Friday, 7 September 2012

Creative Freedom

Swords Of Cerebus Vol 4 (1982)
Art by Dave Sim
(from the interview with Charles Brownstein in Feature #4, 1997)
I can't say that I ever had the faintest idea of what the market would find "hot". I shot my wad mixing Howard the Duck and Conan together - which the market considered "clever" rather than "hot". I came to the conclusion just around the time that High Society was percolating in the back of my mind that my only hope was innovation - both to satisfy the core audience who was interested in what "rule" I was going to break next and to keep myself interested in what I was doing on a day-in, day-out basis. The blank piece of paper can be the single most debilitating part of the job and this medium, professionally. I've always had to keep the "I can do anything I want on this page" part of it very close to me at all times as the designer of the page and as the penciller of the page. The writing side was taken up with pacing and whittling and carving conversations into shape and making it as funny as possible where possible. It really wasn't until the Palnu Trilogy [Cerebus #14-16] that it even occurred to my writer personality that there might be something more interesting and enjoyable for me to do as a writer... I was sweating bullets as a penciller and an inker and just trying to help those aspects of myself with the part of me that wrote. If I wrote interesting, funny sword and sorcery stuff - which I could do in my sleep for the most part - I might not get sent back to "funny animal hell" by popular and critical opinion. Likewise with the layout and design which was another strength. I found everything pretty intriguing to be honest... I was also enough of a comic-book historian to know that no one had ever had the kind of freedom that I had before - except for brief periods. So that was what I prepared for. If Gil Kane could only get one issue of His Name Is Savage out before "they" stopped him and Wally Wood could only get a few issues of Witzend out before "they" stopped him. I had no doubt that "they" would stop a twenty-something-year-old unknown kid living in a small town in Canada. Who "they" were and "how" "they" would go about stopping me was a monumental concern to me for years and years. I enjoyed the creativity and the freedom only during brief periods when I wasn't battering myself with "Beware! 'They' are coming! Warning! Danger!"...
Gil Kane's His Name Is Savage (1968) &  Wally Wood's Witzend (1966)
...It wasn't so much what I allowed myself to do because of the unprecedented freedom, but rather what I forced myself to do - putting in things that occurred to me were not being addressed elsewhere to my knowledge, to resist the urge to censor myself or to limit my thinking. Introducing recreational drugs and things into a sword and sorcery comic was risky - introducing anything that wasn't a conventional part of fantasy or that I hadn't dealt with before was a risk. All of the boundaries and taboos had been broken by the undergrounds and the undergrounds had been virtually wiped out only a few years before I started Cerebus. That point wasn't lost on me. The undergrounds that remained stayed within pretty clearly defined boundaries and it looked as if they were trying to graft themselves onto mainstream environments. The mainstream itself was about as safe and unadventurous as it had ever been. Were "they" behind the undergrounds being wiped out? What would "they" think of this panel, or anarchistic thread of the storyline? There was an inner tension between the fact that I didn't want to screw up my unprecedented creative freedom by crossing some boundary and getting blown out of the water and the fact that creative freedom had to be used to have any meaning or value. Even though I considered the latter fact to have the greater validity, the inner tension meant that I still hadn't adjusted to what "freedom" meant. I had a tendency to circle around things that interested me in the human condition.

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