Saturday 25 January 2014

Cerebus: In My Life - Dave Kopperman

Dave Kopperman is a New York City-based graphic designer / comics artist / web-designer. Be sure to check out his Subway Rambler Blog.

How did you discover Cerebus and how long did you read it for?

I started when I was 15 with issue 81 (coincidentally the start of Church & State Vol II, a division in the series I still regard as somehow important). And, of course, I bought it monthly from that point until #300.

Cerebus came to my attention when the owner of the comic store where I worked part-time bemoaned the sudden runaway success of the Ninja Turtles, and said that Cerebus was a truly great book that deserved the attention Eastman & Laird were instead getting. I want to give a shout-out here to the owner, Marge Feuerstien - she didn't press it into my hands, but the regard in which she clearly held the comic and Sim's work made enough of an impression on me that I immediately wanted to pick it up. And beyond simply being an amazing comic in its own right, Cerebus was a gateway drug for me from comics as escapist superhero fare to the thing lying below, the medium of comics as vehicle for creative expression.

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

Creatively, the only cartoonist as influential on my understanding of the comic medium as Dave Sim, is, (appropriately enough) Scott McCloud. And McCloud had to write an entire manifesto to do it. Mostly, the thing I absorbed from Sim and Gerhard (talking in McCloudian terms, here) was the surface combination of beautifully animated characters against a meticulously realized pen & ink world, and the formal aspects of the work - the moments where Sim did things that could ONLY be done in comics, to great effect. I think it's actually a major challenge if you're a cartoonist to read Cerebus and not be influenced by Sim as a storyteller. The only problem is that he made it look effortless, and I assure you that it takes a lot of effort if you're anyone else.

And of course, the sound effects, which (as you can see) I had no shame in ripping off.

Do you have a favourite scene or sequence from Cerebus?

It's a little difficult to pinpoint a single favorite scene - the book was so varied over such a length of time that there are moments and issues that stand out for completely different reasons. So I'll have to winnow it down to four:
Cerebus #76 (July 1985)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Church & State Vol. I - The Death of Weishaupt:
I didn't read this one until the collection was released, but it blew me away and still speaks to the thing that attracted me to the book in the first place - the impossible-to-describe sense of mystery. Ultimately unknowable. Like the comic-book equivalent of the faint smell of incense in an echoing church. It suddenly added layers and layers of depth, seriousness and meaning to the narrative, and it still feels like the book kicking into high gear.
Cerebus #260 (November 2000)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Going Home/Form & Void - Trapped In A Tent:
So much of this longer book was excellent beyond belief, and while I'm still blown away by the Fitzgerald run, the real standout issue for me is the 'trapped in a tent' sequence. Dave has in recent years been somewhat dismissive of his formalist successes, but the use of so many different effects available only in comics really reveals him as a true master of the form.
Cerebus #273 (December 2001)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Latter Days - Cerebus attempts to make his escape from the Sanctuary in total darkness:
Another formalist masterwork. Telling a visual story with no visuals in the traditional sense, and just using panel borders and lettering to indicate the space and flow. Pure genius. Both this issue and the tent issue rely on lack of images for their effect, and both are equally powerful. They could be used as the basis for an entire course (or at least lecture) in the underlying mechanics of visual storytelling.
Cerebus #284 (November 2002)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Latter Days - Woody Allen drawn in a Robert Crumb-style:
Although I found (and still find) the exegesis of the Torah very tough to read and ultimately unrewarding, the visual aspect of the book and sense of Sim's growing interest in broadening his inking technique makes it a favorite to revisit, and it's a wonderful summation of Sim's stunning ability as mimic of other artists' styles.

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

I always recommend Cerebus to anyone interested in comics, especially comics as art. It stands pretty much at the very top of the great works that have been produced in the medium. I do generally issue a caution about the undeniably polarizing aspects of the later work, knowing that it took me a long time to come to terms with it myself even as a die-hard fan (and a confirmed secular humanist and feminist). Even though my monthly relationship with it ended in 2004, it's clear that this work - like a handful of other great works in all media - is something that I'll have an ongoing relationship with for the rest of my life.

1 comment:

Dave Kopperman said...

Thanks for posting, Tim! Two notes:

1) After I wrote this, I became inspired to reread the last third of Cerebus, particularly 'Going Home.' And, Good God, is 'Going Home' a masterpiece.

2) Credit where credit is due - that portrait of me at the top is not by me - rather, my friend Ansley.