Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Craft Behind Cerebus: An Interview With Gerhard

Cerebus #80 (1985)
Art by Gerhard (with Dave Sim)

(From the introduction to an online interview at The Comics Journal, December 2010)
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
He's soft spoken, self-effacing. Thoughtful. He worked on almost 5,000 pages over 20 years, but in the past seven years has struggled to draw at all. His former partner is one of the most well-documented figures working in comics, and yet he himself has given only a handful of interviews.

For 20 years, Canadian artist Gerhard worked as a background artist and environmental designer on Cerebus, one of the most sprawling pieces of visual fiction ever created. His designs and meticulously crafted drawings served to ground even the most fantastic of events, or drastic of stylistic shifts. Sim and Gerhard worked in a way that to many may seem unimaginable - Sim penciling and inking his characters in vast fields of white, and handing them off to his collaborator sometimes with the barest of instructions. A pencil line for a table, a hastily written note reading "door." And yet the resulting work almost always seem unified, of a piece. It’s a remarkable tribute to Gerhard that no matter what was happening in the foreground of the books, the characters always seemed grounded in a reality, capable of exploring and interacting with their richly textured world.

Gerhard and I spoke to each other over the course of a few hours on Boxing Day, December 26, 2010. On each end of our respective phone lines we both had an intimidating stack of books - the almost five thousand pages that Sim and Gerhard created together over the course of those 20 years. We flipped through the books chronologically, with the idea of discussing the evolution of Gerhard’s process and techniques, focusing on his development as an artist and a craftsman. I find that when cartoonists get together to talk, they almost inevitably end up circling around issues of craft, grilling each other on the "how to" and the "what for." I consider Gerhard a master draftsman, and one of the greatest pen and ink renderers of the last 50 years, and so I thought that such a conversation with him would be compelling for pen and ink enthusiasts, for Cerebus admirers, or for or those curious about a job whose quality depends on its invisibility. He did not disappoint.  

Read the full interview with Gerhard online: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

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