The Long, Strange
History of Phase II
(starting bid: $5 US)
Good Things for the
Third Quarto: The
the inside front cover of Cerebus 146,
February 25, 1991
Well, what a lovely
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.
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
Sometimes I think it
peculiar that Heliogabolus is so little known.
I mean everyone knows that Caligula made his horse, Incitatus, a
[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?
Next: Fourth Quarto