Friday, 1 January 2016

Dave Sim's Letters: Harry Muntz

Cerebus Vol 14: Form & Void
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

23 August 04

Dear Mr. Muntz:

Thank you for your letter of 6 August.

I would be happy to do an interview for you for your Web site. I try to keep to a strict limit of four or five questions. If that's okay with you, feel free to send me the questions by mail and I'll have Gerhard e-mail the answers to you. Don't forget to include your e-mail address with the questions.

Enclosed please find your autographed comic book.

Dave Sim


17 September 04

Dear Mr. Muntz:


1) The decision to do Cerebus as a 300-issue series was made in light of Hal Foster's own assessment that the last few Prince Valiant pages he did before retiring were "lousy." It was one of the things that I filed away mentally in the "Here there be monsters" category in the unlikely event that I would ever have a successful comic strip of my own: "DON’T draw the strip until you’re too old to do it properly anymore." When it became apparent that I could do Cerebus on a monthly schedule (around issue 14), the question came up. How long am I going to do this? I was also aware that lightning only strikes once. Charles Schulz only got one Peanuts. Siegel and Shuster only got one Superman. So I wanted to do right by the one thing I had done that hadn’t been a total failure. That was when I decided that I could probably work at peak efficiency up to the age of about 60, but I decided just to be on the safe (or lazy) side that I would do it until shortly after the year 2000, when I would be 44 years old. That was literally the decision: on a monthly schedule, I calculated that I would be at issue 300 by March of 2003. It was years later that I realized I did the math wrong and it was actually March 2004. In retrospect, I was off by about five years in terms of my endurance. I think I was able to maintain the quality on the book, but the last two or three years were brutal and I realized that doing a monthly comic book was something for guys in their twenties and thirties. It was just too difficult in my forties.

2) If I was conversing with someone who wasn't into comics… well, that would be kind of unlikely since I don’t converse with anyone at all and haven’t for years and on those rare occasions when I exchange a few words with someone it's not likely that we would get anywhere near discussing what I used to do for a living. I'd say, "I used to draw a comic book," and, "it kept me off the streets for the most part." If they wanted to know what it was about, I'd say, "It was about six thousand pages." And if they wanted to know more, I'd say that it took me 26 years to do, and if I could explain it in a few sentences, I wouldn't have spent 26 years doing it. That's as close as I can come. It's 6,000 pages and it took 26 years to do. It's really too hypothetical, though. I don't come across as a person that you would want to talk to about anything. I'm either invisible or under suspicion.

3) I'm not going to tackle another project as far as I know. I'm doing some goofy jam strips and pin-ups and things with people you’ve probably never heard of like Steve Peters, and people you might have heard of like Howard M. Shum of Gun Fu, and Ger and I have committed to doing covers and providing input for Following Cerebus, but I really don't foresee doing any more graphic novels. It's a full-time job just trying to get wider acceptance for Cerebus. Maybe someday if (or, hopefully, when) Cerebus is more widely accepted by the comic-book field.

4) In retrospect, I would have to say that I most enjoyed doing the Africa Sequence with Ernest and Mary Hemingway, particularly because I was two pages into it when I got copies of Mary's journals from the John F. Kennedy Library, which really transformed the whole thing. I literally had to research it and break it down simultaneously, using the most number of panels per page I had ever attempted. I had no idea if it would work, [or] if I had enough room, so I just had to fly by the seat of my pants and hope for the best. Everything else was under pretty tight control: I had figured out years before how to leave room for improvisation while maintaining a tight structure overall and how to estimate the length of a given sequence. The Africa Sequence spilled over by about seven pages, which was unheard of. It was like watching the high wire unraveling up ahead even as I was three-quarters of the way across and I was the only one looking at it. Everyone was so used to my getting everything to come out even -- the given sections of each graphic novel ended where it said they were going to end in the black box on the inside front cover -- that I was the only one who knew the whole thing was suddenly hanging by a thread. I think that was probably it. I enjoyed watching myself delivering the goods under enormous pressure and then improvising the transition to cover for it. No one else noticed a thing or cared one way or the other.

Dave Sim

This letter was reprinted in Dave Sim's Collected Letters Vol 3 (2015).

1 comment:

Travis Pelkie said...

Did this interview ever get posted anywhere online? I looked up Harry Muntz and Cerebus together, but got nothing that I could see. (There are surprisingly more guys named Harry Muntz than you might think, though!)