there's one thing I can't stand in comics is how many young creators benefit from who came before and show nothing but contempt for 'em. There's almost nothing many of us enjoy about working in comics now that someone else didn't have to fight really hard to make happen first. 

Remember Junior, when you scoff at that dated comic art, that out of touch oldster: you're next. Everyone praises him now, but young creators used to make prank calls to Kirby and call him a hack. No kidding. Have a little compassion. 

I'm just as glad to see bad, sexist racist attitudes in comics die off as the next person, but a lot of the people in comics have worked long and hard to make the industry better. 

Didn't happen overnight, didn't happen easy, and there's lots more to improve. None of this happened without one person at a time who came before you making the right decisions and taking actions. So, give credit where its due. 

And as awful as some people have been, we can forgive where we can, move on where we can, & get justice where we can to make comics better. And if we cant get justice from people who did harm, we can get justice for ourselves by doing our best for comics as individuals & creators.

Personally, I do not want to put any more emotional energy into trying to get anything out of people who did me harm in this business. They are all entrenched and desperate to protect their "legacies". They have no incentive to do the right thing because admitting harm would tarnish their "legacy". 

"Legacy" is something a lot of comics creators put stock in, whereas before, we were all just a bunch of schmucks doing comics for fun and a little cash. I can't change anyone. I can only change how I frame the past and how to make the experiences work to better the future.


I have the power. I will outlive all of you. And do better comics. That's all.

Colleen Doran's A Distant Soil was a frontrunner of the '80s indie comics scene. The 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) and the series is scheduled to conclude at #50. The restored collections A Distant Soil Vol 1: The Gathering and Vol 2: The Ascendant are available directly from Colleen Doran.

Jeff Seiler's Cat

Jeff Seiler's Cat (2015)
Art by Gerhard
(from My Birthday Call WIth Dave, 2 May 2015)
...I should mention that, when I told Dave that Ger was going to do a commissioned piece of art of my cat, Dave said, "Wow, that should be a pretty big piece of art board!" See, every time I get on the phone with anyone, including Dave, eventually, the cat wants to get all up in my business. He (the cat, not Dave), is FAT. Weighs at least 20, maybe 25 pounds. So, when Dave said that, I laughed and said, yeah, since the picture is of my cat all stretched out, yeah, that's probably going to be one LONG piece of art...

Follow Jeff Seiler on Twitter where he is busy tweeting exerpts from letters he's received from Dave Sim.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Weekly Update #82: "It's not looking good, folks..."

Dave Sim discusses the continuing pain in his right hand... his drawing hand.

Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing: Official Download Now Available!

by Dave Sim
(Originally published in 1997, updated in 2010)
Official download now available at Sellfy for just $9

Out of print for years, this is the self-publishing guide everyone swears by. Light on technical specifics but heavy on what it really takes to be a successful self-publishing cartoonist, the co-creator of the world's longest graphic novel brings his 30-plus years of experience to a step-by-step guide to what you need to do and what work habits you require to hope for a chance at success in today's ultra-competitive direct market. Updated with new material assessing the pros and cons of the computer revolution that continues to rock the comics publishing world from top to bottom.

Gary Spencer Milledge (Strangehaven):
"...the Bible for self-publishers, collecting all the pertinent essays and speech transcriptions from Dave's long-running self-published title Cerebus... this is highly recommended reading - absolutely essential for any prospective creator, self-publisher or not... densely packed pages of invaluable advice and guidance covering virtually every aspect of starting your own comic."

Stephen Holland (Page 45):
"Without a doubt I would not want to enter this industry as a creator without having read this first, regardless of whether I intended to self-publish or sell my creativity to/through other publishers... Dave addresses almost every aspect of successful comicbook publication and a great many aspects of comicbook creation including the nuts and bolts of what it takes to stay on schedule and impress a potential readership into buying your wares. But as much as it's an encouragement to create professionally and hold onto your creative rights, it's in equal measure a wake-up call for those deluding themselves into imagining they have enough drive and self-discipline to do any of the above."

Thursday, 14 May 2015


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 taken a look at Dave's twelfth notebook once before, it covers issues 118 to 122, the earlier part of Jaka's Story. Last time we look at Jaka spending some time in the park. This time we're looking at Dave's sketches for Oscar, who first appeared in issue 120.

Oscar with an Oscar quote "Hardly dear boy. Actresses come back. Athletes come back. Politicians come back. A poet an artist. . .returns, merely. That is all."

Notebook 12, page 38
The next page has a few more Oscar sketches, including one of him and Rick. And many more Oscar quotes.

Notebook 12, page 39
On page 40 there are only more of the same quotes, as Dave rewrites some of the dialogue. Then on page 41 we get another sketch of Oscar, one that won't be seen in the book.

Notebook 12, page 41
Back in Form & Void when Dave was answering the mail with a form letter, he would also send a tracing paper drawing with it. The tracing paper drawings were from the production of the book - the ones he would do and then transfer to the bristol board. I got two sketches - one of Cerebus looking up at Jaka, and another one of a naked Ham Ernestway sitting.  Perhaps it was a way Dave would get a sense of his characters.

The top line, "Oh, I'm so glad you've come. There are a hundred things I don't want to say to you" is an Oscar Wilde quote from Oscar Wilde in Quotation. The next line also is another Wilde quote: "I have put all of my genius into my life I have put only my talent into my works."

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Statistics! And, the inevitable distortion of reality

Mara Sedlins:

As of today I’ve finished cleanup for 112 pages of C & S I, not counting about a dozen more that are “mostly done.” I’ve been meeting with Sean about once a week to go over issues that could use another pair of eyes (e.g., do these fine lines need to be strengthened more? can you tell that I filled in the tone there? does that lettering look okay? etc.) as well as discuss cleanup techniques. Although the restoration workflow is pretty streamlined now, we both continue to look for ways to improve the process as we go. A specific example of this in a minute...

As part of my workflow I record how much time I’m spending on each page, for each type of page (sourced from negatives or original art). This helps keep me organized, and also helps us to plan for deadlines and make sure we’re pricing our work fairly. We’ve been expecting the original art scans to be more time-consuming, cleanup-wise, than the negatives – but so far they’re only taking me on average about 5-6 minutes more a page. This might be because I’m spending more time than necessary on the negative scans, though.

Just for fun (because I’m a huge nerd), here are a couple frequency distributions of my per-page times (excluding a handful of “trauma” pages I spent a lot more time on):

Clearly I’m still in the habit of thinking in terms of empirical questions and data collection. Let me know if there’s any other information about the pages or cleanup process you think I should be collecting. On what proportion of pages does Cerebus actually appear? How does this change over the course of the book? Who is most likely to be present when the “icy” speech bubble style is used? What is the statistical correlation between the appearance of the Wolveroach and the use of the word “destiny”? (Seriously guys, I can answer these questions for you. Science!)

Returning to the topic of innovations in cleanup technique:

There’s an interesting feature present in each Photoshop image file I receive after Sean’s completed his adjustments: the topmost layer is always the Threshold setting. What this layer does is transform the underlying greyscale image into a black-and-white-only bitmap image. For the purpose of printing, each pixel has to be either black or white – and so the threshold setting marks the tipping point along the continuum at which Photoshop “perceives” a given pixel as black.

Most of the time I’ve been working with the threshold layer on, because that’s how the page will ultimately look when it’s sent to the printer. But I’m becoming more savvy about when it makes sense to turn the threshold layer off so that a greater depth of information becomes visible.

In the example below, you can see areas where each strategy is useful. 

With the threshold layer off I can see exactly where tape was affixed to the corner of this negative, as well as the edges of the affixed tone. I can easily differentiate that image “noise” from the intended white marks at the edges of the textured landscape of Mind Game IV.

But, I might waste time painstakingly erasing all those dust specks if I didn’t also check the image with the threshold layer on. See how most of them disappear on their own: 

So I’m experimenting with toggling this layer on and off more often. It’s weird though – both Sean and I have noticed that with the threshold layer on, the resulting image changes just a little bit depending on what level of zoom you’re at. Pixels at the edges of shapes shift slightly. White specks appear and then disappear illogically. Nothing that would be visible in the final image file – but disorienting evidence of the distortion that occurs when a complex underlying “reality” is forced into binary categories.

It makes sense that my mind is going to latch on to this idea of black and white vs. shades of grey – to quote at medium length from my dissertation (forgive me everyone except my grad school advisor):

“Categorization is an essential process in making sense of the world. However, it simplifies perception in a way that distorts reality to some degree. For instance, the color spectrum is a continuum of wavelengths; but colors are grouped into linguistically defined categories (Berlin & Kay, 1969). Although people can tell the difference between different hues within a category, they are better at discriminating colors from different categories than colors from the same category, even if they differ by the same degree in terms of physical wavelength. Harnad (2003) describes this process as 'warping' perceived similarities and differences so as to compress some things into the same category and separate others into different categories.’”

I find it interesting to consider the concept more broadly, as “the usefulness vs. arbitrariness of socially-constructed categories” – such as color names. Or racial categories. Or, for example, the idea that a fictional character has to be either a good guy or bad guy, which I’m sure is still mind-numbingly dominant in the summer blockbusters we all have to look forward to.

My understanding is that one of the aspects of Cerebus that appeals to Dave’s readership is his refusal to simplify his characters or their situations. In spite of the unlikeability – or even despicability – of the eponymous aardvark, you don’t get to look away. You’re cursed with the hope for redemption even as you watch him stumble over his own character flaws again and again. Or so I’ve heard. As I continue to experience the actual story content first-hand, I’m looking forward to storylines that “turn off the threshold layer” on their characters’ realities and reveal something of life’s fascinating ambiguity.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

From The Archive: Jerry Siegel

Treasures From The Cerebus Archive: Jerry Siegel's letter to me about RICKY ROBOT. I really should have done a lot more work with him even though he was really not commercially viable. How ELSE do you repay the creator of SUPERMAN for the profession you work in that he basically invented?

From The Archive: Placeholder Ads

Treasures From The Cerebus Archive: "Placeholder" ads for Aardvark-Vanaheim titles for the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE (you had to advertise in each issue in order to keep your reduced ad rate). Designing and pasting these up was Gerhard's first job at A-V.

Monday, 11 May 2015

From The Archive: Marvel's Terms For The Cerebus/X-Men Crossover

Treasures From The Cerebus Archive: A letter from Jim Shooter (Marvel editor-in-chief), regarding the proposed CEREBUS/X-MEN crossover.

From The Archive: Notes For The Cerebus/X-Men Crossover

Treasures From The Cerebus Archive: The CEREBUS/X-MEN crossover, such as it was: my hastily scrawled notes as Chris Claremont and I discussed it on a LONG flight from Toronto to Prince George, British Columbia. By the time I got home, I could make neither hide nor hair of what I had written.