Saturday, 11 March 2017

"Frankly, I’m More Than A Little Embarrassed By The Early Material..."

Pages 19 & 20 from Cerebus #29
Original Page (left) by Dave Sim (1981)
Recreated Page (right) by Dave Sim & Gerhard (2006)

14 June 06

Dear Brian,

We're both glad you're so pleased with the commission.

Frankly, I'm more than a little embarrassed by the early material (which I try not to let on about since it is our bread-and-butter). I know what the stuff looked and read like in my mind's eye and ear at the time and the contrast between that mental image and the actual results on paper are sincerely mortifying. "Insanity is the last line of defence for the master bureaucrat" is an interesting observation, but it's hardly a Lord Julius line, so I tried to fix it so it read like something Groucho Marx would say. The salesman line was indelicate relative to the personality of the Elf. You just wouldn't say to the Elf (or to a female of any kind) "sniffing your crotch" since they don’t hear in the abstract the way men do. If you say "sniffing your crotch" what they hear is that someone wants to sniff their crotch. I switched genders, elevated the action anatomically and "cuted" it up with the "mooing" which would pass muster with a female. "Impregnable" is not a word that Cerebus would use. As with the Lord Julius line, this is Dave Sim conveying his best current thinking on an abstract subject and completely losing his characters’ voices and personalities in the process. As I say, it's really cringe-inducing, particularly since it is exponentially more popular than anything else I did. Other things like Cerebus walking towards the reader with his tail about to hit the wickets. If you had a tail you would know to get it out of the way, I think. Trying to figure out how the robe is sitting on his body by the white stripes in the middle panel and finally giving up and just drawing it properly. Likewise with him holding the croquet mallet in the second panel. It looks to me was if I got the figure done, realized I hadn't put the mallet in so I just drew it vaguely intersecting the right hand which is resting on his knee (and then had it disappear behind the outer instead of the inner panel frame as a way of showing how clever I was and hoping that would distract from the fact that there is no rational way he would be holding the mallet at that angle: even if he was holding his hand at waist level, the mallet would either be horizontal or tipping the other way).

Fortunately on page 20 which I've started on, it looks like all I’ll have to fix is Cerebus impaling himself with the croquet mallet in panel 2.

Thanks again for the commission. I’m attaching a strip that I did for Siu Ta, Canadian actress and wife of long-time reader John Tran all of it done from photographs for her website. I was wondering if you were interested in doing something like this for your website. A comic strip featuring you. You supply the photographs and the dialogue and I supply the strip which is exactly computer monitor sized.


Dave Sim

From "Dave Sim's Collected Letters 2006", a Cerebus Archive Kickstarter reward.


Paul Slade said...

Interesting to see Dave's thoughts on perfecting these pages. I'd never have noticed issues like the positioning of the tail and the angle the mallet's held at without him drawing these to my attention, but the changes are potent evidence of how much Dave's skills had grown in the intervening years. Also, I love the way that colour on the Elf makes her glow so beautifully.

I'm not so sure about the "crotch" remark, though. The original version is definitely funnier and more memorable. Given how much time Cerebus had spent in rough-arse taverns and such, it strikes me as quite possible that he'd slip into crude language now and again - perhaps knowing full well the extra impact it would give his comments in the more genteel surroundings of the Regency. He's not the most gallant fellow in the world, so would he really worry as much about the Elf's feelings as Dave seems to indicate here? He might quite enjoy slyly shocking her from time to time.

Finally, I think the "Crak" sound effect in the original version works better than the replacement. Something to do with the squared-off corners of the C matching the sharp, brittle sound of the impact, I think. Rounding off the C gives the impression of a slightly softer sound.

Even the letter Dave chooses for his explosion effect within the word affects the way I hear that "Crak" in my head. Placing it right there at the beginning in the C seems to place the word's emphasis there too, making the sound seem more sudden.

Dave Sim said...

That's definitely one of the "subjects under construction" in the commentaries for CEREBUS ARCHIVE NUMBER 7 Portfolio: relating to Neal Adams' "Sometimes you lose the 'rock 'n' roll' quality". Which definitely happened a lot, although it's taken me a number of years to fully recognize that. CEREBUS and HIGH SOCIETY are still the most popular CEREBUS graphic novels by a wide margin even though they have way more technical flaws. And when I look at the pages, all I can see are the flaws most of the time.

I would judge the reconstruction "Technically superior but antiseptic".