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Good Things for the CBLDF


Third Quarto: The 24-Hour Comic



From the inside front cover of Cerebus 146, May 1991:


                                                                    February 25, 1991

Dear Neil:


Well, what a lovely surprise.


Here I’ve been avoiding answering this month’s fan mail and in comes your 24-hour comic which provides the perfect excuse to get started.  Just to give you an idea of the synchronicity involved:


1)      The Note from the President (this was the name I gave to the introductory note which ran on the inside front cover of the book) in 146 is a Neil Gaiman special.  It’s not written yet but the rough outline is “first meeting—Savoy Hotel 1986.  Neil as cub reporter for great metropolitan newspaper or some such.  Asks good insightful questions so obviously is in wrong profession.  Second meeting—Coventry convention—Neil as nouveau riche second wave Brit invasion gun-for-hire.  ‘Do you know how much they’re paying me to write comics?’ Concluding bit is, of course, THE Neil Gaiman, brilliant Sandman author, Taboo contributor, Books of Magic weaver, irritant in the fabric of the DC universe et. and cetera. Speculation that the Savoy suite was one of the infamous ones Oscar used to take his panthers to, though I didn’t know enough about Wilde at the time to make note of the number.  Looked up ‘gamin’ in the dictionary: ‘a homeless youngster who wanders about the streets of a city or town.’ Which makes your name something of a panther instruction: ‘kneel, gamin’”.  Long way to go for a pun but that’s very much like me. 

2)      Here’s your 24-hour comic chock a block full of Wilde.  Can I print it in its entirety?  I’d offer to pay but you second wave Brit invasion gun-for-hire lads leave larger gratuities in restaurants than I make in a month, I’m sure.

3)      I just saw you on telly last night. “Prisoners of Gravity” with Commander Rick.  You ought to be ashamed, you ought. 

4)      The whole Note from the President thing got triggered by finding a photo of the interview at the Savoy which will be on the back cover of 146.


Write if you get work.


Most sincerely,


      A couple of days later Neil phoned to say that the “kneel, gamin” pun was absolutely atrocious (which it is).  He said very nice things about my work. I said very nice things about his work.  I mentioned that we never got Sandman 23 in our DC freebies and asked him to act it out over the phone.  Well, he didn’t think he would do that, but he said he’d send one along in a care package with the Andy Warhol issue of Miracleman (which Steve Bissette had told me to buy and which I refused to buy because certain unnamed personages stood to profit from it) and his novel Good Omens which he wrote with Terry Pratchett (I believe Neil wrote all the vowels).  He told me a few horror stories about Hollywood since Good Omens has been “optioned” or is “in development” or “turnaround” or is “set on puree” or something.  I have to admit that I took a dim, Arthur Milleroid view of Mr. Gaiman going Hollywood until I read the first few pages and then I, like, you know, got it.  It’s an obscenely-lucrative sort of witticism.  Like merchandising Michael Zulli’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It verges on performance art or Living Theater or something. 

    Anyway, Neil’s 24-hour comic book (fourteen pages; but he’s Neil Gaiman so we’ll let it go) (the concept of the 24-hour comic was developed by Scott McCloud and Steve Bissette as a challenge to cartoonists to produce a 24-page comic book in 24 hours) will appear in its entirety next issue; “Being an Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabolus.” 

    With a catchy title like that it could end up being his next screenplay.


     It was really an extraordinary thing for Neil to do on so many levels.  On the one hand it exhibited just how preeminent he was in the comic-book field at that point that there was no question of, in his own mind, being worried about how it might, you know, look to have comics’ top-rated writer drawing—as a complete and self-confessed amateur artist—a fourteen-page comic-book story.  There was also the fact that he had absolutely no qualms about the subject matter, addressing, to cite one example, Heliogabolus’ decision as Emperor to turn Rome into the world’s first penocracy (“He elevated men to high office based on the size of their penises”; “I’m honestly not making this up.”) and then carefully drawing a row of five penises of various sizes (“just some guy”; “a very unimportant person”; “important person”; “very important person”; “nobody special”) to illustrate his point.  What is particularly interesting is that you forget very quickly that you are reading a comic-book story drawn by a complete amateur because it is obviously being written by a professional.  In illustrating the Emperor’s inclination to have his chariot drawn, variously, by naked women, four dogs, four stags, lions, tigers, and crocodiles (“Someone once told me that Heliogabolus’ chariot was pulled by crocodiles. However I can find no reference to this anywhere.”) It’s only two pages later on, when you read


Sometimes I think it peculiar that Heliogabolus is so little known.  I mean everyone knows that Caligula made his horse, Incitatus, a Senator” [this is accompanied by a picture of a cartoon mouse with a note next to it: “This is not a horse. I’ve already drawn—or tried to draw—stags, lions and crocodiles and I don’t want to draw a horse…However if you wish you may pretend it’s a horse.  But it’s not.”] “Only he didn’t.  According to Seutonius, Caligula was only said to be planning to make the horse a consul.  Heliogabolus, on the other hand, did make his horse a consul.”  (this is accompanied by a picture of the rotted head and shoulders of a zombie with a note next to it: “This is also not a horse. It’s a rotting zombie especially for Steve Bissette”).


    Even as it reminds you, “Look, I don’t do this for a living, you know.  Have YOU ever tried to draw a horse?” it’s really very funny and very child-like in exactly the means by which it establishes that.  Neil is about the only writer of any prominence that I know who can whole-heartedly ‘do’ child-like and do it convincingly as he did with the entirety of his 24-hour comic—it reads as if he had done the whole thing sprawled out on his stomach with his tongue (thereby doing all the hard work) sticking out of the corner of his mouth.  It was for that reason that the Third Quarto features his self-portrait from the “When I was young I loved Gilbert and Sullivan” panel repeated four times with a nice white area for his shirt carefully cut out (just like the grown-up starving journalist in the previous Quarto). 

     And, of course, being a writer he had no idea that you can’t do white lettering just by taking a thick white pen and a black piece of paper and writing on it.  He must’ve given Preney Print & Litho absolute conniptions trying to reproduce the four instances of it in his story as imperfectly as they did.  So—metaphorically sprawled out on my stomach with my tongue (thereby doing all the hard work) sticking out of the corner of my mouth—I carefully traced the exact outlines of each word in the title of his 24-hour comic book so that they could appear—for the first ever in the whole entire world!—in the solid white form which he had first intended for them. And then I dropped them right on his face because it seemed the most precise metaphor for what he had done to himself, with perfect child-like equanimity—in doing the 24-hour comic and allowing it to be published where people could actually look at it.  And then I left a lovely wide strip of white around the whole thing so that he, in turn, can sprawl metaphorically on his stomach and draw in the flower that accompanied the original title, this time in the same gold-coloured pen that he will use to sign his name in the bottom left (for obvious reasons Neil will be signing on the left and I will be signing on the right).  Or he might not.  Or he might go even further than that, as we shall see in the description of the Fourth Quarto.

    After all, it’s his name at the top, right?

    Quite right. 


Next: Fourth Quarto