Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The First Fifth Prints

The First Fifth: Plates #1-3 (1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(Click Image To Enlarge)
(from an essay posted at The Beguiling, July 2004)
This was a recent discovery in unearthing the Cerebus Archive, several complete sets of The First Fifth series of prints which Ger and I did in the unsettled days when Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc. had just been permanently divided into my Aardvark-Vanaheim imprint and Deni's Renegade Press imprint. Among the various clauses we had mutually agreed to: I agreed not to contest or compete for any of the services of the cartoonists or of the books we had been jointly publishing to that point; I agreed to assume all of the debt incurred in the publication of The Animated Portfolio (roughly seventeen thousand dollars owing to my serious overestimation of the incentive value of a low price, $12.00 for 45 colour plates) and we agreed to divide the cash-on-hand between us. This essentially allowed Deni to start with a clean slate and encumbered Aardvark-Vanaheim with a debt-to-assets ratio of about three-to-one...

So, one of the first things I chose to do was something I had been loathe to do from the beginning: to essentially reverse the structure of the Animated Cerebus (an excessive number of prints, 45, for a dramatically low price, $12) and to rush into production a modest number of prints, 6... for a cost of  what I considered at the time and still consider today to be an excessive amount of money, $100; $300 for Gerhard’s hand-coloured version (of which there is only one copy of the original 30 sets in the Cerebus Archive and, no, you can't have it): in this case a series of six prints, each of which would represent ten issues of the 60-issue "First Fifth" of the 300 issues we were shooting for. Print one, issues 1 to 10, print two, issues 11 to 20 and so on up to issue 60. They sold well enough to pay off many of our most pressing debts and to pay down a chunk that was owed on the Animated Cerebus, bringing our debt-to-assets ratio down to something more manageable, in the range of 1-to-1, rather than 3-to-1.

At the time, I really didn’t think much of the series - probably a residual impact resulting from the unattractive motivation in doing them in the first place - so I was surprised to find how much the ensuing two decades or so had brightened them up in my eyes. They are, quite distinctly, in Ger's and my mid-eighties style which is something I obviously just couldn't see in the mid-eighties as anything but the style I was looking at every day on the wall as we produced the monthly book. It was one thing to do over-sized ambitious works like Cerebus’ Six Deadly Sins when it was my own time I was occupying, quite another thing to shoot for something that ambitious with someone who was still getting used to a monthly schedule (Ger, I mean, who already had his hands full with the trial-by-ordeal of producing 30 hand-coloured editions of the set).  Looking at them now, I can see that I was gradually losing my late-seventies early-eighties over-rendered brush style - where I was using a lot of brush (as I've already mentioned, rather ineptly) and attempting to imitate brush effects (equally ineptly) - and was, instead, coming to accept that I was a Hunt 102 pen-and-ink guy through-and-through and that I was, by 1985, learning to deal with the pen nib on its own terms as its own instrument and not as a brush substitute or a means of imitating a brush line. And Gerhard - just about a year into his work on the book - was quickly losing his choppiness and uneven densities which were better suited to the illustration schools of the previous century and was starting to understand how sharply defined the parameters of a picture needed to be in the comic-book field. The combination of our styles  was still coming into and going out of focus...

(critically speaking: on plates 2, 3, 5 and 6, I’m going too far into the simplified and stylized Sienkiewicz pen line that I didn’t have the artistic knowledge to carry off but which was, at least, permanently weaning me off my brush and Gerhard is still oscillating between a balanced series of textured pen lines on plate 1 and 3 and an overuse of "pebbly" letratone on plates 4, 5 and 6 which he could probably have done more pleasingly with pen lines in the space of time it took him to cut out all the individual rain tracks and leaves)

...but it was more often in-focus than out of focus by 1985. 

Anyway, it was with genuine gratitude to the art-buying Cerebus readership (many of whom are still with us and still bidding on Cerebus pieces today as they come onto the market) that The First Fifth "worked" in the way it very much needed to if Ger and I were to have a fighting chance of making it to the mythically-distant issue 300. We sold out virtually all of the black-and-white series and the colour edition in a little over a month and were able to pay off a sufficient number of debts to ensure that all we had to focus on was keeping the book as good as possible and on schedule.

The First Fifth: Plates #4-6 (1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard 
(Click Image To Enlarge)


Dave Philpott said...

They still look great !

mateor said...

I could pretty much read the art breakdowns of these two gentlemen all day every day.

Good piece.

Max Southall/CerebusTV said...

CerebusTV is in possession of these prints, signed and numbered, by both Dave and Gerhard - so we expect that at some point, they will be made available through the show and the site.