Dave Sim Bio
The Early Years
Dave Sim was born on May 17, 1956 in Hamilton, Ontario at St. Joseph's Hospital. At the age of two his family moved to Kitchener, Ontario where Dave has lived to this day. As a kid he read the DC line of comics and even had a letter published in Superman #203. He did not know about Marvel until approximately 1970 and they did not win him over.
He dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and with no formal art training (other the repeatedly sketching and drawing by himself) he started to do work for small time fanzines. He did some work for a DC fanzine from Texas called "National Advisor" and some work for fellow Canadian Gene Day's fanzine "Dark Fantasy.
He worked for Harry Kremer at Now and Then Books in Kitchener and was the editor for their fanzine "The Now and Then Times". Dave had placed an ad in issue #42 of "The Comics Journal" for "COMICgraphics: The Complete Studio". Dave would a multitude of comic art chores: pencils, inks, lettering and "packages" -- a full 24 page comic plus cover with hand seperated color overlays for printing. When Dave could get work, he would take it. He not only wanted the money, but mostly the experience that came with drawing. That, and it looked good on his resume -- the more work, the more experience, the more better paying jobs he would get.
From his COMICgraphics ad, he got several replies. One of them was a kid from a nearby small town who had a fanzine called "Comic Report". The kid asked Dave to do a Swamp Thing cover for the fanzine. Later the kid sent Dave a T. Casey Brennan script. Dave did the art, but the story never saw print in "Comic Report". Some years later, the story was printed in "Fantasy Quarterly".
Around this same time in 1976, Dave did some weekly strips called "The Beavers". (For all of the Beavers strips, click here,approximately 3,500 kb). He was collecting some old Peanuts strip reprints and wanted to do a strip for the newspapers. He came up with strips and pitched it to the local paper the "Kitchener - Waterloo Record". They rejected the strip saying Dave couldn't handle doing a weekly strip for any amount of time. So Dave came up with 52 strip outlines and showed that to them. They again said no. This time it was because they felt he couldn't show them any finished product. So Dave got with Gene Day and they finished the strips. Dave took all 52 finished strips to the paper, and they finally gave in and brought them.
One of Dave's other replies for COMICgraphics was for a black and white comic called "Phantacea" by McPherson Publishing Co. Dave did the art for the entire first issue and a ten page story for the second issue. He also did some work for a comic called "Revolt 3000" but the comic was never published. Dave was also given two T. Casey Brennan scripts for "Picture This" and "A Boy and His Aardvark". The stories were supposed to be for a large T. Casey Brennan comic with stories by Brennan and art by various other artists. The book was never published, but the story "A Boy and His Aardvark" turned up later in the comic "Power Comics #1". The first Dave Sim aardvark -- but it is not Cerebus.
Doing the art for "Phantacea" turned Dave off the idea of work for hire. The stories did not make sense to him and it was frustrating for him to draw a story he didn't understand. The idea was starting to form in his head about doing his own comic. It would be about 6 months later when he decided on Cerebus.
Dawn of Cerebus
In 1976 Dave met Deni who at the time was trying to start a new fanzine. She asked Dave to design a logo for the yet unnamed fanzine. So Dave talked with Deni about naming her publishing venture first so he would have something to work with. Deni got two suggestions: one from her brother Michael -- Vanaheim Press and the other from her sister Karen -- Aardvark Press. So Deni took both names and Aardvark-Vanaheim was formed. Since Dave did not know what a Vanaheim was, he starting working on designing a logo with an aardvark.
At a meeting discussing the name of the new fanzine, Deni misspelled 'Cerberus' and the name "Cerebus" was created. Dave suggested that the aardvark on the logo was named Cerebus. The new "Cerebus the Fanzine" (see this ad from the Buyer's Guide to Comics in 1977) did not see print due to some money woes.
Some time later Dave was thinking of doing a comic himself and decided to use the Cerebus character since it was already created. Dave drew up a page of Cerebus bouncing along on a horse. He sent it to Mike Friedrich for publication in the comic "Quack." Mike refused so Dave decided to publish it himself -- and Cerebus #1 was published.
Cerebus Year One
Cerebus #1 debuted in December 1977 with Dave (artist/writer) and Deni (publisher) credited. Dave was worried about how well the comic was going to do (of course). Aardvark Comment (the letters column) is in the back of the book (already) but Dave uses it to write a short editorial. He asks for feedback from anyone that brought #1 and mentions that issue #2 will be published in Febuary 1978. His biggest complaint with doing a first issue is the lack of feedback. Worrying about which format would work the best (24 B&W pages with a glossy cover or 44 B&W pages with a newstock cover?) and how an aardvark sword and sorcery book will work.
How did this issue come about? One page at a time. In the Swords of Cerebus #1, Dave says he does one page at a time. First "The Writer" comes up with a plot. Next, the "Penciler" (who is "dreaming of young nubile groupies gathered in the streets below") roughs in page 1. After that, the "Letterer" comes and fills in all the little word balloons and marks off the panels. Meanwhile, the Writer thinks of better dialogue then what he had. He keeps interrupting the Letterer, making him change the layout of the word balloons or change the wording. The "Inker" is worrying about what the Penciler had been trying to draw with that little blue line there. Finally the Letterer is done and the "Inker" comes in with the last word and puts all the blue pencil into black ink. Always trying to silence the arguing between the others.
Then the writer starts on Page 2 and so the process repeats itself.
Dave says that when he tells professional artists and writers how he goes about making an issue of Cerebus, they "bump their chins on the carpet". Dave, however, claims that he could not do it any other way. Doing all the writing, then all the pencils, etc, would be too much for him. He has said that by the time he got to penciling the last page all he would be doing is roughing in the locations of hands and heads and panel borders. Only four issues of Cerebus would've come out because he would fall apart by then.
With issue 1 the covers and the "insides" were done by two different printers. They talked to the local newspaper, Kitchener Waterloo-Record, and were told they could use the newspaper's printing plant, who would print the insides for cheap. The printing press just put the comic in after the end of the daily newspaper and printed it on newstock. When they got the insides they saw that they were not standard comic book size. So the cover printer suggested moving the folder of the cover to the left and enlarging the back cover by adding extra black to the left hand side of it. That is why when you look at the back cover, you can see this odd stripe down the length of the cover. That stripe is the end of the original art and the start of the fill in black - you can see that the red stripe along the top that states "collector's edition" ends prematurely also. The covers were then hand stapled on to the insides.
They were going to print 500 for Harry at Now and Then Books). Dave did not want to print more then he was going to sell, but Harry talked them into printing 1,000 copies: he would buy 500 at a discount and take the other 500 at cost. Then the pair went to a convention in Toronto where they met a distributer there and sold him on the idea of getting 500. So they were up to 1,500 to print. Then they decided to print 2,000 copies so they would have an extra 500 to sell individually.
When issue #1 came out they were living in a small apartment that Dave also used as his studio.So when the printed copies came out, they had 2,000 copies stacked all around their apartment. They started going thru them and noticed a black smudge on the cover right on Cerebus. They thought to take out all the messed up copies and send them back to the printers to be redone. They came up with 900 copies with the smudge.
That is when they got a call from Sea Gate (distributors). They wanted more then 500 copies, could they get an extra 500 copies? So they sent the smudged copies to Sea Gate -- the American version as Deni refered to it in The Comics Journal #82. The nice pristine copies went to the distributor in Toronto or Now and Then Books. With each additional issue they only printed an extra 20 copies over what they sold to the distributors.
With issue #2 Dave had gotten only two letters commenting on issue #1. He needed something to fill the space so he made up some letters. He said "I felt so guilty I never did it again." With issue #2 the hardest part for Dave was actually getting it done. The Writer didn't want to do more jokes, but the Penciler wanted more jokes (seeing how drawing jokes was no harder then drawing serious). So the Writer told the Penciler and Inker they would only have to do people with minimal backgrounds. And by doing that the Writer got out of writing jokes and the Penciler and the Inker were happy. The Letterer, he says, was upset because his workload stayed the same.
With issue #4 they had moved into a bit bigger apartment that came with a separate studio (what was really supposed to be the second bedroom) and a publishing office. However, it was 14 flights up -- not too fun moving wise. After the extremely funny issue #4 (first Elrod), Dave puts only a minimal effort into #5. Only one joke: Cerebus' wet fur stinks. The art also followed this minimalist path: very little in the background, rain that was made using a ruler and lots of black for the last half of it. Dave got a call from a friend who said he thought that issue #5 didn't help (nor hurt) the title's growth. Dave did some thinking and vowed to never again to do that and he promised to himself to "apply adult sensibilities to each issue of Cerebus, trying to approach every plot problem as mature a level of communication as (he) could."
With issue #6 (Jaka's first appearance) Dave and Deni had gotten married -- October 6, 1978 to be exact. The comic has been going one year now. Things are rough and Dave admits that both Deni and himself have wanted (at times) to pull the plug on Cerebus. They stuck thru it and it has reached its one year mark. At conventions Dave is getting a bit more of a following. The letters page is now full every issue. Dave is finally getting some recognition.
Dave Sim is Just One Man
With a year of doing Cerebus behind Dave looks towards issue #7. Another Elrod story, but quite different from the one in issue #4. Dave on the intro splash page was going to do a Barry Windsor-Smith styled texture so the spider's web would be in two different shades. He says "I broke down and did tight weave cross-hatching even though Smith had never used it. Suddenly I was free." (emphasis mine) He was so happy with the results that he sent the first ten pages of xerox art to Frank Thorne and in return Mr. Thorne did the cover for issue #7. Dave had started to open up on the backgrounds with page 7 of this issue (go take a look!) and also started using some new techniques for lettering.
With issue number eight, Dave says that "there is a large difference between issues seven and eight." Dave did a few pages of the talking head style that would later become mind games. While Dave had gotten the courage to do it, he had not yet built up enough confidence to do a whole issue of talking heads. With issue nine Dave let Deni do some of the black inks and fills. It was the first and last time she helped out on the book. It wasn't that her inks were not good enough, Dave claims that he is a fixer and likes being able to touch up on things while in progress. This shows us how much Dave grew between Cerebus #9 and Church and State when Gerhard joined by doing the backgrounds. Also in this issue, there were no letters. Cerebus is seen in the space Aardvark Comment would be saying "If Cerebus doesn't get some letters about this issue. . .he's going to get mighty cranky."
During this time Dave is doing more and more comic cons giving presentations on Cerebus.As Dave's self confidence slowly grows so does Cerebus' personality and the story. Dave attends the Toronto Comic Con and has a talk with Marshall Rogers about his inking style. Marshall talks him into using a Hunt 102 pen nib with Windsor-Newton brushes rather then the mechanical pens he had been using (Staedler mars 1.5 and 2).
Things are getting pretty busy for Dave: all the cons, doing two issues back to back, the acid (he admits to taking during this time), and other personal issues all come to a head ripping conclusion. After issue #11 Dave was admitted to a local hospital's psychiatric ward for four days due do a nervous breakdown. Dave admits to manic-depressive tendenacies when he would "swing from elation to depression and back again in a matter of minutes." During an interview he was asked if he could've avoided the breakdown. After the interview he gave the question some more thought and realized that the breakdown could not have been avoided. It showed him that he is only human and to take it easy on himself.
In issue twelve's Aardvark Comment Dave admits to ". . .156 issues. The last of which should be produced in December 2003." Dave was thinking of the bimonthly schedule he was keeping. Soon it would become 300 issues. Dave started thinking about having an ongoing story and not having "300 single issues."
Palnu Trilogy and Going Monthly
Issue 14 of Cerebus was the first one on the new monthly schedule. With issue 13 Dave had decided to put the comic on a monthly schedule for monetary reasons. He was sick and tired of doing commercial art for stores. He had started doing a weekly comic for The Buyers Guide to Comic Fandom (TBG, now known as The Comic Buyer's Guide or CBG) entitled Silverspoon. Deni didn't think the new monthly schedule was too good since it had been less than a year since Dave' breakdown. Dave was excited about being able to quit drawing advertisements and told Deni he could quit the Silverspoon strip if needed. However, he was in the middle of the strip and it was a transition between issues 13 and 14.
So he cut the page count from 22 to 20 and started on his new monthly schedule. The hard part it turned out wasn't getting the comic done, but the logistics of distributing the comic. How to get the new issue to the distributors and pay for it when the previous issue hasn't been sold yet? To solve this problem, they raised the price of an issue from one dollar to a buck twenty-five. They were still having trouble with the distributors: one of the distributor's checks bounced (a large one for six hundred dollars) and another one went bankrupt. So along with the price increase, they went to an exclusive distributor: Sea Gate Distributors, Inc.
During this time the idea of a Cerebus Newsletter had been thrown around. Dave was so busy that he didn't have the time to go to any conventions let alone do a newsletter. Dave said he would supply a person with the information and some art for a newsletter; so he asked for someone also that wanted to do it. After a couple of months, several applicants were narrowed down and Fred Patton was chosen. A four issue subscription would be two dollars and would get you a membership in the Cerebus Fanclub.
The first major story arc was seventy-one pages and was the famous "Palnu Trilogy" from issues 14, 15 and 16. At this time was when Dave first started to see himself writing Cerebus as an ongoing story and not the Conan Barbarian parody it started out as. With issue 15 he had pretty much ran out of sword and sorcery clichés to use: the large snake. Dave proudly mentions that while writing the large snake story he was thinking of the snake as a phallic symbol. He said that he could see the issue listed in the underground comic price guide as the big penis issue.
Dave has been working all day on Cerebus to keep pace with the monthly schedule. From 1pm to 7pm, a break for dinner and then work 'till 3am. Because of this work schedule, Dave moved into a new studio that faced the road instead of the rooftops. In Aardvark Comment for issue 19 Dave states that he had planned on doing Cerebus for twenty-six years. Now that the comic is monthly, the issue count will be 300 - this is the first time in Cerebus that Dave has stated the 300 issue goal. Also in the letters column Dave is starting to talk more and more about self-publishing versus work for hire contracts. He starts dispensing advice to letters writers about how to get started in self-publishing and how the work for hire contracts of most major publishers are not the way to make comics. At this time, Dave was awarded the Best Writing in the Comics Field from the Small Press Writers and Artists Association.
Dave was really get a boost in self esteem and decided to do an issue of Cerebus that was just totally out of reality: Mind Game. Taken from John Lennon's Mind Games, Dave got the final push when Wendy Pini put out an issue of Elfquest with nothing but a bar scene in it. So Dave took several large sheets of paper and taped them to the wall of his studio so they formed a large sheet that was fifty inches by sixty inches. He then drew the biggest picture of Cerebus ever and inked it. He took it down and cut it up into twenty normal comic sized pages. He tried writing the story with the pages beside him, but gave up and just improvised each day.
When Harry from Now and Then Books called a couple weeks later, Dave learned that the first fan had gotten the joke of issue twenty: Neal Adams' "Hidden Head" trick. The reprint of issue twenty was reprinted without staples for a reason. I won't give it away here.
The End of the First 25 Issues
With issue #21 Cerebus winds up in Beduin having been drugged and taken there unwittingly. Seems the same thing happened to Dave which gave him the idea for this plot twist. He had gone to a friend's Stag party (the same guy that later serves as the basis for Boobah, but that is a different story) and was sold a small purple pill by a stranger who must have known Dave had a headache. Dave took the pill and doesn't remember anything until he woke up in his bedroom staring at the ceiling. Deni told him that the police brought him home. She seemed surprised, Dave says, that he didn't remember any of the previous night's events.
For using this as a plot twist, he got a lot of upset reactions from the fans, who complained that Dave did this because he couldn't end the previous issue correctly and Dave must have run out of ideas. They demanded that Dave tell the story of how Cerebus winded up in Beduin and the events that transpired between issue #20 and #21. Dave refused. He even got sassy at times repling to one letter in Aardvark Comment with the following response: that he would have to devote "a full issue to telling (us) a story with Cerebus unconscious" and other such remarks.
Dave eventually relented and printed a short back-up in an issue of the Swords of Cerebus reprint series that told the story of what happened between issues #20 and #21.
With issue #20 Dave had started using notebooks for "Figuring out the story-line, dialogue, character designs and layouts" for the book. Before issue #20, he would just use scraps of paper which when he was finished with them, he would throw them away.
Between issues #22 and #23 Aardvark Vanaheim changed printers twice, had to find new shippers, doubled the print run and for a short amount of time lost some artwork in the mail. Issues 23 and 24 where late due to these complications. They were also in the process of setting up the first issue of The Swords of Cerebus reprint book. The price of Cerebus also rose a quarter from $1.25 to $1.50. Only the second price increase since the start of the book.
Dave was also getting some slack from the fans for the Swords collections. They complained that they would have to spend $5.00 for a book of material they already had just to get the back-up features (to have a complete Cerebus collection). Dave would just respond to them that they didn't have to buy the reprints if they felt that they were not worth the price. (He later reprinted most of the back-up stories.)
By the end of issue #25, Dave was planning his first 500 page novel: High Society. He enjoyed doing the three part stories, but said "I don't think I want to end up in the year 2004 with 100 60-page stories."