Canadian artist Gerhard defines a post-Cerebus identity
November 8, 2012 10:32 AM   Subscribe

"I'm on record as saying that Gerhard was, for twenty years, the best pure pen-and-ink artist in the comic-book field and that it was unfortunate that he got pigeon-holed as a mere inker and that Dave Sim's "pariahdom" extended to someone who never voiced an opinion about anything one way or the other." - Dave Sim

Independent comic mega-series Cerebus and creator Dave Sim have provided many prior posts on Metafilter. Significantly less has been featured of its co-creator, Gerhard.

In the last year particularly Gerhard has greatly increased his online presence, discussing his post-Cerebus career and projects on his personal blog, and making regular appearances in the Moment of Cerebus blog, where his contributions suggest that the reason that he appears in so few photographs during the Cerebus years is that he preferred being on the other side of the camera.

His blog includes regular updates on the children's book project he has been developing for some time and the occasional glimpse of life outside the artist's studio.

(Sim's quote on Gerhard is from a post on his long-retired Glamourpuss blog).
posted by nanojath (36 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm on record as saying that Gerhard was...

Hey everyone, this isn't an obituary post, so don't freak out like I just did.
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on November 8, 2012 [20 favorites]

No joke Griphus, shit that scared me. Sim's politics and story ideas aside, one thing about him is that he always knew how to plant a character in one of Gerhard's landscapes.
posted by Think_Long at 10:43 AM on November 8, 2012

He does good work. Weird to hear Sim saying "I am the concrete block he tied his career to" or words to that effect.
posted by Artw at 10:45 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

By maintaining that working relationship for 20-some years, and putting his name on the cover of some really weird and misogynistic comics, and not saying anything one way or another, aka not speaking out against the content there-in, Gerhard is going to be forever linked to Sim's "pariahdom."
posted by thecjm at 10:46 AM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, the thing is that Dave Sim is, very clearly, mentally ill. He and Gerhard have worked together for so long that were Gerhard to bail, he'd be really screwing a sick person whose illness has alienated a lot of people over the years. Not to mention the fact that their personal connection probably trumps a lot of the dumbass shit Sim has said over the years.

I mean, you can certainly see Gerhard as complicit in the stuff that Sim put out, but I'd rather see him as a sympathetic human being who believed in a project even as it was going to shit, and didn't bail out on someone who would be absolutely lost without him.
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on November 8, 2012 [17 favorites]

Gerhard wasn't there in the beginnings of Cerebus. Do you think a single person in comics industry would have held it against him if he told Sim to draw his own damned backgrounds and walked away?
posted by thecjm at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2012

Good lord, can that guy draw.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:54 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

If Sim is Gerhards only source of work you have to wonder what he does for the long years when Sim isn't doing anything.
posted by Artw at 10:54 AM on November 8, 2012

I doubt anyone in the comics industry would hold it against him, but I could easily see how his conscience wouldn't abide it. Dave Sim is an artist and writer not of sound mind, which isn't anything new. And, like many people in Sim's case, few people can stand to be around them even as they appreciate their art. Gerhard came in five years into Cerebus, long before Sim started getting particularly bad -- I mean his views were never great to begin with, but it's clear that he fell off a cliff at some point -- and watched it happen. Gerhard clearly weighed his loyalty to a friend and fellow artist who was getting progressively more ill and alienating more and more people, to the awful things this ill person was saying, and chose the person over the illness. I can't fault him for that and I can't even say that I would have the strength to carry on like Gerhard did.
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

griphus: “Well, the thing is that Dave Sim is, very clearly, mentally ill. He and Gerhard have worked together for so long that were Gerhard to bail, he'd be really screwing a sick person whose illness has alienated a lot of people over the years. Not to mention the fact that their personal connection probably trumps a lot of the dumbass shit Sim has said over the years.”

This is true, but I thought Gerhard did bail on Dave Sim – completely, both professionally and personally – right after Cerebus ended. My understanding was that he severed all ties, and Dave was working on buying Gerhard's share of Cerebus. It's actually kind of a surprise to me to hear that they're at least sort of in contact apparently. As far as I knew, it'd been years since they even talked.
posted by koeselitz at 11:01 AM on November 8, 2012

That doesn't surprise me at all, honestly. But I still see the fact that he saw the project through to the end as a testament to the strength of his character rather his complicity with Sim's views.
posted by griphus at 11:03 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

(I mean, this is all conjecture based on my understanding of people and the history of Cerebus and desperately wanting what I describe to be the case. Gerhard can come into this thread and say that it was all about the $$$ and I'd believe that, but until I hear otherwise from either of the horses' mouths, I'm going with what I said.)
posted by griphus at 11:07 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gerhard honoured his personal and professional commitments by finishing Cerebus. It'd be great to see his non-Cerebus work come out, but who knows if he wants to commit to working on a large project again?
posted by The River Ivel at 11:07 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

griphus: “That doesn't surprise me at all, honestly. But I still see the fact that he saw the project through to the end as a testament to the strength of his character rather his complicity with Sim's views.”

I agree. The real shit he went through would've been more than a decade before Cerebus ended in 2004. It's amazing he stuck through even to 1990, honestly; those were rough times, and Gerhard has the skill to do a huge array of things if he wants to.
posted by koeselitz at 11:09 AM on November 8, 2012

Hey everyone, this isn't an obituary post

Ah, oops, that didn't occur to me, sorry if I scare anyone else!

Sim's reference to Gerhard in the past tense there was, I think, an indication that at the time (when Gerhard told Sim he wanted to leave Aardvark-Vanaheim and they arranged a five-year "buyout" of Gerhard's share in the business) it seemed that Gerhard was poised to leave the comics field for good.

I'd been enjoying particularly his photo posts at A Moment of Cerebus and just his general increased presence and personal perspective (and of course the art), and felt like he deserved his own post. I guess I brought it on myself by framing it with the Sim quote but Sim has been so discussed to death on Metafilter I sort of hoped Gerhard could be seen to merit some discussion in his own right.

Since I sort of buried it in the links I'd just highlight that the interview post from last year (that Brandon Blatcher made) is really worth a read if you missed it the first time around (as I did).

koesliztz, having read a lot of the Glamourpuss blog (and being on a Yahoo discussion group list about it for a while) I didn't have the impression that it was exactly a falling out. Gerhard wanted to be done once the book was done - his original proposal with Sim was to liquidate everything and just split the money. I gather (though I'm just inferring) that though this came as a shock to Sim (he referred to Gerhard's decision as a "bombshell"), it came down to Gerhard not wanting Cerebus to define the rest of his existence and Sim feeling very much that it was his responsibility and duty to have Cerebus define a significant part of the rest of his existence.

Though there were hints of acrimony (during a certain period Sim commented a lot about the financial burden of paying Gerhard's share off, prompting a solitary uncharacteristic post by Gerhard on a discussion forum expressing frustration with the same) I don't think there was any sort of no contact/no communication going on.

Recent comments on the Moment of Cerebus indicate that they've completed the transaction, and I'd have to imagine this has eased the relationship all around. I recall from Sim's earlier comments about the deal that Gerhard continues to have a royalty stake in the publication of everything they collaborated on, so he certainly has an ongoing interest.
posted by nanojath at 11:14 AM on November 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

(I said I missed that interview post and now see I commented in it. Apparently I'm only losing my grip on my mind).
posted by nanojath at 11:21 AM on November 8, 2012

Gerhard's art in Cerebus was indeed fantastic and one of the strengths of the book.
posted by Zed at 11:22 AM on November 8, 2012

Coincidentally, I just finished a full 300-issue runthrough of Cerebus. Gerhard's work in it is just amazing. I do think that it's likely that the Cerebus gig was a perfect fit for him, giving him just the right balance of constraints and leeway. I can imagine it being hard to move on from that and suddenly have complete creative freedom.

Speaking of Cerebus, although it's pre-Gerhard, Digital High Society (issues 26-50) is finally up and running, and it's pretty great. Really high quality digitizations of the issues, pan-and-scan animatic movies of the complete issues with Sim voicing all the characters if you're into that sort of thing (I'm not, really), all the original front and back matter, and ridiculously comprehensive behind-the-scenes collections of letters, notes, and sketches. The first issue is free, and the others are 99 cents, which is an amazing value if you care at all about that stuff and can handle giving Sim money.
posted by dfan at 11:28 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although it has a somewhat touchy interface (at least for me in Firefox on an iMac) the Gallery page on his blog is worth exploring. The "Assorted" and "WWC" galleries in particular have some fine examples.

Second what dfan is saying about the digital reprints - all the supporting material packed into the issues makes for a very interesting insight into the independent self-publishing market of the time.
posted by nanojath at 11:33 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also I agree that the interview post from before (read all the parts!) is really super. I love seeing great artists and craftsmen of any sort talking shop about the details of their work; it's so enlightening. I get the same enjoyment from Ethan Iverson's interviews with jazz artists.
posted by dfan at 11:48 AM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gerhard hasn't gotten nearly enough attention and will never get the recognition he deserves. His draftsmanship is just stupid good. In a just world he could spend the rest of his days drawing what the hell he wants for whomever he chooses without worrying about money or anything else. To Sim's credit, he's always been forthcoming with praise for his partner, and everyone knows that the book couldn't have been what it was without the two of them splitting the art duties.

Anyone who's never read Cerebus, please do so. It's probably the pinnacle of achievement in its medium.
posted by waxbanks at 11:53 AM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just stop after Church and State.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:59 AM on November 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

After the last thread, re-read it all, reading the last book of it for the first time, and experience I compared at a meet-up at the same time with looking at a Louis Wain retrospective.

Stopping at the end of Going Home, the reader will miss little more than frustration.
posted by Grangousier at 12:04 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Gerhard's art is really interesting. I sometimes wish I couldn't read English so that I could truly enjoy Cerebus.

I, too, was afraid you were telling us that Gerhard was dead.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:14 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was rereading that interview from the prior post again and, with the discussion upthread of Gerhard's decision to stay with the book through the end and so on, this bit (from the second-to-last page of the third part) jumped out at me...

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. Like I said, it got tough near the end there, and it was a huge undertaking, and that monthly schedule really was a bitch, but I always remember that dinner and that toast. I had committed myself to that, and that’s what I did. So after 300 was over, it was like, “OK, I did what I said I was gonna do.”

It's clear from the rest of the interview that while the ideological shift was an issue (the way Gerhard describes it is that Sim had "lost [him] as a reader"), that a big part of it was just becoming disillusioned with doing the art in and of itself. Earlier in the interview he talks quite a bit about coming to a point where he was applying the same techniques over and over again and feeling like a "hack", and in discussing the latter issues it's also clear that just the grueling schedule of producing a regular title with such dense artwork was wearing him down.
posted by nanojath at 12:14 PM on November 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

When to stop is a really good question! I think the following answers are all reasonable. I'm attempting to spoil as little as possible.

50, the end of High Society: High Society is a self-contained story and if you just want to dip your toe in for 25 issues, those are by consensus the 25 issues to read. You don't get any Gerhard, though, who started in issue 65.

111, the end of Church & State: This is sort of the end of Phase I of Cerebus, in which everything focuses on Cerebus himself. After this the canvas expands a lot for better or worse.

136, the end of Jaka's Story: Jaka's Story is actually the favorite sequence of mine (and of many). It's a very different style, often very quiet, which makes the events that stand out against it that much more effective. If you stop here you get to avoid the explicit anti-feminist stuff that's coming up (in retrospect it informed everything he did but his actual work is a lot more nuanced than his beliefs).

200, the end of Mothers & Daughters: this is the end of the main storyline in a lot of ways. Threads from Church & State reappear and are resolved. Starting in the 180s Sim's own often-ugly views become an explicit part of the work, so you have to be willing to put up with that to get this far. The good news is that once you've got past issues 186, things don't get much worse (unless you read the author's notes in the back of the later volumes).

231, the end of Rick's Story: the entire run could actually have ended here; things wrap up in a very satisfying way. It entirely misrepresents where the series is actually going, though. Also I gotta say that Guys and Rick's Story are not really highlights of the series as a whole (though I think I like them more than most), so you're kind of going out with a whimper. One advantage of stopping here: the books are about to become largely more about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mary Hemingway than Cerebus for a while.

265, the end of Form & Void: also a very satisfying end to the series (in a very different way). Everything after this is sort of an epilogue anyway (much of it takes place decades and decades later).

300, the end of The Last Day: well, that's the lot. I think it would be a stronger series if it ended at 265 but the last 35 issues are probably the most important of the whole series in Sim's opinion. Honestly I think the main reason to finish if you already got to 265 is either just curiosity or the feeling that you owe it to Sim, once you've gotten this far, to at least look at what he considers to be the culmination of everything he's been working towards.

Sorry to derail from a post about Gerhard! To bring it back to him, I will say that one of the reasons to keep going is that whatever your opinion of the content, the form and the artwork continue to be amazing, beautiful, and groundbreaking to the end, and a lot of that is due to Gerhard.
posted by dfan at 12:29 PM on November 8, 2012 [9 favorites]

Personally, my advice would be to stop someplace short of #186 (when the misogynist crazy became the foreground.) That's where I stopped, after it retroactively poisoned a series I'd previously cared about. If I could unread it, I would. But then I'd promptly read it again, because I wouldn't believe the claims that it could possibly be that bad, and I'd have to find out for myself. Doh.
posted by Zed at 12:56 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd have to dig up the 'phonebooks' to figure out exactly where I stopped, but that was my experience too, Zed. I got so turned off somewhere in the midsts of Mothers & Daughters that I put Cerebus down, and never went back. And I'm reluctant to recommend the whole thing to anyone.

But I wonder, now that I know just how whack-a-doodle things are going to get, if I shouldn't take another crack at it, and read all 300. For closure, if nothing else.
posted by Frayed Knot at 4:28 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't read the full text parts after the first 'Reads' you're pretty much golden. Without those two parts, the final third is still out there, but not nearly as tedious or even particularly batshit.

But back to the awesomely talented Gerhard. He's got a real silver fox thing going on in those recent photos that's kind of jarring seeing as I hadn't seen a photo of him since mid-range Cerebus issues.
posted by Sparx at 5:38 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

To comment further on the not particularly batshit aspect - I'm reminded of the end of Going Home, where Jaka does something that Dave assures us in the commentary is because she's a woman and a hussy/flibbertigibbet, whereas when you read it in context of the story, she appears to be responding to the unreasonable actions of Cerebus with a great deal of humour. Dave has got the observation to a T, but completely misinterepreted its significance, which I think says a lot about the qualities of the comic's writing - Dave literally couldn't stop himself from writing a well observed female character while trying to create a mere stereotype.
posted by Sparx at 5:48 PM on November 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

Thanks - this is a very interesting story, and Gerhard's art is fantastic. For whatever reason I couldn't get into the early Cerebus, and missed out on the Gerhard stuff.

His blog is really interesting, and he has some other projects on the go. Plus his photographs are... unusual, in their own quiet way. I can't imagine what kind of eye he'd have after staring at detailed pencil drawings for most of his adult life.

"Dave Sim is, very clearly, mentally ill." A cartoonist? Say it isn't so! (What a terrible way to have to make your living if that's your passion, is all I'm trying to say.)
posted by sneebler at 7:57 PM on November 8, 2012

I had the pleasure of being introduced to Cerebus through the loan of the first 100 issues, and I started from the beginning, episode by episode.

And then I met Gerhard - kaBlaMmOo.. It was like "did I miss a page? What IS this? Holy crap!!!" and so forth. Gerhard became the story so much that it made the narrative so much easier to digest.

So now I think I might just check into Comixology for reals, just for the awesomness of Church and State.
posted by arzakh at 9:39 PM on November 8, 2012

dfan: “Starting in the 180s Sim's own often-ugly views become an explicit part of the work, so you have to be willing to put up with that to get this far. The good news is that once you've got past issues 186, things don't get much worse (unless you read the author's notes in the back of the later volumes).”

Actually, the ugly stuff starts around 164; it's just in the mouth of an old woman in the story. I won't get into it, but it's ugly. And one might note that there's some stuff in Church & State that's pretty gross and hard to take. When I was in high school, I made the mistake of picking up a friend's copy of Church & State and reading that part, and it pretty much freaked me out and confused me for a long time, and suffice it to say it took me a long time to come back around to Cerebus. I like a lot of things in the series now, but... well. I still have reservations.
posted by koeselitz at 7:50 AM on November 9, 2012

Actually, the ugly stuff starts around 164; it's just in the mouth of an old woman in the story.
Yeah, I just meant that "Sim himself has ugly ideas about women and wants to convince you that he's right" starts in the 180s. Before then (and even before 164) there are upsetting views held and acted on by characters in the comic, but it was possible to believe that he was just making individual unpleasant characters. It's starting in the 180s that Sim makes it explicitly clear that those characters are mouthpieces for his own views.
posted by dfan at 8:08 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, there was worrisome stuff before 186, but it was at a level that I (at least early '90's me reading it for the first time) could continue to extend Sim the benefit of the doubt. 186 was where he made explicit that the auctorial intent had been crazily, incredibly, shockingly worse than even an uncharitable reading of what had gone before would suggest (or, what dfan said.)
posted by Zed at 10:09 AM on November 9, 2012

I remember a note in one of the later phonebooks where Sim claims to have spent a shockingly short amount of time in library and come out with a unifying theory that integrated all quantum theory and cosmic mysticism, and that was when I truly realized he was actually ill and not just a crank.

He also wrote how his final volumes of work with Gerhard were purely functional, they didn't really talk at all, so they were emotionally and socially separated for many years before 300 came out.

Did anyone make it through the entire "Cerebus critiquing the bible" bit? Can someone please re-summarize the final few volumes for me because I think I fell asleep for much of them.
posted by Theta States at 10:43 AM on November 10, 2012

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