Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Fantagraphics Offer

In the final issue of Glamourpuss (issue 26, July 2012) Dave Sim's editorial The End? described the reasons for its demise and what he saw as the end of his career in comics. That essay provoked the following 'open offer' to publish the 16 volumes of Cerebus by Kim Thompson of Fantagraphics Books.

Kim Thompson
Vice President, Fantagraphics Books Inc
(from The Comics Journal, 6/7 September 2012)
I’d be perfectly happy to repackage the CEREBUS material in a more bookstore-friendly format than those fucking phone books and give the material the new lease on life it (or at least the first two thirds of it) so richly deserves. (For the matter, I’d love to do the same for Ditko’s MISTER A and AVENGING WORLD, whose self-imposed exile to those crummily-produced virtually-self-published undesigned things is a genuine tragedy.) Heck, such repackaging might very well pay Sim enough that he could spend the next several years drawing up whatever the hell he wanted in terms of new projects and not have to worry about making a dime off of them in the interim. (If he’s got too much of a terminal hatred for us, I suspect IDW or Top Shelf would step into the breach too.) But I think he’s too deep into his Final-Station-of-Dave-Sim-the-Martyr narrative to even consider such an idea.

...I’d be fine with reading a well-done, interesting comic that espouses a (to me) lunatic and loathsome point of view, and I think many comics readers would agree. If I objected to misogyny in my entertainment I wouldn’t have a big pile of Sam Peckinpah DVDs at home. (And MISTER A is a great, great comic.) The post-"Tangent” CEREBUS’s sin was being impenetrable and boring. GLAMOURPUSS’s sin was being half unreadable, half fascinating but so inside-baseball its audience barely clawed its way into four figures. (By the way, I was one of the 2,000 or so paying customers on that one.) I think Sim could reinvent himself just fine if he did a comic book or graphic novel that people wanted to read, cf. Jeff Smith moving smoothly from BONE to RASL. He is also such a skillful cartoonist by now he could probably take a break from auteurdom and work with a writer to give himself a break (and get himself a nest egg) — cf. Colleen Doran or P. Craig Russell. But none of that would fit the martyr “I’m just too good for this fallen world” Sim is now taking to its inevitable conclusion.

...The phone books, with their massive girth, total lack of any explanatory or contextual material on the back cover, and basic production values, are virtually designed to keep CEREBUS within the confines of the direct-sales market generally and CEREBUS fans specifically. They're kind of the last manifestation of the graphic-novel-as-serialized-comics-bound-together syndrome of the 1980s. It’s completely impossible to imagine any potential new reader picking up a copy at a Barnes & Noble and making any fucking sense of it whatsoever… or for that matter Barnes & Noble stocking it in the first place.

...To specify, I didn’t mean fannish, explanatory, DVD-special behind-the-scenes anecdotal stuff, but just the kind of blurbs and contextualization that enable a reader coming onto the books cold to get some sort of sense as to what they’re about and why they matter. (And maybe even just a short introductory page setting up the world and basic characters in each one.) I think that by the time you get to the last third it's mostly impenetrable gibberish and the most editorially savvy attempts at presenting the material wouldn't work, but much of the rest is complex but coherent and just in need of the kind of small pre-orientation some judiciously written back cover copy, or maybe a foreword, could bring. fact Sim swore at one point he'd never allow foreign versions of CEREBUS because it would be outside his control, but has since amply relented. Which I think is perfectly reasonable. I'd hate to be shackled to positions I took 25 years ago.

...The dynamics of the marketplace have changed so fundamentally that something that made (relative) sense 20 years ago doesn’t necessarily make sense today. The market has turned decisively against pamphlets and against self-publishers, and that’s just a reality. The battlefield is littered with the corpses of self-publishers. A sensible person adapts to reality.

(from The Comics Reporter, 11 September 2012)
...Sim working with a Fantagraphics or an IDW or similar house would be news in terms of Sim's one-time major, wholehearted, pointed resistance to working with any kind of publisher at all. If there's anything the comics culture loves more than pin-ups of costumed characters, it's judging people and positions based on an unrealistic expectation they stay unrelenting over several decades, the whole world shifting underneath that position's feet be damned. I suspect that this may be a position Sim has that has softened a little bit over the years, but who knows? If it hasn't, maybe there's even an intermediate step available to the cartoonist, like working with the kind of team that such a publisher might provide as opposed to working with people in one's inner circle.

Next Week At "Dave Sim Responses To The Fantagraphics Offer"


Anonymous said...

Dammit! Cerebus conquers Estarcion! It's pretty important!

oh...spoilers, I guess.

Anonymous said...

If I were Dave Sim I would tell Kim Thompson to go fuck himself, but then Dave Sim is a far better man than I can hope to be at this moment in my life so I doubt he would use such language.

David Birdsong

Lee Thacker said...

As if Dave Sim would touch this 'offer' with a barge pole. I laughed and laughed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Thompson's position that the Cerebus books need to be repackaged and re-presented to appeal to a modern audience (that goes hand-in-hand with the digital project), but did he honestly think Sim or any of his fans would take the offer seriously with the tone of this statement?

Kit said...

did he honestly think Sim or any of his fans would take the offer seriously with the tone of this statement?

Since he was just idly thinking out loud on the comments thread of a blogpost, I doubt he expected Sim or any of his fans to read it, let alone assess the tone, and in no way to consider it a formally-phrased offer.

Kid U #not said...

Have you heard of a thing called Kickstarter? Publishers are a thing of the past, not self publishing creators.


P.S. Sim has already done a 1000% successful KS project.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kim 2/3 of the way. Cerebus needs to be reprinted in the most beautiful, long-lasting way possible, WITH the "contextualization" included (hell, why couldn't, or wouldn't, Dave do that himself for new versions of HIS books?). However, it's 'High Society' though 'The Last Day' or no go! Clearly, Kim didn't like the last 1/3 of Cerebus. Well, publisher guy, A LOT of us did. So make the offer to do it right or step off the plate (inside-baseball speak, that).

jim kosmicki said...

I've long said that I'd gladly buy the phonebooks again if somebody would reprint them on better, preferably acid-free, paper. I bought the phonebooks as they came out and the earliest ones are getting very brittle.

However, Dave Sim seems unable to see the benefit of changing how he presents his material to his audience. Yes, he's supporting this audio/video version, but that seems to be different since it's not an ink on paper version.