Saturday, 31 December 2011

The Scariest Comic Book Moments Ever

Cerebus #136 (July 1990)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
BRIAN DOUGLAS AHERN:
(from the 2010 article at Prism Comics: Part 1, Part 2)
My final offering of the scariest moments in comics comes from Dave Sim's series Cerebus, in the final installment of the extraordinary Jaka's Story. The story ran from issues 114 to 136, ended in 1990 and spanned nearly two years in the telling. Unlike in my previous examples, I will be sparse in the details on this one. Suffice it to say that the journey of the titular character is not an easy one. We follow her in her day-to-day life with her well-meaning but relatively clueless husband Rick in their isolated existence with scattered encounters with their reserved grocer and demonstrative neighbor. Cerebus the aardvark arrives and injects himself into Jaka's life in the hopes of winning back her love, something we know will never happen. The story is peppered with flashbacks from Jaka's past, written in lengthy and lurid prose in emulation of an author from a long ago time. The stretches of prose are accompanied by exquisite illustrations by Sim and Gerhard, making the comic appear to be regularly interrupted by a late 1800s storybook. The flashbacks at first seem intrusive and unwieldy, but in very short order draw the reader in, much like any good ghost story told in an intimate setting.

The matriarchal society of Cerebus's world forces itself into Jaka's life just as she begins to find herself and she, her husband, and her neighbor are attacked by female soldiers and imprisoned during a time when Cerebus, the only one who could have protected them, is gone on an errand. Jaka's stay in prison is arduous and painful, and we suffer it with her. At the story's climax in issue #136, both Jaka and Rick, the husband from whom she had been separated during her time behind bars, are brought before the villain of the picture, a woman known only as Mrs. Thatcher. This woman knows something about Jaka's past that was not covered in the lavish flashbacks and she intends to bring it to light.

What follows is one the best, and most intense, examples of comic book storytelling ever depicted. Using every aspect of the craft, from facial expressions to gestures to sound effects right down to the very size and shape of the lettering in the dialogue balloons, Dave Sim leads us down a path of suspense and growing unease as he has his villain do her work. She speaks, she has her massive female guard prevent Jaka from doing the same, and Mrs. Thatcher addresses Rick while her words do what all the best - and worst - horror stories do. They get inside your head.

Upon realization of what he's been told, Rick, ever the loving and doting husband, crumbles and is utterly destroyed, and we are undone along with him. Even Rick being escorted to freedom is shattering to see, and the final pages, illustrated with no captions or dialogue whatever, shake the reader to the core. As to the content of those pages, of Thatcher's scheming, and Jaka's secret, I will say no more. Pick up the story and read it for yourself. Just brace yourself beforehand. 

Following the conclusion of that storyline, Sim released T-shirts which read "I survived Jaka's Story". The statement could not have been more telling. And yes, I bought one. Those who had not followed the story thought the shirt was in reference to its length, or the extensive use of prose pages within the text. I knew better. I had followed the story of this remarkable young woman, slowly fallen in love with her, and bore witness to her emotional destruction. That, my friends, is scary.

T-Shirt Design: I Survived Jaka's Story (1990)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Friday, 30 December 2011

Howard The Duck

Howard The Duck #8 (Marvel Comics, November 1980)
Art by Dave Sim

DAVE SIM:
(from an interview in The Comics Journal #82, July 1983)
...that was Marvel's serpent-in-the-garden phone call. Marvel is well known for their serpent-in-the-garden phone calls. Just when you get set on what you're going to do, Marvel phones up and asks if you want to work for them... For me it was a phone call from Bill Mantlo, saying that they had decided to do try-out pieces for Howard The Duck to be used as frontispieces, and they were paying real money for them, and it could be whatever I wanted to do. "How Dave Sim would handle Howard The Duck." And I did that for the experience of it, for the exposure; I mean, nothing succeeds like Marvel in fan's eyes. Like being able to tell them I did a story for Epic now. For a lot of them it's like you really exist now. Before you were off in a Never-Never Land. I think it was after that that Lynn Graeme called and said that Bill Mantlo had quit Howard after I had done the page (just a coincidence) and that they liked the page I did. Would I be interested in writing it? And at the time I had just decided to go monthly with Cerebus. If the phone call had come two months before I would have thought, "Well, great, I'll write Howard The Duck one month and do Cerebus the other month." They didn't have any interest in me drawing it, which - this has been a lot of the drawback with a lot of places. If you want to get to Dave Sim you best bet is to ask him to draw something for you and tell him that you're not crazy about his writing since I've heard the other side so many times.

I never really actually "almost wrote" Howard The Duck. I decided against it after about five seconds.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A-Z of Awesomeness

C Is For... Captain Britain Cuddling Cerebus
from the A-Z of Awesomeness (2009)
Art by Neill Cameron

NEILL CAMERON:
My name’s Neill Cameron, and I make a living by writing and drawing stuff. Why not go and look at some of it? My Mecha Action Schoolgirl Comedy Opus Mo-Bot High appeared in weekly children’s comic The DFC, and I’ve recently been working on some comics stuff for Panini, the BBC and a couple of educational publishers. Anyway, a recent rash of deadlines had left me feeling a little tired and burned out, so I decided I needed to just draw something for myself. Something fun. Something… Awesome. Which brings us here.

This project was inspired by my friend and fellow creator Garen Ewing, (whose book The Rainbow Orchid is being published in a couple of months by Egmont UK and is going to be absolutely fantastic, incidentally). Last year Garen did an A-Z of Comic Strip Characters, drawing a character each day based on suggestions from Facebook. I thought this looked like a fun challenge, and decided to give it a go myself, but widening out the remit from just comic strips to characters from the wider world of pop cultural entertainment: film, animation, TV, literature… anywhere, really, so long as it meets the basic requirement of being AWESOME. I decided it would be fun to encourage people to include imaginative alliteration in their suggestions. As you will see, this rapidly got completely, spectacularly out of hand. It ended up being a lot of fun, with over 600 people joining the Facebook group and coming up with all manner of insane suggestions every day.

You can now buy poster-sized prints of the A-Z of Awesomeness, with all profits being donated to SSNAP (Support for the Sick Newborn And their Parents), a charity which supports the Intensive Special Care Nurseries (Neonatal Unit) at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. It's a place and a team of people to which I owe more than I could ever hope to repay in this lifetime, but maybe a few quid from selling some silly posters will make a start. 

Neill Cameron is a UK-based writer and comics artist who has illustrated projects ranging from Doctor Who, Thor and Transfomers to Shakespeare and comics about traffic safety. His first graphic novel, the giant robot school comedy epic Mo-Bot High, is available now as part of the DFC Library series. Neill is currently working on new projects combining dinosaurs, pirates, monkeys and numerous other Things That Are Awesome for new UK weekly children's comic The Phoenix, launching on 7th January 2012.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Following Cerebus With David Petersen

Cover art for Following Cerebus #12 (2011)
Art by Dave Sim & David Petersen

DAVID PETERSEN (MOUSE GUARD):
(from David Petersen's Blog, 23 August 2011)
Back in 2007 I was asked by Dave Sim to do an interview for his magazine Following Cerebus. In the process of the interview by correspondence Dave also asked if I'd like to do a Cerebus/Mouse Guard jam cover. Well after several years, the issue has been released and I can share the process of the cover art (which I now cringe at in terms of inking & coloring crudeness).

Dave sent over the inks for his piece. The idea he had was to have Cerebus waking up to find guardmice climbing on him. I told Dave to ink his piece in fully, that instead of jaming on the layout, just to finish his own drawing and inks, so the styles would only look different between the characters, not from the top to bottom of the image.

I drew & inked my mice on a sheet of bristol on the lighbox with a printout of Dave's inks behind it. That way I was able to match up the contact points where Saxon's sword is touching Cerebus' nose, the mouse feet touch Cerebus' belly etc. It also allowed me to get the shadows to fall in the right spots on the fence and Cerebus himself.

I merged the inked pieces together in photoshop and edited out the inkwork where the two pieces overlapped. Then I colored the piece. The colors look a bit over-saturated and over textured to my eye now, but I do remember at the time wanting to do less texture on Cerebus than the mice to push the idea of two different artistic styles coming together.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Frank Thorne

Red Sonja & Ghita by Frank Thorne

DAVE SIM:
(from Dave Sim On Parody & Copyright, Following Cerebus #3, February 2005)
Frank Thorne was very enthusiastic about the Red Sophia and Geet-a parodies, which meant a great deal to me at the time, because he was such a huge success at the time with Red Sonja. Just completely over-the-top in sending me colour sketches and fan letters. I can't even imagine how much mail he must have been getting at the time. I think he singled me out for a little more that an average amount of attention because I had done an interview with him for CANAR back when he was working on Korak, Son Of Tarzan at DC in the pre-Sonja days. He was always seen as the poor man's Joe Kubert, so I think he appreciated my level of interest and, certainly, I took a lot of inspiration back in 1978-79 from the fact that an artist who had been seen as a second-stringer and an also-ran could suddenly have a hit after years of being a marginal figure in the field. [Laughs] It never happened for me, but it did help to keep me going that it was at least possible.
DAVE SIM:
(from the introduction to issue 3 in Swords Of Cerebus Vol 1, 1981)
A struggling professional needs Frank Thorne - be they elf or aardvark. I mean, Frank loves everything... without qualification or inhibition. Phone the guy to talk and he laughs. He laughs when you say hello, he laughs when you ask him if he's rich yet. He laughs when you tell him you haven't got money for groceries and your mother needs an operation (this last part is made up of course). Frank sends you sketches. Bizarre little Pantone and flair jobbies. I got a sketch when I sent him #1. I got a sketch when I sent him #3. I got a cover for #7 just for sending him xeroxes of the first ten pages. I got another sketch when I won the Alley Award. The most recent sketch was for the Ghita parody in #19. I still have to do Son of Tomahawk, Mighty Sampson and Dr. Guy Bennet (who?). By the end of the decade, I'll be able to wallpaper the cat's room with Frank Thorne artwork... and yes, it is true, the wizard was drawn so he looked like Frank.

Buy Frank Thorne books at Fantagraphics Books, Dynamite Entertainment and Dark Horse.
Cerebus #7 (December 1978)
Art by Frank Thorne

Monday, 26 December 2011

Kim Thompson: "Good Aardvark Art"

Cerebus #1-12 (December 1977 to October 1979)
Art by Dave Sim, except #7 by Frank Thorne

The following review of Cerebus #1-12 by Fantagraphics Books publisher Kim Thompson appeared in The Comics Journal #52 in December 1979. It was the first major review the Cerebus series received and The Comics Journal was not known for handing out praise lightly.

GOOD AARDVARK ART

High points in comics art frequently have odd geneses. Carl Bark's magnum opus sprang from the use of established characters from the Disney canon, one of the most limiting and repressive environments imaginable. George Herriman's masterpiece began as a postscript to an otherwise not terribly distinguished strip called The Family Upstairs. And Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's finest creation originated as a near throwaway in a moribund comic, Amazing Adult Fantasy.

From such unpromising beginnings sprang Uncle Scrooge, Krazy Kat, and Spider-Man, three high-water marks in comics history. It should therefore come as no great surprise that a strip mingling a funny-animal protagonist and a backdrop begun as a line-for-line pastiche of Roy Thomas and Barry Smith's Conan should have developed into one of the best comics of the late 70s. Cerebus The Aardvark has surmounted its origins, both stylistic and thematic, to stand on its own two (rather tubular) feet as a delightful and admirable work of art, and is busily propelling its creator, Dave Sim, to the very forefront of artists currently working in comics. If he is not already recognised as one of tomorrow's masters, it is, I think, because he is not busy writing trendy, opportunistically "relevant" stories or filling his pages with semi-legible, self-conscious stylistic posturing. Instead, he has chosen to put his ever-increasing craftsmanship in the service of telling a straightforward and articulate manner, highly entertaining and witty stories featuring well-developed and affecting characters. Cerebus is (and I do not say this lightly) a true heir to Carl Barks's duck stories. What Barks and Sim have in common, and what so few other creators, particularly nowadays, seem to have, is honesty vis-a-vis their creations. Barks wrote straight from the heart; Sim, once he'd shucked off the initial parodic shallowness in Cerebus, seems similarly sincere. It is tempting to say that at some point characters "take on a life of their own," but that would be doing their creators an injustice. What people like Barks and Sim have is the sensitivity to develop an almost organic feel for their characters that is far removed from (although not totally incompatible with) coldly intellectual manipulation. Gerber never succeeded with Howard The Duck, for instance, because he was insistent on using him to make points in his stories, and worse, making certain that the readers  were fully aware of that he was using them to make those points. Claremont hasn't succeeded in doing it in the X-Men because the devices are too obvious and too calculated. Like good dancing, good characterisation has to be virtually sublimated into the subconscious - if you're still counting "one, two, three" and concentrating on your feet, you've got a was to go.

Despite lapses early on in the canon (such as the second issue, where Cerebus stabs a defeated opponent for a gag - a deliciously blackhearted gag I would have relished in any other context, but here a jolting bit of nastiness), Cerebus and his various supporting characters have acquired dimension. This is doubly remarkable given the fact that most of them (Elrod, Red Sophia, the Cockroach) began as parodies: once Sim had turned the originals inside out, he found that the resultant contortion had its own charm and took off from there. Sophia is still a trifle uncomfortable (probably not least because of the moderately unhealthy nature of her Marvel counterpart and inspiration), but Elrod's portentously amiable goofball persona has divorced itself from its parodic aspects and is no longer a spoof of Elric (except visually), but an original and appealing character.

And, of course, Cerebus himself is a delight. Tempering his initial sullenness with a wicked sense of wit, Sim has evolved Cerebus into a sterling protagonist, with a sharply defined personality, bringing to light traits both positive (keen intelligence, humor, persistence, inventiveness, and an underlying - sometimes far under indeed - ethic) and negative (greed, sarcasm, drunkenness, rudeness, and a coldness toward everyone he meets, usually laced with a deep contempt) and usually staying within his own boundaries. Sim has been coy about how and why an aardvark is doing a Howard the Duck number on Conan's world (his attempts at providing a theological background for aardvarks in #5 and #7are not, I think, to be taken quite seriously), and it doesn't really matter any more than what a dog, mouse and genderless cat are doing beaning each other with bricks in a surrealistic landscape. Sim has wisely kept the "Why... y-y-you're and aardvark!" stuff to a minimum, forsaking it altogether where it would impede the story flow.

Quite apart from the great charm of Sim's characters, the efficient command of of the comics language evident throughout the series is one of its major assets. Sim displays that rarest and most precious of talents: a clean, uncluttered, pleasant story-telling style that is neither overly flashy (the more excessive Byrne jobs), stilted (Gulacy), stolid (Starlin), or hackneyed (the Buscema Brothers [John and Sal]). The layouts of Cerebus provide an object lesson in fluid narrative: viewing the page is like being navigated through busy streets by a skilled driver.

Sim uses the vocabulary of comics with such lucidity and craft that the techniques, most of which are frequently paraded about with no good reason (when not directly misused) by lesser talents, are perfectly integrated. Sim knows exactly when to use split panels, tilted and odd-shaped panels, silhouettes, triptychs, zooms, and does so so expertly that these techniques blend into the fabric of the narrative to create a seamless tapestry of images.

Well, almost seamless. Sim is capable of flubs  as well as anyone else. For instance, the rooftop sequence in #11, it is never quite clear when and how the Cockroach gets down to the street; the rest of the sequence however, flows so smoothly that I didn't notice the lapse until the fourth reading. When the merchant wakes up on page 11 of that same story, Sim reverses viewpoints at an inopportune moment: the penultimate panel on the preceding page establishes Cerebus stage right, Merchant stage left; in the first panel on page 11, Cerebus is startled by a voice coming from stage right; and in panel three, the Merchant and Cerebus are again in their original positions vis-a-vis one another.. Where Sim blows it is panel one, where the reversed angle gives the impression that Cerebus is being startled by a voice from behind, ie in a room different from the Merchant's.

But these and other weaknesses are, given Sim's youth, quite pardonable. Better to commend him for his adeptness at sustaining mood with abstract and semi-abstract renderings in the background, for example. Smith kept the reader informed as to Conan's whereabouts by ceaselessly littering the decor with elaborate architechure, sculptures, and decorative wallpaper. Sim, aware that this more often than not diverts the eye from the basic flow of the action, frequently draws page after page set against a background composed of vey simple designs - mostly  simple pen strokes - after establishing the decor in the opening shot. Despite some goofs that crop up here, too (the 'marble patterns' during the fight with the Panrovian in #9 are coarse and distracting, for instance), this technique serves Sim, who can indicate a persistent rain storm merely by filling the page with vertical lines, very well indeed.

Sim's rendering, originally a curious scuffle between Smith-pastiche and his own nascent style, is becoming more efficient and less derivative. There is still a curious stylistic clash between Cerebus, who is deliniated with the clean-cut clarity of an animation cell, and the rest of the book, but it works remarkably well, and in fact facilitates continuity by making the protagonist stand out graphically (although an argument could be made that when the protagonist is only three-foot, furry, long-snouted character in the series, one does not really have to go out of one's way to make him stand out graphically). In the latest issue, Sim has adopted the use of zipatone and seems to have gone a little nuts with it. Aside from a personal prejudice in favour of artists who can do their rendering without cutting and pasting dot designs on their pages, I think it has lost him a bit of his individuality, although I suspect that practise will allow Sim to master the technique and add it to his repertoire of comics tools. Issue 12 is a bit dark and muddy here and there, thus graphically inferior to its immediate predecessors, but it shows a considerable amount of promise.

One very unfortunate aspect of the book is the covers. Sim's gift for comics art does not extend to cover art; they are neither effective action scenes nor effective parodies of such, and are mostly awkward and ill-conceived. (There are also commercially not very sound: why does #12, which features Elrod, have a cover illustration of Cerebus fighting two anonymous goons?). In addition to this, the colour separations are simply awful; sloppily cut and with no attention paid to angling the screens so as to avoid moires. If Cerebus is not selling as well as it might be, much of the credit must go to its unappealing exteriors.

But I recommend Cerebus heartily, warts and all. And those who scrutinise the alternative press in search of future masters, and then delight in charting their progress, would do well to follow Cerebus as well. Because Sim is here to stay - if we are fortunate.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Your Card...

Your Card... (2006)
Art by Dave Sim, based on Mr. A by Steve Ditko

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Cerebus #301 (?)

Cerebus #301: Christmas Card Illustration
Art by Dave Sim

DAVE SIM:
(from an interview, The Coast, 20 September 2010)
The only way I would revisit the character - and here's a Coast exclusive for you - is if I was to do a miniseries or graphic novel, Cerebus: The Afterlife, which I have a few mental notes floating around in my head about. I might have to wait a few years. People were squeamish enough about seeing Cerebus in his old age, not wanting to think about getting - or being - old. Speculations on an afterlife would really push some hot buttons, I think.

Friday, 23 December 2011

New Releases: December 2011 & January 2012

Glamourpuss #23
by Dave Sim
Aardvark-Vanaheim
$3.00
It's the knock-down, drag-out battle to the death you've been waiting for! High Fashion models versus Zootanapuss & Bunny, The One Rabbit Wrecking Crew! Only one faction will survive and the other will be exiled forever from the pages of glamourous! Subtitled "Crisis on Infinite Aardvark-Vanaheims," you won't want to miss a minute of the action in this multi-part thriller which will change the shape of the Aardvark-Vanaheim Universe for all time (or at least until sales are, once again, in the toilet) - it's like the classic two-part Hulk versus Thing only better because all the action takes place in smartly tailored clothing and features a really cute bunny! The history of Photorealism in Comics section continues with the events of September 6, 1956.
On sale: 25 January 2012
Available from your local comics shop

Cerebus Archive #17
by Dave Sim
Aardvark-Vanaheim
$4.00
An examination of Quack! #3 (1977) cover featuring The Beavers and what seemed to be, at the time a real breakthrough for Dave Sim and his brand new weekly newspaper strip. Excerpts from Quack! publisher Mike Friedrich’s, letters of the time demonstrates that Sim was oscillating between wanting to be a good team player at Star*Reach and not wanting to have his creativity messed with by an editor/publisher. His views have changed substantially since that time. Find out how.
On sale: 27 December 2011
Available from ComiXpress

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Master Of The Balletic Arts

Doctor Strangeroach Commission (2006)
Art by Dave Sim

DAVE SIM:
(from The Blog & Mail, 21 November 2006)
...Ger brought in Sean M's commission request for a Doctor Strangeroach, a la Steve Ditko. I told Ger to give him the number here and I'd talk to him about it which I did just a little while ago. He's one of those really good art collectors who likes to give artists a lot of latitude. Major Steve Ditko fan so I wanted to know what his level of compulsion was. I don't remember a lot about Dr. Strange, but I did remember that they changed his costume pretty quickly after he first appeared in Strange Tales #110. It was sort of a subdued blue number to begin with. Sean mentioned that the amulet used to look different, that it actually had something sculpted on it, a figure or something. I had definitely forgotten that part and wished I had some reference to check (yes, I know, if I was hooked up to the Internet I could just Google it and there it would be). He told me about another artist who's working on a commission for him where it's going to have all these giant disembodied floating eyes with devouring maws. Because we're talking about Steve Ditko, I instantly get a definite mental image. Sean said that he had mentioned it to his wife (who shares his love of comics, lucky guy) and she said, "How could an eye have a devouring maw?" I think you have to have grown up with Steve Ditko for that to be second nature. So, all right, now I'm getting the range and this was what I was interested in - Steve Ditko's way with drawing otherworldly dimensions. Nobody else even comes close. And he's going to give me the latitude to do whatever I want in that way, so specific preference for the earliest Doctor Strange over the later Doctor Strange.

(Via FPI Blog and AW Yeah Comics!)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mrs Henrot-Gutch

The first appearance of Mrs Henrot-Gutch, Cerebus #57 (December 1983)
Art by Dave Sim

DAVE SIM:
(on 'Giles' cartoons, The Comics Journal #100, July 1985)
They're just one-panel cartoons, but it's this English family, it's been running for, God, like 25 or 40 years. Maybe even longer than that. And, one of the best characters in the strip is the grandmother character. And when I was trying to think of a mother-in-law for Cerebus, it had to be the most difficult, grotesque, belligerent, obnoxious, self-centered individual I could think of, and she kept popping into my mind. So, well, what the hell, I guess that's Cerebus's mother-in-law.

Read more about Carl Giles (1916-1995) and his cartoons at Giles Cartoons and the British Cartoon Archive.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Lost Kisses

Extract from Lost Kisses #11 (2009)
Story and words by Brian John Mitchell, art by Dave Sim

The complete Lost Kisses #11 is available to read as a free downloadable pdf. Also available to read online are Lost Kisses #1-10 by Brian John Mitchell.

Monday, 19 December 2011

What Ever Happened To...?

Cerebus vs The X-Men
Art by Dave Sim & Paul Smith

The proposed Cerebus / X-Men cross-over of the 1980s unfortunately never got beyond the initial planning stages between Dave Sim and X-Men artist Paul Smith. The relevant pages from Dave Sim's production notebooks can be viewed here...

Updated 17 March 2012:

DAVE SIM:
(from the Bendis Board, 9 February 2008)
All that exists of the Cerebus/X-men crossover is notes in one of my notebooks at the time. Chris Claremont and I both got invited to a store signing in Prince George, British Columbia so we decided we would plot the whole book on the way out on the plane. This really involved me taking dictation from Chris to make sure all of his stuff was covered -- I could figure out where the Cerebus stuff would fit in on my own and bounce it off him later. It's really in such shorthand note from that it's virtually incoherent.

It became obvious talking to Jim Shooter that this was a project Marvel was doing to keep Chris happy. Whatever Chris wants Chris gets, but they -- as a corporation -- really didn't think the book would sell worth s--t. I could see their corporate point, but it certainly deflated any real interest I had in doing the book. It had "file in a drawer marked 'H-freeze over'" written all over it.

I suggested it to Chris at Maplecon in Ottawa in front of a bunch of people. As anyone in the business can tell you, there are a lot of projects that sound really good over a few drinks after the Saturday of a Con that are in the "WHAT was I THINKING?" category when you get home and remember how much of your own work you have to do. 

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Back & Forth: Steve Bissette & Dave Sim


In December 2010 and January 2011, Dave Sim invited comics writer/artist Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing, Tyrant) to discuss his experiences in the field of self-publishing and the battle for creator's rights. A wide-ranging 15-part chat ensued: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Highlights from the discussion include:

DAVE SIM:
(on creator responsibility - part 1)
I was curious as to whether you had come to any definitive conclusions about the whole Spirits/Creator's Rights experience now that we're far enough past it to achieve a species of overview. Personally, I think there should have been more emphasis on Creator's Responsibility: that you have to deliver what you promise when you promise it and that the good results flow from that. I had to laugh at Erik Larsen's sheer disbelief at the outright lies he got when trying to work with other creators on Savage Dragon. That seemed the core misapprehension on my part: that if you created an environment and assisted people in that environment they'll respond to that be being reliable. Living the Dream will overcome human lethargy and procrastination. But creativity is both an attractive and a repulsive fact in the creator's life because it devours your life. I work 12 hours a day six days a week. It's not hard to see how that would repel most people.

(on terminating his business links with Gerhard - part 3)
The split with Gerhard was, on his side, pretty acrimonious, although I'm not sure how much of that was a theatrical aspect of his credo "There's no problem too big that you can't run away from it." He wanted Absolutely Out and named a dollar figure that I accepted immediately -- can you imagine the grief I would take for haggling or even making a counter-offer? Probably not from Gerhard, but I think posterity would have judged me quite harshly.

(on brush techniques - part 5)
It really is something you can only teach effectively in person -- the "skating" verses "walking" quality of brush inking. Kids when they're learning to skate try, basically, walking on the ice. It's what they're familiar with. It takes a lot of practise to lose the fear of slipping and to understand what smooth and controlled slipping is like. It's the best analogy I've found for "fear of the brush".

(on his pre-Cerebus early work - part 8
...if anyone showed me work as completely amateurish as what I was producing in 1972-73 and said, "Listen, this guy is thinking about dropping out of high school to do this for a living," I would seriously encourage him not to do that. And -- as it turned out -- I would have been completely wrong.

(on Tundra - part 9)
I think it was Larry Marder who pointed out that Kevin [Eastman, Tundra publisher] lost a lot of money on Tundra because he had never been a free-lancer and, consequently, paid a lot of big ticket advances figuring people would deliver and then got stiffed any number of times. The Image guys, with a freelancing background, knew that you make most, if not all the compensation "back end" to ensure the work is actually delivered.

(on compensating Gerhard - part 11)
As far as I know, Gerhard is the only background artist in the history of the medium to actually be credited as such and to be designated as co-creator... It was unprecedented [transferring to him 40% ownership of Aardvark-Vanaheim]... and I suspect that guys who have used background artists - Stan Drake on Heart Of Juliet Jones and Leonard Starr on On Stage - in a comparably lucrative situation would have said I was nuts.

(on Renegade Press - part 13)
Eclipse and A-V -- later Renegade -- published TOO MANY TITLES and died of cash flow starvation. Deni went out of business owing Preney $250,000 which -- oddly enough -- is about how much money they were short when they finally went out of business a few years back. I'm just saying. I never owed Preney anything because I kept the business side confined and kept well within my means.
Tyrant & Aardvark (from Cerebus #159, June 1992)
Art by Steve Bissette, Dave Sim & Gerhard
Auctioned for the benefit of the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund

Other 'Now I'll Ask You One' Conversations:
Dave Sim & Jimmy Gownley
Dave Sim & The Kitchen Brothers
 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Animated Cerebus

The Animated Cerebus Portfolio (1983)
Art by Dave Sim

DAVE SIM:
(from the introduction to The Animated Cerebus Portfolio, 1983)
It was last August when, after a tentative offer by an animation studio to look at any proposals for a Cerebus animated film, that I finally sat down and tried to picture what a Cerebus animated film would be like.

Actually, like a number of people I have talked to, I at first thought that High Society would make a good feature length animated film. Of course, that was before Elrod and Jaka and Lord Julius and the Cootie started popping up. I either had to abandon the idea of doing it as a film, or try to talk someone into printing up programs to hand out at the box office to explain who everyone was.

It was at this point that I decided the best course of action would be to write a story that took place before #1, which would avoid complicated introductions for the major characters or (shudder) new versions of their first appearance for the sake of filmic continuity (double shudder).

Well, I wandered around for a few weeks after that, complimenting myself on being such a clever chap. Yes sir, that was the best way to go. It would all take place before #1. From there I tried to start on a 'treatment'. A quick five or six paragraphs that would have every producer of animation who read it rolling in the aisles (or behind his desk). Something witty and at the same time poignant. Hilarious but thought provoking. It took me a could of weeks to figure out that those five or six paragraphs don't exist, which returned me to square one.

Then I thought of the idea of producing a portfolio of short vignettes that would appear in the film. Just quick little stories that would give people a clearer idea of what kind of a film it was I intended to make some day. I finally had a goal that was clear enough that I could sit down and give it a try.

So, there I sat tapping a pencil on the edge of the dining room table, trying to do a thing I absolutely hate trying to do: writing pictures.

A Well Equipped Bar
(view the animation online at Comicrazys
Please don't read this until you've looked at the story... not that anyone would, but who knows? Somewhere out there, is some disturbed individual (a lot of them are Cerebus fans, you know) who upon opening this portfolio decided to read the fine print before he looked at the pictures. Well, whoever you are, this is your last warning. Don't read this until you look at the plates. Onward.

I started sifting through the Earth-Pig's past (he does have one, I just haven't spilled the cat all over the bean bag yet) going over locations and incidents. Naturally the one that came up the most frequently was 'the bar', 'the tavern', 'a corner table'.

I heard a joke some years ago (like, when I was ten) about two fellows having a bet that no one in the bar would dare drink the contents of the spittoon nearby. There is an elaborate description of each patron of the bar having a try. So and so tries and he barely tilts it up before he gets sick. So and so tries etc. etc. Finally one guys drinks it all down. and one of the first two fellows says, "that's amazing. How can you do that?" The answer is the punch line and for the life of me I can't remember it. But it was this story that my mind strayed to (as is its wont when forced to write pictures). I had this over-riding feeling that if I could just remember the punchline, I would have the ideal vignette. After twisting my limited grey matter this way and that I had a sudden burst of insight. The punch-line wasn't the key element. The key element was the profound chord that the words "drink the contents of the spittoon" strike in the human animal. I did a quick sketch of the first frames, then jotted down little notes like (2) looks left (3) looks right (4) tiptoeing. The next day I went in and drew it. One down.

Add One Mummified Bat
(view the animation online at Comicrazys)  
It was Deni who suggested the idea for this one. Deni always suggests ideas when I'm chewing the drapes and the carpet and threatening to go out and drink myself into oblivion. Sometimes it works. "Why don't you do one about the time he was a magician's apprentice? Everyone wants to know about that." She was right, so I told her it was impossible and that I had already thought of that and why didn't she go somewhere and publish something.

Fortunately I had a mouthful of broadloom so it didn't come out clearly enough for her to take offence.

I thought about it tapping my pencil on the dining room table, picking broadloom fibres out of my teeth. I always pictured Magnus Doran's studio as one that Gene Day had drawn years ago for an animation sample. The picture was dominated by a bubbling cauldron, while the over-laid cells were of a magician gesturing over his head with his arms. Gene never took it any further and I always wondered what would have come out of that cauldron. I decided it would be a gaseous spirit like one in The Wizard of Id.

This story featured the youngest Cerebus I had drawn to date. Looks nice in a turtleneck, don't you think?

His First Sword
(view the animation online at Comicrazys)
I went through a number of ideas before I came up with this one. Again. Not much to say about it really.

I had recently seen a Fleischer Popeye cartoon that I recalled quite vividly from my days as a wee tad when I would watch an hour of Popeye every morning. All the action took place in a blacksmith shop as Popeye and Bluto competed in shoe-ing horses. So Bluto  was very much on my mind as an archetype Blacksmith as I contemplated young Cerebus eagerly awaiting the completion of his first sword. It's also something of a comment on the mentality of those enamoured of articles of destruction. But primarily it is just another incident in the young earth-pig's life.

The cover was originally going to feature 'His Sixth Birthday', but I decided you weren't ready for that young an aardvark yet. Maybe in the next portfolio.

All of these vignettes happen before the opening credits in that grand and far-off dream of a one-hour special hovering in the back of my mind.

Most of it is still pretty hazy at this point, but one thing is for sure. It won't have a single heart-warming moment in it.

Take that, Walt.

Dave Sim, February 18, 1983
Kitchener, Ontario

Friday, 16 December 2011

Anything Goes!

Anything Goes! #3 (Fantagraphics Books, March 1986)
Art by Neal Adams

DAVE SIM:
(from the essay 'Neal Adams, Niagara Falls & Other Forces Of Nature' in Following Cerebus #9, August 2006)
It's no stretch to say that for the wannabe photorealism school comic-book creators of my generation, Continuity Associates - 9 E. 48th Street: I think I could forget my own address sooner than forget that one - was like the Kennedy White House and King Arthur's Round Table combined. To be one of the Crusty Bunkers, working elbow-to-elbow with THE Neal Adams, learning from the master and, under his patronage, gaining entree into Marvel and DC, being handed plum commercial assignments - fanboy dreams were made of this. Of course, that's how it was seen by those of us who hadn't a snowball's chance in hell of ever being part of it. (I'd drift off to sleep picturing Neal Adams at his drawing board peering at the cover of Quack No.3. "This guy. Get me this guy on the phone. I want him here and working by the end of the week").
Quack! #3 (Star Reach Productions, 1977)
Art by Dave Sim & Steve Leialoha

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch & Roy Thomas on Glamourpuss

The 'Photo-Realism' School: Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, Al Williamson & Neal Adams
From Glamourpuss #1, 6 & 11
Art by Dave Sim

STEVE BISSETTE (Swamp Thing, Tyrant):
(from the Back & Forth discussion with Dave Sim)
My excitement at Glamourpuss when I saw the first issue (and thank you, too, for the special unsolicited mailing of the zombie cover issue; I never thanked you when you sent it, which was my bad) was the gobsmacking fact that you were (a) doing an essay on inking in comics form, and (b) you were teaching. Of course, you’d been actually doing that for a long time - I was among your most bone-headed students, remember? - but you didn’t see it as such. Clearly, The Cerebus Guide to Self-Publishing (in all its incarnations and editions) was and is that, too. And a mighty fine, insightful teacher you’ve been in Glamourpuss, too. It was a pleasure to catch up last year on the whole run to date, and see where you took it (I don’t have a local comics shop, and finally just direct-ordered a set from your publisher and partners on this venture).

RICK VEITCH (Brat Pack, The One):
(from the Glamourpuss #2 letters page)
Hey Dave, thanks for sending the preview copy of Glamourpuss. Parts of it really spoke to me. I mean that not in the old log-rolling manner of buddy-buddy authors promoting each other's books, but that your meditations on exploring craft REALLY SPOKE TO ME. Glamourpuss is the first comic to unpack process from the inside out. It stands apart from Scott McCloud who is on the outside looking in (if that makes sense). One thing about Raymond and those who followed him, is that they were unabashed ladies men. I've always seen their fluid brush and linework as a zen-like extension of their innate horniness. So I've got to ask, since you've gone public with your own celibacy, if that lust factor plays any part in your approach to mastering the Raymond style?

ROY THOMAS (comics writer/editor):
(from the back-cover of Glamourpuss #1)
Dave has taken his fascination with the modern style of fashion art and photography and utilises it in issue #1 to examine the Alex Raymond/Rip Kirby school of comic art, with a few side trips along the way involving too-tight shoes, sweat glands, and Mahatma Gandhi. Hopefully, he's found a way to seduce a new generation of post-super-hero graphic novel freaks into reading and perhaps synthesising his knowledge and opinions while they think they're just looking at a bunch of fashion models in exquisite clothes. And all because of his self-stated intention to make his new major post-Cerebus project "cute teenaged girls in [his] best Al Williamson photo-realism style."

Back issues of Glamourpuss are always available from ComiXpress.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Critics On Glamourpuss

Glamourpuss #14 (July 2010)
Art by Dave Sim

FPI BLOG:
Here’s Glamourpuss #1. Beautiful images of 20 year old models in fantastic clothes all done in his best Al Williamson photo-realism style. And whatever else you can say about Glamourpuss, I wouldn’t think anyone would be able to doubt it’s an absolute work of artistic beauty. Because through all of his years as Dave Sim; evil genius comics mastermind, people did tend to forget that he was also Dave Sim; bloody good artist. His illustrations here are just perfection, with a mix of styles as the page demands. But everything in the book just looks sublime. Also of note, as always, is his use of lettering. Sim should, if nothing else, go down as one of the most creative letterers in the comics business. It’s toned down slightly here from some of the absolutely incredible and radical work in Cerebus, but it’s still inventive and downright clever how he plays with his typography and lettering... As a book full of extremely pretty pictures, Glamourpuss works. As a book looking at the technical qualities of an art style I think (from my non-artistic point of view) that it works. As a book chronicling the development of the photo-realistic style in the 50s and 60s it works as a piece of journalism. Finally as a wacky parody of high fashion magazines it... well, it sort of works.

BLEEDING COOL:
Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss is one of my favourite regular comics. A grand departure from Cerebus, it’s a strange brew of the history of inking and photorealism styles in comics through the twentieth century, with Dave Sim first reproducing the pages in question, then taking those relearned skills to reproduce fashion magazine images, upon which he places a self-knowing satire on the magazines and those who write and read them. It’s an immersive experience, educational and amusing in equal measure. And no one’s reading it. Fix that, people, fix that.

THE COMICS JOURNAL:
 ...a scrupulously cultivated, astute and thrilling analysis by an artist of a visual style and its masters... what Glamourpuss offers, what Sim is able to present, is compelling. Here are comic strips and panels in slow motion, enriched by informative commentary and authoritative explication woven together with industry scuttlebutt and the medium’s history. The results are so cumulatively engrossing and persuasively intriguing that although I can never recall glancing at Rip Kirby or The Heart of Juliet Jones in the funny pages while growing up, I’ve snapped up the recent Kirby reprint volume from IDW and have been likewise tempted by Classic Comics Press’ inaugural release of their The Heart ofseries.

COMICS ALLIANCE:
An appreciation of the photo-realism thread in comics wrapped in a parody of fashion magazines, Glamourpuss is a book to be consumed on several levels. As a scholarly work, it provides a unique depth and insight into the lives and works of Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, Stan Drake, and other artists whose contributions to the medium are immeasurable. By copying from the best-possible sources, Sim shows a glimpse of what long out-of-print strips might look like with restored fidelity, tuned to brush lines the thickness of a single hair. It is, of course, still Sim's art. Copies of copies of copies doesn't equal the real thing. So while it's Raymond's art that Sim is appreciating, we're appreciating his. It doesn't take much time to be reminded that whatever else he may be (more on that later), he is also a virtuoso of the medium. In both his translations of the photo-realists' works and fashion magazine photos, he brings depth, character, and flair to each image. Usually with those maddeningly meticulous cross-hatchings that helped define his style in Cerebus. Even the layout and flow of the book is impressive, and the design and digital production work of Sandeep Atwal smooths the reader's ride from parody to narrative to appreciation and back again. Each issue is a visual experience from cover to cover.

WEDNESDAY'S HAUL:
(from the Wednesday's Haul blog, May 2008)
...You see, it is all about fashion and beautiful women. Well, that and the men who were perfectly able to capture them in ink during the fifties and sixties. Dave Sim’s first major published work since Cerebus isn’t about politics, religion or the sexes but about Alex Raymond, All Williamson, Neal Adams and John Prentice, the photo-realist comic strip artists who are Sim’s idols and inspiration. One part history lesson and one part art lesson, Glamourpuss is Dave Sim’s very public attempt to define elements of these artists’ work and to learn how to become one of them. And what better way to do that than by trying to draw beautiful, fashionable and glamorous women in their photo-realistic style... In Glamourpuss Sim remains as much up and center, hijacking the narrative by the second page to turn the book to be about himself and about his artistic heroes. Dave Sim ruminating on his favorite artists is a lot easier to accept and digest than his ruminating on gender roles ever was. And as he’s writing about these artists, he’s recreating panels of theirs. The book is filled with Sim’s attempts to recreate and learn from some great artwork of the photo realists. Sim admits that they’re tracings of Prentice’s or Williamson’s work but he’s trying to pull them apart and put them back together. He’s attempting to learn from them. He then applies those lessons to his own artwork through recreating photographs out of fashion magazines in pen, brush and ink.

JOHN SEVEN:
(from the Flotsam & Jetpack blog,  August 2008)
It's no surprise to me that Dave Sim’s new project Glamourpuss lampoons the world of fashion, and the magazines that cover that sphere. What does surprise me is that he mixes the satire with an amiable and rather cute sort of cartoonist geekery. At one moment he’s being pretty funny narrating the vapid thoughts of a high fashion model, the next he's griping while giving a historical rundown of Alex Raymond's rapidly disappearing thin lines. In the weirdest sort of way, this dynamic makes Glamourpuss a very personal work, though not with the intensity that usually accompanies such items. It's not intense — it's jolly. Glamourpuss is personal in the sense that it is a comic book representation of one side of a conversation you would have with Dave Sim if, in fact, you were having a conversation with him about the photo-realism cartooning style that kept being interspersed with a few giggles at the expense of haute couture.

JARETT KOBECK:
(reviewed by Jarett Kobeck, October 2009)
...Best comic ever?

Back issues of Glamourpuss are always available from ComiXpress.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Making Of Glamourpuss (one of them anyway)

Glamourpuss #2, July 2008
Art by Dave Sim


Back issues of Glamourpuss are always available from ComiXpress.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Why Glamourpuss?

Glamourpuss #1 (April 2008)
Art by Dave Sim

DAVE SIM:
(from the essay 'Glamourpuss No. 1: The Post-Game Show', Glamourpuss #1, 2008)
No more mucking about. I want to do photorealism pictures of pretty girls, so that's what I'm going to do. The words were an afterthought. Okay, let's stick with that. So that's what I did. Then it turned into the meditations on comic strip photorealism that you see. Then later I thought of the "Origin of Glamourpuss" framing device. In comic-book stores if you have a No. 1 and an "Origin of..." story, no matter how pointless, it's going to boost your sales (I know. Sad, isn't it?). The same with turning a fashion magazine pictorial into a photorealistic comic-book story. If that's what it takes to introduce a whole new generation to Alex Raymond's NOT FLASH GORDON strip, well, hey, that's what it takes. By the way, if you don't like this issues's "Origin of Glamourpuss" don't sweat it. I plan on doing a different origin next issue.

I considered just scanning the Alex Raymond artwork from my reprint collections, but that would already add two generation of reproduction to what is already a seriously degraded strip. Just to show you an example, this is a panel from Comic Art No. 2 shot from the original artwork and this is how the same panel appears in my Spanish Rip Kirby reprint collection volume 6.
Now to be fair to King Features Syndicate, those are some of the skinniest lines that I have ever seen on a piece of comic art and I sure would hate to be the one in charge of having to get them thick enough to reproduce in the catch-as-catch-can reproduction methods favoured by daily newspapers back in 1956. I asked Neal Adams about that a year or so ago. "You guys had some of the worst reproduction imaginable and yet you were using the thinnest lines ever attempted in commercial illustration." "The really thin lines, I did for myself," he said, simply. I've been trying to bear that in mind, since I've got infinitely better reproduction to work with here. "Go ultra thin or go home."

I have to admit that when I look at the Rip Kirby strips - particularly panels that I know would be sensational to re-do but that I can't use because there's just too little information left to even guess what they're supposed to look like - I think to myself; it is more than fifty years later and I would certainly hope that there would be accurate reproductions of all the strips on file with King Features against the day when hey would be reproduced on something besides daily newspaper pulp. I suspect that I would be disappointed in that. As Al Williamson has said, it's the same with newspaper strips that it is with movies: the people who preserve the material are the collectors. The studios and the syndicates really couldn't care less. The licensors pay for what they get, but I'm pretty sure they aren't getting what the pay for.

I try not to go too far down that path, mentally, because the whole thing is pretty depressing. Obviously there won't be a state-of-the-art Rip Kirby collection until we find out if those terrible microfilms are all that King Features has and how many Rip Kirby originals and/or syndicate proofs (the week's worth they used to send to the newspapers) still exist.

So, I would try to remind myself: the point of the whole Glamourpuss exercise is photorealism pictures of pretty girls and, to me, the best guys at doing that were from the Alex Raymond School. No offence to the legions of Milt Caniff readers but the Dragon Lady does nothing for me. She's a cartoon. Raymond and Prentice and Stan Drake and Neal Adams and Al Williamson drew as-close-to-realistic women as you could get and that as-close-to-realistic look, to me, was created by Alex Raymond. So why not go back to the source and attempt to teach myself the Alex Raymond drawing method by extrapolating it from bad reproduction?

So far, not so good. I think they're reasonably successful reproductions and I think I've managed to take some of the thin lines back down to what they were, but most of the time, I have no idea what I'm copying. Why THAT solution? Why a series of thin brush strokes here and one big fat one there? As I indicated in this issues's "story", I begin to fear that the answer is: you really have to not give a s--t. You're over-analysing it. If you feel like putting in some thin ones, put in some thin ones. You want to put in a fatter one, put in a fatter one. So for the first few issues, that might be all that I'm able to teach myself: stop caring so much and just ink. It's one of the reasons that I'm alternating the pages of copied panels and the self-generated pages. It is already a lot easier to ink an original drawing of my own, traced from a photograph than to duplicate an Alex Raymond panel as accurately as I can. Just moving from the latter to the former is a liberating experience.

I'll try not to try harder next time.

Back in 2008 Dave Sim embarked on a '100 Hours Internet Tour' to promote Glamourpuss - Cerebus Fan Girl has all the links. Back issues of Glamourpuss are always available from ComiXpress.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Alternative Comics Cadaver Derby

The Comics Journal #98 (May 1985)
Art by Kevin Nowlan

DAVE SIM:
(excerpt from an essay at The Beguiling)
...The First Fifth [was a] series of prints which Ger and I did in the unsettled days when Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc had just been permanently divided into my Aardvark-Vanaheim imprint and Deni’s Renegade Press imprint. Among the various clauses we had mutually agreed to: I agreed not to contest or compete for any of the services of the cartoonists or of the books we had been jointly publishing to that point; I agreed to assume all of the debt incurred in the publication of The Animated Portfolio (roughly seventeen thousand dollars owing to my serious overestimation of the incentive value of a low price, $12.00 for 45 colour plates) and we agreed to divide the cash-on-hand between us. This essentially allowed Deni to start with a clean slate and encumbered Aardvark-Vanaheim with a debt-to-assets ratio of about three-to-one. To give you an idea of what we were facing, Jan Strnad (who I doubt was even marginally aware of the debt Aardvark-Vanaheim was carrying and the precarious position in which we found ourselves) had written a piece in The Comics Journal not-so-delightfully entitled "Comics Cadaver Derby" handicapping the odds on which would be the next independent comic-book publishers who were likely to go out of business as part of the wave of bankruptcies sweeping the field.  The analogy he had come up with for the new Dave Sim administration at Aardvark-Vanaheim was that it was comparable to turning General Motors over to "Big Daddy" Roth - he of the "Rat Fink" cycletoons notoriety - and rated our chances as "not good". 

...One of the reasons that I instituted the "Note from the President," replacing Deni's "Note from the Publisher" was to remind everyone that I had been - and continued to be - the president of Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc. (Deni’s official title had been secretary of the corporation). I certainly wasn’t a genius as a businessman (witness the Animated Cerebus fiasco) but I was far from the clueless artistic flake I was commonly perceived to be.

…for a cost of  what I considered at the time and still consider today to be an excessive amount of money, $100; $300 for Gerhard’s hand-coloured version... They sold well enough to pay off many of our most pressing debts and to pay down a chunk that was owed on the Animated Cerebus, bringing our debt-to-assets ratio down to something more manageable, in the range of 1-to-1, rather than 3-to-1.

...Anyway, it was with genuine gratitude to the art-buying Cerebus readership (many of whom are still with us and still bidding on Cerebus pieces today as they come onto the market) that The First Fifth "worked" in the way it very much needed to if Ger and I were to have a fighting chance of making it to the mythically-distant issue 300.  We sold out virtually all of the black-and-white series and the colour edition in a little over a month and were able to pay off a sufficient number of debts to ensure that all we had to focus on was keeping the book as good as possible and on schedule.
The Animated Cerebus Portfolio (1983)
Art by Dave Sim 

JAN STRNAD:
(from the original 'Alternative Comics Cadaver Derby' article, The Comics Journal #98, May 1985)
Aardvark-Vanaheim was founded by husband-and-wife team Dave and Deni Sim. Dave was (and still is) the creative force in the company, writing and illustrating the adventures of a barbarian aardvark, Cerebus. Cerebus developed a following and the reprint series, Swords of Cerebus, was born. A third Cerebus-related title, Cerebus Jam, is under development.

But Aardvark-Vanaheim was not a company to rest on its aardvarks and was soon publishing books by other creators, including Neil The Horse by Arn Saba, Normalman by Valentino, Journey by Bill Messner-Loebs, and The Flaming Carrot by Bob Burden. All seemed to be going well.

And then, trouble in paradise: Dave and Deni were divorced. Dave kept custody of the aardvark and continues to publish Cerebus and Swords of Cerebus himself, assisted by Deni's former assistant. Deni took the other titles and formed Renegade Press (q.v.). Since the Cerebus-related titles were the back-bone of Aarvark-Vanaheim, one is tempted to suggest that the "new" A-V will be leaner and more solid; on the practical side, though, we have to remember that the company is now solely in the hands of an artist/writer, a situation akin to putting Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth in charge of production at General Motors. Aardvark Vanaheim is definitely on shaky ground.

DIRK DEPPEY:
(from the updated 'Alternative Comics Cadaver Derby' article in The Comics Journal #235, July 2001)
At the dawn of the alternative comics scene, writer Jan Strnad took to the pages of Comics Journal #98 and proposed a contest to see which of the new breed of publishers would be the first to bite the bullet. With that, the 'Alternative Comics Cadaver Derby' was began. It's time now to take stock of the casualties. 15 years later, a full 20 of the original entrants are fertilizer, with just five companies remaining [ie Aardvark-Vanaheim, AC/Americomics, DC Comics, Fantagraphics and WaRP Graphics].

...Aardvark-Vanaheim: In hindsight, Roth would have designed a bitchin' line of cars. Sim stuck to his guns and cranked out issue after issue of Cerebus, which he soon began supplementing with a series of graphic novel collections. That said, Sim's just started his final story arc, and the years before #300 hits the stands can now be counted on the fingers of one hand. After that? Sim's indisputable talent as a long-form cartoonist gives me hope for his post-Cerebus career as a self-publisher, but his increasingly outlandish, presumably hermitage-induced wackiness makes his final place in the Derby a tough call. 

Dave Sim's Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc remains in business to this day, regularly publishing Cerebus Archive and Glamourpuss, as well as keeping in print the 16 volumes collecting Cerebus #1-300.