Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Catching up on Minds and Jaka's Story

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings all!

I'm taking a week off from Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, to catch up on some other Cerebus-related work, detailed below... and so I thought I'd take this opportunity to update everyone on the progress of the most recently restored books...

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Minds is now complete, with the exception of a few details—a double-page spread that Dave just found the original artwork for, and the cover, and most labor-intensive, the back matter and essay for the book.

And this is where I could use some assistance from you all!

Like my Reads essay, I'm hoping to spend a chunk of time in Minds discussing the relationship of author to reader, reader to art, and creator to creation, seeing how prevalent these relationships are in Mothers and Daughters as a whole.

To that end—

A. What kind of memories do you as a reader or fan have of Minds? Your contemporary reactions to the stories, to the creator's rights essays? To the Cerebus Previews? Did you meet Dave and Gerhard on tour during this time? Did Victor Davis' "just kidding!" about ending Cerebus at issue 200 instead of issue 300 factor into your contemporary reading of the Minds monthly issues? Looking back at Minds from a distance of 25 years, what particular scenes or moments remain with you, made a lasting impression? 

B. Are there any visual extras you'd like to see up close and personal in the back matter? See the 17th printing of Cerebus Volume One for some examples. Anything you'd like to hear about process or the aesthetics of the art that you think might make a worthwhile discussion in an essay?

Thanks for your help on this! I'm planning on writing the Minds essay over the next two or three weeks, so your feedback as always is invaluable. (Special thanks to the great discussion for the similar prompt on Reads, which gave me a lot of help and direction for the resulting sprawling essay!)

The other major thing going on is Jaka's Story. I've completed more than a hundred pages of cleanup on the book so far, and hope to put another 60 or so away by the end of the week. As I've mentioned before, it and Minds are both two of my favorite Cerebus books, so it's been a lot of fun to see the artwork up close and personal during the cleanup stage.

Also a very enlightening experience!

To my eye, Jaka's Story is the first book where Sim and Gerhard are fully integrated in their styles throughout the entirety of the book, the first book where every element seems in place at all times.  (You could also argue that's the case for the majority of Church and State II, but not as consistently or quite as thoroughly, in my estimation). No surprise, seeing the amount of planning that was involved before a single page was finished. 

Anyway, in addition to being well-designed from a staging and drafting perspective, the different Jaka's Story locations—Jaka and Rick's apartment, Pud's tavern and grocery, the street outside, Oscar's apartment, and, finally, the cell, and the second cell of Palnu—all present different textures, rendering techniques, and even densities across the page. To paraphrase Dave from a Minds-era essay, discussing different artists and approaches to the page: you could recognize different Jaka's Story scenes from fifteen feet across the room. Or, hey, in tiny little thumbnails on a computer screen.

Well, maybe not quite that far away! But you get the idea.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing the very attractive Nash family apartment wood texture up close, seeing it for the first time as a combination of two of Gerhard's earlier "bag of tricks" rendering techniques from Church and State II—the flecktone used during some of the dream sequences and in Weisshaupt's apartment overlayed on top of the Franklin Booth-esque slow varied parallel hatching wood grain (prominently featured in Michelle's lower city apartment/Roach lair)

One last thing before I go. I cleaned this page yesterday, and it cracked me up for several minutes, and not just for the obvious reasons.

In essentially an inserted one-page gag, Cerebus loudly eats...whatever he eats, and then is irritated by off-panel Rick, who apologizes. It's Houseguest to the 10th power, and hilarious, much of the humor due to the immaculate acting/cartooning by Dave and the stillness of the presentation.

And, uh, that stillness of presentation? Extends to the little bowl as well, which was apparently  drawn by Gerhard and photocopied and pasted individually into each panel! Which is hilarious on an other level entirely.

And I'll be if the stiffness doesn't add to the humor of the page, similarly to the stock-still photocopied gag-style pages of Church and State—Cerebus signs papers more efficiently, Cerebus euphemisms for three consecutive pages etc.

Okay, that's it for me! Today's the day to comment if you've been saving some up...


Unknown said...

Hi Sean! I appreciate the compliments.

It's worth pointing out, I think, that JAKA'S STORY was where I completely "lost" Alex Toth, who had been a huge supporter up to that point. Which I could understand: Toth is the original "design guy" and to him, non-stop vertical panels -- "picket fences" as he put it -- was just lazy, bad design.

For me, it depended on the story. Cerebus the Houseguest requires a very sedate monotonous look to the page just because of the "experiential metaphysics" (to coin a term) involved: Cerebus' life for the first time in a long time is completely sedate and monotonous.

Cerebus fishing in the bowl for his favourite nut (he seems like a "cashew man" to me) and then chewing it and then fishing for another one. Part of the humour stems from the fact that it's SO QUIET that you can actually hear the sound of him moving the nuts around. Which, yes, is inherently funny. And then the fact that Rick is spying on him. Watching the Former Pope. Even if he's just eating some nuts. WOW! It's really HIM!! And Cerebus has obviously gotten used to "having his own room" and doesn't take kindly to being an object of fascination.

The sedate part posed its own problem for Gerhard: if you try to draw the bowl in each panel, BECAUSE everything else stays the same, if there's anything noticeably different on any of the bowls, it's really going to call attention to itself. Which is exactly what you DON'T want to do if the point of the page is "sedate and monotonous". As time-consuming as photocopying the bowl and pasting it in is going to be (and it is going to be) it's going to be less aggravating in the long-run than trying to draw six completely identical bowls (Carson Grubaugh notwithstanding).

crazyyears said...


I've included a link to a piece on Minds I wrote a couple of years ago for a Cerebus discussion group. I do so because it contains a passage specifically about my differing reactions to reading Minds at different ages.
All the participants in the group were rereading Cerebus so you might find other relavant passages in their writings as well.

Sean R said...

Hey Dave,

That Toth didn't like JS because of the layouts is hilarious to me. I mean, look at the layouts of the previous 1000 pages! Clearly abandoning variation in that was is an intentional, purposeful decision, designed to suit the story. (Which it does). But I would guess Toth was used to elevating the source material he was working with, rather than constraining his inner layout man in order to serve it. My guess, anyway.

It seems very much of a piece with the entire book, and the arc of the character. How better to follow up a theophany and cosmic revelation than with a quiet domestic book/extended stay at your wedded beloved's apartment?

Sean R said...

Thanks crazyyears! Great stuff. I don't suppose anyone out there has a link to the reread? Having a difficult time working through that Yahoo newsgroup formatting... sheesh! Ya gotta be an archaeologist to piece a thread together!

Sean R said...

"Former Pope Cerebus-- cashews or macadamias? Film at eleven."

crazyyears said...


The ReplyAll site does have horrible navigation. Also I just realized the post I linked to was actually the last post in the discussion. Everyone involved ended up becoming too busy to continue.
Here is a link to the beginning of the thread:
Also, if you scroll to the bottom of any page you'll see links that allow you to jump around.

Eddie said...

One of the first things that jumps to mind about 'MINDS' is the fact that it might be one of the most experimental pieces of literature ever done. 20 years devoted to a single character and his life, and then to let go of the steering wheel and hand it over to the main character and let HIM drive (or try to) at such a crucial juncture in the series was pretty impressive and breathtaking to watch unfold; a potent display of the dynamics at work between Creator, Creation, and Story on a never before (and probably never again) attempted scale.

Unknown said...

I actually got the idea for the gag from the cat that Deni and I had at 221 Queen St. S. (a Russian Blue) who had a little ceramic supper dish for her Meow Mix kitty crunchies. I'd be lying in bed drifting off to sleep and I'd hear "tink tink tink" which was her sorting through the crunchies for her favourites. Then you'd hear "crunch crunch crunch" followed by "tink tink tink". It could go on for a half an hour.

Unknown said...

SeanR - I COMPLETELY understood where Toth was "coming from". He had started as an Alex Raymond clone (stylized realism) and then had gone to the outer extreme of cartoon realism (Milt Caniff) and basically traded all of his thinking time on the DRAWING side for the DESIGN side. Which not very many guys have done and which (at the time, particularly) you didn't do and which boxes you into a specific viewpoint of what makes Great Comic Art: Design, Design, Design. Which you could dismiss as a simple prejudice (and many people do who insist on more "eye candy" in their Great Comic Art: they don't "get" Toth) if it was anyone besides Toth.

My "switching gears" for the sake of the narrative, for him, had the appearance of calling into question his Primary Decision-making. If you choose to be a Design, Design, Design guy -- which I had APPEARED to have done -- you don't change your mind and go back to prosaic design.

It was an example of "Well, the decisions you made were based on doing very short jobs. The decisions attached to a 6,000-page graphic novel have different requirements, I think." No way to say that without making it sound as if shorter jobs were a "lesser choice".

"Oh, well. I'll never hear from Alex again, but I still have his work to look at."

On-going theme of my life.

Lee Thacker said...

Did you meet Dave and Gerhard on tour during this time?
Indeed I did! At a signing in Nottingham at the best comic book store in the UK – Page 45.

Did Victor Davis' "just kidding!" about ending Cerebus at issue 200 instead of issue 300 factor into your contemporary reading of the Minds monthly issues?
Very much so. This could only have been experienced at the time since anyone who cares knows that Cerebus did indeed make it to 300 issues. Anybody reading it for the first time today knows he was “just kidding!” about Cerebus ending with issue 200 instead of 300, but at the time – whoah! Dave’s description of the reader’s reaction was spot on in my case – he set up the ‘disclosure’ so convincingly too. For a brief few minutes my mind went into a kind of panic at the thought of Cerebus ending earlier than expected – it was the only continuing comic book series I followed and cared about by that time. It was like having a loved one being diagnosed with a terminal disease (knowing when the end would be), given six months to live (okay, I’ve got six months to come to terms with this and do what I can for them) and then being told they’d actually be dead by the end of the week!

In addition, the words below are taken from the notes section of Book One of my graphic novel ‘One For Sorrow’. To put the quote into context, the first chapter is entitled ‘One Small Step’ and refers to the principal character being born at the same date and time that Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

“And speaking of Sim, I haven’t been ‘infatuated’ with anyone apart from my beloved Kirstie at all since reading ‘Reads’ and particularly his ‘Tangent’ essay. Considering I used to fall head over heels in love with any pretty girl who spoke to me this is a big step forward for me. Or one giant leap, if you will.”

Lee Thacker said...

Dave - the 'tink tink tink, crunch crunch crunch' of a cat eating is a sound I've been hearing in my own home for the past 30 years and I never connected the sound to this page before - d'oh! In my case, the 'tink tink tink' is the sound of the cat's metal identity disc hitting the bowl as it eats. Or maybe its using cutlery when I'm not looking...

Sam B. said...

The "Creator's Rights" essays were seminal to my way of thinking and the formation of my comic method. To me, Mr. Sim's essays defined the potential of the value that I, as an individual creator, brought to the market. A value much greater than I could conceive at the time. David Sim explained not only the value of my thoughts, of the potential intellectual energy I could contribute, as well as the value of my work as counted as page rates / scripts / inkings / layouts /etc. as an aspiring creator of comic books.

Before reading his essays, I didn't know what "selling out" truly meant. I thought selling out just meant getting money from a large corporation, but it truthfully meant turning my intellectual creations over to another entity in perpetuity. No amount of money would be worth it, i realized, and if I was ever in the position to "sell out" then these essays would put me in a much better negotiating position.

The business aspect of being a comic book writer is inescapable; and to own one's own creation ended up being crucial to me as an (aspiring) creator; it informed my vision. David Sim's comments were an excellent (and underestimated) counterpart to Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics", too. Didn't they come out at around the same time? I dunno.

Jeff Seiler said...

Well, you know how I like to be (what is the word, Dave?), so: Cashews are soft nuts (once deshelled), as are macadamia nuts.

I think that the nuts the little gray bastard (wait!) (was he actually a bastard, or I have I been insulting him needlessly for 30-some years?)

Regardless, if you want nuts to TINK-TINK in a metal bowl, think peanuts and almonds.

Of course, I have next to no knowledge about the diet of earth-pigs. Except that they seem to like ants.

And yet, I can't recall a single example of the earth-pig-born eating an ant.


Out the wazoo!

Sean R said...

It's s ceramic bowl. Any nut should do the trick :)

Unknown said...

Sam B. I appreciate the acknowledgement VERY much!

The problem, I think, was that Scott McCloud was saying things people WANTED to hear and I was saying things people DIDN'T want to hear. Which was always odd to me because I never told people NOT to do something or called them names (which is what they always did with me) I always just explained what I saw as the potential consequences from the experiences to which I was privy. That has always seemed to me to be the point of experiences: learn from your own mistakes and the mistakes of others and warn people who seem to be about to make the same mistakes. "Here's what happened to me." "Here's what happened to X or Y".

That was always what I told self-publishers when they would thank me for my help. No thanks necessary: just PASS IT ON! It's always just the same questions over and over. Remember the examples I cited to you about me and other artists and writers and self-publishers and PASS IT ON! It was amazing how few did. I'd read them answering a letter on their letters page: "Go to the library and read books about it." YOU IDIOT!! HOW MUCH TIME DID I SPEND ON THE PHONE WITH YOU, ANSWERING EVERY QUESTION THAT YOU HAD, OFTEN MULTIPLE TIMES??!!

Am I thinking of anyone in particular?

Um. No comment. :)

Unknown said...

Toth's was one of those very unhappy stories (from what I gleaned from one of IDW's book about him). He really got so deep into the Design, Design, Design end of things that he got totally blocked. If you ever get a chance to read and look at his "Daddy & The Pie" stories for Warren, they are jaw-droppingly, intricately crafted. One panel blends smoothly into the next panel, you read everything in the right order and the story REVEALS itself to you. Nothing is off by so much as a fraction of a inch or the effect doesn't work: You make the transition at the right point from the last word balloon in panel A to the image and first word balloon in panel B. Comic art doesn't just "land on the page" like that. In those pre-Photoshop days you needed to adjust size, proportion, juxtaposition, contrast, etc. completely by hand the old-fashioned way: erase, rough in, erase, rough in, erase, rough in. That was the theory behind his style: if you put all of your time in on the Design and micro-manage it in rough until it's 100% exact then the inking stage is the quickest part.

The downside was that he eventually became so critical at the micro-managing stage that he never got to the end of it. He couldn't be satisfied until it was perfect and it was never perfect enough. So it became impossible to do anything past a two- or three-page strip. BRAVO FOR ADVENTURE was his last major work and it wasn't that many pages.

Barry Deutsch said...

For folks who are interested you can read "Daddy and the Pie" here - it really is stunning work.

And if you scroll down, you can read Toth's handwritten evaluations of each of the panels in the story, which is interesting. Toth was definitely of the "I will be my harshest critic" school.

Jeff Seiler said...

Wow! Barry, thank you! This is GREAT!

More, please!

Jeff Seiler said...

And thank you, Dave, for bringing it up in the first place. Whenever you've talked about Alex Toth, I never recognized the name. But when I saw this first page, I recognized his artistic style immediately. Thanks!