Thursday, 3 March 2016

Christopher Woerner's NEW FUN

Thanks to Christopher for my comp copy of NEW FUN's limited run of 150 copies.  I always resolve to only skim his latest blog collection and I always end up reading all or most of it while it's sitting in my "mail to be answered pile".

One of my favourite lines from a 2015 post:  Would the woman who left her nine kids at Wrigley Field please come and get them.  They're beating the Cubs 13-0 in the top of the seventh inning.  Good line for any team going through hard times.

Thanks to Karen Smith (Mrs. Michael Zulli) for the phone message.  I don't really have time to talk on the phone with people.  I wish I did.  But thanks.

Also thanks for the favourable comments on glamourpuss from a couple of people.  It was really the only time in memory where I could say I was happy doing a comic book.  From very early on, CEREBUS was really just "getting it done."  What form would a 6,000-page graphic novel, properly executed, take?  From about mid-HIGH SOCIETY on that was always at odds with the audience. "When is he going back to being a barbarian?"  i.e. This SUCKS!  As far as the audience is concerned my work has sucked ever since.  So, roughly, my work was "cool" for five or six years and has sucked for the last 30.

For me, it was a matter of artistic responsibility to the 6,000-page graphic novel.  "The book will just have to suck, in that case" because I always had a pretty good "magnetic north" idea of where I was going and what I needed to do, sequentially.  And I did it.  But the schism between what I saw as needing to be done and what the audience wanted me to do got wider and wider and wider and is now, I think, unbridgeable.  You can call that "doom and gloom" if you want, but it's an accurate observation of how the 6,000-page graphic novel and the life and work of the guy who did it unfolded and continues to unfold.  "Wow, here I am at the summit!  Universally hated!"

It really is more funny than depressing.  

The people who have read SDOAR [Strange Death Of Alex Raymond] like it a lot.  Karl Stevens will be doing the "bridging pieces" -- comic pages that "bridge" the individual comic books that were never published -- in volumes one and two and was enthusing to me about it on the phone.  He's sure it will be very popular.

Yes, if the book got a fair hearing, I think it would be VERY popular.  But I think all that's going to happen is the automatic "This SUCKS!" response, dead silence from the people who liked it...and that's really all that's needed to destroy ANYTHING in the Internet age.  That SOUNDS depressing, but only if you haven't lived with it for 30 years.  If you've lived with it for 30 years, it's really just LOL funny.

Ask Sandeep.  What's the news like at the Off-White House on a daily basis? (I show him pretty much every communication that comes in).  I think he would say "Unimaginably bad."  Then ask him, what's Dave's reaction?  I think he would say "Outright hilarity."  We both spend most of the day laughing about "whatever-whoever" said in their latest fax or letter.  "You could NOT make that up".

It's nice to have someone to show the stuff to.  "You remember what so-and-so wrote to me?"  Yeah. "Well, here's his follow-up."

The fact that Sandeep spends most of HIS day going, "WHAAAAAT?! That's bull****!!" reassures me that Crazy Dave Sim isn't ACTUALLY crazy.  Just universally hated.

Honk honk.      


Anonymous said...

A couple of factual corrections to this entry that I would like to offer:

Dave says, "From about mid-High Society on that was always at odds with the audience. 'When is he going back to being a barbarian?'" Perhaps this is how it feels to Dave, but (at least some) facts suggest otherwise. I pulled out a couple of back issues at (semi-)random, and I see that Issue 47 sold 16,500 copies, issue 50 sold 18,000 (perhaps attributable to an anniversary-issue bump), issue 75 sold 23,000 copies, and issue 95 sold 31,000 copies. That looks to me like more people rather than fewer were reading the comic, and not hating it because Cerebus wasn't a barbarian any more. (To be sure, sales of issue 117 were down to 26,500 copies -- although, to be further sure, this was amid the black-and-white bust of the late 1980s.)

If Dave and Karl Stevens think that SDOAR could be very popular, I think they are incorrect -- perhaps too close to the project to judge objectively. It's a black-and-white comics biography of a forgotten comic-strip (not even comic-book) artist by a forgotten comic-book artist. What part of that could be popular in today's comics marketplace? SDOAR was always destined to be a niche publication, valued by people (like Gary Groth, and me) who value comics as a medium and are interested in its history (even if, as Dominick Grace anticipated yesterday, "it is going to be a beautifully-drawn but highly unblievable set of speculations about Raymond that have more to do with Dave's own belief systems than anything to do with Raymond,"). I fear that Dave is setting up his "I told you so," for when SDOAR fails to become a best-seller.

Third, although I'm sure that Dave feels this way, he is not universally hated. Most people on the planet -- indeed, most comics fans -- have never heard of him. I think that is regrettable (I have called Dave "perhaps the English-language cartoonist most in command of the medium"), but it is so. But this very blog is proof of that a Dave Sim fandom does exist. Dave (and others) may feel it should be larger than it is, but hey -- better a cult hit than no hit at all.

-- Damian

Malcolm X said...

More wrong-headed opinionated musings from Damian in the form of "factual corrections." lol, indeed...

The number of letters in Aardvark Comment that complain about the Cerebus storyline are almost beyond counting. Many, many, many of them ARE of the view that they wanted Cerebus to go back to doing the "earlier, funnier" ones. Increasing circulation while he was throwing babies around ( a barbarian or something...) is great. Decreasing circulation is not great! Do you even remember Jaka's Story??? Yeah, big hit that was. NOBODY complaining about him not being an aardvark anymore. Nope, not at all....give me a fucking break. You really need to work on your trolling. It's a little easy to dismiss if you're even remotely acquainted with reality.

As for how SDOAR could possibly in any universe even remotely be popular...umm, how about GREAT art with a GREAT story? Anybody? Hello? (And BTW, Gary Groth valuing something Dave Sim does? You really are out of touch with reality.) Damian seems to think that by its very nature, any comic book about the person universally recognized as one of the most important artists in the history of the medium could not, by definition, interest comic book fans seems laughably stupid. Hell, why not say a black and white comic book about Jack The Ripper couldn't possibly interest anyone? Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell would like a word with you. Or how about a black and white comic book about the inner mechanics of the medium? No, couldn't possibly be a hit. Scott McCloud might have something to say about that. While the book certainly gets into some of Dave's speculations (and why wouldn't it?) there's an engaging, intelligent, engrossing look at lots of FACTUAL, ON-THE-RECORD aspects of Raymond, Caniff, Foster, etc. that make up the bulk of it. But, then, you're just dismissing it before you've even seen it. Par for the course, really.

Finally, yes, I think it's safe to say most people on the planet have never heard of Dave Sim. Since several billion of them don't actually speak english or have access to independent comic books, this is a safe assumption. Well done. You got one right.

CerebusTV said...

I haven't forgotten the great Alex Raymond, nor Stan Drake either.

Jack said...

I think Gary actually offered to publish the book, didn't he?

Jim Sheridan said...

Fantagraphics did put forth the offer to publish the remastered Cerebus. That is a plain fact. Ignoring it serves the emo narrative that runs through this blog, which is a shame.

We get some insightful analysis here at times, but plenty of self pity / victimization. It's cheap therapy, I guess, but highly redundant. I'll slog through it to get to the good stuff.

Michael Grabowski said...

Eric Reynolds, Fantagraphics associate publisher, expressed interest in publishing a completed SDOAR and was complimentary about that portion of glamourpuss not long after Dave concluded that series. That led to the extended comment thread on where Kim Thompson (expending a good chunk of one of his last healthy, productive months) and Dave each negotiated publishing Cerebus with a lot of other people who don't work for Fantagraphics or Aardvark-Vanaheim without really directly addressing each other's statements. Dave insisted on conducting those negotiations in public, leading to a lot of noise without anything remotely signifying useful progress. Meanwhile, or soon after, and rather more secretly, Dave was negotiating Ted Adams about SDOAR, the Cerebus covers book, the series of variant covers, and a Zootanapuss Artist's Edition.

Reynolds's interest in publishing SDOAR was not echoed by Groth, to my recollection, but it wasn't publicly rejected by either Groth or Thompson at the time, and one presumes the associate publisher couldn't just publicly offer to publish something his bosses would not have wanted to publish. That Adams also wanted (and wants) to see SDOAR completed and believes it can be profitable (and as a publisher Adams seems to know what he is doing) speaks well of the artistic and commercial merit that the completed work would seem to offer (at least as originally envisioned--odd speculations and all). A version that is largely completed by prose and photocopies rather than Sim's own handiwork might throw that off.

On the other hand, if Dark Horse, Oni, Image, Avatar, Drawn & Quarterly, and all the other smaller publishers have ignored the possibility of publishing SDOAR (and we don't know if they have or haven't) that could speak to Dave's insistence that the comics industry is mostly ignoring/rejecting him.

Anonymous said...

Sandeep, as usual you've got nothing but bluster and insults; unfortunately, you're not very good at either. Your one and only argument (seen again yesterday, as well) is "I know Dave Sim and you don't, therefore anything you say is wrong." I'm sure you're happy being an "Inside People" and bathing in Dave's reflected glory, but it doesn't make your arguments any more valid. You're so eager to be offended by me that you're not even reading my arguments any more.

As I showed, using Dave's own figures, from near the end of High Society to near the end of Church & State, sales doubled. Apparently Dave was just that much at odds with his audience.

And yes, there are critical letters in "Aardvark Comment". There are also plenty of letters heaping praise on Cerebus and Dave. (And plenty of letters from lovelorn losers. Also some downright goofy ones; I like those the best.) Are you willing to go through them all and compile a scorecard? Until someone does, you're relying on your feeling that people hated Cerebus (or, more accurately, you're parroting Dave's feeling). By objective criteria, twice as many people liked Cerebus at issue 95 than at issue 47.

Sandeep, your comparison of SDOAR to From Hell is a poor one. The former is about a household name, written by the most popular and acclaimed writer in comics (certainly at the time) and drawn by a lesser-known but still well-regarded artist. The latter is about people whose names most comics fans wouldn't recognize, written and drawn by a fellow who is today largely unfamiliar to those same fans. (And that doesn't even address the changes in the industry between 1989 and today.) Of course I hope SDOAR is a huge hit -- just as I hope you'll win when you put your rent money on 12 Red -- but given my assessment of the game and the odds, I don't think either of those things is what is likely to happen.

Certainly there are those of us who have heard of Alex Raymond and Stan Drake (perhaps even before Dave wrote about them) -- but we are a small minority of the comics audience. A minority of the comics audience is interested in comic strips as well as comic books. Walk into an average comics shop, with fans snapping up Star Wars tie-ins and Spider-Gwen, and ask if anyone's heard the name Leonard Starr, and you'll hear, "Oh, yeah; I love The Beatles."

Jack and Jim, Gary Groth did indeed offer to publish SDOAR in the "negotiations" thread on TCJ's message boards:

-- Damian

Anonymous said...

Whoops, sorry! In my fourth paragraph, "the former" should be "the latter".

-- Damian

Steve said...

Sometimes I think this is a boxing blog, what with all the punches that get thrown.

I've enjoyed aspects of Cerebus for decades, but at the end of the day, it's a comic book. And sure, it's got more than enough innovative aspects, and emotional pull, and depth.

But it's a comic book, has always been one and will never be anything but one.

Is it really worth swearing about? Getting so worked up about? It's a comic book.


Unknown said...

Dave plugs my latest book! Yay me! I did steal the joke about the Cubs from somewhere on Facebook, but glad Dave liked it.

I also don't disagree with Damian as much as Sandeep. I don't think Dave has accurate perceptions about how "Cerebus" was recognized from month to month. He was the first successful writer/artist/letterer/publisher in the comics medium. He published the letters he wanted to publish, whether or not they accurately represented his sales curve, and he reacted to all the letters and feedback (conventions, peers, etc.) he got in a way no one can truly comprehend.

I really do think he spent the last two-thirds of "Cerebus" assuming his audience wanted "Cerebus the Barbarian" again, whether or not that was the case.

al roney said...

I received a CAN4 update today...

...Funk lives!!!


Anonymous said...

Yo, shouldn't the 'FUTURE RELEASES' column be updated? church and state 1 came out a couple months ago.

Also I would like to know which volumes they're going to reprint in the near future (hopefully 12 and 13, both have been out of stock since late 2013).

iestyn said...

Is it obvious to point out that even IF all the letter received for Cerebus were wishing he'd become a barbarian again, that is still a statistically inferior number to the circulation amount of Cerebus?

The 2 are probably true facts, it's a matter of which fact is more representative of the matter in discussion. So, it may be true that correspondents wished Cerebus was back to a barbarian, there is also the fact that Cerebus's circulation (a mature, not speculator driven circulation figure, by the way) was increasing, meaning, for example, that there may well have been many more readers who hadn't even seen the barbarian cerebus?

Either way - circulation would be one indicator of popularity. It might also just have been the maturing of the delivery mechanism (direct market) and the shrinking of said circulation would also be a reflection of the shrinking of the direct market stores brought about by various market crashes (black & white bust, Marvel heroes world/Diamond exclusive bizarro world disaster)

There's more nuance in fact than black and white opinions will allow. That's why being non-emotional about matters doesn't ensure a reasoned response, it also depends on your access to all facts and your interpretive ability to understand all of those factors.

Oh and by the way - Dan Nadel - editor of TCJ online, has also said he's looking forward to SDOAR - so there's definitely some support for SDOAR over at Fantagraphics...

Erick said...

I think iestyn is correct.
I use my own intro to Cerebus as an example. I started reading Cerebus with the first issue of wolveroach. Which was #54 in 1983. Well after the barbarian days. In fact I had no clue about those early issues until I bought the phone books about a year later.
Needless to say this early issues were the funniest of the whole run. I recall Dave at the time saying how difficult it was to write 'ha-ha' responding to the comments of some who wished he went back to the 'simpler' cerebus. But as my own experience shows, that version of cerebus is not what fueled the growth. It was the spectacular story telling that started in High Society. Combining humor and wit and incredible amounts of cogent political commentary. I had never encountered such a combination before and most unexpectedly it was in a 'funny' comic book.
I think Dave is recalling factually but not in truth what the comment sections (hence the fans) were saying. I think it was the squeaky wheel fans as opposed to the silent majority.
The facts were the squeaky wheel fans made the most noise, but it was the silent majority - proven by the doubling of sales that supported what he was actually doing. At the of contradicting myself, there were times much later in the run that I too wished Dave returned to the simpler Cerebus. But that train had long ago left.

I think Dave needs to stop calling himself a pariah or hated.
That is in fact a perverse form of vanity.
He is reveling in that false perception. His enablers need to disabuse him of that as well.

Tony Morris said...

I started reading Cerebus a few issues into Jaka's Story, and whie I went back and read all the "barbarian" stuff (and liked a lot of it), the more... introspective Cerebus has always been "my" Cerebus. Frankly, the low point of my interest was when he went back to being a barbarian in Mothers & Daughters.

It's just one opinion, but for me Dave's work has just been getting more interesting as he goes along.

Kit said...

Karl Stevens collaborating with Dave Sim is a great match, and if it leads to more of Strange Death Of Alex Raymond being completed than is otherwise feasible at this moment, that seems a positive for both the series and Stevens. Good news, here.

Unknown said...

Erick and Iestyn actually suggest a good point. To the extent that anybody wanted Dave to go back to the 'earlier, funnier' stuff, it's highly unlikely that it was the "Conan" parody anybody was specifically asking for. Funny stuff? Absolutely. "Cerebus the Barbarian"? Probably not as much as he thinks.

But I do think his perceptions would have been skewed by the letters or other feedback he got, just as the Beatles or Rolling Stones would lose perspective when thousands of women start ripping off their clothes. One can try as much as possible to maintain "This is not necessarily an accurate representation of my audience" but that will only get one so far. Dave didn't experience the life of John, Paul, Mick or Keef (or any similar example) but he still has no idea what anybody who *doesn't* send him a letter on #134 thought about #134. Or #135, #136, etc.

Anonymous said...

In reading this bog, I believe that Dave is a very brave guy for keeping it alive. There is far too much crut, for example - everyone trying to prove that "I'm right, and "you are wrong" - who is an insider, who isn't - that sort of malarkey. I understand better now why my old man avoids creating a website or a blog. It is very easy to state negative comments online rather than to one's face.

If Dave feel that he sucks, so be it. I don't think it is an attempt to be corrected or fawned over as intimated. I am not an artist, though I have not meet one yet who doesn't think their works "sucks" on the best of days.

Yes, I realize that Mr. Sim doesn't need to be defended by anyone as he is obviously a tough skinned sort of guy. One of my favorite expressions to explain the post - "I just felt like it". Peace, try some on your creators.

Karen Pratt Smith (Zulli) said...

I meant to use my name on the comment above and messed up - the above is written and submitted by Karen Smith Zulli.