Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The First Twenty-Five Issues of Cerebus-- Perspectives and Details

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings all!

Here's a quick roundup of all the goings-on in Cerebus Restoration Land.

Cerebus In Hell? #0 was delivered to Dave and Sandeep on Thursday evening, and they came back with a quick approval Friday morning, which meant it was soon speeding off to Marquis, where it enters their line for prepress. No word yet on whether Going Home has shipped yet, although it was on press last week. I'm also still waiting on a quote and dimensions for the fully-restored Cerebus Volume One, which has been a year in the making, all told. 

I had a mammoth catching-up post a few months ago, before starting work on Going Home, that summarized the issues I had to tackle in working on the book, and why the process was so long. As I mentioned in the post, with a process so complicated there were sure to be revisions.

 Detail from page 79 of Cerebus Volume One, one version scanned from the sixth edition of the book, the other newly scanned and restored from the original monthly issue four. 

 Detail from page 198 of Cerebus Volume One, one version scanned from the sixth edition of the book, the other newly scanned and restored from the original artwork 

Well, the revisions were not as bad as I had imagined. I put the finishing touches on the book this week, the final changes to the art pages occupying most of my Friday and Monday work time. The only bit left is the essay and the comparison images, which I'll be tackling this week, at which point the back matter will go to Dave for evaluation. And once it's approved, the book will go in the queue, waiting from the word from Diamond that we're ready for the next printing.

And this is where you can help me!

I'm looking for information, for foundational reading on the early period of Cerebus. Raw material that will aid me in writing what will surely be a difficult essay.

Let's break this down into categories, shall we?

The Anecdotal — Did you read Cerebus during its first run of twenty-five issues? I'm interested in your memories of this period of the book. Where you bought it. What else you were buying at the time. What you did between issues (and how patient your wait was!) What other books or cultural items (movies, music, whatever!) you compared it to or thought it had kinship with. Did you write to Dave or Deni at the time? Did you purchase artwork? What kind of relationship did you have with the book?

The Historical — Are there any "must read" materials—interviews, reviews, discussions in fanzines, even retrospectives—about the early period of Cerebus that are critical in your estimation to understanding the historical and social foundations of the book? I have the double-issue Comics Journal interview with Dave and Deni circa issue 34, I've read (and have access to about) half of the Swords introductions.  I have access to original printings of the first 25 issues, letter col and intros and all. What else am I missing, and can you point me toward it?

The Referential Borrowed characters. Borrowed voices and dialects. Parodies of current trends. Barry Smith swipes. The early book is a melange of appropriations and parodies and references. Are there any that are particularly obscure? Others that you've noticed that no one else has? A, say, pre-existing list somewhere? What are the other works that, broadly or specifically, contact Cerebus and shaped it?

Anything Else — This is your chance to have your say on the first twenty-five issues of Cerebus. What should a new reader know about it going in? How does it connect (or not) to the broader series? If I were writing this essay to your order, what exactly would you ask me to write?

Comment below, or if you prefer, you can email me at cerebusarthunt at gmail dot com! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and perspectives.


Travis Pelkie said...

The new Previews catalog is out today, and the remastered Going Home is listed on page 252. Just so y'all know.

As to the rest, I haven't looked at the early issues recently enough to be able to comment on the rest. I think all the Swords intros were published in the Biweekly book, no? So if you have access to those, you should have access to the Swords stuff.

Sam Noir said...

My earliest memories of Cerebus from grade school are a friend's older brother having the Epic Illustrated Young Cerebus issues, and also the Bud Plant catalogue that also contained additional merchandise (the playing cards I think? the animated portfolio?). It intrigued me when I was told that Cerebus was a Conan the Barbarian parody.

When I was around 12 years old, I found one of the Swords of Cerebus collections at the used bookstore across the street from Dragon Lady comics on Queen St. W. I picked it up and really enjoyed it, especially the Charles Xavier/Claremont and Sump Thing/Woman Thing parodies. The volume came with an additional floppy volume, and it was really interesting reading Deni's text piece about the mix-up with the printers that necessitated included the additional non-squarebound comic (with the same cover as the collected volume). I also really appreciated Dave's behind-the-scenes essay, particularly since he mentioned that he was parodying The Beguiled (with Clint Eastwood) which I had never seen nor heard of at that age.

From there, I started buying the monthly starting with the Secret Sacred Wars, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover in #8 of the original turtles series.

Then Jackpot... I came across Dave at a local Toronto convention (at the Masonic Temple perhaps?) with the High Society phone book, which he signed. $25 for 25 issues. Much more of a bargain than hunting down and buying all those back issues I missed. But I had NEVER spent that much money on any kind of comic before. Totally worth it though. Even when it fell apart in my hands because of the cheap binding. The other fascinating part of the phone book was the fact that they generally weren't available in stores initially, just through AV at conventions and mail order (If memory serves?)

Despite High Society falling apart on me (And thus decreasing it's "value"), I grabbed the Cerebus volume for the same price when I saw Dave again at a later local Toronto convention, because it's overall value was about being able to catch up on all the Cerebus issues at an affordable price point. I have to admit at being a bit disappointed at those original stories compared to the High Society volume, but it was great to be able to put so many things into context.. such as Bran Mak Muffin, the first appearances of Red Sophia, Elrod, the Roach, Jaka, etc. For years I always suggested to everyone I recommended Cerebus, to start with High Society rather than the first volume.

That double issue Comics Journal was essential reading for me, although I only had one of them for the longest time before I was able to track down the other one. Anytime Sim was in the Comics Journal was essential reading.

I loved the parody characters of Elrod, Red Sophia and the Roach so much, that I laid claim to them when we did Cerebus Low Society.

Dave Sim said...

Sean - I think the short answer to your questions is: No one who actually read the early issues as they were coming out is even aware of CEREBUS today. Certainly not to the extent of reading AMOC. The First Several CEREBUS Generations of Fans (1977 to 1984, roughly) just...vanished. Never to be heard from again. As you can see, Sam's first awareness is from the mid-1980s at the earliest. And he was 12 at the time.

My theory is that the first audiences vanished and were replaced by a percentage of the TURTLES audience. And then that audience MOSTLY vanished and was supplemented by a percentage of the SPAWN audience in 1993.

Worth remembering that Margaret didn't start reading until #114, Sandeep until #139.

It was chronologically too long a project to have one audience. It would be an interesting question to find out HOW MANY audiences it's had.

mbc1955 said...

It had me as an audience from #25 onwards. I bought that, then #31, then #26 - 30 and #32, after which I combined following the monthly book with dogged determination for the next twenty-three years, with the relatively shorter period spent collecting #1 - 19 (of which the only one I had to pay more than £5 was #1, which cost me £90, £75 of which was made up by trading a complete run of the Claremont-Byrne X-Men.)

Erick said...

I started at #54 (Wolveroach) and stayed to the very end. Early on - within 6 mos of reading #54, I was able to acquire all back issues up to #19. Then I bought the phone books for the earliest issues. Cerebus was the funniest comic I had ever or will ever read. It then became the most literate comic that I have ever read or will ever read. It then became the best comic I have ever read or will ever read. It then became the most infuriating comic i have ever read or will ever read. it then became the most disappointing comic I have ever read or will ever read. It has been a journey. It has been in my life for over 30 years and I am glad that I experienced it at its heights and at Dave's creative height. I will not rehash my many disagreements with Dave's later views, but as much as i would like to divorce those views from my appreciation of The Work I know that can not be so.

Tim P said...

Hi, all. It all started, for me, with Spawn 10, or at least that was first contact. Then, I started noticing that those wonderful folks at Page45 had a great Cerebus display, and combined with my growing disillusionment with DC and Marvel stories, Cerebus started to pique my interest. Page45 sold me Zero, and a handful Guys and Rick's Story back issues, leading to me being an ongoing reader from around the beginning of Going Home. The joy was / is trying to figure out how a character went from A to Z, in one large storyline, hunting down every issue (still seeking 2-6, and Archive 10-12) and knowing that I wouldn't have crossover fatigue. Cheers, Tim P

Tim P said...

What might be of interest, is that of the thousands of comics I've owned, spanning predominantly the 1980s onwards, I sold nearly all of my comics and related books. I only kept those related to Mazing Man, Ms Tree, Enigma, Cerebus / Dave Sim, Doug Wright, and Clockwork Angels (I'm a Rush fan).

mgrady said...

Why does everyone say "price point" now, instead of just "price"? (see also the figure discussion and everywhere else on the internets)


Jeff Seiler said...

Well, Dave, since I started buying and reading Cerebus in 1982, and as you can see from some of the testimonials above, and from your experience with me, you must see that not all of the '77 to '84 generation fans just...vanished.

I've seen a few others pop up here, too. The problem is/was, for most of the run, you only had letters from readers by which to gauge who was still with you and who had...vanished.

At least you know 》I'm《 still with you, long past #301. For me, it's been a little over 34 years.

Jeff Seiler said...

Sean--In re: the Referential, here goes. As you must know, the character of Elrod the Albino, of Melvinbone, was based loosely on Elric of Melnibone, the latter having been created by Michael Moorcock. Elrod's sword was called Seersucker, after Elric's sword, Soulsucker.

The voice of Elrod is based on two fictional characters--Senator Beauregard Claghorn, of Charleston, South Carolina, who was a recurring character on Fred Allen's radio show in the 1940s and who was voiced by Allen's announcer Kenny Delmar--and the Warner Brothers cartoon character, Foghorn Leghorn (which was also based on Claghorn). I must confess, I always based my Elrod voice on Foghorn Leghorn, never having heard the Claghorn recordings.

You can find, on YouTube, a few "table reading" videos of the then Cerebus Yahoos reciting passages from Cerebus, in character, from when we were at S.P.A.C.E in the mid-2000s. I always portrayed Elrod.

I subsequently was asked by Oliver Simonson to do the voiceover of Elrod's lines for the Cerebus 3D animated movie, which is still in production.

Travis Pelkie said...

Elric's sword is Stormbringer. I knew Soulsucker didn't sound right, but I couldn't remember what it was until I looked at the Wikipedia for Elric.

My favorite bit about that, and I forget where I heard it, but Dave said that Wendy Pini had asked about Elrod/Elric, and he confessed that he'd never read Elric (other than maybe stuff in the Conan comics, I think?), but she thought Dave nailed it, because Elric never stops talking, apparently.

Jeff Seiler said...

Dave--As you may recall, I have spoken to you on a few occasions of multiple "generations" of Cerebus readers/fans. It's a phenomenon not dissimilar to that which I have come to observe when I've been at Jimmy Buffett concerts over the past 20-some years. It is now not unusual to see families in the concert audiences comprised of four (count 'em, FOUR!) generations.

The difference here, of course, is that it's seldom all in the family, for various, obvious reasons. Instead, you have first-gen fans, who started at #1, or 3, or 12, etc., but who left when the reading got tough during Jaka's Story. Then, the second-gen fans, who started either late in the issues numbered 20-something, or who realized how brilliant High Society was, but who, mostly, again, left during JS.

Next comes third-gen readers/fans who, like me, started during the Wolveroach issues, maybe dropped out for a bit during JS, but came back and stayed to the end. These readers overlap the ones who joined up during the Wolveroach issues, but who also got lost for good somewhere during JS.

Many benighted souls from all of the first three generations probably couldn't make it through Melmoth, ne'er to be seen again. Some probably came back during Mothers and Daughters, but I suspect that it would be difficult to clearly identify a fourth generation starting during that run, let alone sticking with it.

Then came Reads.

Whatever generation they may have identified with, I would venture to say (and I believe that history bears me out) that about 95 to 99% of the females from generations 1-3 (4?) abandoned ship for good by the time issue #186 had been published and read.

Minds was such a trip that it may...may...have sparked a small flurry of fourth (fifth?) generation readers. I think Guys probably created a new (again, small) generation of readers, about 99.5% of whom were male. That probably carried over to some extent into Rick's Story, but there was drop-off due to the introduction of overt religious themes (and design). Unfortunately, many of them probably couldn't last through the literary books to follow.

I should insert somewhere, here being as good a place as any, that the introduction of the phonebooks may have created a "side generation" of fans who would only buy the collected volumes because, first, of their relative novelty, and then because of their convenience.

As I say, I suspect that no new generation of readers/fans sprung up during Going Home or Form & Void (despite Gerhard operating at the peak of his craft). Latter Daies sealed the deal and, most likely, lost a generation or two because of its religiosity, the teeny,tiny typeface, and, perhaps, the Stooges.

The Last Day may have brought in some new readers/fans due to it being the end and fairly well-publicized, but it's hard to imagine it single-handedly giving rise to a new generation.

So, as of March 2004 and, subsequently, the publication of The Last Day phonebook, I estimate between three and six generations, leaning towards three, maybe four.

Then came the Cerebus Yahoo Chat Group, which really exploded the group dialogue about Cerebus, but...but...I think it would be very difficult to identify regulars, lurkers and interlopers there as to whether they were first-to-third-or-fourth generation fans, or whether they represented a new generation.

Some time after the Cerebus Yahoo Group devolved (drastically!), along came A Moment of Cerebus, and I think that that's where we finally see a clear-cut new generation of readers/fans finding and asserting their voices. It is clear to me by some of the charmingly naive comments and clearly unknowledgeable but earnest questions, that a new generation of readers/fans is making themselves known here at AMOC. Thank you, Tim!

So, Dave. Final count, by me? Between three and seven generations.

Hope that sufficiently muddies the waters.

Jeff Seiler said...

Travis, thank you. I was pretty sure I had Elric's sword's name wrong but, unfortunately, I can't look things up in the middle of writing a comment. So, thanks for the correction. I also read that comment by Wendy Pini. I think it may have been recounted by Dave in a Swords of Cerebus intro.

Jim Sheridan said...

I discovered Cerebus in 9th grade, winter of 1981 into spring of 1982. A friend of mine and I were hooked on superheroes, and in that General time we had Frank Miller on Daredevil, Claremont / Byrne on X Men, George Perez on the Avengers...I had read Howard Chaykin' s Dominick Fortune and Sienkewicz' s Moon Knight in the back of the Hulk magazine. I had found Warlock reprinted in the back of some Silver Surfer reprints, and the b&w Howard The Duck magazine had gotten me to find the original series. That was my first foray into buying back issues and learning more about that kind of opportunity. The Bud Plant and Mile High catalogues had me intrigued. I loved Epic Illustrated, and was starting to find Marvel to be formulaic at times, and was ready for something else.

We started taking a bus to a comic store we had heard of that was a few towns away.Quite an adventure for us! It had a good sized indie rack that was in disarray. It had a handful of issues of Cerebus from about # 25 - 30. I recall seeing ElfQuest there also. I got hooked on Cerebus and on some of the other exciting titles there over the next few years - Flaming Carrot, Nexus, American Flagg! - but I dropped out of comics reading about halfway through college, maybe 1988, around issue 114. I got rid of all my comics.

I think Maus was the only comic I really read over the next few years, but around 2002, on some whim, I went to a different local store I had never been to before and started buying comics again. I went back to superheroes but became largely disappointed. However, I really liked many of the graphic novels I found, and some Vertigo. I also saw the Cerebus phone books on the wall. I started with the first one and bought another every other week or so, which led me waiting for the end. I did not really explore the internet for comics information much at that time and didn't know about either fan discussion or critical commentary.

I haven't bought many floppies at all since around the time I gave up on Glamourpuss, around issue 10. I've bought a few oldies like Nexus in the dollar bin.

In a nostalgia binge over the past few months, I have been buying old Epic Illustrated issues. I had forgotten about some of the Cerebus pieces in those, so that has been a treat!!

Travis Pelkie said...

While I mostly agree with Jeff's generations, I'd venture a guess that a lot of y'all around here are older than I am (at 37), but I may be wrong. It sounds like, from comments made, a lot of people were reading comics during the 80s and either were reading Cerebus at the time or picked it up after the fact (maybe remembering it and doing a web search at some point?). So some generations either came back or never completely left.

I could be full of it, though.

I had come across the TMNT issue, the Spawn issue, and from the Fantagraphics best comics of the decade '80-'90 book, A Night on the Town. Probably also saw the Comic Book Rebels book from Bissette and Wiater as well as other brief excerpts before I finally picked up an issue.

220, Rick's Story part 1. "Hey, part 1. I bet that's a good jumping on point!"


Due to various circumstances, I got the first 4 parts, I think, before missing out (I STILL don't have 225!) and then picking up 232, Going Home part 1, and sticking through until the end.

Picked up a ton of the back issues in the couple years from when I discovered the book until the end, and actually have virtually every issue in "pamphlet" form -- in the biweekly reprint version if not the original. Still didn't have quite everything until the newly remastered v1.

So actually, I can't do a re-read, as I've never done a full and complete read of the series....

Michael Grabowski said...

#47 was my first issue, after curiously skimming the prior issue's Marx Brothers prominent parody at the shop and reading an interview with Dave in Comics Scene. I never missed an issue after that. I'm pretty sure that by the time High Society had ended, I had picked up Swords volumes 1-4 and all the back issues.

I think the impact of those Swords volumes in making Cerebus accessible to the latecomer cannot be overstated. Making the early issues's story content readily and very affordably available was a rare and wonderful thing in those days. I think that aspect of the book's history is worth comment in Sean's essay. I re-read those volumes (and their introductions) time and again, usually in the long wait between regular monthly issues of Church & State.

I would love to see Dave's Swords intros properly included in the back matter of this new edition. If Latter Days can include Dave's exegesis of the Cerebexegesis, then their oughtta be room to canonize his earlier texts on the genesis of his life work.

Bill Ritter said...

It will not help Sean in his 1-25 quest. But Dave!

I bought 25-28 off the stands (so it would have been the release month of 28, and the shop had the prior 3 issues still available). Bought every issue as it published from 29 on to 300. And have since gotten all issues to have 1-300 (including the nefarious counterfeit #1). So, I'm probably one of the older farts still around in the Cerebus readership, and obviously a wanna-be completist.

I also bought the Swords, all the "phonebooks", Following Cerebus, the weekly reprints through Church & State, the EPIC series, and the various 1-shots (AV-3D, etc.). I also have all of Glamourpuss, Judenhass, and a few of Dave's collaborations over the years.

Bill Ritter said...

I'm also somewhat giddy that I defy Jeff's Seiler's generations theory.

I guess I constitute a rare 5th Gen Cerebus reader: bought every issue 25-300 off stand, read it same day. I read #300 on a business trip to NYC, on the subway, heading back to my hotel (having bought from Jim Hanley's Universe).

Jeff Seiler said...

Well, Bill, actually, if you bought issue #28 off the stands the month it came out, then, by my accounting, that makes you a second-gen reader/fan.

So, good on yer. You beat me to the punch by a good 24 issues or so.

Bill Ritter said...

:) I took far more literally "Then, the second-gen fans, who started either late in the issues numbered 20-something, or who realized how brilliant High Society was, but who, mostly, again, left during JS" and ignored "mostly" as a caveat. I hate being grouped into a batch of folks who left. Or probably more accurately aligned to my hubris: I want to be labelled in a generation designation of those who remained to the end (and beyond).

Ian T. said...

I bought the early issues from Space Age Books, then later Minotaur Books, here in Melbourne (Australia), as they came out. I missed out on the first 6 issues, but stayed pretty much on board after that. My other steady purchase was "Elfquest."

There was another magazine interview around the time of the two issue "Comics Journal" one, that featured Cerebus in "Beguiling" mode in a purple and yellow painting on the cover. All my stuff is currently in storage, and I can't remember the title, which is bugging me. It was really informative, particularly alongside the CJ interviews.

I also bought all the "Swords of Cerebus" collections, then onto the phone books. "The Animated Cerebus" was a present that I still treasure.

Dave, thank you for so many years of always compelling graphic storytelling.

Dave Sim said...

Thanks to everyone for their comments. I remember asking Batton Lash of SUPERNATURAL LAW -- when he was despairing of his sales figures -- what HIS first issue of CEREBUS was. I think it was #39. And I said, "Well, wait until you get to #39. Your Batton Lash hasn't even showed up yet."

Food for thought. :)