Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Good and Bad of Comics in the Early 90s

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

Dave Sim's notebook #17, which I covered once before (see "Po's Monologue About Bran"), covers the phonebook Flight and the time frame of late 1990 to late 1992. In the notebook along with the notes on Flight, is some talk on the comics industry. This will be a two part column, as there are at least 6 pages I want to show, but I'm on a self-imposed limit of three notebook pages per week maximum.

So let's get started.

Dave starts on page 18 with Jeff Smith's name and phone number at the top of the page. I've cropped it out just in case it is still Jeff's number. Dave then goes on to write down some things he considers 'bad' and 'good'.

"Good: EXPANSION creates choices, options, begging stores 1980 carried all DC, Marvel, ground level comics fanzines. there were fewer than a hundred different products INCLUDING all Marvel, DC Charlton."

BAD: Biggest problem in comics business is creators not producing their books on time.

Notebook #17, page 18
The next page is Dave writing some thoughts on the collectible market.

Notebook #17, page 19
Now that he has done some 'collectible' covers with a $15 price tag on them, I wonder how his thoughts on the matter have changed.

On the next page he talks about how it is good that comics can 'hide in plain sight' so that the comics market has "more room to maneuver than does the White House, Wall Street or City Hall."

Notebook #17, page 20
While the big two have made a lot of money with their superheroes in movies and their subsequent commercialization, the comics medium as a whole still lies on the outskirts of culture, a shell of its former self.

Part two can be found here.


Lee Thacker said...

I don't comment often, but I'd like to say I really enjoy your weekly 'notebook' entries. Do you know anything about this site and who 'Carma Chan'is? I thought if anybody could shed any light on this, it would be you Margaret.

Oliver said...

@Lee Thacker If I may:) Carma has written several books, among them the sci fi epic novel "Saardu" that was highly praised by Dave Sim himself. She's also written several wonderful comic book centric articles for "The Examiner", interviewing comic book artists etc She tutored under, and got a letter of recommendation from Richard Walter for script writing - and she helped on the script for the current Cerebus film in progress, which she wrote a book on the "making of".

Max West said...

Dave hit it right on the head in his writings on the collectible market. Look what happened just two years later - the bottom fell out from 1994 to 1998. Titles were cancelled, shops went out of business and Marvel even went bankrupt due to the whole collector's speculation.

I feel that comics has come a long way since then. We have pioneers like Dave Sim who have been a guide to many of us wanting to take up our own artistic dreams.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall that it was around this time that Dave and Gary Groth sniped at each other from the pages of their respective magazines, with Gary accusing Dave of supporting the speculators' market.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, hda

CerebusTV said...

Ask Cerebus Film and TV producer Oliver who Carma is!

Eric Hoffman said...

These are really wonderful, Margaret. An invaluable peek into the mind of one of the most important comics artists at the height of his powers/importance.

Travis Pelkie said...

This is cool stuff. I'm assuming this was intended for one of the Notes from the President or a column that eventually became part of the Guide to S-P.

If I'm reading it right, Dave seems to be saying that the speculator market is very iffy for long term, but in the short term, it allows creators like himself the "space" (money and attention from comics publications) to be able to do his thing and not really worry about the bills, for now. And that's kind of what happened -- a lot of small and self publishers got attention and built up an audience, and while it was probably a bitch to get through those days, those publishers that were better positioned were able to weather the storm. Like Dave and Ger were.

And I don't think Dave was ever completely opposed to making money off the speculator market -- he did do a gold version of Cerebus Zero (hell, he did a Cerebus Zero!).