Sunday, 29 October 2017

Pressed Aardvark #4: 1996 to 1997

1980-83 | 1984-90 | 1991-95 | 1996-97 | 2005-09

I love researching bizarre stores from America’s past, so a few years ago I treated myself to a subscription to This gives me access to a huge searchable database of vintage newspapers - the oldest dating back to the 1700s. On a whim the other night, I plugged the word “Cerebus” into the site’s excellent search engine, selected the years 1978-2017, and started rootling through everything that came up. I’m pulling out only the most noteworthy items here, which in this case means one item from an Australian newspaper and two from British ones.

Sydney Morning Herald, November 27, 1996.

I initially assumed this Australian racehorse’s name must be a typo, but it seems not. I’ve found a dozen or so mentions of him with the above spelling, but none at all calling him “Mr Cerberus”, so in this case I’m assuming the paper’s spelling is correct. As you’ll see, Mr Cerebus was a 10-1 shot here, who the paper’s tipster expected to finish third. I’ve no idea if he managed that on the day or not, but I have found the results of one 1997 race where he trailed in dead last.


The Independent (London, UK) November 7, 1996.

I wrote this piece myself for a special Independent careers supplement aimed at graduating students. It ran inside the back cover, the idea being to provide a slightly more offbeat piece to round off all the robustly practical advice on the earlier pages.

I took all the Dave quotes here from the various Comics Journal interviews he’s done, and dutifully acknowledged this source with a couple of lines of italics at the bottom of my copy. By the time the piece appeared, however, someone in the production department had cut that bit out. On the plus side, I did manage to include my favourite Dave quote ever. “I might be going down in flames,” he once told the Journal of his determination to remain a self-publisher. “Maybe this plane won’t fly. But, by God, this is the plane I want to go down in.”

The original material here comes from my interviews with two British self-publishers: Kane’s Paul Grist and Strangehaven’s Gary Spencer Millidge. There’s some interesting stuff there from both men on the economics of doing your own comic book – at least as they applied in 1996 – and an intriguing glimpse of how their books were then selling. Both agreed that 7,000 to 8,000 issues a month was then the threshold at which it became possible to make a reasonable living from self-publishing alone. Neither had yet achieved that landmark, though both were already comfortably above the 2,000 mark.

“I decided that other people were letting me down, and that the best way of getting a book out was to do it myself,” Grist told me. “I thought if I’m putting all this time and effort into it, it doesn’t take a great deal more time and effort to actually do the whole thing myself. There were all sorts of problems that cropped up, but they were fairly easily sorted out.”

Millidge added: “I didn’t get much reaction from actual publishers so, because of Dave Sim, I decided to give self-publishing a go, and it all just fell into place. Strangehaven has gone through the roof. It’s far exceeded my expectations.”

I sent a copy of the Independent article to Gary as I was preparing this piece, asking him what reflections it sparked 20 years on.

“Re-reading the article was a lot less embarrassing than I expected it to be,” he replied. “Of course, my sales on the periodical never much exceeded the 3,000 copies I mentioned, which made devoting 100% of my time to it impossible - which in turn led to less frequency and a slow decline in sales. The trade paperback collections sold pretty well, but there was a ‘speed bump’ there in that the cost of reprinting sold-out volumes was quite a heavy investment.

“I've struggled on since, never quite giving up, and while the monthly model never quite worked out for me, I still believe in self-publishing and being an independent creator. The opportunity that Soaring Penguin Press has offered me, to get back to producing new episodes on a reasonably regular basis (for their anthology Meanwhile...), while ultimately keeping control and ownership of Strangehaven, is probably the next best thing to self-publishing itself.

“This will hopefully enable me to bring the series to a conclusion over the next 18 months or so. And then? Maybe working with other independent publishers and even a return to self-publishing, of some description, in the future.”

Gary Spencer Millidge has three Strangehaven collections available, and is currently serialising the story’s fourth and final volume in Meanwhile... magazine. His website is

Paul Grist has six Kane collections available, and has since published both Jack Staff and Mudman through Image. Follow him on Twitter @mistergrist.


The Guardian (London, UK), November 14, 1997.

In my more pretentious moments, I’ve been known to compare Cerebus to Anthony Powell’s acclaimed series of 12 prose novels A Dance To The Music of Time. Not that I’ve ever read Powell’s saga, but I do know that, like Cerebus, it follows a consistent set of characters through their entire lives and is structured as a series of stand-alone volumes.

Until unearthing this clipping a few days ago, I thought I was the only one the comparison had occurred to – but no. “The only serial narrative I know that currently aspires to the same dizzying scope [as Powell’s] is a monthly American comic strip called Cerebus, which recounts the saga of a sword-and-sorcery aardvark, part Conan-style Barbarian, part Balzacian social climber,” the critic Jonathan Romney writes.

At the centre of ADTTMOT is Kenneth Widmerpool, who Christopher Hitchens once described as “the most dogged and fearsome solipsist in modern fiction”. Widmerpool rises relentlessly through the ranks in business, the army and politics, but never manages to marry successfully. Eventually, his fortunes plummet and the whole sequence of novels ends with his death.

Tackling the 1997 TV adaptation, which squeezed all 12 books into just four two-hour episodes, Romney praises Dave for instead giving Cerebus a full 26 years to play out. “Cerebus, stumpy, irascible and sometimes pompous, thereby attains a sort of timeless grandeur which Anthony Powell’s equally stumpy Widmerpool, in the television Dance, simply cannot aspire to,” he writes. “It’s the music of time we’re talking about, after all; in big existential terms, a dance to the tune of eight hours just doesn’t match up.”

The picture caption takes this a step further, saying that Cerebus and the TV Widmerpool “look similar”. If I were Simon Russell Beale, who played Widmerpool for Channel 4, I’m not sure I’d be entirely flattered by that comparison.

For more of Paul Slade’s writing – including a history of Reg Smythe’s Andy Capp strip and a look back at some notable comic book lawsuits – visit

1 comment:

Paul Slade said...

Simon Russell Beale fares no better in this week's edition of Britain's Sunday Times. Reviewing the new film The Death of Stalin, in which Beale plays Stalin's torturer Lavrentiy Beria, Edward Porter calls him a "penguin-proportioned sadist".