Saturday 30 June 2012

Cerebus #300: Hail & Farewell

Cerebus #300 (March 2004)
Art by Gerhard
(from Diamond Previews, January 2004)
First of all, I'd like to thank our Diamond rep, Filip Sablik, and Previews editor Marty Grosser (who has to be closing in on three hundred issues himself) for offering me this space - so disproportionately large compared with Cerebus and Ger's and my modest standing in the comic-book field - for this "Hail & farewell".

Secondly, I'd like to express Ger's and my gratitude to the comic book stores who have - "above and beyond the call of duty" - actively supported (and hopefully will continue to support) Cerebus; and the seven thousand or so readers, many of whom have stuck with the monthly title, through thick and thin, whatever they might have thought of it personally at any given point in the 300-issue run. As my two-foot tall stack of unanswered correspondence (and answering every one of those letters will be my first priority after Cerebus, God willing, is completed) attests, I have been blessed with an extremely thoughtful, extremely eloquent and (most important to me) extremely tolerant readership. Mere thanks is insufficient for all those stores and individuals-some of whom are still with us and some of whom, unfortunately (like my friends and mentors Harry Kremer and Gene Day) didn't live to see the conclusion of this project they were instrumental in launching: those stores and individuals who, financially, made comics' first 6,000 page graphic novel a reality, despite our many pitfalls and missteps along the way. We'd also like to thank the Cerebus art patrons whose extraordinary confidence in seeing value in our original artwork - and whose ongoing individual efforts in "raising the bar" of benchmark prices - constitute the brightest hope for Ger and myself here at the "finish line".

Thirdly, I'd like to congratulate Wendy and Richard Pini - whose Elfquest series debuted at the same time as Cerebus back before there was a Diamond Comic Distributors - on their recent decision to join forces with DC Comics to bring the complete Elfquest epic to a new generation of "real world" readers and congratulate Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer on their completion of Bone, Elfquest's only serious contender for the title of the direct market's most beloved "all ages" self-published series.

Although Cerebus never once cracked the Diamond top 100, although we never had a best-selling trade paperback, although Aardvark-Vanaheim has never been successful enough to warrant a "pie slice" of market share either in North America or in the U.K. and although we are seldom mentioned favourably in the comics press (while somehow still being described as a "critical success") I find it difficult - even with all the irrefutable evidence pointing away from any "real world" success - to view the twenty-six-year-and-three-month Cerebus project as a failure. The fact that Ger and I enter our respective retirements unencumbered by any debt, the fact that we have never been forced by financial necessity to relinquish any part of our absolute control over Cerebus as a creative work and the fact that I am typing these words in a 100-year old Victorian house fully paid for by our joint creativity is a source of no small gratification to us and, more importantly, a testament to what can be accomplished in this remarkable environment of ours, a success that would have been unthinkable before the advent of the direct market in the mid-1970s - single-handedly brought into existence by Phil Seuling (may God rest his soul).

Having seen so many extraordinary success stories in the "independent comics" end of our field over the last quarter century - Wendy and Richard's aforementioned Elfquest, Kevin Eastman and Pete Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Image phenomenon of Erik Larsen, RobLiefield, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino and their undisputed leader, Todd McFarlane, Pat Lee's Transformers, Jeff Smith and Vijaya Iyer's Bone - the hope never once deserted me that Cerebus might some day experience that kind of success - as that same hope, I am sure, has never once deserted other veteran small pressers like Poison Elves' Drew Hayes - still going strong at seventy-six issues - and will, I'm sure, never desert rookies like Gun Fu's Howard M. Shum and Joey Mason.

Having (finally!) surrendered my place in the front row of the self-publishing parade to the new "first-among-equals" - Strangers in Paradise's Terry and Robin Moore and Supernatural Law's Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada (who, through their tireless efforts and shining example, might yet serve to rechristen "self-publishing" as "wife-publishing") - it is in the spirit of that aforementioned undiminished hope that I look forward to making it my new PART-time job to work with the Diamond sales team and interested retailers in the years and decades to come in attempting to achieve for Cerebus a genuine, large and (I hope) central presence in the direct market that has eluded us while the story was being serialized.

Given that - in the "real" world - it often seems that all avenues to success based on merit alone are closed and it really is a matter not of "what you know" but "who you know," I think we can all take heart that the comic-book direct market exists in the form that it does - as close to a level playing field as could be imagined, where the best of the "little guys" genuinely compete with the best of the "big guys" and where a first-time self-publisher's work appears in the same catalogue with the work of one of the founders of our industry, the irreplaceable Mr. Will Eisner. And - no matter how furious that competition becomes - no matter who comes first or who comes second, ultimately, we all share in each other's success and we all help to make each other successful.

Or (as the writer of the second longest series by a collaborative team would say):


Excelsior! The motto of New York state, meaning "Upward," is a succinct and a valuable distillation of that spirit which governs our efforts when we are at our best: as is, "with great power comes great responsibility." We, all of us, owe a great debt to the man, Stan the Man, who, when most of us - from the president of Diamond Comic Distributors to the owner of the smallest comic-book store - were barely out of infancy, pointed us in the right direction and who has made those two philosophies the foundation of his own imperishable legacy in our industry and - if we can rise to the challenge they present to us and to our successors - the basis of our greatest mutual heritage which is the comic-book medium itself.

In closing, let me say that over the last quarter century-plus, whatever my too-human failings (and, like anyone else, I have no shortage of those) I strove always to be an individual who did his duty - as another much-criticized and controversial figure, General Douglas MacArthur, said in his farewell address to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress in April of 1951 - "as God gave him the light to see that duty." I make no apology for the free-will choices I have made but only for any entirely inadvertent harm, real or perceived, that those choices may have caused to others.

Farewell, thank you, and may God continue to bless our worldwide comic-book nation.

Dave Sim
Kitchener, Ontario
11 October 2003

Friday 29 June 2012

Kickstarter: Last Day!

Commission: Cerebus #67 Cover Recreation
Art by Dave Sim
Most Holy doesn't love you and wants you to pledge all your money to the Cerebus Digital 6,000 Kickstarter fundraiser. It's your last chance today!

Thursday 28 June 2012

Reinforced Stitching

Cerebus #70 (January 1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Don't spend eternity as reinforced stitching, pledge all your money to the Cerebus Digital 6,000 Kickstarter fundraiser. Only 2 days left to go!

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Green Warts

Cerebus #65 (August 1984)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Don't break out in green warts. Pledge all your money to the Cerebus Digital 6,000 Kickstarter fundraiser. Only 3 days to go!

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Secret Sacred Wars

Cerebus #84, Page 2 (March 1986)

Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from The Beguiling, July 2004)
This sequence goes a long way back to Jim Shooter's tenure as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, a tenure marked by an exponential increase in wordy explanation and explication about who and what everyone was in Marvel Comics stories. In retrospect being Marvel Comics editor-in-chief is an unenviable task.  It isn't just a matter of making the trains run on time, it's a matter of understanding what a train is and communicating it to a huge audience composed of equal parts neophytes and long-standing experts on the super-hero subject matter and communicating the appropriate construction of trains to those charged with assembling them.  Shooter treated it as a purely commercial enterprise, a variation on ad copy-writing which—given how far afield some of his scripters had been going at that point—made, again in retrospect, a certain amount of very good sense. One of his best instruction manuals was his own company-wide cross-over, Secret Wars, a multi-part epic which continued throughout the entire Marvel Comics super-hero line over a period of months and which was the best-selling pure concept of its day and which spawned many successors in the industry. The purest part of the concept was that it was a means of getting Marvel Comics readers to try titles they weren’t otherwise reading in order to get the full story. Over the long term (that is, after the storyline and its successors and imitators had run their course), I suspect that conventional wisdom came to see the process as self-defeating: for every new reader you attracted, you would repel an old reader with the intrusion of an entirely tangential (and often superfluous) storyline at an inopportune moment in a title he or she had been reading for years. Because of the preeminence of commercial application, Shooter's dialogue tended to read a lot like the Roach and Dirty Fleagle and Dirty Drew’s dialogue here - that is, like captions reworked as dialogue balloons (the reason I made the McGrew Brothers' dialogue balloons square instead of round) - which made it an easy target for parody. Another of Big Jim's hard and fast rules of storytelling was that "conflict creates character" which is why Dirty Fleagle and Dirty Drew spend most of their time as the Secret Sacred Wars Roach’s henchmen beating crap out of each other.  My own view would be that conflict forces decision-making and decision-making breaks down into bad decision-making which is destructive and good decision-making which is creative. In both cases the development of character can result: in the former case because a lesson is learned from making a mistake and in the latter case because a good decision results in immediate improvement. It seems to me that believing that "conflict creates character" in and of itself explains why there was so much conflict in the editorial offices of Marvel Comics through much of the 1980s.  
But there also seems to me to be no question that Secret Wars was a lot more beneficial - if not to the long-term health of the comic-book field then certainly in the short term - than all of us "independent guys" and our artsy-fartsy books rolled together. 

Monday 25 June 2012

2000 Bad Drawings

Cerebus #1, page 1 (December 1977)
Art by Dave Sim
(from the Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing, 2010 Revised Edition)
It is a conventional and accurate piece of wisdom that "you have two thousand bad drawings in you, and once you get those done you start doing good ones." What is often not added - and really should be, in my view - is that there is a world of joy and gratification and surprise to be had in doing those two thousand bad drawings, watching them get less bad, watching your own style emerge, your own ideas take shape and coalesce and develop a life of their own. Enjoy it. Enjoy creativity, first, last, and always for its own sake. If it isn't fun, find a new way to do it that is fun. Satisfy yourself every step of the way. Draw what you want to draw. Write what you want to write. If you want to revise the earlier work, revise the earlier work. Your leisure time is your leisure time and no one else's - "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" - and if your greatest happiness is to be had in writing and drawing comic books, you are miles ahead of most of your peers, who haven't the faintest notion of what would make them happy.

Write and draw and draw and write for their own sake and to please yourself - enjoy it to the fullest, and always pursue the avenue that seems to be the most fun, that compels you, irresistibly, to pick up that pencil and start committing your words and pictures to paper. It won't take long before you can grin and say in perfect honesty: "Get a life? Man, I've got a life."

Sunday 24 June 2012


Cerebus 37 (April 1982)
Art by Dave Sim
(Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing, Revised & Expanded Edition, 2010)
Had I been able to make a living doing Cerebus on my own web site, would I have bothered to try to get distributors to carry it? Autonomy was a key element in my developing the self-publishing model that I did. Phil Seuling, the pioneer Direct Market distributor [owner of Sea Gate Distributors], was quite a character and, in a personal sense, I'm glad that I got know him reasonable well (I got the blustery character of Filgate in High Society from him, if nothing else). However, in a business sense, in the late 1970s, I definitely saw him as a fly in my autonomy ointment. One way or another, Phil's personal quirks and preferences and sensitivities had to be taken in to account. Why? Because there was no other option in 1977. If you got on Phil's bad side, there went half your market. I would definitely have weighed that in the balance, at the time, if I could have had my own web site instead of going through the distributors.

That doesn't mean it would have been a right decision.

There is a "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" dynamic to what is going on right now, at least potentially. Stores with declining sales in the economic downturn mentally jettisoning marginally indy books, Diamond literally jettisoning marginal indy books. I don't think it's completely outside the realm of likelihood that there are self-publishing cartoonists who are, likewise, jettisoning the idea of selling their work through stores on the other side of the equation.

Saturday 23 June 2012

A Defender Of Liberty

Cerebus Backcover Advert (1997)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from a News Watch article, The Comics Journal #189, August 1996)
The Comic Book Legal Defence Fund has named Cerebus creator Dave Sim and underground legend Paul Mavrides as the first recipients of the fund's Defenders Of Liberty awards. The pair were honored at the San Diego Comic Book Expo for their efforts as industry leaders in support of free speech rights.

Mavrides - who is perhaps best known for his work on the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers - was selected for his unyielding battle with the California State Board of Equalisation over their decision that only prose manuscripts could be considered exempt from sales tax. He finally won in court after five years of legal wrangling with the BOE that saw Mavrides devote an inordinate amount of time  to enlisting support for cartoonists.

Sim was given the honor due to his tireless and generous financial support of the CBLDF; by far the leading contributor to the fund's treasure chest, he donated more than $122,000 over the past few years, in addition to raising money for the CBLDF by selling autographs at conventions and giving away original art to be auctioned off. Sim donated his entire royalties from several projects, including the Spawn-Cerebus cross over issue.

(from the article The Comics Profession 1980-2000, The Comics Journal #220, February 2000)
Image is our next stop on the slippery slope to the deepening feeling of ennui and lethargy that has gripped the industry. Image, which wrapped itself around the Capraesque theme of the little guys vs the big, bad corporations of America, Mom and apple pie, is a flash-point in both the corruption of creator rights and the trend among professionals for mistaking money-grubbing for principle... How Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Dave Sim could've been gulled by these idiots is beyond understanding (I'm not even sure how Miller's, Gaiman's and Moore's profiting obscenely by Image vs Sim's giving all his Image profits to the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund enters into the moral equation; does that make Sim smarter or stupider than the rest?).

Friday 22 June 2012


Cerebus #219 (June 1997)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from a letter to Peter Crane dated 15, July 2004, reprinted in Dave's Sim's Collected Letters Vol 2)
I just read Bob Uecker's Catcher In The Wry. You're probably not old enough to remember Uecker, but he was a former baseball player with a career batting average of .200 who made quite a good living as a sad sack storyteller/comedian on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and other places describing his eminently-forgettable baseball career in a complete deadpan. I found the book in a 50 cent sidewalk sale bin at Casablanca Books here in town, walked away and forgot about it until the next day when we had some unexpected sunshine and I decided to go and buy it to read sitting out in the sun. Very funny. Great baseball stories.

Anyway, he makes the point in his book that it's a lot easier to walk away from the big leagues when you're something of an also-ran than it is when you're a major star. Which is really true. You can't miss what you never had and that includes applause. It's as if my success was tailor-made for me, like Goldilocks or something. Not too famous, not too unknown. Not too rich, not too poor. Just enough people writing so I know Cerebus isn't completely forgotten but not enough that I don't have any time to myself. I wanted so badly to be rich and famous when I started out and now that I'm pushing fifty I realize that privacy is THE irreplaceable commodity. Only God could engineer something as successful as Cerebus that leaves me completely unscathed in a public-figure sense.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Red Sophia

Cerebus #10, June/July 1979
Art by Dave Sim
(from an interview at The A.V. Club, 31 March 2004)
Red Sonja was the hot comic book at the time, beautifully written, penciled, inked, and lettered by Frank Thorne about a female Conan-type who wouldn't surrender sexually to any man unless he defeated her in battle. When I did my parody, Red Sophia, I extrapolated that this poor, magnificent warrior woman was probably getting unbelievably horny waiting for someone to come along who could beat her. It does seem more resonant today now that the "ballsier" feminists, much to their consternation, seem to be having difficulty finding men who are interested in - or capable of - going mano a mano with them. At the time, it just seemed a funnier, racier version of the real thing. When Red Sophia whips off her chain-mail bikini top and says "What do you think of these?" and Cerebus deadpans, "They'd probably heal nicely if you'd stop wearing the chain-mail bikini." I just hoped that it would sell enough copies that I could keep going. It wasn't until two years in, when I switched to the monthly schedule and chose to attempt to do 300 issues, that that stopped being the primary motivation and switched to "How do you fill 300 issues of a comic book with something besides just sight gags and wordplay?"

Missing: 2200 Pages Of Cerebus Artwork!

(from Kickstarter Update #25, 20 June 2012)
A Public Plea: I don't know how far this will go, but it's definitely a Prime Concern: If you know anyone with Cerebus original artwork (either personally or online/Facebook/Comic Art Sites etc. it would be really, really, really helpful if you could get them to scan their page(s) at 600 dpi grayscale AND 600 dpi CMYK and forward the digital files to me on disk by escargot mail or to George Gatsis at (UPDATE: George has asked that if you can, please scan at 600 dpi RGB saved as maximum image quality JPEG and one scan per email, please. If you can scan higher, that would be great!) The plan is to substitute original art scans for digital conversion scans on all future trade paperback printings and (particularly) with any future 11x17 reproductions. 

Credit will appear at the bottom of the page:
From the collection of _____________
if it's from a private collection

Courtesy of ____________
followed by the name and URL of whatever art dealer or auction house had it when it was scanned, and:
facilitated by [your name here]
if you were the one who found the page, the owner and arranged for the scanning and e-mailing.

Free autographed funnybooks and thank you letter to all concerned. No idea how long it will take to track down and scan all 6,000 pages (there are 3,800 in the Cerebus Archive) or even how many pages still exist (it's not hard to imagine someone buying an early page for $20 at a convention and later going "What was I THINKING?" and trashing it. Anyway, any and all help with spreading the word via News site, Twitter feed, re-tweet, re-re-tweet, Pony Express or whatever IS VERY MUCH APPRECIATED (sorry, to go ALL CAPS on you there) (sincerely sorry).

Wednesday 20 June 2012

The Cerebus Effect

Cerebus Collected Volumes 1-16
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from The Comics Journal #207, September 1998)
In the unlikely event that I can coin a term in the comics industry, I'd like to coin this one the Cerebus Effect. In 1986, when Dave Sim produced his first 'phone book' collection of High Society, the monthly Cerebus comics were selling a little more than 30,000 copies in the direct market each month. A dozen years and as many trade collections later, Cerebus is selling about one third that amount. It is easy to surmise that much of the difference between those figures can be attributed to growth in sales of collections as fans stop reading the serial edition in favour of the cheaper, sturdier bookshelf editions. The Cerebus Effect, therefore, is a process whereby sales on a serialised title drop over time as collected editions of the title are increasingly made available.

Bart Beaty is a Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Calgary. He is the author of Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture, and contributes articles on Euro-comics to The Comics Reporter. Copies of the collected Cerebus volumes are available from your local comics shop or online from Win-Mill Productions in the US and Page 45 in the UK.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Kickstarter: 10 Days To Go

Cerebus #67 (October 1984)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
You have just 10 days to locate Most Holy's gold and pledge it to the Cerebus Kickstarter fundraiser in support of Dave Sim's project to digitise all 6,000 pages of Cerebus #1-300.

Monday 18 June 2012

Before Kickstarter

Cerebus #36 (March 1982)
Art by Dave Sim
(from Glamourpuss #25, May 2012)
I really need to thank you at this point Eddie [Khanna], for all of your helpful research assistance. You've definitely turned up more than a few missing pieces... as we shall see... in the perplexing construct / enactment of Raymond's death that I've been mulling over for a couple of decades now.

...See, and to me, I've made such a mess of things - barely hanging onto enough circulation to not get dropped by Diamond. 3,000 copies down from a high of 37,000 on Cerebus No. 100. Practically back to what I sold of Cerebus No. 1! The deafening silence, the universal hatred and shunning.

It's very gratifying to have someone to discuss these things with but I'm always leery of whether the subjects we're discussing - my structural way of looking at things - just lead in generally bad directions, personally, and that I should be cautioning people like you about that. It's why I'm not unsympathetic to Margaret Mitchell... or her glamour. My own "pariah-dom" isn't emotion-based or experienced emotionally, but I do spend a lot of time checking my own math, going back over all of my decisions and assessments.

Where did I go wrong? And if I didn't go wrong - (given that I don't believe "he who dies with the most toys wins": I incline more toward Keith Richards' viewpoint: as long as he could afford guitar picks, everything else was just gravy) - why am I perennially hitting these "low ebb" points? Just barely get Gerhard paid off and I hit a perfect storm of multiple paperbacks going out of print. Having pursued the course I have, I seem always to be in a situation where I can't tell if I'm on an irrevocable downward spiral, ascendant or just treading water. I can make a persuasive case for all three. I don't  know - and seem to have no way of knowing - if that's inevitable and implicit in the way I live and how I see things. If I knew it was, I'd warn you and others - "here there be monsters". It's not a pleasant way to live.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Cerebus vs Cirin

Cerebus vs Cirin: Hyper-Detailed Battle Scene
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Huge 15x20 Commission by Dave Sim and Gerhard of Cerebus and Cirin battling it out in the temple where Cirin cuts off Cerebus' ear...Basically I told Dave I would like Cerebus vs Cirin in the temple room with reflections. Then Dave went to town and depicted the scene of Cirin cutting off his ear. As you know Cerebus was backed in a corner with no where to go which enabled Cirin to chop the ear off. Dave did an Amazing job on his part and now it was in Gerhard's corner. Basically Gerhard didn't want to lose that aspect of the battle so he tried a bunch of different angles. The one that made it to the finished piece you see is basically we are the corner looking at them. That's the perspective. Nothing short of genius.

(via Comic Art Fans)

Cerebus Number Zero

(from Kickstarter Update #21, 16 June 2012)
Sorry we're a little short on long-term answers right now -- the dimensions of the overall ALL 16 VOLUMES project keeps expanding and I'm more focussed on staying ahead of the curve on all the signing and drawing I have to do for where we are right now.

A good example: The first 250 Cerebus Gold Logo #0s came in and I signed most of them and then realized when I was repacking them in boxes that most were in substandard condition. They were packed improperly at the warehouse 20 years ago so the copies on the top and bottom were severely buckled and copies in the middle had severe "spine roll" where they had shifted out of the stack. I removed those right away but the others only looked "relatively" good in comparison.  The bottom staple was prone to "dimpling" and creasing and the space between the staples about an inch out from the spine tends towards "waving". It's my own fault, I'm sure, for the gag on the cover: the kid saying "Gosh Cerebus, Will this comic be worth a lot of money some day?" and Cerebus saying "Not after I (sic) bend this corner you greedy capitalistic weenie!" That corner is indeed bent on a lot of copies. The White Logo #0s (with different gag: "Gosh Cerebus Were you like way cool back in the olden days?" and Cerebus saying "Why don't you buy a copy and find out, butthead?")...

[The cover is a parody of Superboy #1 from 1948 where kids are asking Superman "Gosh Superman what were you like as a boy?" And Superman turning back the corner of the cover and saying "If you really want to know, look inside!" Story of my life: my best gags all need footnotes for most people]

...are in much better condition.  Of the 250 Golds, I could only rate 113 as near mint to mint. Not really an "issue" for most Cerebus fans who tend to be readers rather than collectors, but having made a point of the Gold 0 value in Overstreet, they really need to be in mint.

Question now: Does it make more economic sense to have the books "culled" at the warehouse where they charge $19 and hour for labour...or pay to have twice as many books shipped here by truck with the price of gasoline these days?  

Dave Sim's initial $6,000 Kickstarter goal to digitize Cerebus: High Society was just the start! The ultimate goal of the Cerebus Digital 6000 project is to digitize all 16 of the Cerebus 'phone' books and make them available online. The 'dream goal' is to raise a total of $100,000 through the Kickstarter campaign. If this fund is met, the whole series is in the works! Please consider donating.

Saturday 16 June 2012

Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot

Cerebus #104 (November 1987)
Art by Bob Burden, Dave Sim & Gerhard
Bob Burden is the writer/artist of Flaming Carrot Comics which The Comics Journal described as "steeped in a broth of surrealism, hardboiled adventure stories, knowing innuendo and superhero comics turned inside-out." Aardvark Vanaheim published Flaming Carrot Comics #1-5 between May 1984 and January 1985, with #6-17 published by Renegade Press and #18-31 by Dark Horse Comics before ending its original run in 1994. Bob Burden was the recipient of an Inkpot Award in 1990 and an Eisner Award in 1988. The following quotes are taken from an interview in The Comics Journal #268, June 2005.

On Publishers:
Deni [Loubert, Renegade Press] was a great friend and somebody that I could trust, and you always have to be able to trust your publisher. I've been very very lucky with that. Dave Sim [Aardvark Vanaheim] was a sweet, honest, wonderful guy, and Mike Richardson [Dark Horse Comics] has always been solid, 100% there for you... Really, when you think about it, the comics industry has had a few nebulous and shady characters, but by and large we've been very very lucky. National magazine distribution and movie distribution and whatever it is, it's whole different ball game. We had a wonderful cottage industry there where there was integrity and honour that you don't find in a lot of other businesses. It was more of an art form.

On Leaving Aardvark Vanaheim:
It was fine. Dave was cool. He was all "Go for it! Do whatever you want!" He was the rebel and the rest of us were kind of following this madman, upstart, revolutionary, like the cast of Seinfeld through a parking lot. There was a sort of hippy spirit there. No one ever thinks of Dave and Deni as hippies but it was real laid-back and there was a trace of that. Also in Dave there was always this almost undetectable but very dark and deep sadness: a bit of introspective, self-aware Hamlet thing going on there. Don't know if he even knows it but Dave is different from most people. Never met anyone quite like him.
On Creating Cerebus #104:
I think that ideally I'd like to be working with two or three more artists and be plowing through this stuff quick. My big problem is the backgrounds. They are just a big chore for me. I dread [them]. If I had a Gerhard like Gerhard, I could be knocking out a monthly book... When I worked with Dave Sim on Cerebus #104, Dave wrote the story, and I contributed some dialogue. It was such a relief to not have the responsibility for the whole story. It was one of the most fun stories I've ever done because the pressure was off. It was a good story too, because Dave wrote a good story. I find that it's hard for me to work on a story that sucks. It's like the artwork takes five times as long to draw, because you're just drudging your way through it. So when I write a story, I have to write a good story in order to get me spirited up to actually sit down and start drawing it. So anyway, that Cerebus story was one of the best times... We did Cerebus, me and Gerhard and Dave, in nine or ten days, Cerebus #104... It was great to knock out a comic book in ten days... if we hadn't been out partying and carousing and drinking all night, we might have been able to get that issue done in seven days.

Friday 15 June 2012

Gaiman on Sim

The Comics Journal #139 (July 1994)
Art by Michael Zulli
(from an interview with The Comics Journal #139, July 1994)
Dave Sim gave a speech in London recently... where he was pointing to me and saying, "DC treats Neil really, really well, but they treat the rest of you like hired hands out in the field," and I'm now in the position of the foreman allowed into the house... I think Dave's perspective is probably [that] I am perpetuating the evil system here and I am lending a veneer of legitimacy to an evil system... I'm not sure I would agree with that. I think to some extent it goes back to the original thing of, How do you get good comics out there? Well you do them... DC gives me a huge audience... At the end of the day I'm fairly satisfied with DC's ability to sell things. I like that. I write for an audience. I like writing things for people to read. of the greatest advantages that comics had is their cheapness to produce - you can do them. You need a pen, you need paper, you need access to a photocopier, and you can do comics... other media are more expensive and less immediate than a comic. A comic is very cheap and very immediate. I don't understand why there aren't billions of Los Bros., why there aren't oodles of Peter Bagges and hordes of Chester Browns and armies of Dave Sims.

...I've never quite been able to figure out for myself why comics fragments the way it does; why political lines get drawn and stuck to... It seems fairly odd to me... there are people with whom one can disagree philosophically on things. There are people in the world of comics, people in the world of corporate comics, whom I do not particularly like, and in most cases, generally speaking, do not work for. There are people in the world of corporate comics whom I genuinely do like, I find them interesting, amusing, or fascinating. Comics are filed with a lot of one-of-a-kind people, and I like that. There is nobody on the entire face of the planet who is anything like Jenette Kahn. There is Jenette, and that's it. There is probably only one Gary Groth. And definitely only one Dave Sim.

Thursday 14 June 2012

Happy 71st Birthday Neal Adams!

Following Cerebus #9 (August 2006)
Art by Neal Adams, Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Following Cerebus #9, August 2006)
"Is this what we do in comics?"

At every juncture in his long career that has been Neal Adams' pre-eminent question when it came to his decision-making, mindful at all times that his own choices had repercussions for others and often for generations of others who would follow behind him.

"Is this what we do in comics?"

Part indictment, part challenge, part exhortation, part lecture. This is what we've done until now; but is there a better way of doing things? And if there is a better way of doing things, why aren't we doing it? And if there's no good reason not to do it, when can we start doing it differently? Whether it's getting artists' artwork returned, manipulating personalities so as to get 32 more colours on DC separations chart with a simple phone call, showing his peers how easy it is to license foreign rights while still retaining control of an intellectual property, pushing for and helping to facilitate the introduction of a royalty system, however flawed and however meagre, getting Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster their annual stipend from DC Comics...

"Is this what we do in comics?"

When the question is posed by a talent who had the same effect on the comic-book field in his twenties and thirties that he had had on Johnstone & Cushing in his teens, you know the question isn't merely rhetorical or merely philosophical...

"Is this what we do in comics?"

As you can see from this article, I have taken issue with many of Neal Adams' choices when I made my own choices, but I never lost sight of the fact that when fortune smiles upon you and you are given opportunities that others have never had before you, you become obligated to choose wisely on the basis of what constitutes the greatest good for the greatest number. In many ways, I learned that by observing Neal Adams closely with that hard, unflinching gaze of youth which is usually composed of equal parts idealism and cynicism. Neal always measured up to my highest ideals of human conduct because - even when I disagreed with his choice - I never doubted that he had made his choice because he had examined the options from every angle and had decided on his own best and most ethical course of action.

Kickstater Commentary

(from the Nerdist interview, 30 May 2012, and the Boneville Blog, 3 June 2012)
We've communicated a few times over the years and it doesn't feel like World War III is going to break out. It's his charm and wit that I remember more nowadays. The crazy period during the self-publishing tours in the early '90s was fantastic. All the nights we spent talking about comics and dissecting the business were some of the best times of my life. Those were exciting days, and for a while it felt like we were kings. The shit that came later, I mostly try to forget...

I think Dave is exactly right choosing his most popular, and possibly best book(s) in the Cerebus canon to launch a Kickstarter project into the digital realm. Don't know exactly what platform or format he's going with, but the extras sound interesting. That's the direction we are moving in here at Cartoon Books. I think it's the future, and he's wise to move that way.

(via Twitter, 30 May 2012)
The first 120 or so issues of Cerebus meant a lot to me back then. Give if you want to.

(via Twitter, 11 June 2012)
Word. (RT @ColleenDoran on Dave Sim "the single most important person in the history of the creator rights movement").

(from The Comics Reporter, 8 June 2012)
...the Cerebus-related fundraiser is at about 600 percent of its desired goal. This doesn't surprise me; I think Sim is perfectly suited for Kickstarter given the esteem with which he's held by his fans.

(via John Scrudder at Twitter, 12 June 2012)
Dave Sim RULES!

PAGE 45:
(via Twitter, 5 June 2012)
Best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle art since Mike Zulli's.

Dave Sim's initial $6,000 Kickstarter goal to digitize Cerebus: High Society was just the start! The ultimate goal of the Cerebus Digital 6000 project is to digitize all 16 of the Cerebus 'phone' books and make them available online. The 'dream goal' is to raise a total of $100,000 through the Kickstarter campaign. If this fund is met, the whole series is in the works! Please consider donating.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Alex Robinson

(from an interview in The Comics Journal #293, November 2008)
So [Comics Collector magazine ran an article] about Cerebus and I said, "That sounds so weird, I should pick that up," and it was totally like "This is the greatest thing I've ever read in my entire life." Because it was smart and it was funny, and the fact that I felt like an outsider in high school and here's a comic about a literal outsider aardvark waking around in a world full of humans, a bitter, angry aardvark at that. So it was like "Oh my gosh, this is made for me." That also definitely had an influence on the way I saw comics, because Dave Sim at the time was at the forefront of the self-publishing movement. "You don't need anybody, you don't need editors." As someone who resisted authority as I mentioned, this was like "He's doing it. He's living the dream." Up until then I'm, like, "Well, I'll work for Marvel comics." At that point, I was like "Wow, you can do pretty much whatever you want and you don't have to take no guff from nobody... It was issue 65, which would be about 1985 or so, '84 maybe. Cerebus had just become the Pope, so it was a good time to start reading because it was the start of a new storyline. It was also the first issue that Gerhard as background artist came in, so it was a coincidence in that sense.

[Dave Sim] was definitely the biggest influence on me cartooning-wise The times I would ever see him or contact him, I would say, like, "I'm an imitator of yours." He eventually told me I should stop saying that, not because he was mad but because, as he said, "Everyone's an imitator of somebody, everyone goes through a phase where they slavishly copy someone else." And he would say, "Oh, you're your own person now and there are Alex Robinson imitators out there." I just think at his peak he's a fantastic storyteller and it's really a shame that all his personal stuff has diminished the appreciation of his work these days... I think stuff like using text pages, to have a conversation written out like a script, which is something I stole from Dave Sim. That kind of stuff... Overlapping balloons where you sort of - someone compared it to a Robert Altman movie, where there's over lapping dialogue and you only hear parts of certain conversations, a sampling of a lot of different things that are going on. Yeah, he definitely was someone I got that trick from... So yeah, I stole everything from Dave Sim.

Alex Robinson is the Eisner Award winning writer/artist of the graphic novels Box Office Poison, Too Cool to Be Forgotten and Tricked.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Rising Tension In A Closed Environment

Cerebus #114 (September 1988)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from an interview in The Comics Journal #184, February 1996)
Going back to the seminal point again, where you say, "Okay, I am starting a new book. What's going to be mixed into this equation, what's going to be taken out, what am I wanting to emphasize?" And really, the only kind of book coming out at the time that I saw as having the tone I wanted Jaka's Story to have was Love & Rockets - me looking at Love & Rockets, and saying "This is not really my kind of thing. But I'd really like to try this kind of thing." Like, "If I was to do this kind of thing, what kind of thing would I do?" And that was pretty close to the seminal point. "Yeah. I do want to do a human drama story. I do want to do a very limited cast. And no extraneous characters coming in for the most part. And just this rising tension in this very closed environment, just watching these people under a microscope."

Monday 11 June 2012

The Origin Of Elrod

Cerebus #4 (June/July 1978)
Art by Dave Sim

(from Aardvark Comment, Cerebus #6, October/November 1978)
Dear Dave,
I thought Cerebus the Aardvark was great and thoroughly enjoyed the Elrod sequence, particularly the bit with the black blade. My only complaint - and it's hardly that - is that the Elrod drawn derives from no description of mine, but from Barry Smith who used Jack Gaughan's Elric covers for Lancer as a model. Jack Gaughan's ideas were all his own and did not follow my descriptions at all. Interesting to see a third generation version. Thanks for Cerebus. I look forward to issue 7!
Very best,
Michael Moorcock

(from Swords Of Cerebus Vol 2, 1981)
I distinctly remember a day, in the midst of drawing issue #3 when I suddenly started laughing hysterically. When Deni asked me what the problem was, I sort of gasped, "Elric. Picture Elric saying 'Mind yo' mannuhs, son. I've got a tall pointy hat." She looked at long and hard with that "My God this time you've finally flipped." look of hers. I knew I was on to something. For the next few days, however, when anyone came over to see us, Deni would insist that I tell them. I got a lot of blank looks. I laughed a lot myself, but no one else did.

To be honest, I don't even know where the connection came from. Wendy Pini's jaw hit the floor when I told her that I had never read an Elric story. "But it's perfect," she managed to insist, "the way he's always talking non-stop - it's just like Elric. You've got to read one of the stories so you know how good the parody is." That was last summer and I still haven't read an Elric story - except of course for the Roy Thomas/Barry Smith Conan issues he appeared in.

Sunday 10 June 2012

The Challenges Of Photo-Realism

Glamourpuss #25 (May 2012)
Art by Dave Sim
(From Cerebus TV Episode #103, 30 March 2012)
The pretty girl is the archetypal challenge in photo-realism. She's made up of tiny, precise, parabolic curves. Whether you're tracing her or creating her, if every line isn't exactly where it needs to be, she isn't a pretty girl. I have plenty of time to write the gags in Glamourpuss. A single figure and face, depending on the complexity and detail, can take several hours to tight-pencil and ink. Add-in trying to try to achieve an actual physical likeness in the case of Kyla, yeah, there's plenty of time for writing and re-writing that page’s dialogue.

I always start with the clothes. Women's fashions are, not surprisingly, like a pretty girl's face - intricate, precise and finely detailed. Everything has to be in the right spot, but it has to appear casual, as if the folds and billows just, y’know, landed that way, instead of being the result of a designer’s life-time of expertise of how a given fabric will behave, where the seams have to go to create a specific visual effect. Translating that effect involves the same sensibility - black blobs, slashes, darts and brush-strokes that look causal but have to be very specific black blobs, slashes, darts and brush-strokes. Same thing with the density. I have to look at the fabric in the photo - in this case, remember what it looked like in person – and then match that relative density with a specific density of pen-line, in this case a slightly broken-in (as opposed to brand new) Gillott #303, and then retain that density over hundreds of hand-drawn parallel lines.

Same deal with the hair. It's meant to appear casual, but it's a lot of work. This photo was shot outside, so odds are it isn't going to be a 100% of what Kyla intended. A stray breeze can knock a woman's 'do 10% out of whack. My job is to use a Winsor Newton Series 7 brush and a Hunt #102 pen-nib to get it back to a 100% of what I think Kyla started with.

And then there's the really finicky-detail. "Er, how would Al Williamson have rendered these?" "One at a time, Dave. Exactly the way you're gonna do it. One at a time."

By the time I'm inking in the little folds of the dress between the tiny perfect parabolic curves of Kyla's left-hand, I'm going, "Okay, that's Kyla done, now for Zootanapuss", I starting to wonder "Maybe there's something else I could be doing for a living that's a little easier in my mid-fifties."

Saturday 9 June 2012

Colleen Doran

(from Colleen's blog at A Distant Soil, 7 June 2012)
Some cool projects you should check out... Dave Sim brings his groundbreaking comic Cerebus back to life with a new digital series packed with amazing extras. This is a very smart and successful Kickstarter campaign, already well past its goal. It doesn't need any more support from me, but that is not the point. Cerebus was the most important book of the self publishing movement, and Dave Sim is the single most important person in the history of the creator rights movement. Everybody else who contributed is much appreciated, but no one was a more outspoken - or original - advocate.

While Dave’s views on many important issues have changed over the years, and while Dave and I have had a parting of the ways over some of them, this in no way diminishes my great respect for his incredible accomplishments. Cerebus is an important work of outsider art.

There are longer comics, especially those from Japan. However, a self published, entirely creator-controlled work of this magnitude just doesn't exist anywhere else. I've never read all of Cerebus, and would often skip about looking for the funny parts. I always meant to read it, but never did. It's quite a commitment at 6,000 pages. But, I still remember the incredible experimental layouts.

I will also never forget the fact that Dave Sim was one of only a handful of creators who stood up publicly and spoke for me when I had a creator rights dispute with an early publisher [Wendy and Richard Pini's WaRP Graphics] of A Distant Soil, a company which wanted to own all rights to my work. Dave wrote essays about the exploitation of creators, and gave me a very well paying job on a Cerebus short story at a time I really needed it. It was an extremely generous page rate, far more than I deserved. 

Outside of Dave, the only other creators who made a public stand on my behalf were Jim Valentino, Mark Wheatley, and Mark Hempel. I wasn't famous in the 1980's, and without a name, you don't have a cause most people care about. There were a handful of people who treated me kindly behind the scenes (very notable among them, Marvel Comics VP Mike Hobson, Walt and Louise Simonson, and Archie Goodwin, as well as a few others,) but most of the industry threw me under a bus. It would be almost a decade before the rest of the Big Boy's Club decided I was worthy.

For all that, Dave, I thank you.

While many people have serious issues with Dave's personal beliefs and choose not to support his work, that is not something I care to discuss. I'm tired of people playing let's-you-and-him-fight. The industry is full of eccentric thinkers, and your choices in art and entertainment are entirely your own. Do as you will.

Colleen Doran is the writer/artist of the fantasy series A Distant Soil and illustrator of many fine comics and graphic novels. The two other "cool projects" Colleen mentioned in her original blog post were Marrowbones by Eric Orchard ("This is fantastic stuff. I can't rave with enough ravery.") and Pont-au-Change by Arlene Harris ("She is genuinely talented.").

Dave Sim's initial $6,000 Kickstarter goal to digitize Cerebus: High Society was just the start! The ultimate goal of the Cerebus Digital 6000 project is to digitize all 16 of the Cerebus 'phone' books and make them available online. The dream goal is to raise a total of $100,000 through the Kickstarter campaign. If this fund is met, the whole series is in the works! Please donate generously. Only 20 days left to go! 

Cerebus Digital Conversion

(from the Kickstarter Update #14, 6 June 2012)
Have to get back to work, but I wanted to show you where your money is going -- and thanks to all our donors!  It's true -- every dollar counts!
  1. These are the original "flats" that the trade paperbacks were printed from -- 8 pages on a side, 16 pages on a sheet. The negatives have to be cut individually off of the flats (they're held on with tape) CAREFULLY -- they scratch easily.
  2. The individual negatives are laid out on a full-sized sheet of illustration board and examined for any defects that need to be flagged for the printer when converting them and Sandeep for digital clean-up.
  3. Each negative has to be checked against the list of original pages that have been scanned. I don't want to pay $7.50 to scan a page I've already got in original art form!
  4. Once I'm sure that it's a needed page, I lightly tape it to a sheet of acid-free paper.
  5. Then cover it with another sheet to protect it. When all the negatives are done, they'll be FedExed to Val d'Or Quebec for digital conversion. Multiply this process by 6,000 pages and you have an idea of how big a project this is.
Thank you, Kickstarter and the Kickstarter generation! I have no idea how I could have kept going on this without you!

Dave Sim's initial $6,000 Kickstarter goal to digitize Cerebus: High Society was just the start! The ultimate goal of the Cerebus Digital 6000 project is to digitize all 16 of the Cerebus 'phone' books and make them available online. The dream goal is to raise a total of $100,000 through the Kickstarter campaign. If this fund is met, the whole series is in the works! Only 21 days left to go!

Friday 8 June 2012

Did I Have The Right To Do That?

Cerebus Vol 2: High Society, collecting #26-50 (1981-1983)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from a letter to Erik Larsen concerning creator's rights and publishing, 31 August 2005)
Well, clearly no one is saluting the Bill of Rights as it stands nor do I really expect them to. It came about because I wanted to know where my rights ended and Diamond’s rights began when it came to selling books direct. Did I have the right to do that? It expanded from there into trying to draw lines of demarcation as to where a creator-publisher stood within the market in terms of decision making. The point that I missed at the time is that you can establish that you have the right to do something, but that doesn’t mean that anyone has to like it and - very definitely - the stores did not like me selling the book direct to my readers. So the issue wasn't actually whether I had the right to sell the books direct (of course I did: it's a free country) as it was "Was I prepared to take the consequences of doing so? Was I prepared to trade the good faith that I had in the market for a massive infusion of cash?" The answer at the time was "Definitely". I was really tired of living on dribs and drabs of cash that came in on a book that was considered somewhere between a fanzine and an underground that I was busting my ass to produce. In retrospect I should've had more patience and realized that High Society would always sell and give the retailers time to figure that out: years, probably. Since then I’ve gone in the other direction relative to the initial question. We've taken the ads out of the back of the trade paperbacks and Following Cerebus so the stores are really the only place you can get the books today. We don't even sell to Amazon anymore. The stores aren't exactly falling all over themselves ordering the books but, again, I think that's where patience comes in. Give them time to see that everyone else is abandoning them for on-line sales and the mainstream book store market and eventually they will recognize the value in supporting something that supports them.

Thursday 7 June 2012

Do It Like A Rockstar!

(from a blog post at Escape Pod Comics, 4 June 2012)
...Dave Sim was comics' first Rock Star - showing up at signings in limos, hosting late night comic con parties and generally having a hell of a time. But he was also the kind of rockstar that [Amanda] Palmer is: encouraging others, inspiring them and turning the business of comics on its head. Other people had self-published before Sim, but few did it with the business acumen and drive that Dave did. With his modest success, Dave created a space in the back of his monthly book to showcase other independent creator’s work. And he was almost always ready to help people interested in self-publishing - when his Kickstarter campaign launched multiple creators tweeted about Dave's selfless help. But back to my main point: the fans - Just look through the letters columns in the back of Cerebus and you will see a kooky bunch trading in-jokes, discussing their lives and the work. One of that bunch would be Dave Sim, who always seemed more like a moderator than some Great Creator responding to his worship; something that the few creators who even answered their own letters back in those days often came off sounding like. 

And what fans! There were oddballs galore: vampires and feuding siblings and hateful love triangles, all people letting their freak flags fly in a safe and understanding environment. Some even went on to become fairly powerful forces in the comic industry themselves. And it was this connection with fans that gave Cerebus, an independent black and white comic with a cover price ⅓ higher than almost everything else in the store, monthly sales in the sort of numbers that Marvel, DC and Image would kill for today. And it was this same strong fan base that, as Stephen Bissette pointed out, allowed Sim to change the entire comic industry. 

When all the distributors implicitly refused to carry the first Cerebus "phonebook" (A tome collecting 25 issues of the Cerebus saga in one, square-bound, 500 odd page book) their argument wasn't really that bad. Simply put, it had never been done before, stores weren't going to stock it and fans weren't going to buy it. Comics just didn't come that big. All this was true. Dave, after getting feedback from fans, mostly in letter columns and at conventions, decided that it just wasn’t true. He printed an initial run of 5,000 books and offered them directly through the back pages of Cerebus. One need simply mail a money order or call up his office with a credit card and the book would be shipped out. Retailers, who Sim has always been a huge supporter of, could get multiple copies at a discount. 

When the initial run of 5,000 books sold out (quite quickly, actually) the retailers relented and begged Sim to let them carry his book. Dave, always one to force others to stick to their guns, refused. He relented on subsequent books and eventually on all of them, but he never stopped trying to prove that it was the artist and the fans, not the giant corporations and not the distributors, who had the real relationship. 

Look around your local comic shop, or any bookstore with a "Graphic Novel" section. Are there square bound books? Books that exceed 80 pages? Damn right there are. Dave Sim literally reinvented the way that the comic book industry did business, more than once. And he used it by knowing, trusting and respecting his fans and by never letting his work get diluted by anyone else's vision of it. Amanda Palmer has set the stage for a new revolution within the music industry, here's hoping that she's as successful as Dave.

Amanda Palmer's recent Kickstarter campaign raised $1,192,173 in a fundraiser that ended on 31 May 2012. Although other enterprises at the crowd-sourcing website had passed the $1-million mark before, hers was the first musical project to do so. You can donate to Dave Sim's Kickstarter fundraiser right now, helping him to make all 6,000 pages of Cerebus available online.