Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Church and State is Ready at Last

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings all!

We are now one week away from delivering files to the printer for Church & State I. Yes, at long last, it's almost complete--the (dare I say) definitive, Legacy edition of this comics classic.

Yes, this means you can now order your own copy of C & S I from your local comics retailer. Or multiple copies, if that's how you roll. A hundred for your bunker. A thousand for every library in your state. It's up to you!

This week, I'm here to spill the beans on some big changes in our printing methods and physical format that I've been keeping under my hat for the past two months.

First off, we'll be printing with a brand new (to us) printer-- Tien Wah Press, an award-winning international printer based in Singapore. If there's a fabulous looking graphic novel from the past decade, there's decent odds they were a part of it. We'll also be printing with a new method, on a new type of paper. Gone is the web-offset printing of the last two books, to be replaced with sheet-fed offset, a slower and more exacting process that ensures a precise and less varied final product. We'll also be printing on a special multifine "woodfree" paper stock. "Woodfree" stocks have had the wood fibers stripped out in the chemical pulping process to make a less porous surface than any other uncoated stock.

What does this mean? Combined with their fantastic facilities and attention to detail, this means that the book will have virtually no visible dot gain, while still having a rich, lustrous black to the ink.

We ran some press sheets using a smattering of High Society files, picking out difficult pages that betray dot gain easily-- teeny tiny tone, teeny tiny cross-hatching, newsprint sourced pages... it was hard to believe the results when we got them back. The pages sourced from original art were the real standouts for me-- like holding little miniature versions of the original art in my hand.

Above-- a "dummy" copy of Church & State I, with a press proof page from High Society tipped in to simulate the interior art. All interior art going forward will be 104 percent of the normal 6" x 9" size.

The binding has also taken a huge step forward. Instead of going with the previous "perfect" binding style, i.e. grinding down the edges of the assembled signatures and then adding a strip of glue between the backs and the cover, we'll be working with a new type of binding entirely. Each 16-page signature is individually sewn before assembly, leaving the book able to lie flat, and for the entire gutter area to be visible at all times.

As with most improvements, the paper choice came with a few unintended consequences. The book is approximately 165 percent of its previous width.

Dave's response to this-- "The Microsoft Theory-- if you can't fix it call it a feature. CHURCH & STATE I-- NOW 50 PERCENT THICKER!!"

For me, though, it IS a feature. It's reassuring to look at a 600 page book and for it to have dimensions that correspond roughly to its complexity and importance. Not that different, I suppose, to the sentiment in this classic Kids in the Hall sketch.

What weights more: the Bible or the Bhagavad-Gita? Well worldy scholars and scientists have known for quite some time that the Bible outweighs the Bhagavad-Gita here by a pound to a pound and a half sometimes, outweighs the Talmud sometimes by three to four pounds, outweighs that mighty Koran sometimes by five to ten pounds. You think about that.
Many, many thanks to my industry pal Mike B. who pointed us towards TWP. And once again, my thanks to all of you who have made this process possible.

So, this wouldn't be a major update if I didn't ask you all for something. And so I have a question-- are you personally in possession of RECENT printings of any Cerebus books, from C&S I on? We're seeking digital photos (or scans-- any readable res is fine) of the indica pages of the most recent printings of Cerebus vol. 3-16, to be used to put together the indica pages for these new volumes. That is, we're looking for the page that lists the various printing and print dates. (As a for-instance, my copy of C+S I is a tenth printing, from March 2005. There are (most likely) two more printings after that, but neither I nor Dave know when those would have been. Can you help us? Send a snapshot or low-res scan to cerebusarthunt at gmail. We'd really appreciate it!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Sandeep Atwal On The Beat

(from comments to Dave Sim Receives $500,000 Bequest at The Beat, 4 August 2015)
Re: The availability of Cerebus. As far as I know, all of the books are currently in print and can be ordered from Diamond. (Rick’s Story *might* be out of print.) Personally, I think it’s a question of comic book stores having enough interest from customers to bother keeping the phone books in stock. Without the weekly comic on the shelves, Cerebus sort of lacks a presence in the market, as such. I'm trying to help Dave correct that by establishing a more formal online presence for Cerebus via twitter, facebook, youtube, tumblr, et al. and helping make sure there are PDFs available, etc…

As I'm sure you can all imagine, keeping sixteen books in print when it's a one-man operation can be quite challenging, especially with the transformation to desktop publishing that occurred during the run of Cerebus. Throw in the digital remastering of all 6,000 pages and it's now Considerably Even More Of A Challenge. However, the first two books have now been reprinted (the second of which, High Society, received a delightful review from the AV Club and the third book should be out this fall along with a Cerebus Covers Collection from IDW.

Work on the rest of the series progresses and, hopefully, as the books are remastered and re-released, the work will receive a new audience. It's been eleven years since Cerebus has been on the comic book shelves. I think a lot of younger fans have only heard of it (or never heard of it). Maybe people will still think it’s 'irredeemable'. Or maybe people won't see his worldview as being so simplistic that it can be easily dismissed by calling it misogyny. Maybe people will see events like the witch hunt against British biochemist Tim Hunt in a different light and it will cause them to reconsider their position on some gender issues. I certainly don't know, but I think it’s an excellent body of work that deserves a wider audience, warts and all, and am happy to be working with Dave on it. For those who care, I see him every week, and he's doing very well. No, he's not crazy. No, he doesn’t hate women. He works on The Strange Death of Alex Raymond and Cerebus-related stuff and prays and fasts and reads the Bible and Koran and doesn’t smoke or do drugs or drink anymore and tries to be a good person. But he still can't draw right now, as his hand is still messed up.

For those who simply do not ever want to see or hear about Dave Sim or Cerebus ever again, I'm sure there’s a Chrome plug-in for that, but for those who are interested in examining a body of work about which Alan Moore once said, "is still to comic books what Hydrogen is to the Periodic Table" for themselves and making up their own minds about what it is, well there's lots more coming! A lot more. Oh man, so much more. So much scanning to do in the future. So much Photoshop. I always say, he could have just done 200 issues, you know? That still would've been really awesome and everybody would've been super impressed. But oh no, he had to go and do 300. Big show off.

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
(Anything Goes! #3, The Comics Journal, March 1986)
Story & Art by Dave Sim, Colours by Tom Luth

(from the editorial to Anything Goes! #3, March 1986)
Justice doesn't come cheap in these United States (and most of the time it probably doesn't come at all), but if it did come cheap, you wouldn't be reading Anything Goes!. This comic is published by The Comics Journal, the revenue from which is going, not to the creators, who certainly deserve it, but to paying the Journal's legal defense in its six-year litigation initiated by the comic book writer Michael Fleisher. Thanks, once again, are in order, to readers for buying the comic and helping to support the Journal's continued journalistic efforts, and to the creators for making the book possible. A few comments and thank-yous:

Neal Adams would like it known that he's not taking sides in the litigation between the Journal and Fleisher, and that he drew our Cerebus cover (with the much appreciated permission of Dave Sim) in the interests of helping the Journal see the lawsuit through. Special thanks to Cory Adams for a stunning color job.

And, speaking of comic's premier wise-guy, many thanks to Dave Sim for coming through with his contribution. (In fact, I haven't forgotten that Dave was one of the first people to buy an "I Support The Comics Journal And The First Amendment" t-shirt five or six years ago when the lawsuit first broke. Even though he's never done us the honor of parodying the Journal in Cerebus, the crazy bastard must like it. Birds of a feather, I guess.)...

Anything Goes! #3
(The Comics Journal, March 1986)
Art by Neal Adams

Monday, 3 August 2015

Sim & The Art Of Self-Publishing

(from ‘Self-Publish & Be Damned’ in Comic World #24, Feb 1994)
...for [the first] five or six years with Cerebus... I couldn't understand why everybody else wasn't doing it [self-publishing]. When I would talk with other professionals, every one of them has exactly the same horror story, or variations on it -- [the publisher] didn't pay for it, they didn't pay what they said they were going to pay, they didn't get the inker that they said they were going to get.

There's a phobia that sets in with artists because when they're going into a business office to sign a contract to start working for someone and they realise that it's just second nature to them to mess you about -- as you say over here [in the UK] -- that you think, "This is tough enough, this is just the editor or an assistant editor -- what would it be like dealing with a printer or dealing with the distributors?"

When you're a self-publisher, you're dealing with them on the same level they're on -- business. If they can make money off your title, you can arrive at an agreement and that's the same thing with the printer. You tell the printer what you want done... and if he doesn't do that then you go and find another printer.

There's also, "Okay, I'm ready for the cold hard truth: Am I crap? Am I completely unmarketable?" Well is you can write and draw it... and have it printed exactly the way you pictured it in your head and it dies on the vine, well, now you have your answer. If you put it out that way, and you're able to keep going, then you've got an answer as well.

Why don't you have enough confidence in your own work to say, "Why should I cut in a publisher for 90% of the action?" That usually sets the kids back on their heals when they're showing you their portfolio and y'know, "Would you be interested in publishing this?"

...What I think you end up with when you have self-publishing, is work that is closer to the real world mainstream: the self-published books tend to have a much wider readership that are not the die-hard comic book fans. They're usually either fans who got sick of all the traditional comic books, or they're people who have a friend who collects comic books, who's always trying to show them something to get them interested...

...So I think there's far more of a potential of comics breaking through with self-publishing and alternative works, because they're alternatives not just to other comic books, but they're alternatives to the crap movies and the crap television shows, which are the almost universal condition at this point. I mean, if I finish reading an installment of From Hell and try to watch television right afterwards, it just seems so transparently leeched of content: it looks like some curious little kaleidoscope box of some kind with strange sounds coming out of it...

...good comic book stores are all that you need. It's very easy to get discouraged when 85% of the stores -- whatever proportion -- are just doing the traditional superhero stuff. They'll order Cerebus, but if they’ve got three subscribers for Cerebus they order three copies.

But the stores that are really good, the stores that recognise that the old game has to come to an end, and that it's time to really find ways to get new people into the stores, not to just talk about it or put some crap Marvel co-op ad in the local paper, y'know, "C'mon in and buy this new series that's starting and it interconnects these twelve annuals." That's not how you're going to get a new audience.

With the budget constraints that stores have got, they have no problem with selling fifty copies of Kane [by Paul Grist], but they want to get them five copies at a time and as the big distribution concerns are getting larger and larger, all they can have available is what came out this week, what came out last week, and maybe what came out two weeks ago. But a b&w self-published comic, nobody's going to pick up issue three and say, "I think I'll check this out..." Same thing with the Cerebus reprint volumes, a store buys, like, one copy of Jaka's Story -- feeling a little reckless -- and they put it in with their graphic novels. Well you look on the spine, that's book number five or whatever: you’re not going to sell book five of a seven-book series to some curiosity seeker.

You have to get away from the usual comic store. The image of the comic store has to change.

I think it already is: again, it depends on the store. But having done the 21 city US tour, I sure saw a range of comic book stores. The best ones are the stores that do fit into the community -- that all goes back to whoever's working in the store. If they're outgoing, confident people, who like comic books and know when someone comes in who doesn't know what comic books are, that you don't try and sell them, y'know, the current Robin series with the hologram cover.

To me, it's a matter of saying, "I have no problem writing off 85% of stores if I can stick with the 15%." We're making a damn good living off of those people and there's a lot of potential for other self-publishers coming along now.

It’s the reprint book market that we're making the good living off -- if we had to live off the sales of the monthly comic book we wouldn't be here [laughs]. Having stores that are willing to stock reprint books and keep them in stock, that's where the difference is made.

The worst time is you've got four or five issues out... and you're sitting there going, "Oh no, now number two is out of print, how am I going to afford to print number six and number two!"

You just muddle through that time until you can get together enough money to put out the first trade paperback, and then suddenly you start seeing these really significant cheques that don't look like babysitting cheques anymore.

So yeah, there's a lot of potential with that. Gerhard is quite right that it’s a matter of keeping that material available so that the good stores have all the stuff right there and available.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

A Few Thoughts On Krazy Kat

by Bill Watterson
(This article first appeared in "The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat", Kitchen Sink Press, 1990)

As a cartoonist, I read Krazy Kat with awe and wonder. Krazy Kat is such a pure and completely realized personal vision that the strip's inner mechanism is ultimately as unknowable as George Herriman. Nevertheless, I marvel at how this fanciful world could be so forcefully imagined and brought to paper with such immediacy. THIS is how good a comic strip can be.

Interestingly, Krazy Kat gains its momentum less from the personalities of its characters than from their obsessions. Ignatz Mouse demonstrates his contempt for Krazy by throwing bricks at her; Krazy reinterprets the bricks as signs of love; and Offissa Pupp is obliged by duty (and regard for Krazy) to thwart and punish Ignatz's "sin," thereby interfering with a process that's satisfying to everyone for all the wrong reasons. Some 30 years of strips were wrung out of that amalgam of cross-purposes. The action can be read as a metaphor for love or politics, or just enjoyed for its lunatic inner logic and physical comedy.

Despite the predictability of the characters' proclivities, the strip never sinks into formula or routine. Often the actual brick tossing is only anticipated. The simple plot is endlessly renewed through constant innovation, pace manipulations, unexpected results, and most of all, the quiet charm of each story's presentation. The magic of the strip is not so much in what it says, but in how it says it. It's a more subtle kind of cartooning than we have today.

To the bewilderment of many readers, there are few endings in Krazy Kat that qualify as "punchlines." Instead, it's the temperament of the writing and drawing throughout the strip that is the joke. If you don't think it's funny that a strip should have an intermission drawing, or that a character would refer to his tail as a "caudal appendage," you're reading the wrong strip, and it's your loss.

Quirky, individual, and uncompromised, Krazy Kat is one of the very few comic strips that takes full advantage of its medium. There are some things a comic strip can do that no other medium, not even animation, can touch, and Krazy Kat is a virtual essay on comic strip essence.

In their headlong rush for the "gag", most cartoonists run right past the countless treasures Herriman uncovered simply by taking his time to explore the freedom of his medium. The self-consciously baroque narrations and monologues ("From the kwaint konfines of the kalabozo del kondado de Kokonino -- Officer 'Pup' gives answer") show that words can be funny in themselves, just as drawings can. The sky turns from black to white to zigzags and plaids simply because, in a comic strip, it CAN. No other cartoonist ever approached his blank sheet of paper with so much affection for all its possibilities.

The scratchy drawings delight me no end. They have the honesty and directness of sketches. So many of today's strips are slick and polished, the inevitable result of assistants trying to develop a mechanical style that can be continued indefinitely. The drawings in Krazy Kat are whimsical, idiosyncratic, and filled with personality. The bold design of the Sunday strips neatly compliments the flat expanses of color or black, and the wonderful hatching brings character to the otherwise posterish approach.

Nothing in Krazy Kat had a supporting role, least of all the Arizona desert setting. Mountains are striped. Mesas are spotted. Trees grow in pots. The horizon is a low wall that characters climb over. Panels are framed by theater curtains and stage spotlights. Monument Valley monoliths are drawn to look more like their names. The moon is a melon wedge, suspended upside down. And virtually every panel features a different landscape, even if the characters don't move. The land is more than a backdrop. It is a character in the story, and the strip is "about" that landscape as much as it is about the animals who populate it.

As the artwork is poetic, so is the writing. With the possible exception of Pogo, no other strip derives so much of its charm from its verbiage. Krazy Kat's unique "texture" comes in large part through the conglomeration of peculiar spellings and punctuations, dialects, interminglings of Spanish, phonetic renderings, and alliterations. Krazy Kat's Coconino County not only had a look; it had a sound as well. Slightly foreign, but uncontrived, it was an extraordinary and full world.

Darn few comic strips challenge their readers anymore. The comics have become big business, and they play it safe. They shamelessly pander to the results of reader surveys, and are produced by virtual factories, ready-made for the inevitable t-shirts, dolls, greeting cards, and television specials. Licensing is where the money is, and we seem to have forgotten that a comic strip can be something more than a launchpad for a glut of derivative products. When the comic strip is not exploited, the medium can be a vehicle for beautiful artwork and serious, intelligent expression.

Krazy Kat was drawn well over half a century ago, and yet it's a much more sophisticated use of the comic strip medium than anything we cartoonists are doing today. Of course, a 1930s Sunday Krazy filled the entire newspaper page, whereas editors today usually cram at least four strips in the same amount of space. This reduction of size greatly limits what can be drawn and written and still remain legible, and it goes a long way toward explaining the comics' devolution.

Even so, the whiteness of paper is still vast, uncharted territory, ripe for exploration. There are plenty of exotic lands for a cartoonist to map, if he or she will leave the well-worn paths and strike off for the wilds of the imagination. Krazy Kat is like no other comic strip before or after it. We are richer for Herriman's integrity and vision.

Krazy Kat was not very successful as a commercial venture, but it was something better. It was art.

Bill Watterson is a cartoonist and created Calvin & Hobbes. In 2014 he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Angouleme Comics Festival in France. Fantagraphics Books have reprinted George Herriman's complete Krazy Kat Sunday pages (1916-1944), which belong in any serious comics reader's collection. The top illustration above of a Coconino County landscape is taken from Cerebus #218 (May 1997) created by Dave Sim & Gerhard.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. And now, I have a foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so. I will be posting full paragraphs or pages of interesting excerpts from those letters every Saturday.

From a letter dated 13 November, 2004, from Dave to me: This one refers to an ongoing series of letters between Dave and I and between Billy Beach and Dave, that occurred at roughly the same time, taking exception to an interpretation of a verse of scripture (you’ll see which one below -- if there’s anyone who doesn’t own a bible or doesn’t have access to one on their Internetty-thingy, let me know in the Comments section and I’ll quote it. For what it’s worth, Dave was quoting from his King James version.). It started out that Billy and I were both writing to him, at roughly the same time, without either of us being aware of the other having done it. Dave initially thought he was being ganged up on, but I quickly reassured him that he wasn’t. Nevertheless, the exchange of these letters went on for some time, with Dave taking a firm stance that he was not wrong and with Billy and I trying to point out, in great detail, why he most certainly could be wrong. This post effectively ended the discourse, which was, for the most part, quite polite:
I intended the accusation of sophistry in the exact way, I think, that you and Billy did vis a vis my original viewpoint. "You can't be serious." Although, it seems obvious to me that we are, each of us, serious about our own viewpoint and incredulous about the opposing viewpoint. The reaction was more to your reaction in saying that my viewpoint on Luke 17:35 made you doubt that I was a serious thinker. I don't think a counter-accusation of sophistry is a disproportionate response in that instance. You left it up to me to choose the extent to which you considered me an "un-serious" thinker; I left it up to you to decide which definition of sophistry and Pharisaical argument you thought I might’ve intended. In my mind, I was responding to a warning shot across my bow with a warning shot across your bow. And we've now arrived at a "let sleeping dogs lie" situation which I think is only sensible. Although, I’m sure we’ll be getting last words after last words "in" at each other, as Billy and I did up until our most recent exchange of letters. That's how those things tend to go, in my experience.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Weekly Update #93: Fan Bequeaths $500,000 to Cerebus Trust

Anonymous Cerebus fan "Mr. J." to bequeath $500,000 to Dave Sim in order to preserve and protect the Cerebus Archive after Dave Sim's death. Thanks Mr. J.!

"Dino's CafĂ© Action Set"™ with Cerebus and dying Oscar Wilde (sold separately).
Not available in any store.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Creator Named Dave

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.

We last looked at Dave's notebook #19 this past April. In "Uncomfortable Truth" we saw the preliminary layout sketches for when Dave was talking to Cirin and Cerebus. Notebook #19 covers bits of Reads, Minds and Guys. Today we'll be looking at two pages of dialogue that would've been in Minds.

But they weren't. This dialogue never made it to the finished pages. Probably a good thing as it is a more pessimistic end of Minds then the one that made the finished pages.

Notebook 19, page 57
"I'll put you back in Palnu if you want. Jaka will overwhelm and crush you."

That is one way of looking at what happened - "Go on. Beat it. Scram."

"I can't save myself from myself. You can't save yourself from yourself."

The dialogue continues on the next page:

Notebook 19, page 58
Rather than state "Can you make Jaka fall in love with Cerebus", Cerebus demanded that Dave make Jaka be in love with Cerebus. We saw where that led. It led to Joanne. It led to unhappiness. Instead of that, Cerebus asks Dave if he could do it, and he responds 'No. No more than my creator can make women fall in love with me."

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Light and Dark

Mara Sedlins:

I'm happy to report that Church and State I is getting close to the printing stage! We received several new original art pages just last week (big thanks to Jeremy Shorr of Titan Comics and David Rankin!). Sean is working on the essay for the end pages and I'm putting together a list of all of our dragnet and CAN2 contributors to thank. From the proofs I've seen so far, the printing quality on this volume is going to be unbelievable - but I'll let Sean fill you in on those details in the coming weeks.

In the meantime: after researching computer algorithms used in digital restoration last week, I started thinking about what kind of image analysis I might realistically be able to do with the Cerebus art scans we have. One of the techniques I'd read about involved creating an average of many images to provide a baseline brightness profile. This made me wonder about the average brightness of a typical Cerebus page - how much ink is on the page relative to white space? How does the proportion of black to white change over the course of an issue? Are there typical patterns of light alternating with dark? How does this literal lightness/darkness relate to the plot?

It occurred to me it would be pretty straightforward to convert each page to its average grey level in Photoshop and try to answer some of these questions. To start with, let's look at High Society at the issue level - each block below is the average value for one issue, starting with issue 26 on the left, and ending with issue 50 on the right (the smaller sliver in the middle is Goat). 

The pattern seems to be, roughly, medium - dark - light - dark - medium (with Goat thrown into the second dark section for a moment of lightness). What stands out to me the most is the stark contrast between issues 38 and 39, at the core of this volume. What's going on there?

Issue 38 is Petuniacon Day Two - its per-page profile looks like this:

Aside from the first page (a scene with Cerebus and Jaka), the rest of this issue favors white space, particularly on pages featuring typed transcripts of the panel discussion:

By contrast, Issue 39, The Ambassador Suite, has a consistently darker per-page profile:

The action in these pages occur entirely within a blackened room. Here's one of the darkest pages:
Some of the issues alternate between light and dark quite a bit ... 

Issue 44
... or shift suddenly from one to the other ...

Issue 49

... have one page that stands out from the rest ...
Issue 27
... or definitely end on a dark note:

Issue 50
I'll leave it to those who know the book better than I do to speculate on the meanings of these patterns. I'm sure that something as integral to this medium as the sheer volume of ink on the page is something that Dave leveraged artfully in his storytelling.

The other type of "image analysis" I was able to achieve is perhaps less meaningful - but it seems to me that the first step in any computerized approach to Cerebus artwork must be to translate him into the language of computers ...

... right?

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Cerebus & Lord Julius

(from Tales Of The Rabbitfish, 3 June 2015)
A convention illustration Dave Sim did for me some time in the first half of the 80s, I suppose. Cerebus and Lord Julius, his Groucho Marx character.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Cerebus TV Urgent Fundraiser

Print: Cover to Following Cerebus #12
Art by Dave Sim & David Petersen
Donate just $20!
Yikes, CerebusTV domain and hosting fees are due today and no one's donated! We need this to be able to keep airing the show, with 100 plus episodes in the library. So I just went through the various items in the Cerebus TV Archive to see what we could give folks for helping out at Cerebus.TV that hadn't been offered before.

What I found was what Craig Miller, the publisher of Following Cerebus, had sent to support Cerebus TV, along with his 10 minute video segment that hasn't yet been aired, just a week or so before his untimely death several years ago. So, CerebusTV will make a gift of Craig's gift of these 11x17" full color prints to those who can help out!

Our PayPal donation link accepts all major credit cards as well as direct PayPal transfers.

Possibly, we can air Craig's segment as well. I was very moved as I just watched it again; Craig's loss was a big one to the indie comics community, as well as his personal friendship being sorely missed. He was also a self-publisher of comics himself, as a creator/artist/writer. You can see the prints at the Cerebus.TV page if you scroll down.

And don't forget to watch the show and read the Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing!

Chris Ryall, IDW Editor-In-Chief

(from Chris Ryall's gallery at Comic Art Fans)
Based on some of the images I've posted here, it seems like I just ask Dave Sim to draw me but really, I don't...

This is the header Dave wants in the first issue of his coming Strange Death of Alex Raymond series. 

This is the header Dave wants in the second issue of his coming Strange Death of Alex Raymond series.

In the midst of sending material for his amazing, coming-someday Strange Death of Alex Raymond comic, he included these bonus pieces of original art. Since he's got me appearing in the comics' letters pages, this is his initial drawing of me before working on the page itself. Again, pretty amazing to have Dave Sim draw me.

This seems odd but in one of the packages of material Dave Sim sent to us, he included, out of the blue, this drawing of me, my wife and kid. Which was a pretty oddly wonderful surprise. I look like a Cerebus character, which is maybe the greatest I will ever look. 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Petunia Con: A Celebration Of Cerebus!

Petunia Con Advert
The Comics Journal #88 (January 1984)

Limited Edition Petunia Con 1984 Print
Art by Dave Sim
(Click image to enlare)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

About a week ago, I took a taxi ride with a driver named Ali. I correctly assumed that he was a Muslim, so I mentioned my "friend", Dave, who is a Muslim. I told Ali all about how observant Dave is in his religion, and that he practices four of the five pillars of Islam, but he won't go to Mecca.

I told Ali that my understanding, based on a remembrance of a letter Dave wrote to me once, is that Dave won't go to Mecca because he doesn't believe it is safe for a white Westerner to go there alone. Ali told me that he tries to go every other year, if he can afford it, and that he is always surprised by how varied are the colors and nationalities of the people making the pilgrimage.

And then, Ali gave me his cell phone number and told me to give it to Dave, in case he should like to ask him about his Mecca experience/s. So, dutifully, I called Dave and left him a message about this, along with Ali's phone number. As usual, no intended good deed goes unpunished, so I got a phone call later that day, July 14, from Dave, telling me I had it all wrong and that he was going to call back with a message for Ali that he wanted to leave on my voicemail. And, he asked me to transcribe the message and post it here at AMOC. So, without further ado:
First Voice Message:
Hello, Ali. I'm afraid Jeff Seiler has misrepresented me, not intentionally, I'm sure, but by accident. Um, I have no concern about making a haj to Mecca because of personal safety concerns (chuckles). Mecca is probably the safest city on the planet particularly during the haj, when you take into account the fact that Sunnis and Shiites and Sufis, and all different shades and stripes of Muslims have been performing the haj, as far as I know, without any serious conflict for generations and generations and generations. I mean, people get trampled if somebody gets spooked and everybody runs the wrong way at the wrong time, but that's a very different thing from actual conflict. So I didn't want you to think that I thought that I wouldn’t be safe in Mecca because I'm white or because I'm Canadian, or anything like that.
However, I do give equal weight to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And, as far as I know, I did hear that Jews are not allowed into Mecca, and that it also causes a problem to get into Saudi Arabia is you have an Israeli visiting stamp in your passport. And, at one point, I thought, well I do think, as someone who gives equal weight to all three faiths, I should probably go to Israel after making the pilgrimage to Mecca so I don't have an Israeli stamp in my passport. But then, the Jewish side of my nature or the part of my nature that adheres to Judaism thought, no, that’s unconscionable, that's hypocrisy for me to try and pretend or try and structure it so that it doesn't look like I have very, very strong Jewish sympathy, which I do. So, that's really been the deciding factor. In good conscience as a mono-theist, I realized that the House of Saud does not believe that non-Muslims should be allowed into Mecca. And, uh, I don’t tend to agree with that.

I mean the fact that there is a reference to "the standing place of Abraham" in the Grand Mosque. You know, Judaism is descended from Abraham just the same way that Islam is. It’s just descended through Isaac instead of Ishmael. And I know that Ishmael and Abraham purified the Grand Mosque.

Second Voice Message:
Hello, Ali, um, I apologize for the length of this message and what I see as the necessity of this message, but obviously on the 27th day of Ramadan, when something like this comes up, I do like to clarify what the actual situation is that I'm in. I really don't like any situation where it makes me sound as if I don't know anything about Islam or I don't know about Mecca or I don't know that it is a very safe city for the people making the pilgrimage, I definitely envy you having been there as many times as you have. And definitely, if the situation changes, if God enters in upon his work and makes a change in this while I'm still alive (I'm 60 years old now), I will definitely be absolutely over the moon with the idea of being able to visit the central location in monotheism.

And, I appreciate your being interested enough to give Jeff Seiler your cell phone number and being willing to talk about this. But I thought it would be better if I clarified this not only just for you but also for Jeff. So, I'm hoping he’ll be storing these messages and hopefully transcribing them or putting them on the fan-site devoted to my work. A lot of people really don’t get what it is that I’m talking about and that I’m doing. I am a monotheist; I haven't converted to Islam. I give equal weight to Judaism and Christianity and Islam. I just can't bring myself to let go of any one of them in favor of any one of the other two or picking out one of them. We'll see what God thinks of that on judgment day or I will anyway. Thanks again very much for your interest.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Weekly Update #92: The Second Cerebus Superfan Award!

Jeff Seiler provides Dave Sim with some information on the world-famous Mayo Clinic. Dave provides you with some behind-the-scenes research photos of Alex Raymond and Friends!


THE NOMINEES (so far):
Brian Coppola (Serious Art Collector)
Chris Ryall (IDW Editor-In-Chief)
 Dean Reeves (Dedicated Cerebus Art Hunter)
Eddie Khanna (SDOAR Researcher)
George Peter Gatsis (Audio/Video Producer, Restorer, Action-Figure Maker)
Greg Kessler (Dedicated Cerebus Art Hunter)
Jeff Seiler (Dave Sim Letter Writer)
Mara Sedlins (Cerebus Restorer)
Margaret Liss (Cerebus Fangirl)
Matt Dow (Cartoonist)
Oliver Simonsen (Cerebus Film Maker)
Rich Johnston (Bleeding Cool)
Sandeep Atwal (I Knew Dave Sim)
Scott Dunbier (IDW Special Projects Editor
Sean Michael Robinson (Cerebus Restorer & New Parent)
Ted Adams (IDW Publisher)

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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Cool's Right

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.

We haven't yet looked at Dave's notebook #23 yet. It covers Cerebus #224 to #230, which is the majority of Rick's Story. The cover says there were 100 pages in it, but I only scanned 58 pages. There were another 37 pages that were blanked, so they weren't scanned. 

On page 44 we see some dialogue between Cerebus, he starts it off in the upper left hand corner, and Dave from issue #229 - if you're following along in the phonebook, page 192 is where the dialogue starts.

Notebook 23, page 44
This dialogue, however, wasn't used. Well, the part about the Coors light and an ashtray was, but the rest of it? Not so much. I do like this back and forth:
Cerebus: "Do you ever get the feeling that you're being picked on? That you've been singled out for punishments that no one else has to put up with?"
Dave: "mm. No. I think everyone picks their own punishment."
Cerebus: "But someone like. . .well, like Cerebus for example. Ever since Cerebus got here it's as if everyone is driving Cerebus CRAZY on purpose."
Page 45 has a couple rough sketches of Cerebus opening up the package that Dave left on the bar. Then on page 46 we get a full page of hand written dialogue between Cerebus and Dave.

Notebook 23, page 46
The dialogue on page 46, "leapfrogging the conversational sequence" shows up on page 193 of Rick's Story (page 7 of issue 229), about one third of the way down the page. Though on the finish piece, Dave finishes it up with "my particular social vice" instead of what is on the notebook page "a conversational vice of mine." 

Another difference? When Cerebus says "Served your sentence?", Dave had originally wrote "Yeah. Yeah, I guess that was it" and crossed that off and put down "I suppose so." But on the finished page Dave says "Exactly."

There are a few other differences between the finished text and the notebook. One of the more noticeable ones is that there is more of the "stage direction" - (smiling), (smiling back), et al. - on the finished page then there is in the notebook.  

The next page shows us the same dialogue, but it is much closer to the finished dialogue:

Notebook 23, page 47
The dialogue this time continues on until page 49 where the dialogue ends with the dialogue on page 195. On the above page 47 you can see that there is  some text along the top that was continued from page 46. In it Cerebus has another good line - "...I was going crazy. Just one long argument in my head."

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Dust and Sparkle: Digital Restoration Research

Mara Sedlins:

Although Cerebus stands out as a unique work of comic art, its preservation and digital restoration is not a unique problem. Many of the challenges involved in this undertaking are also faced by those using digital techniques to restore other types of artwork, like motion pictures or daguerreotypes. These other media also feature fragile original materials, large amounts of “data,” and characteristic types of “noise” whose identification requires the careful attention of an expert. I’ve spent a little time researching existing digital restoration approaches with an eye to finding techniques that might be adaptable to the work that Sean and I are doing with Cerebus.

The digital preservation of motion pictures is a controversial topic - some argue that true cinema can only exist in analogue form. But the digitization of film allows for more possibilities for restoration - such as the use of computer algorithms to track the motion of objects across frames, the automatic detection of scratches and dust (or “dirt and sparkle,” as it’s referred to in the industry), and the interpolation of missing pixels with appropriate values from neighboring areas.

Research in computer vision and image processing has also addressed the unique needs of daguerreotype restoration. Daguerreotypes were able to capture an incredible amount of detail and have great historical value - but they’re susceptible to deterioration over time and are delicate enough that attempts at manual restoration are likely to cause irreversible damage. This makes them ideal candidates for digital preservation and restoration. An especially compelling example is the 1848 Cincinnati Waterfront Panorama restoration project. You can read about it here (or for the academically minded, here), but briefly: this series of eight 6.5- by 8.5-inch images captures about 2 miles of the Cincinnati waterfront, and the resolution is so great that you need a microscope to see the finest visible details (wheel spokes, curtains, sign lettering).




The Cincinnati Public Library has made annotated, zoom-able digital images available to the public here.

But the images are marred by dust motes, corrosion, and scratch marks created by the initial polishing of the plates. At such a high resolution, these sources of noise obscure a lot of detail. Also, as you can see in the sky of the second image above, despite carefully controlled lighting the individually photographed sections are distorted at their edges (creating the mosaic effect in the composite image).

As you can imagine, restoring the entire panorama by hand at the pixel level would be a tremendous amount of work. Archivists at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography (where the plates are housed) partnered with computer scientists at the University of Rochester to develop automated digital restoration techniques uniquely suited to the challenges presented by this series of daguerreotypes. For example, to correct for the tiling effect in the sky (or other “featureless areas” of the image), they created an average image (below) that was then used to correct for “brightness inaccuracies” created by the reflectivity of the plate.


To detect dust and other noise, the researchers used machine learning techniques. A support vector machine was provided with several filters, as well as a sample image that had been annotated by experts to test filter performance against (you can find more details in the academic paper linked above). I read enough to know that this type of approach is beyond my personal expertise - but it would be interesting to partner with a computer scientist and develop Cerebus-specific algorithms to detect and repair the various types of damage described in my taxonomy.

On the other hand, there are aspects of our restoration process that go beyond purely archival preservation goals - the images are specifically being readied for the printed page, and we’re making judgment calls to alter the original artwork in subtle ways to improve readability and honor the original intentions of the artists. I don’t see this process being fully automated anytime soon.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Nobody Move!!

Cerebus ad designed by Richard Bruning

For further information on Richard Bruning see the in-depth profile in
Comic Book Creator #7 (TwoMorrows, Spring 2015).