Wednesday 31 July 2013

The Origin Of Bear

Cerebus #202 (January 1996)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from CerebusWiki, 28 January 2006)
Yes, there is a story behind, wattayacall, my use of "wattayacall". The name "Bear" and the visual look of the character came from a biker that I met at a Calgary signing on the 1983 Canadian Tour and who appears to have vanished without a trace without ever finding out that he had become a character in Cerebus. One of the only times of all the people who *asked* to be put into the book that I actually put someone in the book and to this day he has no idea that he made it, I'm sure. The, wattayacall, verbal tick of using "wattayacall" came from one of the charter members of Gerhard's high school group at Grand River Collegiate -- the self-declared "Out to Lunch Bunch" -- a guy by the name of Ernie. If I ever knew his last name, I've forgotten it now. The friendship between Ernie and Gerhard had exactly the tone I had been looking for in the relationship between Bear and Cerebus. Both of them were outdoors-y, self-reliant "do it yourself" types--real guys and it certainly looked like a permanent thing which was the other thing I was going for: you'd need a crowbar to separate these two. Entirely unspoken and entirely understood to even an intermittent outsider like myself (who was always just thought of as Ger's strange boss). Strangely Ernie was one of the ones who eventually left the group and with whose departure the group basically cease to exist as previously constituted and became instead Dirty Shirt, the garage band, and a certain number of indirectly connected individuals. At one point Ernie (who now lives up north in some place isolated) was coming back for a visit and phoned the studio. Ger wasn't there but Ernie left the message that he wanted to clear some things up that had taken place around the time of his leaving. When I passed the message on to Ger he had no idea what he was talking about and from there the conversation went "indoors" between the two of them -- Ernie never mentioned that he wanted to see me on his visit and I would have been surprised if he had expressed interest in seeing Ger's strange boss although I would have been glad to see *him* -- and whatever he was talking about was and is, of course, none of my business. I can say from experience that if Ger doesn't know what you're talking about, that's where it will be left. Sometimes relating to Ger's governing philosophy of 'there's no problem too big that you can't run away from it' (I know what you're talking about but I don't want to talk about it) and somtimes a genuine case that he doesn't know what you're talking about. I always thought the schism, whatever was behind it, was unfortunate because -- as I said -- I figured Ger and Ernie would still be palling around together when they were old and gray. 
Cerebus #202 (January 1996)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Ernie had a real job getting the right word for something when he was talking to you. He was particularly bright--he was certainly one of the few members of the Out to Lunch Bunch who was genuinely interested in ideas of all kinds and usually had an opinion about any subject you could come up with and a good working knowledge of any number of subjects. But he didn't have a ready vocabulary and as a result "wattayacall" proliferated in his coversation to an objectively amusing extent (objectively amusing at least partly because it was so subjectively unamusing for Ernie himself) and, of course, I always kept an ear out for things that were objectively amusing since I made my living from them. The other word that he used to excess in the same vein was "unit" and its verb form "unitize" which I suspect he got from Frank Zappa (the Out to Lunch Bunch were of the rebel generation after mine, post-Beatles and post-Stones which basically did to the Beatles and the Stones what the Beatles and the Stones had done to Elvis--basically made him irrelevant and meaningless--by deciding that rock-n-roll began with the Who and then headed out to obscure cult bands like Frank Zappa's) who called his daughter Moon Unit. Unit was a little too anachronistic for use in Cerebus' world since it originates in late twentieth century component electronics. At one particularly extreme point I remember Ernie trying to explain how you had to fix something and he said, "You need to take your unit and unitize it with the, wattayacall, unit" which as I recall was sound advice, just lacking in specifics if you had to communicate it someone who didn't know what you were talking about.

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Judas Goats

Editorial Cartoon from WAP! (1988)
by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlarge)
(from the Comics Forum interview, 1993)
On a percentage basis, to me, one Jeff Smith is worth a hundred Frank Millers... the companies have realised that they have to elevate someone to an exalted plane to represent the thing that everyone else shoots for. Neil Gaiman is in that position and Alan Moore and Frank Miller were in that position. They've been functioning as Judas Goats, leading twenty-year-old kids to their doom thinking, "I'm going to be the next Neil Gaiman." Well, no, there's only one at a time, and he's up there to persuade you that if you tie your fortunes with them, then you too can be Neil Gaiman.

I like Neil... But I never lose sight of the fact that in my medium, he's... over on the other side of the fence. Frank Miller's making great hay out of introducing Jack Kirby in San Diago and saying, "Go out to the Marvel Comics booth and say two words to them... pay up!" There's a nice standing ovation, and what does Frank do? He goes back and does Daredevil for Marvel.

That's not establishing a lesson. There's no moral center there. That's a career move, an opportunity to be one of the good guys and then go and sign a contract with the enemy. I ignore those people... You don't change multinational corporations from within...

On his My Rant Blog, Steve Bissette details the content and historical context of the 9 issues of WAP!, "the forgotten activist pro-zine", published between 1988-1989, which included contributions from Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Dave Sim and other comics creators.

Monday 29 July 2013

I'm God

I'm God (Star*Reach #9, June 1977)
Script by Dave Sim, Art by Fabio Gasbarri
(Reprinted in Star*Reach Companion, TwoMorrows Publishing, July 2013)
(from Cerebus Archive # 15, August 2011)
...I've tried to track down photos and information on Fabio Gasbarri but the only thing I turned up was an exhibit of his paintings in Brantford Ontario in 2008. Since he might be one of those guuys who would really rather not have his one-time connection to the comic-book field either identified or reopened, I'm going to leave it at that and let his work... speak for itself. In the intervening thirty-five years, I've had no cause -- and still have no cause -- to revisit my opinion that Fabio was an avant-garde comic-book prodigy. And I'm pleased that his short career includes two of my stories.

Cerebus Archive #5 (December 2009)
Art by Dave Sim

Sunday 28 July 2013

Photorealism: "Why Would You Even Bother Doing This?"

Glamourpuss #20 (July 2011)
Art by Dave Sim
(from the 100 Hour Tour: Comics Village, 21 February 2008)
...Even as I was conceiving of glamourpuss, talking it over with Chester Brown particularly, there was a definite sense of "Why would you even bother doing this? Go with the flow. Do a cartoony Dave Sim autobio graphic novel." And I don't mean just from Chester, Joe Matt said basically the same thing about the COLLECTED LETTERS 2 cover when he was up from LA for TCAF and I showed it to him at The Beguiling. He couldn't have hated it more if it was a guy's face in one of his dubbed porno tapes. But when he saw the Kirby Monster I did as a benefit for the Doug Wright Awards? "See, you're really good at should do more stuff like this." I had talked to Chester about it on the phone ("I told Seth I'm doing a Kirby Monster and he's doing one, too") so I got off the phone and three hours later I had a full colour 11x17 Kirby Monster. Coming off all the photorealism stuff I was doing it was like leaving the NHL and playing road hockey for the night. No precision necessary. Going from a situation where a few microns difference in placement of a model's eye can be the difference between "Sweet!" and "Dude, yechh -- what's up with her left eye" to "This is roughly where the eye goes -- could be off by an eighth of an inch but, hey, it's a Kirby Monster. If it's too symmetrical, if the ink line is too clean or sharply defined, if the feathering all goes the same way it's going to look like an illustrator trying to "fix" Kirby.

Saturday 27 July 2013

Cerebus: In My Life - T.M. Camp

T.M. Camp is the author of Assam & Darjeeling, The Cradle, Matters of Mortology, and the forthcoming The Red Boy. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Dave Sim ruined comics.

Back in 1983, I was perfectly happy to visit my local comic shop every week (Freedonia in Orange County, California), picking up the latest issue of X-Men and whatever Batman-related titles caught my eye.

I was fourteen. I'd been reading comics since before I could read, poring over the dog eared issues I'd swiped from my older brother. All those comics fell into my hands after he got to high school and discovered girls.

Captain America. The Invaders. Legion of Super Heroes. Thor. Spider-Man. The O'Neil/Adams era Batman.

I read those comics over and over again, until they were practically furry around the edges.

Fast forward a few years. I'm wandering past the new arrivals rack in Freedonia.

Looking back, it's clear to me that I was starting to feel the twinges of dissatisfaction with mainstream comics. My routine each week was to go in to the store, pick up my usual books, and then go home.

But I was starting to have that vague awareness that I wasn't the only one with a routine. The books themselves, the storylines, were starting to show their routines as well. You could almost see the fatigue weighing them down issue after issue, being forced to act out the same recycled dramas over and again, choke back the gag reflex  as they hit their mark and declared their möbius-stip derivative catchphrase each month...

"Robin dies at dawn... again? Can't the little shit let me sleep in this week?"

"I'm the best there is at what I do® but what I do isn't very nice™ . . . I guess?"

So I wandered the racks looking for something new . . . something different.

I failed. I ended up picking up something with Wolverine on the cover. Again.

But . . . this one was different. The art was black and white, with a fluid style that struck a familiar chord. And yet . . . so different.

And the main character was an aardvark.

Fair enough. I had read my brother's old copies of Howard the Duck. I wasn't prejudiced against funny animal comics.

Flipping through the book, I realized immediately that it was something different than anything I'd ever read in a comic before.

I also realized that I was coming into the middle of a storyline with no idea what the hell was going on. And, for some reason, I really really wanted to know.

I grabbed a few of the back issues that were hiding behind the latest one. I paid for my books -- got a approving nod from the owner, welcoming me to the next level of our secret little society -- and went home to read them.

And read them again. And then again.
Cerebus #50 (May 1983)
Art by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlarge)
It was issue 50 that did it for me. So little happened in those twenty or so pages . . . and yet so much was going on.

Cerebus bellowing "Where is everybody?" -- who was he? who was he looking for? -- his words echoing down the hallway (and echoing in my head).

Astoria, grim and amused and beaten -- but beaten by who? -- sipping her wine. "You're looking at your administration."

And who was Jaka?

I was back the next day, digging through the longboxes to pick up as many back issues as I could afford.

Compulsion had set in. I had to know more about these characters and what had brought them to this moment in time, when it all fell apart.

If I recall correctly, Freedonia had a copy of Cerebus #1 behind the counter. But the $300 price tag was way above my pay grade. Fortunately they also had a few battered Swords of Cerebus, so now I could read the beginning of the story.

My routine changed after that. I still bought my usual books each month. But among them now was Cerebus -- that was the one I always saved for last, after I'd read the others.

Eventually, I realized that most of the other books were just an annoying delay. So I read Cerebus first.

Sometimes, Cerebus was all I read. Apart from a few notable exceptions, most comics just couldn't hold a candle to the depth and artistry of what Dave (and, soon enough, Gerhard) were doing.

Words fail me when I try to express what the book means to me, personally and creatively. It's in my DNA. It taught me so much (possibly everything) about story, pacing, and character.

And it ruined comics -- for me, at least -- for a long, long time.

I just didn't care anymore about the constantly recycled storylines and crises and deaths.

Cerebus was real in a way that most other comics only pretended to be.

One example: In comics, someone dies -- Jean Gray for instance (or Superman or Flash or Jason Todd or Batman or Peter Parker or…)

Anyway, they're dead. Cue the dramatic music, the obligatory splash page funeral.

But as we know all too well now, no one stays dead in comics. The suits in Marketing have their very own Lazarus Pit and they're not afraid to use it.

But when Bran Mak Muffin pushed that dagger into his own heart in issue 80 . . . all the horror and shock and despair on Cerebus' face was reflected on my own.

Because Bran was dead. He wasn't coming back. We knew it.
Cerebus #80 (November 1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
That's one example. There are hundreds of others throughout the 300 issue run of Cerebus.

I think that's part of the secret of why Cerebus works so well as a story. The finality of that 300 issue cap.

A boundary that, like death, could not be crossed. Whatever happened, happened. And it couldn't be undone. It couldn't be rebooted or retconned.

Cerebus only had one life. One story.

Just like the rest of us.

I have this fantasy sometimes of a world where, for instance, Batman didn't get rebooted every few years. A fantasy world where the story of Bruce Wayne is told in a single, unbroken storyline. All the way up to his deathbed where, I fantasize, Dick Grayson (or one of the other children in the Batman family)  takes up the mantle. And then that story would be told over decades.

We get glimpses of this, like distorted signals from another dimension, in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight, in Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come, in Batman Beyond.

But just imagine what the story of Batman would have been like if it had been told with unbroken continuity over these past decades . . . the way the story of Cerebus was told.

I know. It's impossible. These aren't just stories. They're institutions. They're industries. They're properties.

I know.

In Cerebus, Dave -- and he will always be Dave, somehow, a familiarity earned over the years of deeply personal Notes from the President and letter columns -- Dave did something different, something so different. He did it with a purpose and artistry that few others can claim.

I believe that stories -- and their characters -- are alive. I believe this not only on figurative level. I believe this literally.

And I believe that stories, as living things, have a shape. A lifespan.

They should end eventually, because that's the natural order of things. And, of course, sometimes they come back.

I think that stories should have a beginning, a middle, and (most importantly) an end.

Most comic publishers -- at least, their marketing departments -- seem to disagree with me. They're making soylent green, in faster and faster cycles. And what's produced with each subsequent iteration is less satisfying. Something is lost in all that churn.

(I'm well aware that there are some people out there doing great comics. There are some wonderful stories being told. Some are even coming from -- gasp -- mainstream publishers. Yes. I know. But these are the exception that prove the rule. And I think many, if not most, of them have some small debt to Dave and what he did with Cerebus.)

I could digress -- yes, even further -- but let's just say that I'm grateful that Dave didn't go down that road with Cerebus. God knows, he had the chance.

I'm resisting the temptation to digress yet again. I could tell how Dave set the bar so high with his courage and commitment to self-publishing, how his relentless dedication to creator's rights challenged and inspired me . . . how following his example saved me from making potentially the single worst mistake of my creative life.

But that's a story for another time. And I don't want to abuse your patience any more than I already have.

Suffice it to say that Dave ruined comics. And he saved comics.

He saved me.

And I'm so grateful.

Friday 26 July 2013

Breaking Stan & Jack's Record

Fantastic Four #1
by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
(Marvel Comics, 1961)
(from Now I'll Ask You One with David Branstetter,  4 August 2011)
...a PART of me expected to hear from Stan Lee and/or Jack Kirby congratulating me and Ger for breaking their record no one ever thought would be broken on the Fantastic Four of 102 issues. I THOUGHT that was the kind of field that I was in: like sports, where any time someone is about to break someone else's record, the guy makes an effort to be at the stadium when it happens to offer congratulations or, at the very least, makes a phone call to offer congratulations. In this case, no one even mentioned that we had broken the record.

And that still seems to be the case, seven years after Cerebus came to an end. The reaction to Dave and Ger breaking Stan and Jack's record is that it didn't happen, that basically Cerebus doesn't exist and can be made not to exist if no one says anything about it. So far so good, I'd have to say. My recurring thought since 1987 has been, "You're an INTERESTING bunch, I'll give you that, anyway."

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby collaborated on a total of 108 issues of Marvel Comics' Fantastic Four between 1961 and 1970 (102 regular issues, and 6 annuals that featured original stories) setting the record for a creative team working on consectutive issues of a monthly comic-book. Dave Sim (with Gerhard from #65) published 300 monthly issues of Cerebus between December 1977 and March 2004. Cerebus #102 was published in September 1987.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Eddie Campbell's From Hell Companion

From Hell Companion
by Eddie Campbell & Alan Moore
(Top Shelf/Knockabout, July 2013)
(from the introduction to From Hell Companion, 2013)
...Watchmen had been a continuous celebration for two year by [1988]. But Alan had fallen out with the publisher, DC Comics, and was determined to reinvent his career in a way that did not involve corporate manipulations. His first moves consisted of, on the one hand, self-published Big Numbers with Bill Sienkiewicz as illustrator, and on the other he lined up  a second to be serialized in Taboo, the new horror anthology published  by fellow discontent Steve Bissette. This was to be a complex retelling of the story of the Whitechapel muders of 1888. Alan and Steve set their minds to choosing an artist for the job. Like Alan, I had already appeared in the first issue of Taboo (Nov 1988) with a short story, The Pyjama Girl. I had also worked with Alan once before when I illustrated Globetrotting for Agoraphobics (in Knockabout, 1985). But my work was otherwise about the contemporary and the quotidian. Horror was  not my thing and I must have seemed an odd choice to illustrate the doings of the most infamous serial killer in history, Jack The Riper. The rational, as Steve explained, was that "It was essential that the artist not be seduced by the violence in the tale..."

And so it was off and running. From Hell appeared in Taboo for six issues of that publication, and then assembled and completed in ten volumes of its own title between 1991 and August 1996, published by Tundra and then Kitchen Sink Press. An eleventh volume, The Dance Of The Gull Catchers, being an appendix, was added two years later in September 1998. The complete work was first published all in one book, under my own Eddie Campbell Comics imprint (all of our previous publishers having by then gone out of business), in the last month of the old millennium, December 1999. It has been continuously in print since then in about twenty languages, still increasing as I write this. When I say continuously, I'm ignoring a one-year hiatus after the printer of our US edition went bankrupt. Considering the collapses of publishers, distributors and a printer, one has to marvel that the complete book got published at all.

(from a fax, 16 July 2013)
I don't know if Eddie forgot or never knew that I was the one who financed TABOO at first, so I'm technically FROM HELL's first publisher. Bissette vouchered all the jobs and I cut him a cheque and paid the printing bill... It really is quite a good book: exhaustive coverage. I hope he sells a bunch. I'm assuming that FROM HELL the graphic novel has survived FROM HELL the movie in a way that WATCHMEN didn't.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Prince Mick

Cerebus #85 (April 1986)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from the Culpa Slect blog, 10 March 2007)
Cerebus is a unique achievement in the comic book field. Over the course of 26 years, Sim self-published 300 issues of Cerebus, writing and drawing more than 6000 pages, telling the story of the title character, an impetuous barbarian aardvark in a Medievel-type world of humans.

Starting off in 1977 as basically a parody of BARRY WINDSOR-SMITH's Conan comics, Sim decided early on that Cerebus would be his "life's work", and that the series would end with issue number 300 in March 2004. And so it did. Through the earlier issues, Sim's writing and art improved dramatically, and with the addition of "background-artist" GERHARD, the book really hit its stride. Artistically, each issue was impeccable - layout, characters, backgrounds, lettering, etc. The stories became increasingly complex, as Sim wrote with long-term goals in mind, often foreshadowing events that would not occur until several years later.

Cerebus has been compared to a "Russian novel" in its length and scope. The huge story is divided into large chunks, and like War and Peace, early in the second half The Author steps into the story. And this is where Sim ran into some trouble.

He "came out" as a "conservative"/"non-feminist" in both "the story" and in "real life". Once praised as one of the best alternative/independent comics creators, the horrified "comics community" initially expressed outrage, and ultimately decided to virtually ignore his work, even as he and Gerhard continued to reach new creative heights. In the later issues, Sim delved increasingly into religious themes, eventually writing large amounts of Scripture and Scripture-commentary into the story and alienating many of his remaining readers.

Still, Cerebus stands as a remarkable accomplishment, a beautiful piece of art and a fascinating read. You can dip in virtually anywhere in the 6000+ pages and see Sim's talent, intelligence, wit, and love of comics shining through.

Many of the characters Sim created were dead-on caricatures of movie stars, writers, acquaintences, even other comic book characters. In issue number 85, (cover-dated April 1986), Sim introduces characters based on MICK JAGGER and KEITH RICHARDS. As Cerebus is climbing up the mountain back to the Upper City to reclaim his Papal Throne before The Final Ascension, he runs into Prince Mick and Prince Keef. Keef is a bit out of it, but Mick shares his beverage with Cerebus and things get a bit weird before they part ways in issue 86. Sim revisited the characters ten years later, when Mick, Keef, and Cerebus end up staying at the same tavern (along with a couple of Mop-Tops!), but I'll save that for a future post.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Gerhard: A Lack Of Recognition

Cover Recreation: Cerebus The Newsletter #12 (1984)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(Click image to enlarge)
(from Gerhard: Craft, Credit, Cross-Hatching & Completion, 16 February 2011)
Gerhard and Dave Sim created almost five thousand pages together over two decades, and through that time Sim extended credit (and praise) to his partner in every way possible- nominally, publicly, and financially. If you pick up a collected volume of Cerebus that Gerhard worked on from start to finish, you will find his name, on the cover, the spine of the book, and title pages, always the same size as Sim's. Gerhard even gets his own dedication. Along with this acknowledgment in type, Sim noted and praised Gerhard's contribution to the book in virtually every public forum he had- in interviews, in speeches and public appearances. Eventually Gerhard was made a financial partner in the work as well, having a 40 percent stake in the company up until the dissolution of their partnership.

Despite all of this acknowledgment, and despite Sim being arguably the best-documented figure in the past 30 years of North American comics, Gerhard's role in the series and the scope of his achievement seems to be frequently misunderstood. He's been nominated for awards as an “inker.” In some articles on Cerebus he’s hardly mentioned at all. Of course, a mention itself isn’t necessarily good - in one memorable (and hopefully tongue in cheek) letter to The Comics Journal, it was suggested that Gerhard was actually Dave Sim himself, mentally separated to somehow make the job of drawing backgrounds easier.

It's possible that Gerhard’s sometimes lack of acknowledgment could be the aforementioned tendency to discuss artwork as the result of one individual. Or it could be that Sim’s unprecedented crediting of his visual partner just hasn’t made a dent in the comic book critical consciousness. After all, when you see a discussion of a panel attributed to Wally Wood, or Will Eisner, or Osamu Tezuka to use an even more extreme example, there’s very little discussion of the many hands that the page passed through before printing. One of the most visually distinctive, and influential, visual aspects of the Spirit was the expressive and flexible lettering, an innovation that is often credited to Eisner, despite evidence that it was taken to its fullest expression by long-time Spirit letterer Abe Kanegson. As for Tezuka - he didn't produce sixty pages a week solely because he was superhumanly fast, which he undoubtedly was, but because he had a squadron of "assistants" to labor over his pages. All three of these men, for varying reasons, were willing to put their names on work that many people were responsible for, and it's possible that comic culture's willingness to accept this as part of the system is part of what affects the response to an artist like Gerhard.

In the world of film, at least the technicians and artists behind each of the specialized tasks have names, have credits. And yet it doesn’t seem to have done much good, at least in the way that people tend to view the “authorship” of a movie. To take a ready example - it's still routine to read analyses of Citizen Kane that mention Gregg Toland, the film's cinematographer, in passing only. I find this example particularly apt, as it seems clear that Toland and Welles created the visual look of Kane as equal partners, that in fact Welles was as eager to work with Toland as Toland was to work with him.

The Welles/Toland comparison seems even more relevant when you consider that although Welles was undoubtedly the central figure, the “author” and architect of Citizen Kane, the film relied very heavily on the visual innovations of Toland, and that Toland had himself been developing many of these innovations for years. In a certain way it could be argued that many of Welles' chief visual contributions to Kane involved knowing when to collaborate, and when to leave Toland to his own devices.

Monday 22 July 2013

Miami Mice vs TMNT vs Cerebus!

Miami Mice #4 (Rip Off Press, 1987)
Art by Mark Bodé, Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman and Dave Sim
Inked by Bill Fitts
(from The Invurt interview, 22 February 2012)
...Kevin [Eastman] was a big fan of my dads, and he came up to my table at San Diego, I think it was '85 or '86… I think TMNT started in '84, and then it snowballing into mainstream around ’86 and it became a huge phenomenon... I think it was the cartoons and the TV that really pushed it over the top… but you know, Kevin came to my table and said: "I'm a big fan, and we should work on a strip together." At the time, I'd come out with my first comic, Miami Mice, which was just riding on the black and white funny animal boom that had happened because of Kevin and Peter [Laird]. So I rode on that without even knowing them, and Miami Mice became a best black and white seller itself. It sold 185,000 copies in the period of a year, and that was my first comic. It was disillusioning to have a hit right off the bat, and you just feel like... what now! I stopped doing Miami Mice after I collaborated with Kevin and Dave Sim, who did Cerebus. We jammed on the last issue of Miami Mice, and then I killed it, because I just didn't want to do that. It was suppose to be a one shot, and I did four issues and I was like, this is taking over my life. I'm underneath my drawing board with a BB gun and there's mice running around in my basement... and it was just taking over my mind. So it was time to end it. It was still selling well, and I went on to something that didn't sell at all - but there you go.

In the near 30 years of Mark Bode's professional career as an artist, his work has appeared in Heavy Metal, Epic Magazine and many other magazines and comics. He was born in Utica, New York, the son of the legendary cartoonist Vaughn Bode. Mark is best known for his work on Cobalt 60 and as the creator of the hit comic Miami Mice.

Sunday 21 July 2013

How's 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond' Coming Along, Dave?

Glamourpuss #18 (March 2010)
by Dave Sim
Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (2008-2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics, specifically focusing on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette. Dave Sim has recently announced plans for The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond to be serialised in a monthly comic-book published by IDW.

(from Kickstarter Update #162, 20 June 2013)
...I got a package of CEREBUS COVERS concept stuff in from Scott Dunbier at IDW as well as a spreadsheet of all the stuff he has and all the stuff he still needs.  Sigh. It's around here SOMEwhere -- where IS it? Okay. Here it is. What's this?  What wallpaper is this a background for what cover?  I know I've got transparencies somewhere. Where are THEY?  Voyage To The Bottom Of The Giant Tupperware Container.  So I basically go from LIVING IN 1982 to LIVING FROM 1977 to 2004.  And I want to go back to 1956 -- when Alex Raymond died.  I don't spend a lot of time in 2013 as a result.  I also don't want another fire, so I'm getting John Funk to scan the stuff on the basis of: you pick it up at 10:30 in the morning and bring it back at 5:30. Whatever you don't get done you can pick it up at 10:30 the next morning. Psychotic? You bet!

Now, in the meantime, I managed to get the cover to THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND #2 done.  A bit of time here, a bit of time there.  But, that's ten days where all I got done was a cover on what is going to be (theoretically, some day, years from now) a monthly book.  A month and a half to do #1 and 10 days to do a cover.

"So -- how's THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND coming along, Dave? Dave? Why are you looking at me like that? Dave? Say something!"

And in the same mail that I got that package from IDW I also got a HUGE package from Eddie Khanna full of STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND stuff. And it's all amazing! I mean, just jaw-dropping stuff.  So as soon as I finished my White Paper on Technology and Comic Art for George and my six-page fax to the printer about PROOFS vs. PRINTED pages and my seven-page fax to Scott Dunbier on CEREBUS COVERS: QUO VADIS, I'm now in the middle of an eight-page letter to Eddie basically filling him in on as much of the STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND as I can. I mean, up until now I've wanted to surprise him: he's really the most devoted READER of the material, but no -- he's blowing my mind with what he's sending me not really knowing even what it is he's looking for. So now I have to tell him: Here this is what you're finding. Here's where it fits.

While still trying to keep SOME surprises for him. As he says: he figures he spikes the ball at me and then I spike the ball at him and then he spikes the ball at me.

"Captain! I dinna know how much more she can take!"

Saturday 20 July 2013

Cerebus: In My Life - Kevin Mellon

Kevin Mellon is a graduate of the Kubert School and has put out several comic books and graphic novels since 2007, including Gearhead and LoveSTRUCK with Dennis Hopeless, Heart with Blair Butler, American Muscle with Steve Niles. Summer 2013 will see the release of Suicide Sisters Vol 1: Shoot The Devil, a 3-issue story about two sisters riding across Texas, trying to find the Devil so they can get their souls back.

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

Kevin Mellon:
I read about it in Wizard Magazine #7, the March 1992 issue. There was a 2-page (I think) write-up about Dave and Gerhard having crossed issue 150 and it talked at length about the book and those guys. I was at the right age (13) for it to hit me really hard as I was looking for new things that were outside of the mainstream Marvel comics I was reading at the time. Magazines like Comics Scene and David Anthony Kraft's Comics Interview (and to a lesser extent, The Comics Journal) were cluing me in on a new world of comics that I would then scour every back issue bin to find. I was captivated by the idea of this singular vision and ethic behind this monumental task of doing a book for 300 issues. At that young age, I knew I was going to make comics and had already been trying to make my own.

The first issue I bought after reading that article was 163 (the first issue of Women - which Google tells me was late '92). I had absolutely no clue what was going on in the story at that point, but I was hooked. I stayed with the book from there to 300. It was pretty much the one constant in my life through those years. I was enraptured by the world and the characters, and even more so by the beauty of the story-telling and artwork and how the lettering acted as an integral part of the art and page. The page designs were like nothing I'd seen at that point. Mind you, this was in the heyday of the Marvel guys going to Image craze, so page layouts were insane at this point, but Dave's were some of the first that showed me you could be inventive with page design and layout, yet have a cohesive reading experience that enhanced the story. That said, Cerebus is still some of the most inventive comics visual story-telling to this day.

Also, I cared about the characters in a way that I had previously only experienced in fits and starts with mainstream comics, but was more akin to how a novel makes you care about character. The voices were all unique, the characters all well-rounded. Everyone had a life, a voice, and a story, regardless of how minor a part they played in the actual narrative.

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

The notion of one person having an idea and bringing that idea to fruition on their own was something I got from Cerebus. The wealth of story-telling ideas and forms that Dave played with throughout the series were and are constant influences. 

The '97 edition of the Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing (which I read as it was coming out in the single issues in the 'Notes from the President' sections) was and is a 'bible' of sorts for my making comics. I specify the 1997 edition solely because, while I have the later edition, I don't think the updates were necessary or warranted. Everything you need to know about making comics is in that first edition, minus any extraneous commentary added after the fact.

As far as direct influences go, I used the typography/dialog running down the side of the page, with the panels next to it (see parts of Jaka's Story, and significant portions of Mothers & Daughters) format for a sequence in Dennis Hopeless and I's book LoveSTRUCK. It was something that, when Dennis and I talked about the scene, became an obvious device that I could use to convey the metaphysical and "other" nature of the pages we were building. There are other devices I learned from Cerebus, but that one is the most overt in any of my published work.
Cerebus #167 (1993) | LoveStruck (2011)

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

Very much so. 

I have made some mis-steps in judgement along the way, but Dave, and everyone else who fought so hard for creator's rights at that time, have been big influences on my thinking and my approach to being in and making comics. (Steve Bissette's posts on Taboo/Tundra, and the Creator's Rights issues of the mid-to-late 80's are excellent reading for where everyone was at during those times). Pretty much every creator-owned book I've done has been an even 50/50 split with the co-creator, and the basic understanding that Dave espoused working with Gerhard of "You partially own what you fully create" (meaning that even though Dave created Cerebus, he acknowledged Ger's massive contribution and credited and compensated him as such) is something I take to heart and espouse to collaborators. But I've still made bad deals and mistakes with publishers, knowing all of that beforehand. Doomed to repeat, you know?

I got into Puma Blues around the same time (because of Cerebus, of course. Puma Blues a book that has influenced me just as much as Cerebus. If Cerebus spoke to my mind, Puma Blues spoke to my soul), and while it had long been over by the time I got to it, the issues of PB with front and back matter dealing with their dispute with Diamond, and the Cerebus issues with commentary dealing with those same things, were and are a great primer for how the industry works (again, see Steve Bissette's lengthy documenting of all that on his website). I use the present tense because a lot of the issues they were fighting against then, are still common and ongoing. What's old is new, etc., etc.

I am currently self-publishing for the first time since starting working in comics in 2007. It's hard, and it's not going to get any easier, but it's something I knew I had to do. I think it's something that I should have started out doing, and this is me "stepping backwards" so-to-speak, to take that leap and give it a shot. I won't be setting the world on fire doing it, but I am building myself up, and making things solely on my terms. I am forever indebted to Dave and the others for paving the way.

Do you have a favourite scene/sequence from Cerebus? 

Man. I dunno. Hard to nail one sequence down, but a lot of the sideways page layouts in Mother's & Daughters broke my young brain and I remember ripping those off extensively for the comics I was making at the time. The use of text pieces to convey large chunks of dialog or prose was and is ingenious. The world-building that Gerhard did in every single panel... I could go on. Sorry for being so vague, but there was no "one" sequence that made me go "OH FUCK". There were a lot of those. Melmoth was something that moved me in a way I can't fully describe even now. Also, Melmoth got me into reading Oscar Wilde, same as Fall & the River got me into reading Fitzgerald.

Would you recommend others read Cerebus, and if so why?

Of course. 

Why? For the obvious reasons of it being a massive undertaking by a singular vision that was started and then completed, it's contribution to the art-form of comics being incalculable, and that I think it's a good story. Most comics are, at best, mediocre by process of assembly-line (more than a few of my own included). When a scant few come out good, it's usually in spite of that process, rather than because of it. Cerebus was, and is, something that was made by 2 people sitting in room and a strength of vision and creativity that you just don't get for that many pages in a row, by doing it any other way. 6000 pages in Western comics made by two people is an amazing feat, and it should be recognized and celebrated not just for that, but because it was good comics the whole way through. It's also some of the funniest dialog and story-telling put on paper. The drama and the comedy are intertwined in an amazing and beautiful way that allows for your heart to be broken on one page and then you laugh on the next.

IDW Announces 'The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond'

Prolific creator Dave Sim's meta-adventure through the history of photo-realistic artwork, the career and death of Alex Raymond, and much more, will be published by IDW! Sim's originally self-published work is being completely remastered, redrawn, and reworked before it sees release as its own 18-issue series.

Originally serialized within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (2008-2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics, specifically focusing on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette.

"It's not much of a secret that we're big Dave Sim fans at IDW," said Ted Adams, Publisher and CEO. "He's done an absolute ton of covers for us lately, each one more dynamic than the last. Add in the other Sim projects we have in the pipeline, such as the Complete Book of Cerebus Covers, the digital/audio version of High Society and The Complete Zootanapuss Artist’s Edition, the time seemed right to launch a full blown creator-owned title and take our relationship to the next level."

Dave Sim's distinguished career in comics began with his self-published hit Cerebus. An essential series that evolved through grounded and mature subject material, Cerebus is a modern classic that catalyzed Sim's career as well as the comics industry on the whole. As a vocal proponent of self-publishing, Sim has spent much of his career improving and exploring his craft through his own self-published projects. More recently, Sim has contributed his iconic style to various covers at IDW, including The Colonized, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and Doctor Who.

IDW is pleased to explore new territory with Sim on this personal and important project, The Strange Death of Alex Raymond.

Friday 19 July 2013

Throwing Babies (Again!)

Cerebus #276 (March 2002)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from the annotations to Cerebus Vol 15: Later Days, 2003)
...I thought it was worth one last visit to the super-hero world with Cerebus instead of the Roach (who would have been long since dead at this point) as the latest incarnation. A tribute, however back handed to Todd [MacFarlane's Spawn] having, I believe, really come up with the super-hero to end all super-heroes: literally a demon from hell, a hell-spawn. What could more suitably depict, on the one hand, the erosion both of society and the comic-book field that the most successful hero of the nineties turned out to be a demon and on the other hand the peculiar malleability of fascism that such a thing could seem sensible and plausible (in its context). Batman to the nth degree ("criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must strike terror into hearts"). Becoming bad to fight for good...
Cerebus #276 (March 2002)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
...Anyway, since I was doing a very broad parody and since Cerebus is about amoral an individual as you could hope to find on a comic page (oh, you've noticed?), I figured it was time to revisit that classic Cerebus gag of yesteryear, the "baby-throwing page" (the first was bough by Gino Attanassio in San Jose, days after the issue coming out. It is beyond any doubt, the most in-demand Cerebus original of all time. I could have sold it a dozen times in that first month), this time with the added heft of a seven-foot hell-spawn arm to really get the necessary leverage to let that little sucker really take off ("Wheee!").

For sheer evil, it was kind of fun out-Spawning Spawn.
Cerebus #276 (March 2002)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Thursday 18 July 2013

Dreaming Of Thrown Babies

Cerebus #77 (August 1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Throwing Babies

Cerebus #66 (September 1984)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from the Usenet Interview, 1992)
The centerpiece of fascism and totalitarianism is Maternal. We have always had a Matriarchy, and the centerpiece of its thinking is to make life safe for babies. If you call that "thinking". People who are otherwise reasonable adults, the moment they drop a litter begin mentally dismantling everyone's civil rights with the idea of making the world a universal nursery. We see them today most profoundly in the anti-smoking forces. Second hand smoke is dangerous so it must be wiped out! Life at all costs! Mother Theresa using one of the ancient temples of Kali to tend to the sick and the dying; BEAMING with happiness when another baby is brought to her. I'm sure we will have a very large, very charismatic Mother Theresa in the year Three Thousand when the whole world looks like India, cheerfully finding a way to keep everyone alive for another three years at whatever cost in resources and space. Did you know that medical science discovered a way to impregnate women who are past child-bearing years? That a seventy year old woman can have a baby now? I'm sure Mother Theresa is MOST pleased. Not for herself. Just the idea of more babies. I read an interview with someone close to the HUAC committee in the fifties who said the Senators for the most part, were no better or worse than your average politician, but it was their WIVES who took to the inquisition like fat little ducks to water. "What about that Hollywood producer? He's a red isn't he? Why aren't you going after him?" Mothers don't much care what happens to mothers Over There, as long as Johnny is fighting to keep her hearth and home safe. Salome was not an aberration; just the clearest possible manifestation.
Cerebus #66 (September 1984)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Tuesday 16 July 2013

IDW Covers: X-Files - The Lone Gunmen #2

X-Files: The Lone Gunmen #2
(IDW, July 2013)
Art by Dave Sim
Having never seen the X-Files, I have a limited mental picture range. NEVER heard of "The Lone Gunmen" although I thought that's a pretty darned clever name.  Chris Ryall gave me a heads up that they were doing something with "The Lone Gunmen" in X-FILES and he'd be happy to see a cover from me on that subject.  Well, if you type "The Lone Gunmen" into Google Image what you get is a few hundred copies of the official graphic and the logo.  Which is a very nice graphic and a very nice logo.  So I faxed Chris asking him, "Are you doing anything with this? because it seems tailor made for a photorealistic cover."  And, no, they weren't.  So I downloaded one of each and then just did some fine-tuning to turn it into a comic-book cover.  One of the things that I did was to put the guys in the same order in the images that they are on the logo.  Things like that really bug me.  Like calling your comic book ABC and then the graphic is of ACB.  I also put the short guy lower than the other two.  Which seemed like another no-brainer (although I might not have thought so back when I was short).  Absolutely no problems.  It was my favourite density of photo with hard shadows and most of the detail burned out to white so I didn't have to adjust mentally for it.

I might be doing another X-FILES cover.  I downloaded some screen captures from the trailer for the X-FILES movie and I definitely know what I want to do with them.  We'll see if I can get far enough ahead on THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND.  It would make a nice break.

Monday 15 July 2013

IDW Covers: Dr Who - Prisoners of Time #10

Dr Who: Prisoners of Time #10
(IDW, October 2013)
Art by Dave Sim
Good example of what happens when you start doing multiple images on your covers -- you start thinking in terms of multiple images instead of just sticking with one nice publicity still (like the one I got the foreground figures from).  And then you start thinking "Hey -- what if I made them into a film strip?"  Part of that is my on-going attempt to learn how to do the really tiny accurate figures that are a center-piece of the work of the best photorealists.  An Al Williamson figure that's an inch high is just as accurate as a figure that's a full page in height.  Makes me crazy.  An on-going problem for the last four or five years.  How do you get your pencil sharp enough to tight pencil a tiny little face like that?  How do you keep your Hunt 102 nib sharp enough to be sure each one of those tiny lines is only microns wide?  Well, I hadn't figured it out at this point. (at this point, I was using the Eddie Campbell "whittlin'" method:  sharpening the pencil with an electric pencil sharpener and then whittling the lead to a point with an Exacto knife).  I did figure it out recently, though, when Ted Adams sent me volume six of RIP KIRBY, the first solo John Prentice book.  In the introduction, Leonard Starr is talking about how he and Prentice got divorced around the same time and that one of the reasons for Prentice's divorce was that the sound of him sharpening his pencils on sandpaper was driving his wife around the bend.

DING!  Light bulb goes on over my head.  Ran out and bought several sheets of sandpaper.  It really does work great.  Sharp as you want, just pull the pencil point across the sandpaper towards you.  That was when I thought, "Say -- do you suppose that works with pen nibs, too?"  And it does!  Just like a razor strop.  Pull down one side, pull down the other side.  Sharp as you want it!

But I hadn't discovered that at this point.  Or those tiny lines on the tiny figures would have been a lot tinier.

Sunday 14 July 2013

IDW Covers: Locke & Key - Alpha #2

Locke & Key: Alpha #2
(IDW, October 2013)
Art by Dave Sim
It was "T" in Texas, my doctor patron, who turned me onto LOCKE & KEY when I was down there for a week over American Thanksgiving last November. He also turned me onto CHEW and MORNING GLORIES. I like a good Stephen King OO! SOME SCARY STUFF, HUH, KIDS? narrative as much as the next guy, but what I end up getting attracted by is the human moments in the build-up of the story. I liked this moment when the kids are down in the condemned underground facility and the scaffolding collapses and it looks as if they're trapped and they're going to drown.  And the boy asks the girl if he can kiss her so he doesn't die without having kissed someone.  I remember reading that part at "T's" and thinking, "If Chris Ryall ever asks me for a pin-up, that's what I'm going to do."  And then, just a few weeks after I got back, he asked me for a variant cover!  Well, by that time, my unconscious mind had evidently been working on it overtime already -- "an above the water/below the water" shot.  My first thought was the BATMAN "Two-Way Death Trap" cover (#166? #177?).  And then I thought: "No, no!  Ditko's SPIDER-MAN 29 cover! 'Never Step On A Scorpion"  Another chance to do the classic SPIDER-MAN logo (I never get tired of doing that).  And it also had a CEREBUS resonance:  the spider and the scorpion.
The Amazing Spider-Man #29
(Marvel Comics, 1965)
Art by Steve Ditko
There were a few levels at work.  Is a teenaged boy going to be content with JUST a kiss?  Especially when no one can see what's going on under the water?  Probably not.  But is a teenaged girl going to let him, you know, cop a feel, even though they're both going to die?  I mean, does it matter?  Well, yes, it does, I think.  To the teenaged girl.  Not wanting to die without kissing someone is very different from not wanting to die without copping a feel.  She's not going to want one of HER last acts to be having her body turned into a piece of meat for someone else's gratification.

And, as I considered it, I thought:  it would be entirely unconscious.  If she was letting him move in for a kiss, her torso would be in HYPER-AWARENESS mode.  It's not as if teenaged girls don't KNOW what's going on in the minds of teenaged boys.  Her hand would come up for the block, JUST IN CASE.  That's why I had the thought balloons coming from their hands.  It doesn't detract from the "above the water" kiss, but it's definitely a "below the water" line drawn in the sand.

I sent Joe Hill the original tracing paper drawing c/o Chris Ryall and a letter explaining all this.  Even the part that the girl (in the context of the story) has had her fear removed.  It's not a FEAR thing.  She's not AFRAID of him copping a feel.  It's natural female modesty. I never heard back from him.  He probably thinks I'm nuts, same as everyone else.

Anyway, it was nice to work in a pure cartoon style after labouring in the photorealism salt mines. The cover practically draws itself.

Saturday 13 July 2013

The Influence of Aubrey Beardsley

Salomé (1893)
by Aubrey Beardsley
(from CerebusWiki, December 2004)
I was certainly aware of Aubrey Beardsley's work through Jaka’s Story and Melmoth but he had too much of a core perception of the "illustration as the totality of the narrative" to be a touchstone for a sequential narrative, in my view. There's certainly a sense of everyone being "rooted" in their place in the page - partly as a means of slowing things down - which might be thematically linked with Beardsley. I considered using some of his flourishes and affectations but there was always the problem of making it fit with what Gerhard was doing in the background that would compel me to stick to much narrower parameters of the literalism "straight and narrow" than "doing" Beardsley would have allowed, I think. If I was to show Gerhard Beardsley's Salomé pictures, as an example, and say “here’s what we’re doing on this page” the reaction would be that it was wrong. The perspectives and the proportions are off because Beardsley was doing the Whole Picture in a fine art sense, rather than a composed picture in a geometric sense. Beardsley's picture’s design was the content was the shape was the point was the outline was the relationship of black to white was the perspective was the proportion, was the idea, was the net effect etc. etc. To communicate that to Gerhard bearing Gerhard's working methods in mind I'd have to find some analogous background "look" with structure to it - probably Virgil Finlay. Finlay was the logical outcome of Beardsley's approach if you’re looking at the style from Gerhard's side of the fence. I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I steered Gerhard toward pointillism in the course of the book. He's so thorough that that just constitutes needless cruelty unless you have a solid motivation for it: like the single instance of showing in The Last Day how blurred Cerebus' vision had become. I had to do one panel on my own to show him "Go deep into the page, but not too deep, about this deep - don’t hurt yourself." If I just said "Cerebus' vision is really blurry so do that whole end of the room in pointillism," he’d do it and it would be mind-boggling but it would take him five or six days and he would need stomach surgery by the end of it. 

I'd say if there's anything that I took away from Beardsley it was his artistic irreverence for Oscar Wilde since, as I say, a reverent treatment would have been the kiss of death. He did Oscar as one of the figures in one of the Salomé pictures and it sure wasn't something Oscar would have put on his Christmas cards that year. He had a very low opinion of Wilde and Wilde had a low opinion of Beardsley. One of Wilde's letters concerns the scandalous number of telegrams they sent each other when they had their famous "set to" over Wilde's critiques of Beardsley’s drawings for Salomé. I think it was Salomé, anyway. Trying to get the last word in at each other so that the telegraph company was delivering message after message after message which would certainly be enough to attract the wrong sort of notice in Wilde's Chelsea neighbourhood. Wilde considered Beardsley's work Byzantine and thus inappropriate for illustrating his own work. Wilde still saw pictures through Whistler's eyes - faux Orientalism was his forte. Beardsley either wasn't far enough East, for Wilde, or he was too far East depending on which way you were traveling. They were, as Old Joe put it in A Christmas Carol "well met". There was an intrinsically grotesque quality to Beardsley’s work that suited the degradation Wilde had embarked upon and which he was attempting to wed to his inherent love of beautiful things. Beardsley is arguably the prettiest illustrator of grotesqueries from that or any other time period. The fact that everyone else thought the grotesque look of Beardsley's work was very well suited to what Wilde was writing should have set off warning bells for Wilde, but didn't.

Find out more about Aubrey Beardsley in Beardsley and His Work, a fifty minute film available in four YouTube chunks, featuring Beardsley scholars Brian Reade and Brigid Brophy talking at length about the artist. In addition Ralph Steadman examines some of Beardsley’s original artwork and discusses the techniques of ink drawing. Part one | part two | part three | part four