Thursday, 14 December 2017

Noice. Fank You.

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

For the past few weeks we've been looking at Dave Sim's notebook #9 pages that had material on Prince Mick and his brother Keef. Most of it so far has been sketches of Prince Mick as seen in last week's Sketches of Prince Mick we left off with page 67. On the next page we get some thumbnail layouts and dialogue.

Notebook 9, page 68
The page 5 and page 6 refer to Cerebus #85, or pages 679 and 680 of Church & State II if you're following along with the phonebooks. The thumbnail of page 5 follows the finished page pretty closely.  The dialogue from below the thumbnail is a bit different, and it lacks Gerhard's amazing backgrounds, but even Keef's word balloon's in panel two have the bubbles the same as his word balloons on the finished page.

Cerebus #85, pages 5 & 6 (click image to see it larger)
On the next page of the notebook we see more dialogue for pages #5 and 6 along with some sketches of Mick and Cerebus for page 6.

Notebook 9, page 69
Again most of the dialogue was used with just a word changed there or here. Prince Mick is facing the left instead of the right.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Cerebus Anniversary-- Forty Years of a Cantankerous Aardvark Part the Second

Sean Michael Robinson:


I wanted to use this week's post to bring some attention to a so-far-unheralded milestone in the world of comics. This month is the fortieth anniversary of Cerebus #1, first published (according to the cover date, anyway!) in December of 1977.

So as of yet, no one's thrown Cerebus a party. No one's baked him a cake. But to celebrate in a smaller, less icing-involved way, over the next few weeks we'll take a look at a few excepts from the essay I wrote for the newly-restored 17th printing of Cerebus Volume One, released January 2017. If you enjoy the excerpt, or really, even if you don't, I'd recommend picking up a copy of the printing, which is remarkably better than any of the preceding printings. (Easily identified by the increased cover price, and the giant REMASTERED EDITION banner on the top!)


An early (and possibly only) Cerebus "style sheet", most likely drawn around the time of the second issue, at least, based on the style of the figures and the shield.

It’s this kind of tangle and community of contribution and borrowing that make writing about, and really, comprehensively thinking about and analyzing the early issues of Cerebus such a difficult task. Do you want a comprehensive list of references, of parodies, of appropriations both large and small? Even forty years removed, such a task would be almost impossible, at least partially because the targets were often local or personal, as well as broad cultural appropriations. Take Elrod the Albino, who first appeared in “Death’s Dark Tread” (June 1978) and who drove an early sales spike in the book. He’s equal parts Michael Moorecock’s fantasy character Elric of Melnibon√©, and Foghorn Leghorn of Warner Brothers’ cartoon fame, who himself was based on Senator Beauregard Claghorn, a character from The Fred Allen Show, a popular radio show in the 1940s. Further muddying the waters, a former girlfriend of Sim’s claimed that “Elrod’s delusional narcissism [was] partially inspired by a mutual acquaintance who is/was the bane of my existence, Dave’s too. It is Dave’s most brilliant inside joke, so effective and so well done the inspiration probably still is blissfully unaware of the association, even though he’s aware he inspired a character.”

I’m not sure if any of that information makes Elrod any funnier. But it does go a long way to explaining the particular effect that’s at work here. Every detail that appears in these issues, no matter how superficial, is continually mined and re-worked, polished and scrubbed, sometimes melted and reformed, and is made to serve the broader project as the book continues. These first twenty-five comics, crude as they can be and indebted as they are to fanzine culture of the 70s and the youthful urge to poke every bear in the eye, are referenced and reworked for at least the next 175 issues, almost twenty more years of fiction built upon the initial framework of monthly fantasy adventure stories.

Structurally, formally, there’s never been anything like it.

But if I can be permitted some medium-hopping, there’s at least one comparison that seems apt, that gives some insight into the formal issues at work. Frank Zappa, one of the most prolific musician/composers of the latter half of the twentieth century, bears comparison with Sim. Both were autodidacts, self-taught in a host of skills, and eventual virtuosos in their chosen specialties of technique. Both had an irreverent and even post-modern penchant for both social parody and borrowing, making art out of not only their observations of the world and those closest to them, but many times, of those people’s actual words. Both rose to prominence in their fields with laugh-out-loud work that seemed crude by their later technical standards. And crucially, both grew to envision each creation on its own and as a segment of a larger framework. Sim’s vision of Cerebus as his life’s work, both a continuing story of the life of a single character, and a series of novels documenting his own evolving thoughts on the nature of reality, was made after his LSD-inspired breakdown and subsequent hospitalization at Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital.

Here’s the story, very effectively dramatized by Christopher Shulgan for Toronto’s Saturday Night magazine:

One day, shortly after Sim had been invited to appear at a comics convention in the eastern United States, an acquaintance gave him four or five hits of LSD. [actually the aforementioned Michael Loubert] As a heavy marijuana smoker, Sim was not uncomfortable with drug use. “I had always done Cerebus stoned,” he recalled, years later. “I did everything stoned.” Curious about how the acid would affect his work and anxious for a release from the anxiety brought on by the impending public appearance, Sim took the drug. He liked the perspective it gave him. His work seemed effortless. When the acid’s effect faded, he swallowed another tab.
That first day on LSD turned into two, then three. His behaviour began to alarm his wife. With the comics convention only weeks away, Loubert heard Sim speaking to people who didn’t exist. After days cycling through moods of apoplectic rage and of passivity, Sim found himself in the psychiatric ward of Kitchener-Waterloo Hospital. (It was Loubert [in tandem with Sim’s mother] who had him hospitalised).
Sim came to realise he had experienced a breakdown brought on by a combination of stress and LSD. When he realised the hospital couldn’t hold him against his will, he left. Soon after, the ideas and inspiration generated during the acid trip coalesced into a creative epiphany that spawned his life’s work: he would use Cerebus to tell the story of a life.... The story of Cerebus would last 300 issues, he said. And it would finish in March 2004.

Sim’s grand vision of Cerebus as a vehicle for all of his creativity and a soapbox for all of his thoughts on the world is both the single biggest barrier to access for the series and simultaneously its biggest aesthetic strength. The chronological and literal length of the endeavor forced different kinds of narrative conception, different types of stories, and a constantly-shifting set of narrative tacks that give each segment its own thrust and structure, while the entirety of the work remains, in a way, unknowable. Zappa had a name for his own conception of this effect—“Project/Object,” a way to take the innumberable projects that he executed in his life—over fifty albums, hundreds of live performances, films, scripts, even interviews—and place them together, referencing each other and thus existing in simultaneity, so as to change and enrich the individual projects in context of the larger theoretical “object.”

And that is in essence the mystery at the heart of Cerebus as art object, versus Cerebus as narrative or Cerebus as long-running periodical. Over the entirety of Cerebus there exists a 500-page novel focused almost exclusively on art, ambition, and quiet obsession, people as objects in orbit around each other, intricately rendered in a pen and ink style reminiscent of Franklin Booth, populated by figures acting with exquisite subtlety but capable of sudden rubberiness a-la Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair. Another novelette consisting of an author’s slow-moving death while the titular character is virtually catatonic, which ends in a burst of physical violence unprecedented in the series. There are no less than three cosmic revelations, with two literal theophanies, and an attempt to unify a reading of modern astrophysics with the first book of the Torah. Many, though not all, of these could be read independently from each other, without reference to the rest, much as you could read any of the individual early issues and have a complete experience. But placed together, they are changed.What do these novels say about each other? Do to each other? How do they interact, speak, conflict, continue or contradict the goals and values of the preceeding, and those to-come? And how, exacly, do all of these segments have their genesis here, in a comic best described as Conan meets Howard the Duck?

Another "first Cerebus"-- Cerebus the potted plant/table lamp. From "Crimson Alpha", a story from the never-published all-Dave Sim anthology REVOLT 3000, drawn between the long-lost CEREBUS the fanzine and the first actual issue of Cerebus.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Justice League: The AMOC review

Hi, Everybody!

So I went and saw Justice League, and now the A Moment Of Cerebus review:

Cerebus doesn't appear in it.

Join me next time when I review: Thor Ragnarok (spoilers: there are no aardvarks in that either...)

Monday, 11 December 2017

Super-rare Cerebus Archives for auction!

Hi, Everybody!

Who's looking for some Cerebus Archive (the comics series)?

Well boy-howdy are you in for a treat,

Check this out!

Numbers 7 & 8, 9 & 10, 14, 15 &16, 17&18.

Good luck!

Thanks to Sean Robinson for the tip.
Do you have a tip/suggestion for A Moment Of Cerebus? Drop a line to momentofcerebus (at) gmail (dot) com and you could have YOUR NAME typed in a small font by Interim Editor Matt Dow (It IS quite the honor...)

Next time: "What am I bid on these old Archie Comics from the late 70s, that have a vague 'wet dog' smell?"

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Reading Cerebus #2

Hey look kids! It's "READING CEREBUS" time!
Kevin Kimmes:

Welcome back to “Reading Cerebus”, a new weekly column here at A Moment of Cerebus. The goal of this column is to bring a fresh perspective to the 300-issue saga of Cerebus as I read through the series for the first time and give my insights into the longest running independent comic book series of all time. Think of this as part book club, part lit-crit, and part pop culture musing. Oh, and they told me Dave Sim himself may be reading this, so I hope I don’t screw this up. Let’s continue.
Issue #2 – “Captive in Boreala”
Cerebus #2: Captive in Boreala
Issue 2 opens an indeterminate amount of time after the events of issue 1. With his money gone, we find Cerebus has fled the cities of the south and has joined a Tansubal warband headed for Boreala and the countries to the north-east.
After being ambushed by a group of savage marauders (no, not the 1980’s X-Men villains), Cerebus finds himself outnumbered and proving his worth as a “sword for hire” in the sacred “Duel of the Long Knives”.
Some of you are saying, “What’s this “Duel of the Long Knives” of which you speak?” Well, I’m glad you asked. In the “Duel of the Long Knives” two competitors, each armed with long knives (surprise, surprise) fight with a two-foot length of cloth between their teeth. That is how “sacred tradition” dictates the fight is supposed to transpire. However, due to a height disparity between Cerebus and his opponent, Klog, this fight features a six-foot length of cloth in order to be “more - - uh sacred”.
Sacred tradition demands I caption this image from the first phonebook... courtesy of CerebusDownloads

This test is meant to favor the physical attributes of the man-mountain, Klog, and plays out as such in the early going. Cerebus is quickly thrown from his feet and his knife flies several feet away. This would be the doom of less qualified warriors, but only a momentary distraction for Cerebus. See, he has a secret weapon at his disposal, his snout.
As mentioned in last week’s column, the Cerebus of the early issues has a long snout and is a bit “off-model” in comparison with the look that most comics fans of the last 40 years would recognize, but in this week’s tale, this strangely pays off for “The Earth-Pig Born”. With, Klog’s attempt at a charge foiled, Cerebus draws him in close and unleashes a dreaded “Earth-Pig Snout Punch”. Yes, sometimes being a bit off-model pays off in ways you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
Sadly, poor dumb Klog learns a harsh lesson from this contest: Don’t piss off Cerebus!
While Klog lays unconscious in the snow, the Borealan chieftain quips about how as a southlander Cerebus doubtlessly has a moral code that prohibits the execution of an unconscious foe. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as Cerebus picks up his knife and plunges it deep into Klog’s skull. Again, repeat after me, kids: Don’t piss off Cerebus!
Cerebus soon finds his time as a Borealan marauder short lived as on the third day of their march they run into fatal opposition from an ensorcelled army of fifty warriors. Cut off from the Borealans, Cerebus soon finds himself herded toward the precipice of a cliff with two options presented: fight against unfathomable sorcery or face the unknown danger of what lies below. Cerebus chooses the unknown.
As it turns out, the unknown holds two things: 1) “The Eye of Terim”, 2) An artistic shortcut. We’ll get back to “The Eye…” in a moment, but let’s talk about this shortcut for a minute. In his introduction to issue #2 in “Swords of Cerebus” (later re-printed in “Cerebus Bi-Weekly” #2), Dave admits that drawing twelve pages of Cerebus and rocks was a lot more appealing to the artistic part of him at the time, than the alternative of spending the next two weeks drawing Barry Windsor-Smith people and buildings and snow. Thus, we get the heavy blacks of the poorly lit resting place of “The Eye of Terim”.
“The Eye…” is said to be guarded by the demon Khem, but as Cerebus is soon to learn, legends can be deceiving, as can appearances. As with the “Flame Jewel” of issue #1, “The Eye…” is not actually “The Eye…”, but instead the trappings of a succubus!
As the succubus attempts to attack Cerebus for seeing it for what it is, an interesting twist is uncovered: “The Earth-Pig Born” may have no soul. Explained as “…his unusual nature” on the last page of the story, this is something I’ll be keeping eye out for in later stories. For now, this lack of or difficulty in finding a soul, has just saved Cerebus’ grey hide.
This issue ends with Cerebus realizing that his battle with the succubus has released the ensorcelled army, leaving a battle field of skeletons as proof. Finding himself broke and hungry again, Cerebus heads to the nearest port twenty-plus miles away where he plans on enjoying the finer things in life like ale and brawling.
Join me back here next week as I discuss the “Song of Red Sophia” which features the introduction of Red Sophia, based on another Robert E. Howard creation, Red Sonja. Take care.
Currently Listening To: “Sunshine Daydream: Veneta, Oregon, August 27, 1972” by Grateful Dead
Kevin Kimmes is a lifelong comic book reader, sometime comic book artist, and recent Cerebus convert. He can be found slinging comics at the center of the Multiverse, aka House of Heroes in Oshkosh, WI

Saturday, 9 December 2017

"Like sands through the hourglass..." Dave's Sim's Blog & Mail #1

Hi, Everybody!

Your ol' Interim Editor Matt Dow here. Today, I thought we'd take a look back at Dave Sim's Blog & Mail. Specifically, the first one. With my then-commentary.

Preamble: Dave Sim's Blog & Mail ran on the Cerebus Yahoo group from September 13th, 2006 to December 26th, 2007., that's pretty much all you needed to know. I used to call it the "bloggymail" because in Spanish, "and" is "y", and I thought "Blog y Mail" sounded funny, or something. Dude, it was a decade ago. Wait do you want? Anyway,

Dave's text is in bold. 
And my comments are in not bold.

Hi Dave,

Since Jeff Seiler has made it clear that we (the yahoos,) are pretty much mandated to write in (hmmm...who made THAT decision?  Something smells fishy here...), here's my replies/comments/mad ramblings on the first weeks worth of "blogandmail"s.

On 9/13/06, Dave Sim < > wrote:
Wednesday September 13 – Hi and welcome to my Blog.


I'm actually going to try to stay current with this on a daily basis, having noticed that I spent way too much time saying to myself while answering my escargot mail "I really should make a note of that and let the Yahoos know about it" and never, you know, actually doing it.  

Oh the things that never turned up here...

Even tried self-inducing a trance-like state and saying to a particular paragraph in a letter I was working on: "Go to Larry Hart (or Lenny Cooper or Jeff Seiler or Jeff Tundis or…you get the idea).   Go to him now and tell him what you have to say. Tell him to post you to the Yahoo discussion group. Go now"  You know, I figured if I had it typed on my computer screen and I just wanted it to go to another computer screen, maybe I could make it into a Lassie-type gig.   "Go to the Yahoos. Tell them you need help." 

Well, that explains that.  We've had about twenty border collies hanging around for the past month or so.  Nobody could figure out what they wanted.  It went kinda like this:
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Jeff Tundis: "What's that Lassie, Timmy fell down the well and has a compound fracture of the lower mandibula?"
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Lenny Cooper: "What's that Lassie, bootleggers are hiding out at the old Miller place?"
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Larry Hart: "What's that Lassie, The Highway Ghoul is really Smithers, the cantankerous old caretaker?"
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Jeff Seiler: "What's that Lassie, 'be sure to drink your Ovaltine'?"
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Margaret Liss: "Does anybody know why this dog keeps following me around with what looks like an old notebook that somebody drug through a creek?"
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Chris Woerner: "So Sir Gerrick was supposed to be a major presence in Cerebus, but Dave had to cut him out to fit in all the Cirinist stuff?"
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Jason Trimmer: "Why does a dog have original Cerebus sketches in it's mouth?"
Border collie: "woof-woof."
Me: "'Deep is the suede that mows like a harvest'?  What does that even mean?"
Jeff Seiler: "Hey look, this dog just pulled out a copy of 'Latter Days' and opened it to the sheep dog at the beginning."
Jeff Tundis: "Aww, he must think he knows that dog."
Border collie: "Grrrr."
Um... you get the idea.
(Say, since these are technically your dogs, could you kick in a couple bucks to pay for dog-chow?  Cause in a few months we're gonna have even more dogs around here.)  (It looks like somedoggy's been up to the devil's business.)

     Finally, I decided to make Uber Yahoo and Minister-in-Charge-of-Checking-Dave Sim-for-Hypocrisy-on-Behalf-of-Secular-Humanists-Everywhere Jeff Tundis

Ha!  Now I know Jeff's official title.
And knowing is half the battle.

(check out his website, still in progress) my posting victim.  The nice thing about Jeff is, like me, he is always working so I never have any trouble getting him on the phone. 


The even nicer thing about Jeff is that even though he's up to his ass in crocodiles as a general rule, he's always glad to find out what it is that I want (or he's glad to pretend to be interested in finding out what it is that I want which is "close enough for government work" for me!).   

Remember Dave, don't abuse this awesome power.  Ya know, like by making Jeff go get you a turkey sandwich.   Okay, that'd be pretty funny.  But don't make him get you a turkey sandwich a whole lot.  Only on special occasions.

He pretty much put this format together while I was still talking to him on the phone and asking him if it was possible. 

Much like that lady who used to hang out with Helen Keller, Jeff is a miracle worker.  Like Scotty from Star Trek.

So I really found out that it was possible for me to do a Blog without actually being hooked up to the Internet and found out that I was now doing a Blog pretty much in the same moment. 

That sounds like it was fun.  Fortunately, Jeff didn't post THAT conversation as the first installment of blogandmail. 
You: "Jeff, it's Dave.  Is it possible to do a Blog without being hooked up to the internet?"
Jeff: "Sure Dave, I'm posting right now, what do you have to say."
You: "Um...'Hi, this is Dave Sim.'"
Jeff: "Anything else?"
You: "Yeah, 'Go get me a turkey sandwich.'"

  So, we'll launch the new "Blog & Mail" right after this brief commercial message.

Jeff's great.  Now make him cluck like a chicken!

The Blog & Mail is brought to you today by

I've been, neat sight.  (Now if only that dump truck full of twenty dollar bills would crash in front of my apartment and make me rich enough to afford original Cerebus art...)

 Your "One-Stop Shopping Headquarters" for all your Cerebus Art Needs Well, okay, not ALL of your Cerebus Art Needs.   Let's say you NEEDED all of the interior pages for issue 8.  Well, we haven't got them.  SOMEBODY sold them for $10 apiece back in 1978 and spent the money on marijuana. Not naming any names.

Hey, somebody mentioned that somebody else was interested in getting a full recreation of issue one for the thirtieth anniversary of Cerebus.  And that that was gonna cost a small fortune.  Is there any interest on your or Gerard's part to do a "Special Edition" of Cerebus #1 for the thirtieth? (He asked knowing the answer's probably "not really" and "Where's that Tundis kid with my sandwich?".)

In the Blog & Mail today:

  IN TALES OF THE SILVERFISH #4 WITH CEREBUS ART AND DIALOGUE BY DAVE SIM  CEREBUS CROSSES OVER WITH THE SILVERFISH.    This was quite a bit of fun to do from John Q. Adams' layouts although I changed it from the regular old dying Cerebus of The Last Day to Cerebus' first post-mortem guest appearance at a comic book convention.

Neat.  (Of course now I gotta find a copy, but still neat.)

   The pages sat around here for a while as I tried to figure out how to put tone on Cerebus and still have the Silverfish in the foreground.   That was when I figured out they're just cartoon silverfish: draw a head and a body shape and people should get the idea from the context. People are, you know, pretty bright that way.

"Look Peggy, it's a little silverfish."
"Why that's real purdy Joe-Bob, I wunder how he does it?"

Even did my own (albeit second-rate on a Gerhard scale) backgrounds!

Aw come on Dave.  They can't be any worse then any background I've ever done.

   Some or all of the proceeds from issue 4 will be donated to the CBLDF [see or for details].  

Well now I know where to look for a copy.
And knowing is half the battle...
(The other half is gratuitous violence.)

The Silverfish Gallery features an extensive exhibit of silverfish cartoons done by a variety of comic-book big names and some little names.

Well Dave around here you'll always be a big nam...WOW, FRED HEMBECK!  AW, NEAT!!!!!

    It also took a while for the issue to get printed which is pretty much par for the course for rookies and folks for whom cartooning and self-publishing is not their regular gig. 

Are you talking about me?

  I tend to think about that when I'm working on a jam strip for somebody: I wonder what's going to be going on in my life when this turns up in printed form?   Sometimes the stuff just vanishes and I never get an answer to that question.

Okay, you're talking about me aren't you?


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

You'd think I'd have this memorized, but every time, I end up having to look it up.

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks?

Not really, I sorta have 'em all.  I mean I was thinking of finishing my best friend's set for him

And that's it. Come back next week for the next installment of "Bloggymail Archives" or whatever I call this feature.

Cerebus Archive Number 7 - Kickstarted!

Friday, 8 December 2017

Unique way to publish a 1st issue (Dave's Weekly Update #212)

Hi, Everybody!

Heeeeeere's Dave:

Hey, do you support Dave Sim on Patreon?

I support Dave Sim on Patreon. And I just got this email from Patreon:
Dear patron, 

Your support is truly changing the lives of creators around the world. You give creators a reliable paycheck that enables them to do their best work. Thank you thank you thank you. 

In order to continue our mission of funding the creative class, we’re always looking for ways to do what’s best for our creators. With that, we’re writing to tell you of a change we’re making so that all Patreon creators take home exactly 95% of every pledge, with no additional fees. 

Aside from Patreon’s existing 5% fee, a creator’s income on Patreon varies because of processing fees every month. They can lose anywhere from 7-15% of their earnings to these fees. This means creators actually take home a lower percentage of your pledge than you may realize. Our goal is to make creators’ paychecks as predictable as possible, so we’re restructuring how these fees are paid. 

Starting December 18th, we will apply a new service fee of 2.9% + $0.35 that patrons will pay for each individual pledge. This service fee helps keep Patreon up and running. 

We want you to know that we approach every change with thoughtfulness for creators and patrons. By standardizing Patreon’s fees, we’re ensuring that creators get paid to continue creating high quality content. If you have questions or would like to learn more, please visit our FAQhere. 

The Patreon team
So if you support Dave Sim on Patreon, Good News! Now when you support Dave Sim on Patreon, Dave Sim gets more money? Or something... I don't really get it. 

And hey, if you aren't supporting Dave Sim on Patreon, now if you DO decide to start supporting Dave Sim on Patreon, Dave gets more money? I guess? I find this all very confusing...

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Sketches of Prince Mick

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

Last week we left off with page 63 of Dave Sim's notebook #9 with a look at the sketches of Prince Mick. There are a few more pages of Prince Mick sketches so I figured we could look at them.

On page 64 we see Prince Mick now with his sunglasses on for every portrait and we get a glimpse of his carriage as well.

Notebook 9, page 64
On page 65 It looks like Dave didn't like the top of Prince Mick's head so he crossed it out and  redid it.

Notebook 9, page 65
The next page shows a few more full body sketches of Prince Mick and a close up of those lips. And a little Cerebus in the reflection of his sunglasses.

Notebook 9, page 66
Just one sketch on the final page this time. And a line of dialogue "Dunno. The axel broke or the spoke or summ't."

Notebook 9, page 67

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Cerebus Anniversary-- Forty Years of a Cantankerous Aardvark

Sean Michael Robinson:


I wanted to use this week's post to bring some attention to a so-far-unheralded milestone in the world of comics. This month is the fortieth anniversary of Cerebus #1, first published (according to the cover date, anyway!) in December of 1977.

So as of yet, no one's thrown Cerebus a party. No one's baked him a cake. But to celebrate in a smaller, less icing-involved way, over the next few weeks we'll take a look at a few excepts from the essay I wrote for the newly-restored 17th printing of Cerebus Volume One, released January 2017. If you enjoy the excerpt, or really, even if you don't, I'd recommend picking up a copy of the printing, which is remarkably better than any of the preceding printings. (Easily identified by the increased cover price, and the giant REMASTERED EDITION banner on the top!)

Taken as a whole, the 6,000 page Cerebus the Aardvark is one of the richest, most confounding, most complex, most multi-layered, most singular works of visual narrative art of the last century. 

This from a comic that began as both tribute to and parody of  Barry Windsor-Smith’s Conan; a comic born of the twin forces of fanzine culture and the economic opportunities of the comic industry as it transitioned from newsstand distribution to the direct market. It is simultaneously a tribute to artistic development and craft borne of dedication and focus, to complexity, to serialization and public development, to the limitless possibilities of genre-free work; a work of great narrative accomplishment hand-in-hand with asesthetic achievement.      

It’s also funny as hell.

The current linguistic climate of accumulating hyperbole has made it difficult to describe the scope of achievement of Cerebus the Aardvark in terms that haven’t long since worn out their welcome. Incredible, as in, difficult to credit, unbelievable. Awesome, as in, inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear. In an earlier time, words that might be equally appropriate to the description of a birth, a cathedral, or a sink hole.

Cerebus, in toto, is truly an awesome work, unlike any other in the history of fiction. This is in part because of, not despite of, the work’s more modest beginnings, including the volume you now hold in your hand.

Entirely original, entirely self-published, Cerebus ran for twenty-six years, over 300 mostly monthly issues comprised of more than 6,000 pages of comics, the original artwork of which, if stacked perfectly flat, would reach a height of more than 31 feet. The physical scale of the accomplishment aside, the series is a treasure-trove of visual technique, of narrative diversity, and is unprecedented for the frequency of genre-flipping and continually violated expectations. What starts as a sword and sorcery pastiche quickly evolves into adventure, social criticism, and wicked, cutting parody. And that’s just the first slice.

When people ask me, “Do you ever hit a writer’s block?” it seems like a very odd question, because the history of comics is an immense line that snakes around in very bizarre directions, with the word “super-heroes” written on it, and aside from that snake there’s nothing but empty territory... If I were writing a novel it would be difficult, trying to think of a theme that hasn’t been done before, an attitude that hasn’t been done before. But if you take everything that’s been covered in novels and movies and television and lay it over the top of the themes that have been dealt with in comics, there’s nothing but open space. 
 — Dave Sim, in interview with Kim Thompson (1982)

It’s difficult to divorce the genesis of the book from the culture that spawned it. 

Since the creation of the format in the late 1930s, comics had been a vehicle for the supernatural, for violence, and for pulpy adventure stories. They were distributed almost entirely through newsstands, drug stores, and candy stores, and sold by distributors on a returnable basis. When the new monthly issues arrived, the left-over copies were pulped to make way for the new, their covers ripped off and returned as proof of their destruction. The economic pressures of such a system, and the explosion of material crowding the stands, meant that only the most sensational prevailed, and any success was soon imitated by rival houses. But 1954’s Seduction of the Innocent, psychologist Frederick Wertham’s largely fictional expose into the supposed effects of comic book exposure on delinquent youth, changed all of that. Mounting public pressure on the industry led in short order to the formation of the “Comics Code Authority,” a self-regulating organization similar to the Hayes Code of the film industry, that laid out specific rules that must be followed in order for a comic book to be distributed on newsstands. The result was immediate—the elimination of virtually all of the horror, science fiction and crime comic books that had up until that time proliferated and flourished. The superhero was ascendant, laying claim to almost every slice of the ever-shrinking pie. 

In the 1960’s counter-culture comic books made some inroads against that bulwark with an alternative distribution system that targeted mainly head shops. But the erratic publication schedule of these titles, combined with the erratic nature of the shops themselves, weren’t supportive enough for long-term success. 

That would have to wait for the so-called “direct” market.

The late 1960s and early 70s saw the emergence of fan culture in North America. Science fiction conventions, in one form or another, had existed since the late 1930s, but comic conventions didn’t begin appearing until the mid 1960s. But these gatherings were self-generating, and brought with them social connections that persisted in the form of fanzines (a portmanteau of fan and magazine). Popular comic books spawned their own fanzines, which could feature reviews, interviews, pin-ups by fans or aspiring artists, pin-ups by pros or semi-pros, in-depth critical disquisitions, public arguments with the editors of other fanzines... 

The direct market emerged from these two opposing forces—the burgeoning culture of fandom and the continuing malaise of the newsprint-distribution model. Phil Seuling, comic book enthusiast, comic convention organizer, and would-be distributor, worked out deals with the major publishers to purchase their books, which his Sea Gate Distribution would then re-sell to the new comic enthusiast stores. These purchases were made with up-front money and were sold on a non-refundable basis, but these downsides were offset by steeper discounts and more reliable delivery and tailored smaller orders. It wouldn’t be long before other benefits would become clear, changes that would affect the way that the comics themselves were read and produced.

Enter Young Dave Sim. 

In a larger sense this is the reason that I stopped answering the ‘Why an Aardvark’ question some time ago. Each thread of the actual, fully interwoven answer is deserving of lengthy explication. Taking it down to “sound byte” level makes me uncomfortable and reduces many large contributions and contributors to bit players — Gene Day and T. Casey Brennan foremost on that list.   
I have no memory of drawing the first picture of the aardvark mascot. I was doing so much freelance work (both commissioned and on spec) that the work I did for my girlfriend’s magazine was more of a hobby, an afterthought to the day’s work. I only did the one version (“A Boy and His Aardvark” was still fresh in my mind, so I don’t think I even referred to the little picture in the dictionary): a cartoon barbarian aardvark (in keeping with the fantasy theme intended for the magazine). I probably knocked it out in about twenty minutes with an extra thirty seconds for the tone.
As the first issue started to come together, it was Deni who realized that the fanzine’s title, Cerebus, was misspelled. The three-headed dog who guarded Hades in Greek mythology was Cerberus. ‘Not to worry,’ I said, somewhat less than eager to reletter the logo and figure out how to squeeze in an extra letter and transpose two others, We’ll just say that Cerebus is the name of the cartoon aardvark mascot.’
The fanzine was never published. The originals and a cheque for (I believe) $175 were sent to an address in California of a Deep Discount quick printer. The magazine and the money vanished without a trace.
— Dave Sim, “Why an Aardvark?” (1996)

Born May 17th 1956, Sim was an early comics enthusiast. A self-taught writer/artist, and almost-native of Kitchener, Ontario, he dropped out of high school at seventeen to pursue his interests, and spent the next few years contributing interviews, editorials, pin-ups, stories, and artwork to a bewildering variety of fanzines both local and remote, using each acceptance as a foothold to the next. He found a second home and an outlet for some of his creativity at Kitchener’s Now & Then Books, which started as a second-hand book store in 1971 and, under the sole ownership of co-founder Harry Kremer, soon became one of the first direct market comic stores in North America. Kremer was willing to finance small-press fanzine publications, such as Now & Then Times (1972, 1973), by Dave Sim and John Balge, and later, Oktoberfest (1976), a vehicle for Sim and his near-peer mentor Gene Day, whose own career continued to develop ahead of Sim’s. It was also Now & Then’s Kremer who eventually gave Sim the final push into what turned into his life work, by financing the first issue of Cerebus by purchasing five hundred copies of the initial print-run, sight unseen. 

The origins of Red Sophia, who first appeared in issue #3 (April 1978), give some insight into the difficulty involved in sorting out the origins of any one element of a work so filled with pastiche and appropriation. Red Sophia, a buxom chain-mail-bikini-clad warrior princess, is a broad (ahem) parody of Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith’s Red Sonja, adapted from Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino (an otherwise unrelated red-haired Polish/Ukranian gunslinger) and placed into Marvel Comics’ ongoing Conan the Barbarian with issue #23 (1973). Red Sonja, whose troubling origins involve her own brutal rape, and a plea for revenge, granted by a goddess who insists she have sex only with men who can defeat her in combat, became the leading edge of a wave of “fierce and beautiful” female warriors, and was a popular fixture in the glut of sword and sorcery comics, fanzines, and conventions. Frank Thorne’s depiction of the character in Marvel Feature became the definitive version, and it’s this version that Sim appears to be parodying. A good indication?  Thorne’s likeness, and his comic convention persona as “The Wizard,” appear to be one and the same with Sonja’s father Henrot. (Coincidentally, July of 1978 would be the last appearance of future Elfquest artist/”direct” market star Wendy Pini as Red Sonja in Thorne’s “Sonja Show” convention piece, only months after the Cerebus parody appeared.)

The kind of clubhouse mentality infuses the early issues of the book. Deni Loubert, soon to be Deni Sim, acted as publisher and wrote a brief editorial at the lead of every issue. Brother-in-law Michael Loubert assisted Sim in the early world-building, designing the “Aardvarkian Age” map that appeared in the book from issues 3 to 10, and also penning a column by the same name that appeared on and off in the back of the first few issues. Certain characters bear names that are anagrams or anagramed amalgams of the names of Sim’s acquaintances. On a few occasions, names were inked into the curly-cue lines of a vest or a segment of background hatching. 


more next week...