Friday, February 23, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #165 (February 23rd, 2007)

Continuing our series of Honking HUGE

Letters and Terrifically unfunny bold face

Headlines…This letter I insert my answers

between paragraphs. Amazing but True!

Hi Dave.

Thanks for the blogandmail. I'm not really in a position to purchase extra copies of the phonebooks but I appreciate the time you put into communicating with your public this way. It's been largely fascinating and worth my time to read it, too, including the Sunday editions.

Glad to hear it. Yes, I have to admit I wondered how this could work if I'm just talking to the Yahoos and they already have all of the phonebooks (most of them anyway). But there does seem to be a spillover effect whereby people at least hear that I'm doing a blog, so they start talking about Dave Sim and that leads to talking about Cerebus and innocent bystanders get compelled to pick it up and check it out. At least that's my latest theory based on my little sales surge over Christmas.

Funny, you and Eddie Campbell have both started blogs at about the same time, so each morning I have to decide whose I'm going to read first, just like 10 years ago when both Bacchus and Cerebus competed for "top of the reading pile" when both comics came in on the same week. I'd prefer you both to be making more comics with your time (it's as if the backs of your respective books have become the fronts, these days) but you each express ideas about comics and life really well so I'll take that and enjoy it too.

Thanks, again. Does Eddie do a daily blog (unlike this here illusion of a daily blog)? I know what you mean, I'd far rather have some new issues of Bacchus or another Alec graphic novel than more of Eddie's blather but I agree, speaking as a world-class blatherer myself, that he can blather with the best of them and if I was on-line I'd be checking to see what he has to say every day. In my own case, the working theory is that if I can produce enough of these Blog & Mails in a short enough period of time that that will give me uninterrupted working time on my secret project while assuaging my perhaps misapprehended notion that I am obligated to keep my name in the public eye in order to sell Cerebus trades. I had actually produced three weeks worth of Blogs in about five days and was preparing to have a nice Christmas holiday and then some uninterrupted working time when I ended up getting sick for a month. Now, I've just produced the Blog & Mail for Feb. 9 to February 26 between January 29 and today, Feb. 2, so I hope to get some work done on my secret project, maybe even two to three weeks. Of course, then I remember I've promised Stephen Lapin a page for his comic and an introduction for James Turner's Rex Libris collection, and that starts whittling away at my working time. Then there's the cover I promised Jeff Seiler for Cerebus Readers in Crisis #2 and for which I checked and I have absolutely no reference. So reference has to be dug up. Have to finish my Ultimate Spider-man #100 cover. And don't even discuss finishing the Cerebus Archive, resorting all the non-issue 1 to 300 artwork onto shelves, getting new correspondence boxes as well as sorting and filing (and throwing out duplicates) of the 6,000+ "flats" of negatives that are still occupying the Off-White House Library and Ger's old studio as they have since they first arrived last summer in Kim Preney's rent-a-truck. I do despair on occasion of ever actually getting back to my own work and actually finishing this here comic book for you nice folks. At the same time I'm getting seriously unhappy about my library looking like an abandoned rail yard. At some point I'm going to crack and just work on that part full-time until it's done (as I did with the Cerebus Archive 8-and-a-half by 11" and smaller documents 1972 to the present).

It'll be interesting to see if I finish my secret project before the moment that I crack or after. I'm hoping "before". It would be really nice to have an actual funnybook out there in the stores before the end of the year. My secret assistant has actually registered a domain name for the book to preview it when I get to that point. I say that in the hopes that it will make it sound as if publication is far more imminent than it actually is.

My favorite "thread" has been your Ditko discussion. He was the first artist whose work I could recognize and identify by name as a young comics reader in the late 70's. (Infantino was next, then Kirby). Not having any "company allegiance" – I just loved comics – I thrilled at finding his art in seemingly random selections of Charlton, Marvel and DC comics at my grandma's 7-Eleven. The separate discovery that my favorite character, Spider-Man, had been more or less created by Ditko (when Marvel's Pocket Book reprints appeared in '78-'79) was a glorious stars-aligning moment for me. Eventually I grew up but I always enjoyed seeing more Ditko work and even some of his recent imagery generates that same early thrill, although his stories have gotten so ponderously abstract and didactic that I have a tough time engaging with them. However, I haven't read any of the packages in a while so I'll check out what Robin Snyder has available and put something on the "to-read" list.

Having gotten in the big box of Ditko material I ordered from Robin Snyder and still only being partway through it, I'll be revisiting the subject soon (and thanks to everyone who said how much they enjoyed it). It took me a long time to read The Mocker and I had a fair amount of difficulty following it because I was sick at the time, but I would definitely recommend it as a good dense, self-contained graphic novel.

One less-examined area of Ditko's output is his turn-of-the-80's Marvel work. I don't know if that represented a compromise on his part of his own ideals – I can't imagine it as anything else, given the hardcore anti-compromise stance of his own work – but I still remember it somewhat fondly. I think it was mostly fill-in stuff, but he did have a run on Captain Universe in Marvel… Spotlight? This is from distant memory, not research. (The internet makes it easy to do the research but also absurdly easy to get derailed and I want to write this letter first.) Anyway, Captain Universe was sort of a "Green Lantern For A Day" kind of hero where a universal force would settle on some ordinary person in peril and he or she would suddenly have a star-spangled blue and white uniform and super powers with which to do good. I don't even know if Ditko plotted or just drew them but there were some interesting variations on who got to be heroes – very ordinary people, and one criminal type – that explore the question of exactly how would/should an ordinary person be heroic if given a very limited opportunity to be so.

That was too late in the day for me. Around the time that Cerebus went monthly I was really only looking at work that could directly inspire me on the book and dropped out of comics reading entirely for a good decade or so. I mean, I used to look through everything Gene Day was working on in photocopy form, but I wasn't even reading Master of Kung Fu, for crying out loud.

Following Cerebus #9 was a great pleasure to read. I simply order the thing from my supplier (Westfield Comics) when it's solicited and it's one of the few items I select automatically without checking the solicitation or price tag so I had no idea it had a Neal Adams interview or that it would cost me $9, but the result was worth every cent. I appreciate the standard Comics Journal-type interview when conducted by a good interviewer (lately Dirk Deppey's been the most reliable) but reading your interview with Neal points up what is lost when the dialogue is simply between critic (or "critic") and artist rather than artist-to-artist. I'm not an artist so the discussion of line work and brushes and pen nibs can leave me behind but it's something I try to "study" so long as there are some decent examples – of which you provided plenty – alongside the discussion. The tales of artists battling ignorant editors and publishers are great to read because you both get the joke of the situation while the Comics Journal guy tends to need the punchline explained. On top of all that, the Niagara Falls narrative (and the cover) really makes me want to see the place for myself sometime. Anyway, thanks for the best issue yet of Following Cerebus, and I hope you have the opportunity to produce more like that.

Thanks again. It was pretty much a year in the making so it's not something that I'm going to be doing all the time—er, you do want to see some comics out of me at some point, don't you? But there's no question that it's great to have Following Cerebus as a vehicle anytime I get a bee in my bonnet like a book-length discussion with Neal Adams. Of course, I also try to balance that with minor participation issues. Craig and John are very good at doing magazines in their own way and, strictly as a reader I always want to see more of their work as well. We try to strike a balance between Dave and non-Dave content.

Still, you've also zeroed in on one of my motivations. As I've complained to Gary before, when the interviewer doesn't write or draw, they usually don't pick up on a natural connecting bit with their next question. I was reading the Frank Thorne interview that Gary did in the latest issue and they got to the part where Frank was a major Alex Raymond clone in the early fifties when he was drawing the Perry Mason newspaper strip and touched briefly on his one unpleasant meeting with Raymond and discussed another artist who kept persuading Frank to stop trying to be Alex Raymond and to just draw like himself. Well, I'm a little more interested in that. When did Frank first see Rip Kirby and to what extent did he have to completely transform his drawing style to "do" Alex Raymond? I mean Al Williamson's response to Rip Kirby was disappointment. He just wanted to see Raymond do Flash Gordon again. It seems to me that Frank Thorne's reaction was what I was looking for from these other guys in the Raymond camp/school/lineage. What was it that you saw and why do you suppose did it have that impact on you? What couldn't you "get" no matter how hard you tried? And now difficult was it to stop doing Raymond when he made that choice? I might have to see if my phone number for Frank is still the same one and call and do something for Following Cerebus, as well as running all of the drawings and letters he sent me in the early days of Cerebus. Those drawings and letters—and, of course, his gorgeous cover to issue 7—are one of the big reasons that I try to stay in touch with young cartoonists and give them feedback. Frank was unbelievably generous and enthusiastic at a time when he was experiencing his phenomenal Red Sonja success. When you're not sure if you're actually playing in the big leagues or just doing a fanzine with a colour cover, that kind of feedback is really indispensable.

Speaking (or writing) of what you're producing these days, it was a treat and a surprise to see the first Siu Ta strip online a while back. I have no idea what it's about but it was great to see some new Dave Sim characters and backgrounds in a narrative form without that @#%& aardvark in the way. If your secret project involves drawing comics, I look forward to purchasing and reading it because I definitely miss seeing new art from you each month.

Yes, the secret project is definitely comics. It's actually Terminally Compulsive Comics in that I really want to see if I can do a 40-pages-or-so comic book that I consider to be as close to flawless as I can make it, having spent 26 years doing comics on a deadline where you make it as good as you can in the time allotted for it. Of course I didn't expect it to go THIS slow (three years in March and maybe 20 pages in). I'll definitely be thinking of something that I can do considerably faster, I think, after this one (God willing) is done. Maybe I'll do it in Eddie Campell's style—that's a fun, quick one to work in.

Have you ever heard of, or read, God Knows by Joseph Heller? It's the story of King David, told in the first person as he lies on his death bed recalling his life and wondering where it all went wrong. I read it 8 years ago, before I became a Christian (7 years ago), sat through 9 months of sermons on 2 Samuel (7 years ago), and read through the bible myself (4 years ago). Thinking about it on this side of all that, and factoring in Latter Days and The Last Day, I'm struck by the similarities between the David story and the Cerebus story. Probably more to do with the archetypes involved – the son leaving the father, finding a new father figure (Saul/Lord Julius), difficult rebellion against that father figure, the first wife (Michal/Sophia), the problematic "true" love (Abigail/Jaka), the disastrous illicit love (Bathsheba/New Joanne), the prophet (Samuel, Nathan/Rick), the rebellious son (Absalom/Sheshep), and a the troubled relationship with God (YHWH in David's case?) – than any deliberate effort on your part, but my recollection of Heller's book is that the great tragedy of David's life is not dissimilar from what your conclusion for Cerebus seems to be. If I might spoil the ending for you (which the first pages of the novel give away anyway), a very old and impotent David is being serviced by a virgin and the last line is "I want my God back, and they send me a girl." Anyway, seeing as how I and 2 Samuel are coming up on your reading schedule, if there is one thought from this letter that I'd like to see your response to, it's your take on the David story and perhaps whether you see any useful parallels between Cerebus and David.

I definitely had David in mind, knowing the sort of absolute power and authority Cerebus was going to achieve—and certainly my first experience at reading about David and Absalom, having had Cerebus and his son in the back of my mind helped clarify the tone I was looking for. Apart from that, I personally have always found David's Psalms more than a little histrionic. I mean, he really had the best and most comfortable situation you could hope to have in the context of his time, the blessing of the YHWH (and, presumably, God), wives, concubines. And yet a good 70% of the time he's whinging at God about how unendurable his life is and how much help he needs and how much he hopes he deserves help and how much he hopes he gets help and how unhappy he is and "crying down tears all the day". Jeez, buddy, get a grip. Old Cerebus on his own praying to have Sheshep come back, that was definitely inspired by David's whining as well as Cerebus taking umbrage at whether he actually "wept sore" or if it was all an act. Old Cerebus alternating between being too cold and too hot, that was definitely inspired by "David could gate no heate". Yes, Abishag (the virgin) was a bad trade for where David presumably had been expected to end up. No, I haven't read the book but I'll keep an eye out for it.

Lastly, are your commentaries on Mark something you plan to publish or keep to yourself? I ask because I think it would be interesting to see a book that combines your commentaries with Chester's Gospel of Mark. (I really wish he would reprint what he's done and complete Matthew at least.)

I go back and forth on that, to be honest. Yes, I definitely intend to publish the commentaries at some point but I'm not sure if that would be in the form of a book (I thought it might be attractive to take say a dozen pages from Chester's Matthew adaptation and re-letter them in the original Koin Greek as illustrations. I definitely picture the Synoptic Jesus as Chester's Matthew, rather than Chester's Mark). He does plan to finish Matthew, but then it's been four years since he finished Louis Riel and he's still at the "page breakdown" stage with his prostitution book so, like, don't hold your breath, eh? Mid-January when I was wondering if I was actually in the exit ramp, one of the first things I thought was to get Sandeep to come over and download the Mark commentaries thus far and just dump them here on the Blog & Mail, so they are definitely and no question a first priority for me, right at the front of my mind at all times even when it's been months since I've been able to work on them. So, have no fear on that account. Dumping it on the internet is a very tempting approach. There was an article awhile back in the paper about a (German? Russian?)(mathematician? Physicist?) evidently, who had been completely ostracized and discredited by his peers for decades, but he had actually solved something like 30 unsolvable problems and he was so irritated with this idiotic treatment that he had gotten that instead of publishing his work in a scientific journal he just dumped it on the internet. Evidently after everyone had a look at it, they wanted to give him the Nobel Prize and he basically told them what they can do with their Nobel Prize. I can definitely relate to that (flattering myself that my Mark commentaries will prove one day to be in the same category, coupled with my Torah commentaries in Latter Days): "Here you go."

Once again, thanks for staying in touch, as it were, with the blogandmail, Following Cerebus, and any reply you might send directly. I know that you see it as part of your responsibility to the Cerebus project, but I don't, so I appreciate the extra time you spend on all this when you'd (rather clearly) prefer to work on your secret project, your commentaries on Mark, your photorealism studies, and your commissions.(signed)

Michael Grabowski, Lake Forest, CA

"permission to use however you like is granted"

Thanks Michael and Stay Tuned to the Blog and Mail for any and all late-breaking developments. I appreciate your support.


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:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

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