Saturday, 30 June 2012

Cerebus #300: Hail & Farewell

Cerebus #300 (March 2004)
Art by Gerhard
(from Diamond Previews, January 2004)
First of all, I'd like to thank our Diamond rep, Filip Sablik, and Previews editor Marty Grosser (who has to be closing in on three hundred issues himself) for offering me this space - so disproportionately large compared with Cerebus and Ger's and my modest standing in the comic-book field - for this "Hail & farewell".

Secondly, I'd like to express Ger's and my gratitude to the comic book stores who have - "above and beyond the call of duty" - actively supported (and hopefully will continue to support) Cerebus; and the seven thousand or so readers, many of whom have stuck with the monthly title, through thick and thin, whatever they might have thought of it personally at any given point in the 300-issue run. As my two-foot tall stack of unanswered correspondence (and answering every one of those letters will be my first priority after Cerebus, God willing, is completed) attests, I have been blessed with an extremely thoughtful, extremely eloquent and (most important to me) extremely tolerant readership. Mere thanks is insufficient for all those stores and individuals-some of whom are still with us and some of whom, unfortunately (like my friends and mentors Harry Kremer and Gene Day) didn't live to see the conclusion of this project they were instrumental in launching: those stores and individuals who, financially, made comics' first 6,000 page graphic novel a reality, despite our many pitfalls and missteps along the way. We'd also like to thank the Cerebus art patrons whose extraordinary confidence in seeing value in our original artwork - and whose ongoing individual efforts in "raising the bar" of benchmark prices - constitute the brightest hope for Ger and myself here at the "finish line".

Thirdly, I'd like to congratulate Wendy and Richard Pini - whose Elfquest series debuted at the same time as Cerebus back before there was a Diamond Comic Distributors - on their recent decision to join forces with DC Comics to bring the complete Elfquest epic to a new generation of "real world" readers and congratulate Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer on their completion of Bone, Elfquest's only serious contender for the title of the direct market's most beloved "all ages" self-published series.

Although Cerebus never once cracked the Diamond top 100, although we never had a best-selling trade paperback, although Aardvark-Vanaheim has never been successful enough to warrant a "pie slice" of market share either in North America or in the U.K. and although we are seldom mentioned favourably in the comics press (while somehow still being described as a "critical success") I find it difficult - even with all the irrefutable evidence pointing away from any "real world" success - to view the twenty-six-year-and-three-month Cerebus project as a failure. The fact that Ger and I enter our respective retirements unencumbered by any debt, the fact that we have never been forced by financial necessity to relinquish any part of our absolute control over Cerebus as a creative work and the fact that I am typing these words in a 100-year old Victorian house fully paid for by our joint creativity is a source of no small gratification to us and, more importantly, a testament to what can be accomplished in this remarkable environment of ours, a success that would have been unthinkable before the advent of the direct market in the mid-1970s - single-handedly brought into existence by Phil Seuling (may God rest his soul).

Having seen so many extraordinary success stories in the "independent comics" end of our field over the last quarter century - Wendy and Richard's aforementioned Elfquest, Kevin Eastman and Pete Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Image phenomenon of Erik Larsen, RobLiefield, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino and their undisputed leader, Todd McFarlane, Pat Lee's Transformers, Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer's Bone - the hope never once deserted me that Cerebus might some day experience that kind of success - as that same hope, I am sure, has never once deserted other veteran small pressers like Poison Elves' Drew Hayes - still going strong at seventy-six issues - and will, I'm sure, never desert rookies like Gun Fu's Howard M. Shum and Joey Mason.

Having (finally!) surrendered my place in the front row of the self-publishing parade to the new "first-among-equals" - Strangers in Paradise's Terry and Robin Moore and Supernatural Law's Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada (who, through their tireless efforts and shining example, might yet serve to rechristen "self-publishing" as "wife-publishing") - it is in the spirit of that aforementioned undiminished hope that I look forward to making it my new PART-time job to work with the Diamond sales team and interested retailers in the years and decades to come in attempting to achieve for Cerebus a genuine, large and (I hope) central presence in the direct market that has eluded us while the story was being serialized.

Given that - in the "real" world - it often seems that all avenues to success based on merit alone are closed and it really is a matter not of "what you know" but "who you know," I think we can all take heart that the comic-book direct market exists in the form that it does - as close to a level playing field as could be imagined, where the best of the "little guys" genuinely compete with the best of the "big guys" and where a first-time self-publisher's work appears in the same catalogue with the work of one of the founders of our industry, the irreplaceable Mr. Will Eisner. And - no matter how furious that competition becomes - no matter who comes first or who comes second, ultimately, we all share in each other's success and we all help to make each other successful.

Or (as the writer of the second longest series by a collaborative team would say):


Excelsior! The motto of New York state, meaning "Upward," is a succinct and a valuable distillation of that spirit which governs our efforts when we are at our best: as is, "with great power comes great responsibility." We, all of us, owe a great debt to the man, Stan the Man, who, when most of us - from the president of Diamond Comic Distributors to the owner of the smallest comic-book store - were barely out of infancy, pointed us in the right direction and who has made those two philosophies the foundation of his own imperishable legacy in our industry and - if we can rise to the challenge they present to us and to our successors - the basis of our greatest mutual heritage which is the comic-book medium itself.

In closing, let me say that over the last quarter century-plus, whatever my too-human failings (and, like anyone else, I have no shortage of those) I strove always to be an individual who did his duty - as another much-criticized and controversial figure, General Douglas MacArthur, said in his farewell address to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress in April of 1951 - "as God gave him the light to see that duty." I make no apology for the free-will choices I have made but only for any entirely inadvertent harm, real or perceived, that those choices may have caused to others.

Farewell, thank you, and may God continue to bless our worldwide comic-book nation.

Dave Sim
Kitchener, Ontario
11 October 2003

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