Tuesday 30 April 2013

Michael Hoskin: "Cerebus: I'm Reading It."

Cerebus In Snow (1986)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from the Section 244 blog, 31 October 2011)
There was a time when I knew of Dave Sim's Cerebus as "one of those artsy-fartsy comic books only those Comics Journal-types read." Then I connected to the internet during the age when the series was "derided by all, especially those Comics Journal-types."

Strangely, I became a fan of Dave Sim's work through his post-Cerebus output, which certainly isn't discussed in as much volume or detail as any of his 300 Cerebus issues. I bought his 2008 graphic novel Judenhass, quite enjoyed it and soon became an infrequent follower of his book glamourpuss which started at about the same time. Recently, I began buying up the Cerebus Archive, where he discusses his attempts to break into the comic book market and the many mistakes he made as a young cartoonist; I've found the latter series to be so fascinating as a portrait of the rim of 1970s comic book culture that it suddenly struck me... why don't I read that Cerebus book which is ultimately responsible for all of these other projects? 

Even though I've been attempting for years to better educate myself in the world of comics (having been a super hero-only type for far too long), Cerebus carries a lot of baggge based on the cursory information I've learned at internet columns and blogs over the last 13 years. I understand that the latter years of Cerebus become a soapbox for Sim's editorializing, but... being that I enjoy Judenhass, glamourpuss and Cerebus Archive, clearly I already enjoy his editorializing. Therefore, my decision is to start working my way through Cerebus one volume at a time until I decide I've had enough (or run out of volumes). 

In fact, one of the amazing things about Cerebus is that I can easily obtain the entire series - I think every shop in town carries a set. It caused me to reflect that outside of Dave Sim and Stan Sakai, just about any highly-regarded independent comic book creator's output from the 70s & 80s is nigh-difficult to acquire. Thanks to the shifting interests of audiences, self-destructed publishers, dead creators and retired creators, you won't find many indie hits of times past on your local comic store's shelves. Heck, even a bigwig like Scott McCloud hasn't kept his colour issues of Zot! in-print. 

I'm barely into the first volume of Cerebus and so far I'm enjoying it. Already I've seen a remarkable evolution in Sim's style. Early issues of Cerebus play out as something of a Conan parody, which is interesting because in Cerebus Archive Sim expresses how he had little interest in Conan, yet the parody itself is so gentle he could have run the material in Marvel's Savage Sword of Conan with only minor alterations (that the protagonist is a talking aardvark is sometimes the only "funny" part of this "funny animal" book). 

Thus far the Elrod character (Elric by way of Senator Claghorn) has been a fun, broad addition to the series and in general the series' dialogue is playful and diverting, helping to steer the stories out of familiar tropes by having characters respond to outrageous situations in a realistic, comedic manner.

Cerebus: I'm reading it.

Monday 29 April 2013

Bring Back The Aardvark Graffiti

Graffiti art by Jon 'JonOne' Watson
Photo by Doug Belshaw (
Blyth/Ashington, UK, 2009)
(from Doug Belshaw's Flickr page, 2009)
This graffiti has adorned the underside of a bridge on the spine road near my parents' house for as long as I can remember. It must have been there 20 years. I quite like it, but I suppose that's because it reminds me of being younger...

(from the article 'Teenager Starts Campaign To Bring Back Aardvark Graffiti', 5 February 2010)
It's not often that people welcome the sight of graffiti in their neighbourhoods. But that was exactly the case in one community - until well-meaning officials wiped out a much-loved piece of urban art. A 6ft mural of the 1970s comic book character Cerebus the Aardvark had brightened up a bridge near Blyth for nearly three decades until its disappearance last weekend. Despite its popularity, Northumberland County Council blitzed the colourful design as part of a crackdown on graffiti.

But after noticing that his favourite landmark had been covered over, youngster Kris Akwei-Howe decided to start a campaign demanding that the painting, which was under a bridge alongside the A189 spine road between Blyth and Ashington, be brought back. The 13-year-old, from Widdrington Station, set up a group on Facebook, which has already attracted 1,410 members in just a few days, with more people signing up to show their support by the minute. 

Called 'Cerebus the Spine Road Aardvark - Bring him back!', the group has united the community, with members working together to pinpoint the origins of the urban art. Some people have suggested that the aardvark presided over the road since the 1980s when it was created by local artist Jon Watson. Jon, who is believed to have since passed away, is rumoured to have been fined at the time for his colourful creation.

(from the article 'Family Of Artist Hit Out At Council', 9 February 2010)
...Jon, who was also known as Jon 1, who lived in West Sleekburn and worked as a support teacher at West Sleekburn Middle School. He died in 1999 of a hole in the heart. His sister, Sharron Watson, said: "We were so sad to hear that Jon's work had been painted over – his kids Ellie and Niall are very upset that someone has painted over it, because it was a sort of lasting memorial of Jon. Jon loved to spray paint, and even though he got fined for doing Cerebus, he did it because he loved it, and everyone loved Cerebus and knew it was there. It's such a shame it has been painted over, because he cannot ever repaint it. Why have they waited so long to paint over it?"

Kris Akwei-Howe, 13, set up the Facebook group which has already attracted more than 1,400 members in less than a week, to show their support for Cerebus. Kris's dad Bruce Fraser said: "It was passed by thousands of motorists each day, a welcome home that predates the Angel [Of The North] by some 20 years. This piece of urban art was so well loved by locals in the Ashington/Blyth area, and the artist died in his late twenties and was a much-loved local teacher. We know it can't be repainted, but perhaps the work can be restored? Whatever happens, the local community are up in arms."

(from the comments at Choppington Journal, 23 July 2010)
I'm JonOne's son and I think it was great but sometimes things just have to go :)

Inkwell Awards 2013: Dave Sim Nominated!

The Inkwell Awards 2013 have announced the nominees for this year's awards to honor inkers in comic books. Voting is open to everyone, whether fans or professional peers, until 30 April. The winners will be announced at the live awards ceremony at Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC 7-9 June.

The nominees for the All-In-One Award (for favorite artist known for inking his/her own pencil work) include:
David Aja (Hawkeye)
Francis Manapul (Flash, 7 Warriors)
Moritat AKA Justin Norman (All-Star Western)
Chris Samnee (Daredevil)
Dave Sim (Glamourpuss)
James Stokoe (Godzilla)
Skottie Young (Road to Oz, Dorothy & The Wizard in Oz) 

Sunday 28 April 2013

Cover Tributes #8

Original: Cerebus #54 (September 1983) by Dave Sim
Tribute: Wolverine & The X-Men #28 (April 2013) by Ramon Perez
(Click Image To Enlarge)
(from a comment to Cover Tributes #6, 25 April 2013)
Oddly enough, the current issue of Wolverine and the X-Men (# 28) has a cover whose depiction of Wolverine looks a LOT like the Wolveroach cover on Cerebus 54!!! I would paste the image if I knew how, but check it out. 

Cover Tributes #7

Original: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1 (1986) by Frank Miller
Tribute: Cerebus #87 (1986) by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(Click Image To Enlarge)
(from a comment to Cover Tributes #5, 23 April 2013)
This drawing is pretty [Cerebus #93], but I like the other Dark Knight cover tribute Sim and Ger did, on issue 87, better. In that case, their version just blew Miller's out of the water.

Oliver Simonsen: Animated Cerebus Update!

Featuring an update from Oliver Simonsen on his Cerebus animated movie, soon to be a Kickstarter to fund the Cerebus 3D animation rendering, with movie posters signed by Dave Sim. Also: An exclusive full-length interview with Cerebus graphic novel co-creator Gerhard and creative partner Shelley Byers, who discuss their creative processes and inspiration for their upcoming illustrated children's book The Wish.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Advice For The Would-Be Cartoonist

In 1995 Dave Sim spent two days at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) teaching sequential art, via workshops, portfolio reviews and lectures. (He summarised the experience in his essay 'Misunderstanding Comics' printed in Cerebus #194, May 1995).  The text of one of his lectures from that visit appears below and was originally posted online by ex-SCAD student M Alice Legrow from a text provided by SCAD lecturer Mark Kneece -- and thanks are due to Eddie Khanna for bring it to my attention. Before posting it here, I thought it'd be prudent to check with Dave that it was indeed his lecture and I received the following reply:
"Tim, I'm glad you and Eddie Khanna found my talk inspiring. I think in today's political climate -- and even at the time -- it would be considered child abuse and bullying. It might have been delivered at SCAD and would certainly account for why I was never invited back." -- Dave Sim, 4 April 2013
Cerebus #195 (June 1995)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(text of a lecture given at Savannah College Of Art & Design, 1995)
I remember just starting out in the comic book field. You know you're getting old when you start a sentence with, "I remember." Fortunately I'm not quite old enough to see those days through the rose-coloured glasses of deluded retrospect. For the most part it was a terrifying time. I was living under my parents' roof. I was doing some freelance drawing and writing. I had dropped out of high school. I was virtually unemployable. I was getting better at drawing but I still wasn't very good. I was intermittently productive. I was a comic book fan and collector. I tried every type of cartoon art--political cartoons, childrens' books, animation, scripting, pencilling, lettering, writing, magazine cartoons, a weekly newspaper strip, caricatures, super-heroes, single illustrations, logo designs, storyboards. As I was fond of saying in the first few years I did Cerebus, no one would let me sell out to them so I decided to try integrity.

There comes a moment in the early career of any would-be cartoonist when he or she gets serious about a career. Or he or she doesn't. It's really that simple. My moment came in the fall of 1975. I came to the sudden and horrible realization that I was kidding myself, lying to myself. I was not productive. My efforts were half-hearted. I was not, as the football coaches say, giving one hundred and ten percent. I was giving about ten percent. Sometimes twenty. I was getting out of my fledgling comics career exactly what I was putting into it. Ten percent. Sometimes twenty. And I got angry. I got angry not in the self-destructive way so endemic to almost all would-be comics creators -- which is to say, angry at the world, angry at the art directors who wouldn't see my genius, angry at the morons who bought comics written and drawn by people with talent inferior to my own, angry at the doors that wouldn't open just because I wanted them to. I got angry at myself. I got angry at the lazy, shiftless bastard I saw in the mirror. I got angry at the egomaniac who looked at his third and fourth -rate efforts and results and contented himself that he was better than 'a lot of the hacks out there' and expected that that attitude would carry him, someday, into the pantheon of creators whose work excited his interest -- Neal Adam, Berni Wrightson, Barry Smith, Mike Kaluta, Jeff Jones and others. Angry doesn't quite sum  it up. Rage comes close. I raged at myself. I called myself every name in the book. I looked at every piece of artwork in my basement studio and decided that, if it wasn't shit it was certainly a lot closer to shit than it was to anything else.

At that juncture there really are only two ways to go. You either throw everything out and get a job at McDonald's or you decide to make something of yourself. The angry me, the enraged me, the me who was disgusted with every lie and rationalisation and excuse that formed the underpinnings of my 'career' ran out of steam. Any level of high emotion can only be maintained for so long before it exhausts itself. And then, fortunately, there was a voice inside my head which was cold, dispassionate, cutting to the heart of the matter with the precision of a neurosurgeon's scalpel.

"Fine." the voice said. "Now what are you going to do about it?"
Cerebus #195 (June 1995)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

The totality of myself was boxed in by the implications of the question. As disgusted as I was with the lies I used on myself they yet roiled beneath the surface. I was facing a troika of potentials. I had defined the problem: lies, rationalisations and excuses. Disgust with them could serve two purposes -- it could imprison, isolate and segregate the lies, rationalisations and excuses or it could become, in itself, another lie (I'm no good, I should just give up), another rationalisation (Why bother? I'll never be good enough) or another excuse (since I'm not good enough there's no reason for me to try). None of these options were, in any way shape or form, an answer to the question and I knew that. There was an even more dispassionate me who could view the conflict with the equanimity of Mars surveying a battlefield. Self-disgust, lies, excuses and rationalisations could overwhelm Reason. Reason could be wiped out in the nanosecond it would take for the synapses in my brain to vocalize, "I give up."

We all know what we should do. No matter how insurmountable a problem may seem, there is always something we can do. There are always things we know we should do and yet we don't do them.

Write them down. Make a list.

That was what I did. That's what everyone in this room can do.

There is not a single good or great idea that cannot be defeated by a lie, rationalisation or excuse. Let me give you an example. Let's say I'm you. I'm young and unknown and I want to be in the comic book field. Let's say the first thing I write on my list is 'do a comic strip on spec for the Comics Buyer's Guide.'  First the lie: I'm not good enough, they get hundreds of submissions -- why would they pick mine? I hate the Comics Buyer's Guide. I can't come up with an idea. They'll lose my artwork. They'll steal my artwork. It's not what you know, it's who you know and I don't know anyone at the Comics Buyer's Guide. I don't know where to send it. I don't know who to send it to. It's too much work. I don't know how to ink. I don't know how to letter.

If these are the thoughts that go through your head as you contemplate the first steps in building a career, I've got news for you: the lying, rationalising, whining part of you is in charge. You're going nowhere, and furthermore you DESERVE to go nowhere.

Maybe the second thing on your list is 'do a comic strip on spec for the local entertainment weekly newspaper.' Again: I'm not good at meeting people. I don't know who to call. I don't know where to send it. They'll laugh at me. I don't know what they want.

Probability is against you. Probability is always against you. Probability is always against everyone. Let's say you do a comic strip on spec and the editor looks at it and says 'yeah, this is okay, but we had a guy do a strip for us for three months and then he quit because he got bored. You'd probably do the same thing.' This actually happened to me... one of the first things that happened after I asked myself, "Yeah. But what are you going to do about it?' So what did I do? Did I go home and say 'I give up, it didn't work'?


I sat down and did a year's worth of weekly strips, fifty-two of them, in about three weeks. If his only reservation was that I would get bored and give up, there was only one way to prove to him that that was not the case. The strip ran for two years. I got five dollars each for them.
Cerebus #195 (June 1995)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Make a list. Make a long list. Write everything down that you can do -- EVERYTHING.  Leave no stone unturned. Sure things, long shots, one-in-a-million chances. Draw sample pages, finished stories, mini-comics, ashcans, posters, prints. Photocopy them and get them out to anyone, anywhere with whom you might connect. Five dollars, ten dollars, free. And when you finish the list, when you've got everything in the mail to every possible market with a self-addressed stamped envelope for its return, make another list. Don't sit watching your mailbox. Forget what you sent out and get on to the next thing. When submissions come back with rejection slips, pack them up again and send them out to someone else.

There is no shame in rejection if you have at least tried. The only shame is indulging in defeatism, lies, rationalisations and excuses.

Learn as you go along. Learn not only how to pencil better, how to ink better, how to improve your lettering; learn how to take rejection in stride, learn how to deal with clients and intended clients in a calm, rational, reasonable way. Learn how to push yourself to work harder, work better, work more effectively. In the last half of the twentieth century most of the population expends most of its efforts in trying to find the maximum return for the minimum effort. Learn to get over your disappointments in the shortest possible time. If not in seconds, then in minutes. Have the same attitude with your successes. Time wasted in celebration is the same as time wasted in needless discouragement. Enjoy the moment of achievement, the letter of acceptance, the unexpected cheque, the opportune windfall for exactly a moment and no more. Unproductive exhilaration is a wasted resource. A spirit of optimism above the norm should be fuel for the creative fire and the fire of career ambition. Don't sit thumbing through a comic book you've been published in, daydreaming of being the guest of honor at some future comic convention. Go down to Kinko's, get it photocopied and have it out in the mail to every possible market within forty-eight hours. Use every small success to generate other small successes and then larger successes. Be reliable. Whatever they want done, however unreasonable the deadline, push yourself past your perceptions of your own limitations. Build creative muscle instead of feeding the flab of lies, rationalisations and excuses.

Deep down, deep deep down inside of you in the guts of your creative instincts, how do you think you're doing? Are you giving a hundred and ten percent three hundred and sixty-five days a year? Or are you giving seventy-five percent of your best efforts for a period of a week or two and then five or three or NO percent for a month after that? You were sick. That's a lie and you know it. You had a cold for two days that you stretched into three weeks. Your spine wasn't broken. You had a cold. Draw with one hand and blow your nose with the other.

From the home office in Sioux City, Iowa, here's a list of the top ten lies, rationalisations and excuses.

Number 10: Writer's block or artist's block.
This is a failure of will, compounded by fear of failure, centered on laziness. Shut up and draw something.

Number 9: Strategy and development of a concept.
Stop doodling in your little sketchpad and produce something useful.

Number8: Recharging your batteries.
Failure of will, compounded by fear of failure, centered on laziness as an excuse to read comic books and watch television all day.

Number 7: Communing with other artists.
Bitching and whining with other lazy, unproductive people and sharing their lies, rationalisations and excuses as well as a few beers and a joint if any of you are holding.

Number 6: Getting organized.
Shifting piles of useless letters, comic books and fanzines from one side of the room to the other, one at a time so you can read them all and avoid doing any drawing.

Number 5: Collaborating.
Having someone to talk to after you've read all your comics, about pages you aren't drawing until your television show comes on.

Number 4: Consulting/[Critiquing].
Showing the three pages you drew six months ago to the fortieth person and asking them what they think so you won't have to draw the fourth page until Christmas.

Number 3: The Telephone [or Internet].
Productive artists don't have a phone or if they have a phone they unplug it. Unproductive artists take a phone call no matter what they're doing, from anyone. Really unproductive artists take phone calls and MAKE phone calls. The hopeless cases have call waiting so they never have to hang up, swinging from caller to caller through their work day like Tarzan moving up the jungle.

Number 2: Heartbreak.
Get over it. You will get laid again. There are a lot of fish in the sea, blah blah blah blah. Right now, you're right. No one loves you. Lucky you. Get to work.

And drum roll please---

The Number 1 lie, excuse and rationalisation: Electronic media.
Computer games, computer nets, video games, radio, CD players, and the Galactus of electronic media...television. Video games and computer nets are abominable time wasters. They accomplish nothing.  They are the black holes of intellectual and creative life. That giant sucking sound you hear is time and attention disappearing into the ether. Take a short cut and strip mine your frontal lobes by shoving an industrial vacuum cleaner up your nose.
Cerebus #195 (June 1995)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Now here's where I'm going to alienate everyone in the room. Television is bad for creativity. So is music.  Not small 'b' bad.  Capital 'b' Bad. A professional golfer does not catch up on the Young and the Restless while he walks up to the fairway to take his second shot. Football players on the sidelines are not listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon on their walkmans. A concert pianist does not listen to Terminator 2 while he practises a concerto. If you would even suggest such a thing to any of these individuals they would tell you that you're two fries short of a happy meal. Divided focus is no focus. All of you disagree with me but that's okay, because I'm right and you're wrong. Divided focus is no focus. Focus precludes both companionship and the illusion of companionship. Isolation, silence and the training of all of your faculties so that all that exists for you is the feel of the pencil or the pen, the subtleties of pressure of that pencil point or that pen point, to the exclusion of all other stimuli, is a universally ignored but self-evident route to improvement. It's not easy at first. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy at first. But the inner voice that craves instant gratification, stimulation, diversion and distraction is a destructive voice which is better contained than capitulated to. 'This is a cool song. I wonder what's on TV? I wanna read a comic book. I'm hungry. I'm thirsty. Yay! The phone! I wonder who that is? Wrong number? Wah! I wanna phone somebody I wanna phone somebody. I'm all alone. I need someone to talk to.'

With the phone unplugged, the radio, TV and CD player off, with all stimuli apart from the page in front of you eliminated, you will focus better and you will see better results. The inner voice which craves instant gratification will do one of two thing after it stops whining and crying. It will drift off to sleep leaving your creative aspects to do their work without distraction or it will join in the focus.  It will derive its gratification from the perfectly executed curve of the brush stroke. The innovative development of a new page design. The gradual and gratifying emergence of a "personal best" page.  A page which represents a quantum leap from your previous personal best into a new, unexplored and exciting realm which is the clarification, the refinement and the spontaneous next step on the ladder of creative improvement that is yours and yours alone to climb.

There is a difference between the artist who constantly challenges himself or herself, who experiments, who is always focused on that painful lifelong climb up his or her personal ladder of achievement...and the artist who hits a peak and then retreats to workmanlike efficiency and then declines into bad self-parody.  And you wonder to yourself, why is that? Why was it that this artist got better and better and better and then just seemed not to care enough to keep climbing?

Two words.

Divided focus.

Something else became more important to them. Could be the wife and kids. Could be the fame. Could be material possessions. Could be a film deal or merchandising. Could be drugs. Could be alcohol, an affair, sickness, death of a friend or family member.

Or it could just be that they learned how to turn out a passable product competent enough to satisfy enough people to maintain their income. When they were climbing, maybe ten percent of their attention was on the television or the music in their studio and ninety percent on their work. Maybe now, it's fifty percent on the TV and fifty percent on their work. And in those moments when they look back at their old work, they have a sudden pang of recognition and they tell themselves a lie (my style just changed a bit, that's all), invent a rationalisation (I've got a lot more obligations, I can't spend a whole day on a page anymore) or find an excuse (the art materials have gotten worse, I just can't find a decent india ink anymore).

The war on lies, rationalisations and excuses is lifelong. They are the enemy of every novice, every journeyman, every veteran in this or any other field. Once you give in just a bit, it's that much easier to give in the next time. And the time after that.

Be honest with yourself. Always push yourself to climb that next run. Never take a step down or cut a corner knowingly. When you take a break, indulge your need for gratification. Reward yourself for pushing the boundaries of your limitations. And then get right back to pushing the boundaries of your limitations.

In the short term, you can achieve a great deal with a divided focus, intermittent bursts of energy and enthusiasm, luck, natural talent and knowing the right people. But in the long term it's only through relentless dedication, hard work and always testing and expanding the boundaries of your limitations day-in and day-out that you will have even the remotest possibility of becoming a Jack Kirby or a Will Eisner or whomever you consider to be the person who climbed the highest, produced the best, achieved the most and shined the brightest.

Thank you.
Cerebus #195 (June 1995)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Friday 26 April 2013

Fashion Magazines

Glamourpuss #13 (May 2010)
Art by Dave Sim
(from the 100 Hour Internet Tour: Comicon, 2 February 2008)
...I went to the KW Bookstore to look for used fashion magazines when I was first doing the pages that became glamourpuss. They had about four or five COSMOs and I thought, well, okay this is all that I'm going to need. Then I flipped through them and my reaction to virtually all of the pictures was "skank...skank...skank...". Literally every back issue they had, I found one photo that was in the Raymond/Williamson tradition. So then I went to the big rack of new fashion magazines and it was pretty much the same thing. "Skank...skank...skank..." Then I picked up GLAMOUR and there was a whole photo layout that was in the Raymond/Williamson tradition -- and which I decided to use to illustrate the impossibility of doing a narrative from a fashion layout in No.1... and about a half-dozen other photos that were at least usable. Then I found a few more in ELLE and MARIE CLAIRE (the French version), so it's been an education process. And ultimately led to the idea of Skanko, glamourpuss' Evil Twin Sister. One Skanko shot per issue -- and still trying to stay on the side of my own view of decency. 

One of the points of it is "not too much flesh showing" which is why I lean toward Rip Kirby and away from Flash Gordon and Williamson's EC Science Fiction stuff. Too much flesh. That's not something you'll hear very often, but you'll hear it from me a lot. I'd rather see a pretty girl with a bit of leg showing wearing a beautifully put together Chanel suit than a pretty girl in thong underwear sprawled out like a dog licking itself. I'd certainly much rather draw it.

But, one of the eye-popping sections of Tom Robert's ALEX RAYMOND book is the section on how he does a Flash Gordon page and there's a nude model for the Dale Arden panels. I understand the THEORY -- if I can see the undraped figure and get that right, I can put the clothes on in pencil and then ink and it's going to look more accurate. Was it necessary? I really doubt it given both Raymond's drafting ability and natural drawing skill. Doing a comic strip with a pretty girl standing three feet away with nothing on but the radio. Well how much is that girl an artistic raw material and how much is she a fringe benefit?

Of course I've never bought the idea that a doctor is really able to examine every square inch of a naked sex-bomb teenager during her annual check-up without really noticing that she's a sex-bomb teenager. Talk about your Impossible Thing to Believe Before Breakfast!

Thursday 25 April 2013

365 Days Of Cerebus: Church & State Vol I

Cerebus #78 (September 1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard 
(Click image to enlarge)
(from 365 Day Of Cerebus: Part 3, posted at Multiversity Comics, 2 April 2013)
...the last chunk of the book, starting around issue #76, are some of the best comics I’ve ever read. Period. #76 and the death of Weisshaupt is one of the best stories Sim has told as a writer, flipping a lot of Cerebus on its head as Weisshaupt gives Cerebus some hard truths, and the follow-up Odd Transformations (featuring Cerebus having a lucid dream amidst his depression post-Jaka sequence) is some of the best visual storytelling Sim has done yet, a definitive mark for the series and Sim as a creator. A lot of storytelling aspects we appreciate today have been present in Cerebus long before (as we discussed last time, with the drunk issue for example), but these stories really push the barrier for Sim as a creator in a different way, one that makes him a definitive artist, someone whose work needs to be studied and emulated in a mandatory fashion. Here is a creator whose talent at the beginning of the series didn't compare to where it is eighty issues in, someone who just drew and drew and worked at it everyday who at this point is using the medium in ways a lot of modern artists aren't even bothering to try, and it's absolutely colossal.

It’s a combination of all of this, though, that makes Church & State I such a great entry into the overall Cerebus series. It's got pretty much everything you could want from an average comic book series, let alone from Sim; the mix of humor, storytelling, commentary and darker subject matter is what will ultimately come to define Cerebus as a series, and it’s all present in this book. It's only really visible in hindsight, but both Cerebus (the first book) and High Society rely on crutches for Sim, where there are great moments and some bits of artistic brilliance, but it's an uneven mix of the two. Now, past the fifty issue mark, Sim really seems to be hitting his stride as he learns to balance various elements of storytelling here to create one incredibly solid volume, and I can only hope the next one keeps its pace...

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Feminism vs Misogyny

"Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment." (Source: Wikipedia)

"Misogyny is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. Misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women." (Source: Wikipedia)

(from the HARDtalk Virtual Tour, Summer 2012)
I see the "misogynist/feminist" dichotomy as a false one. "If you aren't a feminist you're a misogynist". It's "heads I win, tails you lose". Anything that anyone says or does that a feminist doesn't find personally validating means that that person hates women? No, you don't want to give ANY group in your society that kind of "carte blanche" veto over any viewpoint besides their own. My pariah status does give me a freedom to speak openly about things other people can't speak openly about.
Cerebus #268 (July 2001)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from the ipetition, 8 February 2013)
While my opinions on many issues (including gender politics) may be at odds with those of Dave Sim, I do not believe that he is a misogynist. It seems to me that this label has been applied to Mr. Sim in order to banish his ideas from the realm of "acceptable" public discourse, simply because these ideas are at odds with (and therefore offend) the status quo. It is all the more baffling to me that this label should be applied to Dave Sim when many of his writings cleave so closely to those of intellectual figures who we wouldn't dare to accuse of misogyny. Take, for instance, Mary Wollstonecraft, the much celebrated proto-feminist. In Wollstonecraft's writings, emotion is gendered "female" while rationality is gendered "male". I take strong issue with this notion, but would I call Wollstonecraft a self-hating woman? Most certainly not. We would all be better served by putting these ideas into free and open dialogue than by name calling and subjecting those who "offend" to effective exile. Dave Sim's brilliant and beautiful art continues to be an inspiration to me, even if we disagree on certain issues.

(from the iPetition, 17 February 2013)
I've known Dave for over 2 decades, and believe ACTIONS tell the truth of a person. I have seen Dave consistently act in a manner directly opposite of the label foisted upon him, going out of his way to encourage, support and assist female creators and aspiring creators.

(from the iPetition, 14 January 2013)
I think having & expressing an articulated opinion is not the same the same thing as being a misogynist. People are too quick to label people with viewpoints that don't exactly line up with their own. 

(from the iPetition, 20 October 2012)
Thirty-year fan. I disagree strongly with many of Dave Sim's views and beliefs, and I have always been and will always be a voracious reader of anything (comics, prose, commentary, or other) that he produces. A "misogynist" would not merit this attention. Dave, thanks for frequently making me uncomfortable and ALWAYS making me think.

(from the iPetition, 6 September 2012)
I don't believe Dave Sim is a misogynist. Labels get bandied around too easily without proper consideration being given to the facts. "The task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable" - Lucian Freud.

(from the iPetition, 16 October 2012)
None of us here [at Flying Tiger Comics] consider Dave Sim a misogynist. It's helpful that we actually know what the word means, don't live in our parents' basements, and aren't opinionated manchildren on the disney/warner apologist websites too, of course. Misogyny would be, for example, all those ass shots of Wonder Woman, and all those "strong" characters like Buffy that need male approval or validation. Oops.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Cover Tributes #6

Original: Wolverine #1 (September 1982) by Frank Miller
Tribute: Cerebus #54 (September 1983) by Dave Sim
(Click Image To Enlarge)
Original: Wolverine #4 (December 1982) by Frank Miller
Tribute: Cerebus #55 (October 1983) by Dave Sim
(Click Image To Enlarge)
Original: Daredevil #189 (December 1982) by Frank Miller
Tribute: Cerebus #56 (November 1983) by Dave Sim
(Click Image To Enlarge)
(from Following Cerebus #3, 2005)
...That was what I had done with the Wolverroach covers. I did better covers. Wolverine was a lucrative property, but Frank Miller and Joe Rubinstein were a bad pairing on the art for that mini-series, and the covers turned out particularly bad. I was no Neal Adams, but I figured I could do much better Wolverine covers than Frank and Joe has done.

(from 'Note From The President', Cerebus #77, August 1985)
...I'd like to thank Marvel Comics and Peter David for treating me and a table-full of fans in Dallas to dinner. Just to be provocative, we began talking about Marvel's Legal Dept's cease-and-desist order on my parody of Wolverine in issues 54-56. Basically I asked him "What would Marvel do if I were to take out a full page ad in the Buyer's Guide saying, in effect, 'Dear Marvel, The extensive usage of the character Sy'm in the X-Men and New Mutants, including as it does the distinctive likeness and personality of my character, Cerebus The Aardvark, being on the part of the writer of these series a conscious and self-admitted parody of my character, constitutes a violation of my and Aardvark-Vanaheim's joint ownership of the trademark and copyright of said character, and, in view of the legal principle of 'easement' by which if I and A-V, Inc., fail to prosecute Marvel Comics, it's agents and licensees for said violation of my trademark and copyright that I am then in danger of losing ownership of my character to the public domain. Consequently, it is with full awareness of the aforementioned legal pitfalls that I and A-V Inc., have decided it's time someone wasn't such a total asshole about copyright and took the fucking risk.'" Go nuts, Chris. Put Sy'm wherever you want to. I love it!...

(Thanks to I Love Comic Covers) 

Monday 22 April 2013

Cover Tributes #5

Original: The Dark Knight Returns #2 (1986) by Frank Miller
Tribute: Cerebus #93 (1986) by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(Click Image To Enlarge)
(Thanks to I Love Comic Covers) 

Tom Spurgeon on 'Dave Sim: Conversations'

(from The Comics Reporter, 27 March 2013)
My giant 1996 interview with Dave Sim that ran in The Comics Journal is in here. I don't own that interview, and Fantagraphics has a good relationship with the series of interview books with which this is a part. I hope I get to see it someday! At any rate, not a lot of my interviews are republished in this way, so I'm looking forward to seeing this interview myself. I remember doing that interview in a way that I don't remember doing a lot of the others I've done. I was in an apartment in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle and at the end of our talk I told Sim, "I hope you feel that went well." And he said, "You mean you hope I think that went well." True story. He was very nice to me during that interview, though, and I liked the result. Those interview books are usually pretty entertaining.
Dave Sim Conversations is published by University Press of Mississippi and available now from Amazon.com / Amazon.co.uk. Edited by Eric Hoffman and Dominick Grace, Dave Sim Conversations is a collection of interviews spanning 1982 to 2006. A complete list of the interviews included in the book can be found here. Go read Eric and Dominick's Q&A about the book.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Gerhard Speaks!

Featuring an exclusive full-length interview with Cerebus graphic novel co-creator Gerhard and creative partner Shelley Byers, who discuss their creative processes and inspiration for their upcoming illustrated children's book The Wish. Also: Updates from Oliver Simonsen on his Cerebus 3D movie, soon to be a Kickstarter to fund the Cerebus 3D animation rendering, with movie posters signed by Dave Sim.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Cerebus Gets Graded: "Signs Of Aging & Wear"

'Wizard' Cerebus Illustration (1992)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Cerebus gets comic-graded in this cool piece, illustrated by series creator Dave Sim and inked to perfection by Gerhard. This was created as a cover for Wizard Magazine, but exact usage is unknown. The art is mixed media on paper, which is taped to a piece of illustration board. The image area measures approximately 8" x 16.75", and is in excellent condition. From the Shamus Modern Masterworks Collection.

Friday 19 April 2013

Auction: Popeye #12

Popeye #12 Variant Cover (2012)
Art by Dave Sim

The newest issue of IDW's Popeye series, with a special variant cover by Cerebus creator Dave Sim. Ink and graphite on illustration board, with an approximate image area of 10.75" x 14.5". Also included are five specially signed and numbered copies of the comic book. All items are in Excellent condition.

(by fax, January 2013)
Drawing POPEYE was a dream come true. I used to watch at least an hour of POPEYE every weekday morning as a pre-schooler. My mother used to tell the story of me pointing in the windows of stores downtown and saying "Buttaflow".."Buttaflow". And she's asking "Where? Where do you see the butterfly." It took a while but she figured out that what I was saying was "Buffalo" and that I was pointing at was the number "4". The Popeye cartoons aired on WSEN, channel 4 Buffalo -- which they announced at every station break with a big 4 on the screen. The syndication package was the old Max Fleischer cartoons mixed in with the later ones. I had them all memorised and would go to sleep reciting the dialogue in my head. Like I say, this is before the age of 5. Read the full article here...

Thursday 18 April 2013

Cerebus Vol 2: High Society - Remastered

Cerebus Vol 2 (Cover Detail)
11th Printing, Remastered Edition (May 2013)
Also available as Digital Download
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Notes on the 11th Printing Of Cerebus Vol 2, 18 March 2013)
There were times when it seemed as if this book would never be completed. Starting last summer, Sandeep Atwal was scanning all of the original pages from HIGH SOCIETY still in the Cerebus Archive (182 of the 500) as well as using my brand new photo-negative scanner to scan the original negatives which needed to be cut apart from the "flats" they were on (8 pages per flat: that's how web-offset printing was/is done). With Kickstarter providing much-needed revenue for an audio-digital version of HIGH SOCIETY ($63K largely eaten up with expenses but paying Sandeep for a period of time to do scanning), (scanning so that he thought his brain would melt and turn to cream cheese -- pretty much the way I felt annotating all the material and performing it into a microphone, as well as spending 12 hours a day signing comic books and doing sketches).

I finally overcame what I had come to see as my paranoia about letting irreplaceable material off-site or out of secure off-site storage. "Dave, seriously, what do you think is going to happen to them a few miles down the road in Waterloo?"

On August 23rd, just after I had delivered the last of the negatives to Sandeep, I got my answer. Turns out the question wasn't rhetorical. In late afternoon, the building his apartment was in burned to the ground. He was able to get out with just his wallet and the clothes on his back. He's still just sleeping on a friend's couch and looking for work in a city where layoffs are the order of the day. We're going to do further benefit auctions for him (and thanks to all who donated on the first round!) when he has a job and a place to live, so stay tuned.

Into the breach stepped George Peter Gatsis who is known for his restoration abilities on comic art  that needs to be shot from printed copies and extent materials. Which he has been doing -- tirelessly and for no pay -- since last August. Just for the record: there are 504 comic pages in total, 182 pages of original art in the Cerebus Archive which could be and were scanned, 200 negatives (issues 41 to 50 ) were destroyed in the fire before they could be scanned, and 130 pages needed to be recreated from scratch from the best possible printed copies of the books, the Dave Sim File Copies: 20 of each, I had bagged, boarded and stored as each was printed, starting with No.1 in 1977.

Just a partial list of what George has accomplished:
  • All of the lettered text on page 18 has been cleaned up, more clarity in the dark areas in the 1st, 4th and 5th panels (particularly the 5th panel) has been clarified by meticulous tweaking. Oh and now missing for 30 years, Cerebus’ 30 per cent dot screen is placed on his leg in panel 1.
  • More detail in the tones has been recreated on pages 26, 27, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 37.
  • On page 39 there is new cropping on the black border and the page number has been installed in white in the black border.
  • The page 49 title has been cleaned up.
  • All of the pages in MIND GAME II (originally issue 28: pages 49 to 68 of this book) have been extensively worked over to have the light and dark fleck tones I used on the backgrounds cleaned up and enhanced for greater detail and clarity.
  • Page 57 is also notable for the clean-up and clarity in the dark tones.
  • Page 70: in the third panel there is significantly greater clarity and definition in the floor.
  • Page 76 and 89: more detail in the tones in all of the panels.
  • Page 104: Finally has a 30% gray tone on Cerebus  in panel 4, which has been missing from the day it was first published in the early 1980s!
  • Page 109: more detail in the tones.
  • Page 110: a significant improvement in the clarity in the cross-hatched pen work on the Roach's forehead in panel 4.
  • Page 129: improved clarity in the "Alliance" title lettering.
  • Page 149: more detail in the tones.
  • Page 158: the border pattern in bottom right under Cerebus' "WIPE THAT GRIN..." balloon has been cleaned up.
  • Page 173: - Although I tried to keep everything to reconstruction without defacing the original material by re-drawing it (I don't...and can't...ink or letter the way I did thirty years ago, so doing so seems, at least technically, like defacement), I actually re-lettered the "SLAM" sound effect since it was filling in because of my original inking. And it seemed like a purely technical correction. But I'm still not sure I haven't defaced the page.
  • Pages 254, 255, 258 and 259 - the typed page insets have been cleaned up.
  • Pages 270 to 288 - more detail brought out in the dark tones.
  • Page 302 - more detail in the fine lines.
  • Page 309 to 312 - the "Goat" story logo has been cleaned up, the horizontal lines and type repositioned to be consistent. The artwork has been registered to bleed correctly and match up with its facing page.
  • Pages 313 and up - all the panel borders, thick line and double line (thick AND thin) have been cleaned up and closed where they were broken.
  • Page 346 - panels 7 and 11 now have Cerebus' (again, missing for 30 years) 30 per cent dot screen.
  • Pages 493 to 495 - the "ECHO" display lettering has more detail and definition.
At this point, we thought we were done when George supplied me with the following list of pages, indicating which pages were rescanned from the original comic books (the Dave Sim file copies) and which pages had been scanned from the original artwork in the Cerebus Archive.

I noticed, a couple of weeks later, that the earliest art page to be scanned was from issue 41. What had happened to the scans from issues 26 through 40 (of which there are roughly 60 pages in the Cerebus Archive)? There's no real answer to that, so at the 11th hour it was necessary to dig those pages out of off-site storage again and have them scanned, again, at 600 dpi. At the same time, George noticed that there were small hairline scratches on many of the pages scanned for volume 1. George re-inspected volume 1, fixing the problem in the films and incorporated the last 60 pages into volume 2.

The job isn't done and -- even as we let this latest/best-possible-under-the-circumstances printing go ahead -- I'll call your attention to the fact that the only original art scanned for this edition that was NOT from the Cerebus Archive are the pages that were supplied by Brian Stockton, page 20 of issue 41 and Daniel, Daniel Parker, King of the Wild Frontier, page 3 of issue 46. Thank you, Brian and Dan! I'm hoping everyone will "pitch in" and help track down as many of the pages that are out there that haven't been scanned and get them scanned for us. In many cases, this involves "de-framing" the page, getting it scanned and then re-framing it. Having had the experience of doing that with Gerhard's cover of the Regency Hotel, I have to say that the cost is really quite reasonable: $16 to have it de-framed and re-framed, and it is a large two foot by three foot piece. If you want help financing your own de-framing and scanning and re-framing, please mention it when you (hopefully) contact George with your "Cerebus Page In the Wild".

Send scans - one at a time, please - scanned at 600 dpi, RGB - to George Gasis at: tbdeinc [at] gmail [dot] com

I've also acquiesced to the universal preference for white paper instead of newsprint (so far as I know Chester Brown and I are the only two people who prefer comics on newsprint to comics on white paper). While it's not how I pictured/picture or prefer the artwork to be, sometimes you how to bow before the universal consensus. It should certainly help with some of the recreated detail and the detail laser scanned for the first time from the original negatives and artwork.

Also, if you happen to be on the internet, drop by for a visit at CerebusDownloads.com.

Thanks to everyone for their patience and help through this very trying experience, the longest period of time that HIGH SOCIETY has been out of print since the late 1980's.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Cerebus Vol 1 - Remastered

Cerebus Vol 1: Remastered 16th Edition (2014)
by Dave Sim
Restoration by George Peter Gatsis & Sean Michael Robinson
Diamond Reorder Code: STAR00070
(from Note On The 16th Printing Of Cerebus Vol 1, 14 December 2012)
This printing marks the first time that I've directed fundamental corrections and restorations to be made to the original material since first producing it more than thirty years ago, a choice precipitated by George Gatsis making me aware of flaws which resulted from the conversion of the original photographic negatives to digital files several years ago (itself made necessary by the worldwide computer revolution which eliminated the possibility of continuing to print the trade paperbacks via the traditional negative/metal plate web offset printing form).

I have been advocating for some time that publishers of classic comic strips should be updating each successive printing of their collections with high quality scans from original artwork (which have surfaced in the interim) and came to the conclusion that I needed to "practice what I preached".

[I had tended not to because, frankly, I didn't think my earliest artwork on Cerebus warranted it. I was an enthusiastic amateur or -- at best -- a semi-professional and find it very hard to look at the work at all closely. So, I've pretty much just approved each successive printing after no more diligent checking than to make sure all the pages are in the right order.]

George Gatsis developed the CEREBUS PAGES IN THE WILD program to try to track down as many original pages as still exist and to which we could gain access. A complete list of the original pages incorporated into the 16th printing appears following this note.

Depending on the page, the reproduction has been modified digitally to provide for greater or lesser contrast and brightness. Page 541 is a good example of lesser contrast where the original brush strokes in the areas of solid black are now visible while leaving the black solid enough to keep the effect from distracting the casual reader. Light shadings of the original pencil -- never properly erased, a recurrent flaw of mine -- on Sump Thing's features are likewise retained. It's much closer in appearance to the original artwork, in other words.

Partway between greater and lesser contrast, we have the background greys on pages 527, 529 and 530 which were produced by means of "spatter" -- loading up a toothbrush with india ink and flick flick flicking it over the surface after masking off all the areas that needed to remain white -- the "poor man's airbrush". Just looking at the exponentially higher reproduction which has resulted from the digital scanners ability to "see" and translate these effects into 0's and 1's and to retain them with 100% accuracy in the printing stage as compared with the same effect on the surrounding contemporaneous pages derived from the original photographic negatives…well, it gives you a good idea of why we hope that more artwork still exists from that issue and can be located at some point.

All of the digital scanning from original source materials for the volume was performed by Alana Wilson at 1200 dpi or higher under George Gatsis’ direction and then George himself "tweaked" each digital file for the greatest possible coherence, to make sure all detail was brought out as clearly as possible. A copy was then printed out for me of the digital files so that I could offer further guidance where a page, in my view, had gone too dark or too light.

Some limited restoration has also been performed by George. Limited in the sense that none of the actual drawings have been in any way modified but purely mechanical flaws have been corrected. As an example, where holes or breaks have occurred in the 30% mechanical tone that was used on Cerebus, and where the break doesn't appear overtop of an actual ink line (which would necessitate recreating a 1981 ink line in 2012), neighbouring 30% dots have been digitally cloned and imported to the area in question under high-powered magnification so they could be matched up seamlessly.

Panel and caption borders which had broken up or faded have, likewise, been restored by digitally "cloning" the lines that remain and grafting them directly onto the empty areas.  This has been avoided with the word balloons which are not composed of straight lines and which I, therefore, consider part of the artwork which can't be successfully restored because I don't draw them that way anymore. 2012 Dave Sim can't "do" 1981 Dave Sim or "correct" 1981 Dave Sim without superseding him, so 2012 Dave Sim is keeping his pen and ink to himself.

The Cerebus logo on page one was imported and reversed to white from a period logo rather than trying to restore the second-generation photographic negative shot from an already degraded photostat. 

The only other form of restoration which I have authorized (and which, arguably, can be considered "borderline" defacement) is the restoration of the original lettering where that has faded by "cloning" adjacent letters and substituting them for their missing counterparts. It's at least "borderline" defacement because the "D" that you see is not the specific "D" that I put in place thirty-five years ago. However, weighing in the balance the resulting improved coherence and readability, I tend to think that there is great validity in the "trade-off". The lettering on page 206, as an example, has been a thorn in my side since issue 9 first came in with the page in this same degraded form -- and which turned out to be a flaw in the negative itself, a fact which I didn't discover until after I had already sold the original page. The white gaps in the patterned ink hatching in the background of each panel might be the next thing "fixed" in the 17th printing but I haven't decided if it would constitute a lesser or greater form of borderline defacement if the few areas that have reproduced well are cloned and "wallpapered" or if I did fill in the blanks by hand (the pattern is pretty basic and can't be done in a substantially different way even by Old Geezer Dave). Or, with any luck, that page will come IN FROM THE WILD before the 17th printing becomes necessary.

Many thanks to George and Alana for their tireless work on this volume. If you own any of the original pages from the first 25 issues which don't appear on George's list, please see his specifications which follow the list and, if it all possible, help us to "swap out" one more second generation copy for a first generation one.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

IDW Covers: The Colonized #4

The Colonized #4 (IDW, July 2013)
Art by Dave Sim
Meanwhile back at Chris Ryall's January 17th fax:
The Colonized #4, where all the s--t blows up. A couple humans (handlebar mustache guy from that first crop of pages, and the black guy in the cabdriver hat) and a couple aliens completely surrounded by zombies (humans and even sheep and chickens, if you felt so inclined) or some variation thereof.
So I took him at his word. All the s--t blows up. I started with the logo, actually redrawing it from my own rough and crashing the word "ZOMBIES" into it (I figured what the heck, we aren't going to need it after this issue, right?)  Inked a few of the stars in "THE" going nova. And coincidentally, I had just picked up a DC SHOWCASE volume with Russ Heath army stories in them (HAUNTED TANK -- well worth picking up) and lots of cool Russ Heath explosions. So I did a couple of those.

And then I thought, "Whoa. Wait a minute, what if Chris was speaking metaphorically about all the s--t blows up?"

Hm. And then I figured, well, in that case he'll learn to be more literal when telling me what I'm supposed to do, I guess. And we'll have another fine example of crazy Dave Sim.

Mentally in Neal Adams mode, I thought, "I wonder if Neal ever shot a scene between the femur and the ulna?" (I think that's what those bones are called). If he didn't, well, let me be the first. I got too far along before I realized the perspective was way to high to get a good zombie sheep or zombie chicken in there. D'OH!).

I started to have fun with tattoos again (carry-over from the DREDD cover). Is it just me, or is there something inherently funny in an arm being devoured so you don't know what the guy was "Born to..."?  And you sure can't ASK him.Well, you could but I wouldn't recommend it. "Pardon me, can you tell me what you were 'born to..." YLLLGGKHH!"

Same with the toddler. Cute t-shirt, but I wouldn't recommend a "Big Hug". I also thought he'd have a Heavy Metal Band Tour shirt (the guy with the tattoos, not the toddler: I don't think a Heavy Metal band called "Big Hug" would go very far). What's a good name for a Heavy Metal band?  How about AXE FIGHT?  Works for me.  

The further into the background I got, the more I needed to use the magnifying glass and a brand new Hunt 102 to ink the tiny little figures. The whole cover was a little too...grey when I was done, so I inked the evergreen trees all the way down to the stone ridge. That seemed to help snap everything forward. I'm trying not to overdo it. There IS going to be colour to help the different effects.

IDW has very good colourists. Uh. Colorists, I mean.

I've been very fortunate.