THE CAMBRIDGE CITIZEN:
(from an article by Shelly Byers, The Cambridge Citizen, June 2012)
"I realized I wanted my art to hang on walls, not line the bottom of bird cages," says local artist, Gerhard. With a variety of pencils, pens and watercolors surrounding his drawing board he sets to work on his latest project: a four foot square tracing of a tapestry to be recreated in silk by Chinese masters.
Best known for his backgrounds and environmental designs for Cerebus, Gerhard's work spans over 30 years. Cerebus would become the longest running, self-published graphic novel in Canadian history and open the flood gates for other comic book artists breaking free of the confines of the business at the time, including the authors of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Right now, however, Gerhard is tackling the tapestry putting it aside on occasion to work on the illustrations for a children's story, The Wish and a few of the commissions he has received from people around Canada, United States and Europe. Long-time fans have been coming out of the wood work since he started drawing again happy to see that his signature crosshatching technique, the "Gerhard touch", still tingles the senses.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Gerhard's family roamed around Waterloo Region moving 12 times in as many years. Like many kids from middle-class, working families, Gerhard was often in the care of babysitters. One special caretaker took an interest in the art of the young boy sitting silently at his Formica kitchen table drawing his thoughts onto paper with a pencil. Bread was needed more than crayons.
"I don't know her name, but she certainly changed my life," Gerhard recalls.
To help the youngster add interest and tone, she showed him how different shades of gray could be used to fill in areas without the need for colour. She would never know that years later he would win awards for his crosshatching technique using tiny lines to shade and create dimensions in gray and black.
In high school his now colourful and sophisticated "doodles" of dragons and bell-bottomed self-portraits tattooed the covers of duo-tangs. His art won him acclaim from students and teachers, though he struggled for a passing grade in the subject. "My art didn't fit into that mold. They tried, but I wasn't interested."
Once out of high school, Gerhard tested his patience with uninspired jobs, always dreaming that his art was his ticket out of the daily grind. Drawing pictures of winter tires and hamburgers in fliers (that would one day line bird cages) was a good place to start. Working in an art store was another. Located in bustling downtown Waterloo, Gerhard delivered art supplies to local artists including Dave Sim, the budding author of Cerebus a graphic novel based around the title character who happened to be an aardvark with attitude. Gerhard was invited to draw the backgrounds behind the characters on issue number 65 and stayed.
Fans began using magnifying glasses to study his designs. His coloured covers became known throughout the comic book community as unique and distinctive.
The book became a cult favourite and the duo traveled to the United States and Europe to promote the book, sign copies and find quiet places, like Hawaii, to create the world of Cerebus. "We felt like rock stars," says Gerhard. "But we were always working. No matter where we were, the book had a deadline. I saw a lot of hotel rooms during those trips."
Dave was in the foreground casting the characters and creating the story while gaining notoriety as a rebel self-publisher whose sometimes overbearing thoughts on life filtered into his story line and onto the back pages of the monthly issues. Gerhard quietly stayed in the background where he created intricate environments that told a whispered story behind the characters and gave them a solid place to exist. It was art imitating reality.
Cerebus would die at the end of issue 300 (sorry to kill the ending for you) and conclude a 20 year collaboration.
After a grueling schedule for so many years, Gerhard took a long break. "Drawing at such a pace took the fun out of the process," says the artist. He went sailing.
But you can't take the art out of the artist. A friend and fan commissioned the World Without Cerebus series based on Gerhard's backgrounds, omitting the aardvark. Reluctantly, but with pencil back in hand, Gerhard started drawing again. Now, with renewed fervor, he has launched his website and continues to push the boundaries of his talent to create his own visions.
"It's always been about the art," he says crossing his arms and stepping back from his work to study it. "It's really all I know how to do."