Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Close-Up Look At Cerebus

The Comics Journal #184 (Fantagraphics Books, February 1996)

Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard, design by Pat Moriarty

(from the interview introduction in The Comics Journal #184, February 1996)
Dave Sim is an inescapable presence in the comics field: his monthly comic, Cerebus, recently celebrated its 200th issue. The massive collections, or "phonebooks" as they're known to Cerebus fans, are steady sellers for both the reorder divisions of the major distributors and Aardvark-Vanaheim's (Sim's self-publishing company name) own mail order service. Sim is an outspoken critic of industry practices and a proponent of self-publishing - both in the pages of his own comic and at industry events. He's also a figure of controversy, both for the hard line he takes on industry issues and the content of his comics work.

What often gets lost is Dave Sim the creator. In making the transition to a monthly publication with Cerebus #13, Sim decided to take on weightier, more meaningful, and more artistically ambitious material. The end result was reconceiving the comic as a 300-issue, 6000 page graphic novel, with huge 500+ page chapters dealing with such issues as politics (High Society), religion (Church & State) and dying (Melmoth). The larger work built from these component works, which Sim refers to as simply Cerebus, is a cohesive whole exploring the life and times of his lead character. The structure of the work-in-progress supports his claim: chapters can be grouped together as greater more cohesive wholes or explored as oppositional thematic poles; certain themes and subtexts build as the chapters progress.

Due in part to his massive, time-intensive undertaking, Sim is also one of the greatest technicians working in comics. He considers himself more in league with illustrators like Barry Windsor-Smith and Mike Kaluta than with most artists undertaking longer, ambitious work. He's developed a score of unique, innovative narrative techniques and craft solutions in the 4000-pages he's done to date. With his studio mate, Gerhard, working primarily on backgrounds, Cerebus is one of the most lushly realised books out on the market in any given month.

The following interview concentrates solely on Dave Sim as a comics creator. It was conducted in early February 1996. I found Dave to be as charming, helpful and forthright as his reputation claimed. He's also quite thoughtful about his work, and works from a set of artistic beliefs as refined as any comics creator's. A second portion of this interview, covering his most recent work and his views on criticism (including this magazine), will be published soon [in The Comics Journal #192]. It's all too good to leave on the cutting room floor.

Tom Spurgeon can now be found at The Comics Reporter.

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