Thursday, 10 January 2013

Jeff Smith: Twenty Years Of Cerebus

(from Feature Vol 3 #4, Winter 1997)
Starting out publishing your own comic is a little like being alone in the wilderness. Nobody can see you and nobody cares. But if you pick yourself up and start heading closer to the village and the castle, you'll eventually come across people who will help you on your way.

This was certainly the way it was for me on my journey to the land of comics, and for the first year or so I had the opportunity to meet many new friends and was the happy reciptient of more than my share of good fortune.

I was still basking in the glow of some good reviews and some clever little business transactions as I approached the huge, heavily secured gates of the great castle wall - but coming to the giant portal is still a long way from getting it open. As any one who has ever tried to get into comics knows, those are mighty formidable gates!

And then I was introduced to Dave. Come this way. Dave, you see, has his own door.

It was like entering a low, dark, rough-hewn stone passageway through the impenetrable fortress wall above.

It was smokey and close in there, and moving past this secret gatekeeper would not be easy, but the tunnel itself was indeed an authentic anti-chamber just off the large, sunlit yard that was the world of comics.

Out in the world of book publishing - the world of Bantam, Doubleday, Borders and Walden's - the concept of self publising is so radically different than it is in comics. It is associated with words like embarrassment, vaniety and failure. In fact, most, if not all newspapers have an actual policy against reviewing self-published work. How different is the world of comic books where self-publishing is associated more with terms like choice, artistic freedom, integrity and guts. Most of the credit for this seemingly unbelievable dichotomy belowngs to one man: Dave Sim. Dave has patrolled, maintained, and guarded jealously the length of this passageway, fighting for the self-respect and integrity of self-publishing with a singleness of purpose that remains undimmed to this day.

I stayed in the passageway for a time. There were other people there. Some were visitors; some looked like thay had taken up residence. Some had begun to blow on tiny horns and wave little flags. I mostly remember it as a Golden Time when massive forces rocked the comics world and we were on the dawn of a new age where the creators had the prestige and means to pursue their own dreams. And it wasn't coming from the big publishing houses - it was coming from the independent publishers and our little grotto! Sadly, one of the Great Houses, feeling threatened, was unable to react nobly, and found it preferable to set the castle on fire rather than share its wealth.

But even before all these tumutous events reached their climax, the similarities of art and business between Dave and myself were becoming outweighed by the differences. The time came for me to leave the rough-hewn chamber. It surprised a lot of people, but it was inevitable. Dave was always territorial about his passageway and I preferred to go ahead into the open expanses of the unknown. Dave and I both needed more elbow space.

After all is said and done, however, there is one fact that cannot be dimmed: If it wasn't for Dave doing what he's doing, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing. And I am very grateful to be doing what I'm doing...

Congratulations on 20 hard-won years, Dave.

Jeff Smith launched Cartoon Books in 1991 to self publish Bone, a humor comicbook about the adventures of three cartoon cousins inspired by the work of Carl Barks and Walt Kelly. In 2005, US publisher Scholastic entered the graphic novel market with a full color version of Bone.

1 comment:

Max Southall/CerebusTV said...

Self-publishing in comics was de facto going to be more respectable than in book-publishing, precisely because the existing comics industry grotto was in comparison to book publishing so provincial and abusive to authors. Its own respectability - even and especially that of the "Great Houses" - was precisely nil. There is really no comparison at all - it was as if every author was (and still is, even if a few are well-remunerated in comparison to then) a work-made-for-hire hack.

To this day, the comic book venue is still basically one trapped in adolescence.