Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cerebus: In My Life - Alex Robinson

Alex Robinson has written and illustrated several graphic novels, including Too Cool To Be Forgotten, Box Office Poison and Tricked, all published by Top Shelf Productions. He and his work have won several industry awards, including the prestigious Eisner Award and prize for best debut in Angouleme, France. He lives in New York City with his wife and their pets, and hopes to have another book out soon.

A Moment Of Cerebus:
How did you discover Cerebus and how long did you read it for?

Alex Robinson:
I read an article in a long defunct magazine called Comics Collector, which was a spin-off of the more recently defunct Comics Buyer's Guide. At the time I was about 15 and starting to grow bored with superhero comics and started exploring the alternative comics scene and the article inspired me to check it out. I went to Funny Business and bought my first two issues, which would be #65 & 67. #65 was also Gerhard's first issue and was titled "Anything Done for the First Time Unleashes a Demon." It's amazing, looking back, since anyone who read the floppies will recall that Dave Sim gave absolutely no help to new readers, but in a way I think that made me like it all the more. It was like doing a big jigsaw puzzle, filling in the pieces as I bought back issues.

I started reading it in high school and kept it up through college and adulthood, only stopping at issue #291. In retrospect this seems perverse -- to come that close to the end!

How has your own creativity/comics been influenced by Cerebus?

It's probably the most influential comic of my life. Obviously not in terms of subject matter but in terms of storytelling, format and overall business approach. When I started working on Box Office Poison I would send the issues to Dave Sim along with an apology for ripping him off so blatantly. He was always very nice and comradely about it, insisting that the things I claimed to be stealing were storytelling tools everyone uses and so on. From the start I even imagined the story running about 25 issues and always had an eye on the collection up ahead, which was still unusual at the time.

I also don't want to overlook Gerhard's contribution. You could give me a hundred years of practice and I would not be able to replicate his beautiful work but that's still the ideal I have in mind when it comes to stuff like bricks and woodgrains. It's a shame that he isn't doing backgrounds for someone else but I suppose he's earned a break!

Has Cerebus influenced your approach to working in the comics industry?

Yes. Both the content of the comics and Dave Sim's editorials and business model really spoke to my frustrated adolescent self. I positively hated school and it seem like Dave Sim managed a way to cheat the system: no editor, no boss, complete artistic freedom. I've never been a self-publisher, other than some mini-comics, but I've always kept the lessons of Cerebus in mind and fortunately I've worked with publishers who were willing to give me a long leash.
Cerebus #80 (November 1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Do you have a favourite scene/sequence from Cerebus?

Church & State was where I came in so I think most of my favorite bits are from those books. The converstation with Julius and Bishop Powers, Cerebus condemning everyone to hell, that amazing scene where Cerebus goes to visit the dying Weisshaupt. The sheer scope of that book was intoxicating. Can he really do all of this?? After reading superhero comics where the illusion of change was the order of the day ("Is this the end of the Fantastic Four??") to have a scene like Bran plunging that knife into his chest was genuinely shocking. I also like the beginning of Mothers & Daughters, since all of those characters reappearing after the more minimalist Jaka's Story and Melmoth was very exciting and seemed to building to an epic scope.
Cerebus #80 (November 1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Would you recommend others read Cerebus, and if so why?

Hoo boy, it's hard to say. Obviously the book is now a part of my DNA and I'll still pick up the books and reread stuff but I'm not sure if it's something that you have to be in the right mindset to read. As I said, I was an angry teenager who thought he was smarter than everyone so the character of Cerebus -- who was an obvious outsider but still managed to outsmart everyone and, at least in those early days, was very witty -- was a natural fit. Some friends of mine have read the book for the first time as adults and my impression is that the book is just really, really weird. Even setting aside all the misogyny stuff and the Torah commentary -- and for most people outside the cult those are very big things to set aside -- it's still a book about a talking aardvark crammed with parodies of superheroes and comics biz inside jokes.

In terms of comic storytelling, yes, every cartoonist should check it out, especially if you're into the more Eisnerian-style of storytelling. Sim experimented with so many things -- silent panels, word balloons as characterization, page layouts, cover design -- that studying his work is like a masterclass in comics. 

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