Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Insert witty joke about Aardvark Comment here.

Hi Everybody!

Mail there, or just Fax: 519 576 0955. Or email me at momentofcerebus@gmail.com and I'll take care of it.
Continues with Dave answer to Adam Beechen's question:

CEREBUS continues to stagger me in many ways, but one of the most profound is its sheer size and the duration of its production. You did it. Like you said you would from the very beginning. Twenty-six years. Three hundred monthly issues. Like clockwork. All of those issues fit into the larger narrative framework, the characters are consistent (and if they change, it’s a sense of evolution, not an arbitrary left turn – It’s all motivated), and I never have the sense that you “took an issue off” here and there.

Your work on CEREBUS strikes me as a pretty unbelievable act of commitment, conviction, determination, sheer will, imagination and love. I work on a contract-to-contract basis. I write a script for this show as a freelancer, and then I move to that show and write a script for it. If I’m under contract to produce or story-edit a series, it’s for a limited period of a couple years at the absolute most. All of which suits me fine – I enjoy playing in other creators’ sandboxes. And I respond well to deadlines placed upon me, much better than I do to self-imposed deadlines. But after a few years on the same series, I can itch for new material on which to work.

Of course, I’ve never sold a series I created, and I might feel otherwise if that were the case. I hope I get to find out. Even so, I’d like to tell so many different kinds of stories over the course of my career, featuring many different kinds of characters. I don’t know that I could come up with a “vessel” of a framework story that could encompass all of them, the way CEREBUS encompassed multiple stories of a range of styles (illustrative and textual), all the while maintaining the central thread of Cerebus’ journey. If I did, there would probably still be times when I wondered if the narrative grass wasn’t greener somewhere else.

So, my question(s) to you becomes this (these):

Do you have a sense of where that drive, that commitment, within you comes from? And how hard or easy was it to maintain over the course of the 26 years?

Was there ever a time when you wanted to just walk away entirely before reaching 300? If so, how did you overcome it? Did you have mornings when you sat down at the drawing table and just said, “Ugh. I am just not in the mood for this.” If so, how did you fight through that?

Was there a time when you thought, “No one’s forcing me to do this every day, every month, every year. I’ll just take a couple months off. Just a couple. I’ll come back rejuvenated and get right back into it.” If so, what kept you from heading down that path?

Were you ever seriously tempted to step away from CEREBUS, temporarily or purposely, to pursue other projects that you’d either create or that someone else had created?

In short, how did you cope with CEREBUS fatigue and outside distraction?

If these are questions you’ve answered a hundred times before elsewhere, I apologize – I haven’t seen or heard those interviews – and I hope the way I’ve asked them here might give you a different approach or angle to answering them than you’ve had previously.

Adam is the one who ISN'T straining every muscle in his body
Adam Beechen's Hench is available from Amazon. (Which is were his website sends you.) Most recently, Adam wrote an eight-page story featured in the 'ROBIN 80th Anniversary Special' for DC.

[I read it, it's a good story -Matt]

Dave Sim's answer to Adam Beechen's fourfold question above is being serialized this week on AMOC.  Link to PART ONELink to PART TWO.  This is PART THREE.

This was, for me, a defining "accidental merit" to SPARRING WITH GIL KANE. But, in order to get the merit of it, you need to know a lot more information than you will get in the book. Starting with the fact that Noel Sickles was, for Gil Kane, The Real Olympus Deal For Whom Gil Kane Would Cheerfully Have Become The Humblest Spear-carrier. That is, Gil Kane who, in his own mind, looked down on all of his peers in the comic-book field looked up -- WAAAY up -- to Noel Sickles.

A great deal of Noel Sickles' cachet in the comic-book field comes from Howard Chaykin by way of Gil Kane (Chaykin was Gil's assistant for less than a year but it was a TRANSFORMATIVE year). Chaykin adopted Gil Kane's progressive intelligentsia One Right Way To Think m.o. in spades. Batter the opposition into submission. Take no prisoners. You have to tear down to build up. One of which was that Scorchy Smith is the ne plus ultra of comic-strip art and comic-art generally. Even as an 18-year-old, which is how old I was when I interviewed Howard, when Howard Chaykin spoke reverently of Scorchy Smith you listened because he spoke so seldom of anyone's work with reverence.  I was the same age interviewing Howard that Howard had been as Gil's assistant. Same deal. Gil would dismiss everyone in the 18-year-old Chaykin's pantheon with a withering cruel-but-fair bon mot.

[I really wish I had written them down at the time: Howard reenacting the assistant-to-artist conversation with his pitch-perfect imitation of Gil. I had already interviewed Gil so "pitch-perfect" doesn't overstate the case. The assessments were cruel but also funny. Darrell Epp sends me Howard Chaykin interviews and observations whenever he finds them online. I'm always hoping they'll be in there somewhere as I hoped they would be in Howard's introduction to SPARRING WITH GIL KANE. No such luck.]

For me, Sickles' Scorchy Smith and the early Milt Caniff Terry and the Pirates (Milt Caniff and Sickles were lifelong friends and one-time studio mates) are interesting but minor works. Their long-term impact, I would say, was "understated-ness". Two people walking along talking. For days on end. For me, Sickles didn't come into his own until he left comics and became a full-time illustrator. This makes me a Blithering Idiot and Fool in the Gil Kane and Howard Chaykin Mount Olympus.

Which is "of a piece" with what I'm talking about here: the progressive's -- and these are all progressives -- compulsion toward The One Right Way To Think instead of "Here's my opinion and here's why I think this way. What's your opinion and why do you think that way?" My case would be that Scorchy Smith is largely  -- apart from Gil and Howard Chaykin -- forgotten and was, certainly, eclipsed by Terry and the Pirates: and, by that I mean, the later Terry and the Pirates.  Caniff went out on an apex high note when he left Terry and started Steve Canyon. 

Whereas, when LIFE magazine published Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea -- at a time when Hemingway was the Ne Plus Ultra of American authors and LIFE magazine was the Ne Plus Ultra of slick newsstand magazines -- Noel Sickles was tapped to illustrate it. 

To me, that's QED: If there is some kind of objective comic-art Mount Olympus in this vale of tears, the re-fashioner of Scorchy Smith --

[Sickles didn't create the strip, it was created by John Terry, the brother of Paul Terry, of Terrytoons animation. Sickles was delegated to take the strip over in 1933 when John Terry had been dying of tuberculosis and Sickles had been directed to make it look like the original. Which for Sickles had been a stifling creative yoke. After Terry died, Sickles was allowed to sign his name to the strip and gradually began to make it more interesting while staying understated. Arguably, that's where the brilliance comes from that Gil and Howard see:  Sickles had to keep himself reined in under editorial fiat -- Colonel Parker imposed on Elvis Presley -- and then was "set loose".  But he chose to rein himself in, at that point, so he became what I would describe as "the understated Milt Caniff"]

 -- rising to that level of National Prominence makes whatever Noel Sickles did in comics, at best, "humble beginnings". 

That doesn't mean I think mine is the One Right Way To Think, that means that I think it's the more persuasive way of viewing Noel Sickles and his work. Gil and Howard aren't WRONG to think Scorchy Smith is a critically important seminal work. There's a good case to be made for how they view it. If you think, as an example, that Milt Caniff's style ultimately became a caricature of itself, then Sickles' intentional "understated-ness" on Scorchy Smith becomes the preferred Road Less Travelled -- the cartoon comic-art fork-in-the-road where the less brilliant trajectory was, regrettably, opted for.  

An equally persuasive argument can be mounted that what Noel Sickles and Milt Caniff were doing as studio-mates between 1933 and 1936 -- creating the Cartoon Comic Art School -- is really the subject under discussion. Sickles' work on Scorchy Smith shaped Caniff's work on Terry and the Pirates and vice versa and it's hard to tell who got what from who. Sickles quit Scorchy Smith in an Elvis vs. Colonel Parker dispute over compensation with the Associated Press Syndicate in 1936...

(he was getting $125 a week when the strip was bringing in -- by his calculation -- $2,500 a week. I think that's a lowball figure. The Associated Press was EVERYWHERE. Those were only the North American papers and only the North American papers of which Sickles was aware. STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND TEASER: Ward Greene's long-term plan had been to jump from King Features to the Associated Press with a Margaret Mitchell/Alex Raymond GONE WITH THE WIND adaptation which he pictured being the first million-dollar grossing comic strip)

...so the cross-pollination between the two of them came to an abrupt end.   

As comics historian Ron Goulart (who theorizes that he had been gathering material for his book The Adventurous Decade) writes in his introduction to the Kane vs. Sickles "match", "I had brought along some Terry and the Pirates tear sheets that I was sure he had had a hand in (Alex Toth had pointed them out to me when I was living in Southern California)."  Toth was another Scorchy Smith devotee.

Had IDW's Library of American Comics TERRY AND THE PIRATES volumes existed at the time, that would have been the thing to have Sickles look at.  Alas, that was all way off in the future and all we have is glimmerings of information. Alex Toth's opinions filtered through Goulart and partly refuted and partly affirmed by Sickles.   


Dave's the one who ISN'T going "Beep beep" (I think...)
Dave Sim is the creator of Cerebus the Aardvark, which ran for three hundred issues from December 1977 to March 2004 (and is available digitally here.) His latest project is The Strange Death of Alex Raymond (a fundraising Edition is available, details on how to get it here. And there is a Kickstarter for the Remastered version of Cerebus #1. His OTHER latest project is the ongoing Cerebus in Hell? (Daily strips are posted here, and the next #1 is Green Dante/Green Virgil (which should be in stores by the end of the month)). And every Friday he posts a video "update".

Next Time: HOBBS! Cerebus! Hell?!?


Brian West said...

I am someone who doesn't mind these digressions at all.

Tony Dunlop said...

Matt, this is fookin' AWESOME. I, being a not-very-creative person, absolutely love listening in on creative people talking about doing what they love. The passion, the dedication. It's why I enjoy Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee" so much. (And that's saying a lot - I do not enjoy watching TV, as a rule. Not my medium of choice.)

For example, I never knew Gil Kane - absolutely one of my all time favorites - had such a high opinion of himself. Deserved, sure, but...unseemly.

Please keep these coming as long as the correspondents, and you, are not yet sick of/bored with it. Priceless stuff.