Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #7/8 (September 19th, 2006) (Double-Size Issue!)

I was curious about the "puppet show" John Tran had been asked to shoot (starting with the tryout footage some time back when it was basically just him and Scotty—his long-time assistant—and the creators of the series and proceeding to a promotion gig at Comicon in San Diego this year) and which would have him home in Toronto for the better part of four months. Being me, I just flat-out asked if I could come out to see the set the day before I was coming down for a visit…

(a visit to John and Siu and also to John's mind-boggling collection of newspaper strips, comic book and comic strip book collections, original artwork—including a Stan Drake and a Leonard Starr dailies—and all three volumes of The Heart of Juliet Jones published by Arcadia Publications of Greenfield, Wisconsin back in the late 1980s. The hours just melt away poring over never-before-seen-by-me examples of the work of my favourite artists)

…and he managed to get permission.

The whole thing is put together on a sound stage about the size of a good-sized living room, 360 degrees of sets representing the various stores and food outlets that make up the Mr. Meaty mall. It's a very clever use of space and on this first visit all of the action was in the Mr. Meaty kitchen where Josh and Parker were dealing with a mechanized employee. The show was originally sold to the CBC (where it debuts on October 7) here in Canada, and then the series creators went to Nickelodeon in the US which not only picked up the series (it debuts September 22) but then decided to give it a major promotional push. So the overall sense is one of subdued but gleeful panic as the crew (now blossomed to twenty-five or so) labours to get enough scenes done to stay on track for the "wrap" in the third week of October. This was even more in evidence on my second visit a couple of weeks later as they hit the halfway point in the twenty-six episodes they needed to shoot.

John's a world-class cinematographer but he's also a professional so it was interesting to see him sweating it out as he tries to get the best angle, the best lighting, the best framing, the best camera movement and the best shot all in the shortest imaginable period of time: all of which he managed to do judging by what was on the monitors. I'd look in wonder at what the camera was seeing and then look up to confirm that it really was just a puppet show. That's the mark of a world-class cinematographer.

We'll be back after this brief commercial message.

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Always wanted to tell Dave Sim what to do? Always wanted to have your own one-of-a-kind piece of Cerebus artwork "Like the `early funnier ones'?" but in colour? And with a Gerhard background that actually reflects some knowledge of perspective?

If you answered "Yes" to all these questions it may be time for a Cerebus Commissioned drawing. $500 per character. 11x17. First come, first served.
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The second visit was the same only "later and more-so," with the entire mall closed off with black curtains and a wrestling ring occupying the entire centre of the soundstage (Josh challenges Parker to a wrestling match says the shot list for that day), encircled by as many of the puppets as they could fit into the background with an additional half-dozen or so being manipulated by the staff of professional puppeteers (one of whom turned out to be a huge Cerebus fan). In the hour-and-a-half that we were there (me, Chester Brown and John's wife, Siu Ta) they finished roughly a half-dozen different shots which each required a different set-up, lighting, camera angle—some with half of the wrestling ring floor visible, some with just an edge of the floor visible sometimes with the Josh and Parker with legs, sometimes with the Josh and Parker without legs. At one point, bouncing Josh off of the ropes, Jamie noticed that the harder he bounced him in rehearsal the bigger a laugh he got, so he just kept bouncing him harder and harder and getting bigger and bigger laughs until Josh's hand flew off, necessitating emergency puppet surgery (two full-time staff) to get the hand back on with the clock ticking. They ended the day roughly three scenes behind schedule (about where they had been on my first visit, ten or so episodes prior to that). What was funny was the extent of the improvising that series creators Jason Hopley and Jamie Shannon were doing. They very seldom did a scene the same way twice in a row, adding another line of dialogue or a different emphasis to try and keep things fresh. Is there a funnier way to phrase this line or a funnier way to deliver the line? Which is the first time I ever saw the process taking place outside of my own head back when I was doing Cerebus, but which also made it very hard on the crew and visitors because you KNOW that it's a set and that they're recording sound so you're supposed to be absolutely quiet. But a new improvised line of dialogue would catch everyone off-guard and there it would be: unplanned recorded laughter making a second take necessary.

Anyway, as a thank you for letting a completely unnecessary body (mine) take up space—twice—in the middle of Their Shot At The Big Time, I decided to do the attached cartoon for the guys ("Soy What?" is one of the fast-food outlets on the show). Just when I was thinking that I better just leave the cartoon with John to give to them, the Floor Manager called a ten-minute break and I had time to give it to them personally and get some photos for my Blog, here. They both had virtual steam rising off of them such as you would get after running a marathon the result of holding puppets aloft for hours at a time, the bright television lights and cramped quarters (they sit on stacked wooden boxes with thin cushions on top mere inches from each other, again, for hours at a time). Anyway, they were really impressed that here were their actual characters drawn by someone else in cartoon form on an actual piece of paper that they get to keep (and get framed for the office wall was the conclusion). On my side it seemed as likely that I might be giving Jim Henson his first colour cartoon of Kermit the Frog. "Oh, yeah, I met them even before Mr. Meaty went on the air." Oh, and I told them I thought I could deliver 900 viewers on September 22 which is probably wildly exaggerated. So, if maybe a dozen or so of you could e-mail Nickelodeon after the show airs and tell them you want to see MORE MR. MEATY! we can at least create the illusion that I delivered on my "promise".

And they invited me and Chester to come back anytime.

Which we'll both have to do since both of us enjoyed what we saw of the show and neither of us have a television.

(Photos by Chester Brown)

(Dave accidentally created two posts for today, but instead of rolling it over to the next day, he decided to post them both now! - Jeff)

Tuesday September 19 – Today's edition of The Blog & Mail is brought to you by that strange blank space in today's world where Cerebus ought to be.
Matt: Boy, I really can't count the number of times that I've read something in the newspaper or heard a passing conversation that reminded me of something I first read about in Cerebus —sometimes years ago—and still no one has the slightest idea of what Cerebus is and when I try to explain it to them they couldn't be more disinterested.

Is there something wrong with me?

Doctor: Yes, definitely. We just don't have a name for it yet. But we strongly suspect it may be illegal in 38 of the United States and five Canadian provinces.
Voice-over: That strange blank space in today's world where Cerebus ought to be. It's not going away anytime soon. If you suspect yourself of having disproportionately favourable opinions about Cerebus, please report yourself to your local mental health authorities. Remember. We're here to help you.

Sandeep told me a funny story about Trevor Grace who has been taping my Scripture Readings at the Registry Theatre (and much obliged, Trevor) and selling them on eBay to benefit the Food Bank of Waterloo Region (the initial offering of the complete Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus—soon to be joined by the complete Numbers which I finished reading on September 10—raised a little over $400 in just six days!). I guess Trevor at some point asked Sandeep if I had any moral objections to Cerebus being printed in China (since Trevor had a contact in printing there of some kind). And Sandeep goes, "How the hell should I know? Why don't you phone Dave and ask?"
The answer is, no, really I don't. Whatever they are paying people in sweat shops in the Orient to produce North American consumer goods, it's more than they can get paid to do anything else. I wouldn't actively pursue a better/cheaper/faster printer and I'm just as happy to pay North American wages to keep jobs in North America but I think both things are constructive: as far as I can see generating employment in the Orient is just as necessary as generating employment in North America and we still haven't found a printer although we're coming down to the point where we are going to have to find one soon so if anyone has any contacts or suggestions, we're always open to them. I don't mean mailing me a list of 9,000 printers worldwide. I can find that myself. I mean, if you are aware of a printer who does work like the trade paperbacks (a printer that specializes in catalogues as an example) that still uses negatives instead of direct-to-plate (or if you know of a place that can convert negatives to computer files with no loss of quality) and you can get us price quotes on, say, 4,000 copies of Form & Void with shipping to our warehouse in Leamington, Ontario we'll certainly be glad to look at whatever price quote the want to come up with.

In fact if anyone has any ideas about printing or anything else and is willing to volunteer to help on…whatever it is…we'd be glad to listen to any idea and possibly give it a try. I keep pushing Gerhard to get a volunteer to help him with the www.cerebusart.com website because it's really causing him to pull his hair out and is verging on ruining his life (or at least the part of his life that I see: every Tuesday when he comes in). And by help, I don't mean "You guys should do more prints." If you can find us an outfit that does prints, packages them and ships them and you can get us price quotes, that we'll be glad to take a look at. But just doing prints because it sounds like a good idea and ending up with a closet full of unsold prints and big chunks out of our lives taken up with signing and packaging and mailing just enough prints to make back our initial costs, well, no, those (as I'm sure you'll understand) aren't really the kind of things we're looking to invest our limited time in.

As an example, it was really Claude Flowers being very, very interested in future volumes of Collected Letters that led me to explain to him that the only way that I could envision them being viable was print-on-demand (we sold 1,000 copies on the initial Diamond solicitation, had two reorders of 100 copies each and that was it and we're sitting on 1,700 or so copies that are just costing us money for storage and as inventory) but that I thought it was more important to do work on Following Cerebus and the other projects that I've been working on so, if he really wanted future volumes of Collected Letters, he would have to do the legwork in figuring out how to get them done, what it would cost, etc. And now, here we are, moving ahead with future volumes of Collected Letters. Will they be successful? I have no idea. I really doubt it. I suspect whatever interest there was in the first 1200 copies has probably satiated the demand and we'll end up selling considerably less than that of each subsequent volume that we do. 50 years after I'm dead they might very well be bestsellers but here in 2006 they just don't scratch the secular-humanist itch that most people want scratched, just like the last two hundred issues of Cerebus don't scratch that itch (but fortunately for us, the first 100 issues do). They're just not a good fit with 2006 (and I suspect they won't be a good fit with 2010 and 2015 either). But, because Claude researched it exclusively as print-on-demand, being a bad contemporary fit doesn't really enter into it, we end up making money no matter how few we sell. And if we put out fifteen volumes over the next few years it's apt to be another "up and down" revenue stream like the trade paperbacks. But, it does mean that Claude will get the future volumes of Collected Letters that he wanted which, I can pretty much guarantee you, wouldn't have otherwise been the case. I was content to just have all the letters stored on disks as part of the Archive. If no one read them for another hundred years it wouldn't be that much different from the situation that I'm in now.

Likewise, it was only Margaret's interest in the notebooks and the Archive that led me to ask her if she wanted to scan all that stuff which she definitely wanted to do so sometime in the next year or two there will be a commercially available package (the DVD equivalent of print-on-demand) of all that material. Did I want all of it scanned and made available? Definitely! Did I want to scan all of it and find out how to reproduce it and make it available myself? Definitely not! Again, having put it all in order and preserved it, I was fine with it not seeing the light of day until 2140 or whatever.

It was only Matt Dow's interest in doing a coffee mug based on the design on the cover of Cerebus 288 that made that possible. And he basically made absolutely no money and got extremely aggravated and has sworn never to do another Cerebus coffee mug for the rest of his life and has been known to scream like a little girl if he even hears the term "Cerebus coffee mug".

Okay, bad example.

But there you are. We said yes to all of those things. At this point it's really a matter of "Hey, why not?" Even if it only makes a few bucks for all of the participants, who knows—it might be the thing that finally moves Cerebus out of the marginalized mini-cult category into Pop Culture Greatness! I doubt it will, but never let it be said that Ger and I didn't give a good idea the benefit of the doubt.

I do prefer that you "pitch" any idea by escargot mail to Box 1674 Station C, Kitchener, Ontario CANADA N2G 4R2 or by fax to 519.576.0955 with whatever facts and figures you have attached to it (including whatever amount you think you should be making off of whatever the idea is). I mean, if you phone, that's all I'm going to ask you to do anyway. I don't go ballistic on anyone who phones (all Internet rumours to the contrary) but usually you'll catch me in the middle of something else—someone else's idea or one of my own or I'll be in the middle of drawing something—and obviously I want to pay attention to what I'm working on and I want to get back to it as soon as I can so I can give it my full attention and that means that most of the time I'm in a hurry to get off the phone. Let me put it this way: how would you like it if you spent a week putting a whole proposal together with all your ducks in a row, facts, figures, flow charts and whatever else and right in the middle of my reading it the phone rang and it was someone distracting me from what it is you were trying to "pitch"?

The downside is that everyone has to wait their turn, coming through Box 1674 for my undivided attention. The upside is that everyone who comes through Box 1674 will, ultimately, get my undivided attention and a fair hearing. There is no secretary or committee or administrative assistant, just me. Fortunately, the whole Cerebus "phenomenon" is small enough for that to be the case and, personally, I don't envision it getting any bigger (as I keep saying) until fifty years after I'm dead. I didn't go to high school with Margaret, Jeff Tundis and I haven't been hanging around together since grade school. They made themselves known to me through this discussion group and coming out to the various signings and pitching ideas and following through on them and they've really done 99% of what they've done strictly on their own initiative. That's the central reason that I'm aware of them and the reason that they've become associated with Cerebus in everyone's mind. In a real sense, they're the ones keeping the book alive at this point.

Okay, we'll call that a "wrap" on the first week of Blog & Mail instalments. Let's see how long I can keep this up.

previous posts:


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

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

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:


Or, you can check out Mars Import:


Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.