Dave Sim's blogandmail #50 (October 31st, 2006)
BEFORE COMMENCING TODAY'S BLOG & MAIL, THE BLOG & MAIL WOULD LIKE VERY MUCH TO THANK ALL OF OUR READERS FOR THEIR INTEREST, THEIR SUPPORT AND THEIR EARNEST AND HEARTFELT COMMUNICATIONS OF SOLIDARITY WHICH HAVE SO ENRICHED AND EMPOWERED THE BLOG & MAIL THROUGH THE TRYING AND TRAUMATIC EVENTS OF EARLIER THIS WEEK. THE BLOG & MAIL WOULD ALSO LIKE TO REITERATE ITS STATEMENT OF EARLIER THIS MORNING (WHICH IT SOMEHOW MISPLACED) ASSERTING THAT IT WOULD BE INAPPROPRIATE AND WRONG FOR THE BLOG & MAIL TO SAY ANYTHING FURTHER ON THIS MATTER AT THIS TIME. THEREFORE THERE WILL BE NO FURTHER STATEMENTS RELEASED FROM THE BLOG & MAIL OFFICE UNTIL SUCH TIME AS THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY HAS HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO BOTH COMPLETE ITS WORK—IN A THOROUGH, SATISFACTORY, UNBIASED AND EVEN-HANDED FASHION—AND HAS THEN PUBLISHED AND TABLED ITS FINDINGS IN THE FORM OF A FINAL REPORT TO THE BLOG & MAIL WITH ALL APPROPRIATE RECOMMENDATIONS AS TO HOW TRAGIC AND HEART-RENDING EVENTS LIKE THIS CAN BE AVOIDED IN THE FUTURE.
Thanks to Mike Kitchen for his fax on a variety of interrelated issues in yesterday's Blog & Mail. In writing on "canonical vs. high iconic" and the other distinctions that we've had to come up with over here as part of the Cerebus Archive discussion, Mike, you at one point write that something "could be argued" as being true or untrue. In a world dominated by the on-going contention between God and his adversary virtually anything "could be argued" and will be if there's even a remote chance of it causing trouble. The term "devil's advocate" exists for that very reason, in my view.
Citing the Cerebus vs. Spirit storyline, I don't think it naturally follows that The Spirit is "in the Cerebus universe". I think it would probably be more accurate to say that a Spirit Analogue exists in the Cerebus universe. That is, I think any comic-book creator has the implied capacity to do his character both as canonical and as iconic, high iconic and all the rest and that the proper repository of that decision-making is the originating creator. And there you definitely get into the creator's perspective as a core relevancy. If I had asked Will (God rest his soul) if the cross-over meant that the Spirit was now a part of the Cerebus Universe, it wouldn't have had any relevance for him. He had a signed agreement with me limiting my ability to use his artwork (which I chose to ignore, ultimately) and The Spirit and Dolan as trademarked characters. That would have been his core, if not exclusive interest. Is he covered legally with his paperwork to keep me from laying claim to the Spirit? Yes, he is. For Will, end of story. Because crossovers weren't done in his day and there was no organized fandom to debate what belongs in The Complete Spirit and what can be left to one side, the issue would never have come up forcefully enough to make it something that he thought he needed to consider. Nor would he have seen that having a disinterest in the subject was doing a disservice to a segment of his audience that for one reason or another feels itself compelled to deal with fictional material as if it's real or that feels itself compelled to create an organized canon with a rational set of guidelines. Depending on where you're standing, people with those interests are either a saving grace for our medium or textbook cases of borderline schizophrenia. The late Mark Gruenwald, as an example, who is probably the foremost example of the compulsive organizer and categorizer who devoted prodigious energies to organizing the Marvel Universe into a coherent form could, arguably, have been both. He was a saving grace at a time when the Marvel Universe was starting to burst at the seams and lose its internal consistency (which was more of a happy accident/by-product of Stan Lee writing everything in the early sixties and having only a limited number of titles than anything else) by at least creating a plausible overall structure and being in an editorial capacity where he could at least play an "advise & consent" role with the Marvel powers that be. To a clinical therapist, however, if he had listened to any amount of Mark's table talk, he would, I am sure, have gotten somewhat concerned or very concerned about the extent to which fictional worlds were real to Mark and his own compulsion to impose a coherent structure on them so as to make them more real. I was always aware of that aspect of human nature, mostly through my association with Deni who always dealt with her favourite fictions as if they were real and often confused the two. I never did any extensive research, but my gut instinct told me that the people who treated your fictional work as having its own internal reality were the genuine core audience and if the center was going to hold, it had to be dealt with the same level of seriousness anyone would (and should) bring to the core of his or her own business. Even though that entails at least adopting the surface veneer of the schizophrenic. When I was answering the five questions a month, virtually all of them were addressed to me in such a way that what was a plot point was being treated as a past occurrence in a real context. "WHY did Jaka say this?" Not "Why did you HAVE Jaka say this" (which would be one step back in the direction of mental health) or "why did you have Jaka saying this" (which would be another step back in the direction of mental health). The distinction between "say" and "saying" is obvious. "Say" suggests that Jaka is an actual being, a kind of cartooning actress I instructed. "Saying" suggests that Jaka was "only lines of paper, folks" and a completely fictional construct. But I always dealt with "WHY did Jaka say this?" in the spirit in which it was intended, as if Jaka was a real person whose actions, thoughts and words I documented because that's the nature of the reality: the core audience is the audience that thinks the events are the most real so you need to have the ability to switch gears mentally if you are going to keep them "on board." Will would never have had a frame of reference for that. If you pointed out a plot inconsistency to him, he would just have said, "Oh, well, we had to turn those stories out awfully fast. Sometimes Jules Feiffer would remember we had referred to someone's middle name previously and he might even try and look it up but if he couldn't find it right away it would just go in as is." not realizing that a universe was potentially collapsing inside someone he was telling it to. To that sensibility, the correct answer is to identify which middle name is the correct one and which one is the incorrect one (Will: "It doesn't matter. They were both just made up on the spur of the moment. Pick the middle name you like the best.") and, if possible, to come up with a cover story as to why the subsequent mistake was made ("Denny Colt reminded San Serif of her uncle who had the other middle name so it was a Freudian slip"). You recognize the syndrome when you write about retooling an origin story: "I can always go back and bamboozle the audience later". Coming from the same context and tradition—the comic book fan world—you realize that "bamboozle" is what you would be doing. To Will Eisner—and most writers—there would be no frame of reference for that: to them, their job is to engage the reader and draw him in so thoroughly that the story engages him the same way that a compelling reality does. Bamboozling, to them, is what a writer does—none of these events actually happened, I made it all up. That would excite the interest of the psychologist in both directions. "What a perverse thing to do for a living and what an unhealthy thing to be exposed to for people inclined towards schizophrenia." When you write, "The story that is given to us in the Cerebus pages is sufficient enough" that's obviously an opinion informed by your place on the continuity spectrum. I'm just guessing but I don't think there is yet a definitive answer to whether that's true. For some the Cerebus/Spirit crossover is just a "bit of fun" with intellectual properties (and I certainly intended it that way) but for others it's an unsolved problem that needs solving. What is this specifically? And for people like that my original intention is more unhelpful than helpful to their core interest in the Cerebus project. Just having a "bit of fun" constitutes a kind of wilful treason against the Cerebus continuity, as if I intentionally set out to poke them in the eye with a sharp stick. I understand that which is why I do my darnedest to try and accommodate it where possible.
And your cautionary note on cross-overs is duly noted. I'm not sure if Pete Laird is still hacked off at me, but there's a good example where he would probably be a lot happier today if he didn't have an issue of the Turtles by means of which Dave Sim had "contaminated his comic-book river" (in your own very astute phrase). Although it couldn't be further from my own choices, if the rumours are true that Pete intends to digitally remove Cerebus from issue 8 or substitute another character for him, well, I can't really see the harm in that. The cross-over was done in good faith and affection and admiration for what Kevin and Peter had accomplished and in response to Kevin's own sincere interest in the barbarian Cerebus. If there isn't anything of that remaining with Pete as the sole Turtles proprietor, it wouldn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling to think of Cerebus being a thorn in his side that he can painstakingly remove with digital technology. There are still however many tens of thousands of copies of the original comic in circulation as well as the First Comics colour reprint, so it's not as if a complete Kremlin-style revision is possible. But, I think it is probably very worthwhile for creators to have a sufficiently developed accurate self-perception to know that they shouldn't get involved with outside creators in any capacity unless they can be completely philosophical about what might happen years up ahead.
It's funny that you would mention your run-in with the video game company. When I was talking to Jeff Tundis about the Cerebus 3D Movie, I mentioned that the graphics that I had seen looked a lot like a video game and I've been mulling that over ever since. There's obviously a theoretical meeting place somewhere up ahead between Pixar-style movies and video games. They could end up being two separate things that only seem to be on a collision course but it did strike me as a possible fall-back position if the 3D Movie, for one reason another fails to turn into a 3D Movie that anyone's sufficiently happy enough with to even consider showing to me. Hey! Why don't we make it into a video game? My mind being a playground, that led me to think, "What if you made it a continuity freak's video game, where on the one level it was just Cerebus No.1 slavishly sticking to my original layouts and designs and on another level it was a video game where Cerebus has to get past the shadow beast, the ray bolt, the skeleton, the hallucinogenic flowers and get the treasure and get out? But, in the continuity freak's version, you try to make everything happen exactly the way it did in the comic book. ("Damn, the ray bolt only winged the statue." "Damn, the ray bolt hit Cerebus that time"). And if you manage to beat the million-to-one odds of getting everything to go exactly the way it did in the comic book down to the last detail then the video game permanently turns into this slavishly exact video re-enactment of Cerebus No.1. But until you hit that exact and perfect run-through, it stays a video game.
Why is it that I can picture Matt Dow devoting five years of his life to trying to attain that million-to-one perfect run-through?
I admire your ambition to see that "all of the original creators can be properly compensated for their original contributions" but that's a matter of opinion as well. Because the advance work wasn't done at the source of the project I think your chain is only going to be as strong as its weakest link: the creator who just isn't going to see any compensation as suitable. And when you write that you want to make your "future endeavours a test case to see if the Creative Manifesto is a workable template that can withstand anything that life can throw at it." Using my own God vs. His adversary template, I don't think any Manifesto is going to be impervious and I assume individuals are already being moved, chess-like, into position to stymie your best efforts along those lines but…where angels fear to tread, eh? What could be more invigorating than a good life-long game of chess with fairness and justice as the ultimate goal? Keep us all posted on your progress and please feel free to jump back and forth between here and Al's site. You've certainly added another layer to the Creator's Rights debate: the meeting place between creator autonomy and continuity.
Thanks for writing.
THERE'S MORE FOR YOU IN TODAY'S BLOG & MAIL.
ABOVE US ONLY SKY.
written Thursday afternoon October 19
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