Thursday, 23 January 2014

Meet The Comics Press: Following Cerebus

Following Cerebus #1-4 (2004-2005)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Meet The Comics Press, The Comics Journal #271, October 2005)
In this magazine's "Sayonara Cerebus" seminar (TCJ #263) I opined, among other things, that Dave Sim's recently concluded epic would subsequently benefit from some fresh, ongoing material presence in comic shops and bookstores. The finished title could use - and would certainly support - some kind of extended, tangible booster shot of insight and dry goods to keep at bay the inevitable slippage in a fickle public's attention, the out-of-sight dismissal through which a completed work becomes a closed work.

So far the three issues of Following Cerebus have admirably risen to the task. The (roughly) quarterly, comic-sized magazine is from Craig Miller and John Thorne, the same duo who complied two issues of the Cerebus Companion back in the earlier '90s; publisher Win-Mill Productions additionally releases Wrapped In Plastic, devoted to David Lynch and his Twin Peaks, and Spectrum, on pop culture creations that might inspire analogous fascination for followers, the most prominent of which appears to be Buffy The Vampire Slayer. From this collection of titles and subjects, it appears obvious that the line has a tradition in maintaining an editorial balance between fannish devotion, credible commentary and creator sufferance or, as here, generous cooperation. Such governing poise is particularly important with Cerebus and his originator.

Each issue has offered substantive material relating to Cerebus' content and intent, to the industry at large, and to Sim's thought on an irrepressible range of subjects, not necessarily in that order. The 48-page instalments are bound by that dexterous editorial stance, propelled by a sincere, developed regard for the material, and spiced by a fanzine's giddy inclusiveness.

Miller and Thorne's keynote editorial appears in the premiere issue where they grapple with the highly relevant matter of who gets to interpret artistic works and the implications of the most readily available answers. Their prose is congenial and their rationale down-to-earth. Their conclusion - that we get to respond to and interpret art, however much those reactions differ in degree, sophistication, or impact - is likewise sensible and functional. They then proceed on their initial exploration of a Cerebus-related matter undertaken without Sim as authoritarian tour guide, that of the running mystery of the "something fell" episodes throughout the comic.

Every issue of Following Cerebus features at least one interview with Sim and so far there have been interviews with consummate artist Gerhard, the latest entirely devoted to sailing. All issues but the first have included an "About Last Issue" response from Sim which tends to further clarify or elaborate on preceding topics. Sim's participation in this follow-up capacity proves unique and invaluable (I'm not wholly convinced that 'Something fell' isn't the singular obsession of a mere handful of Cerebus readers, and that it just so happened that one of those readers turned out to be the co-producer of Following Cerebus").

The inaugural trio of issues of the magazine have also included interviews conducted by Sim with Barry Windsor-Smith from 1973 ("What's so good about illustrators? Just because he's called a bleedin' illustrator doesn't mean he can draw any better than anybody else") and Harvey Kurtzman from 1974. The latter is accompanied by a transcript of a speech Kurtzman gave in Toronto and packaged within the nominally themed issue addressing parody, censorship, copyright and trademarks. (The fourth issue is planned as a tribute to Will Eisner).
Following Cerebus #5-8 (2005-2006)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
As any good zine of this nature, there is a grab-bag largess to its features, which include ranging news reports, a sporadic letter column, and portfolios of art from diverse sources, including even a "lost" story from the aardvark's early history. The covers by Sim and Gerhard have been sensational, particularly issue thee's trrifecta which pays homage to classic comic covers of the past.

The title of that article of mine back in TCJ #263 was "Can Cerebus Survive Dave Sim?" and seems just as relevant a question to ask in the case of Following Cerebus as well. The magazine benefits handsomely from Sim's participation. The collaboration appears to stem from an admirable working relationship arising from good will, support for mutual goals, and cultivation of common ground. With so strongly opinionated and outspoken, so autonomous an industry and creative maverick as Sim, tact and reciprocal integrity would seems to be an absolute must. Sympathetic interests confirmed, a slippery slope beckons, one dropping away from forbearance and tolerance toward compromise, accommodation and concession. At some point matters of journalistic responsibility are inevitably going to be raised and the less one appreciates the social, political, or religious point Sim presently espouses, the quicker those questions are going to bubble up.

To take an indicative if comparatively innocuous example, issues two and three have included "Dave Sim's Favourite Buffy Pic This Month" where he gets to deride at some length selected publicity stills of Sarah Michelle Gellar by illuminating the secret messages encoded in her expression and posture (he leads off in his second instalment, "This gentlemen, is what I used to know as Shopping Emergency Face"). Gratuitous, mean-spirited, and polemically fatuous, the feature undermines and diminishes the position that elsewhere Sim, I'm sure, would rather have readers take seriously. Worse, it's not funny. (But as a collateral benefit, he gets to tweak his hosts for a topical preoccupation of a sister publication.) A more telling indulgence is shown Sim during the opportunity to display his clairvoyance, through footnotes, as he reads the minds of Kurtzman and his audience during the course of that Toronto speech.
Following Cerebus #9-12 (2006-2011)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Sim can make fine use of the latitudes of Following Cerebus, revealing himself as a conscientious, thoughtful creator who has scrupulously considered, well-articulated insight into Cerebus and the matters it addresses. The pity is that Sim is ever ready if not eager to vault the rim and descend into a personal snake pit of personal beliefs cobbled from his readings and buttressed by firsthand experience. It would be easy - real easy - to quote some of his disturbing humdingers here, but the counterclaim of "taking things out of context" seems more valid for him  than for most (I think it may be a matter of his sincerity, however woeful that may strike me and many). Yet one of his remarks seems fair game as both clear statement of his purpose and all-points alarm for the rest of us: "a lot of what I'm doing is just 'reading into the record' for the sake of future society".

As for approaching Cerebus as a formidable and rich artistic creation, those who have or can reconcile themselves to Dave Sim's present state of mind and method will find Following Cerebus a valuable source of information and an aid to discernment. Others will find the magazine as an invitation for Sim to yank  as furiously as ever  at his own petard. But at least in this forum and through the format Miller and Thorne have devised, they have made it easier  for the reader to separate the wheat from the ergot.

Following Cerebus #1-12 were published by Craig Miller and John Thorne's Win-Mill Productions between 2004 and 2011. Most of the individual issues are still available to buy here.


David Birdsong said...

November 12, 2012
Craig Steven Miller
The Athens Review

Athens — ARLINGTON -- Craig Steven Miller, 53, passed away Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.

Memorial service: 1 p.m. Tuesday at Fielder Road Baptist Church, 2011 S. Fielder Road (corner of Fielder and Pioneer Parkway/303) in Arlington.

Memorials: In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the American Heart Association, 10900-B Stonelake Blvd., Suite 320, Austin, TX 78759, or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, P.O. Box 4072, Pittsfield, Mass., 01202.

Craig was born on Sept. 27, 1959, in Columbus, Ohio. He was a writer, artist and publisher of magazines, including "Wrapped in Plastic" and "Following Cerebus." Craig also worked for Lone Star Comics and Science Fiction. He graduated from the University of Texas, Arlington, in 1982 with a degree in liberal arts. Craig was a devoted father to Jennifer, and they regularly attended church. He and his mother shared many of the same traits. They were caring, understanding and loving to everyone.

"Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place."

Craig was preceded in death by his mother, Ruth.

Survivors: Daughter, Jennifer; father, Howard; sister, Jolene; nephews, Austin and Trevor; Aunts, Doris Brown and Judy Rains; and special friend, Sandra.

Craig was taken from us far too early, but Cerebus fans have these 12 solid issues Following Cerebus to remember him by. I wasn't always on board with each issues contents in their entirety, but I looked forward to each one and read them cover to cover. It's a shame we won't get any more.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Dave Sim's tribute to Craig can be found here.

Adam Ell said...

Loved Following Cerebus and Spectrum. I know it's too late but Thanks Craig.

But this piece illustrates why I never really cared for TCJ. They take nonsense like Dave's Fave Buffy Pic This Month a little too seriously.

Cerebus TV said...

My dear friend Craig, with whom I corresponded personally so often over the vicissitudes of the last three years of his life, sent me a video for Cerebus.TV just weeks before his untimely passing. While in Canada visiting Gerhard and Shelley, to prepare material for Cerebus.TV as well, I was sent by mail the sad news from his father Howard. Craig and I collaborated on a 15 page interview about Dave Sim's early life in his hometown for the final issue of Following Cerebus.
The material Craig sent is in the process of being formed into an episode for Cerebus.TV. If you have any materials to share about Craig's life - art, video pictures or vignettes, please pass them on for inclusion in this tribute program. You can find the contact addresses at the http://cerebus.TV website, as well as running episodes.
Craig, my fellow Christian, you are sorely missed here on Earth.

Jeff Seiler said...

As I've written elsewhere upon his death, I had occasion to speak by phone with Craig several times. I always found him to be a consummate professional and exceedingly polite and friendly. I was always frustrated by the lengthy delays between issues and I offered on at least one occasion to help him out, when I lived in Dallas (he was just forty minutes away). While he always declined the assistance(he took great pleasure in doing it all or most of it by himself), he always did so with politeness and good humor.

I was shocked to hear of his death, but I know I will always remember him and appreciate all 12 wonderful issues of FC. It (FC) most surely is not a bad legacy for that kind and generous man.

Cerebus TV said...

BTW, the cover art credit for #12 is by the two Daves - Dave Sim and David Petersen. Before he passed away Craig got permission to reprint this cover as a full size poster for fans for the special CerebusTV episode he was working on. When that episode is ready we'll try to make it available, as Craig and CerebusTV were getting them ready when he passed away.