Friday, 20 July 2012

Primitive Manned Flight

Cerebus #255 (June 2000)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from the notes To Ham & Ham Not, Cerebus #255, June 2000)
When I was collaborating with other artists on short back-up stories in Swords Of Cerebus, I wanted to do one with Barry Windsor-Smith, who was and is a big influence on my work... I called Barry on the telephone and suggested that we work "Marvel-style", that is, that he would pencil the story and I would write and letter it from his pencils. The idea that I gave to him came from a story which I had heard about Leonardo da Vinci. The story was that, in his old age, Leonardo used to terrify his nurses by inflating sheep's bladders as one would inflate a balloon, blowing them up until they filled his bedroom and crowded out his nurses. I told Barry that it was interesting to me that Leonardo, who was all of his life obsessed with the possibility of "manned flight" (this taking place in the Renaissance and, thus, well before our own time, it is permissible to call it "manned flight" instead of "personned flight" or "manned or womynned flight"), would have missed so completely the obvious - hot air balloons - even when he was holding the idea in the form of a sheep-bladder-metaphor in the palm of his hand. I sketched out very roughly and verbally a story idea where Cerebus would encounter a Leonardo-like figure assembling his own hot-air balloon, which he had just invented.

When I next spoke to Barry, he was chagrined (being a verb which can only be used accurately when you are describing an English person). Barry was chagrined with his efforts on the story in that it was already many pages long (!!!!) and it did not, in his view, appear to be going anywhere. To Barry it did not appear to be going anywhere. To me, it was an unpublished Barry Windsor-Smith-pencilled Cerebus story and so it was just fine as it was and should be sent to me as soon as possible when Barry finished it. Barry demurred (a verb which also is a verb which can only be used accurately when you are describing what an English person does when he is completely and definitely chagrined). Instead Barry came up with the wonderful and delightful Cerebus Dreams short story, which is in the back of Swords Of Cerebus volume five and which has nothing to do with even dream hot-air balloons.

Many years later, when Barry's Storyteller anthology came out, featuring his The Freebooters serial... I thought I recognised, from my memory of it, his description of parts of the stillborn Cerebus back-up story in the first few pages. Among many delightful details, these pages featured two scantily-clad young women in a very imaginative "airship" that appeared to be part-boat and part-dirigible (this, possibly, being a veiled reference to a night when I and two young women - later characterised as "floozies" by Barry - actually dragged Barry to the famous New York City Danceteria during its hey-day, and, again, possibly not) (possibly not a veiled reference; the young women were definitely "floozies").

Anyway, having decided that the time was right for primitive "manned flight" to make its debut in Cerebus's world, I have chosen to repossess Barry's airship concept (and have Gerhard reconfigure the whole thing with steam power added truly and good into the bargain as well), since said debut would have prefigured by many, many years if Barry had just stuck to my original idea. If the first few pages of The Freebooters did not originate with the stillborn Swords back-up story, then using Barry's airships constitutes outright thievery on my part, and I beg Barry's indulgence in the matter (which is something that also as well you do only with English people).
The Freebooters in Storyteller #1 (Dark Horse Comics, 1996)
Art by Barry Windsor-Smith
The collected edition of Barry Windsor-Smith's The Freebooters is now available form Fantagraphics Books.

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