Tuesday, 25 September 2012

HARDtalk: The Virtual Tour #9

Okay. Dominick Grace has a long, multi-part question about my career as it stands now:

Could you clarify/elaborate on the current state of your career? On the one hand, your editorial in the final issue of  glamourpuss indicates that you see the end in sight and are anticipating liquidating everything (which would presumably mean the dissolution of Aardvark-Vanaheim as a publishing entity) and leaving comics behind (though I'm not sure how serious you are about trying to find work in the Alberta Tar Sands)...

Ontario is one of the last places I would want to be if the economy keeps turning south.  If my PERSONAL economy improves, Ontario will be as good a place of residence as any.  The Alberta Tar Sands is where the Canadian economy will collapse TO IF it collapses. So, that's the answer to the last part of your question.  As to the current state of my career, it ended in May and then Kickstarter came along in June and that's what I've been doing since.  After all the expenses have been paid out of the $55,000 there's about $20,00 left which I think I'm obligated to use for CEREBUS DIGITAL 6000.  So that means I'll be making my living annotating and scanning the first volume, CEREBUS.  CEREBUS DIGITAL 6000 is "funded" in other words.  Nothing else at this point is "funded" so nothing else can be called a serious part of my livelihood, right now.

A doctor living in Texas has offered me $10,000 to fly down there and to document my religious views with a film crew and the whole works, including his minister and I've accepted.  That's really the first time that I'll be paid for something that can't be a cheque written to Aardvark-Vanaheim.  So, at that point, I'm getting paid to prep the CEREBUS volume in digital form and to answer questions about my religious views.  There's a certain amount of money coming in from Diamond, but Diamond -- for the first time since the mid-1980s -- is not in first place.  It's in third place.  If HIGH SOCIETY DIGITAL sells well it might be tied with Diamond or Diamond could suddenly be in fourth place.

...On the other, you still seem to be moving forward on the ambitious digital version of High Society, and you have had interest expressed in publishing Cerebus and/or The Strange Death of Alex Raymond from Fantagraphics, but in your response to Kim Thompson's interest, you refer to the "four companies" you're "signed with." Is this a hypothetical, or do you in fact currently have working relationships with four different publishers (excluding AV, I assume)?

The four companies are the four digital comics companies who will be selling HIGH SOCIETY DIGITAL to their customers and paying me a percentage of sales.  Comixology, iVerse, Diamond Digital and -- once the "book" is collected -- Graphicly.  That's distinct from HIGH SOCIETY AUDIO/DIGITAL -- the audio book, quasi-animated version that I'll be selling at cerebusdownloads.com.  I'm also in the advanced stages of negotiation with one print publisher and hope to have an announcement of a deal for A book -- that is, ONE book -- October 5th or 6th.

As for Fantagraphic's interest, your responses so far don't suggest you're really very interested in seriously pursuing the possibility, which makes me wonder, why not simply say no, as you did in your short answer, and leave it at that?

Well, because that wouldn't qualify as a negotiation.  One of the things I've always believed in very strongly is that public negotiations benefit creative people better than secret negotiations, but I've never had an opportunity to test that out -- let alone my belief that having as many active participants engaged as possible gives you a greater pool of ideas to draw on.  Sometimes beneficial tangentially -- like Ed Brubaker and James Owen reminiscing about the SWORDS introductions.  That material isn't on the table with Fantagraphics, but I definitely made a note in my notebook to incorporate it into the DIGITAL CEREBUS VOLUME.   It isn't something I would have come up with on my own.

Why bring the dubious concept of "literary respectability"into play?

Because I don't see it as a dubious concept.  There's only so far that you can go without, at some point, finding where you rank in the minds of those in the Quality Lit Biz.  As Kim Thompson pointed out, the NEW YORKER has been running pieces unfavourable to people like Lady Gaga whom you would expect them to be favourably disposed towards.  And that's a very recent thing that I'm seeing everywhere.  To this point, there was just no sense in trying to get a book by a conservative author a fair hearing so it wasn't "front of mind".  Just the fact that Kim would publicly state Fantagraphics' interest in publishing my work would have been unheard of even two years ago.  We'll see what happens.

Or why tie the possibility to one specific book only, and not one that, I think, even many long-time readers and fans would say can stand easily on its own outside the larger context of your work?

One of the inescapable givens is that the "larger context of my work" is TOO large.  At some point you have to start seeing it as sixteen component parts and start determining where the potential for each lies in additional with what can be done with it in totality.  The softening of the edges in the Quality Lit Biz, meant that it made sense for me to find the work of mine which had the softest edge for the Quality Lit Biz and that's the Hemingway book, FORM & VOID.

What's the basis of your belief that its connection to Hemingway will make it somehow more accessible/palatable, despite its numerous other elements that depend pretty heavily on backstory?

Hemingway is Hemingway.  The same as if you were "doing" a painter you would do Van Gogh or Picasso.  They're at the apex of names, if nothing else.  If you know nothing about the field of endeavour you still know the name.  I also think that the comic field underestimates the capacity of mainstream readers to "get" what we're doing.  A clubby kind of snobbishness.  You don't have to know who Moon Knight is to "get" the Moon Roach.  He's a super-hero but an idiot.  He thinks he's impressive and he's ridiculous. People who don't read comics "get" that.  People in the Quality Lit Biz understand "proxy".  Jaka and Cerebus represent Mary and Ham, Mary and Ham represent Jaka and Cerebus.  It's Hemingway's story through a filter of the fantastic.  That's how they understand comics in the first place: as fantasy, the fantastic, the literary context that includes Lord of the Rings at its "name" apex.  They don't need to be spoon-fed the Overstreet Price Guide.  "But you HAVE to understand all this or you won't GET the story!"

Does Hemingway really have either that much popular or that much cultural currency at the moment?  

Well, yes.  Again, he's archetypal.  There's a whole literary industry that surrounds him, not to mention the cachet of having all his papers at the JFK Library.  That's another layer of archetype that will keep Hemingway where he is.  Hemingway will never be fashionable in the same way that JFK will never be fashionable -- as, say, Robert E. Howard is fashionable:  20 years of nothing followed by a blaze of popularity.  I picked the people I "did" in CEREBUS pretty carefully on that basis.

Why not start with an easier access point?

For me, I am starting with an easier access point. This, potentially, offers an alignment of CEREBUS, Fantagraphics, the Quality Lit Biz and general readership. I don't agree with the "received wisdom" of CEREBUS in the field, although I'm certainly aware of it. One of the things that I have to fight against constantly is the "devoted Cerebus fan as expert" construct, without hurting the feelings of my most devoted readers who assume that they have my and CEREBUS' best interests at heart and if I just do things their way, I'll be a runaway success.  I give that the benefit of the doubt a lot of times, but at the end of the day, CEREBUS is mine and the primary decision-making has to be mine.

Surely the key consideration though, would simply be to find a viable way to keep your work in print and available to readers, rather than aiming for a NEW YORK TIMES review?

Not necessarily -- that's a widely-held assumption which isn't the same as an indisputable fact, which is how devoted CEREBUS fans tend, not unexpectedly, to treat it.  "If you build it, they will come."  I built it and they didn't come.  The assumption that people will generally respond well to CEREBUS in the same way that CEREBUS fans do just hasn't proved factual.  The construct, as I see it, is of a few thousand people all clustered tightly around me, staring at me intently and waiting to see what I'll do next (and hoping it's, as Brian Hibbs of COMIX EXPERIENCE put it, CEREBUS: THE HA-HA YEARS).  From outside the construct, it's just a tightly packed group of people all, evidently, staring at someone.  But neither CEREBUS nor I are visible in that construct and there's no real level of curiosity on the part of onlookers to try to figure out what all those people are staring at so intently.  They're all staring intently at someone or something.  So what?

If the alternative to such an accommodation is that your work WON'T be available in print (or digitally, whatever--I confess I am a hard copy kind of guy and would gladly buy new editions of your work of the type being batted around in the TCJ discussion), what would be the insurmountable obstacle(s) to some sort of licencing arrangement, as you've already done for foreign translations?

It's not an insurmountable obstacle, but basically all publishers, foreign and domestic, work on the same basis:  throw it at the wall and see if it sticks.  See how much of it sticks.  Obviously if Fantagraphics can throw 20 books at a wall the odds improve that three of them will stick.  Four books, the odds aren't as good.  But it's 26 years worth of my work.  I'm not really interested in having it just thrown at the wall, no matter how much of it sticks and how big a share I get of that "stick".

Is it better for your work not to be available than for it to be licenced to somebody else?

Well, nothing's unavailable in the eBay age.  Particularly as the economy keeps turning south. More people have to sell the trades for lower prices because they need money.  A person with a good job could probably buy all of the trades for $20 or $30 on eBay without breaking a sweat.  A persuasive argument could be made for drying up the supply that way:  letting the books go out of print until the trades are selling for $100 or $200 on eBay so there's a genuine demand for them.

Why not just either reject the idea out of hand or engage in a serious discussion of how it might be possible?

Because it isn't, to me, an "either/or" proposition:  either I reject Fantagraphics or I just give Fantagraphics my entire catalogue without asking any questions.  At the very least, it's useful to have a public airing of a publisher's views of how my work is viewed by them as a commercial property.  Arguably it would make sense to have the same discussion at the Dark Horse website, the Image website, the Boom! Studios website.  Here's what the execs have to say and here's what the staff have to say and here's what their readers have to say.  There are, however, only so many hours in the day.  Right now, HIGH SOCIETY DIGITIAL and HIGH SOCIETY AUDIO DIGITAL are scheduled and ready to launch.  That's what I'm watching on the "Situation Board" right now.  The Fantagraphics discussion is a pool of ideas to draw on.  You never know where you're going to find a missing jigsaw puzzle piece.

So far, you seem more to be toying with Kim Thompson than seriously addressing the core idea--not that there might not be some fun possible in watching the two of you dance, but given what you've said about your current situation, aren't there better things to do than engage in what looks very much like a process that's going nowhere?

Well, that's definitely not how I see it nor is it what I'm doing.  I don't consider not just GIVING Kim all 6,000 pages with no questions asked to be "toying" with him.  He has his way of viewing the comic book field and its potential and I have my way of viewing the comic book field and its potential.  We started off having what is called in Diplomatic Circles, "A Frank Exchange of Viewpoints", and now we're actually finding areas of common interest.  I think I'm moving forward pretty quickly actually.  I've already agreed to divide GOING HOME and FORM & VOID into four books which is certainly not my personal preference.  And I've agreed to lead with Fitzgerald rather than Hemingway which is also not the wisest course in my view.  I still haven't got an answer from Kim on how he would complete the sentence, "Over the next 24 years, Thompson watched as Sim and CEREBUS..."

Just finishing a sentence would seem to me to be at least a RELATIVELY easy thing to put behind us.  But, it's early yet.  We'll see how it goes.
Okay, now we're off to the CANDIAN COMICS ARCHIVE and a question from Paul Slade. He quotes TimR reacting to Kim Thompson's dismissal of the CEREBUS trade paperback format.

What’s so obviously wrong about the “phone books”? I never got into Cerebus in a big way (I do want to go back and read the early issues and give it a chance some time) but going to comic shops in the 90s, I always kind of had an affection for those things. I liked the idea of this big slab of collected comics in an economical format. By contrast, while many current reprint projects are quite pretty, I’m a little blase towards them even if I had the money to fork over.

Hit the link to CANADIAN COMICS ARCHIVE for the answer to that question... and I'll see you back here tomorrow for more HARDtalk.

Already signed up for the HARDtalk Virtual Tour are Bleeding Cool, Millar World, Terminal Drift, Canadian Comics Archive, The Comics Journal, The Beat and Mindless Ones. Add your question for Dave Sim at one of these fine websites before 10 October and if your question is chosen (they'll need to be tough, interesting questions!) you'll receive a personalised, autographed copy of a Cerebus back-issue, with a Cerebus head-sketch by Dave Sim!


Allen Lulu said...

I understand Dave's perspective re: Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but it smacks of pandering to an audience that he thinks he's attempting to mine. The trouble is, he proves his own ignorance in just a few sentences before. As someone who has read The New Yorker off and on for 30 years I would never have assumed them to be "favourably disposed towards" Lady Gaga.

Dave, you want the New York literary intelligentsia to shower you with acceptance so as to open the door to a larger, or at least, more desirable (1%-ish) audience. That's boorish.

The truth is, what you need is an agent and/or a publicist who understands how to get quality material to those sources. I wouldn't start with Cerebus, that's true, but the humor and satire in High Society is nearly as timely today as it was 30 years ago. It's brilliant. And those people would see that.

What they would see in F&V or the other, later, material, is someone attempting to biograph Fitz or Hemingway and that would relegate your character and the enormity of your undertaking to second class.

If you do a softcover printing of Cerebus, there are people who will buy it, obviously. It's the next volumes that should be leatherbound and preserved and presented to the literary intelligentisia. Not a pandering (and impenetrable at times) piece about those authors. Why not pander completely and toss Melmoth in there as well? Really make them think, eh?

If I was someone who had no idea what Cerebus was about I would look at those issues and think; interesting idea to do a graphic novel biography about these authors...but why is there a talking rabbit in there?

Sometimes it seems that you don't see or understand what your own creation is. But, that's your viewpoint. Whatever.

You REALLLLY wanna get The New Yorker on your side? Then you should screw off the Hemingway, Fitz , et al, and give them what they understand: Woody Allen. Give them Konigsberg. They LOVE him.

And you can bore the shit out them with something they actually admire.

Or you can take your place as a creator of a masterpiece and get an agent and some external support who understand that business and take your work to the next level. Even though it's old.

My 2 cents.

Michael A Battaglia said...

There were a couple of discrepancies I wanted to point out. Maybe I'm misreading, but I think Kim agreed to split the first two books (CEREBUS, HIGH SOCIETY) into 4 newly printed books, but has zero interest in starting out this venture past HIGH SOCIETY (so Form and Void is off the table). Also, I think Kim wasn't indicating that Lady Gaga received a bad review, I think he was indicating that the New Yorker's standards have sunk closer to the lowest common denominator if they're willing to non-ironically critique someone as unworthy as Lady Gaga, and thus shouldn't be of all that great an interest to Dave if he is looking to get literary cred. That was what I got out of reading Kim's comment, at least.

Allen Lulu said...

Not sure about that. What I read was Dave's comment: " As Kim Thompson pointed out, the NEW YORKER has been running pieces unfavourable to people like Lady Gaga whom you would expect them to be favourably disposed towards."

He seems to be saying that Kim has reported that the New Yorker is writing negative things about Lady Gaga.
Then he adds commentary that we would expect the New Yorker to be in favor of Ms. Gaga.

I would never expect the New Yorker to be predisposed to be favourable in regards to lady Gaga. If they are, it's news to me. It seems to fly in the face of everything I've ever experienced whilst reading the New Yorker. But, stranger things have happened.

His analogy is interesting. That there is a crowd around him, albeit small, watching him. And he wants to attract the crowd that is outside that crowd who may be watching and wondering, "what are they staring at?"

Thing is, Dave knows the crowd that is watching him and DOESN'T mingle with the crowd that is "out there". I submit that he is miscalculating.

But it's his calculation to miss.

I get what Dave is attempting to do here. he wants a broader base and he wants credibility. Above those of us who have supported him and his work lo these many years.

That's fine. This is not the way to get it, I believe. The New Yorker/NYT set doesn't want a comic illustrator's take on a bio of other authors. Ho fucking hum.

They want Art Spiegelman. Well, I would submit that HS & C&S are Art Spiegelman worthy and should be treated as such.

Lots of people read Cerebus. Lots of people stopped reading Cerebus. When was that? I don't buy that it was all Tangent related. It didn't stop me. 186 didn't stop me (but it did help me get out of a bad marriage so, thanks!)

I never stopped reading. I have all the issues. I stopped caring. That's more important. And that was the time of these issues of which he wants TNY and NYT to take notice. The issues that were perceived as impenetrable and did little to advance the plot. We stuck by it because we were invested. In the title character. And we knew he would pay it off. Hybrid baby or not.

Oh, well.

Dominick Grace said...

Asking Kim, as part of the negotiation, to complete Dave's manufactured idea of what a press release might look l;ike, th efocus of which is Kim Thompson, not Sim or Cerebus, is exactly the sort of thing I was referring to when I said it looke dlike Dave was toying with Kim....

Adam Ell said...

"A doctor living in Texas has offered me $10,000 to fly down there and to document my religious views with a film crew and the whole works, including his minister and I've accepted."

Now that's something I wanna see!

Michael A Battaglia said...

I totally disagree that Dave is "toying" with Kim, that is just absurd, and it's hard to believe that was the crux/motivation of your questioning. Looking at positives: it's nice to know that these kinds of dialogs (between Kim, Gary and Dave) can even take place, as opposed to the "Dave is a misogynist and doesn't deserve the time of day from us" treatment he had been getting. At least there has been some semblance of evolution and a showing of openness and reason. And, at the end of the day, worse come to worse, at least it's good publicity for the digital stuff and whatever else is coming down the pike. I'm not suggesting - at all - that this is Dave's intention, it's just a positive that can be taken away from the dialogs.

Michael A Battaglia said...

By the way, when I say "showing of openness", I'm not suggesting that people are agreeing with Dave's ideas, I'm suggesting that they are being reasonable about it instead of reacting emotionally to it.

Dominick Grace said...

It wasn't the crux of my motivation. That was the apparent disconnect between, on the one hand, the glamourpuss editorial (my career's over, I'm liquidating everything, it might end up being hauled off by 1-800-GOT-JUNK), and , on the other hand, the various references to different opportunities--Hollywood message inquiring about rights, reference to deals with four publishers (when your career is over, you have deals with four fewer publishers than that). (and in this answer we learn of a fifth potential publisher, which I take as excellent news but which also makes me continue ot wonder about how seriousy to take the whole "my career is over" thing).

The toying thing comes more from a) the general tone of Dave's repsonse, with its focus on Fanta as some sort of high-falutin' literary piblisher with access to the big leagues of literary respectability and, b) more specifically, from Dave's request that Kim "complete the following sentence," said sentence being a draft press release I can't imagine Dave seriously thinks is anything like what Fanta would actually draft. If he does seriously think they would, well then, yes, he's not toying with Kim, but the likelihood of them ever coming to terms would seem vanishingly small, much smaller, in fact, than if he actually was toying with Kim when he tossed that nugget in. Since he concludes his response to me by referring to it again, I guess I have to assume he's actually serious about that. If so, well, the game was really over before Kim drew a big red line through anything short of starting early in the run.

Michael A Battaglia said...

I'll agree with you that this publishing deal has probably been put to bed, based on everything present (as of this writing). But the thought of Dave "toying" around is, in my view (and I don't mean any disrespect to your character here) way off base. I think, if anything, Dave has always been an astute strategist, which is very different than a manipulator. Very, very different, though on the surface there might seem to be a fine line. To that end, I'm just wondering what all the positives are in this, not whether there were ethically suspect motives. One (at least) potential positive would be if Drawn & Quarterly and/or Pantheon has become aware of Dave's willingness to work with a publisher, and having those entities step into the ring as potential suitors.

Rocky Cole said...

I have watched a lot of CerebusTV epsiodes but one that stuck in mind was the one where Harvey Pekar almost worked with Dave Sim on something Pekar was doing for DC. I think there was supposed to be a Dave Sim cover. However, the continual back and forth and the constant hair splitting gave the impression that as bad as DC corporatism is or was, negotiations with Dave Sim could be endless and were not a productive use of time for people interested in actually making a deal and making money, but would be an exercise in futility that would be hard to justify to a boss. Even though it was Dave explaining it, it seemed more a game of dominance and conflict designed to make Dave look good in some sort of oneupmanship. This could contribute to a reputation of being difficult to work with and just not worth the hassle.

Eric Hoffman said...

I "worked" with Dave Sim in negotiating reprint rights for images in CEREBUS THE BARBARIAN MESSIAH and DAVE SIM: CONVERSATIONS and I found him to be attentive, courteous, gentlemanly, honorable and generous. Now, that was for reprint rights only - he maintains a position that as long as you are creating new work you are allowed to use his work freely, as he does the same with his trace work, etc. and he does not want to subject himself to a lawsuit any more than he would want to subject someone to legal action for using his work for a similar purpose. It's a matter of consistency, so I understand where he is coming from. Had I been negotiating something along the lines of a reprint of the whole of CEREBUS well, that's a whole other enchilada (as the recent TCJ message board - which is now closed - attests).