Saturday, 20 July 2013

Cerebus: In My Life - Kevin Mellon

Kevin Mellon is a graduate of the Kubert School and has put out several comic books and graphic novels since 2007, including Gearhead and LoveSTRUCK with Dennis Hopeless, Heart with Blair Butler, American Muscle with Steve Niles. Summer 2013 will see the release of Suicide Sisters Vol 1: Shoot The Devil, a 3-issue story about two sisters riding across Texas, trying to find the Devil so they can get their souls back.

A Moment Of Cerebus:
How did you discover Cerebus and how long did you read it for?

Kevin Mellon:
I read about it in Wizard Magazine #7, the March 1992 issue. There was a 2-page (I think) write-up about Dave and Gerhard having crossed issue 150 and it talked at length about the book and those guys. I was at the right age (13) for it to hit me really hard as I was looking for new things that were outside of the mainstream Marvel comics I was reading at the time. Magazines like Comics Scene and David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview (and to a lesser extent, The Comics Journal) were cluing me in on a new world of comics that I would then scour every back issue bin to find. I was captivated by the idea of this singular vision and ethic behind this monumental task of doing a book for 300 issues. At that young age, I knew I was going to make comics and had already been trying to make my own.

The first issue I bought after reading that article was 163 (the first issue of Women - which Google tells me was late '92). I had absolutely no clue what was going on in the story at that point, but I was hooked. I stayed with the book from there to 300. It was pretty much the one constant in my life through those years. I was enraptured by the world and the characters, and even more so by the beauty of the story-telling and artwork and how the lettering acted as an integral part of the art and page. The page designs were like nothing I'd seen at that point. Mind you, this was in the heyday of the Marvel guys going to Image craze, so page layouts were insane at this point, but Dave's were some of the first that showed me you could be inventive with page design and layout, yet have a cohesive reading experience that enhanced the story. That said, Cerebus is still some of the most inventive comics visual story-telling to this day.

Also, I cared about the characters in a way that I had previously only experienced in fits and starts with mainstream comics, but was more akin to how a novel makes you care about character. The voices were all unique, the characters all well-rounded. Everyone had a life, a voice, and a story, regardless of how minor a part they played in the actual narrative.

How has your own creativity/comics been influenced by Cerebus?

The notion of one person having an idea and bringing that idea to fruition on their own was something I got from Cerebus. The wealth of story-telling ideas and forms that Dave played with throughout the series were and are constant influences. 

The '97 edition of the Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing (which I read as it was coming out in the single issues in the 'Notes from the President' sections) was and is a 'bible' of sorts for my making comics. I specify the 1997 edition solely because, while I have the later edition, I don't think the updates were necessary or warranted. Everything you need to know about making comics is in that first edition, minus any extraneous commentary added after the fact.

As far as direct influences go, I used the typography/dialog running down the side of the page, with the panels next to it (see parts of Jaka's Story, and significant portions of Mothers & Daughters) format for a sequence in Dennis Hopeless and I's book LoveSTRUCK. It was something that, when Dennis and I talked about the scene, became an obvious device that I could use to convey the metaphysical and "other" nature of the pages we were building. There are other devices I learned from Cerebus, but that one is the most overt in any of my published work.
Cerebus #167 (1993) | LoveStruck (2011)

Has Cerebus influenced your approach to working in the comics industry?

Very much so. 

I have made some mis-steps in judgement along the way, but Dave, and everyone else who fought so hard for creator's rights at that time, have been big influences on my thinking and my approach to being in and making comics. (Steve Bissette's posts on Taboo/Tundra, and the Creator's Rights issues of the mid-to-late 80's are excellent reading for where everyone was at during those times). Pretty much every creator-owned book I've done has been an even 50/50 split with the co-creator, and the basic understanding that Dave espoused working with Gerhard of "You partially own what you fully create" (meaning that even though Dave created Cerebus, he acknowledged Ger's massive contribution and credited and compensated him as such) is something I take to heart and espouse to collaborators. But I've still made bad deals and mistakes with publishers, knowing all of that beforehand. Doomed to repeat, you know?

I got into Puma Blues around the same time (because of Cerebus, of course. Puma Blues a book that has influenced me just as much as Cerebus. If Cerebus spoke to my mind, Puma Blues spoke to my soul), and while it had long been over by the time I got to it, the issues of PB with front and back matter dealing with their dispute with Diamond, and the Cerebus issues with commentary dealing with those same things, were and are a great primer for how the industry works (again, see Steve Bissette's lengthy documenting of all that on his website). I use the present tense because a lot of the issues they were fighting against then, are still common and ongoing. What's old is new, etc., etc.

I am currently self-publishing for the first time since starting working in comics in 2007. It's hard, and it's not going to get any easier, but it's something I knew I had to do. I think it's something that I should have started out doing, and this is me "stepping backwards" so-to-speak, to take that leap and give it a shot. I won't be setting the world on fire doing it, but I am building myself up, and making things solely on my terms. I am forever indebted to Dave and the others for paving the way.

Do you have a favourite scene/sequence from Cerebus? 

Man. I dunno. Hard to nail one sequence down, but a lot of the sideways page layouts in Mother's & Daughters broke my young brain and I remember ripping those off extensively for the comics I was making at the time. The use of text pieces to convey large chunks of dialog or prose was and is ingenious. The world-building that Gerhard did in every single panel... I could go on. Sorry for being so vague, but there was no "one" sequence that made me go "OH FUCK". There were a lot of those. Melmoth was something that moved me in a way I can't fully describe even now. Also, Melmoth got me into reading Oscar Wilde, same as Fall & the River got me into reading Fitzgerald.

Would you recommend others read Cerebus, and if so why?

Of course. 

Why? For the obvious reasons of it being a massive undertaking by a singular vision that was started and then completed, it's contribution to the art-form of comics being incalculable, and that I think it's a good story. Most comics are, at best, mediocre by process of assembly-line (more than a few of my own included). When a scant few come out good, it's usually in spite of that process, rather than because of it. Cerebus was, and is, something that was made by 2 people sitting in room and a strength of vision and creativity that you just don't get for that many pages in a row, by doing it any other way. 6000 pages in Western comics made by two people is an amazing feat, and it should be recognized and celebrated not just for that, but because it was good comics the whole way through. It's also some of the funniest dialog and story-telling put on paper. The drama and the comedy are intertwined in an amazing and beautiful way that allows for your heart to be broken on one page and then you laugh on the next.


Tony Dunlop said...

"I had absolutely no clue what was going on in the story at that point, but I was hooked."

With the exception of the very few who started before High Society, I think this is every Cerebus fan's opening line, isn't it? It's certainly mine...I'm pretty sure the first issue I read was #28, "Mind Game II" (which was also the first issue to have typeset text next to the images). And I can honestly say: "I had absolutely no clue what was going on in the story at that point, but I was hooked."

Jeff Seiler said...

"It was pretty much the one constant through those years." Me, too. I wonder how many comics readers of the late 80s-90s can say that,especially given the paucity of good comics in those days. I know that for the better part of 20 years,Cerebus was the only comic I bought every single month. Most months, it was the only comic I bought, period.

Kevin Mellon said...


Haha, very true. I don't know that there was a good jumping on point for Cerebus single issues.


Yeah, there were quite a few months, probably years (especially in the late 90's), where the only thing I bought was Cerebus.

Tony Dunlop said...

I respectfully disagree, Kevin. I'd say there was no bad jumping-on point. As the saying goes, either you get it or you don't - and for most people, if you didn't get it right away, with whichever issue you came across first, you probably weren't going to get it, period.

Jason Winter said...

The first Cerebus I read was a single panel printed in our local TV guide! There was an article on comics, mainstream and alternative. The Cerebus panel featured Pope Cerebus leaning out of an ornately designed window shouting "That's it! You can all go back to your worthless, miserable lives now!" That's all it took for me.