Monday 30 April 2012

Taking A Stand

In April 2012, Chris Roberson, a novelist and writer who has worked on several comics titles for DC and Vertigo, including his own co-creation iZombie, announced via Twitter that due to ethical concerns, he was no longer comfortable working for DC Comics. The remarks, following in the wake of several other comics-related controversies (Before Watchmen and general disappointment over the handling of Jack Kirby's legacy, among numerous other things) very quickly spread throughout the comics internet, and shortly led to DC terminating Roberson’s contract. Roberson's public statements, and the sometimes fiery arguments that they have provoked, seemed in some way to augur a possible modest paradigm shift. He agreed to speak to about what happened, his relationship with DC, and the ethics of the comics industry.

(from an interview with Chris Roberson at, 25 April 2012)
...Yeah, and that's really one of the things about it that has rankled me so much over the course of the last months. Because the only defence that's offered of things like either Before Watchmen or the counter-suit against the Siegels or any number of different things that have been done historically is that the company is operating within the bounds of the law. The company is doing nothing illegal. There's no defense mounted to the ethics or morality of their actions, and in many cases they will make kind of passing nods to the fact that what they are doing might be interpreted as unethical, but that because it’s not illegal, you know, they're going to do it. And seeing as these are companies, both DC and Marvel, that are built upon stories about paragons of virtue who stand for what's right, not for what's nitpickingly legal, that was really bothersome to me.

...I think that in a lot of ways so much of the hue and cry for creator rights over the course of the last - forever, really, but definitely in the seventies and eighties - in large part was about remuneration. It was about getting fairly paid for one's labor, and the fruit of ones labor, and definitely in that aspect DC has done a fairly admirable job, at least with stuff initiated after that. But the other part of the creator rights manifesto back in the '80s was over creator control and the moral rights that a creator could exercise, and that's the part that they don’t talk about very much, because that doesn’t seem to exist.

...There is [something DC could change which would make me feel comfortable working for them again], actually, and it was suggested not to me, but in a public forum, I think on Heidi MacDonald’s, by Kurt Busiek. Kurt is tireless in wading into enraged inflamed conversations online and being a voice of reason. But what Kurt suggested was that if Marvel and DC both were to retroactively grandfather their current work-for-hire creator-equity deals - for example, now if you work for DC and you create a character that appears in one of their books, and then years down the line it’s an action figure or it appears in a movie or appears in a TV show or gets republished or whatever the case may be, the person that created that character gets a check. So what Kurt suggested was if DC and Marvel were to grandfather their current equity deals back to 1938 that they would obviate the need for the lawsuits that many of the creators and their estates continue to bring and that also they would have a public relations bonanza on their hands because they would be able to show how they were taking care of the people that made these characters that people cherish now. In much the same way that Time Warner settled with Siegel and Shuster in the '70s so they could trot them out for the premiere of the Superman movie. How great would it be if Time Warner could point to how they were helping pay for Tony DeZuniga’s hospital bills while they were promoting the Jonah Hex film, or whatever the case may be. I think if they took better care of the people who created the characters that other hands now service, that would do a great deal to engender fonder feelings on my part.

One other thing I would add is that if DC and Marvel did retroactively grant the creator-equity deals to their former creators, we wouldn't need a Hero Initiative now, because those guys would be getting money. It would reduce the profits a minuscule amount for the larger corporations, but it would take care of entire generations of now dying old men and women who have gone on to see their creations continue to generate revenue they or their children don’t have any part of.

I thought the principled stand taken by Chris Roberson against DC Comics echoed many of the creator's rights issues Dave Sim has discussed over the years and demonstrates the ongoing impact of the Creator's Bill of Rights on the younger generation of comic creators. I urge you all to read the full interview with Chris Roberson at and then reflect on whether you want to continue supporting Marvel and DC.

For me, enough is enough. From now on, I'm taking my own personal stand against their corporate ethics. I will no longer be spending any of my own money on Marvel or DC comics or products until they address their shameful, on-going treatment of the creative-founders of their companies (including - but by no means limited to - Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster and their heirs). That means not buying Marvel/DC comics, not paying to see Marvel/DC films, not buying Marvel/DC merchandise for nephews and nieces etc.

How about you? Are you taking a stand?

Sunday 29 April 2012

Save The Aardvarks

Save The Aardvarks (Cerebus #164, November 1992)
Art by Cathy Hill, Cerebus pencilled and inked by Dave Sim, colours by Gerhard

Cathy Hill was the writer/artist of seven issues of the comic series Mad Raccoons, published between 1991 and 1997 by MU Press, the first four issues of which were collected into a trade paperback in 1995. In recent years, she has devoted more time to oil painting, winning her several awards. 
The original art for Save The Aardvarks was auctioned for the benefit of the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund in 1993.

Saturday 28 April 2012

The Applicant

The Applicant (Cerebus #91, October 1986)
Art by Colleen Doran, Dave Sim & Gerhard

(from Cerebus #91, October 1986)
So having grown weary of being asked "When is Jam #2 coming out?", I've decided to cancel the book and just print the stories as they are completed. Since Colleen Doran's has been done for many months now, hers is first. I'm now going to get asked "When's the next Cerebus Jam back-up coming out?", but at least its a different question.

The Applicant is based on a conversation Colleen and I had after she had had dinner with Jo Duffy and a certifiably-vile-and-lecherous-New-York-City-editor-for-one-of-the-Big-Two-who-shall-be-although-hanging's-too-good-for-him-nameless.

I've made it into a giggle here, but that in no way diminished the fact that there are a lot of major sleazeballs in this business running around loose with "Myth of the Heroic Rapist" videos playing in their heads.

I admit I thought Colleen was over-reacting and/or exaggerating (I'm not exactly Alan Alda or Phil Donahue), but having talked to a number  of female-type professionals, the practise is wide-spread enough to cause concern. I recommend at conventions when young girls are showing me their portfolios that they recognise the dangers that they face. Keep all contact with editorial/art director/publisher types strictly public i.e. you don't want to go to his room/go to the bar/go for dinner to talk about any projects. Stay at the site of the convention. If you're there with friends, keep them with you at all times when asking someone to critique your work. Be aware of how good your stuff is and if someone starts talking like you're the next Al Williamson, take it with a grain of salt.

Which sounds like the perfect solution, until you realise that Colleen was with Jo Duffy and should have been safe. "Power corrupts..." and all that. Like I say, I'm no Alan Alda, but "no" for an answer means "no" - not "maybe" or "let's wrestle" or "yes, but you have to beat me two falls out of three."

It bothers me that it is enough of an issue that instead of saying what a joy it was to ink Colleen's work that I had to go all political here. I know the subject is important enough to Colleen that she will understand, but I wish it wasn't necessary.

It's rape and sexual assault under the law. Period. And no one is exempt, no matter their position of authority. No one. Instant Karma's going to get you guys, so knock it off.

(from Two Sides Of Julie The Ladies' Man by Michael Dean, The Comics Journal #259, April 2004)
A year and a half before his death, according to Doran, Schwartz sent a note of apology to her agent, Spencer Brook, saying "I don't know what I was thinking. I made a mistake." ...Schwartz's dinner with Doran and Duffy was reported once before as a fictionalised comics story by Dave Sim called The Applicant, which appeared in Cerebus #91 in 1986 accompanied by a brief intro essay by Sim. According to Doran, when word leaked that a comics adaptation of her experience was going to appear, her publisher received calls from three different comics professionals, each of whom thought the story was about himself and demanded it be dropped. None were Julie Schwartz.

Colleen Doran is the writer/artist of the fantasy series A Distant Soil and illustrator of many other comics and graphic novels. Julie Schwartz (1915-2004) was long-time editor at DC Comics, where he was primary editor over the company's flagship superheroes, Superman and Batman. He was inducted into the comics industry's Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1997.

Friday 27 April 2012

The Fantagraphics Two-Step

Let's Twist Again or 'The Fantagraphics Two-Step' (from Cerebus #167, February 1993)
Art by Dave Sim
(Click Image To Enlarge)
(from the essay Last Waltz, Cerebus #162, September 1992)
I remember talking to Gary [Groth, Fantagraphics publisher] early this year on the phone just before the start of the Tour, discussing with him the approach I intended to take in discussions with retailers; advocating that the term Independent comics was no longer functional and that a better choice would be Alternative comics... even a comic book published by DC, Sandman would qualify as just such a...

"Is that any good?" he interrupted.

Certain that I had misheard or misunderstood, I asked him, was what any good?

"Sandman. Is it any good?"

How is one to answer? Does one laugh? Does one cry?

Is Sandman any good?

...When someone has carved himself a niche in the world of comics journalism; aspires to raise the quality of that journalism and purports to be the foremost spokesman for an emergent medium. When someone invests time and energy and money and all of his considerable intellectual powers to initiate, provoke and mold the debate on the merits and detriments of the comic book medium.

Is Sandman any good.

Gary is isolated.

(reprinted from Aardvark Comment, Cerebus #165, December 1992)
Dear Dave,
I noted with interest your plug for Yahoo. Since Yahoo is now on near-infinite hiatus pending the completion of the seven-part Palestine mini-series [by Joe Sacco], I was wondering if you would be willing to offer up some kind of blurb for this new project. I have enclosed a complete Xerox of the first issue, which will be published in December. Sorry I missed you on your trek through Seattle.
Best wishes,
Kim Thompson
Fanatgraphics Books
P.S.: I've read Sandman, but I don't much care for it. Is this a more serious or less serious sin? (Parts of the issue Charlie Vess drew were well written though.)

I've resolved not to have any interaction with Fanatgraphics until I see how the next few issues of the Comics Journal go, Kim. No offence, but I think for the moment, you guys do more harm than good for advancing the medium. Your P.S. is a classic example of the Comics Journal's sneering arrogance.

Thursday 26 April 2012

The Ten All-Time Best Long-Running Comics Series

(from an article posted on The Comics Reporter, 26 April 2009)
In a news item that went almost unnoticed in light of the change to quarterly publication status, MAD Magazine is celebrating its 500th issue. With the long-running serial comic book fading from existence, I think it's safe to say we will not see MAD's like again. Here are my Sunday-Morning choices for the ten best comics series of all time. A lot of this is by caffeine-fueled feel. I'm not sure that I can present a clear list of criteria employed. I find myself wanting to work with long-time series, so that meant a baseline of more than 10 years publishing. I'm staying in North America -- no Spirou, no Garo -- although I was tempted to fake it. I looked at artistic achievement and historical impact as equally important factors and then worked from there in terms of folding in lesser factors like influence and uniqueness. This isn't a best-works list. I think more of Weirdo, for example, than I do six works that made this top ten. It's also not divorced from artistic considerations, so it's definitely not an industry-oriented list. Action Comics would have to be on that kind of list, and it's not on this one. I also wanted to have the list entire cover a great deal of aesthetic and historical ground, or at least as much as that would be possible as a later consideration. Basically, I just wanted a nice snapshot of what comics series have meant to the art form and to those who enjoyed comics that way. What follows isn't perfect and may not even be defensible, but these kinds of exercises can't be the former and sometimes work better as the latter. I hope you enjoy it...

1. MAD (1952-present)
2. Love and Rockets, Vol. 1 (1981-1996)
3. Walt Disney's Comics & Stories (1940-1962)
4. RAW (1980-1991)
5. Zap (1968-2005)
6. Four-Color Comics (1939-1962)
7. Amazing Spider-Man (1962-present)
8. ACME Novelty Library (1993-present)
9. King-Cat Comics and Stories (1989-present)
10. Cerebus (1977-2004)
Although few comics readers know quite what to do with the content and themes of the book as they developed in its second half, Dave Sim's 300-issue achievement remains monumental in terms of scope and personal ambition, and is also noteworthy for the craft chops and unique storytelling solutions frequently on display. It's probably the most fascinating object among the great comic book series, by which I mean it's the only comic on this list I can imagine people wanting to read a collection of its letters pages or its editorials or its back-up features in addition to the several collections featuring the comics narrative. Cerebus served quite effectively as a vehicle for Sim's personal views and as a platform for the gospel of self-publishing as a viable business choice in the Direct Market-dominant 1980s and 1990s. I don't know yet what I think of it as an artistic achievement, but I greatly enjoyed huge swaths of it. The further away from its published conclusion I get the more I'm convinced that it's something special in terms of comics history, and the further along I get in my own artistic journey the more I'm certain that even if he doesn't realize it, Dave won.
I also considered the following great series: Weirdo, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Sandman, Hate, Eightball, Bone, Frontline Combat, Optic Nerve, Fantastic Four, Action Comics, Detective Comics, Daredevil, The Spirit, Donald Duck Adventures, Yummy Fur, Classic Comics, Monster and Shonen Jump. No doubt I've completely spaced on a half-dozen mighty achievements of this type.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Publishing Other Comics

Aardvark Vanaheim Advert: Even More In '84 (backcover Cerebus #61, April 1984)
Art by Dave Sim, William Messner-Loebs, Arn Saba, Jim Valentino & Bob Burden

(from Aardvark Comment, Cerebus #174, September 1993)
The last thing creative people need is a crutch as I learned in my experiments with publishing others. Most of them actively seek out crutches instead of working on building some muscle tone. 'Do something' isn't enough, I'm afraid. My motto is 'Do something constructive.' Turning Aardvark Vanaheim into a new haven for creators who want to make their career my responsibility would be destructive, both of me and them. I always liked Scott McCloud's image of Tundra (in the Kevin Eastman era) as the helicopter lifting off from the roof of the American Embassy in Saigon. All of the artists and their portfolios handing off of it. Ten million dollars (or whatever Kevin spent) is no replacement for creators who decide to grow some balls and a backbone and take control of their own careers.

Tuesday 24 April 2012


Cerebus #139 (October 1990)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

(from Note From The President, Cerebus #139. October 1990)
Valentino - excuse me JIM Valentino called when he saw the sketch in CBG to say he was looking forward to seeing this one. Normalman might even be optioned by Touchhole Films - excuse me TouchStone Films by the time this comes out which could possibly make us targets of a Disney's Magic Castle Lawsuit. Well, blow me, Michael Eisner.
Normalroach (Cerebus 139, October 1990)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Normalman by Jim Valentino began in November 1983 as a four-page story in Cerebus #56 and #57 before being launched as a 12-issue limited series, published by Aardvark Vanaheim (#1-7) and Renegade Press (#8-12) between 1984 and 1985. The Complete Normalman was issued by Image Comics in 2007.

Monday 23 April 2012

Spirits Of National Unity

Spirits Of National Unity 1996
Art by Dave SIm & Gerhard

The illustration above was drawn following the rejection by voters in the 1995 referendum of the province of Quebec seceding from Canada to become an independent state. A copy of this print, signed-and-numbered by Dave Sim, can be yours when you donate $20 to Cerebus TV.

Sunday 22 April 2012

Ages Of The Aardvark

Ages Of The Aardvark (2010)
Art by Dave Sim
(from Cerebus The Original Aartvark Blog, 27 June 2010)
Last Friday, Dave offered to auction 20 more of the head sketch pieces. Actually, not really an auction. It was buy-it-now at the new, higher price of $35 each (up from $25). And some rat bastard asked for 16 of the 20. Oh wait, that was me! So, what did I ask for? Ages Of The Aardvark. Using this timeline as my guide:

1) As a baby (1 year old) - 1386
2) As seen in The Girl Next Door (5 years old) - 1390 (Epic #30)
3) As seen in His First Fifth (6 years old) - 1391 (Epic #26)
4) While studying magic with Magus Doran (11 years old) - 1396
5) As a tax collector (18 years old) - 1403 (Epic #28)
6) As a mercenary/barbarian (25 years old) - 1410 (Cerebus #1)
7) As the Kitchen Staff Supervisor - 1413 (Mind Games)
8) As the Prime Minister - 1413 (High Society)
9) As the Pope - 1414 (Cerebus #69)
10) Cerebus comatose - 1415 (Melmoth)
11) While fighting with Cirinists - 1415 (Cerebus #150)
12) With injury to ear and eye - 1421 (Cerebus #200)
13) As in This Aardvark, This Shepherd - 1425 (Cerebus #266)
14) As in Cerebus Bound - 1461 (Cerebus #270)
15) As in Chasing YHWH - 1533 (Cerebus #282)
16) As in The Last Day - 1615 (Cerebus #291-300)

Saturday 21 April 2012

Kieron Gillen on Glamourpuss

Glamourpuss #1-4 (April-November 2008)
Art by Dave Sim
(from Kieron Gillen's Workblog, 1 December 2008)
Comic buying has remained sporadic ever since moving to London. About once a month I manage to pop into one, throw down a load of money on stuff and move out. This has meant that my following issues in singles is relatively dead, with a few exceptions - quite often I pick up issue ones to have a nose, the choice cuts of my favourite writers, stuff by friends/peers/people-I'm-bitterly-jealous-of, stuff which has been so argued about in a forum I have to buy to have an opinion. Oh - and stuff that I'm researching for pitches, obv.

There's one thing which sits outside of all that, which I've picked up every issue of and kept lying around for me to stare at bemusedly. It's Glamourpuss. It's quite the singular thing. As in, there's nothing quite like it.

It's very comics.

Glamourpuss is wot Dave Sim did after Cerebus. Which is an interesting thing, in and of itself - it being less a comic series and more 300 issues of Rorschach's origin sequence ("Void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to ink ones intricate design on this morally blank world. Was Dave Sim"). The idea that he would do anything else after that seemed strange and in and of itself. That Glamourpuss manages to be stranger than that simple concept says much, y'know? 

It's a hybrid fashion-parody/history-of-photorealistic art comic. It makes no attempt to join the two. You just have a couple of pages of Sim's rendition of ladies with sarcastic takes on women's fashion magazines. And then you have a couple of pages of Sim's talking about Alex Raymond's brushes and shit, by putting words into recreated versions of the drawings. And then more fashion parodies. And then more Alex Raymond's brushes and shit. And eventually Sim runs out of space and stops for another couple of months.

It's quite the thing. I have trouble believing it exists. And since it exists, I have trouble imaging it in any form other than comics.

As I said, it is very comics.

It's not just the economics of the thing which means it’s a pure comic - that we're a medium where one talented individual can pretty much throw any crazy shit in front of a sizeable audience, assuming they’re talented enough. Could you do it as a TV show? Yeah, theoretically. If you had a big pile of money and self-financed. But feasibly, no.

But more than that - there's something about it that despite its structure, it maintains an aesthetic unity. In most medium, going from one to another - while do-able - is intrinsically jarring. It's not that jarring in Glamourpuss. In fact, it's kind of natural. I think this is because comics engine is juxtaposition. We put things by one another and between the two, we create a certain sort of sense. In Understanding Comics McCloud wonders whether there's such a thing as a non-sequitur transition, because he thinks that there's some magic in the form which means that any two images create a kind of sense by being presented deliberately by one another. Glamourpuss is bi-monthly proof of that theory.

It's not a perfect book. Its... well, random, improvisational imperfectness is part of its charm. The fashion parodies have their moments, but even then are only agreeably spiteful rather than actively funny. But the wrestling with the inking is fascinating, watching someone who's at the top of his field wrestle with the old masters technique while also providing a lecture-in-comics to those who don't know anything. I mean, I'm British. I didn't enter comics at all seriously until I was inching towards my late twenties. I don't even know who Alex Raymond is. But I do now. Had a hell of an inking line, apparently. I'm going to ask McKelvie what an inking line is. It sounds awesome. I wish I had a hell of an inking line.

Kieron Gillen is a comic book writer, best known for his creator-owned comic Phonogram, created with artist Jamie McKelvie, as well as numerous projects for Marvel Comics.

Friday 20 April 2012


1963 #1-6 (Image Comics, April-October 1993)
by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch and others
(from Note From The President, Cerebus #173, August 1993)
Someone asked about working for the mainstream companies [Marvel and DC]; something along the lines of ‘what if you have a really good Batman story or X-Force story you want to do.’ I pointed out that 1963 is the answer to that. Everyone knows who the characters are supposed to be. Just change the way they look and the name. It dates back to Watchmen, actually. As soon as a DC executive told Alan Moore to change the original Charlton characters into new characters (DC already had plans for the Fly, Blue Beetle, etc) and as soon as DC trademarked and copyrighted those new characters; well hey, that’s checkmate on the big board. If you change the way the character looks and his name, you’ve created a new character. So if that’s what’s holding you back from self-publishing, just pick a character you’ve always wanted to do, call him something else, change a few things about his appearance and away you go. And you don’t have to worry about some editor with a stick up his or her ass making you conform to company policy. You can do the story exactly the way you want it done. Isn’t that great? Well, I think it is.
1963 #6 (Image Comics, October 1993)
by Alan Moore, Rick Veitch and Dave Gibbons

Thursday 19 April 2012

Getting Together With Gerhard

His First Fifth (Epic Magazine #26, October 1984)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

An extract from an interview published in the UK fanzine FA #115 in 1989:

FA: So how did you get into it then? How did you end up drawing so much of Cerebus?

GERHARD: Deni’s sister married a friend of mine. And we both lived in Kitchener, and I've always liked drawing, and Dave and I just started, somehow or other, working together.

DAVE SIM: It was the Epic stories. Archie Goodwin wanted a Cerebus story for Epic, and said "Why don't you do it in colour?" It seemed a good chance to test Gerhard out.

FA: So you just started colouring the Epic stories?

GERHARD: I was trying to do my own stuff. I was doing basically pen and ink illustrations with watercolours on top of them, of which Dave saw a few I guess, and sort of chuckled.

DAVE SIM: Oh, that's not true!

FA: A full belly laugh?


DAVE SIM: Friends of ours had a restaurant and there were two or three pieces by Gerhard in it, because a former girlfriend of his ran the place, and former girlfriends are like that about artists. I'd seen the work and the meticulous laboured crosshatching...

GERHARD: Millions of lines...

DAVE SIM: ...gradated greys and nicely water-coloured over the top of the drawings and a couple of times I'd ask Gerhard, "How long did that take you to do that?" Well, between drinking and smoking drugs and all of the other things he was doing it took him eight months or whatever. He didn't grasp that I was saying "How much working time to do all of that?"

GERHARD: "Uh, I dunno."

DAVE SIM: So I said we really should try something sometime. So I was doing Young Cerebus, so I just put him in and told him roughly what I wanted behind him and gave it to him. I thought, "if it takes four months to do it, that's fine. Four months for that page, four months for the next page, in a year and a half Archie will have a deadly five page colour story." I give it to him and modest Gerhard says, "OK, I'll take it home, see what I can do with it." He was back the day after that - you know that first page of the bar story. It was just gorgeous. So I knocked out the next page - "Do that again!" He took it home and brought it back, and by that point it was, lay them out on the floor of the studio and go "This is something really shit-hot here." Then it was just the decision... coming back from Maplecon in Ottawa with Arn Saba and talking to him, because he works with Dave Roman and three or four other people, Barb Rausch, on Neil The Horse, and saying "Don't you feel it’s not really yours if you have other people working on it?" And he said as long as it’s his ideas and he's telling them what he wants, then he figures he's still doing it. He's not physically doing it, but it's his characters, his concept and this is just making it better. It made a great deal of sense to me, so we got back - Gerhard driving back arrives some time later. I basically said to him "Do you want to do the backgrounds on the book?" That set him back a good ten or fifteen steps. It was, like, a job, on the one hand...

GERHARD: Which I didn't have at the time.

DAVE SIM: And weren’t particularly keen on having.

GERHARD: I didn’t want a job job. I was bound and determined at that point to draw for a living or starve to death. And starving to death was the avenue I seemed to be taking.

DAVE SIM: You were getting good at it too.

GERHARD: I was getting real good at it.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Creator Owned Day?

Spawn #10 (Image Comics, May 1993)
Written by Dave Sim, drawn by Todd McFarlane

(from Jenner's Blog, 1 March 2012)
The creator-owned revolution back in the early nineties had a pretty strong effect on me. I was about 12 or 13 when I bought Spawn #1 on impulse from the stack of fresh copies sitting by the register as I was purchasing whatever it was I was collecting at the time (I think I was into the Midnight Sons at that time). Being out of touch with the industry, I was completely unaware that Image was being built until I read that first issue of Spawn and found out my then favorite Spider-man artist was the man responsible for it. I think that was when I became aware of the difference between creator-owned and work-for-hire in comic books and the divide that seemed to exist between the two.

But, it was Spawn #10 that really made an impact on my creative world-view. Written by Dave Sim and featuring a guest appearance of his character Cerebus The Aardvark, it introduced me to both.  The whole thing put my adolescent brain through a ringer as I tried to put the characteristically Dave Sim metaphor together with the continuity of the series. In spite of that, the last page struck a particular chord in me: Spawn is owned by Todd; Cerebus is owned by Dave - forever.

I think any fantasies I had about drawing comics for Marvel (except for Batman, I wasn't into DC back then) pretty much evaporated, and the fantasies of creating my characters and telling my own stories dominated. Like a lot of fanboys I'd already been doing it anyway, but this "revolution" that I could feel gave it a new meaning. Ever since then I've had little interest in either the DCU or the MU (though I've enjoyed most of the cinematic versions). In almost twenty years I've only bought Wolverine: Origin, Civil War and the Prelude collected, two Iron Man hardcovers, and the Live Wires mini series ( I like robots ).

Having said that, being a self-publishing indie-creator for the past few years now, and also having done a lot of commissions for people, I have come around to understanding the work-for-hire point of view. When I'm trying to make some extra money, I'm there to provide value for whoever is willing to pay me for it.  If they're hiring me to design a character that they are going to own the "rights" to, I know well enough that once the work is done and the check has cleared I'm going to walk away from it (and gladly so since maintaining a character is a lot of work). I already have my own characters and my own world, and nobody writes or draws them but me (though I'd be flattered if any indie artist/writer decided to make their own versions).

That's not to say that I agree with the heavy handed rights enforcement I've been seeing from Disney/Marvel, but in a world where Intellectual Property and corporations are the norm (both concepts I have little value in, seeing them create more conflict than benefit in society - personally, if we're going to have an IP system, I'd rather all creations go into the public domain once all the original creators are dead - at the latest), a deal is still a deal. Sure I find it saddening to see where some of these older creators are ending up, but risk is a part of life, and if I get the short end of the stick in a deal that I made, I have no expectations from Darth Vader that he's going to alter the deal in my favor. It's my responsibility to keep my financial affairs in order so that I don't end up in the gutter like Edgar Allen Poe.

However, considering that the Big Two manage to sell millions of copies a month, with most top-selling indies not even coming close (The Walking Dead excepted), the concept of a Creator Owned Day is something I see value in as a way to help bring more attention to alternative works and creators that are out there. Personally, asside from the movies, I find the MU and the DCU mostly boring except as a source of occasional nostalgia.

Now, to those who are putting their money where their mouth is by providing financial help for those older creators they value, I commend you. If we don't like the way giant corporations are treating past contributors to their fiefdoms, we should stop giving them our money and give it to those we feel deserve it.

Jenner Carnelian is the writer/artist of the graphic novel saga Enrod The Clockman.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

My Chat With Neil

Cerebus #171-174, June-September 1993
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard (after Dave McKean’s covers for Sandman)

exit Sandman: MY CHAT WITH NEIL
by Dave Sim
(from Cerebus #209, August 1996)

"Did you get my fax?" Neil asked.

I had, indeed, gotten Neil's fax which he had sent from England as his BBC television program neared completion. In the fax, written some weeks (if not months) after he had completed Sandman, he observed that he had "just realized that Sandman is done," and went on to say some very kind words about me being the "marathon runner" and that he hoped I had enjoyed the company of someone running alongside for eight of the twenty-six years. A very gracious note and one which motivated me to get a little more serious about tracking down the parts of the Sandman story missing from the studio library and assemble them into a proper stack of reading material.

"I did get your fax, Neil, and thank you. It was very nice having someone running alongside for eight years…"

Comedic pause.

"…I wasn't crazy about the Time-Warner pace car on the other side of you…" Neil's basso profundo chortle rolled through the phone line "...but it was very nice having you running alongside."

...At one point, I explained to Neil what it meant to me to actually read Sandman straight through, the reason that I set two days aside for the task, rather than reading the books where and when I found the time. It was the only opportunity I would have to do so - for the next decade or so. To sit down with a real graphic novel (according to my own definition of the term), knowing that I had the whole thing in front of me. Beginning, middle, and end. As I said to Neil, I read both volumes of Maus in an afternoon. I read A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron in about thirty minutes. In terms of a reading experience, that's very different from a novel - any novel. (Stuck Rubber Baby raised new and interesting structural questions; though Howard Cruse's magnum opus clocks in at a little under three hundred pages, the density of panels and dialogue stretched it into a "most of a day" consumption category.) I remember thinking (I told him) about halfway through Sandman: we shouldn't be allowed to do this. The basso profundo chortle rumbled across the Great Lakes. The quality of immersion - the shoreline you departed from is out of sight behind you and the shoreline of your destination is out of sight ahead of you...

I mentioned the fellow's observation in last issue's Aardvark Comment that the purpose of art is to enable the viewer - however briefly - to see the world through the eyes of the artist. With an extended narrative coupled with pictures and issued in instalment form, what we are doing to people (I grasped for an analogy) swerves into the darker sides of hypnosis.

"We're the only two who have done this," Neil said.

His voice in my ear suddenly seemed way too close and the rest of the world way, way too far away.
"Sandman is two thousand pages." I think he mistook my silence for exclusion. "Cerebus, when it's done..."

"Six thousand pages..."

The 75 issues of Neil Gaiman's Sandman were published by DC Comics between January 1989 and March 1996. You can read the complete My Chat With Neil essay at Cerebus Fan Girl.

Monday 16 April 2012

The Staros Report

The Staros Report 1996 & 1997
Art by Eddie Campbell & Gary Spencer Millidge
(from The Staros Report 1996)
The series centres around an ill-tempered aardvark, named Cerebus, whose dreams of conquest in a middle-aged world outweigh all other aspects of his life. The artwork is unique and visionary, and Dave Sim's writing abilities have really matured from the early days of shallow, single issue, barbarian parodies to the very moving, larger arcs, centred around literary treatments of governments, secular and ecclesiastic factions, human relationships, conservative and liberal women's views, and other important social issues. Definitely one of the most intellectually stimulating comics ever published! If you haven't tried Cerebus yet, do so, but start at the beginning. Even though it drags at first, you need to understand where the characters come from to really appreciate them later on. As an aside, Dave Sim and Gerhard really need to be commended for their achievements. How they've been able to attend all those cons, promote the works of others (and the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund), write all those editorials and letter responses and - oh yeah! -  write and illustrate a complete comic book on a rigid and infallible monthly schedule is beyond me! They are the envy of the industry and a pinnacle the rest can only aspire to.

Cerebus was ranked at #6 in The Staros Report's guide to the best 200 comics in the industry. Ahead of Cerebus were (#5) The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and others, (#4) V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, (#3) Maus by Art Spiegelman, (#2) Love & Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez and (#1) From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Chris Staros is now co-publisher (with Brett Warnock) of Top Shelf Productions.

Sunday 15 April 2012

Bill Marks & Seth

Cerebus #92, November 1986
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

(from the Eddie Campbell Blogspot, 4 August 2011)
I didn't pay much attention to Sim's Cerebus for a long time, until the mid-'80s when I noticed that it was cut from quite a different cloth from the others... It would be wrong to say that it didn't take itself seriously, more correct to say that Sim didn't see taking things seriously as being at odds with having Groucho Marx shuffling around in there, or Mick and Keef from the Rolling Stones. In the genre of high fantasy, this would normally be felt to have broken the spell somewhat. Our consumer culture conventionally wants its fiction in general and its fantasy in particular to come packaged along with all the stuff for putting it together, like IKEA furniture. But with Cerebus I looked for issues in which actual people were hauled in. And it was to play their own part and not that of a character. I always felt that Sim saw in a person a way of diverting the thrust of his story rather than fitting in by way of an inoffensive cameo. An early favourite of mine was issue #92 (November 1986) which had a caricature of the comicbook publisher Bill Marx, with whose imprint there was a possibility of me getting involved. Reading an issue of Cerebus is certainly no way of giving a person an audtion, but I just had to look.

...Caricature is one of the foundational cartoon skills. Sim presumably studied the work of Mort Drucker in Mad, but until Sim, nobody had integrated caricature into a narrative so well since the great Walt Kelly in Pogo. (in this case however, he obviously didn't know that Seth was going places or he'd have paid more attention to the face than the voice).
Cerebus #92, November 1986
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Note From The President, Cerebus #92, November 1986)
The springboard for this story-line was a dinner that I enjoyed, courtesy of Harry, at the Now & Then Books 15th Anniversary party. Also in attendance and seated directly opposite were Seth and Bill Marks of Toronto's Vortex Comics artist and publisher of Mister X respectively. There was this Leo Gorcey voice (Bugs Bunny to the age-impaired among you) that Ger and Bill and I fell into when discussing Bill's attitude towards creative people (like Los Bros. Hernandez whom he still owes considerable sums of money to for their work on Mr. X).

"Say I know! I'll git an ottist. Dat's it. Yeah. An ottist. I'll let him have all de fame an' I'll take all de money. Dat should woik. Ottist's is so stupid."

Having rattled your cages repeatedly on the subject of criminal exploitation of creative people by business people you might find it odd that I think there is anything funny about this. But the difference is what I find funny. Bill Marks makes no pretense of being a den mother (a la Diana Schutz, Cat Yronwode) or father-figure (a la Richard Pini). He is a hustler. But he is honest about it. Shameless, but very very funny.

...I don't recall hearing Seth say more than five words so I had to improvise his voice. I decided to use Diana Schutz's.
Cerebus #92, November 1986
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Saturday 14 April 2012

The Influence Of The Studio

The Studio (Dragon Dreams, 1979)
by Berni Wrightson, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta & Barry Windsor-Smith
(from an interview in UK fanzine FA #115, 1990)
Barry Windsor-Smith for the sense of... everything has to work at a number of levels. When you're doing a story it has to say something that is the story, that's interesting in and of itself; that it has to say something about me, to me, strictly for my benefit; it has to say something about the comics environment that I'm in; it has to say something about the city I live in, about being, like being in Germany at the time of the Roman Empire, being an adjunct to the American Empire; and say something about civilisation, where it is. To Barry, anything that didn't do that was an exercise in futility, or just a display of sheer drawing ability or whatever. That's as pointless to me as it is to him.

Berni Wrightson, for the depth of the page. With Wrightson at his best, you can't maintain in your mind that there is no depth. You can't look at that page and say that it's all drawn on the surface, because it just goes too far into the page. There's black and there's white and there's dark grey in Berni's work, the whole page holds up, the relationship of black and white creates a warm feeling inside you. I'm not as able to do that but if I can maintain that pleasing, warm quality that I'm driving at, it becomes sort-of pleasing and luke-warm, which is still up from where it would be if I wasn't keeping that kind of value in mind.

Jeff Jones, because of his ability to take Hal Foster to the next level. Hal Foster was a definite primary influence at the time of the Idyll strips. But his ability, as opposed to Wrightson who shores up the whole page - there's depth and substance and layers that go in - Jeffrey Jones in his strip work has huge areas of black, huge areas of white and anything that's rendered in detail is in the tiniest, finest line imaginable. To take that feeling and combine it with the pleasing warmth that Wrightson has, and try to filter that as well.

Mike Kaluta for the sheer love of drawing, the sheer love of rendering something, and the fun part, the very human part of drawing, is the Mile Kaluta element. Also the ability to compose what is essentially a flattened perspective - five elements placed playing card style, four elements in the corners and one in the middle, and to make it exciting. Mike Kaluta more than anyone else can take the blandest possible angle to shoot something from and make it exciting. There's very little artistic trickery to Mike Kaluta's work.
The Studio (circa 1979): Berni Wrightson, Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta & Barry Windsor-Smith

Friday 13 April 2012

Happy 53rd Birthday Gerhard!

When You Know What It Means To Be Gerhard
(Photo by Rose, backcover Cerebus #110, May 1988)

Thursday 12 April 2012

A Funny Animal In A World Of Humans

Prepare To Breathe Your Last, Duck! (BEM #34, July 1981)
Art by Dave Sim
(from an interview in UK fanzine Arkensword #19, 1986)
...the essence of it is that a funny animal in a world of humans to me was what was central to Howard's popularity. Because there's very few things that you can do in comics that you can't do better elsewhere. You can do more in-depth character analysis of how somebody's thinking in a novel. You can do more realistic things, or literal, this is what's going on now in 1985 things in film. But in comic books you can do super-heroes better than they can do it in film or novels or radio or animation. It's at its most appropriate in the comics form. There are very few things you can say that about. Westerns aren't like that, science fiction isn't like that. Funny animals and humans inter-relating can be done better in comics than elsewhere.

...when Cerebus and Jaka are looking at each other you really believe that they both exist in the same space and time, they're both rendered in the same weight of line, shadows on the right side, and you can believe that they're actually inter-related. You can do the Disney Song Of The South thing, with an animated character and a live action character, but you never really lose track for a minute of what is real and what is animation. There's no blurring of the distinction and consequently there's no genuine inter-reaction possible. You watch Gene Kelly and Jerry the Mouse dancing, and you appreciate both for the separate art, for somebody actually drew this mouse dancing, and there's Gene Kelly do his great thing, but there really isn't the indication they’re together... just the trickiness of it. You never lose track of the fact that it's a trick.

Wednesday 11 April 2012

A Good Drawing

Glamourpuss #24 (March 2012)
Art by Dave Sim

(from Cerebus TV Season 3 Episode 18, 2 March 2012)
One of my most favourite and least favourite quotes from photorealist Stan Drake: prompted by Shel Dorf in his 1985 interview with Drake where Shel says "You made a statement once that no matter how could the technique is, if the drawing isn't there then its still lousy" and Drake takes it up with "You've got to have a good drawing. If you've got the good drawing there, you can ink it in with a toothbrush." On a good day I'll think to myself, that’s really true. On a bad day I'll think to myself, no Mr Drake, you can ink it with a toothbrush. Me? I can’t get it right with a Gillott 290, a Gillott 303, a Hunt 102 or a Winsor Newton series 7 #2 brush.

A good case in point, Glamourpuss #24... I had two references to Leonard Starr on page 18 and I thought "Neato!" - for you kids out there that translates roughly as "Awesome!" - I can do a Leonard Starr's Mary Perkins On Stage. I can use any Mary Perkins drawing that I want. So this is the one that I picked, a speciality piece done in 1964 by Leonard Starr to celebrate the bicentennial of the Hartford Courant, America's oldest continuously published newspaper:
Cerebus TV, 2 March 2012
Art by Leonard Starr
Photocopied it, enlarged it, did a real quick pencil tracing of just a few of the details in the hair and the face, and boy, I've got to tell you, from Leonard Starr's one hundred percent, rock solid drawing, it practically inked itself. Just like Stan Drake said. It gave me enough confidence that the momentum even carried over into my portrait of Leonard Starr. "Hey, I don’t actually draw this good. This is fun." And the momentum then carried over even in to my own panel of Stan Drake behind the wheel of his 1956 Corvette. It's no where near being in Stan Drake's or Leonard Starr's league, but definitely in the upper register of Dave Sim photorealism.

...problem being - as Steve Bissette used to say - that you convince yourself that you're actually able to do this spontaneously, forgetting that I'm only capable of drawing like that if I do a really heavily laboured spontaneity: like this quick inking with a brush pen over the initial pencil for this panel - real loosy-goosy, just throw those solid blacks on there, real spontaneous - and the imitate them, but do it really, really carefully so that you're not ruining something that you've already spent a couple of hours on.
Cerebus TV, 2 March 2012
Rough sketch by Dave Sim

Tuesday 10 April 2012

The Origins Of Independent Comics

American Flagg! #9 (First Comics, June 1984)

Monday 9 April 2012

Commission: Cinemascope #1

(from Cerebus Art)
This one started as a request for a recreation of the cover of Cerebus #1. We were offered a very good price, but when I sat down to do it, I realized that I was pretty much burnt out on the cover of Cerebus #1, having done a recreation for Greg Hyland's Lethargic Comics and another one for our 2004 Christmas Card, I didn't have anything left to say. Having never done it as a painting before I thought I would sit down and do a thumbnail watercolour really quick (took about an hour) just to see if there was anything in the colour scheme that I could interest myself in. It's always interesting either trying to draw or paint flames. I can't say I was thrilled with the result. As always, when working on the cover to number one, I remark to myself on the ridiculousness of it. How did Cerebus get that high in the air? Are the flames in the background and he's just jumping in front of them or are the flames underneath him (in which case, why isn't he cooked?). And why isn't there any sense of illumination? Obviously I was dealing with that this time out by using various values of red. I even drew the logo in such a way that it looks as if the firelight is pouring through it but it's still, basically, an idiotic idea for a picture. That was when I thought that it looked like a storyboard for a movie in a way, just because of the shape. Like the old Cinemascope concept when movies were fighting a losing battle with television back in the 1950s.

So, I decided to go with that and basically do a multi-image "widescreen" series of storyboards with the Cerebus logo coming into being in the background, progressively larger. Of course, the final image would have a much larger logo and the character more centred in the "widescreen space" than my first quick colour sketch. But at least it answers the question I always had: yes, Cerebus is jumping over the flames.

Of course, before I even got this far Patron B had had second thoughts so I think it's only fair to say that the finished piece will be his if he's interested but obviously we aren't going to hold him to it since this only vaguely qualifies as the cover recreation that he requested. We haven't really had to address that one yet. What happens when what we choose to do just isn't what the guy wanted? I think at that point all you can do is call it a loss and then see if someone else is interested.

Sunday 8 April 2012

The Problem With Zootanapuss

Zootanapuss #3
(variant cover to Glamourpuss #24, March 2012)
Art by Dave Sim
(from Cerebus TV Season 3 Episode 21, 23 March 2012)
You know, they say if something seems too good to be true it usually is, and that was the case in this case. I was working like a fiend to get Glamourpuss #24 done and hoping, fingers-crossed, that the Zootanapuss #2s weren’t going to show up too soon so that I would have to stop work and start signing and numbering, and bagging and boarding. And then I got Glamourpuss #24 done and I thought ‘Okay, oh well, this is getting ridiculous now’... so that was on Monday. Tuesday I called my rep at Lebonfon, "Mais, s'il vous plait, ou est le Zootanapuss numero deux pour moi?" "Oh, they’ve already been shipped out!" - unsigned, unnumbered, unbagged and unboarded.

So I phoned Daria Medved [my Diamond distributor rep] real quick. "Daria, call Plattsburgh and tell them that the Zootanapuss #2s are supposed to be signed and numbered. Have them send them back to Lebonfon." And she got back to me not too many minutes later and said they're all gone. They went out in this week's shipment. "Is there any way to get them back?" I already knew the answer to that one. Like the trains at the beginning of World War I, they only go one way - forward.

About six days and $870 later it was time for Zootanapuss #2 take 2.... "No such thing as a rare number two, anybody knows that!" said the C-minus Kid. Maybe he knew something I didn't. I tried a few different ways with Daria to try and get around it. "Can I charge the retailers for a regular issue of Glamourpuss if they keep the unsigned #2?" I mean, the deal was that they were getting a signed and numbered #2 not an unsigned #2, betting that most of them couldn’t strip the cover off an unsigned copy, "What if turns out to be a rare one?" No go. It would be a logistical nightmare for Diamond. One of those times as a self-publisher when you really know the meaning of Harry S. Truman's 'The buck stops here', or in this case 870 of them. As Gerhard used to say, "What are you going to do, cry?" It wouldn't do any good, even if I knew how.

Saturday 7 April 2012

The End Of High Society

Cerebus #50 (May 1983)
Art by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlarge)
(from Aardvark Comment, Cerebus #53, August 1983)
Many letter-writers took issue with the portrayal of idealism in the concluding chapters [of High Society]. I was attempting to address the fact that idealism exists in myriad forms and gradations. Cerebus' assertion "Cerebus thought he could... make a difference," seems to have lodged uncomfortably in more than a few fannish craws. The fact remains that he did think that way. Note the pause in the phrase. He begins "Cerebus thought he could..." It was my thought that he would have continued on to say "...conquer the whole continent" or "... establish an empire that would last a thousand years." In the context of the moment, this struck him as more than a little ridiculous so he modifies it to something a little less depressing and ends up admitting what he was really trying to do (what, I would guess, every would-be Alexander, feels in his heart of hearts)... he wanted to be the instigator of change.