A&R2004: Following Cerebus

Following Cerebus (2004) #1-11 edited by Craig Miller, John Thorne and Dave Sim

What’s this then? Isn’t this a blog series about Renegade Press and Aardvark-Vanaheim, and isn’t this series published by Win-Mill Productions? Well, yes and yes, but: It’s presented as being “co-produced” by Aardvark-Vanaheim, and it’s basically another venue for Sim to spout off on whatever he wanted.

This was the original ad, and the value proposition was “Here’s the critical question: Is Dave guilty of presenting the second half of the story in such a way that is says about the first half, ‘Just kidding’?”

My guess is that Sim wanted to control the critical response, so he co-opted Following Cerebus — he’s doing the covers, and provides seemingly unlimited access for interviews etc.

I was reading The Paris Review yesterday, and this comment by Louise Glück was striking in this context:

This is not Sim’s approach, to put it mildly. What’s on the page is seldom what Sim meant, and he’ll go on at length at any chance to explain what it was that he meant, and how marxist-feminist-homosexualist it is of everybody to just not get it. This led first to him including extensive backmatter explaining what he meant to have put on the page, and then for him to do things like this:

Explaining in-text what the motivations of the characters are while they’re having conversations, and so on, making everything a chore to read.

So co-opting Following Cerebus makes total sense — it’s another way to insist on shaping how Cerebus should be read and interpreted. You see the same thing with A Moment of Cerebus, which has this masthead:

But where Sim posts his bible readings every week, and does weekly video and phone calls, and virtually all of the rest of the posts are about hawking Sim’s wares to his fans.

Anyway! Let’s have a look at Following Cerebus — even if I’m not going to actually re-read it. I read it back when it was new, and I think that suffices…

The publishers explain how this book came to be.

The reproduction of most of the artworks in the first issue is really horrifying. It looks like the printer took some colour JPEG thumbnails and blew them up.

And as you’d expect with something that involves Dave Sim, he writes most of the text himself. Here he explains how he won a Harvey Award — it’s because the Fantagraphics vote was split. (Which might even be accurate, for all I know.)

There aren’t really any pieces in Following Cerebus that are critiques, really — it’s mostly texts from Sim, and then a few scattered explorations of various things in Cerebus — like this article that gives an overview of all the instances of “something fell”, and what they might mean. (Sim then chimes in and says that that’s a pretty nerdy thing to do, and that people are making to much of a surface level detail like that. (I’m paraphrasing.))

There’s a Gerhard interview, and then another article about Gerhard and fishing in a later issue, but there’s not a lot of Gerhard material here.

Which is a shame, because some of this is pretty interesting — like how he used 3D software to lay out some of the interiors.

The editors tip-toe around the issue of whether they should be publishing somebody with such, er, controversial opinions as Sim, without really stating it outright…

We’re told that we’d be getting many shorter strips like this from other creators — but we only get two, I think?

For the first couple of issues, we get ads for Win-Mill’s other publications, but that stopped — space issues?

The few articles that are about the Cerebus comic book mostly follow this format: First you get the article itself…

… and then they as Sim what he thinks about it all. It makes sense, but it gives Sim the last word on everything, which gets feeling rather claustrophobic after a few issues.

Sim explains why it’s necessary to add so much backmatter to explain what the comic book is “really” about — “none of my ideas were getting through, just the emotional cosmetics, the entertainment gloss”. He doesn’t then go that extra step to “perhaps I’m not really good at getting his ideas across”; it’s all the fault of the feminist readers.

And more along those lines — he’d meant the readers to consider that both Mrs. Thatcher and Jaka (in that interaction) might have a point, and was disappointed when everybody was on Jaka’s side. Now, Mrs. Thatcher had several of Jaka’s friends killed and/or tortured, and had Jaka tied up in a dungeon (I think; it’s been a couple years since I read that issue), and then Sim is disappointed that readers aren’t both-sidesing it? “Yes… certainly Thatcher is a murderous lunatic, but she brings up some good points.” Annotations to the rescue, apparently.

We get some old interview Sim did with some influences back in the early 70s, and these do indeed seem to be pretty appropriate for a Cerebus fanzine.

And they apparently got Fantagraphics to take out an ad?

And we get a reprint of one old lost Cerebus story, which is nice.

And on the “Sim has the last word” tip — each issue has a column called “About Last Issue” where Sim gets to comment on all the contents of the previous issue, and “correct” things, I guess. The later devolves into a sort of “About Last About Last Issue” where Sim comments on his previous column…

One of the other fanzines published by Win-Mill was about Buffy The Vampire Slayer, so the editors have Sim commenting a picture from Buffy — it’s a fun idea, but Sim seems to take it a bit too seriously.

For one issue, we get three different parody covers. Sim would return to this theme later with the parody covers for the Cerebus In Hell? series.

Sim explains that Peter Porker, Spider-Ham was definitely a dig at Cerebus and not somebody at Marvel coming up with a groan-worthy joke and then put Elmer Fudd into a costume. And that’s not all: Sim states that his Wolveroach is better remembered than Spider-Ham.

We get an entire issue mostly devoted to copyright issues, which is pretty pertinent for Cerebus (as Sim says he’s letting Cerebus into the public domain after he dies).

Remember those Buffy images? Yeah, Sim is an expert at mind reading people from images — at length. And here he was writing about how women are mind readers!

We get one issue that’s all about Will Eisner, and… er… Eisner was a Sim influence, so I guess that’s somewhat relevant for a Cerebus fanzine.

We get one issue that’s all about editing and stuff, and it’s all Sim interviewing various people about what feedback they get on their works. Some of it’s pretty interesting, but some of it’s pretty odd — like here when Sim is adding in-text annotations to his interview with Eisner.

It’s not all the people you’d expect, either — like Craig Thompson.

T. Casey Brennan was possible the Alan Moore of the 70s, apparently.

Remember that Thompson interview? In the next issue, Sim (of course) comments on that in his About Last Issue column, and displays a perhaps not very surprising degree of angst about the idea of calling Art Spiegelman on the phone.

They finally get Sim to watch an episode of Buffy, and he writes a review (he felt that it wasn’t very good)…

… but the most amusing part is the article about the review, where Sim tries to shame the editors about watching a “chick show”, and then them explaining that it’s OK since it’s really an “anti-feminist feminist” show.

By this point, Sim has taken over the book almost completely, and we just get what he wants to put in. So he’s commissioned Roberta Gregory to do a strip about Cerebus, which she’s happy to do.

Heh heh, Sim is going to blow his gasket over that “just because YOU can’t get laid” line, even though she walks away from it immediately.

I think this bit is her point about Cerebus: Sim sees what he expects to see.

Chester Brown, Seth and Joe Matt do a jam comic. (Joe Matt then writes about why it didn’t work — because Seth didn’t want to do it, and his panel (the third one) totally derailed it.

Sim uses his amazing interpretive powers to deduce that Sarah Michelle Gellar was worrying about being old in this picture, but fortunately Sim can reassure her that she’s not. Phew!

The ninth issue is a Neal Adams special, which, er… It’s 104 pages long, and it’s all a moment by moment recounting of a day Sim spent with him in Niagara. (All text written by Sim.)

It’s got some interesting stuff — like this thing where Neal Adams got twice as many colours for DC Comics by making a phone call. That Sol Harrison guy sounds like an ass.

But we also get an introduction to Adams’ theory about how the Earth is growing. How come insects were so big in the olden days? Because Earth was smaller, and gravity was smaller! Makes sense to me! And how about how all the continents fit together? Isn’t that just continental drift? Nope; it’s because the Earth is increasing in size like a balloon, and matter is being created at the Earth’s center.

Sim’s response can be summed up as “great, great”.

But we do get something that’s slightly relevant to Cerebus — a handful of pages about where Sim ripped off Adams drawings.

Next issue we get a response from Sim, as well as the letter he sent her. It turns out that Sim had been on a comp list for Bitchy Bitch all these years — I’m guessing that Gregory didn’t know, and it was just a prank by somebody at Fantagraphics because they’d assume he’d hate the book (which he didn’t) — and consequently Sim had put Gregory on the comp list for Cerebus (but she apparently never read the issues).

Sim is incensed! But he keeps his response to two paragraphs (but manages to squeeze in a bit about how misspelling “Tangent” as “Tangents” is deeply indicative of a feminist conspiray), because Gregory said that he used blocks of text as a defensive wall.

Instead we get a Mort Drucker style response where Sim is indeed incensed about the “not getting laid” bit…

… and, er, then we get a wall of text. I especially like the “Continued on page 35” bit at the end.

I think Gregory won that exchange, and she may not even have been aware that it was a competition.

And then we get another issue about dreams.

I don’t have the twelfth issue, which was apparently an “all Dave issue”. Was is published after the publisher, Craig Miller, died?

So… it’s a really weird publication. It seemed to have been planned as a place where writers could write about Cerebus, but it turned almost immediately into a place where Sim could write about anything he wanted. The only pices that seemed particularly relevant to the subject matter were written by the editors — unless I missed something, there were no “third party” articles.

If this was all a gambit on Sim’s part — to shape Cerebus’ post publishing narrative — I don’t think it was all that successful, because all of that was already happening on the Internet, not in a fanzine like this.

Hoo boy… only two more posts to go, which I hope to get to before I go on a short trip to London.

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

Leave a Reply