Friday 12 June 2015

Dave Sim: The Arkensword Interview

The following interview first appeared in the UK fanzine ARKENSWORD #19 in 1986. The interview was conducted at UKCAC '85 by editor Paul Duncan, John Jackson and Martin Crookall on 21 September 1985. At the time of the interview Dave Sim was just 29 years old and CEREBUS #78 would have been on sale.
MC: Let's start with something different, rather than the usual 'Why an aardvark?' You were saying earlier that partly how CEREBUS began was that you picked up on what you thought Steve Gerber had done with HOWARD THE DUCK that everyone else had misunderstood. Perhaps you could expand on that, and how it affected your thoughts when you started CEREBUS.

DAVE SIM: This is starting to sound like a university! (laughter)

PD: It's the accent.

"Compare and contrast, using examples and illustrations, gibber, gibber, blah, blah..." Well the essence of it is that a funny animal in a world of humans to me was what was central to Howard's popularity. Because there's very few things you can do in comics that you can't do better elsewhere. You can do more in-depth character analysis of how somebody's thinking in a novel. You can do more realistic things, or literal, this is what's going on now in 1985 things in film. But in comic books you can do super-heroes better than they can do it in film or novels or radio or animation. It's at its most appropriate in the comics form. There are very few things you can say that about. Westerns aren't like that, science fiction isn't like that. Funny animals and human inter-relating can be done better in comics than elsewhere... when Cerebus and Jaka are looking at each other you really believe that they both exist in the same space and time, they're both rendered in the same weight of line, shadows on the right side, and you can believe that they're actually inter-related. You can do the Disney SONG OF THE SOUTH thing, with an animated character and a live action character, but you never lose track for a minute of what is real and what is animation. There's no blurring of distinction and consequently there's no genuine inter-relation possible. You watch Gene Kelly and Jerry The Mouse dancing, and you appreciate both for the separate art, for somebody actually drew this mouse dancing like this, and there's Gene Kelly doing his great thing, but there really isn't the indication they're together.

PD: They spend more of the time concentrating on the actual animation rather than the relationship between the two.

Or just the trickiness of it. You never lose track of the fact that it's a trick. Superman fans take it as a given, going in, that Superman flies, which when you draw it you can do very plausibly. Particularly if you have someone like Curt Swan who's done it for so long that he's got the gestures of flying down, that we all know in our minds, and you can't duplicate that, even in a $12m Superman film. You go 'Wow, that's very tricky, I don't even see the wires' but never for a minute do you think that guy has really stepped off and is flying. I think that's one of the things that they really got away with in the film. 'You will believe a man can fly.' No, you don't, but it was good anyway.

MC: So CEREBUS began as a funny animal in a world of humans, and was just there to be funny to begin with...

JJ: In the second issue though, you ran out of humour, didn't you, very early on?


JJ: Didn't you find it harder and harder, the more issues you go on, to come up with the humour?

No, no, the humour is easy. That becomes the problem. An issue like 51, which is hilarious, with all the funny characters in it bouncing off each other, I feel that's really money for nothing, because I just kinda get all Groucho Marx dialogue, all Foghorn Leghorn dialogue; OK, what if Foghorn Leghorn met Groucho Marx, and you just play it along and it's just stream-of-consciousness. There's more thought given to the dialogue between Jaka and Cerebus, because it has to work at a number of levels, and you really have to be inside someone's head. I mean, Groucho Marx is a film personality, or he's the legendary Groucho Marx we all know, but he's not really a formed personality, it's a caricature of a person. Jaka has much subtler levels. You have to not only determine what she's going to say but how she's going to say it, you have to deal with much subtler gestures. You give Groucho Marx an attack-crouch that went over big on Broadway and consequently he left it in because it just makes for laughs, and of course it works to this day. You go out and show Groucho Marx delivering his lines pacing back and forth and it's innately funny. It has it's own humour inherent in it. With Jaka, gesture has to be... looking down, or hands folded, of the hands behind the back, or whatever. It's far  more subtle and consequently far more challenging. So I get back to the humour because I would say that's what a lot of people look for in the book. But it's really sort of pasted on, it doesn't really integrate with the story-line. The fact that the last three issues have been dead serious, all the way through, whatever it means is incidental. That's more genuine to me in getting more out of what I'm trying to say. I'm not going to lose the humour in it entirely but it's gotta go in places. I mean, look at all the comic books that have fallen by the wayside, because every panel has got to have five jokes in it. There's nine word balloons in each panel, nine panels to the page, there's no pacing to it; they don't build a joke, they don't set up the punchline. They just keep throwing humour at you. AMBUSH BUG, you've probably got 25 issues of humour there, but if you interspersed it with something that's engaged in a different way -- you have to engage people and sort of drag them in the direction, until they drift with the momentum of it, and then just sort of kick them in the side, and they start flashing over into humour. If you're just sitting there going Funny! Funny! Funny! Funny! and pulling them on to it, they never catch up. You've got to give them their momentum and then say, 'OK, now you've got the drift, you're going with it, now we're going to throw something out of left field at you.'

PD: You mean the actual reader is making his own humour, is making it funny for himself, rather than somebody telling him it's funny?

Well to a degree. But it's more establishing a perception without the people you're establishing the perception for, understanding that that's what you're doing. The real CEREBUS addicts don't have an actual perception any more, they're sold. They're sold on it, and as long as there's no backlash movement, it tends to go along on that course. You can take the example of Frank Miller, or anyone else in the field that people don't feel as strongly about as they did a while ago. There you've sort of broken your own spell. You got everybody engaged in what you were doing, and got them confident in your abilities, and they sort of surrendered their will as soon as they opened up the cover. I mean I do the same with DAREDEVIL. I'm not going to analyse how this is done and I'm not going to flip through  and see what all the pictures are like, because I just want to start at the beginning of this and go through it and come to the end. And if you float off at right angles to that, and not a gradual movement in that direction, you're just casting spells and then snapping them. And that fuels the negative perception because people thought they were floating and they find out  that they were standing on the ground all the time. And it becomes very difficult to get them to float again.

PD: But do you think a part of the reason why people have a backlash is when they... stop doing their favourite thing, like when Frank Miller stopped doing DAREDEVIL.

Not their favourite thing but your favourite thing. To me, you have to find a middle ground that's between what your audience wants and what you want, and you can't stray very far from either of them.

JJ: Don't you think that something like MIND GAMES meant that you were straining it a bit for the new readers? Your hardcore fans would probably accept anything, but a new reader would be totally lost.

That makes for an interesting situation because, at first there's a risk, the second time out there's 'oh yeah, here comes another one of those weird ones, these are kind of strange' and now it's waiting for the other shoe to drop. You know, after MIND GAMES IV it's like "when's the next one? And when are you going to do one like the one which you did before?" And consequently it becomes less of a risk. For me to do another MIND GAMES this year isn't challenging myself unless I, as I did with MIND GAMES IV, completely change the whole perception where it became as much a MIND GAME on the reader as it became on anybody. As it became on me: I'm playing a MIND GAME on myself: can I do this? Of course I can. If I can't, who can? And if I don't, who will?

JJ: Did you see HIGH SOCIETY as a risk, with the amount of pages, and the lack of movement in some issues, where almost nothing happened?

Well, there is a surrender or a compromise, in that I have a fixed limit, for it to be over in issue 50, because the backlash in the 30s was very much a "you ran out of funny things to do, so you're doing serious things, you don't know what you're doing, you're making it up as you go along" and consequently a subject that is very dear to my heart, namely politics and the inherent humour in that, got all mashed in together. I mean, if I had the luxury of space that I have now, I would have done ten issues of 'Campaign' and five issues of 'Election Night', progressively accelerating. But the perception wasn't out there at the time, that I could do that. There was a sense of everything winding down in the 30s and soon this is just going to expire, and limp along. And I knew that wasn't going to happen. I was slowing everything down, and lulling everybody to sleep, so when I took them up over the other side of the roller coaster, they wouldn't even notice until they were halfway up.

UKCAC '85: Dave Sim, Paul Duncan & Martin Crookall

JJ: How do sales go when you're winding down like that?

Sales never really change that much. The book went down in circulation every summer, like 2,000 which I suspect was because all the distributors bought excessive amounts of DC/Marvel for summer conventions, and they cut back on the black and white books.

JJ: Are the Independents affecting your sales also? All the amounts of comics that are coming out.

Well, I don't call them Independents, because they're not. There's no difference between First Comics and Marvel and DC. It's the same structure: the Company is pre-eminent, and then next you have the characters, and then you have the people doing them. 'First Comics: You can count on us.' You can count on all of us in the editorial office, we're always here, and we've got this great character called AMERICAN FLAGG!, who, incidentally, Howard Chaykin isn't going to be drawing any more but we're going to get someone else...

PD:...who isn't going to be drawing it any more!

...and the thing is, like, you laugh, because it's obviously inaccurate. Everyone has First Comics cast in a sort of, you know, Aardvark-Vanaheim and First versus DC and Marvel. They own the trademark and the copyright and frankly own the beef on everything. And, er, at some point someone has to say... you know, I don't like going around pointing out turds on the carpet but there's turds on the carpet and I say, look, oh yeah, there's a turd on the carpet. Essentially it would be like if I said, "Gee, I'm getting awfully tired of doing this book. Erm, I'm going to take two months off, and I'm going to get Jerry Grandenetti to do two fill-in issues of CEREBUS. [Laughter] I'll still write them so it'll be the same story, but I'll get Jerry Grandenetti to do it. Or I'll get Bill Sienkiewicz to do two issues of fill-in." And, like you said, you, right there, you laughed, because that's ridiculous. Of course you can't do that with CEREBUS. But that's what Independents were. Richard and Wendy [Pini] brought Wendy's vision to fruition in ELFQUEST and now they're sort of in a mid-ground between Aardvark-Vanaheim and First Comics, because the Company is still pre-eminent, they're still WaRP Graphics books. But it's not "Here's our great title, A DISTANT SOIL and if Colleen [Doran] gets tired of it we'll get someone else to do it" but at the same time you still have Richard pre-eminent over the whole scene. Richard appears in each issue, writing the editorials, answering the letters. Now, if I do other books, and I am considering doing other books, by people I feel I can trust to do other books, I won't do a Note in the front, because there's no point me jumping on someone else's stage, saying "And now, heeeere's..." Mike Kaluta or whoever, and jumping off the stage; what's the point? They know it's Mike Kaluta, that's why they bought it. [Laughter] If Mike wants to write something on the inside of the cover, he can. If he just wants to put the publishing information, that's fine. The letters page: we'll get the letters in at the office, send them to Mike, "Mike, put a letters page together, and send it to the printer with the book."

PD: So are you doing something with Mike Kaluta?

Well, I'm talking to them, obviously; they're talking to a lot of people because STARSTRUCK has been dropped by Epic after issue 6.

PD: Mm, I heard that.

I'm in their picture because, to me, there are people in this field who are very deserving. Not only deserving but it's cruel and unusual punishment not to give them total, absolute creative freedom. You do what you do, and don't send me a story idea, don't send me an idea for a title, don't send me character sketches, don't send me pencilled pages, do it, send it to the printer, when it comes in I'll open the box and go "Wow! This is great." And I publish this, and I flip through and enjoy the story. And have all these people who can be trusted. There's no question about it, they're going to do marketable material, and they'll find their own audience. Maybe they'll only sell 15,000, and if they did it this way they'd sell 20,000 but that's up to them. I mean, Karen McKiel takes the orders from the distributors at the beginning of the month, and two weeks later the book comes out, but by that time we know how many we're going to sell, so, two weeks before we see an issue, they know how much they're going to make on it. And if they see the sales going down, well, let's try something else. They see the sales going up, and they've just been totally self-indulgent, well, you know, be totally self-indulgent.

MC: For it's completely their choice as to what they do.

PD: So you don't have an editorial presence, you just say...

JJ: Leave alone...

PD: "You do this book and I'll just print it", publish it, whatever.

MC: A publisher, just as much as a book company is a publisher.

Entrepreneur and part humanitarian. I mean, there does come a point where you look at someone like Bill Sienkiewicz and you say, either someone should just put a bullet through his head or let him do exactly what he wants to do, because one is slow torture and the other is a quick painless death. Because, really, anyone like Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta... er, any of these people, who obviously are visionaries or are capable of illuminating people's thoughts with what they do, for them to be dealing with a person who's an editor, and what is that, what is that person's function? I mean, did Leonardo da Vinci need an editor? Did Michelangelo need an editor? I am quite sure that Leonardo could have found someone who could have told him. "People will like that Last Supper a lot better if you put in a bright pink behind it, because bright pink has real impact." But what is that? I mean, why would he try to do something that would have more impact for the average person? I see a lot of these 'major' talents, 'major' intellects in the business, and I think Howard is a surprise to all of us after having done what he did for Marvel, to come out with such substantial material, self-expression, as AMERICAN FLAGG!. For him to have to deal with someone and say "I'm going to do this in the next issue" and have them say, "Well, why don't you do it in three pages, instead of five pages?" -- it's really like taking a hot air balloon and throwing an anvil in it, and saying, "There, that'll help."

PD: Yeah.

This provocative enough for you, so far?

PD: Oh, this is great stuff, yeah!

Letter pages will be full of this for months after.

UKCAC '85: Dave Sim

PD: You were saying about people maybe leaving CEREBUS and not being happy with it. Are you happy with CEREBUS and do you think its reason for its success is its consistency?

Well, I don't know that it's that consistent. I mean, consistent for this person is inconsistent for that person.

PD: I mean, you're always there.

Yeah, well, obviously that's the essence of it. In the history of comic art, the best material is the material that you don't hand over to somebody else when the person's gone entirely. Nobody does LITTLE NEMO after Winsor McKay, nobody does KRAZY KAT after George Herriman, nobody does THE SPIRIT after Will Eisner, nobody does CEREBUS after Dave Sim, nobody does ELFQUEST after Wendy and Richard, nobody does AMERICAN FLAGG! after Howard Chaykin.

PD: You say that CEREBUS is going to run 300 issues. Have you developed it to such a stage where you have plotted out the whole lot, or are you developing the endings as you go along?

Well, I have a skeleton in mind, and now I'm putting flesh on it. So picture a skeleton with one leg, with plenty of skin on it, and that's what you've got with CEREBUS. I mean, you can look at it the same -- well, do you know where you're going from here? Well, obviously I'm going to do another leg, and an arm, and another arm, and then a torso and end up with a head.

JJ: If by the time issue 300 comes around, and it's really popular, really selling well, don't you think you'll get the urge to think, well, maybe it's not such a good idea to finish, because there's money there and it's a sure thing?

I've already got more money than I can spend [Laughter]

PD: Well, if you don't want it...

I've got 20 mint sets of CEREBUS that I can auction off when I'm done. Money's not going to be the question.

JJ: Then, from a personal angle, to have spent 300 issues on the same character, don't you think you'd miss it? Suddenly finishing it?

Of course not, because being at that time someone over the age 46, that's not the time of life for a creative work. I mean, I don't want to be Hal Foster with my arthritis so bad that I can't draw any more, but still producing page after page gradually going downhill, and I know it. But another field, politics or acting, those are things that are far more suitable to someone age 46 than someone 29. I mean, I could go to Ottawa and try and find a job in some constituency office, do volunteer work for a political party, and I'm still just putting in time until I'm a mature individual, that perhaps somebody will say, "Well, let's run him locally and see what happens." You know, we're going to get killed anyway, so let's throw him out on the barricades, see at least how he'll represent us.

MC: You'd like to follow Cerebus into politics and end up Prime Minister of Iest yourself?

Well, no, not necessarily. You're asking somebody 29 what they're going to do when they're 46, who doesn't usually know what he's going to be doing next week. I think about it, obviously I think about it, but only in the sense of , whatever I get into, even if it's a regular kind of job with standard kind of job rules, I can do it for 19 years before I have to retire. So it's like, I'm going to do CEREBUS for another 18 years and then I switch [professions] and do that for 19 years, then retire. Or I may decide to retire at 46 and just travel. I mean, the 'month in, month out' grind, it's like a prison sentence, you just sit there and do it. You just say, OK, now I've got a 26 year sentence for doing this and I've put in 8 years, I got 18 to go. It's not really time to think of "what am I going to do when I get out?" Ask a guy in prison, what are going to do when you get out in 18 years, he'll probably punch you in the face.

JJ: How did the CEREBUS JAM come about? We've never seen any over here, some have come over but it's very few, isn't it?

PD: Yeah.

JJ: It's not really very well distributed at all.

Yeah? Oh, it's very well distributed. It's just very well bought.

JJ: I've not seen any.

That came about because I so want to work with other people. One of the things you do miss by doing everything yourself is being able to just say, "Hey, I really like your stuff, let's do something sometime." But I'm never going to get around to inking, er, an AVENGERS story with Bill Sienkiewicz pencils. I may get around to doing a BATMAN cover sometime, but I can't get around to inking a whole issue by Gene Colan, because I'm also very jealous of my personal time, the time to say, "Hey, I'm just a human being, you know." I may go out and get pissed, or try and flirt with five different women, or dance a lot, or whatever I happen to be into. And sure, I could be home inking Gene Colan, but that was a fan dream when I was 16 years old. I'm 29 now. You've got to have something more to your life than just "Wow, great, I can spend 15 hours a day for the next 5 days getting this Gene Colan job!"

PD: So you regard CEREBUS as work, and you should have your own time and your own life besides it?

What tends to happen in comics among other media, though I can't stand on that, you end up with people who lead very interesting and full lives, become creative, then become successfully creative, and they spend so much time being creative, it's like they're exhaling but not inhaling, they're just endlessly spewing things out but they're not taking anything in. It's one of those things that happens early on in success, that it becomes the centre of your existence. It's like "Wow! I'm here!" Like having gone to conventions, seen Berni Wrightson and I'm going to be like Berni Wrightson when I grow up. As near as I can do it, I've done it. I've exceeded it, but, you know, you just can't sit around in your apartment jacking off, going, "Wow, I'm just like Berni Wrightson." [Laughter] You've got to get out in the world and go, "Yeah, but I'm still a human being." That's why I like Berni, because he's still a human being. He did the artwork, it was important, he would never not draw, he wanted to get better all the time but, the people who burn out, who self-destruct, are the people who become so obsessed with being the top of the field, in the top ten, top five or top one, that they really don't have any other life to speak of. And they just become very shallow individuals who eventually just pass themselves in the middle, because they're so self-absorbed, in the career, in the reaction, they're not in touch with "Where am I going? Why am I doing this?"

PD: Do you feel you've improved your technique and are you pleased with that improvement since you started CEREBUS?

Of course.

PD: Do you see yourself improving all the time?

Not all the time. I take steps back, but I don't let that worry me. To me, the definition of a professional is someone who can sit down and draw a page with a hangover, and maybe it's a good page. It wouldn't be one of his better pages, or accidentally it may be, but you set out with the intention to do a good page every time you draw one. But if it comes out 50% of what I wanted, it's still going to be 15-20% above whatever point that somebody says, "Ah, that's crap." I look through issues and there's pages that I really really like, and there are other pages that I'm sort of ambivalent about, pages I actually loath and despise. Certainly there are panels that I absolutely loathe and despise.

PD: Would you like to go back and re-draw them, in the light of your...?

No, of course not. Because that's taking more steps back. You won't be taking a step back by doing a bad panel, why take a literal step back and go from moving the story forward to fixing it? A lot of the guys who are getting too slow, who aren't producing on deadline, and you hear about the project they're doing and it doesn't come out for two and a half years, it's because they're trying to make it art by doing ten pages, "And now I know how to do better so I'm going to redo the first six." Whereupon you redo the first six, and you look at seven, you go, "Oh well, this is like dropping off a cliff into bad again."And they don't know that they're dealing in very esoteric levels, reaching 70% and 80% results, when the fans can't perceive anything above 40% anyway. So you can do it to please yourself, but you can do it until you've got ulcers and you're psychotic and you're bouncing off the walls, and nobody gets to issue 300 being that way. Like, I have to preserve my own sanity. Because there's skills and abilities required to reach issue 300 that you don't need if you're just doing a 4 issue limited series, where you can just get sucked into the middle of it and let it gauge you life, and then stand back gasping and say, "Well, I'll take three weeks off and then start the next one." Doing 300 issues, month in, month out, it's either stream-of-consciousness or you're going to be pulling on something you shouldn't be doing.

PD: You say that going back and re-drawing is not productive. You've been doing these childhood stories in EPIC, and how do you fit those in? Doubtlessly, they're new stories, but they're when he's younger. DO you see yourself filling in all the gaps of his age?

Not all the gaps. To document all of somebody's life... Cerebus is 29 years old now and I would have to do, technically, a comic book that would take 29 years to read. Literally 29 years, in that you read it from the time you got up to the time you went to bed. [Laughter] You're talking about 8,000 to 9,000 issues. Obviously a lot is left out.

PD: How do you decide what stories go into CEREBUS JAM?

Well, I contemplate Cerebus, contemplating the other characters, and I just go, yeah, this is what happens to him when he is younger. I mean, I put Bear in, right? There's no way that Bear just came out of nowhere. Bear is that person that I always pictured Cerebus as, for some reason he hung around with this guy for a long while. He doesn't know why cos he doesn't hang around with people but they did, they hung around a lot for years, so obviously there's a lot of Bear and Cerebus stories to tell, and the only way to get that across is something like the JAM and every issue there's a story that's got Bear in it. And then I can say, OK, this is after the last one that you read, but before the first one in this issue. Really it was Bear, that was when Cerebus became a mercenary, became all that involved in the military side of it: yeah, let's pick up a sword and actually get into it, instead of just sitting back and kind of leaving it to the troops.

PD: In the portfolio in EPIC he seems to have three stages in his adult life. There's the Barbarian, the Politician and the Religious leader. Do you see this as the three points that Cerebus will remain on, or is there anything else that you're going to touch on?

Well, there's that and there's also the allegory of that, which is the Three Faces of the Pope: Great Cerebus, Most Holy and Cerebus. It's like, right now I've got two unholy trinities running around at the same time. And it all becomes that way. I mean, whatever the next thing he does, it's going to have four elements to it. And then four elements. And you can do that either by giving him four individual personalities, which would be basically doing dramatically what I already did, or you can make him character no. 2, and there's a primary character on the one side and two others that are maybe, ah, the McGrew Brothers. So it become a foursome and you can emphasise that Cerebus is now dealing with this on a specific level. There you're talking about plot structure. There's so many different elements to what I'm doing, there's character structure and there's plot structure. There's the actual structure of "What is this? This is totally opaque, and this is a cover and it's this shape and it goes like this." And it's just... to see those as preconceptions and, to not remove them but maybe put them aside for an issue. Do an issue that starts on the front cover and goes to the inside and then you read it all the way through. And you get the 'Note From The President' on the last page, at the end. It's that feeling that you form, to be a different story. The story that you read, as you read it you have to turn the book around as I did in issue lalalala 45 or 46. That's structure -- actually, 49 it is -- That's structural, so there has to be a reason to do it, cos Cerebus is drunk. And it fits. It's saying what it is and it is what it's saying. So that's playing with both elements at once. That's what I'm trying to get across and this is how I did it.


I don't know if I can answer the question; you want to cut it out? [Laughter]

MC: I don't think I can remember the question!

JJ: It was a long time ago!

PD: It seems that religion...

Oh, okay, yeah.

PD: You've got...

We were talking about the three adult ages of the character. There are distinct phases but there are graduations in between... the next evolution is not going to be Cerebus stops being the Pope and puts on a morticians uniform and goes out and starts embalming corpses in the next issue. If you want that kind of abrupt "I don't do that any more, I do this", read a Marvel comic. Y'know, Giant-Man decides to become Ant-Man, Ant-Man decides to become Giant-Man, and it happens in this issue, and it's like he just wales up one day and just says, "I'm going to be tiny and stay cute', and it seems rather pointless, and it doesn't seem very likely.

PD: Well, that was the thing that I was trying to get at. What I was trying to get at was, you've touched these bases that, you're interested in politics and interested in religion. What other subjects will you write about?

I think you're simplifying a bit there. HIGH SOCIETY was about politics, but it was also about religion, and it was also about war and it was also about love. It's, I mean, really it's structure. You can look at it and say, what do you do after politics and religion? Well, what about a 30 issue love story? What if Cerebus and Jaka really do hook up and go away somewhere? And it's like, for 30 issues you actually give and take, and you find out that you didn't have a clue who Jaka was, you just thought she was this... radiant guardian angel, butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, she's just so perfect. And then you find out she's a human being too. That's a different structure again, it's just, you take the major themes of civilisation, the major themes of literature and just rotate them. OK, politics is up front now and we've got all the rest of these and now religion's up front and we got all of these.

PD: So you see it as layers, where one just comes to the front and the others recede...

Like life.

PD: Yeah.

Life is composed of layers. It's also like... people ask me why I don't do captions any more, and I say, you know, I'd be delighted if they'd do a caption in real life. I mean, a guy walks through in a Clown suit... (looks flabbergasted) [Laughter]... and somebody walks up and hands me a caption which says, "Unknown to Dave, this man was giving a children's party downstairs," and I go, "Oh, wonderful, now I don't have to worry about it!", but you don't get captions in real life. You just get the clown walking through. And, if you want the essence of CEREBUS, it's a lot of the 'clown walking through'. I don't explain it; if you don't get it, you don't get it. And if you don't get it, don't worry about it, there will be something else that you will. But then, that's life. You don't "get" all of life. Enjoy what you do get and what you don't get, leave alone. Or try it again when your tastes have developed and changed.

MC: Are you satisfied that you've established religion in the series as a religious feeling and not just as another political element?

Oh, very definitely. I mean, I amuse myself by debating Kevillism and Cirinism in my head, you know. It's very difficult to get across in the book, because again you're talking about the traditional expository element in comics. You know, were this a Marvel comic Cirin would show up somewhere, front and centre, and say, "Well, of course, I started Cirinism at such-and-such a time, and of course it's got this to it and of course you know its got that and it's got that and it's doing this."

MC: And then would probably fire a power beam out if her hands.

Right. In my case, I would rather know in my own mind what Cirinism and Kevillism are, and be able to do fragments of debate, or fragments of gestures that are intriguing to me. I mean, the book works at at least fifteen levels that nobody gets but me. But its gotta be that way or I'm gonna get awfully bored. And it's amusing to me or engaging to me that I get my brains stirred up to establish a matriarchy in a reasonably advanced civilisation, and then develop political implications of that. But if it did actually exist with the structure you have in an industrial society, other than an agrarian matriarchy, which you can actually document from history, you sit and consider, OK, what political points would they be interested in? And of course, the major political point between two feminist or matriarch factions is going to be childbirth. And what it means, and when you have babies. Do you just indiscriminately have babies, or do you have to marry to have a baby? And the idea of Cirinism is that you don't have any political influence until you do have a baby. It's like, that's your graduation to adulthood. But in the matriarchy, it's obvious that you can have two different, three different, let's say arbitrarily, stages of development as a human being. When she reached puberty, OK, the first menstruation is like one graduation, the next one is where she loses her virginity -- that's another graduation. And then childbirth, and that's another graduation. If you take a male society on the other hand, there's really nothing much explicit in it. It's like, the first time you masturbate successfully becomes like, that that's a thing to say, he's graduated, and so we say arbitrarily when he gets to be 13  years old, he becomes a man. Or when he loses his virginity he becomes a man, or when he takes a wife he becomes a man. That's all implied in the human sexuality, which as I say, has three distinct stages that if you take them as the substance or the essence of a political theory, then you end up with two stages you can go through and only one stage you have to go through. She doesn't have to lose her virginity and she doesn't have to have a baby. Now the interesting debate comes into whether now she is capable of having children, and now that she isn't a virgin, does she consider having a baby? And that's where Astoria says it should be all women have the vote, not just because they have a baby... Because you're asking me to get get tied down to something I don't want to become tied down to! This is all getting esoteric! [Laughter]

This is the kind of thing -- I'm giving you the bare bones structure now -- I'm talking about in my head being able to do Cirin and Astoria talking. And here's Cirin making her point and here's Astoria making her point. And each of them has a valid political viewpoint, the same as a Democrat and a Republican, or a Conservative and a Liberal, can sit around and talk about the same thing but they never reach a middle ground or a common interest. That's what makes politics.

PD: So you're just taking, individually, each one's point of view, and debating it.

And being able to argue persuasively on either side. As I'm the person who knows what Cirinism is and what Kevillism is, I feel obliged to give both of them as much credence. But that doesn't figure in for a long time. The longer I can debate the whole thing in my head, for the next seven years until I get to this story, the more fully-formed it is when it finally comes out. And it's like you say, do you have it all plotted. Well, OK, do I? I know that if I throw Cirin in with Astoria in a room together and lock the door I can do 15 issues that'll have people going [mouth gapes] and I could do, and you could say, well then, you did have those 15 issues plotted. Well, no, I didn't know I was going to do 15 of it, I thought maybe I was going to do 8 here. It's the luxury that I have now, that once I get onto something that I'm having a damn good time with, I can keep going with it, and go relentlessly at the point. Which again, if I could have done it in HIGH SOCITY, doing an actual Election Night that isn't just the momentary Election Night, you know, here it is in 20 pages, here is all the things happening this Election Night, here's this candidate, here's the other candidate, here's the people manoeuvring behind the scenes, here's this thing going on over here, and then gradually spinning them all together, until it winds tighter and tighter; you need a lot more than seven issues to go from Campaign to Election.

PD: So, what have you got lined up in the future as a publisher?

Nothing yet.

PD: Nothing?

But I'm always keeping my eyes open. And I have a list of about ten people that I would like to just give them complete creative freedom, and let them go at it. And any of them who came to me tomorrow and just said they were doing it, they'd got the twenty pages, I'd just say, send them to me tomorrow!

JJ: Do you still draw, ink and letter a page all at once, rather than going through the whole book?

Yeah. I change around a bit, I'll pencil three pages and then go back and letter them and then ink them. I don't make a fetish of it anymore, but creatively, more often than not I do it, from start to finish.

Okay, they say that I'm on in ten minutes, there's going to be one more question and then we'll wrap it up?

PD: Well, make it a good one.

JJ: How are the portfolios going? Because we're always told the portfolios don't sell, but you seem to be bringing out portfolios.

Well, a while ago I did one, specifically one, but no, they really don't sell terribly well.

JJ: You just do them for fun really.

Yeah. The market has changed completely over into new comics. New comics are what happens. Back issues are what happens if you stick with your new comics. And that's it, the sum and substance.

JJ: So you're not thinking of doing any more merchandising, cuddly toys and things like that?

Oh no, I probably... Let's conclude it by saying I've decided I don't want to be Walt Disney. I don't want to have to go to meetings on merchandising and meetings on licensing, and go to legal meetings. I will find some company that is damned hot with material and merchandising, I will sell them the rights and get a percentage and never have to worry about it aside from having to draw a picture of Cerebus for a pair of underwear.

PD: OK? Well, thanks very much

No problem. It was a lot of fun.


Travis Pelkie said...



I'll get to it in a bit.

But oh my goodness, look at that talent lineup! If only I'd been in England. And older than, y'know, 6.

Is that the con where Alan Moore got put off of cons because of people following him into the bathroom and such?

mbc1955 said...

Yes, Travis, it was. Not only was I there, and witnessed it, but I was one of the three interviewers. I got roped in by Paul and John because I was the big Cerebus fan and knew all about the comic, but basically disappeared because they were the experienced interviewers and were always ready with a question when Dave stopped talking, whilst I was gathering my mental breath.

Great weekend, and I got an original page too.

mbc1955 said...

PS. Issue 78 was due out but didn't reach the UK until the following week, IIRC. Dave was selling the original pages for £30 each and they were all unfamiliar: if 78 had been available even at the Con, I'd have been reading it within about ten seconds of paying for it.

Dave Philpott said...

Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

Max West said...

Quite an interesting interview. I have to agree with Sim that writing comedy is harder than writing drama and tragedy; I've had challenges when trying to write funny stuff for my own Sunnyville Stories. Sometimes in my scripts, I just have to write "Rusty says something funny" and think up something later.

It's also neat to see thoughts on the industry back in the mid-1980s before the explosion of digital printing and the Internet's impact on everything.

Jeff Seiler said...

"The book works at at least 15 levels that nobody gets but me."

Anybody else get more than 9?

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Hi Martin,
Thanks for the great interview... and for Arkensword. I still have my complete collection. What a great magazine. BTW Have you sent Sean a scan of that original page for the restoration project?