Dave's Cerebus Archive: Report to the Cerebus Newsgroup
First of all—although I’m not sure most of you will read this—I’d like to publicly thank everyone who sent Cerebus Archive Testimonial letters over the last eight months to Gerhard and me. Secondly, I hope in the ensuing pages to outline some of the short-term and long-term planning that has been completed to this point for the ultimate disposition of the Archive and to indicate as much as possible my thinking behind the various decisions. Thirdly—and perhaps most importantly—I’d like to explain what role I envision the Cerebus Yahoo Newsgroup being asked to play in the ultimate future of the Cerebus intellectual property, per se, and the contents of the Cerebus Archive.
The original concept behind the term “Cerebus Archive” was a shorthand description of both the physical collection and the short-term and long-term methods and means of preserving of the Cerebus intellectual property in all the forms implied by the umbrella term “intellectual property”: letters, artwork, notebooks, sketches, preliminary drawings and published and unpublished artwork, the “Dave Sim file copies” of CGC-graded Cerebus comic books, as well as all pre-Cerebus materials still in my possession, including the comic strip/comic book The Beavers materials, Star*Reach artwork and correspondence, advertising artwork, fanzine materials. To a limited extent this included business materials, correspondence and receipts where those were deemed to be relevant to the history of the creation of the Cerebus storyline (for example all phone records and credit card receipts that would serve to chart the movements, contacts and company spending of Gerhard and myself).
The first major change with the Archive which occurred was hearing from Canadian comic-strip and Canadian comic-book historian and archivist, Robert Macmillan of Brantford, Ontario who is, as they say, no spring chicken and who was beginning to wonder what the disposition of his own mammoth collection of materials might be at his passing. Although I knew it would be a tight fit and that we might have to rent some storage space, I suggested that he will the material to us and that we would store it here at the Off-White House or at a controlled temperature and humidity environment “off-site” for as long as possible. We would be unable to display anything properly or even be able to find specific contents, but we would volunteer for the task of preserving the collection, to the extent possible, in its present condition for future generations.
At that point, Bob had had very preliminary discussions with Wilfrid Laurier University which had just opened an Arts Campus in his hometown of Brantford, Ontario (about an hour southeast of Kitchener). What I suggested was that we consider his own material and the Cerebus Archive to be one collection and to offer it to Wilfrid Laurier (along with the Off-White House after Gerhard and I were dead) if they agreed to take on the responsibility of preserving (on campus) all of the material and displaying (at the Off-White House and in cooperation with other interested institutions) some of the material on an on-going basis.
This was the stage at which we had arrived at the time of the publication of Cerebus No.300 when I asked those interested to provide us, at their convenience, with Cerebus Archive testimonial letters addressed to Wilfrid Laurier University.
As it stands now, Bob has continued to have discussions with Wilfrid Laurier on an intermittent basis (the on-again off-again talks largely the result of the biggest problem all Canadian universities are facing—not uncommon elsewhere—of staff shortages and budget restrictions). Photocopies of all of your testimonial letters have been provided to their senior collections person (one of the problems Bob has faced on an on-going basis is that the Arts Campus in Brantford is a “branch office” of the University which is headquartered in Waterloo, so all discussions have to get approval elsewhere) and, shortly before Christmas, that same senior collections person paid a visit to examine Bob’s collection, expressed great enthusiasm and said that the Dean of the school would be in contact with Bob in the near future.
Since we were still at the point of trying to attract interest, I started to think that the way to do that might be to incorporate other collections comparable in size to the Cerebus Archive which would increase the scholarly value for research purposes, as well as offering a greater variety of materials for display purposes while not unduly increasing the volume of material needing to be preserved. My first thought, of course, was of Chester Brown’s work and papers and I asked him at one point what plans he had for them after his death. It turned out that he had no plans. His brother is his only surviving close relative and expressed no interest, when asked, in being Chet’s artistic trustee or custodian of his materials. The only qualification Chet attached to willing the material was that he wanted to maintain possession of the artwork and the decision of whether to sell or not sell it depending on need in the years to come. Which was pretty much our own caveat as well—Ger and I didn’t want to be taking pop bottles back to the store to buy macaroni while our artwork was safely nestled within the walls of Wilfrid Laurier University. We also had a firm understanding that if he changed his mind and wanted to do something else with his papers, he was free to do so. I would negotiate on his behalf and Bob’s for as long as they wanted me to, but if at any point they wanted to jump ship, they just had to tell me and it was a done deal with no hard feelings.
Around this time, I got a call from my lawyer, Wilf Jenkins—with whom I had already had a meeting to give him copies of all of the Cerebus Archive testimonial letters to date (the idea being that if Ger and were to die unexpectedly before I had had time to bring my present plans to fruition that he would send copies of the letters to the local media: in what I assumed would be a completely futile post-mortem “Hail Mary” pass to try to generate local interest in preserving the Cerebus Archive). Wilf told me that he was an alumnus of the University of Waterloo and was friends with the head of special collections in their Library and would I be willing to “take a meeting” with her if he was to arrange one? I was certainly amenable to that, so over the summer we had a get-acquainted meeting to discuss mutual possibilities and to gauge our respective levels of interest. It was extremely fortunate that, at the time, I had also been contacted by Jason Trimmer, YIGS (Yahoo in Good Standing) at the Regina A. Quick Centre for the Arts at St. Bonaventure University informing me that he had won approval to have an exhibit (since christened Ye Bookes of Cerebus: the comic art of Dave Sim & Gerhard scheduled for display September of ‘05 through February of ’06 at the Quick Center) and was able to bring his letter of confirmation with me to the meeting.
Equally fortunate, at this point, I got a phone call from Peter Straub—author and Cerebus reader—telling me that he had been speaking with a friend of his, the head of special collections at the Fales Collection at New York University to whom he had happened to mention that he was writing, at my request, a testimonial letter for the Cerebus Archive. At which point, the friend said something along the lines of, Oh, pick me! In an even greater example of serendipity, Peter informed me that the friend had become interested in my work indirectly through his devoted interest in another Canadian comic-book artist (whose name escaped Peter for the moment). “The friend of yours,” he said.
That’s who it turned out to be, all right. So I asked Peter to have his friend write a letter expressing interest, with the idea that we would consider his offer but that we would also like to use his letter to, if possible, generate interest on the part of a Canadian institution (I didn’t want to do it behind his back). I then called Chester to tell him that NYU was interested—and most particularly in his own work—to let him “off the hook” if he would prefer to go with NYU. The obvious advantage being that NYU was as good as a “done deal” while either Wilfrid Laurier or the U of W were looking like an uphill struggle with no guarantee of success in either case.
“I suppose it depends on how much of a nationalist you are,” I said.
“I’m not a nationalist at all. I think it would be a great idea if Canada joined the United States.”
I advised him not to mention that on his next CBC Radio interview or we would be apt to have the first eight minutes of silence in our government network’s history and appreciated very much that—despite the temptation of a place in a world-renowned literary collection—he was willing to stick with Bob Macmillan and Ger and me. I’m a nationalist in the long-term. I can’t really imagine that our present Marxist hallucinations can sustain themselves over the long-term and the preservation of the Archive is a long-term proposition, so that (mostly) settled the question. I did float a trial balloon with Chester on my last visit about what did he want to do if neither Wilfrid Laurier or the U of W proved to be viable choices? Did we keep shopping for a Canadian institution or throw up our hands and go with NYU? On my most recent visit to Toronto, Chet wondered aloud about how wise it was to make a choice about what to do with our papers now if we might get an amazing cash offer from an American University, say, ten years from now. It is certainly, so far as I know, a major difference between American and Canadian universities that American universities pay for their collections while Canadian universities tend to offer tax credits. I told him I’m not really inclined to rule anything out. One of the reasons that I’ve started investigating this at a relatively young age (most collections are sold or donated to universities by surviving relatives) is because a) it takes a long time to get anything done and b) I assume the way to get the most appropriate offer is to start working on it now. Anyway, the head of special collections at NYU sent a very gracious and enthusiastic letter expressing interest in Ger’s and my and Chester’s material and finished it with a very nice paragraph expressing his understanding that it might be more appropriate if the material was to go to a Canadian institution.
Very gratifying and very much appreciated. I sent him a copy of the first printing of High Society, which I thought was the most historically significant item I could provide to the Fales Collection—which was begun as one scholar’s attempt to collect one copy of every novel ever published—and sent another one for him personally.
Around this time, I also got back in contact with Mark Oakley who is a good deal of the way through Canada’s second longest graphic novel, Thieves & Kings (the fourth volume of which has just been published and which is available at the company website, www.iboxpublishing.com) who agreed to come on board with the same caveat, that he retain the artwork for possible sale until after his death.
As it stands now, there are still a number of discussions that need to take place before we can get even within range of “signing off” on a final disposition on the Archives—ours, Bob Macmillan’s, Chester’s and Mark Oakley’s Thieves & Kings. Susan Saunders Bellingham and her staff from the University of Waterloo special collections have been here already to examine the amount of material and to get an idea of what it consists and has sent a fax expressing interest, but wanting to deal with the collections one at a time—i.e. starting with the Cerebus Archive and then seeing what they want to do after that. The problem there is that I’ve already given Bob Macmillan my word that we’ll preserve his material, so unless we arrive at an agreement with a university before Bob goes, the Macmillan Archives are going to be a part of the Cerebus Archive. In the meantime, Chester has had overtures from McMaster University in Hamilton and York University in Toronto to whom we’ll be providing sets of the Archive testimonial letters, news clippings and so on. We started out all pretty much in agreement that we’re sticking together whichever institution we’re going with in the hopes that some future Graphic Novel in Canada collection might be made possible by our groundwork today but we’re in a different situation now than I thought we would be in of having to attract interest with great critical mass. There is interest in each of the Archives and so far individually, not cumulatively. Which is the opposite of what I thought the case would be.
One of the things that we will be emphasizing is that we are willing to take an active role in assisting with the preservation of the material, both in terms of the workload and in terms of helping pay for its maintenance.
The recently completed experiment with Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman—as a benefit for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund—actually originated in my thinking of how to do fund-raising for a possible Canadian Graphic Novel Museum not unmindful as I am of the fact that any sort of Museum is a risky proposition which is why I want to have a solid foundational home for the preservation of all material at an enduring institution like Wilfrid Laurier or U of W or NYU or McMaster or York before taking even the most preliminary steps in setting such a project in motion. So, what I wanted to do was a series of extremely limited edition prints of and related to Canada’s Graphic Novelists and to auction them pretty much in the same way that Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman is being auctioned: trickling them out—anywhere from a single impression to a handful of impressions a year and keeping the total number of impressions down to around 50 and no higher than 75. Basically what I envision is financing the preservation (and, ultimately, the display of the artwork) through the selling of signed limited edition copies of our work. We’ll be testing the waters of fund-raising viability with Lithograph No. 2: Gerhard and Lithograph No.3: Chester Brown in 2005 by auctioning several impressions of each on eBay, bearing in mind from the outset that the track record of comic book and cartoon related museums is not a good one. Kevin Eastman had a lot of money invested in his Words & Pictures Museum and that just became unsustainable in its bricks & mortar format: not enough people coming through the front door to warrant the necessary expenses of maintaining the building, the collection, paying people’s salaries and so on. Likewise Mort Walker with the Cartoon Art Museum in Florida and both of those gentlemen had infinitely deeper pockets than Ger and I do. I do think it will ultimately be a viable proposition but whether “ultimately” means 2009 or 2089 is completely unknown, so what I’m trying to do is to tackle the problem incrementally. First, we will hope that Aardvark-Vanaheim remains successful enough that we will have the disposable income necessary to house and preserve our own materials as well as Chester’s (if it comes to that) and Bob’s and Mark’s for however long is necessary until some kind of museum becomes a viable proposition. At the least, that requires storage space and climate and humidity control so that’s the minimum level we’re shooting for: that we keep all of the material in our custody in its present condition for as long as necessary while we try to find a suitable institution to house it. At the “next to least” it will mean finding and developing some sort of display structure, a museum or a gallery or a combination of the two. I think it’s reasonable to anticipate that the first experiment(s) with that will prove unsuccessful, which is why I want a university to be the permanent custodian of the material. That way if the museum or gallery needs to be shut down because it isn’t profitable the material is still preserved—it just isn’t, temporarily, able to be displayed.
In the long, long term, in order to keep the institutions in question from selling parts of the collection in a worsening budget climate, what we (me, Ger, Chester and Mark) would do is to specify which of our works should be kept in print as high quality reproductions which would be offered to the comic-book art market (i.e full-sized reproductions of the covers of the Cerebus trade paperbacks and individual comic-book covers) at, again, a fixed rate: trickling them out one or two a year. I’m sure a lot of you are thinking, well, I’d really like one of those right now. What I ask you to consider, however, is that while there exists a potential for raising the kind of sums needed to sustain a museum in the long term, the source of that potential only exists in those items which are the most desirable (i.e. the High Society cover, full size: 19” by 36”) and only if the supply is kept intentionally limited. If you do 2,000 impressions and sell them for $50 each, you have $100,000 certainly, but that’s apt to the last $100,000 that image is capable of generating. You have, in effect, flooded your own market. If, as I assume is going to be the case, it is going to take ten to twenty years of fund-raising to even be at the point of considering a Museum to be viable, instead of a fixed sum of $100,000 what you have is $10,000 a year for ten years or $5,000 a year for twenty years towards your expenses—meager sums on the level required for a Museum—and a “dead” image relative to its intended market.
So, what we are hoping for is a core group of investors who are willing to bid up the prices on the lithographs over the next number of years to a point where a museum becomes a viable proposition or, failing that, where we are, at least, able to provide a sufficient revenue stream to maintain the Archive collections until a museum does become viable.
And just from the limited exposure I’ve had to the Special Collections end of things, there is not a whole lot of “hand-on” participation usually associated with it. Susan and her staff are being very nice, but I suspect that they prefer dealing with dead people for the exact reason that there’s a whole lot less negotiation involved. Most relatives are delighted to get rid of all of Dad’s or Grandad’s crap and to get a tax credit for it and then Susan and her staff get to deal with the fixed commodity of the entire collection on their own terms.
Okay, you’re probably asking yourself (for the fifth time along about now), where does the Cerebus Newsgroup come into this?
The fact of the matter is that in a number of areas, in order to be genuinely finished Cerebus, the long-term planning involved in the preservation of the material requires that actions be taken now to have everything in place for when I’m gone—whether I’m leaving on the 2040 train or the 2006 train (as it were)—and, frankly, the Cerebus Newsgroup is the only environment that I can see that has an active interest in the preservation of Cerebus with an unknown (and unknowable) core of genuinely interested individuals (both among the Newsgroup participants and lurkers) in that category. It would seem, of course, a bad vital sign that only 55 people wrote Cerebus Archive testimonial letters out of a (supposed) readership of 6,000+, but apart from the 1600+ responses from the plug on Neil Gaiman’s blog, it is the largest response I’ve had since the publication of the first printing of High Society back in 1986 and a good deal larger than the average response of two or three letters that I was used to getting for a plug on the letters page, as an example. Whether the Newsgroup is composed now or in the future of a sufficient number of people with a sufficient interest in actively participating in preserving Cerebus is an open question, but then it always has been. But I think I’m right in saying that the Newsgroup represents my and Cerebus’ best hope that the book will be preserved. A certain number of people will shed a certain number of crocodile tears when I go and a certain number of other people will be gleeful at my passing and the vast majority won’t think about me or Cerebus one way or the other. The Newsgroup is where I expect the primary on-going preservation of Cerebus to take place and, in the interests of having that preservation conform as much as possible to my intentions, I figure this is the best place to discuss these issues if Cerebus is to have a fighting chance of surviving. F. Scott Fitzgerald has his Matthew Broccoli, Oscar Wilde had his Robbie Ross without whose efforts neither writer’s work would be as prominently known as it is today. Whether there is a Matthew Broccoli or a Robbie Ross in the ranks of the Cerebus readership is an open question, but I think I’m safe in saying that the odds of finding him (or her) in the ranks of the YIGS (Yahoos In Good Standing) are higher than those of finding him (or her) anywhere else.
So apart from this being a formal report of where Cerebus stands a year after its completion, it is also my attempt to initiate a dialogue with the Newsgroup on as many of the elements involved in that preservation as possible. The point above, about producing limited edition lithographs and reproductions of key pieces of work and trickling them out—exclusively on an auction basis—as a means of fund-raising is a good example. Most collections founder on the greed of the heritors and my principle concern is that a Canadian Graphic Novel Museum not suffer that same fate on typical Canadian shoals: over-inflated salaries, excessive staffing and useless junkets. The first priority after the Canadian Graphic Novelists are gone, as I see it, is to make sure that those people working on the material have the best interests of the material at heart. Without a great deal of restraint, virtually any element in the comic-book field can quickly be taken over by people who only want their trip to the nine different comic book conventions paid for every year so they can schmooze in as many different hotel bars and expensive restaurants on someone else’s nickel as possible: in this case Dead Canadian Graphic Novelists. One of the ways I see of avoiding this on an on-going basis is working out a system of approvals through the Cerebus Newsgroup for expenditures, course corrections, mergers, etc. with a core policy that change is very seldom a good idea and that people who relish change for its own sake make very bad managers for anything they usually attempt to manage. The best way to keep the greedy from destroying a Canadian Graphic Novel Museum, in my view, is to have a watchdog with no stake in the game and no face in the trough. The management of the Canadian Graphic Novel Museum should always be in as few hands as possible and the control over that management should be in as many hands as possible, the latter controlling the livelihood of the former. Ideally, management should be on a volunteer basis with the preservation and proper display of the material as the only material reward. In my view, the last thing you need is a professional museum parasite who only knows how to work the cocktail party circuit and apply for government grants and network and run up huge hotel and restaurant and airline bills. What you need is someone dedicated to the material and for whom the preservation of the material and working with the material is the actual reward and a large enough constituency of like-minded people able to provide the former individual with a subsistence livelihood. The professional museum parasite is too easily drawn away by a fuller feed trough and too prone to escalating demands in an environment where revenues are miniscule to non-existent.
(Gerhard made the excellent point—he has his moments—early in the proceedings when I was still just talking to Wilf about all this that there are lighthouse aficionados who essentially manage and maintain all of the extant lighthouses in the world which are being made less necessary by Global Positioning Technology and who pay a premium price to do so. They have waiting lists of people who want to take their turn living in and taking care of a lighthouse for whatever period of time they can afford. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m talking about. You want to keep the people away who just smell money and keep the people in close for whom this is their core interest and their reward is being able to work with the material. As you can see, I’m just that kind of Cerebus Nut myself. Given my choice, I can’t think of a better job than being the first Chief Custodian of Cerebus)
In my own view, the best hope for the Cerebus Archive and the Graphic Novel in Canada Museum is going to lie with the Cerebus Newsgroup for the exact reason that so many of you already spend a lot of your lives devoted to Cerebus (and thank you) while deriving no financial benefit from it. To me, that’s the foundation that the future of Cerebus, the Archive and the Graphic Novel in Canada Museum will need to be built on whenever and wherever the actual building takes place. Cerebus Legacy
It is at this point that the Cerebus Archive begins to branch off in directions that I now consider in the separate category of Cerebus Legacy: that is, the overall program of preserving all aspects of Cerebus as an intellectual property for future generations. The first steps in this direction that have been taken are very basic ones:
The preservation of Cerebus material on the Internet, I think we can all safely acknowledge, is and will be under the jurisdiction of Margaret L. with her cerebusfangirl website and that she should be officially designated as what she is: Official Cerebus Archivist. As a subsection here, there is the DVD-Rom program which you have all been made aware of which will (God willing) preserve the covers and all non-story pages from Cerebus No.1 to 300 and which will be made commercially available as soon as its completed in the next two years of so. At some point, presumably, as the technology develops, these two aspects will merge and the DVD-Rom—no longer commercially viable because of the shortening time frame required to copy printed works—will just become a part of Margaret’s website. Likewise it is hoped that as scanning technology develops and becomes as fast as, say photocopying, it will become possible to scan all relevant material (by this I mean those materials relevant to Cerebus research, in order of priority as I see it: the Cerebus notebooks, the religious commentary notebooks, unpublished correspondence and business correspondence) that makes up the Cerebus Archive and preserve it on Margaret’s website. Since this includes several thousand notebook pages, correspondence, notes, sketches, phone records, credit card bills, etc.etc. it seems to me that the twin problems are going to be computer memory and man-hours required to scan the material. Again, I assume that technological advances will assist here, but it’s unclear if we are talking about years or decades in order for completion to become feasible. And it would be hoped that some financial assistance could be provided in those areas where financial assistance is the only recourse (i.e. chipping in to provide Margaret the funds necessary to afford the amount of computer memory necessary for storage, hopefully, of the Complete Archive). It will also be a part of any agreement about the disposition of the Archive that all parts of it be made available by the institution in question for Internet preservation by Margaret.
Of course that leaves open the question of how Margaret plans to dispose of her own capacity of Official Cerebus Archivist which, it seems to me, is a short-term proposition relatively speaking and that technological advances will make the maintenance of the Internet Archive a far less time-consuming proposition in the future than it is today. But, I do hope that the Newsgroup can discuss the subject and provide me with recommendations based on whatever computer expertise is needed to be brought to bear.
3. The Intellectual Property
As most of you are aware, Ger and I have agreed in our Shareholder Agreement that Cerebus will enter the public domain as an intellectual property after we are both dead. It is genuinely unclear what this will mean in the near term. On the one hand, it’s not hard to imagine a lot of third and fourth rate animation being done just because the material is in the public domain. On the other hand it’s not hard to imagine the public domain aspect serving as a “poison pill” since it will be impossible for any individual corporation to profit exclusively from a Cerebus movie, DVD or television show and (perhaps more to the point) no way for them to prohibit others from profiting if they have even a minor success. It is my best guess that the key role of the Cerebus Newsgroup, at that point, will be to draw sharp distinctions between whatever is being flogged AS Cerebus and the actuality OF Cerebus. Which, again, will be a unique circumstance in popular culture, that there would exist a “spin entity” which would be able to swing into action at the advent of a really bad Cerebus knock-off in order to preserve the integrity of the source material—for obvious reasons Marvel Comics couldn’t do so when the atrocious Howard the Duck film came out, with the result that the franchise and the intellectual property were effectively destroyed. It is hoped that this also would serve as a “poison pill” that there would already exist an entity dedicated to the preservation of Cerebus which would have no stake in pretending the Hollywood Emperor has any clothes on if what they see is a clearly naked creative failure.
It must be emphasized that at my death, all of the tangible and intangible Cerebus assets attached to the intellectual property pass to Gerhard to do with as he sees fit. I hope that he will maintain the status quo, but it will be his decision alone whether he chooses to do so or to do otherwise. It is only at the passing of us both that the intellectual property enters the public domain. It belongs to both of us. When one of us dies, it belongs to the other, exclusively. When both of us are dead it enters the public domain.
3. The 6,000-page Graphic Novel
As it stands, Preney Print & Litho will have custody of the negatives which are used in reproducing the Cerebus graphic novels—as distinct from The Intellectual Property—and are being designated as the custodians thereof. This is, as I’m sure we’ll all agree, the Real Cerebus: the story which begins in issue 1 and concludes in issue 300. Which of the outside stories done as Swords back-up stories and in Cerebus Jam are considered “canonical” and where they can be said to take place in the storyline, I am happy to leave up to each individual to determine for themselves. At some point in the future Ger and I hope to reprint all of the Cerebus miscellany as a Cerebus Miscellany volume and, in my view, that is the best way to deal with them. There are exceptions, such as the “Silverspoon” strips which have been incorporated into the Cerebus volume and “Black Magiking” which hasn’t been (but which obviously belongs between issues 12 and 13) where each individual can make their own choice as to how relevant or irrelevant the material is.
In terms of format, the trade paperback on newsprint with square-bound black and white covers is my preferred format. I just don’t have any interest in doing hardcovers. After Ger and I are dead, I assume that hardcovers are going to be a first priority for…whomever. This is one of the reasons that we are leaving the negatives with Preney and designating that anyone who wants to do an individual volume on their own or a series of volumes are welcome to do so if they pay up front to have the negatives reproduced and for their first few printing jobs (for obvious reasons we want to avoid dealing with people with no business sense who want 30-day terms). I assume that there will be three main factions: the “as is” people who believe that the format that Ger and I chose for the books is the right one, the “prestige” people who will want the most expensive and elaborate package possible and the “working class heroes” who will want to produce a less expensive package which can be had for a much lower price point and will therefore be available to everyone. I have no idea, nor would I hazard a guess, as to which format would be the most successful. That’s why I’m leaving it up to individual choice and, from there, to the marketplace to determine that. I assume that, at the absolute extremes, either (or both!) of the “prestige” people and the “working class heroes” will lose their shirts either by producing too expensive a package or too cheap a package. But, I have no way of knowing. I also don’t know if Marvel or DC or Simon & Schuster or Random House will get involved for the same reason that I doubt any major studio will invest in a Cerebus movie: not having absolute and exclusive control of the material will serve as a “poison pill” for those who consider absolute and exclusive control over an intellectual property (with apologies to the Ford Motor Company) “Job One”.
The agreement with Preney is still being drawn up but will mandate that a replacement printing company will need to be found when the Preney Brothers die or decide to finish up their business. I can envision a role for the Cerebus Newsgroup in this in communicating the idea behind the maintenance of the 6,000-page graphic novel. If in no other way than preserving this text itself and making sure that whatever agreements are arrived at adhere to as many of my implications (as you infer them) as possible. The central danger with any idiosyncratic program like this is that those unfamiliar with it are going to be tempted to undermine its intent and to make it into “business as usual”. I don’t think it’s really hard to understand our intention: the problem stems a) from not having a family to leave Aardvark-Vanaheim to and b) not thinking that leaving intellectual properties to family members is the best way of doing right by the intellectual property. Most non-creative relatives are interested in the biggest short term payday so you end up with a lot of intellectual properties which are tied up by moribund corporations which are tied to twenty other moribund corporations because those corporations were willing to cut a non-creative relative a cheque for $50,000 and that meant a new car and a vacation and aluminum siding for the house. The advantage with the Newsgroup is that you have demonstrated your genuine interest in Cerebus because you are still here. My assumption, and I may be proven wrong, is that the genuine interest in Cerebus coupled with the fact that there is no way that any of you are getting a new car, a vacation and aluminum siding for the house out of the deal, means that you will be more faithful stewards than someone who would have those possibilities dangled before them. If I had to choose to bet on my family—or any individual that I know besides Gerhard—against the Cerebus Newsgroup as Cerebus custodians, there is no contest, the Newsgroup wins hands down.
1. My funeral
I have completed all pre-arrangements for my own funeral which will take place at Schreiter-Sandrock funeral home 7 days after my death (to allow travel time for those Cerebus readers interested in attending the service at 51 Benton Street here in Kitchener) followed by internment at Woodland Cemetary in plot number 439 in section 2J (see attached map). If this takes place before Gerhard’s death, this will signal the commencement of Gerhard’s supervision of all aspects of Cerebus Legacy which remain to be settled at the time of my death. If this takes place after Gerhard’s death, this will signal that Cerebus Legacy has passed into the hands of the Cerebus Newsgroup. Good luck. What is the Newsgroup?
Well, that’s a very good question and very much along the lines of what is the Intellectual Property called Cerebus. As you can see, in my own mind the Intellectual Property divides between what is encompassed by the term The Cerebus Archive and then branches out into what I would describe as Cerebus Legacy. But the boundaries are not clearly defined in either case, which is why I have attempted to define both as accurately as I can and then to leave open those questions which, in my view, can’t be satisfactorily answered with any degree of specificity.
It seems to me with what little experience I have had of the Newsgroup, it is the primary “gathering place” for those most interested in Cerebus. At this moment in time, it consists of a dozen or perhaps two dozen names that are mostly widely known among the participants and viewers/readers of the Newsgroup as the “core people”. That is, there is a natural constituency of those who would be regarded as having a leading role in Cerebus Legacy. And then there is a more murky area when it comes to the lurkers, many of whom are only vaguely interested and just passing through, many of whom are “core people” in utero (so to speak), many of whom are more astute individuals than the “core people” but who are just not “joiners” and (I suspect) many, many of whom are vehemently antagonistic towards Dave Sim and Cerebus but who keep coming back for the same reason that children wiggle their loose teeth (ouch…ouch…).
Now standing here, metaphorically, in that murky area, it occurs to me that there are fundamental problems with instituting a process by which the Newsgroup would vote on Cerebus Legacy policy or vote for Cerebus Legacy leadership although the democratic impulse would suggest that that would be the best course of action. In this case, given that we have no idea how much of the Cerebus Newsgroup population is made up of tooth-wigglers (ouch…ouch…) and taking it as a given that there are a lot of them as well as a certain number of people whose idea of a good time is spray-painting graphitti where it doesn’t belong, I think something short of wide-open polling needs to be adopted. What I don’t know. Which is why I would like, here, to initiate a debate on the subject. And I think the first subject would be to determine what factions there are already in existence. Obviously, for my own purposes I would be happier entrusting Cerebus Legacy to anti-feminists rather than to feminists. That is, I think that there are clear distinctions there but I also assume that we are still at the polite stage of that particular societal debate. The people reading this might split along anti-feminist and feminist lines 60-40 in actual fact, but if you asked them to identify themselves, I’m pretty sure you would get a 1-99 ratio. And I suspect that would extend to the voting which would result. If you took as an example, a question like “Should ‘Tangent’ be widely disseminated as a good starting point for a debate about feminism?” I think, again you would possibly have a 60-40 response but the vote would be 1-99. This may be changing very slowly or this may not be changing at all.
So, given that I have a rock-solid belief that my own Cerebus constituency couldn’t win a single vote on the Cerebus Newsgroup, what I would hope could result is an honest debate about how Cerebus can be preserved with an eye to the future. Let me put it this way: I assume the Cerebus Newsgroup will continue to exist. That means that somewhere up ahead, everyone reading these words will be dead (sorry to break the news to you if you’ve been avoiding it). Or to take it incrementally, somewhere up ahead the last Cerebus Newsgroup participant who was alive while Cerebus was being serialized will die. And then further up ahead the last person who was born while Cerebus was still being serialized will die. But the Cerebus Newsgroup itself will still exist because Newsgroup is really an inaccurate term. The Newsgroup isn’t about Cerebus news. It is what it was created by Mark at Page 45 to be: an environment where people can discuss the Cerebus storyline and discuss things that interest them both related and unrelated. Cerebus is really just the common denominator, the jumping off point for participation. Is anyone even interested in Cerebus being preserved? I mean, I’m assuming that a certain number of the 55 people—out of an audience of 6,000+—who wrote Cerebus Archive testimonial letters are regular visitors to the Newsgroup. Is that the case?
I’m not sure that it’s particularly relevant. I think it would be if what I was talking about doing here was founding some kind of Cerebus Nation where I had to rely on the fact, as a nation does, that there is a core interest in sustaining the entity itself on the part of those housed within it. What seems more necessary to me is to have a repository and a meeting place for people who either understand or think they understand what the Cerebus project was and is about. I think many of you have had the experience of trying to explain Cerebus to people. Even to just get a cursory idea of the project across takes a great deal of time and, I think you’ll agree, either doesn’t really “take” or “takes” in a very skewed and imperfect way. Which means that, as the generation that actually saw Cerebus take shape and then be completed, you are the best positioned to monitor what happens with it from here on out. I’m still the one calling the shots and, if he outlives me, then it will be Gerhard’s turn. But when Ger and I are gone, those people who were the most interested in Cerebus and all of the nuances of the structure within which it was completed are going to be the ones best positioned to make sure that the experiment continues. I have no idea if the long-term goals that I have for after I’m dead are feasible and by that point it will be too late. This is why I want to start a debate about the future of Cerebus and why I’d like to start working on it now and why I want to adopt a hands-off approach to the debate which will take place. Picture me dead. Dave Sim is dead and Gerhard is dead and now it’s up to us to decide what happens with the book. Now it’s up to us to make the right decisions and anticipate where the pitfalls are or might be and how to avoid them. Remember that Cerebus just started in about its second year with the very simple ambition of my wanting to do 300 issues of a comic book. A difficult ambition to accomplish, but very simple structurally. And what has resulted are a number of strange implications and permutations which have to be addressed, foremost among them, “What happens after Dave and Ger are dead?”
Just the fact that I’m presenting this to you as, in my best assessment, the best hope for Cerebus carrying on into the future is just the latest in a long line of “strange wrinkles” which prove that the strange Cerebus experiment is far from over. There is no precedent for this, as there was no precedent for Cerebus itself. But, as with Cerebus itself, there is the remarkable possibility of setting a precedent which will serve as a useful template for the disposition of other creative works that see—as I do and as Cerebus always has—conventional reality as the inverse of its portrayal. The Cerebus template acknowledges that families are usually the worst thing for a creative work, the Cerebus template acknowledges that the potential of the Internet is as yet untapped in its ability to link people with a common interest and to determine—and here’s the blank I hope the debate will fill in—who has the greatest interest in the preservation of that common interest. Essentially, what is the core of the core of the Newsgroup and what structure would best serve the interests of the common interest, which is Cerebus. Obviously (or perhaps not obviously) what I would want after I’m gone is that those with the greatest interest in Cerebus would say, “What would Dave have wanted to have happened?” And to try to stick to that. This is one of the reasons that I’ve been as open as I can be about my decision-making as we went along. First, so that there was a template for anyone else wanting to try it and second of all to hope that the decision-making could continue in the same vein after I’m gone.
Put another way, because I’m still here, you can debate what you think would be the best way to move forward, distill it and then show it to me and I can tell you whether or not that is the way that Dave would do it. I’m here if you debate how to go forward and hit an obvious question that you don’t know the answer to. What I’m hoping is that by having this dialogue as an on-going concern—and only for those interested; if the Newsgroup is just one of many places you visit and this aspect doesn’t interest you, then I assume that the Newsgroup itself will continue as presently constituted and that this will just be one thread—that my viewpoint can merge with the core Newsgroup viewpoint so that once I’m gone, some of the more obvious pitfalls can be avoided. As an example, it is my express wish that all post-Dave, post-Ger Cerebus business be conducted in the open on the Newsgroup as well as in a conventional business fashion mostly to avoid any hypocritical greedy person from claiming “We think Dave and Ger would be pleased”. If we’ve all done our jobs properly, even after we’re ALL gone, whoever the newest custodians of the Newsgroup would be, should be able to determine pretty easily if that’s the case.
No. That’s exactly the sort of thing Dave and Ger worked very hard to avoid and specifically said they didn’t want to have done.
As I see it, complete transparency is the only hope. Any Cerebus business that takes place behind closed doors is an open invitation to taking everything in the wrong direction. It will certainly be the right of any publisher to put computer colour on Cerebus, but it would also be a given for the Newsgroup that that would fall outside of what Dave and Ger intended. “We think they would’ve like THIS computer colour.” Well, no. They just thought that colour was wrong for the Cerebus storyline. Any colour. They wouldn’t have liked your colour any more than they would’ve liked it if you had dropped mud on the page. Literally. No exceptions.
Well, in my usual long-winded way, there you have it. I guess what I’m proposing more than anything is a bargain. I’ll keep up my side of the bargain in a) staying caught up on the mail to the point where no one has to wait any longer than two or three weeks to get an answer to whatever their concern(s) might be, b) helping to fill Following Cerebus and c) answering the five questions a month—plus wildcard!—to the best of my ability.
And I’ll meet you halfway on the Cerebus Archive and Cerebus Legacy on the same basis: this is the consensus view on what the Cerebus readership thinks needs to be discussed, these are the questions the Cerebus readership has, these are some ideas the Cerebus readership came up with.
And let’s see what we can come up with together, shall we?