Saturday, 10 October 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.

This week, a letter from me, Jeff Seiler, to Dave Sim, in response to the 22 June letters:

June 29, 2004

Dear Dave,

Thanks for your two letters of 17 June and 22 June. It was good talking with you on the phone for the first time in several years, as well. I think the last time I spoke with you on the phone goes all the way back to before I wrote the infamous "gimme, gimme, gimme" letter that started the whole "send Jeff sketches and then Dave will send him a real one" thing. We've certainly covered a lot of ground since then, eh? Just as an aside, how much whiskey did you have to drink to get that deep, low voice? It’s just not a voice that I ever associated with the pictures I've seen of you.

In regards to your 17 June letter, first, I thought that your comments on using the library were interesting. My first response was, "Oh, I know! I can't believe how much I've 'stolen' from them so far!" But, to be serious, yes, in many cases the computers were free. For several years, Bill Gates and Microsoft have been giving computers to libraries for just the purposes for which I have been using them. I suspect that, apart from the tax write-off, Gates' magnanimity may have sprung from a Carnegie-esque motivation of purging whatever corporate-level sins he may have committed along the way to his billions of dollars of personal wealth. I am more than happy to tap that vein, if so. Coincidentally, the first time I used a Gates-donated computer was at an original Carnegie library, in Sedalia, MO.

I suspect that, were you to try your hand at the real world of work, you would be able to find something a little better than washing dishes. I'm sure the world of graphic design would find something useful for you to do, although your curmudgeonly ways might quickly lead them to echo your refrain of "just shut up and go home, Dave".

You asked about the light rail in Richardson [TX, where I lived in '04]. I assure you, should you ever see it in Kitchener, that you will enjoy it immensely if it's anything like here. They have two main lines, the Red and the Blue, that run all the way from Plano in the north to south Dallas, with five stops downtown (Red). The Blue Line runs from Garland in the east, through downtown, then, oddly, runs back east again to southeast Dallas. They are planning to run a line downtown up to my area in the northwest, but it will be many years before that’s accomplished.

The trains are nearly always on time, with schedules for every time and every day posted at each station, and the train cars are clean and well air-conditioned. Most of the stations are above ground, so they don't stop street traffic. In addition, there is an express train that runs from Union Station downtown through Arlington to downtown Fort Worth, with a shuttle that then runs to all of the museums and the historic stockyards district.

It is, in a word, remarkable. I have ridden trains in Europe and England and in a few cities in the States, but never have I ridden on a system that is to timely, clean, safe and comfortable, combined. I can buy a $40 monthly pass and ride it anytime, anywhere. Before my recent move that was forced upon me because of my summer situation, I could walk five minutes from my door to the train and wait no more than 20 minutes for the train to arrive, and then get to anywhere I needed to. I will miss that!

I will table our discussion of Canadian politics until after today's elections, except to remark on your having shaken hands with the Conservative candidate and promising him your vote. That cause me to remember that, back in Sedalia, MO, in 2002, I spoke briefly with and shook hands with John Ashcroft. I remember that he was remarkably brusque and, to me, came across almost exactly as the media like to portray him. You know that I am very conservative but, when I later heard that he had been appointed to his current post after losing the election, my first response was, "Uh-Oh".

Moving on to the letter of June 22: You are quite welcome for the Imprimis subscription. I have been receiving it monthly for several years. I first heard about it on the Michael Medved syndicated radio talk show and immediately called in. I took a chance by putting you in for it without asking you, knowing how much unsolicited mail you get, but I thought you might enjoy the surprise.

I had to go into my file to find the April, 2004, issue, but immediately recognized it by its title, "Rolling Back Government: Lessons from New Zealand". That was one of the best speeches they have ever published. Mr. McTigue's comments about privatization and elimination of government services and offices were very well-taken, especially the story about driver’s licenses. You might like to know that I specifically requested that they start your subscription with that issue.

I commend you for so quickly sending a contribution to Hillsdale College, after having just started receiving the publication. And, I must say, good letter to Mr. Jeffrey. I think that "acid test" is the mot juste in this case, as when I got to the end of that letter and read that you had sent him a copy of "Tangent", my response was "holy - - - -!". You certainly do like stirring things up, don't you? I would be very interested in reading his response to you, if you wouldn't mind sharing it.

I hadn't thought about Mrs. Reagan's role in choosing the eulogists. You make a good point. She was nearly forgotten by the public, as well, despite occasional magazine articles on "How She’s Holding Up". I didn't care a lot for her during Mr. Reagan's terms, for the very reason that you go on to state about politician's wives, and I certainly didn’t like the feud between her and Donald Regan, how she undermined him so much. But, I must say, she was a very faithful companion to Mr. Reagan and she deserves much acclaim for that.

Thanks for the insights into Mr. Mulroney. I admire him a great deal. I only hope that we will see another Conservative PM in the future who can live up to his legacy. As an aside, you mentioned LBJ and I thought you might enjoy this story about his legendary chutzpah:

During the height of the VietNam War, in order to boost troop morale and domestic support, Johnson went to VietNam to visit the troops. His return trip was extended to Europe, including the city of Rome and, more importantly, the Vatican City. The story, which I read in one of his biographies, goes on to say that he decided somewhat on the spur of the moment, to "drop in" on the pope, uninvited. Graciously, the pope granted him an audience and even went so far as to offer a gift to the American people of a 14th-century masterpiece from the Vatican vault. Johnson’s response of a gift in kind to the pope was a six-inch-tall bust of himself. Sort of boggles that mind, doesn't it?

If you can take another story, your comments about presidential wives reminded me of a story about Billary. This occurred during the health-care reform meetings that Hillary set up, but which Bill chaired. They were broadcast live on one of those politics-only stations, which kept the live feed on whenever they took breaks, only with just ambient sound. Just before one of the breaks, Bill announced something to the effect of that they were going to take a break, then come back and wrap things up, “so we can be done before the evening news”.

During the break, you could see Bill turn to someone beside and smile and make a little chit-chat. And then you could see Hillary come up behind him and whisper something in his ear in a very animated way. He immediately lost the smile, looked a bit chastised, then vigorously started nodding his head up and down. She went and sat down, and when the break was over, he announced, "Uh, well, we're going to keep going for a while here and get some more things done. The news can wait on us." Or something very similar.

It was so clear that the President of the United States had just been reprimanded by his wife for Forgetting Who He Was. I would be interested to see if that incident made it into his memoirs, but that would necessitate me buying it, which I firmly plan not to do.

I hope that you vacation [to Italy, staying with Billy Beach] was enjoyable and I look forward, as I said on the phone, to hearing all about it, from both of you. Anticipating that letter, I remain

Yours beyond 300

P.S.: I received your flyer today after I finished this letter. Nice flyer. I assume that it is slick so that it is photo-reproduceable? I'll discuss that with Keith. I'm not sure about the connection between Conan [Dark Horse version] and the Party Packs is, but I'll pass it along. I don't read any other comics, as a rule, so I don't know the current storyline in the latest incarnation of Conan. I'll try both approaches. I'm assuming that you enclosed the copy of Party Pack so that I could show it to Keith, rather than keep it for myself. If he doesn't want it, though, I may just keep it for my collection, as I never got a chance at it the first time around.

I forgot to ask before: Do you have any unsold copies of Latter Daies? If so, please reserve one for me and I'll send the money when I get work.

Yes, that's right: I'll write when I get work.


Friday, 9 October 2015

Weekly Update #103: A Cerebus Super Update!

In this week's update....The Great Cerebus Giveaway, news from IDW on the Cerebus Treasury Covers Collection, the soon-to-be-launched Cerebus Archive Number Four on Kickstarter, introduction to The Cerebus Foundation, and more!


7 October 15

CIBC Trust Corporation


Since XXXXXXXXX is going to be charging for his services from the moment I engage him, I thought I would send you this draft of my letter to him to see if there's anything that I've left out of what the "bare bones" Last Will & Testament should include.

Fax # here is 519-576-0955.

Let me know the next time you're going to be in town and I'll give you a tour of the Off-White House!


Dave Sim

PS: I'll be posting this to the A MOMENT OF CEREBUS website with your name "xxxxxx"ed out to make sure everyone is "on board" with all developments right from the outset.


xx October 15


I got your name from your grade-school crossing guard compatriot, xxxxxxxxxxxxx at CIBC/Hamilton, who is presently creating THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION on my behalf.

It is his suggestion that we need to begin the process with a "bare bones" Last Will & Testament (I am presently intestate) specifying that I intend to leave all of my material assets and possessions to THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION inclusive of:

1) my publishing company, AARDVARK-VANAHEIM INCORPORATED which:
a) is the beneficiary of my Manulife Life Insurance policy No. xxxxxx . (There is no other beneficiary)

b) owns the Off-White House, xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx repository of THE CEREBUS ARCHIVE (documenting chronologically, 1968 to the present, the pre-history and history of both Aardvark-Vanaheim and my 6,000-page graphic novel, CEREBUS); periodicals, books, audio and video recordings about CEREBUS; published and unpublished examples of my pre-CEREBUS and post-CEREBUS creative works

b) includes its CIBC business chequing account #xxxxxx CDN$ #xxxxxx US$

c) is the sole owner of and CEREBUS digital sales portals

d) owns the CEREBUS INVENTORY housed at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx in Kitchener

e) owns all of my original artwork 1970-to-date (stored at xxxxx location)

f) owns the Comics Guaranty Corporation encapsulated "Dave Sim File Copies" of the early CEREBUS issues stored in safety-deposit box #xxxxx at CIBC King and Queen Streets in Kitchener
2) My personal effects and possessions contained in the RESIDENCE portion at the rear of THE OFF-WHITE HOUSE
a) my personal RRSPs under management by the CIBC
To specify in my Last Will & Testament:

1) the CIBC will serve as Executor of my Estate and Administrator of THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION

2) THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION will be fully "donate-able" in perpetuity by those wishing to participate in sustaining it financially

3) THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION will have as its mission statement
a) to preserve all of the above in as close to the state in which they existed at the time of my death as possible

b) to allow access to the premises at XXX XXXXXXX Street, with appropriate security precautions, to interested CEREBUS fans after my death

c) to donate a minimum of 10% of all assets accrued in each fiscal year to ST. JOHN'S KITCHEN and THE FOOD BANK OF WATERLOO REGION or successor charities having comparable "feed the poor" mission statements
Further, that the administration of THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION -- both before and after my death --is to include optimal transparency at the A MOMENT OF CEREBUS website created by and wholly owned by Tim Wxxxxxxxxx London, England (or successor CEREBUS website if AMOC ceases to exist at some point).

(that is, that all correspondence between myself and you and and all other participants on the subject of THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION will be deemed excluded from the traditional attorney-client privilege)

with all adjustments and tweaks to THE CEREBUS FOUNDATION taking the form of "codicils" to my Last Will & Testament.

A lot of meat, for a "bare bones" document, as I'm sure you'll agree.


Dave Sim,

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Notebook #30: The Start of Form & Void

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 Sim's notebook #30, which covers issue #251. It only had 32 pages scanned, and appears to be a book for a student's homework:

Notebook #30 covers, as always, click to embiggen
Issue #251 is the first issue in Form & Void and the first time we meet Ham and Mary Ernestway. On the first page it has Dave doing his best Ernest Hemingway while telling himself what he needs to do for Form & Void.

Notebook #30, page 1
The next page of the notebook is interesting - on the left side we see Dave's first take for the dialogue on page 388 to 390 of Form & Void, or page #2 to 4 of Cerebus #251. On the right hand side of the page is the same dialogue, just rewritten a bit.

Notebook #30, page 2
The first change I notice is Dave got rid of the 'Let me assure you I'll be glad of the company.' Most of the rest is just slight variations on dialogue. Change a word there, remove a word, added emphasis to another word. I've not seen this type of side by side comparison in the notebooks before. Usually if Dave rewrote something, it be on another page.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Cerebus in Your Life: A New Nostalgia Machine

Mara Sedlins:

Hello from Focused Repetitive Critical Work land! As I continue continuing on with restoration work for Church & State II, Sean’s post last week served as a great reminder of ways to stay sane. As you might guess, I’m especially a fan of staying organized and reducing cognitive load by writing things down. I’ve also found that it’s important to find a balance in terms of the amount of work to do on a given day. You want to leverage the momentum and efficiency of doing multiple pages in a row, while giving yourself enough breaks that you don’t give yourself a screen headache or start second-guessing what you’re seeing. A good work day for me seems to average around 10-15 pages depending on what shape the pages are in - sometimes it’s more, sometimes less.

A few posts ago I mentioned that as a new Cerebus reader I’ve been feeling more drawn into the work since about the second half of Church & State I. When I first started helping Sean with restoration work over a year ago, I was intensely focused on the technical aspects of the project and developing an eye for what the cleanup work involves. When I read the first phonebook, I was mostly looking for typos or text legibility issues. Likewise, my initial perceptions of High Society and much of C & S I were filtered through a focus on the work - partly because we don’t necessarily clean the pages in order - so that guessing at what was actually happening in the books became a kind of diverting game.

But with C & S II I’m trying something new. Starting from the beginning, I’ve been: 1) printing out a bunch of the pages I’m working on (at-size, which helps keep my sense of perspective), 2) stepping away from the computer, and 3) reading them. In order. With a reference phonebook next to me - to clarify cleanup issues, but also so I can read the pages that aren’t ready for cleanup yet (right now I’m focusing on the negative scans only). And, unsurprisingly, I’m enjoying myself a lot more this way :)

My favorite moments so far (I just finished Book Four): the “Secret Sacredness” of Every Single Thing in the Roach’s world; the floating heads in issue 82 (which must have been inspired by the King and Queen of the Moon scene from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - a childhood classic); the delicacy and refinement of Michelle’s features in issue 83; Mick and Keef’s ridiculously spot-on dialogue in issue 85; and the quiet, eerie surrealism of the hotel scenes in issue 89 (which to my mind echo the art of Patrick Caulfield and various dreamlike hotel scenes in the novels of Haruki Murakami - I’m curious, is there overlap between Cerebus fans and Murakami fans?).




The "shadowgrain" on this page was an oh shit moment for me (in a good way), evoking Paul Celan’s poetic neologisms:


*the last three images are post-sharpening, pre-cleanup

Oh, and I’m sorry but I can’t let Dave’s attempt at musical notation go unremarked. As a lifetime music nerd, this is wrong to me in so many ways:

(Or maybe Cerebus’ world has its own form of musical notation? The blank measure is actually pretty innovative … )

And so, I suppose I’m feeling more and more like part of the Cerebus Club ... In preparing to write this blog post, I spent time reading some of the Cerebus: In My Life entries and was newly struck by the fact that for longtime readers, Cerebus was a consistent presence in your lives for decades. As someone in my mid-30s, I’m just beginning to understand what “decades” feels like. But it’s interesting for me to imagine the kind of relationship that can develop with a work that spans that length of time. I would imagine that revisiting early issues brings to mind what was going on in your life when they first came out - a kind of nostalgic time machine. Maybe, looking back, you see moments of synchronicity between developments in Cerebus and those in your own story. Or benchmarks that reveal how much has changed.

(An quick aside: I was happy to notice an entry alluding to similarities between Dave’s work and that of two other Daves - Wallace and Lynch - both of whom I am an enormous fan of. Wallace in particular has been on my mind lately since I saw the recent pseudo-biopic.)

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I continue to hope that the newly restored editions Sean and I are working so hard to stay sane completing are experienced as faithful to the original while freshly illuminating new aspects of the work - inspiring new fans, and prompting rereadings of both the books and your varied histories with them.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Cerebus: In My Life ~ Geoffrey A.

How did you discover Cerebus and how long did you read it for?

As a child I read many comics, I would get them from yard sales and flea markets. I discovered Cerebus through a local comic book stores cheap bin (around 92-93), they were mostly reprint issues with the framed original cover on the cover. I lived by (now defunct) Caliber Press when I was young, not having the PR skills to communicate what I wanted at the time (as a late teen to print my psychedelic art & prose) or the perseverance to accomplish it without any support my pitches to Caliber failed miserably, I let my own artistic dreams slowly die. Only coming back to comics several years later when I was able to save up enough pocket change from my terrible paying jobs to afford a few graphic novels (getting to chose what I read and not just reading what looked interesting of the bargains I could afford). While I liked the first Cerebus "phone book" I bought well enough, I knew from the single issues I had procured earlier that it became much more, so I eagerly grabbed the next in line of the big books of Cerebus. After that I was hooked. And the wait between when I could afford another was always unbearable. But by that time was usually a few weeks. At some point I caught up.

How has your own creativity / comics reading been influenced by Cerebus?

I spent my comic budget almost entirely on Cerebus for a long time. Now I mainly pick up old war comics when I have an opportunity as I still enjoy those as a guilty pleasure. Digital became a viable option shortly after and scanlation of titles that looked neat years ago but I couldn't understand the language and the French think we should all learn their language (not me, I don't get along with the ones I usually meet in online video game hockey). Or read an occasional online freebie from the stores on my tablet.

I don't know how reading Cerebus affecting anything for me, accept possibly it encouraged my already short patience with boredom in conversation, where I try to encourage the speaker to flip the page because I literally couldn't care less.

What is your favourite scene or sequence from Cerebus?

I love all the characters, but I think the audible chuckle of Keef snorting the gravel is the one that comes quickest to mind, with the hermaphrodite reveal being a big no way moment, and just the joy of seeing Roach reappear.

Would you recommend that others read Cerebus, and if so, why?

I have and will continue to recommend Cerebus the Aardvark to others. I haven't always met with success (I had a friend sell his car with my now replaced Church & State in his trunk), I did have one friend who "got it" and while I was cooking at a pool hall/sports bar, I would throw him a Graphic Novel of Cerebus when he returned from a out of state stint as a mover, and he would tear through one in about five hours of voracious reading/drinking.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Gerebus: Gerhard's Convention Sketches

Keep up to date with all things Gerhard related at Gerhard Art.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Correspondence From Hell: Conclusion

A Conversation Between Dave Sim & Alan Moore
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Conclusion

Alan Moore from Cerebus #239 (February 1999)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

The following conversation between Dave Sim and Alan Moore was conducted by fax and originally appeared in Cerebus #220, July 1997.

Well, since you invite me to correct you on your assumptions regarding how I see you, it would be rude of me not to. Whatever Dr. Gull's notions of an eternal war between the rational male solar force and the irrational female lunar force might lead one to suppose, this is not my own point of view. I tend to see both forces as elements in a far wider dynamic balance and tend to shy away from polarised positions such as Sun vs. Moon, Man vs. Woman, Christianity vs. Diabolism, Lobo vs. Wolverine, and so on.

Admittedly, I do have several bones... whole war fields full of bones, in fact... to pick with organised religion of whatever stripe. This should be seen as a critique of purely temporal agencies who have, to my mind, erected more obstacles between humanity and whatever notion of spirituality or Godhead one subscribes to than they have opened doors. To me, the difference between Godhead and the Church is the difference between Elvis and Colonel Parker... although that conjures images of God dying on the toilet, which is not what I meant at all.

What I'm saying is that, to me, organised religion seems to be an accumulation of dead ritual, lifeless dogma; and largely fear-driven belief that has built up around some original kernel of genuine spiritual experience. From what I understand of the original Essenes, for example, they were Gnostics. That is to say, their spirituality was based not upon faith or belief but upon personal apprehension and knowledge, or gnosis, of the powers at work in the Universe. They didn't believe. They knew. If there over was such a historical personage as Jesus Christ, and if this person did have a group of Apostles around him, they were not acting from belief either. Saul/Paul had the heavenly searchlight turned upon him during his day trip to Damascus. Pentecostal Fire danced on their tongues. Thomas... a pure-bred I'm-From-Missouri Gnostic if ever I heard of one... even put his hand in the wound of the resurrected messiah. Gnosis... personal knowledge and experience of the spiritual I have no problem with.

What I do have a problem with is the middle management who have manoeuvred themselves between the wellspring and those who thirst in the field of spirituality just as efficiently as they've done it in every other field of human endeavour. It seems to me that when the blueprint for the modern Christian faith was first sketched out by the Emperor Constantine and his marketing department, it was constructed largely to solve a couple of immediate Earthly problems that Rome was faced with at the time. They had a city divided by different theological factions, the largest and noisiest probably being the early Christian zealots. Then there was the cult of Mithras, which was smaller but which included the bulk of the Roman Military. Finally there was the cult of Sol Invictus, the undefeated Sun, which was relatively small but very popular amongst the merchant class.

Constantine's posse came up with a composite religion to unite Rome: Christianity would incorporate large chunks of Mithraism, including the stuff about being born in a cave surrounded by shepherds and animals on the 25th of December, and would make concessions to the cult of Sol Invictus, the Undefeated Sun, by sticking a big Sun-symbol behind the messiah's head in all the publicity handouts. This is politics.

The effect in spiritual terms is to move the emphasis away from any genuine personal spiritual experience. Whereas for the original Gnostics such a personal knowledge of and direct communication with the Godhead was the cornerstone of their spiritual life, after the priesthood moved in the basic proposition was vastly different: "You don’t need to have had a transforming experience yourselves, and in fact neither do the priesthood need to have had a transforming experience. The important thing is that we have this book, about people who lived a long time ago, and they had transforming experiences, and if you come along on Sunday we'll read to you about them, and that will be your transforming experience." This sounds to me like a co-opting of the divine impulse -- a channeling of the individual's spiritual aspirations into a mechanism for social regulation.

So, no, I’m not a big fan of organised religion of any kind.

On the other hand, I have nothing but respect for your recent involvement with Christianity [see Dave's footnote below], although it was news to me. Stripped of the dogma and the strictures of organised religion that have grown up about it, I have a great deal of sympathy for the story at the core of Christianity. Judaeo-Christian symbology and concepts make up a significant part of magical thought, and my own workings have touched upon some of these areas with a fierce intensity. I won't bore you or your readers with the rambling details, but one of my investigations into the Qabala involved a vision of the Mysteries of the Crucifixion, and it goes without saying that something like that certainly leaves an impression. I would imagine that my personal notion of Jesus is possibly a great deal more immediate and real than that of a great many people who would profess to be practising Christians.

I suppose this is how I would define the relative definitions between our positions in terms of language and linguistics. As I see things, the underlying spiritual landscape of all the world's religions and belief systems is the same territory, just as a canine quadruped is essentially the same animal the world over, whether we choose to label it chien or hund or dog. As with dogs, so too with gods. All religions and beliefs are in a sense language systems, a range of symbols and icons with which we attempt to give form to the infinite and formless. Just as with language, most belief systems have their own unique beauty, their own advantages and drawbacks. In its purest form, Christianity is a very moving and powerful holy language indeed, and I sometimes like to speak it, to frame the Universe in those terms. I don't see magic as being something that is in opposition to Christianity, Islam, or even secular Humanism. I see all of these forms as being languages, while I see magic as being more akin to linguistics, the science of languages. Note that I don't imply that magic is necessarily a superior form of study because of this, any more than I'd look down on you for learning Russian while I was taking a linguistics course.

Also, once you move aside the symbols and look behind them, we'd probably find that our viewpoints had more in common than one might suppose. The serpent deity that I have a particular affinity for is understood to be the serpent entwining the tree in Eden. According to the numerological system of Gematria, the serpent in Eden and Jesus Christ have an equivalent value; they are in a sense understood to be the same thing. This was the basis for the belief of the early Gnostic Ophite Christians, who believed that Jesus was a form of divine, illuminating energy called the Christos and that this energy was identical to the divine, illuminating serpent energy known as Kundalini. You might not find the idea very palatable, but when my mind is focused upon my snake deity/imaginary friend, then it is at least in part focused upon that aspect of the serpent that is Jesus. In a sense, the snake is Jesus in another language: the redeeming solar force that brings light and knowledge, that rises again from its own sloughed-off skin. Thus, I imagine that most of the differences between our outlook may be similarly differences of language. At any rate, we can certainly agree to coexist peacefully. If you don't burn me at the stake, I won't sour your milk or give your off-spring a clubfoot.

As for my relationship with the comics industry and comics medium... which are, as you observe, two different things... then I'd have to say that while I obviously still have a strong relationship with comics in all their aspects, that relationship has changed and modified itself over the years. Given that the comics field itself has changed so radically during the same period, this isn't really surprising. Something has happened, and I don't think that any of us have quite taken it in yet. Parameters have changed and paradigms have shifted. My view on things, while probably egocentric and worthlessly subjective, is probably as follows:

I think something happened in the middle eighties. Basically, all of our dreams came true and turned out to have been small dreams after all. I've been involved with comics one way or another since my days on the peripheries of the British comics fan scene in the late sixties, and the dream was always pretty much the same, with minor seasonal variations. The idea was that we all recognised that comics were as noble and valid a form of art as anything else, that they didn't have to be aimed solely at kids, and that if we were only given a chance, then everybody else would see this too. Comics would be given the serious public and critical attention that they deserved, and then... well, and then everybody would live happily ever after, I guess. Something like that. Mostly, our fantasies didn't get that far. Virgins fantasising about first coitus, we only took our dream to the point of orgasm. We didn't waste time on thinking about avoiding the wet spot afterwards or what we were going to say to each other in the morning. And now it's morning.

The middle eighties was when comic books finally got laid. Media attention. Frank Miller in Rolling Stone, MTV. Maus cops the Pulitzer. Watchmen on University reading lists. The style and music press raving about Love & Rockets. Fuck, man, we had the "Cerebus-the-Aardvark Party" running in British elections in '88. Reason tottered on its throne. Everybody was on Top of the Pops. We got everything we ever asked for, just as one often finds in real life or the better fairy stories, and just like in real life or the better fairy stories it turned out to be shit. For a few years there, everything we touched turned to gold, and now what the fuck are we going to do with all this gold? All this shit?. With honest and sincere effort, we made comics what we wanted them to be: as popular as any other 20th-century medium. As respected as any other 20th-century medium. What on earth were we thinking?

The comics medium, its pure and platonic essence, remains unchanged by the above. It is only our relationship to it that has changed. Much of what provided the drive and motivation for that Darwinian struggle up from the gore-rich mud of the fifties to the evolutionary pinnacle of the eighties turns out to have been delusion. The beautiful room, to borrow a phrase from author Edmund White, is empty. Our Darwinian view of a steady but sure upwards progress and development has been superseded by catastrophe theory. Put crudely, catastrophe theory states that it really doesn't matter how bloody evolved or fit for survival you are if you happen to be under a big enough mudslide, a falling comet, or a long enough ice age. With a big enough wipe-out, God or the DNA simply has no choice but to slowly rebuild by diversifying whatever few fragments of life managed to survive the destruction.

Our vision was limited. Our reason for doing comic books... to elevate the medium to it's proper cultural position... has disintegrated upon accomplishment under the weight of realising that the culture we were trying to find our place in is no culture at all. We need a new reason to carry on doing this stuff, a reason that is unconnected with fad, fashion, and the myopic short-term concerns of the industry. We need to create good comics with no social agenda, no goal that is based upon contemporary notions of success. In the course of a twenty-five-year (?) monsterpiece like Cerebus, you yourself have seen the comics industry shift and fluctuate more than most, and yet Cerebus has a constancy that suggests that the work itself is the most important thing, rather than the work viewed in relation to the comics field. In fifty years, I doubt that anybody will be much interested in, say, the relationship of Dave Sim's Cerebus to the late-eighties comic-book self-publishing phenomenon. What they’ll be interested in is Cerebus itself; the fact that it was created, was brought to fruition over such an astounding period of time. They will be interested, in short, in the timeless elements of art that are undoubtedly in the work, rather than the work's relationship to the comics field of its day.

The work itself is the only thing. From Hell was created with no thought to how the comics industry might receive it, or of any effect it might have on the medium. It had no agenda and simply was itself. Cerebus is the same, as are a number of the other fine titles that currently grace the medium. It seems to me that our only course of action can be to let the comic-book medium be its own motivation, so that our motivation is simply to produce good and enduring comic books of whatever stripe with no aspirations for the medium beyond that. The work will speak for itself; and if what it says has any profundity then it will endure. We should not concern ourselves with anything further.

As for where this leaves me, I find myself currently close to the end of one major personal cycle that includes the eight or nine years of From Hell, the five years spent on Voice of the Fire, Lost Girls (which approaches completion), a couple of years on A Small Killing, Big Numbers (which may achieve completion as a television series sometime soon), and various other things. The work for Image and Extreme has been very enjoyable, lucrative enough to finance the less commercial projects (see above), and hopefully of some small use in the struggle to reinstall proper story values into mainstream comics. I imagine that I'll be involved with more of this stuff for at least the immediate future, and it's something I'm looking forward to. Something with a little more finesse but still very much in the fun/adventure ballpark is this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen project that Kevin O'Neill and I are putting together.

As far as strictly serious comic-book work goes, I'm probably going to coast for a few months before committing myself to another major work. I have an idea for a lengthy and utterly non-commercial history of the development of magic, in step with the development of language, consciousness, art, and culture. It would be nine volumes long, and I'd be working on it with fellow occultist Steve Moore (no relation). Maybe nine different artists working on it. Nothing decided as yet. Beyond that, Neil Gaiman and I have been talking at long intervals about a kind of anthology-magazine-type thing. I have no doubt that it will happen eventually, but as yet it's still only very nebulous as far as any practical considerations go. These are my only plans for strictly serious comics work following the end of Lost Girls, but they’re both pretty ambitious. On top of this, I’ll be working on a CD-ROM with Dave Gibbons, finishing my third CD recording (a double album of techno dance music, if anyone's even remotely interested), and working on the follow-up to Voice of the Fire, which currently has A Grammar as its working title. By the time I've finished with all of the above, I'll probably be pushing fifty. Cerebus will be finished. It'll be the twenty-first century, and we'll all be living on the moon and wearing anti-gravity shoes. We'll see how everything stands (or floats) then.

I hope that answers your questions, and sorry that it's taken me so long to reply to this last part. Again, it's been a great virtual conversation, and I can think of no nobler forum than your extraordinary comic book for it to appear in. Incidentally, I only just noticed that the spooky photograph of me that you stuck in the issue preceding the start of our chat is taken from the inner sleeve of The Moon & Serpent. Did you finally find a copy, or what?

Anyway, my love, as ever, to you and Ger. Cerebus goes from strength to strength, to the point where even running this conversation in issue after issue probably won’t completely destroy it's reader base. Take care of yourselves, and I'll talk to you soon, although probably not in public.



Dave's footnote:
I don't consider myself really "involved" with Christianity. In part three, I should've drawn a sharper distinction between my high regard for the "Lamb of God" Jesus of John's Gospel, as distinct from the "Son of Man" Jesus of Matthew, Mark, and Luke - and likewise clarified the fact that I consider the former incarnation to be a less heretical one than the three latter incarnations; but that I consider all four to be timely, inevitable, but nonetheless regrettable Judaic corruptions. I agree with Alan's views on theological "middle management."

by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell
Available from Top Shelf / Knockabout Comics

Saturday, 3 October 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.

This week's entry is the letter from Dave Sim to Mr. Douglas A. Jeffrey, of Hillsdale College, which was attached to the letter Dave sent me in June of 2004, and which was referred to in last week's post. This was the beginning to one of the oddest correspondences I've ever had occasion to witness between Dave and anyone else. I was just involved peripherally, despite having "sicced" Dave on Mr. Jeffery and HIllsdale College in the first place, by virtue of having put Dave's name in for a subscription to their free conservative publication, Imprimis. Here we go:

22 June 04

Douglas A. Jeffery
Vice President for External Affairs
Hillsdale College
33 E. College Street
Hillsdale, MI

Dear Mr. Jeffrey:

Thank you for your note of earlier this month welcoming me as a subscriber to Imprimis. I have already sent a photocopy of the first issue you sent, the April number, to one of my reader/correspondents and have quoted it to another. A most extraordinary, thoughtful and clear-thinking publication. I enclose my contribution and the addresses of two more possible subscribers.

I have to admit that the only thing that dismayed me in reading about your institution was the statistic that you have 51% female enrollment and 49% male enrollment. This was the only area where I saw you as violating your mandate as a liberal arts college in the original sense of the term. Female representation is certainly something to be acknowledged and accepted everywhere and by everyone in a free society, but I would maintain that a one-to-one ratio can only be achieved through the skewing and lowering of standards. After all, even the United Nations is only calling for 30% female representation in the world’s legislatures -- and is everywhere falling well short of that goal because of the (to me, anyway) self-evident overall lesser aptitudes, interests and inclinations of the female of the species in the required areas of genuine achievement.

I only remark upon this because I noted with great interest and approval that Hillsdale refused to adopt affirmative action in the 1970s, was the only college to publicly refuse to sign the Title IV compliance forms, and has chosen to forego all federal funding -- even indirectly -- in order to maintain this principle stance. To go through all of that and then to have a nearly exact 50-50 gender mix in your study enrollment, strikes me as being about as sensible as going eyeball-eyeball with the Soviets in 1962 until they blinked and then spending the next 20 years trying to find ways to appease them.

I enclose one of my more controversial essays, Tangent, from 2001. Mr. Seiler is a reader of mine of long-standing and I'm sure that he (quite rightly) guessed that -- apart from the above-mentioned foundational disagreement between our positions on gender -- Hillsdale College and its publication would be exactly my "cup of tea".

Dave Sim


Entry from U.S. News and World Report’s annual America’s Best Colleges issue, 2004.

U.S. News ranking: Lib. Arts, No. 96

Freshman admissions:
2003-2004: 1,150 applied, 881 accepted. Either SAT or ACT required. ACT 25/75 percentile: 24-29. High school rank: 42% in top tenth, 78% in top quarter, 98% in top half.

Undergraduate student body:
1,195 full time, 35 part time, 47% male, 53% female; N/A American Indian, N/A Asian, N/A black, N/A Hispanic, N/A white, N/A international; 47% from in state; 86% live on campus; 33% of students in fraternities; 40% in sororities.

Most popular majors:
25% business, managing, marketing, and related support services; 18% social sciences; 15% biological and biomedical sciences; 11% English language and literature/letters; 10% education.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Weekly Update #102: The Eye Of Suentus Po

It was a good news/bad news sort of week: Cerebus Online made some money, but then a bunch of bills came due! Isn't that always the way? Also, a brand new scanner means brand new problems. Join us as we travel to Camp David, the electronic nerve centre of Aardvark-Vanaheim, and gaze deep into the eye of Suentus Po...

The giveaway of Cerebus back-issues (full details here) has been scheduled for October 23/24/25 in Leamington, Ontario. Dave has reserved a block of rooms for Cerebus fans at the Comfort Inn in Leamington. To register for one of the rooms in the block, call the Comfort Inn at 519 326 9071 and cite the name of the event: CEREBUS 2015. Book now!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Alcohol Is Free and There Is No Last Call

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've looked at Dave Sim's notebook #18 four times already. Part of the reason for that is the amount of pages that were scanned for it. Notebook #18 had the most pages scanned in one notebook, far surpassing notebook #2's 196 pages scanned, notebook #1's 194 pages scanned and notebook #4's 160 pages scanned. Notebook #18 had 260 pages out of 300 pages scanned. There were only nine blank pages and 31 pages missing.

Notebook #18 front cover
On page 21 we see dialogue from (the real) Cirin, or Vera's Prisoner or Serna as she is sometimes called. It is dialogue that takes place on page 43 & 44 of the phonebook Women, or page 17 & 18 of issue #164. For the most part, the dialogue is the same as on the finished pages. However, on the notebook we see Dave had written down "Peter's Tavern" instead of "Horseshoe Tavern".

Notebook #18, page 21
Peter's Tavern is a reference to Peter's Place, the bar that Cerebus Dave spent a lot of time at in the 1990s.

Spawn #10, Cerebus and Spawn walk past Peter's Place
The few changes to the dialogue start with Dave substituting men for males, which is what is on the notebook page. You can see that for the line 'This is enough money for a cot and ale for several weeks", Dave crossed  off the 'several weeks' and put down tonight and tomorrow, which is what ends up on the finished page. The next line he modified as well - going from "I've already told the owner to put you on account for you after that" to "I've arranged an account for you after that."

We skip over a bunch of pages - as we've look at some of them already in the entry "Crossing Over" where we looked at Dave's notes for Spawn #10, and in the entry "Notebook 18: Ends & Odd Bits", where we covered a few other pages before this next page.

Notebook #18, page 31
This page gives us a page by page list of what happens in issue #165. I couldn't figure out what the X's and check marks stand for. I did check each page - the only switch that Dave did was to move the Cirin and Astoria pages on the alcohol sanction to after the 'Snuff shooting up the joint" page.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Saving Sanity While Working With A Microscope

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings all,

I've written a year of these weekly updates at this point without ever touching on something pretty fundamental to this process.

Executing a repetitive task, especially tasks to focused on minutiae and the finest little bits of information, can make you a little crazy.

This wasn't really news to me. I've worked on and off as an audio engineer for six or seven years, and it's an experience I've had many a time after a really long, focused comping session. ("Comping," meaning, compiling a finished take of a song or an individual track/instrument/vocal performance from among many, even dozens, of individual performances.) At the end of the process you have something coherent and, hopefully, better than any one individual performance, but the process itself requires such intense focus on such small details-- slight variances in pitch and rhythm, changing timbre, slight shifts in inflection and color and nuance-- that it can be hard to break out of that mode afterwards.

At the beginning of 2014, I was assisting a friend of mine editing audio books. This process, consisting of much less to think about but requiring even more focus on small detail, made me genuinely ill after only a few hours of work. I would leave my studio in the back of the house, walk into the front and try to have a normal conversation, but everything was still being processed through that most critical portion of my thinking. Having a conversation with my wife Rachel, some part of me would be busy picking it apart, instead of hearing the semantic content of the speech, hearing the shifting room tone as she walked around in the kitchen, hearing the small click of moisture as I opened my mouth to speak. This lasted for as long as I was working on the book, which is to say, much too long.

So is it any surprise that the current work can sometimes drive me a little insane?

The above panel is from a new double-page spread of original art contributed by Cerebus Dragnet hunter extraordinaire Dean Reeves. Thanks so much Dean! 

It's no wonder-- what with the standards we've set for ourselves with the cleanup, the attention to detail, the amount of different types of materials that need to be juggled and processed and made to appear seamlessly next to each other on the page. It's easy to get hypnotized by the cleanup especially, zooming in further and further in the page until any sense of proportion has been lost.

But in recent months it's been much smoother, mainly because the materials themselves have been much more regular (thanks to the fantastic negative cleaning and scanning of Karen Funk, for instance), but also because I've developed a whole range of ways to keep myself sane.

I don't know how many people reading this will ever work on a project of this type and this scale, with this much focused repetition, but I thought I'd take a moment to document some of these techniques in case they can be helpful.

Sean Michael Robinson's Tips For Continued Sanity in the Face of Focused Repetitive Critical Work

1. Stay organized

Mara's organizational contributions to this work, as detailed in a blog post two weeks ago, have been invaluable. Keep your files and all of your raw materials available and named in such a way that they can be accessed (and understood/interpreted) at a glance.

2. Keep daily backups

This applies to your data, but to your brain as well. Stress is increased through increased cognitive load-- oftentimes you're still thinking about a task after it's been completed because there's some incomplete element still waiting for your attention. Write it down!

As for file backup, it's hard to beat the simplicity and ease of Lacie's Genie Backup Pro. My more tech-minded engineering friends seem to like Vice Versa, as it's capable of doing bit-to-bit comparison and other handy tricks, but it's a little complicated for me, at least with the amount of time I've spent with it.

3. Scripts!

Write scripts. For EVERYTHING.

Computers are machines, and they do lots of tasks with much greater efficiency than you or I ever could. If there's a repetitive task in your work flow, script it.

Photoshop scripting is really easy to learn. I currently have scripts that--

a. make a page grayscale from color, in two different ways, by dropping different color channels
b. blur the whole page so I can assess tone density
c. save adjusted pages into the correct folder and close them
d. save cleaned pages into the correct folder and close them
e. many many many other repetitive tasks

If you have to do something more than three times, you might consider writing a script for it.

4. Keep a Sense of Proportion

Recently while working on cleanup, I've been forcing myself to continually refer to a previous printing of the material, or a laser printout at-size, to remind myself of the actual scale involved. How big exactly is that area of black you've been meticulously cleaning for the past ten minutes? Some of this of course comes with experience-- any little problem with tone, for instance, is much more visible than a similar blemish on, say, line work. That's because, usually, the brain is interpreting the tone as just that-- a "color" or tone rather than individual dots. And blemishes within that field of dots disturb the brain's ability to "read" the tone that way. So our experience with what shows up in print and what doesn't has aided us in this, as has just not zooming in as far as before, unless it's required to diagnose a problem.

Here, for instance, is a 1 to 1, 100 percent zoom of the above image.

I think when you can see the capillary effect of the crow quill breaking the surface of the paper and then spreading into the grain, you've gone a bit too far into the page, you know?

And lastly, probably the most important suggestion--

5. Make some art of your own

During those short, dreary audio book editing days, the only cure for the effect of that focused editing on my brain was to make some musical sounds of my own. Sing some songs with Rachel, play some piano or guitar or banjo or flute or drums, just spend some time in unfocused, impromptu noise-making. An hour or two and I would feel the clouds lift from my brain and some of my own though processes return to fill in the void.

And the same seems to be the case for this work as well.

After almost a three year break from making comics, after having abandoned my last graphic novel after 400 pages or so,  I'm back at it with a new book, tentative titled A Summer Horse. It turns out that drawing your own teeny tiny lines is the perfect palette cleanser from intensive production work, and the real pleasure I've taken in drawing has surprised me with its intensity.

Of course, at two to three pages a week, it'll be a while before there's a good chunk to read. But in the meanwhile, I'm happy to toil away and watch the stack of pages grow.

Happy 64th Birthday, Deni Loubert!

Deni Loubert was Aardvark-Vanaheim's publisher for the first 70 issues of Cerebus. Deni and Dave Sim were married between 1978 and 1983. After their divorce, Deni moved to Los Angeles to start her own comics publishing company, Renegade Press, which closed its doors in 1989. She was inducted into the Joe Shuster Hall of Fame in 2010.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Cerebus: In My Life ~ Vnend

(Click image to enlarge)

How did you discover Cerebus and how long did you read it for?

I'm not sure how I heard of it initially. I picked up an issue in the store during Church & State and put it back. Five years later had a roommate who was a fan with all the back issues. I was a die hard fan after that, all the way to #300 (and beyond, it seems).

How has your own creativity / comics reading been influenced by Cerebus?

Dave printing his and other folks' 24 Hour comics got me do one, create a few single page comics and a couple of minis (including my son's birth announcement). And that creative impulse also took root in my son. I also picked up several of the creator owned comics that Dave mentioned in the monthly issues.

What is your favourite scene or sequence from Cerebus?

But, but, but… there are so many!
Issue 6:
      Cerebus: "Cerebus would love to lick apricot brandy from your navel."
      Jaka (collapsing in tears): “Wah!"
      Cerebus: “You don't like apricot brandy?"
Issue 51 (all of it but especially):
      "Reasonable? Cerebus is tired of being reasonable. Cerebus is going to try homicidal instead!"

Gerhard's covers.
But, probably mostly, the two page spread (Cerebus and Jaka on a huge checker board, Cerebus in armor and using a shield to protect Jaka from flying stone heads). I actually worked up the nerve to call the Off-White house and asked Dave to release that as a poster.

Would you recommend that others read Cerebus, and if so, why?

Yes. Why depends on the person. If the person is a comics artist, just to study Dave's genius in lettering is more than enough of a reason, but his use of line, Gerhard's backgrounds, etc, etc… Sometimes just for the humor and sometimes just because it is such a monumental piece of work.