A&R2010: Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing

Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing (2010) by Dave Sim

So what’s this then? It was originally published in 1997, when self publishing was had stopped being a “movement” in comics, but I guess it made sense to collect all the essays on publishing that Sim had written (and published in Cerebus) over the years. And people must have found it useful, because Sim published a revised version in 2005, and then finally what I’ve got here, the 2010 version.

Isn’t the point of pull quotes to have, like, famous people saying how awesome your book is?

OK, we start with a note to the reader…

… and then we get a preamble, which is from my point of view, as somebody who’s not going to self publish anything, just about the most interesting thing in here. Because this is where Sim tries to rationalise away everything he said about self publishing in the early 90s.

“I very much enjoyed the wildfire which caught on and swept across the direct marked […] because of my absolutit position. Even as I castised myself for the real human suffering that resulted (How many young men and women, in good faith, had bankrupted or nearly bankrupted themselves, their families, and their friends in the name of bringing their work to marked — work which had not a snowball’s change in hell of achieving any measure of success?”

I find this amusing because it’s such a clear example of Sim willingness to portray himself as some evil Machiavellian genius… instead of just admitting that he was wrong about self-publishing comics being a valid way forward (commercially) for many people.

And then! In the parenthesis on the following page, he writes from the vantage point of 2005 (the original moustache twirling bits were written in 1997) and says that he kinda exaggerated a bit that he had to accept full blame and chew the scenery because… er… he wanted the comics world to move on.

So OK now — where does that leave us? Is he admitting he was wrong back in the early 90s? Apparently not. It’s nice to have your cake and eat it, too, I guess.

So after the note and the preamble we get to… the introduction. Yes, if you like Sim’s writing, you’re getting your money’s worth of it here — it’s 156 very chatty pages.

But on page 17 it starts! And it turns out that you have to start by drawing the comic book.

Lots of presumably solid advice, like not getting your eraser all greasy.

I haven’t real it all, but I’ve skimmed it for half an hour, and it’s very digressive. But it’s pretty entertaining reading, I have to say, even if you don’t intend to publish anything. It’s easy reading.

Sim even advises some realism.

This is the 2010 edition, and comics publishing was a lot easier back in the 90s: The main distributor, Diamond, would basically take anything, so you could print up what they ordered, wait two months, and collect the money. Which means that you could get by with very low capitalisation, and actually make a living even if you don’t sell tens of thousands of copies.

Sim doesn’t have much to say about licensing and stuff, but he does cover web cartooning and stuff.

And then we end with ads for all the various Aardvark-Vanaheim publications, and… Cerebus TV? In 2010? Sim started with er podcasting, or whatever you’d call it. I’ve never watched any of it.


While Sim is, technically, an insane person, this guide to self-publishing in comics is actually one of the most incredible and inspiring things I’ve ever read about being a writer (the “comics” and “self-publishing” parts are irrelevant).


But like any good authentic self published ‘zine it instructs you how to read it as you go, it defines for you what it is, a rare chance to listen to the voice of a true independent voice committed to his own ethics and aesthetics and its own vision after over 30 years. There are observations about cartooning that had me bugged eyed and reading passages over and and over again. He spends almost a page and half discussing different ways to sharpen your pencil; there’s actually lot more to say on the subject than I thought.

It’s true! The page and a half on sharpening your pencil is really interesting. Of course, as somebody who’s not an artist, I have no idea whether anything Sim writes in this area makes any sense, and I get the feeling that he hasn’t discussed this stuff with other artists (for the most part), so it’s all (or mostly all) stuff he’s figured out himself. So we’re in “polymath autodidact” territory; caveat emptor.

This blog post is part of the Renegades and Aardvarks series.

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