Aardvark Comments?

September 19th, 2012

Dave Sim, who since the death of Will Eisner has been probably the greatest living all-round comics creator, is releasing his classic graphic novel High Society as a Kickstarter-funded digital version on October 10.

To promote this release, he is doing a virtual tour of comics sites, including Mindless Ones, on October 10, answering interview questions. However, he’s doing it with a twist — he wants us to post the questions we’re asking here *now*, in advance of the blog tour, and leave comments open for readers to ask questions, some of which he will also answer. Anyone whose question is chosen will receive a free autographed back-issue of Cerebus, with a personalised head sketch.

For those who don’t know Sim’s work, he wrote, drew (with able assistance from background artist Gerhard for much of the run), lettered and published the 300 issues of Cerebus, possibly the most ambitious work in comics history, and to my mind at least the best. Ranging from Marx brothers pastiche to Biblical exegesis, via a portrayal of the death of Oscar Wilde and a parody of Sandman, Cerebus has influenced and inspired everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to From Hell, from Rick Veitch’s dream comics (in which Sim frequently appeared as a ‘guest character’) to Spawn (when McFarlane wanted the four best comic writers he could think of to write an issue each, he chose Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Sim and Alan Moore). Cerebus is one of the works which has changed how I look at both the comics medium and the world.

Since finishing Cerebus in 2004, Sim has published the magazines Following Cerebus (a general interest comics and pop-culture zine, despite the name) and Cerebus Archive (a round-up of things that his fans might find interesting), the short graphic novel Judenhass (about the holocaust) and the just-finished 26-issue series Glamourpuss (an idiosyncratic look at fashion magazines and the history of photorealist strip cartoons).

Also, from two weeks after the Sim interview, we will be doing a Great Mindless (Re)Read of Cerebus, with various Mindless Ones reading through each phonebook at roughly fortnightly intervals. Some of us know and love these comics already, others have never read Cerebus at all. But we’ll be writing about them together.

Here are the questions we’re asking:

You’ve turned to computer lettering using a Comicraft font, rather than hand-drawn lettering, in your recent work — given that a lot of your best work in Cerebus had the lettering integrated into the panel design, has this provided any interesting challenges from a craft point of view?

Glamourpuss is rooted in — and in part an examination of — the ‘photorealist’ work of Alex Raymond, Stan Drake and so on, but some of the best stuff you’ve done has been in a Mort Drucker influenced style. Have you any plans to work more in that style?

I found the Following Cerebus issue where you interviewed Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman, Paul Pope, Frank Miller and others about their creative processes absolutely fascinating. Would you consider doing an expanded version of that in book form, talking to other artists and writers about how they create graphic novels? I’d particularly love to see an extended discussion between you and Eddie Campbell on the subject.

In Judenhass, you argue that the Holocaust was a necessary, predictable consequence of a culture that considered it perfectly acceptable to make casually anti-semitic remarks. Many people have pointed out parallels between your remarks on women and the remarks about Jews that you quote in that book. What defence, if any, do you have for that?

What’s been the biggest difficulty you’ve encountered in no longer working with a background artist? Have you considered hiring someone to replace Gerhard? (Not that anyone could replace Gerhard…)

Looking back over the 300 issues of Cerebus with eight years’ hindsight, is there anything you’d change about it now? Is there anything you think stands up particularly well?

Now, one thing we’d like to emphasise here. Dave Sim is almost as well known for his personal views as for his comics work. We at the Mindless Ones do not endorse or agree with those views. We disagree with him about feminism, about his interpretation of the Bible, about the War On Terror, about… well, everything to do with politics, society and religion really. Except for one thing — we believe in free speech, and so does he.

So we’re not going to stop you asking about those views if you want to, but I would *ask* you to bear in mind a few things — firstly, that you can find someone whose political views you disagree with to argue with simply by adding an elderly relative on Facebook, but you don’t get to ask a question of one of the greatest people ever to work in an art-form every day. Secondly, if you’re going to ask about that stuff, please ask about his actual views, rather than what you think he might have once said. And finally, please be polite.

Bearing that in mind — add your questions below.

17 Responses to “Aardvark Comments?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Who do you think is the best comic book/strip artist working today, if any?

  2. Figserello Says:

    In terms of the readers, rather than the whole marketing and sales apparatus, do you see any difference between the comics market today and that of the 80s regarding the kind of comics that have a chance at success?

    Both the market generally, and the market of those who support more ‘indie’ material?

    Sorry its such a general question, but I’d be interested in some of our thoughts on how the readership as a group have changed over the decades.

  3. Gabriel McCann Says:

    Other than the obvious monetary reward what’s the best thing you’ve gotten back from all the fans and loyal readers of Cerebus?

  4. tam Says:

    Hi Dave

    I recently read a 1930s science fiction novel ‘Last Man in London’ by the author Olaf Stapledon. Although his concerns and style were vastly different from yours, he nevertheless reminded me of you because he had a unique visionary perspective and ploughed his own furrow with honesty and integrity. It was also clear that he was writing the novel with one eye to posterity and how it might be seen a few generations down the line, which made me wonder…

    1) Were you ever wondering what future generations of readers might think about Cerebus when you were writing it and if so what aspects did you think would be most important?

    2) With a bit of distance now the series is completed, what aspects of the series do you think (or hope!) will be most interesting to a reader picking up the series in, say, fifty years time?

    3) If you were to do Cerebus again, with the gift of hindsight, what if anything, would you have done differently?

  5. tam Says:

    Oops! scratch #3, The Mindless uns beat me to it…

  6. igmus Says:

    Hi Dave.

    Short version: I want to know why most current comics creators have personalities that are so similar to one another, and similar to their audience as well.

    Long version: Looking back over the history of comics, it seems that creators used to be much different from their audience, and from each other, than they are today. This was so not just in terms of age-difference (because obviously in the past the audience tended to be younger, while the creators were mostly adults) but also — more importantly, I think — in terms of personality. Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, etc., all had big/distinct personalities that were very different from one another and from their audience(s). Even R. Crumb, for example, was different from his audience. Alan Moore was wildly different from most of those kids, teenagers and young adults who discovered his work in the ’80s. The kids reading X-Men in 1985 did not have the same cultural sensibilities or life-experience that Chris Claremont had — and most of those same readers would actually grow up into people who basically resented the “longwinded” prose of Claremont. And it goes without saying that you yourself are quite unique and were always quite different from your audience.

    But today it seems that 98% of English-language comics are produced by creators who are quite similar (in terms of personality, sense of humor, politics) to one another and similar to their audience as well. And I get the sense that this isn’t JUST a phenomenon of “middle-aged white male hipsters writing for their own kind” — although there is that, too — because the (relative few) women and non-whites in the industry also seem to have similar… personalities, really. I can’t put it any other way. Everybody just seems the same now and there are very few “characters” or big personalities that really stand out. Everyone just seems vaguely “quirky”, in predictable ways, and they all have the same cultural reference points (even though there are far more media-consumption options now). Quite a difference from the situations of the past, in which creators all seemed to have more clearly defined and distinct personalities, which allowed them to bring something new and genuinely diverse to their audience.

    My question is: Why do you think this has happened? And HOW has this happened? And do you see this little trend, in our little niche art-form, as signifying anything about the larger culture? (Personally, in general, yes, I think that people’s personalities are becoming less different, and less interesting, as things proceed.)

  7. igmus Says:

    P.S. Mindless Ones: Looking forward to your Great Mindless (Re)Read of Cerebus. I’ve only just completed reading the series all the way through for the first time myself (though I’d already read volumes 2-4 some years ago). It’s unlike anything else, obviously, and despite my qualms about certain aspects of it (aspects that at times go on for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages), I would confidently say that Cerebus is probably the most impressive comics work ever. And ARGUABLY the best. In English, at least.

  8. Illusionator Says:

    what was the original motivation to do the “Mind Games” issues? They were a startling idea at the time

  9. Dave Sim Says:

    Hi. Dave Sim here to answer your HARDtalk questions — and the first one goes to our host Andrew Hickey:

    Glamourpuss is rooted in – and in part an examination of – the ‘photorealist’ work of Alex Raymond, Stan Drake and so on, but some of the best stuff you’ve done has been in a Mort Drucker influenced style. Have you any plans to work more in that style?

    Hi, Andrew. Thanks for participating.

    Right now, I’m just doing what comes up that will help me pay some bills and make the Kickstarter money stretch as far into 2013 as possible. Lately the Mort Drucker style really came to the fore in the Cerebus head sketches when it’s an actual person that they want. The last Kickstarter batches that I did — where the pledge partner got four head sketches — were Darth Vader, Alec Guinness (I mean, Obi Wan Kenobi, of course), Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. That’s pretty tough because everyone has a vivid mental image of what they look like. At the same time it’s easy because you don’t have to get the face as exact as Mort Drucker does — I’ll NEVER be that good — because it’s always going to have the aardvark features attached. The “foursome” after that were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as they looked on their wedding day and then as they look today. I have great reverence for the Crown so I almost didn’t do them. And then, I thought, well as long as you make it as respectful as possible. Is it inherently disrespectful to do Their Gracious Majesties as aardvarks? Well, if it is, it’s too late now. While I was working on them, I was thinking, “I wonder if people would pay for aardvark portraits?” You know, “Can you do me and my whole family as aardvarks?” I’m slowing down and money isn’t worth what it once was, so it would probably start at $75. There are worse ways to make $75.

    Thanks, Andrew — I’ll be back soon. Okay, time to run back to the AMOC Cave! Cue the Batman theme!

    For having his question chosen, Andrew wins a CEREBUS back issue, personalized to him, signed by Dave and with a Cerebus head sketch. Got a question for Dave Sim? Post it here and you could win too if your question is selected.

    Check out the rest of the HARDtalk Virtual Tour at A MOMENT OF CEREBUS.

  10. tim Phillips Says:

    Great lead article

  11. Winters spawn Says:

    Hi Dave. How come Collected Letters 2, comes in the smaller book-format and not in the phonebook-format? It looks really dwarfed and kinda ugly next to the other volumes.
    Stay cool!

  12. Dave Sim Says:

    Hi. Dave Sim returning for a HARDtalk question from Tam. Hi, Tam. Go ahead:

    I recently read a 1930s science fiction novel ‘Last Man in London’ by the author Olaf Stapledon. Although his concerns and style were vastly different from yours, he nevertheless reminded me of you because he had a unique visionary perspective and ploughed his own furrow with honesty and integrity. It was also clear that he was writing the novel with one eye to posterity and how it might be seen a few generations down the line, which made me wonder… Were you ever wondering what future generations of readers might think about Cerebus when you were writing it and if so what aspects did you think would be most important?

    You know, that almost never works out. The guys who always have one eye on posterity usually are the first to be forgotten. That having been said, I think the biggest part of writing is finding eternal themes to address and to have something to say about them that future generations will find insightful. Of course, the problem there is that people tend to — as I tend to do — misappropriate the ideas of others and do their own variation. So, then you can become a cliche. Through no fault of your own, just because so many copied what you did that a new reader who has been immersed in the imitators is apt to go, “Oh, THIS stuff.”

    My intention, once I was “up and running” was to document two ascensions — or rather Ascensions — (spoiler warning!) one to the Moon and the other to Pluto, and to hope by doing that, structurally, for 200 issues, two thirds of this 6,000 page story, that I would somehow enter into that myself and arrive at someplace, for want of a better term, “Really, Really UP!” and then “MORE Really, Really Up!” So, I hoped the whole thing would be self-evident. Oh, he went way up HERE. And then he went WAY UP HERE! And this is what he had to tell us when he came back. Let the work speak for itself. As you can see, it hasn’t really worked out that way :). So far.

    With a bit of distance now the series is completed, what aspects of the series do you think (or hope!) will be most interesting to a reader picking up the series in, say, fifty years time?

    No way to tell. That’s the blind part of the job you just have to live with. It could be Dave Sim the Visionary. He came and told us all these things for 26 years and, man, there’s a lot here to feast on. Or it could be Dave Sim the Cautionary Tale. Flew too close to the sun, the wax on his wings melted at issue 186 and he plunged to earth and nothing he had to say after that is remotely interesting or of any value (well, okay, some of the really gaudy and excessive lettering looks like it was a lot of hard-but-pointless work to do) :). That’s certainly the Worn Groove the comic-book field labours tirelessly to drive me into and to keep me confined within. Fifty years from now, I’ll be 106 if I’m still alive. I doubt I’ll be remotely interested in whether my wings melted or if I’m well and truly trapped in the Worn Groove or how long I’ll be confined there. I’ll probably just be wondering where the hell I am and what the hell is going on. (gum gum gum).

    Thanks for participating, Tam. Hope that answers your question.

    [Tam -- Send in your mailing address to momentofcerebus [at] gmail [dot] com so that we can get your signed / personalised / head-sketched Cerebus back-issue to you — Thanks!]

    Check out the rest of the HARDtalk Vitual Tour at A Moment Of Cerebus.

  13. Rev'd '76 Says:

    Hey, Dave. Not so much a question as a follow-up:

    In an earlier response you said, “….some of the really gaudy and excessive lettering looks like it was a lot of hard-but-pointless work to do.”

    I enjoyed Judenhass, but lamented the lack of your distinctive hand-lettering. Was time & effort the reason you went over to computer font, or was it because you hoped Judenhass could someday be a school supplement / text? (If I’m remembering what you said about the book in the backmatter correctly…)

  14. Brian John Mitchell Says:

    Hey Dave,

    Quick question with probably a long answer. What’s changed to make you willing to work with other publishers? Do you think that while self-publishing was right in the 1980s & 1990s that it’s losing viability as a professional business model today?

  15. Dave Sim Says:

    Hi,
    Igmus posted a very long question a while ago:

    Short version: I want to know why most current comics creators have personalities that are so similar to one another, and similar to their audience as well.

    Long version: Looking back over the history of comics, it seems that creators used to be much different from their audience, and from each other, than they are today. This was so not just in terms of age-difference (because obviously in the past the audience tended to be younger, while the creators were mostly adults) but also – more importantly, I think – in terms of personality. Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, etc., all had big/distinct personalities that were very different from one another and from their audience(s). Even R. Crumb, for example, was different from his audience. Alan Moore was wildly different from most of those kids, teenagers and young adults who discovered his work in the ’80s. The kids reading X-Men in 1985 did not have the same cultural sensibilities or life-experience that Chris Claremont had — and most of those same readers would actually grow up into people who basically resented the “longwinded” prose of Claremont. And it goes without saying that you yourself are quite unique and were always quite different from your audience.

    But today it seems that 98% of English-language comics are produced by creators who are quite similar (in terms of personality, sense of humor, politics) to one another and similar to their audience as well. And I get the sense that this isn’t JUST a phenomenon of “middle-aged white male hipsters writing for their own kind” — although there is that, too — because the (relative few) women and non-whites in the industry also seem to have similar… personalities, really. I can’t put it any other way. Everybody just seems the same now and there are very few “characters” or big personalities that really stand out. Everyone just seems vaguely “quirky”, in predictable ways, and they all have the same cultural reference points (even though there are far more media-consumption options now). Quite a difference from the situations of the past, in which creators all seemed to have more clearly defined and distinct personalities, which allowed them to bring something new and genuinely diverse to their audience.

    My question is: Why do you think this has happened? And HOW has this happened? And do you see this little trend, in our little niche art-form, as signifying anything about the larger culture? (Personally, in general, yes, I think that people’s personalities are becoming less different, and less interesting, as things proceed.)

    I’m going to get in trouble for this, but I think it’s part of the steamroller effect of feminism in society. Men suddenly want to be seen to be thinking and behaving and speaking and being The Right Way — politically correct. The first time I noticed it was the 1988 presidential election when Michael Dukakis was the Democratic nominee and they asked him that horrible question about how he would react if his wife, Kitty, was raped and murdered. And then he took fifty kinds of grief for his “robotic, unfeeling response.” Well, I mean, when you make blandness a core attribute of political candidates — you don’t want to SOUND or LOOK too masculine, you don’t want to say anything or act in any way that would scare any woman or upset her — you can’t be too surprised when your entire political class becomes bland to an unnatural degree. There was no politically correct response that he could have. He couldn’t suddenly puff up with rage, he couldn’t break down in tears or even choke up, he couldn’t sound vengeful. All that left was a bland robotic and unfeeling neutral-sounding response.

    I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. It’s definitely an uninteresting thing. As you’ve seen yourself, it tends to make people very uninteresting and undifferentiated. I hope it’s transitory to a better future of some kind but I suspect, given the present political climate which shows no signs of changing, that it’s a very long arc until it shows any signs of improving. As in, probably long after you and I are dead. The more severe the consequences of not being politically correct or saying politically incorrect things is just going to crush everyone into this bland, indistinguishable mass without being remotely conscious of it.

    When the awareness of that becomes… burdensome… which it tends to do when I’m reading the newspaper, I just remind myself there are worse things. Living your entire life in this bland, grey faceless world is still better than getting sent to Auschwitz. INFINITELY better. I just throw myself more into prayer and work and fasting. Be the best person I can be. Try not to be bland grey and faceless. Try not to worry about it. If the arc is as long as I think it is going to be, worrying about it isn’t going to do any good.

    Igmus – Send in your mailing address to ‘momentofcerebus [at] gmail [dot] com’ so that I can get your personalised / signed / head-sketched Cerebus back-issue to you – Thanks!

    Check out all of the HARDtalk Virtual Tour at A Moment Of Cerebus.

  16. Dave Sim Says:

    Hi,
    Dave Sim back for more HARDtalk and this time Illusionator has a question for me:

    What was the original motivation to do the “Mind Games” issues? They were a startling idea at the time.

    Yeah, I suppose they WERE startling. They were certainly INTENDED to be startling. And also ingratiating. “Here’s my character for 20 pages talking to characters you can’t see.” It’s a real showcase for your character, which seems sensible and VERY commercial while not appearing to be very commercial. The original motivation was marijuana. What’s it like to be stoned? What’s it like to be inside your own head and exploring? CEREBUS was known as a stoner book. Guys would buy their comics and go home and spark up a doob and CEREBUS really WENT with that. All those floating blobs in MIND GAME II (CEREBUS #28), those I got from a lava lamp that Bob and Karen Rittinger had. I don’t know if you remember lava lamps. They must have them on YouTube somewhere. You get stoned enough and this purely natural phenomenon, heated wax in oil or whatever it was performs like this, and you think you’re looking at something cosmic or making it happen with your mind.

    A lot of us from the Beatles on out thought that drugs were a shortcut to enlightenment. John Lennon: “I’d love to turn you on.” You definitely think that way. If everyone would just sit down and spark up a doob and get f–ked up, the world would improve exponentially. Which, I don’t think anymore at all. It’s like pouring sugar in your own gas tank, but it FEELS like it’s a way to turbo-charge your car. A lot of people I respect a lot still hold that view. But, it’s gone back underground in a lot of ways, I think. I don’t know. I don’t go out in public.

    [Illusionator -- send in your mailing address to 'momentofcerebus [at] gmail [dot] com, so I can send you a personalised / signed / head-sketched Cerebus back issue — Thanks!]

    Check out all the HARDtalk at A Moment Of Cerebus.

  17. Dave Sim Says:

    Hi,
    Winters Spawn has a HARDtalk question for me:

    Hi Dave. How come Collected Letters 2, comes in the smaller book-format and not in the phonebook-format? It looks really dwarfed and kinda ugly next to the other volumes. Stay cool!

    Uh. I’m 56 years old. The closest I can get to “cool” is “not TOTALLY embarrassing”. But I’ll try to not be totally embarrassing.

    The sales of COLLECTED LETTERS 2004 were very, very low, so I had to downsize the package and increase the price. And then the second volume sold even worse. WAY worse. Story of my life: when Ted Adams was here, he said he had bought both of them and loved them and wondered why there hadn’t been a third. That’s maybe 2% of the market. But they really think that way. Ashleigh B., a mother of two in Edmonton, found the book, you know, transformational. The other 98% wonder how I could be so stupid as to think that 500 pages of me was ANYTHING that ANYONE would willingly subject themselves to. It’s very difficult to live in between those two groups, but those are the two groups I live in between. I’ve probably got enough correspondence for 12 volumes? 14 volumes? But I stopped answering my mail on the computer. Which is how it started. When CEREBUS ended, I had a two-year backlog of mail and I was answering the first letter and I went, “Wait, if I just ‘save’ it after I print it out and then type the person’s name at the top of the letter in 32 or 36 pt. bold type. Well, that’s what collected letters books look like. I can do a book and answer my mail at the same time!

    When the sales tanked, I went back to answering them on the electric typewriter which requires more discipline. You can’t just plug stuff in and rearrange it, so you have to focus. So I’ve got, like nine long boxes of photocopies of my answers and the letters I’m answering. I suspect it will take at least fifty years for the “2%” to become a significant enough group to warrant doing books. I doubt there will ever be more than the two Collected Letters books in my lifetime.

    [Winters Spawn -- send in your mailing address to 'momentofcerebus [at] gmail [dot] com, so I can send you a personalised / signed / head-sketched Cerebus back issue — Thanks!]

    Check out all the HARDtalk at A Moment Of Cerebus.

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