Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Formal Rumblings-- The Silent Cerebus 112/113

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings folks!

In honor of the 28th anniversary of one of my favorite comics ever, Cerebus 112/113, I thought I'd offer some of the thoughts I've been mulling over in preparation for writing my Church & State II essay for the recently completed restoration work.

Firstly, like the very best of Cerebus, the story can be analysed and appreciated from a variety of standpoints. Seen solely from a narrative standpoint, it's a devastating comeuppance for a character who has never been particularly interested in the consequences of his own actions. Here are the things you've done, Cerebus, laid out before you. As Dave said in the intro to the story in Cerebus Zero, it's a return to the scene of the crime. This is made all the more powerful for how unexpected it is. When Cerebus throws the baby off the steps and into the crowd, when he terrorizes the whole of the city, when he rapes Astoria, it's not clear that consequences, repercussions, are coming. Cerebus 112/113 is a reminder that those repercussions are real, that consequences are real, even if they're delayed, or diffuse. In a certain way it's the last double-page spread of Church and State amplified and stretched out over forty silent pages. 

And of course, the silent aspect is a stark contrast to the climax of Church and State, even while the tone in turn amplifies the Judge's monologue on human nature and celestial climax. 

On another level, Cerebus 112/113 strikes me as, accidental or not, a striking formal exercise. You see, it's not just Cerebus returning to the scene of the crime. It's Dave Sim and Gerhard. 

112/113 takes place entirely in the hotel in the Upper City of Iest, the setting of the majority of Church & State I. This is an environment that was created on the fly, month by month, to fit the needs of the story as it developed. Cerebus and Boobah need to play cards? There's a garden and atrium. Posey and Cerebus need alone time? Basement with terrifying fog. Storage for gold? Tremendous lobby. Every area of the hotel, then, is charged with the events that took place there, but before 112/113, there's no evidence of any kind of coherence to the environments, other than narrative coherence. But 112/113 provides the unique experience of walking through the places where all of these events took place, and in that walk through, creating a coherence that didn't exist prior to that issue. 

If the first half of Church & State I is, visually, a three-camera sit-com, where the needs of the cast, camera equipment, audience, and budget, take precedence over the overall visual effect, then 112/113 is a Kurosawa movie, where each environment feels real and whole, where people both occupy and are occupied by the surrounding space and environment, where meaning comes from small moments of silence and reflection, and absence is as present as anything else.

It's an effect that is at its height in the next book, Jaka's Story. Not coincidentally, Jaka's Story was also the first book where the environments for the story were worked out in full before any pages were produced. And it's the book with the smallest physical spaces, and the one in which the proximity of the characters to each other creates the majority of the conflict and action.

(The "silent" aspect of the issue was still fairly novel at the time of publication, that particular stretching of the form having been inaugurated by Larry Hama in 1984, in GI Joe #21. I wouldn't be surprised if Hama himself was influenced by Japanese comics, where silent sequences were a lot more common, given the length of manga and the visual literacy of the comics-reading public)

As for the restoration project: if/when we get to the end of the series, the current plan is to restore all of the "Miscellanea" work afterwards. To that end, we've been acquiring scans of all available Cerebus original artwork. In the case of 112/113, it looks like all but one of these pages were sold during the run of the book. It's easy to imagine why—Dave and Gerhard were on tour for several years after the issue was published, and the images are very striking and iconic, no doubt helped by the lack of text on the pages. In other words, each page has a slightly more "frame-able" look. (Which makes me wonder if the almost complete takeover of digital lettering isn't at least partially due to original art sales making up a larger and larger slice of the ever-shrinking illustration pie?)

Anyway, we've had scans of six "in the wild" pages sent to us so far, leaving another 33 (!) or so unaccounted for. Thank you, donors!

Here's a closeup of one of the pages we've received scans of. You can see Dave's instruction to Gerhard above the first panel, which also serves as a nice title to the page.

More next week!


Dave Sim said...

There are inherent problems with completely silent narrative in the comic-book medium. Foremost is that, as the writer/director, you lose complete control of the pacing. When all you have are pictures, the eye just goes on a "downhill ski run" and you've "read" the book before you know it and -- are even "hungrier" for more than is usually the case. There's no way to slow the "reader" down because the reader isn't a reader, he/she is a viewer.

That doesn't happen with silent narrative in film. Even if no one is saying anything and there's no music, you still have to "experience" film at the pace determined by the film editor and/or director. The number of frames and the speed at which they're projected onto the screen is the pacing "given".

On a more prosaic level, it definitely slowed Gerhard down that he had to render each entire panel. In all other instances, he could count on any given panel having x amount of character image, x amount of caption and/or word balloon, x amount of sound effect. If you actually measured all of those "x's" in a given issue of, say, JAKA'S STORY, and totalled them up, you would definitely have a good chunk of savings on actual tight pencilling and inking time in your bottom line.

Dave Sim said...

I did find all of the negatives for 112-113 -- and most, if not all, of the SWORDS back-ups and CEREBUS JAM so IF! we get to the point of restoring the Miscellanea, at least Sean won't have to do so from the print images.

I'm hoping everyone who can afford to pledge for more than one CAN5 Kickstarter portfolio will do so. JAKA'S STORY is in the "unfunded liability" category. We've probably got a three-year supply in inventory so after the book is restored -- which Sean has to get paid for restoring and Jeff has to get paid for proof-reading -- there's no foreseeable return on it until the current inventory is exhausted (Diamond's got 92 of them and we still have a few hundred).

There are three primary goals: 1) getting all of the trade paperbacks into print -- which, God willing, we should arrive at in the fall sometime when GOING HOME is printed -- and 2) keeping them in print. The CEREBUS trade is the big variable here since it outsells all the other books about 4 to 1 and 3) converting all of the trades to digital so all of them are available in the best printing form after I'm dead and they've all gone into the public domain.

I don't really anticipate anyone actually printing CEREBUS books for fifty or a hundred years after I'm dead, but the only person whose willing to finance it is me so it has to be done while I'm alive.

We're in for a BRUTAL decade (at least) of this. :)

Dave Sim said...

The above by way of explanation: here's why we're spending money we don't have restoring JAKA'S STORY when we've actually got the books in inventory. And why we'll be restoring MELMOTH after that, even though we've got those books in inventory, as well.

Sandeep's updating the Mount Everest graphic for those of you who want a Really Depressing Visualization of Where We Are Now.


Get it? ROBOT smile! Nyuck nyuck nyuck!

Mouse Skull Entertainment said...


Re: G.I.Joe #21, Hama was less influenced by Japanese comics, and more influenced by the dreaded deadline doom. There where problems during the production of #21 and there wasn't time to send it out for lettering. So, since it was ninjas, Marvel figured they could publish it silent and no one would notice.

As far as I remember...

Matt Dow

Barry Deutsch said...

Matt, I don't buy that for a second. The storytelling in that issue was clearly written and laid out with the intent of it being a silent issue.

Anonymous said...

G.I. Joe #21 was written and laid out with the intent of being silent. (The cover brags that it's "The most unusual G.I. Joe story ever!!" Which I take to be a reference to the silence.) However,I believe that Matt Dow is also correct, this decision was made due to the deadline issues and not being able to both send it out for lettering and get it to the printer on time.
Benjamin Hobbs

Dave Sim said...

My favourite Larry Hama story was the one I used in glamourpuss about him working as Wally Wood's assistant and one of his jobs was to find panels for Wood to swipe. And Wood referred him to a Spanish reprint of THE HEART OF JULIET JONES for "girls' heads". And Hama is looking at this book and going "Wow, this Spanish guy, Stan Drake, can really DRAW!"

You just couldn't find JULIET JONES (or RIP KIRBY for that matter) in English anywhere up until very recently.