Thursday, 30 January 2014

Absolute Artistic Freedom

Cerebus #162 (September 1992)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from The Idler, Spring 2004)
...When all the dust has settled, Sim's greatest achievement may be seen as his success in maintaining complete independence for so long. By ensuring that the lion's share of the book's income comes directly to the people who create it he has managed to parlay a small but loyal readership into absolute artistic freedom and a higher standard of living than most conventional comics artists could hope for. Cerebus has never been a top-selling book, but that has clearly never been Sim's measure of success.

He addressed this point in the farewell letter to Cerebus readers which appeared earlier this year."I find it difficult to view the twenty-six-year-and-three-month Cerebus project as a failure," he wrote. "The fact that Ger and I enter our respective retirements unencumbered by any debt, the fact that we have never been forced by financial necessity to relinquish any part of our absolute control over Cerebus as a creative work and the fact that I am typing these words in a 100-year old Victorian house fully paid for by our joint creativity is a source of no small gratification."


Anonymous said...

This is one thing that keeps drawing me back to Sim's work outside of the obvious incredible draftsmanship and artistry. No matter what one may think of Dave's ideals (I agree with around 60% of them, maybe), he put them out there, brazenly. Even when he realized his views would (and did) lose him colleagues, fans, and friends, (maybe even his rightful place in the pantheon of comics greats), he stuck to his guns and made the comics he wanted to make. No matter how many fans gritted their teeth and threw up their hands during Cerebus' absence in Melmoth or Form and Void, no matter what people thought of the bizarre religious dissection. Hell, even his incredible called shot- deciding that he'd do 300 issues and complete it on time- makes no sense and requires a kind of stubbornness rare in people. So, as much as reading Melmoth and Form and Void (for some reason, those were the only two phonebooks left in a comic shop I frequent. Can't imagine why.) didn't make me want to keep buying the collected books, every time I've been able to afford it I've bought another phonebook, and will continue to do so until I've read the whole shebang. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and Todd McFarlane and others inspired me with their independent success, and they've made for themselves comfortable lives by largely selling out(which I would TOTALLY DO if I were in their shoes, by the way. None of those guys really had the artistic talent or ability to stick to a schedule needed to keep doing comics, either on the writing or drawing end of it). But Dave, and Cerebus, for all their faults, are pure. Even when I don't like what I read- when I roll my eyes and flip a few pages forward to figure out how much plain text I'm going to have to endure- that purity is admirable, because it is incredibly rare.

And the pretty pictures help, of course.

-Wesley Smith

Anonymous said...

Dave did finish on time, but his knowledge that regular publication is one of the necessary legs to self-publishing success was learned at the School of Hard Knox. What issue was it where he announced that he would do 300 issues, and they would come out when they came out? And I recall a period of months when he and Gerhard were shipping an issue about every three weeks to catch up with the cover dates.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, pdq

Michael Grabowski said...

That 300 issue boast had been made by the time I started reading it late in the High Society issues. I believe I first read it in his first big Comics Journal interview, TCJ #82-83 (where he also said it would end with Cerebus's death) but that wasn't the announcement of it. Some Cerebus scholar should be able to pinpoint the exact publication of that first time he said or printed it.

300 issues sounded like an amazing unreachable goal, to me, even if he had nearly 50 already under his belt at the time. Action and Detective had reached over 500 issues by then but that was after 40+ years--and eternity to a 14 year old! And stuff like the FF and Amazing Spider-Man were up and over 200 by then but still eons older than Cerebus so just to say how many issues lay ahead made me enjoy the thought of reading it virtually forever. (Now it's been finished for ten years or nearly 120 potential further issues already!)

During the later part of the Church & State run Dave & Gerhard fell behind by what seemed like two months, and then made it all up during the moon issues, which did indeed seem to be appearing every 2-3 weeks. After that, except for those two double-issues after C & S and before The Last Day I don't think he ever skipped a month, though there may have been some issues that were a week or two late occasionally.

Anonymous said...

According to this Wikipedia page, the series was originally supposed to be approximately 150 issues. That jibes with my recollection. I seem to remember reading the 150 issue number in a very early letter's page that was reprinted in the biweekly series. Then it switched to being 300 issues when the book switched to being monthly.

I think Dave's plan started with the amount of time he wanted to continue working, and then he figured out how many issues that would work out to -- which changed when the series went monthly -- rather than starting with a certain amount of content that he figured he needed 300 issues to fill. I believe the impetus for the 150, and then the 300 issue goal was the retirement date, not the story.

- Reginald P.

Anonymous said...

PS: The above link also provides the dates that Dave announced the duration of the series, namely, 26 years in issue 12, and 300 issues in issue 19.

- Reginald P.