Sunday, 30 April 2017

Swords of Cerebus Vol 4: The Palnu Trilogy

Published between 1981 and 1984, Dave's six Swords of Cerebus volumes were his first attempt to collect the book in a more permanent form. He gave each story included in these volumes a prose introduction, explaining where the book stood when he’d been working on that particular issue and how he was thinking of its prospects at the time. This is the second (and final) of Swords 4's two composite introductions, and it runs to a whopping five pages, covering The Palnu Triolgy (ie the Silverspoon strips from The Buyer's Guide and Cerebus #14-16). Dave's discussion of Hal Foster and Alex Raymond here is something he'd pick up again – and in much greater detail – in The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, of course. Also check out the full 'Swords Of Cerebus' Introductions Index.

"I’m not drawing a snake crawling out of his cage with the leader of the ‘Eye of the Pyramid’ juxtaposed in the foreground," says Dave. "Hell, no! I’m drawing the leader of the ‘Eye in the Pyramid’ flipping his giant schlong out at Cerebus, who’s going to cut it off."

Next week: Why secondary characters are easier to steal.

Meeting Gerhard & Shelley

I only remember the last date I saw Gerhard in person because it was the last time I had a drink of alcohol: October 1, 2005. It was at the Ye Bookes of Cerebus at St Bonaventure University in western New York. So when Menachem of Escape Pod Comics said he was going to be hosting Gerhard and Shelley in late April, I gave going to the signing serious thought. At just about a 4 hour trip for me, it was the closest Ger had been in awhile that I could remember.

So I took the time off and headed down on Thursday afternoon. Menachem was super helpful in reserving me a room at a local hotel, so my first order of business was to check in there and then get some eats before the signing. By the time I arrived after an hour on the non-express Long Island Expressway, it was around 4:30 pm, and I was hoping I wouldn't be too late as my schedule was thrown off a bit.

I checked in to the hotel and came back out to my car to get my bag and who do I see? Shelley. I've never met Shelley in the past, but thanks to Gerhard's blog, I'd seen pictures. Gerhard and Shelley had flown into Newark Airport, gotten a rental and drove through NYC to get to Long Island. We ended up taking my car to the store, where we went in the back entrance and surprised Menachem. After saying our hellos and dropping off some items for the signing, the three of us went out to get some dinner in Huntington. 

Since it was closer to 5:30 then 5pm by this time, we got appetizers at a Thai restaurant that was down the street. I wish I could remember the conversation the three of us had, but I think the excitement of having dinner with Ger and Shelley was a bit much for me. Or perhaps I was just tired from dealing with Long Island traffic. I do remember Shelley asked me as many questions, if not more, as I was asking of them. Pretty soon my 6pm alarm went off, so after paying the bill we quickly walked back to the store.

Menachem had Gerhard set up near the back of the store, right in front of the wall of Cerebus - where he hands all the different commissions he has gotten over the years (click on any of the pictures to enlarge):

Conrad, Menachem and Gerhard
With Gerhard in the comfy seat, he commenced drawing commissions. One was of corn. Seriously. I could watch Ger draw corn all day. He was sketching and staying within a box that I couldn't see. I had asked him if he used the ruler for the edges, and he stated he had. So faintly that I couldn't see them from a couple feet away. He then stopped and found a piece of slightly used sketch paper and showed me what he does with a page.

Draw an outline around the edges. Put an X on the page. Then draw two more lines. Then two more. Then use intersections for composition:

He then drew something quickly in the center of the page using his points of interest, and then drew another box around that so some bits of the sketch were outside the second box. 

I wish I could just stand there all night asking Ger questions about drawing and watch him sketch, but I didn't want to monopolize his time - there were other Cerebus fans there. Someone had come as far as Richmond, VA. Even Carla Speed McNeil had driven hours to show up and talk to Gerhard.

Gerhard looking at Finder while Carla shows him the original art
Nate had come with a few things for Ger to sign, and it was great to see him again as well:

Left to right: Shelley, Margaret, Nate and Gerhard
Ben Granoff dropped off his commission he did for Menachem. I should've gotten a picture of Ben with it, but I wanted my picture taken with it - how one could encapsulate the entire saga on one page just blew my mind:

Holding the 'Get on The 'Bus!' commission by Ben Granoff
Ben  and myself looked at all the original Cerebus pages which Gerhard had brought with them. 

Ben looking over a page of original art from Cerebus
I only wish I had enough cash money to pick up this one:

Cerebus #192 page 16 (Minds page 122)
Make sure you zoom in on the above picture - the page in the phone book looks okay, but the original art? Yeah, I stared at that for a long time. All the detail on it. The little Cerebus pasted up on it. The thickness to the flecks of white paint (white out?) on top of it. Gerhard started to tell a story about how the above was his second try at it. Dave had asked for an explosion in space, and Gerhard's first attempt was deemed too cartoony. We didn't get to hear how he came up with the specific piece above.

I brought some prints from Gerhard - as he had a nice selection to choose from and he graciously signed them all. He also pulled out an program booklet from the Indiana Comic Con:

Indiana Comic Con program booklet, front
He then flipped it over to show me the back. He stated the previous year he had done a sketch for one of the guys at the con, and they used it in this year's program booklet. He said he had brought me a copy since he knew I didn't have one of them:

Every time I saw Menachem he had a smile on his face and kind words for everyone:

The signing was only supposed to be from 6pm to 8pm, but Gerhard kept sketching until just a bit past 11:30 pm. Of course since I had driven Shelley and him there, I got to wait until the end to bring them back to the hotel. By the time we got back it was past midnight. It was one of the best signings I've been to - relaxed, laid back and listening to artists talk about their craft? Always a good time.

Gerhard's 2017 Convention & Signing Itinerary:

Keep up to date with Gerhard's latest news at Gerz Blog!

Saturday, 29 April 2017

You Don't Know... Jack!

Right when I thought I was getting an extended vacation from the world of Dave Sim...

...we decide to go ahead and do You Don't Know Jack! as a mini-series. Dave is churning out the gags at a rate only Dave can and I am slinging ink to produce the extra images we need as fast as I can manage.

My hope for the tones of the series, as stated to Dave is, "Like the best of Plato's dialogues, where no side of the argument wins, but short and funny." I intervene any time a gag is too one sided. Jack has final say on everything. A fine line, but one I think is worth toeing.

Here is a bit of script that Dave added on to the end of a story that I felt needed better back and forth. The lead in is a discussion about having sex with women on their periods.

As with SDOAR I will post scans of all my art as it is finished over at Dave's Patreon page. A donation of as little as $1 a month will buy you access and help us keep going.

Help finance Dave Sim to complete 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' 
by donating at

Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (2008 to 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

Weekly Update #180: Cerebus In Hell? #3 & More Colin Upton

This week featuring:

Friday, 28 April 2017

Dave Sim: "Breaking The Glass Ceiling"

Original ad for the first printing of High Society, 1985.

(from Brighter Than You Think, Ten Short Works By Alan Moore, Uncivilised Books, 2016)
...The dispute arose over Dave Sim's decision to sell the trade paperback edition of his Cerebus graphic novel, High Society, himself rather than through the comic book retail market, for which Diamond was the primary distributor.  When it was originally published as a single "phonebook" edition in 1985, High Society (which collected Cerebus #26-50) pioneered a radical new format for graphic novels. According to [Stephen] Bissette, "When Dave decided to make comics history by publishing the first collected editions of Cerebus that were larger in format and page count than any previous North American comics volume - Breaking the glass ceiling that would immediately and profoundly reshape the marketplace... he got a lot of resistance."

In order to sell High Society in comics shops, Sim would have had to sell the books to Diamond at a 65% off cover price. Because of the size and format, the book was priced at $25 (a bargain for nearly 500 pages) and, given Sim's background in self-publishing, he decided to try to maximise his profits by distributing it himself. This decision alarmed executives at Diamond, who feared that other creators might follow his example and attempt to by pass the traditional distribution channel. After some terse  communications back and forth, when Sim also refused to sell the second printing of High Society through the direct market, threats were made by Diamond employees to stop carrying and distributing The Puma Blues, an ongoing series by Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli which Sim published separately under his company, Aardvark One International (the same company that was supposed to publish Taboo).

This unprecedented abuse of Diamond's inductry position served as a rallying call for creators and self-publishers in the late eighties, and many, including [Alan] Moore himself, contributed art and stories for The Puma Blues #20 (1988), a benefit issue to both help support the creators effected and make a statement against Diamond's unethical practices. Once the dispute was covered by the comics press, Diamond softened its position  and agreed to continue carrying The Puma Blues, but by that point, Sim had lost his appetite for publishing and dissolved Aardvark International One, leaving Taboo without a home...

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Cerebus & Erika

Cerebus & Erika (Cerebus #161, August 1992)
Art by Martin Wagner, Dave Sim & Gerhard
Jam Print released at Capital City Trade Show 1992
Original art auctioned for Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Rick in a Can

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.

We've looked at Dave Sim's notebook #15, four times already.  The last time was in June of 2016 in Daughter of Palnu: Lessons. The notebook covers issues #118 to 122, the early issues of Jaka's Story. It has 108 pages, 98 of which I scanned, and 4 pages blank pages not scanned (pages 94, 95/96 and 97). But we still haven't seen the cover.

Surprise. Surprise. It is a Hilroy notebook.

Notebook #15, front cover
The difference between this Hilroy notebook and the other ones is this cover has a different texture then the others. While the other ones were flat this one appears to be embossed.

Since this entry has to be a quick one - the Bruins have game 6 at home today - a couple pages of sketches from the notebook. We'll start with the back of the page first, on which are three head sketches. Jaka, "Rick in a Can" and "Wee Donny Drrredd".

Notebook #15, page 68
Though behind those sketches, you can see some other sketches. Looks like Jaka a bit.

Notebook #15, page 67
It is Jaka. A sketch of one of her dancing costumes. The top looks like the same top from the cover to Cerebus #124, but the pants are a bit more see-through.

Cerebus #124, front cover

Though it is revealed that Jaka had forgotten the back of her costume, so perhaps it is the same outfit as above - but without the back and the leggings.

Meet Gerhard Tomorrow At Escape Pod Comics!

I know I should have reached out much sooner, but with all the madness about approach FCBD it slipped my mind. We’ll be hosting Gerhard this Thursday, from 6-closing (and possible running a long time after as well!) Margaret Liss is going to be there, as well as Carla Speed McNeill. More details here...  ~  Menachem Luchins

Where: Escape Pod Comics, 302 Main St, Huntington, New York 11743
When: 18:00-20:00 EDT, Thursday 27 April 2017

Paper to Pixel to Paper Again: Part 14

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29

A guide to creating the best looking line art in print in the new digital print world

Part 14
Production Negative Adjustment


This is the fourteenth installment of Paper to Pixel to Paper Again, a series that explains (in an overly thorough manner) the how-to's of preparing line art (and later in the series, color art!) for print.

And as always, if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments!


In the last installment of this column, we discussed working with production negatives, the film elements that were generated in order to create printing plates in previous, pre-digital printing processes. 

As I mentioned in that column, there's a huge range of possible qualities to these production negatives. The best of these photographic negatives can look almost indistinguishable from making fresh scans of original art. The worst have filled-in or burned off elements that can't be recovered, or had gross manipulations during the photography, or chemical spills or camera errors or other problems. But for this installment, we'll only address how to work with the best of these elements.

Okay, as of our previous installment, we've cut the negatives off of the vacuum-frame flats and cleaned them, and scanned them at 1200 ppi. Now let's take a look.

This is a page from High Society, scanned prior to my coming on board with the work.

I can tell just looking at the dot-tone on the Cerebus figures that this is an uncalibrated scan, i.e. the density of the image is too dark, and unrepresentative of the original artwork. This is not surprising, as most scanning software is not really calibrated to scan information-rich, dark and dense images. Fortunately, there is an easy fix for this, that involves looking at the density of the Cerebus dot tone (which, unless it was adjusted during photography, was usually some density of 30 percent).

Let's zoom in on the bottom area of the page, where we have both Cerebus figures (i.e. dot-tone) and the denser cross-hatching at the bottom of the page.

Now I'm going to hit Ctrl-L to bring up the Levels command. Once it's open, I grab the Mid Point arrow (i.e. the Gamma/exposure control) and move it to the left until the Cerebus tone has opened up and starts looking like a 30 percent tone again.

And here's our result. 

Well, would ya look at that? In addition to thinning out everything uniformly, our correction is bringing out detail that was hidden/filled in in the initial image. Most of this detail is wanted—the white detail in the dense areas of cross-hatching, for instance. But some of it will need to be cleaned, as it's unintentional "detail" brought out by our adjustment.

For instance?

Mysterious shapes around the contours of Cerebus' ears. (Not actually so mysterious if you view the image in reverse, how it actually appears on the negative. Some kindly person at the printer (possibly the "stripper") has removed the visible Exacto-blade cut lines from the edges of Cerebus's tone with an exacto knife of their own, scraping the emulsion off of the clear plastic carrier film. 

In this same category, you can now see the bottom of the image was once held in place on the flats with tape that actually overlapped the image. This will also need to be adjusted.

But all of this is for another stage, so let's put it off for a bit and take a look at a negative from later in the book instead.

Here's a page from later in Church & State II. Notice that the tone is similarly dense to the earlier example, and needs a similar type of Gamma adjustment. Some of the stripping has also been removed in this example, leaving the "chop" on the top of the page visible and parts of the bottom of the page exposed.

This time we're going to make our Gamma adjustment, then make a new Photoshop "Action" for upscaling and sharpening our negatives.

I'm going to zoom in and concentrate on the first panel (the medium shot of Cerebus) for calibrating the page, as the other figures that have finer tonelook like they've been manipulated photographically to adjust the darkness of the tone (and thus to make it less prone to fill-in on press. (How I know this?  I'll go into it on a later installment)

Anyway, here's the medium-density tone figure.

I bring that Gamma control way, waaay down, and I end up bringing up the black point just a wee bit as well (as you can see by the histogram, there's nothing on the far end of it, so I'm not clipping anything by bringing it up.

Anything else exciting we brought up with that adjustment?

Nothing too exciting, besides lots more detail, especially in the dense areas of hatching and white-on-black areas. Also some unintentional information, such as the edges of Roxanne Starr's lettering bubbles, pasted onto the artwork late in the process.

Next week: We sharpen some negatives! Woo-hoo!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Stephen Bissette: Feeding The DC Machine

Brighter Than You Think: Ten Short Works By Alan Moore
with essays by Marc Sobel

(from Brighter Than You Think, Ten Short Works By Alan Moore, Uncivilised Books, 2016)
...Taboo was a horror anthology series edited and published by Stephen Bissette. Like Moore's short story [Come On Down], its origin also dates back to 1985 when Moore, Bissette and John Totlebon were still working together on Swamp Thing for DC Comics. While the three creators were enjoying great success with DC, the winds in the industry were shifting and more and more creators were embracing the underground comix model of self-publishing. At the time, no one had achieved more success in the self-publishing arena than the Canadian cartoonist, Dave Sim, the visionary creator and publisher of Cerebus The Aardvark, a series that he had produced entirely on his own since 1977. Inspired by his own experience, Sim was a passionate and outspoken advocate for creator independence and, according to Bissette, in 1985 he, "began extending invitations to a small pool of creators he felt were ready (and needed) to make the plunge into the deep, wide waters of self-publishing. This was part of a creative community re-education process Dave was committed to..." In particular, Sim believed that the Swamp Thing creative team was wasting their talents "renovating, restructuring and making (DC's) defunct corporate property worth something... Dave wanted us to be self-publishers, not feeding the DC machine".

But Sim was not simply encouraging creators with no publishing experience to blindly cast out on their own; he was also committed to helping them do so by building upon his own success. As a result, in 1985, he created a new corporate entity, Aardvark One International, in order to publish work from these creators. In addition to Moore, Bissette and Totlebon, many other creators working for the mainstream publishers, including Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz, were also contacted by Sim.

Bissette and Totlebon were intrigued by Sim's offer. In particular, the two artists were excited about publishing a new kind of horror anthology which would fill a creative void they perceived existed in the industry at the time. Despite the presence of some new alternative horror series in the 1980s like Twisted Tales and Gore Shriek, Bissette felt that "horror comics were in a funk. John and I were finding no fertile ground for our own efforts in these 'new' anthologies, despite our attempts, and found it frustrating that the genuinely innovative horror comic stories were appearing sporadically in non-genre anthologies like RAW or self-published tiles like Chester Brown's Yummy Fur. There was no focal point for these creators and sensibilities to come together; no publisher willing to take the risks necessary to do a genuinely adult horror comic for the 1990s; no title with a point of view or understanding of the genre willing to explore, rather than exploit, its often dangerous potential." In short, Bissette felt that the "evolution of horror comics required something more radical and unfettered" and that he and Totlebon "were audacious enough to think it could be done and that (they) might be the ones to do it". Although Sim was reluctant at first to support an anthology, he eventually agreed and early in 1986, Bissette and Totlebon began contacting potential contributors.

However, just months before Taboo's first issue was scheduled to be printed, a protracted dispute between Sim and Diamond Comics, the largest comic book distributor in the United States, reached its tipping point, resulting in the dissolution of Aardvark One. With so many creators having already contributed to the series, the sudden loss of its publisher at the last second forced Bissette and his wife to scramble to form their own publishing business. Thus, SpiderBaby Grafix was born, hastily created to publish Taboo much the same way Moore had founded Mad Love to publish AARGH!...

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Swords Of Cerebus Vol 4: Magiking & Cerebus #13

Swords Of Cerebus Vol 4 (1982)
Art by Dave Sim 

Published between 1981 and 1984, Dave's six Swords of Cerebus volumes were his first attempt to collect the book in a more permanent form. He gave each story included in these volumes a prose introduction, explaining where the book stood when he'd been working on that particular issue and how he was thinking of its prospects at the time. This is the first of the two composite introductions Dave included in Swords volume 4. Also check out the full 'Swords Of Cerebus' Introductions Index.

There was no guest strip in this volume, but it does have this delightful little Alex Toth sketch printed on the inside of its front cover:
"[Necros] led me to develop almost a completely different style in order to capture
 the kind of broad gestures and body movements of a real nutbar," says Dave.

Next week: The giant penis issue.