Interview with Gerhard, from Cerebus
February 24, 2011 4:40 PM   Subscribe

"Gerhard and I spoke to each other over the course of a few hours on Boxing Day, December 26th, 2010. On each end of our respective phone lines we both had an intimidating stack of books — the almost five thousand pages that Sim and Gerhard created together over the course of those 20 years. We flipped through the books chronologically, with the idea of discussing the evolution of Gerhard’s process and techniques, focusing on his development as an artist and a craftsman."
posted by Brandon Blatcher (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating article, thanks. Doyen of UK fantasy cartoonist's Russ Nicholson started up a blog recently too, there are some commonalities between the styles (well, they both draw really fine lines with ink <= art noob).
posted by Sebmojo at 4:55 PM on February 24, 2011

Never read any Cerebus but this looks really interesting, thanks BB.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:56 PM on February 24, 2011

Sim and Charlie Sheen can collaborate on something about "the goddesses".
posted by Joe Beese at 4:58 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Love this interview. Fuck Origin Systems - Gerhard creates worlds.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:05 PM on February 24, 2011

I couldn't find the links in the body of the first article -
Part Two
Part Three

Nice to hear at length from Gerhard.
posted by nanojath at 5:10 PM on February 24, 2011

Really interesting, thanks. Cerebus always looked like a million bucks, even after Sim went off the deep end. Flight was the high point for me.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:11 PM on February 24, 2011

Thanks Joe. There needs to be a word like "Godwin" to describe the likely distance between any mention of Cerebus and the first "Dave Sim is a crazy woman-hater" comment. Although he totally is.
posted by chaff at 6:17 PM on February 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Gerhard's backgrounds were amazing too, just page after page of huge, intricately detailed, vivid, varied drawings. I doubt Cerebus would have been much without him.
posted by chaff at 6:21 PM on February 24, 2011

I'm sure Gerhard is loathe to discuss the last years of Cerebus in terms of him just trying to get to 300 while not shaking Dave by the collar and screaming "You're losing it and everyone knows it!" I think he found a relatively dignified way to say it: "he lost me as a reader."

I'm curious to read the endnotes they discuss, for the last few books, as they go very heavily into process. I have no intention of buying the last few books. Are the endnotes anywhere online?
posted by fatbird at 6:30 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a one-time reader of Cerebus, I thought Gerhard rescued the book from irrelevancy. As the artwork decayed during High Society, I thought Dave was just phoning it in, artistically. (Although, truth be told, when Dave was on, he was astonishing.) Gerhard's artwork was a breath of air in what seemed, more and more, like Dave, Astoria and Lord Julius locked in a closet.
posted by SPrintF at 6:52 PM on February 24, 2011

Although he totally is.

Dave Sim is a performance artist. He told you from issue one the way it was gonna go down. You just chose not to believe him.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:29 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Interesting additional thoughts from the interviewer.
There’s a well-known saying about the military: "Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” By analogy, in art I’d say: “Amateurs talk art, professionals talk craft”
posted by Sebmojo at 7:34 PM on February 24, 2011

Great to hear from Gerhard. I've only read High Society, and Church and State, but they're beautiful, beautiful comics.
posted by codacorolla at 7:43 PM on February 24, 2011

I've met Gerhard on a couple of occasions, supernice guy. Dave Sim comes over to my place on Saturdays and I help him with glamourpuss and Cerebus Archive, supernice guy.
posted by antihostile at 7:44 PM on February 24, 2011

Dave Sim comes over to my place on Saturdays and I help him with glamourpuss and Cerebus Archive, supernice guy.

OK, no way you're escaping with just that... now you must tell us how, why, and what it's like!
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:52 PM on February 24, 2011

Great interview! I've always wanted to know more about Gerhard. HIs work is amazing.
posted by zompist at 9:44 PM on February 24, 2011

This is fascinating and hugely eye-opening. I've always admired Gerhard's work, but I never knew anything about the craft or technique. This opens up a whole new dimension to my favorite comic. I'll be examining the backgrounds much more closely on my next read-through.

Dave Sim is a performance artist. He told you from issue one the way it was gonna go down. You just chose not to believe him.

Oh how I wish I could believe that.
posted by twirlip at 10:59 PM on February 24, 2011

I remember back in the late ’80s, around issue 88, we had gone down to Gainesville, Fla. We had been there for a signing a few months before and really liked the town. It’s a university town, really a fun place. And you know, southern Ontario has some brutal weather conditions sometimes. We thought it would be fun and a unique experiment to try. So we went down to Gainesville and got adjoining hotel rooms and set up drawing boards in there. We spent a month or two and did the book down there, and, you know, got away from the winter and any distractions that were back home. It went really well. We got to focus on the book during the day, and at night, well, like I said, it’s a university town. There’s lots of stuff to do, and there’s great bars and whatnot. And I remember we were having a really nice dinner and a really nice bottle of wine. And we toasted with a glass of this really nice wine and said something to the effect of, “Here’s to issue 300.” And it was like at that moment I had committed myself to stick it out to issue 300.
posted by Chuckles at 1:55 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cheers for that, that was some good stuff. I particularly like the way it ends with Gerhard managing to pick up the pen again.

I still remember being utterly gobsmacked by the backgrounds in Flight, there's some amazing stuff in there.
posted by invisible_al at 4:06 AM on February 25, 2011

I got a strange empty feeling after finishing the final phonebook collection. It was like hearing that a crazy aunt you only saw once a year had died and wouldn't be gibbering into her dinner between opinionated diatribes that your parents always promised to "explain later" but never would.

Jaka Story is the one book I hand people and say "read nothing else". If they're insistent I hand them High Society and tell them to stop around Guys

antihostile, you owe us more than that.
posted by Molesome at 5:11 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, seeing the effort Gerhard put in is like discovering that a quiet uncle who never speaks single-handedly stopped a world war.
posted by Molesome at 5:16 AM on February 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Amazing interview. This part blew my mind: ""I brought along my tracing paper versions of some of these pages. Those went over really big. People were blown away by those. In a lot of cases, I really like my pencils better than my inks." WHAAA?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:08 AM on February 25, 2011

When I was fourteen, I read Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and there is one part where he shows examples of other people's art. I was transfixed by the one panel from Cerebus (I lived in a comic book vacuum and had never heard of the title). I went out and bought all of the phone books that were available in 1993, just because of that one panel.

I still kept buying the books after Sim went nuts, just because I love the artwork so much. Thanks for this post. The anecdote about his babysitter teaching him grey-scale was neat.
posted by Toothless Willy at 8:38 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is fantastic. I wish that all interviews with artists (of any genre) had this level of detail about the actual craft. Gerhard brought so much to Cerebus (I bailed around issue 250, personally).
posted by dfan at 8:48 AM on February 25, 2011

I love Gerhard's work so much.
posted by Theta States at 10:48 AM on February 25, 2011

antihostile, you owe us more than that.

Ha ha...fair enough. What would you like to know?
posted by antihostile at 10:54 AM on February 25, 2011

Well, I'm curious what Sims is like in person, if he ever talks about Cerebus, what you help him with, the creative process... anything you feel like talking about, really.
posted by codacorolla at 10:55 AM on February 25, 2011

Yeah, what's he like in person? He comes across as a little crazy in his more recent writing, not to mention misogynist. Presumably he's not like that in person?
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:11 AM on February 25, 2011

There needs to be a word like "Godwin" to describe the likely distance between any mention of Cerebus and the first "Dave Sim is a crazy woman-hater" comment.

Well, no, because the comparison isn't apt. Godwin's Law implies that the probability of the Hitler/Nazi comparison coming up in any heated discussion approaches 1, whether it's really appropriate or not, while in Sim's case... well, you can Google "dave sim tangent" and read for yourself. The guy who wrote that had quite a few female fans, many comics professionals among them, who sold, gave away, or discarded their Cerebus collections after that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:26 PM on February 25, 2011

I interviewed him for the first time back in 1991 for the UW student newspaper, Imprint, then a couple of more times over the years. Shortly before Cerebus ended I asked if I could come over with some friends and film one of his last days drawing Cerebus, we shot about eight hours. Shortly after Cerebus ended, I moved back to Waterloo from Toronto and started a small magazine in town with some friends and got in touch with Sim to see if he would be willing to write some stories to help out a self-publisher. He was and he wrote some opinion pieces and we got to know each other a bit better. The magazine only lasted a year but about a year after that I started another magazine which lasted about three years. Dave helped with that one as well painting several covers including portraits of L. Ron Hubbard, Lennox Lewis and Napoleon. Plus I'm really into Malcolm X and he drew me a couple of pictures of him as well. (These days I basically get one of those for every issue of glamourpus and Cerebus Archive. I've got a job, so I really don't need the money and would MUCH rather have the original art, and Dave's still paying off Gerhard, so Dave agreed to a work-for-art deal. You should see the Groucho I've got, it's great.) It was early 2006 (Sim had finished Judenhass) when he asked if I wanted to help him out with glamourpuss. Sure, why not?

To be perfectly honest, and I know nobody's really going to believe me, but Dave Sim is pretty much just a normal guy. He's very calm, deliberate, speaks thoughtfully, has a great sense of humour (as one would expect if you've read Cerebus), likes to laugh, etc. He's doing his best to be a straight-edge/no booze/no drugs/no sex/upright/Godfearing/work hard/save money kind of guy. (Okay, I guess that's not really normal....) He's up on his politics for sure, as am I, which is what we spend most of our time talking about when he comes over. But he's more of a classic old-school small-c conservative these days, so we sort of clash on that front, but he's not exactly a stupid man so the conversations are always quite interesting. We talk about pretty much everything from comic books to the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia to whether computers have a deleterious affect on human memory to the Marx Brothers to the current state of feminism to the possible unintended consequences of QE2. Construction on King St. Whatever, just normal conversations. You can't really talk to him about what's on TV or music or movies, he doesn't keep up on it, though he does know some older stuff. He knows all the words to Little Red Corvette. He's quite generous. He is ALWAYS doing free stuff for people and always has. As it says in the follow-up to the Gerhard interview, "...Sim extended credit (and praise) to his partner in every way possible- nominally, publicly, and financially...Sim noted and praised Gerhard’s contribution to the book in virtually every public forum he had- in interviews, in speeches and public appearances. Eventually Gerhard was made a financial partner in the work as well, having a 40 percent stake in the company up until the dissolution of their partnership." Typical.

But he's a complete luddite (and proud of it), so he brings over the original artwork for gp and CA on Saturday afternoons and I scan it in, clean it up in Photoshop, bring it into InDesign, build the pages, sometimes do some colour work for the covers, lay out the text, etc. and create a PDF for the printer, Lebonfon in Quebec. (Who do a superb job on glamourpuss btw.) Plus, I help him with other stuff, look up Alex Raymond pictures on the internet, order The Heart of Juliet Jones from Amazon, send the solicitation for the next issue to Diamond, email someone a video clip for CerebusTV, etc. It's pretty interesting. I work at Research in Motion like everyone else in Waterloo, so basically my Saturdays are taken up with Sim stuff. I work during the day, he usually swings by between 3 and 6, we do the proofreading, scanning, download some photos, whatever. It's work. Time consuming, don't mess it up, double check it, need to buy a new printer, artist who drew the page is literally looking over your shoulder, scanned in that page at the wrong dpi, why the fuck won't it print the crop marks properly when I export it as a fucking PDF?!?! type work. Plus, when you throw in Cerebus Archive, some stuff for Cerebus TV, get a few more Stan Drake books, scan in all of Rick's Story at 1200 dpi, set up a paypal account, email the publisher of the Italian edition, double check the sales of the Spanish Edition-type mission creep (that's not surprising when you're working with a well-known workaholic) and it can be taxing.

He's just really into his work, so he can talk Alex Raymond and Al Williamson and Stan Drake and Hal Foster and the difference between a Gillott 290 and a Hunt 102 till the cows come home. I'm certainly interested in that as much as the next guy, but outside of Sim, Moore, Ware, Pekar and a couple of others...Akira, LW&C, I'm not really THAT into comics. I mean, not compared to Dave Sim! (Here's a funny game I will play every once in a while....Q: "Hey Dave, who did the lettering on Superman...uh....317? A: Uh, geez...317....hmmm...that was that Neal Adams cover...November 1977 so that would be Ben Oda. Curt Swan did the pencils." To describe his knowledge of comic book history as astonishingly encyclopedic would be an understatement. But, he would have no idea who's writing and drawing Batman or Superman today. Having said that, he's probably helped out a dozen self-publishers in the last year alone.)

He's kind of tired of Cerebus! Bit of an aardvark around his neck. If he never has to draw Cerebus again, he'll be a happy man! Not bitter about it, but you know, after 30-odd years you want to do something else once in a while. (Like pretty girls in your best Al Wiliamson style, hence glamourpuss). You know the funny thing is, even though he's been coming over to my place for several years, we often end up talking about everything EXCEPT Cerebus. But, whenever I ask him about something C-related, you get the big whole long detail about what he was thinking about at the time, the process that went into that, other possible storylines, what he likes about it, what he doesn't like, what he thinks about it twenty years later, etc. He can't stand looking at early work like High Society, thinks it's completely amateurish. It's fascinating if you care about the work at all.

He's certainly no frothing-at-the-mouth misogynist, sorry to disappoint the haters. The topic of feminism comes up as often as any other topic of the day and quite frankly he's always pretty rational and evenhanded on the issue. A little confirmation bias I suppose but not as bad as you think. Traditional, I'd say. The thing I think people need to take into consideration is this:

Cerebus, and specifically the Reads anti-feminism stuff or the God/YHWH stuff in Latter Days is his best attempt to tell a story and explain how he sees the world and he makes his argument as best he can, hopefully in an interesting way as part of this large 6,000-page work. But by definition his book on religion or his book on alcohol or his book on feminism is going to have to be a tightly encapsulated point. He did the best he could. if you don't buy it, and think it's all hatemongering nonsense, fine, that's your view and you're entitled to it. But say you were to sit down with Sim for a coffee for a few hours. Then maybe a couple of more afternoons after that, well, then you get to have the back and forth dialectic and ask him why he wrote X or Y and he explains it from his point of view, and you agree with this part but not this part, and you say why, then he says why he thinks he's right, because of a, b and c reasons, and you say that you agree with a but b and c are not the case, and he explains how he thinks that a necessarily leads to b because of these clear historical examples and you disagree with the argument, and you define your terms in a different way, then you settle on common ground on this issue, but still have to deal with how you get to c, etc. etc. etc. Well, after only a few conversations like that you might still come to the conclusion that he's wrong about what he thinks are the negative effects of feminism on marriage, alimony, paternity, domestic abuse, etc., but I really don't think you'll come to the conclusion that he deserves the batshitinsane tag. At least half a dozen of my friends have met him, Trevor did some filming with him, Dave works on CerebusTV, and I'm pretty sure we're not all misogynist assholes. Get all pissed off about the Void thing and decide it's so evil he shouldn't be allowed in polite society, I think it's an interesting story. And come on, he's just as hard on Guys. Maybe you don't see things as being as bad as Sim makes it out to be, fine, but insane? Hardly. A lazy label and it just doesn't fit. (Anyway, how the hell does a 'crazy' person run a successful publishing business and get a monthly comic book out on time?)

As for the REALLY out there stuff? Well I certainly don't agree with him 100% of the time, but hey, if you're going to do a 6,000 page story about an aardvark, you have to be a little crazy! (Tip your waitress.) But seriously...yes, he can be harsh and yes he can be out there and yes he can infuriate you and yes he can make you think. Isn't that what we want out of our artists? If you want to talk about Dave Sim and feminism, don't come at me after reading some quotes on some site. Read the entire thing first. It's the least you can do if you want to engage in some character assassination. Oh, you've read it all and you think he IS batshitinsane and belongs in the same garbage dump as other complete whackjobs like that crazy Steve Ditko? Fine. Goodbye.

I honestly consider Cerebus to be one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. No doubt. Sure some of it's a slog, but rip out the pages you absolutely hate and you'll still probably have at least 4,000 pages of artistry, comedy and brilliance that defined and redefined an entire medium. Both Dave Sim and Gerhard are two of the world's greatest living cartoonists and yes I'm biased but I'm not the only one who thinks so. Personally, I don't think Crumb, Clowes, Ware, Spiegelman, McFarlane, Finch, Jaime Hernandez or any of those guys hold a candle to him in terms of drawing or storytelling talent and I really, really like some of those guys. Hidden amongst the silliness of glamourpuss, you are watching a man who is learning how to draw as well as Alex Raymond. Alex. Raymond. The Alex Raymond. Alex "chastised for making his pictures too realistic, too gorgeous for its own sake", "some sort of genius", "the artist's artist" Raymond. A man who was able to draw lines with a Winsor-Newton Series 2 brush (not pen, brush) that were so thin that nobody else can do it. But Sim's getting there. As far as I'm concerned, this is artistry and skill at a whole other level from Ghost World or Love and Rockets.

It's been a pretty cool experience, that's for sure. But it's coming to an end, it's just too much to work six days a week, it takes up too much time, so after about 20-odd issues, I'll be slowly teaching Sim how to do this himself. But yeah, overall, supernice guy.
posted by antihostile at 9:33 PM on February 25, 2011 [26 favorites]

Great Lennox Lewis portrait.
posted by Chuckles at 10:38 PM on February 25, 2011

Awesome. That should really be sidebarred.
posted by codacorolla at 10:23 AM on February 26, 2011

He sounds like I always kind of pictured him; intelligent, opinionated, kind of a handful...but not the raving asshole he sometimes came across as in some of his more controversial essays. And while I think his semi-Gnostic view of all Jewish, Christian and Islamic scripture as a dialogue between a true monotheistic creator deity and a demiurge is...well...a little crazy, it's certainly fascinating (and, needless to say, a lot more interesting than the dominant literal take that's more prevalent in North America).
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:04 PM on February 27, 2011

I love Cerebus as a complete work, but Sim's writing, especially in the latter volumes footnotes, are just downright wacky and sloppy pseudo-intellectualism and a rushed mishmash of theology and cosmology.
Still, dude can draw.

And Gerhard is and shall remain amazing.

(Where's my hardbound Absolute Cerebus editions???)
posted by Theta States at 6:17 AM on February 28, 2011

Where's my hardbound Absolute Cerebus editions???

You may be waiting a while. It takes a long time to recolor 6,000 pages.
posted by twirlip at 10:21 AM on February 28, 2011

So, I've read High Society, C&S I and II, and Melmoth. Apparently the art gets better and the story gets worse. For someone who can't afford to buy the phone books that go really loopy, what are the other essential Cerebus books in terms of art and panel design?
posted by codacorolla at 12:09 PM on February 28, 2011

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