Gerhard is the first name only background artist on Cerebus. Not much is known about Gerhard, as he rarely does interviews. I've taken the info for his bio from Feature Magazine #4, the Cerebus comics themselves and memory. If you have any decent pictures of the man behind the backgrounds, please email them to me and I'll post them here.
Not much is know about the background artist of Cerebus. He goes by one name: Gerhard. Heck, we don't even know if it is his first or last name. He has only give a few small interviews over the course of working on Cerebus. The information for this bio was taken from the Cerebus issue of Feature magazine and what I remember reading in Cerebus.
Gerhard has liked drawing since he was just a kid. In high school he would fill up notebook after notebook of sketches of various things. He taught himself to draw by reading Mad Magazine and National Lampoon and imitated what he saw there. He didn't think his characters looked real enough, but stiff and unemotional. He disliked drawing human faces that portrayed emotion because it was hard for him. He took a ninth grade class in drafting. Using light and shardows and doing perspective sat well with him.
He quit high school and got a job running a press that made car firewalls (the section between the engine and the passenger compartment). Since he enjoyed drawing so much, he didn't want to make a job out of it and take all the fun out of it. After the factory job, he got work running a silk-screen press. The next job was in an art supply store for which he also made deliveries.
It was on one of these deliveries that he met Dave Sim. Gerhard would stop by with the half tone, ink and other needed art supplies for Dave and Cerebus. They would chat for a bit and Gerhard would be on his way. During this time Gerhard was also doing freelance work for people he had met at the art supply store. The work was mostly advertisements, but for a bit it fed the need to draw. On a delivery to Dave's one day, Dave asked Gerhard if he would do some freelance work for him. Gehard's first work at Aardvark-Vanaheim was in-house ads, ads for other books and magazines (such as The Comic Buyer's Guide) and other promos for Dave's "Even More in '84" campaign.
Gerhard was also doing some "living pictures" of mostly landscapes and architechural pieces. Dave saw these pictures and asked Gerhard if he would be willing to do the backgrounds, colors and paste-up for the Epic Magazine Cerebus stories. It seems Dave wasn't too big on color, and would just pencil and ink the characters. Gerhard agreed and the duo completed their first Epic Magazine story. The first was a big hit so they did a couple more together which worked out very well. They did a couple comic conventions together and eventually Dave asked Gerhard if he would like to work on the monthly comic. With issue #66 of Cerebus, Gerhard took over as background artist.
This is what confuses some people. . .just exactly does Gerhard do? I see him listed as inker on some fan choice awards and get a bit pissed off. Gerhard is the background artist: he pencils and inks the backgrounds. Dave on the other hand pencils and inks the characters, writes the stories and does the lettering.
At first Gerhard was nervous about ruining "the page behind the characters," but he has to work within the time restrictions of the deadline. In the Feature interview he states "Primarily my concern is putting the characters in context and then trying to figure out how to do that before lunch time." Dave will do an layout of what is going on in the page and puts the characters and word balloons where he wants them. Gerhard then uses his floor layout plans, a model (such as he did for Jaka's Story) or a computer modeling program (he just started using this with the first book of Going Home).
Using a floor plan (or a model, as in the case of Melmoth, if he will be working with a background that the camera angles give him headaches), Gerhard figures out the "camera angles." From that he can tell what the reader would see in the background from viwing the chracter(s) at that angle. Sometimes Dave will sketch out a background behind the characters, but most of the time Dave will "just write 'window' or 'door.'" Gerhard says he has a lot of leeway when it comes to drawing the backgrounds. If Dave has a camera pan or zoom in mind, he'll do a basic layout for Gerhard to follow. He just doesn't write down pan or zoom on the page.
At one point he was maintaining a very strict sense of the lighting of the background thoughout the scene. Then he realized that in the movies, the room is almost always relit for another scene / angle. Now he does what is best for him (time wise and artistically) be it keeping the light consistent or relighting the background.
When he first starting working with Dave, Dave was (and still does use, if I remember right) a crow-quill pin nib. So Gerhard starting using the same Hunt 102 and it took him ten to twelve years to perfect the use of it. In the Feature interview, Gerhard said the he tries to "accentuate the characters and the word balloons, so a certain amount of contrast is needed between the characters and the background."
The biggest constraint for Gerhard, according to himself, is time. He has a do at least a page and a half a day.
Jaka's Story is the first Cerebus book that Gerhard was there for the start. He says he still has a filing cabinet filled with 3-D cutaway views of the tavern, the apartment and the rest of the background in the story. They weren't used in the book, but for reference only.
Jaka and Rick's apartment was loosely based on Dave and Deni's first apartment. Oscar's apartment was based on "The House Beautiful" essay. Dave handed it to Gerhard and said "Here, like this."
Gerhard would go to the Kitchener Public Library for their photo reference section. This would help him get a feel for a certain historical period or architectural style. He tries not to draw with the photo right beside, but he just gets a few ideas to use, though once in a while he will just copy a picture.
He enjoyed the way the story would switch from Jaka and Rick's apartment to Palnu. He says it "kept the story interesting for (him) without getting bogged down in any one location."
As mentioned before, for Melmoth, Gerhard used a model for the street scenes. He said that it made it easier for him to get all of the different views from the different angles. The environment of the street scenes also played a large roll in the book: they were (almost like) a character. The interaction of the people with the environment and the events occuring within the environment itself.
Gerhard also made extensive use of light and shadow in this book, as with the other books of Cerebus. Using a gray scale that is in his head, he sees the world in black, white and shades of gray. He gets these different levels of gray by putting so many lines per inch of paper. He'll then turn the paper 45 degrees and make more lines. He repeats this crosshatching process building up these levels of gray until he gets the shade of gray that he wants.
Mothers & Daughers
The start of Mothers and Daughters mostly happened in the lower city, which Gerhard says looks like to him "a very random, jumbled place." He tried to picture a place that "the bricks made from pieces of the tower from when it had fallen over in the past." In drawing the city, to him it would appear too neat and orderly. So he got some reference books, most notably Dickens books and some books on medieval architecture, to give it that random feel. For he wanted the houses to look like they were put together with mud, some beams and twine and twatched roofs. He wanted "the buildings to look pasted together with scavenged materials."
Later in Minds when Cerebus was on Pluto, it was mostly improvisational and loosely based off NASA photo references: the Voyager pictures and the Jupiter fly-by. He used the environment of Pluto to reflect Cerebus' distraught psyche. He tried to have fun while drawing it, making the horizon very close to give the appearance of a small planet and at the same time made Cerebus look larger then life. He also had fun with the long black shadows and the reflections on the ice. The formations of the ice / snow are reminiscent of the black tower he says.
Guy's Story & Rick's Story
First off, he couldn't wait to get out of the bar! After drawing it for so long, it became very repeative. The bar itself is loosely based off one of Dave's old hangouts: Peter's Place, which burnt down in November of 1994. Gerhard mentions that he wasn't too sure what to put on the walls of the bar. The Cirinists would have banned any pornography and anything close to it. The alcohol was free so there wouldn't have to be any advertisements trying to sell a particular brand name, seeing also how it all came from the same barrel. He knew the function of the bars was basically a place for guys to hang out and drink themselves to death (if they so pleased). So he made the interiors very stark, bare and gave it a prison-like feel.
Issue #204's dreamscape is one of Gerhard's faves. He said that in a dreamscape, anything goes (no pun intended I'm sure). Dave will pencil in specific items that need to go in, but then the restraints are off. For issue #204, the Rick Veitch parody issue, Gerhard used Veitch's first trade paperback Rabid Eye as a reference, using anything that would apply to the dream. He also uses books on dreaming and anything else he felt like drawing.
He says he would like to do a page without pulling out his hair -- having the page turn out like he wanted it to. But then, he'll look though the phonebooks and think that is when he knew how to draw and why can't he draw that good now?
Post Issue 300
After issue 300 Gerhard said at one time he would like to have more sleep, cat napping all over the place and taking naps on the boat when he is sailing. After he has catched up on sleep, he wants to do full page illustrations for Moby Dick a la Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein. Even it doesn't sell, he says, he still would like to do it.
Now that issue #300 has come and gone, Ger has taken time to go sailing, worked on a few commissions and had worked on the Cerebus Art site. As of Jan 23, 2007, Gerhard resigned his position as Vice President of Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc.