Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Gerhard Part the Second: the Next Few Months

Sean Michael Robinson:

When I began work on Church & State I back in January, I started thinking back to my interview with Gerhard. Seeing direct scans of all of this original artwork, I'm struck by how much different the experience can be viewing the work in color, all of the mechanical process exposed, rather than the more familiar experience of line art reproduction on newsprint. The mammoth interview, which focused on pen and ink technique and the evolving craft in Cerebus, originally ran at, but now lives at the Hooded Utilitarian

I thought it might be interesting to run a few excerpts here, with the original newsprint scans replaced with color scans of the original artwork under discussion. This is part two, covering the remainder of Gerhard's first few months of the book. You can read part one here.

Robinson: In my estimation, around 466, 500, somewhere around there, it really starts to gel.

newsprint scan of C + S I, page 444-- Issue 73, page 12.

Adjusted original art scan of the above page, courtesy of the collection of James Guarnotta.

Adjusted and cleaned.

Gerhard: Even this one, 444, where Cerebus goes down in the basement and he gets the case of whisky. I like that. That bottom panel. That’s very reminiscent of the Epic stories too. Yeah, more like that.

From "His First Fifth." Note the similar textures and depth cues.

Robinson: There’s a kind of coordination that seems to be at work there.

Gerhard: Yeah. 449’s not too bad.

Newsprint scan of page 449, i.e. issue 73 page 17.

Original art scan of the same panel.

Gerhard: Lost it for a little bit there. And then … Oh yeah, the room with Jaka. I think that’s when it really started. I was still doing too much grain on the door — that’s too much. The stipple stuff worked out well. And I started putting down the stipple and then having just a little bit of crosshatching in the corner to give it some weight. That would come back from the printer and I would go, “Ohh, OK, that works. That’s one.”

Robinson: It’s an unusual combination. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before: stipple tone on top of crosshatching.

Gerhard: In some cases I would do it the other way around — I would put the stipple tone down, say, “That’s too flat,” then I would crosshatch on top of the tone. On the job training.

Issue 74 page 7, courtesy of the collection of Dean Reeves.

Gerhard: And one of Dave’s philosophies, which I really credit him for, was to do stuff just because it occurred to you. I remember where the little farmer guy comes in and there’s one panel where he’s looking out the window — there it is — 573 — and as I was penciling it I said to Dave, “Oh shit. All of a sudden it occurs to me that I want to do the reflection of the sun coming up in the window.”

And he said, “How are you going to do that?”

I said, “I dunno.”

He said, “Do you think you’re gonna be able to pull it off?”

And I said, “I dunno.” [Laughing.]

Sorry, no original art for this one!

Robinson: From then on it seems like the experiments are constructive and expanding the boundaries. More than just confidence, it seems like you have some mastery over your skills.

Gerhard: Wow, mastery already, huh? That’s very generous of you. Well, we’re that many issues into it, and it does like a lot better already. So, I guess, thankfully, I’m a fairly quick learner. [Laughter.] I wouldn't quite call it mastery.

Robinson: Well, of the things that are in the repertoire.

Gerhard: Yes, slowly building up the bag of tricks. Get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work, refine the stuff that does. But you know, it’s funny. Just because of the sheer size of this story and the sheer number of pages involved, after a while your bag of tricks slowly fills up and you can refine them. I would look at the page, and I would see what needed to be done in my estimation, and I would decide which technique, which little trick from my toolbox I was going to use in any given situation. And as the years go by that starts to feel like hackwork. I’m just doing the same stuff over and over again. And it’s like, I would almost become hesitant to try new techniques, because it was a monthly book. We had to average a page and a half a day to get this thing out every month. I guess every once in a while if the situation was right and I was feeling confident I would try something else, but otherwise it was stick with what works. Day in, day out, month after month, year after year. It just started to feel like hack work, almost.

Robinson: It must have been tempting to get more conservative in a certain way.

Gerhard: Yeah. But it was also just developing a style; you have to stay with a style. Also, because I stayed fairly consistent, it gave Dave the freedom to change up styles, a different feel for a different character, and as long as the backgrounds stayed the same it wasn’t a jarring change in the overall look of the book. I guess my point was that after so long the bag of tricks gets full and it seems like I’m doing the same thing over and over again.

Robinson: On 416, there’s a couple of visual devices that you inherited from issues that you didn’t work on.

Gerhard: Are you talking about the streams of light?

Robinson: Yeah. What was your reaction to those things that you were called upon to replicate?

Gerhard: Not happy. Not happy, no. It was difficult to try to emulate some of the things that Dave had done. I would have much rather he had done those streams of light, because I think he was better at it.

Issue 61, page 11. An example of Dave's "streaming light."

Ger's streaming light-- Issue 71 page 17, courtesy of the collection of Oystein Sorensen. The issues where these appeared happened to suffer from pretty bad photography, thickening and clogging the lines. This might have contributed to Gerhard's reaction to the work.

Robinson: So 513 is the “Odd Transformations” story. And it seems like the first time that what’s happening in the foreground is completely dependent on what’s happening on the background.

Gerhard: I loved all the dream sequences. I loved doing that stuff.

Robinson: So how did you guys coordinate those types of things? [Long pause.] Or did you coordinate? [Laughter.]

Gerhard: Well, this is probably the reason I loved doing them so much. Because it was a dream sequence, I guess I didn't feel that I was constricted as much. It could look different and it didn’t matter. Because it was a dream somehow that liberated me from feeling like I had to stay just in the background. You know, page 512 I always liked, the panel on the bottom.

Not the page in question, but another very similar panel from the same issue. How many kinds of tone can you count in this panel? Notice anything strange about the curtains? (click to enbiggen)

Robinson: That’s another one where the lighting is so dramatic that it’s hard for me to imagine how you guys could coordinate that without doing some type of joint planning.

Gerhard: From the shadows on the character I could tell which way the light was coming from. So I knew where I would have to put the table lamp. Then it was just a matter of designing the room around him and getting the perspective right, and then putting the shadows where they would fall if there was a light sitting on the table. And then bingo bango, there you are.

Robinson: How did you develop your pre-visualization? I would imagine it wasn't always that keen. When you’re looking at a page like that, what process is going on as far as being able to visualize the elements you need on the page?

Gerhard: With this one, there’s two elements I’m considering first. The first one is where’s the light source, and the second one is finding the horizon line. For this, he’s on the floor and we’re looking straight down like we’re a fly on the ceiling, so I knew right away that this one would be one point perspective. And again, determining the light source from the shadows on the character. After I’ve determined those things it’s just a matter of building the room.

Robinson: Of construction.

Gerhard: Yeah, constructing a room and then going back to the light source and figuring out where the shadows would be. So getting back to the dream — when the characters interacted with the background, Dave would usually just draw with a pencil line — indicating, say, the edge of a table. Sometimes if it would be important to the story he would draw a rectangle or whatever with the word window in it — or he would just very quickly sketch a window in.

Newsprint scan. We have only one original from this issue, unfortunately. 

On page 516 where the nurse character is in the partial sphere there, and she’s getting enveloped in the water, I remember that was me — I’m not exactly sure what Dave had intended there — he gave me no real indication. And again, because it was a dream issue, and because of Dave’s philosophy of doing something just because it occurs to you, well, that’s what I did. And then at the bottom left, where Cerebus breaks through the panel borders, and you can see all the reflections in the water, that was me too. There was no indication from Dave that that was supposed to happen. The dream issues were always a little liberating for me because all bets were off. On 521 where the one tree snakes from one panel to the other, that was my decision. Dave really gave me free rein on the backgrounds.

For the longest time Dave would work only a page or two ahead of me, and I was on a need-to-know basis. I still enjoyed reading the book one page at a time. So if there was something really important to the story that needed to be on the page, he would either quickly rough it in, or write window or whatever.

Robinson: So if you wouldn’t mind moving to Church and State 2… In a certain way I have less to ask you about as your skills …

Gerhard: As it became more obvious what I was trying to do? [Laughter.]

Robinson: You added so much in the first 600, 700 pages, there’s just an incredible amount of forward progress. And your technique becomes more invisible.

Gerhard: That was another thing that I was always trying to do, not to make what I was doing too obvious. All the early stuff just looks too obvious.


If you enjoyed this segment of the interview, take a look at the whole shebang over at the Hooded Utilitarian. Or continue to enjoy snippets of it with original art for the next, oh, four years or so as we work our way through this massive project.


Will Collier said...

I had read Dave's interview about how Gerhard "could draw the inside of a submarine if he wanted to," and just completely cracked up when that panel showed up in Rick's Story. Talk about a long-payoff joke.

So there's one, Ger.

Will Collier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TonyDunlop said...

My God, I'd never noticed how amazing that panel with the farmer guy at the window is. Breathtaking.

Jeff Seiler seilerjeff said...

Yeah, I think because of the sheer scope of the project and the brilliant storytelling (by both of them), it was really easy to overlook individual panels as the works of art that they were/are. It was and is just more fun to read the story and see the story than to pore over the individual panels.