Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dave 'n' Ger's Credo

Cerebus #1 Page 1
Art by Dave Sim
Originally published December 1977; Redrawn 2010
(Click Image To Enlarge)
(from Aardvark Comment in Cerebus #166, January 1993)
After you have finished an issue of a comic book, you could do a better job if you redrew it starting at page one because of what you learned while doing it. Theoretically you could redraw the same comic book for ten years and end up with a perfect comic book but you're not going to earn a living that way.

Every creator does work that he isn't happy with. You can't be at your peak 365 days a year. Ger's and my credo is that if you didn't like the page you just did you try harder on the next one. First you get good, then you get fast, then you get good and fast. Burnout, I think is a myth. You go through dry-spells. You work hard, you are disciplined and ultimately you should be able to produce at a high enough efficiency on a day-in day-out basis (drawing quality, composition, execution and finish) so that when the quality slips (as it is going to, people being human and all) it is still at a high enough percentage of your peak efficiency that it  doesn't obviously and self-evidently, stink on ice.


Paul Slade said...

The writer, scholar and critic Clive James once made a similar point about the tennis champ Martina Navratilola:

"After one of her countless Wimbledon victories, she once answered a not very interesting question with a very interesting answer. "What matters isn't how well you play when you're playing well. What matters is how well you play when you're playing badly."

I wrote that down at the time and still haven't seen a neater way of expressing the truth that a high average is what counts."

The quote's drawn from James' article on the BBC website here:

David Birdsong said...

The amazing thing about just how good Dave and Gerhard got is that it is so rare. A lot of comic book superstars arrive on the scene either fully formed or just about to get there. They get better and better and hit a peak and then either quit and go away or begin to go downhill or become a parody of themselves. The fact that this has not happened to Dave Sim proves his commitment to what he is doing.

Sean Michael Robinson said...

This is a great, great quote.

However, that first page should be 1977, not 1997 ;)


A Moment Of Cerebus said...


Anonymous said...

This comparison of pages is most instructive. The redrawn version improves on the original in some areas; in some areas, I think the original is superior.

Dave never really learned how to draw that well. (Especially not women. This is what makes his attempts at "photorealistic pretty girls" interesting: it's so obviously an area where his strengths do not lie. As Dave himself said, "Interest doesn't equal aptitude.") But his skills at layout and the subsequent control over pacing are among the best. Dave doesn't make pretty pictures, but he tells story.

In panel 1 of the original, I like that Cerebus's silhouette is clear and contained within the cloud of dust behind him. Alas, he looks like a horned, two-legged monster. The redrawn panel makes better use of closed space, and it's more clear that Cerebus is bouncing on his horse (especially after we see panel 3 and refer back).

Panel 2, I definitely prefer the original. Sure, there's no way Cerebus could cast a shadow behind the two figures, but in the redrawn panel something appears to be grabbing them by the faces, and we can't really tell that the shadow is supposed to be Cerebus. In the original panel, the two fellows also have their faces pointed in the same direction -- which I think is more likely if Cerebus's appearance is really that startling.

In the redrawn panel 3, Cerebus's grey tone really makes him stand out, particularly against the white space of the sky, as compared to the lines of the building running through him in the original panel. His legs appear to be spanning the horse from side to side, rather than from front to rear as in the original.

The redrawn horse is better-rendered than the original, but not better-drawn (see what I mean about Dave's abilities?). What kind of weird cantilevered species has front legs like that? -- especially the left one. And that poor deformed fellow in the background, with that bunch of bananas at the end of his arm and his different-length legs --!

The redrawn panel's perspective is wrong; I think Dave put the vanishing points too close to the edges of the page. The ring-fence looks really warped, and horse is galloping right into it. The background guy is about four-and-a-half feet tall, and the arch Cerebus just galloped through is six feet, tops.

The first caption is poorly positioned, with its border too close to the wall's edge. I think the second caption is too far away from the title, but some may disagree. (I don't know why Dave dropped the outlined initial capital from this panel's captions.) The logo is better drawn, especially with the consistent font for "The Aardvark", and stands out nicely against the shadows. And Dave also decided that the streets of the city would probably be paved rather than grassland.

But the layout of the redrawn panel 3 is much more dynamic. The background, angled rather than parallel with the panel edges, gives the panel more depth. The slight Dutch tilt makes us look up at Cerebus, and gives energy to his bounce. The figure of Cerebus against the empty space of the sky makes him dominate the composition more.

So as I said: interesting comparison. I liked seeing this, and the "Wickets" pages from a couple of weeks ago.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, mna

Anonymous said...

In the 2010 version, it appears to me that Dave still tried to do his Barry Windsor-Smith impression in order to keep it true to the original spirit of '77, rather than purely drawing it in his own current style. In fact, it appears to me that Dave was trying to do a better version of his earlier style, rather than his current style. A Dave Sim pastiche by Dave Sim. Kind of fun.

- Reginald Periwinkle

David Birdsong said...

In the episode of Cerebus TV that shows Dave working on page 2 of this recreation (Max, another good one to repeat, I love the ones where he showed himself working) he makes it clear that he is trying to stay true to the original. He was tempted to fix a panel where Cerebus is facing the wrong way, but in the end he kept it as it was. I agree with Damian that the first caption in panel three should move to the right, but that's just nitpicking. Dave has the BWS inking style perfected in the updated version and it looks much better with the one-cell-animation look he was going for with Cerebus in the beginning. In the new version he really appears well out of place. In the original he has the same line weight as any other figure on the page. Imagine if Mike Friedrich had seen this version in 1977, it would have run in Star*Reach and we would never have had the series.