Friday, June 15, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #277 (June 15th, 2007) - with guest host Craig Miller!

[Following Cerebus editor/publisher Craig Miller is filling in this week for Dave Sim.]

Responding to my June 13 entry, Jeff Tundis wrote, "I'm looking forward to...BWS'
input on an issue of FC....[Glad] to see Craig was able to get him involved in something Cerebus related!"

Confession time: I'm the world's biggest BWS fan, or at least tied with the guy who bought the entire "Red Nails" original art. Everybody who knows me well knows this, and it goes back years and years and years. When SavageTales did that one-page bio of Barry and I learned that his birthday was on May 25, it's been almost an annual ritual for me to call (and later e-mail) longtime friends (and sometimes family members) to wish them "Happy Barry (and later Windsor-)Smith birthday." "The Enchantment" is already hanging in my new office, as will "The Ram and the Peacock" and "The Four Ages" and "Pandora," among others, as soon as I can find places for them. Every day when I turn on my computer, the Conan piece from the 1975 Marvel Calendar stares back at me as the desktop image (I took the time to carefully remove the page from the wire spiral, scanned it in, and photoshop-corrected the missing images from the holes along the bottom). I could go on, but if Barry ever reads this, he'll probably be nervous about what I've already admitted to (even if I do live half-way across the country).

BWS is my favorite artist not because he's the best draftsman in comics (my number two and four guys, Al Williamson and Neal Adams, might have him beat on that score)(in case you're wondering, Michael Golden is number three), or because he's the best storyteller (although, hmm, now that I think about it, I'm not sure who is undeniably superior), but because there is something about the thinking that goes into the art, the ambiance of the art, that some part of the core of my being responds to.

For me, BWS's work is up there with the films of Stanley Kubrick, the writing of Ray Bradbury, the music of Kate Bush (well, at least The Hounds of Love), the sculptures of Michaelangelo, the runs of Barry Sanders--magical works of such sublime beauty that I can't believe they are the work of humanity.

Once in the mid-eighties I got up at the crack of dawn--itself an accomplishment for me--and drove about five hours to a small comic show in Houston because BWS was a guest. I'd never met him before in person. I was so worried about embarrassing myself that I spent most of the hour-and-a-half staring from the next aisle, which would probably have creeped Barry out even more if he'd noticed me. I finally got up the nerve to ask him what kind of brush he inked with. Turns out he didn't use brushes and never had. (Ten years down the drain of trying to get those pen effects with a brush. D'oh!) I bought two pages of art and drove five hours back to Dallas.

During that time I spent watching (okay, staring at) him in Houston, I noticed one thing in particular. He'd brought some of his prints, including some very old ones such as "The Ram and the Peacock," and put them out on his tables for sale. People would stop by and occasionally pick up a print, look at it, and set it back down on the table. And--the nerve!--they wouldn't set it back down in the exact same place Barry had put it. It might be a half-inch off. Barry spent the entire time, in between signing books, straightening and restraightning those stacks of prints. (Being the picture of courtesy, he did not, of course, voice any displeasure at the fans.)

And in a flash I learned two things: the perfectionism exhibited in a small, seemingly insignificant way in the table display was what drove some of his publishers crazy; and that same perfectionism was one of the things that I absolutely loved about him.

During the late eighties and early nineties, when I set up at tons of shows and conventions, every time I would straighten my table display because someone would flip through an issue of Wrapped in Plastic or Spectrum or Cerebus Companion and set it down a half-inch to the left of where it was supposed to be, I would think of BWS in Houston. I can't draw anywhere near as well as Barry, but, you know, I can straighten up my convention table as well as he can!

I finally got to interview BWS in 1997 for Spectrum 11. As far as I could tell, it went extremely well. Barry let me reprint it in Spectrum Super Special 2 (2005). For SSS 3 (as with issue 2, still available at!), I reviewed (lambasted, actually) the Dark Horse editions of the Conan comics Barry drew for Marvel, and Barry wrote a short note expressing his own displeasure with the reprints.

In Following Cerebus 2, Barry allowed us to reprint a 1973 interview with him conducted by Dave Sim and, if I recall, even provided one or two accompanying photos. And now in FC 10, he's allowing us to reprint "Cerebus Dreams."

For whatever reason, he (and/or Alex Bialy) keeps responding to my e-mails.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: no matter what I'm publishing, I'm always trying to find some excuse to include BWS in the project. If it were up to me, Barry would be in every single issue of Following Cerebus, but of course if I tried that, he would become totally annoyed at me and stop answering the e-mails.

I looked forward to writing a three- or four-page intro to "Cerebus Dreams," examining how the story intersects two great paths: the dream themes in Cerebus, and the dream themes in BWS's work. Unfortunately, as the issue filled up, I had only a single page to try to convey this, amounting to little more than an outline. But here it is, an advance peak at another FC 10 item.


Barry Windsor-Smith's Dreams

Particularly in light of the revelations in OPUS 1 and 2, Barry Windsor-Smith's autobiographical art books, "Cerebus Dreams" is fascinating in how it fits not only within the continuity of the Cerebus storyline, but within the continuity of BWS's work—specifically, the prominence of dreams. One of his best Conan stories is "The Frost Giant's Daughter"—admittedly an adaptation of the Robert E. Howard original, but Windsor-Smith's dynamic storytelling gives it a startling power. (Ironically, a Roy Thomas/BWS Conan "warm-up" piece that appeared in Chamber of Darkness 4, "The Sword and the Sorcerers," emphasizes a dream-versus-reality puzzle to an even larger extent.) An early Doctor Strange story that BWS plotted and pencilled has the Master of the Mystic Arts facing Nightmare .

Top: "Weapon X." Above: "The Sword and the Sorcerers."

More sophisticated treatments of reality-versus-fantasy, whether utilizing dreams or visions or what-have-you, can be found in "Weapon X" and the Paradoxman feature in Storyteller.

In OPUS 1 Windsor-Smith describes his drawing process as "somewhat similar" to "lucid dreaming" (p. 97), whereas his "own dream states are relatively unremarkable" (OPUS 2, p. 79). His description of the Endless Waves of Time in the first volume has a dream-like quality, which seems appropriate because his initial response was to dismiss the experience as a dream or nightmare. By the end of OPUS 2, Windsor-Smith has connected his fully-conscious extraordinary experiences with the "supranormal events encountered in the world of dreams," and argues that there is not a Cartesian Dualism between physics and metaphysics, but a unity.

Which, in a roundabout way, gets us back to "Cerebus Dreams." In 1983, it seemed to be a cute, clever little story, not Windsor-Smith's most challenging work, but entertaining nevertheless. Now, within the context of BWS's much larger body of work, it seems significantly more complex and quite amazing. See if you don't agree.


"The Frost Giant's Daughter"

"While the World Spins Mad!"




If you wish to contact Craig Miller, you can mail a letter to:

Win-Mill Productions
Dept. B
P.O. Box 1283
Arlington, TX 76004

Or send an email to:


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. Here are the Diamond Star System codes:

Cerebus #1-25 $30.00 STAR00070

High Society #26-50 $30.00 STAR00071

Church and State I #52-80 $35.00 STAR00271

Church and State II #81-111 $35.00 STAR00321

Jaka's Story #114-136 $30.00 STAR00359

Melmoth #139-150 $20.00 STAR00431

Flight #151-162 $20.00 STAR00543

Women #163-174 $20.00 STAR00849

Reads #175-186 $20.00 STAR01063

Minds #187-200 $20.00 STAR01916

Guys #201-219 $25.00 STAR06972

Rick's Story #220-231 $20.00 STAR08468

Going Home I #232-250 $30.00 STAR10981

Form and Void #251-265 $30.00 STAR13500

Latter Days #266 - 288 $35.00 AUG031920

The Last Day #289 - 300 $25.00 APR042189

Collected Letters - $30 FEB052434

Collected Letters 2 - $22 MAR073054