Friday, 30 January 2015

Weekly Update #68: Brad Pitt

Hello, everyone!

The question that stuck with me from last week was the one about "Why not just use carbon paper to transfer the STRANGE DEATH images?"  The answer is that the "transfer" part of the process is only a part of the process.  I begin the page with the text, printed out Joe Kubert font captions and word balloons on bond paper that I cut up to their approximate size and -- using good ol' fashioned rolled up pieces of masking tape on the back -- put into their approximate place.  Then I copy the images that need to be traced and put them roughly in their location (sticking the text on top).  There's usually some further enlarging or reduction that goes on looking for the "Goldilocks size".  When I've got that as close to exact as I can, then I trace the images onto tracing paper.  The advantage with the tracing paper is that it's transparent so I can see the page through it and move things around as needed.  It's a lot more fine-tuned than the CEREBUS pages where -- pretty early in the process -- it was time to start laying out and lettering in ink.  With STRANGE DEATH, because the lettering is computer printed, I can move it around to maximize the smoothness of the reading experience.  Which can be, and usually is, time-consuming (it took about three hours yesterday just to compose the page I'm working on).  It also means I can change the text right up to the last minute.  I just have to make sure the caption is the right size, trace the shape and transfer it and it's guaranteed the lettering is going to go right next to what it's supposed to go next to.  I'm not a big fan of computers but I am a big fan of computer lettering.  I'll trade "hand-done craft" for EXACT placement and extended deadline on final text any day.

WOW! to L. Jamal Walton on his colouring on the Tony the Tiger/Cerebus/Possum piece.  Yes, please on the high res copy! I'm going to get at least three of them printed out (jury's still out on whether I wanted to risk the Wrath of Frosted Flakes doing it as a Bonus Print).  One for the Off-White House wall, one for Blair and one for you.  We'll sign them to each other.  WOW! Again. And thanks for such an unselfish use of your free time!

1.  Rare break in the year as Funkmaster John begins the lengthy CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO shipping process.  Fax yesterday informed me that the UK/AUS/NZ/EU copies will be all in the pipeline by Monday at the latest.

2.  Dave Fisher is back from his fact-finding mission to the warehouse in Leamington.  "You've got a LOT of stuff down there."  Report, including photos to follow.

3.  I bid a fond farewell to HIGH SOCIETY as the last few pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are put in place.  One "Next:" to be retained, the rest deleted, as the print date starts bearing down on us.

4.  Never mention Brad Pitt on a website if high-profile Hollywood investors are reading.  Words to live by.

1.  Obviously a lot of hard work is going into CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER TWO shipping -- lessons learned about packaging and shipping methods being put into effect.  I've done the last few "corrections" to stray prints that didn't get done the right way (embossed with gold seal when they were supposed to be non-gold seal embossing, as an example) and doing a personalized set of bookplates for George Gatsis (whose bookplate design we're using this time out) which I had meant to do.  THANK YOU, THANK YOU, GEORGE! Fortunately John dropped off a hundred for signing so we're "ready for anything".

As with last time, once the first USA shipments start arriving at their destinations -- with (hopefully) a "thumbs up" on our improved packaging (Let Us KNOW, guys!) -- I'll take that as the signal to begin creating the video and writing the commentary for Kickstarter CAN3 (CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER THREE), the ten earliest CHURCH & STATE pages in the Cerebus Archive (or, I'm thinking, the nine earliest pages and the cover to No.52).

The biggest news about CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER THREE?  The Canadian dollar on a downward trajectory that has taken everyone by surprise.  There IS a temptation to find a "beard" U.S. destination so we can charge in U.S. dollars, but that's being resisted:  instead we're looking at this as an unexpected Bonus for our U.S. Pledge Partners (USA! USA!) who will probably be saving anywhere from 12 to 18% at today's exchange rate (the banks bet against the rate going both ways -- so it's usually three percentage points "off" the current exchange rate).  It IS making it more difficult to plan expenditures right now:  all US$ are being deposited into A-V's U.S. account and only exchanged for Canadian dollars as close to the penny on "bills owing" as possible.  I really don't want to be in the situation of BUYING U.S.$ with 75 cent Canadian dollars.  I think we're okay, but I'll keep you all posted.

The OTHER biggest news on CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER THREE was in answer to people saying that there needed to be a High End Incentive.  Which I couldn't picture as being necessary when CANO had generated $34K.  How likely was it that we would surpass that?  And, as it turned out, we went well past it:  to the tune of $42K.  So, uh, Point Taken.  We'll have the same thresholds that we had last time, but THIS time, if we break the $42K barrier, then ALL of the Bonus Prints will be "in play".  Unlimited (uh, between you and your credit card company, unlimited, that is  :)) availability.

We SHOULD have had that last time, but I (for one) was just staring at the numbers in gobsmacked wonder, figuring that I would wake up any second now.

2.  Dave Fisher made good time on his road trip, leaving here about 8 am, which put him in Leamington by noon and then back on the road and arriving back by 5 pm on Monday the 26th.

I know I promise you guys a lot of reports that never end up happening (when that happens, it's because someone told me they were going to do a report and then didn't do it), but that isn't going to happen with Dave Fisher who managed to edit pretty much every CEREBUS TV weekly episode for twenty-nine years (well it FELT like we did it for twenty-nine years :)).  I really wanted him to get a visual feel for the how much inventory there is before he goes and takes a look at the storage space across the street from his place in the next couple of weeks.  He's coming by "soon" to run everything past me and then will post his photos and comments here.  Stay tuned for that.

We're also in the advanced planning stages for getting the "Off-White House Copies" bagged and boarded with their certificates of authenticity and making them available to the Pledge Partners who Own those numbers.  It's not going to happen overnight, but it IS (God willing) going to happen.

3.  Specifically, on HIGH SOCIETY, I'm instructing Sean to delete the "Next:" and "Next issue:" lines from page 48, 108 and 188.  On 208 and 432, while I agree that it changes the balance of the page slightly to take them out, I agree with whomever it was who observed that a hallmark of HIGH SOCIETY is the EXTREME use of solid black.  Which was a conscious choice on my part:  to really call attention to itself.  WAY out past Alex Toth and you can't go much further than that with solid black.

Page 288, I considered Sean's suggestion of re-lettering the "Next: Campaign" so it isn't so butt ugly (on a page that I'm, otherwise, pretty happy with how crisp it is).  But, I just don't think it can be done. Theoretically, yes, but I just don't ink the way I used to thirty years ago no matter how hard I try.  A lesson that I learned when I tried "restoring" the photocopies of "Passage" years and years ago.  And, at that point, the pages were only ten years in my "inking past". 30 years is just "unbridgeable".  

Page 372, I'm retaining the "Next: The Deciding Vote".

Partly because I like the way it looks and I do think the page would be diminished without it.

Partly, because it's the last page before the book turns sideways, so it makes sense as a unique circumstance in the 500 plus pages.

Partly because I'm looking at HIGH SOCIETY as it is, right now, in 2015 as I'm letting go of it for the last time and (feel free to roll your eyes at this part) it isn't a "clean legacy".  I'm not viewed as a graphic novelist, I'm viewed as the "Cerebus phone books" guy.  The guy who did MARVEL ESSENTIALS before Marvel did.  At best, it's a DIVIDED legacy.  To me, I thought that a major claim to being a graphic novel was having a Contents page with 25 chapter titles.  What else could be more like a novel?  But, some people look askance at that (even in the comments on AMOC).  What sort of a novel has ALL 20-page chapters?  That becomes the "phone book" argument.  I'm happy to let that sort itself out over the rest of my life and after I'm dead, but I think it doesn't skew in the direction of "graphic novel" right now.  But, it's nothing to feel bad about:  having one page that acknowledges my stature as  "the guy who invented the ESSENTIALS/SHOWCASE format" seems appropriate to me.

And (feel free to REALLY roll your eyes at this one) HIGH SOCIETY's claim to be a graphic novel rests almost completely with people who write books about the history of graphic novels: a species of literary populism.  A fair number of them include the book.  But, whatever your own list of Top Graphic Novelists is -- and feel free to picture that right now -- virtually none of them have signed the petition. So, I've been -- with a couple of notable exceptions -- expunged from the ranks of graphic novelists.  I'm considered unspeakable.  That can't be underestimated at a point where I'm letting go of the book for the last time.  Can that be maintained -- or will there come a generation of graphic novelists who will include me?

No idea.  Not really my problem.

Page 452, 472 and 492?  Interesting to read the arguments and I found much there that was persuasive, but:  Sean?  They are TOAST!

If I've forgotten anything, I'm sure Sean will let me know!

Thanks for everyone's participation and consultation on this stuff.  Goodbye, HIGH SOCIETY!

4.  Even as I was typing "Brad Pitt" last week, I was thinking, "mm. You might not want to do that."  Oh, yeah, right, I thought.

Anyway less than 24 hours later, CEREBUS: FRACTURED DESTINY Director Oliver Simonsen had faxed me a relay from one of his Hollywood investor cohorts (who will be nameless):
"Well, since you mentioned Brad Pitt in a recent post, I know Dede Gardner, for instance. When can we have a conference call with Dave regarding these matters?"
Oliver included a Wikipedia READER'S DIGEST on Dede Gardner, whose name I actually already recognized from the Arts & Life section of the NATIONAL POST.  I'm pretty sure Katherine Monk has reviewed everything she's done.

As I said last time, we're going to be making this film in a really, really unorthodox way where the voices are going to be the LAST things done and -- judging by how much trouble I'm having getting ANY block of time for working on the film -- that's looking like YEARS.  But, that runs head-on up against what I see as my obligation to Oliver. He's got MOST of a film done.  A Really Unique Circumstance for Film (centred around a NON-film guy: me) where it looks as if we're going to be able to do exactly what we want without having to take ANY business considerations into account.  CITIZEN KANE territory.  "We only get this ONE chance at it, but it looks as if we're getting that chance." I can't -- and believe me, I don't -- take that lightly.

So here's what I faxed back to relay to (name withheld):
WAY too premature for a conference call. Brad Pitt would definitely be at the top of my short list for CEREBUS' voice based on his voicing [what I should have said was 'acting chops'] the 70-year old man who "youthens" in the adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald's BENJAMIN BUTTON and the fact that Cerebus is different ages in FRACTURED DESTINY.  

Why don't you get me an address for Mr. [name withheld] and I'll send him an autographed copy of the CEREBUS trade personalized for Mr. Pitt and...for good measure...a picture of Mr. Pitt as an aardvark in his O*c*r winning role in 37 YEARS AN AARDVARK that he can take over to [production company] personally?
I was faxed the HOME address of [name withheld] while I observed my Sabbath the next day and am now hard at work on TWO pieces of art. One for Dede Gardner and one for Brad Pitt.

I'll pick up the story from there, God willing, with my reasoning on why it makes sense to do that, next week.

See you all then, I hope!


Oliver said...

Citizen Kane territory indeed! Very exciting!

Anonymous said...

I think that Dave is perceived as the "phone book guy" rather than a "graphic novelist" for two reasons. The first is that he called them "phone books" for so many years, and Cerebus readers took that up as the term. And the second is that he published his stories as monthly comics and collected them into volumes; that makes him look more like a "monthly cartoonist" than a "graphic novelist" releases a complete volume up front.

I would suggest that Jaka's Story was Dave's first "graphic novel". High Society was a 25-issue story; the idea of a single-volume collection had barely been invented in the English-speaking world. Church and State took shape on the fly; Dave intended to do single-issue stories "before realizing that Cerebus and [himself] were being drawn irresistibly back to Iest."

But I do think that we have to credit Dave with, if not exactly inventing, at least legitimizing the idea of the trade collection of a single story. (I also think we have to call out as cowardly the distributors and retailers who struck back at High Society not be attacking Cerebus -- heavens no! that would affect their bottom line! -- but by attacking innocent bystander The Puma Blues.) That led to the creative change of "writing for the trade" (and the audience change of "waiting for the trade").

Also, it's certainly not the case that Dave was "expunged from the ranks of graphic novelists. I'm considered unspeakable." No doubt it feels that way, but Dave's letting his persecution complex get the better of the facts here. Nobody exiled him; he withdrew in pique when people didn't agree with him.

And why does Dave seem to think it's significant that few "Top Graphic Novelists" have signed his petition?

-- Damian T. Lloyd, msp

Tony Dunlop said...

So are future editions going to need annotations telling readers what a "phone book" was?? :-D

Michael Grabowski said...

I don't recall if Dave originated the term "phone book" for the big volumes or if it was a letter writer instead but when it's that thick, printed on cheap newsprint, sandwiched between flimsy paper covers (not to mention being exclusively in black & white), that's what it looks like. Frankly, the first editions of From Hell resembled phone books too. If Dave had gone ahead with a nicer paper stock and hardcovers--both more or less undreamed of by virtually any publisher at the time except in limited quantities--I don't think he would be stuck with that albatross.

iestyn said...

Thanx for the answer Dave.


Travis Pelkie said...

Even more than "inventing" the phone book format, I think Dave's more significant contribution re: comics collections were the Swords trades, which collected 4 out of print single issues of a comic book (virtually undone at the time, to my knowledge), and did it without trying to "gussy up" the work by colorizing it (as Elfquest did). I think it helped legitimize comics as something more than throwaway entertainment by collecting it in chunks like that (and boy, that phrasing really makes it sound good, huh? ;) ) It also showed that in the direct market, there was a market for books like that (not just "floppies"), and that helped lead Marvel and DC to play with different formats, as well as showing other publishers what could be done.