The Long, Strange
History of Phase II
(starting bid $5 US)
Good Things for the
Fourth Quarto: Neil,
Part I: Neil
Not being the sort of individual to leave
things to chance, in the last year or so of working on Cerebus I had started sifting ideas in my mind of things that I
could find to do that would keep me busy once I was retired. I had been warned frequently that I had to
be prepared: that the separation anxiety was going to be extreme (foremost
among these plain-spoken warners was Simon R. Green who—after many, many
years—had finally completed his mammoth series of mammoth Deathstalker novels and then and then…well, reading between the lines of his letters, it didn’t
sound pretty, whatever it was).
Personally I didn’t think separation anxiety was going to be a problem,
unless you describe “stopping hitting yourself in the head with hammer”
(writing all of —and drawing half of—a monthly comic book is no day at the
beach) as separation anxiety. So I
started thinking of the most obvious options, such as: did I want to start
hitting myself in the head with a hammer again right away (astute readers will have taken note of the retention of
the “hammer” motif from Second Quarto)?
Mmm. No, I ruled that one out.
Did I want to write-and-not-draw something: a novel or a
play or a movie? One of the first
things that I did after finishing my part of Cerebus 300 was to read Neil’s American
Gods first printing (which I’ve already thanked him for, but which I thank
him for again: thank you, Neil) that he had sent me. And then I read, I think, nine more books in the space of about
three weeks. The first books I had read which were not for research purposes in
a number of years.
Enjoyed them all thoroughly.
Had no urge to write one of them.
Went to see about five plays (including Cinderella which shows you how much I
had missed the theatre: me and 800
10-year-old girls and their mothers.
You could have floated the Queen Mary on the collective sigh when the
glittering, horse-drawn carriage came out on stage).
Enjoyed them all thoroughly.
Had no urge to write one of them.
Went to see several movies.
Boy, has the popcorn ever gone downhill.
Where was I? Oh, right: same with drawing—I had a certain number of drawings
that I was obligated to do for various people and for various reasons: single
illustrations, covers for Following
Cerebus, pin-ups. It was like
pulling teeth or, no, it was more like hitting myself in the head—just once,
but really hard—with a hammer.
As it turns out, I’m still working full
time, only now my job is answering my mail.
That’s—literally—pretty much all that I do besides going to City Council
meetings, praying, fasting, eating, sleeping, reading scripture, reading the
newspaper, reading books. Go to watch
the Kitchener Rangers play hockey every Friday night when it isn’t Ramadan or
So, I never got very far with my
conjectures. I had realized that I very
much liked doing photorealism comics illustrations along the lines of the Alex
Raymond-Al Williamson-Stan Drake-Neal Adams School. Basically, tracing photographs (as I did pretty extensively in
the Konigsberg sections (Fig.1) of Latter Days) and then sitting with
really good Al Williamson panels and trying to put exactly that finish on the
traced pencil drawing. Many times, I
would see a really good photograph in the National
Post (which I read every morning, Monday to Saturday) and think, “I’d
really like to trace that and then pencil and ink it.” I never got so far as actually cutting the
photos out and starting a collection, but it was something that appealed to me.
Except it seemed, really, rather
You have the photograph, what do you need
a tracing of it with an Al Williamson finish for? I mean “you” in a general “artistic posterity” sense and
me-as-an-individual-with-theoretical-time-on-my-hands sense. So, then, I’d think—well, I could turn it
into a comic-book story. Leaving aside
the “hitting myself in the head with a hammer” aspect (which isn’t easy), I
could never figure out the logistics.
It would just be a single image.
To have the people do things
(which is kind of mandatory in a comic book) I would need more photographs of
them doing things. So, I’d think about
buying a camera and taking photographs of people doing things, but that wasn’t
what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to take photographs; I just wanted the
photographs themselves and to use them to draw
pictures. I hate taking
photographs. I’m the only person I know
of who doesn’t take photographs on vacation because taking photographs would
ruin my vacation for me. So, I’d
picture going to a professional photographer and saying “Excuse me, do you have
any massive quantities of pictures of the same person doing different
things?” I never quite got to the point
of figuring out how to ask in such a way that it wouldn’t be a criminal offence
If I was famous, I think it would help.
Neil Gaiman, as an example, could walk
into any photographers’ studio in the world and ask them that and they’d ask,
“How many do you want?” or “What things do you want them doing?” Even if they’d
never heard of him. Neil just looks and
sounds like a really nice famous person you should do things for. But I’m not famous. I’m notorious. They’d take my name down, Google me and that it would be all she
wrote and I’d have to ask Wilf (my lawyer) to find me a lawyer because he
doesn’t do criminal law himself.
So that would always bring me back to the
single image. What could I do with a
single image in the area of photorealism?
And the answer would come back right away: Andy Warhol. Now, Andy
Warhol, there’s an example of the
interesting things you get when you go to a lunatic extreme in the world of art
(which is why I can never entirely rule out lunatic extremes when it comes to
art). Andy Warhol’s whole gig was very,
very simple. Not just the concept of
doing photorealism, but the idea of doing multiple images and flat colour. Ask yourself, “What is the easiest art in
the world to make?” and the answer will come back, nine times out of ten, Andy
Warhol: which is a lot of the brilliance of it, because it is composed of so
few ideas and each of those ideas is kept as simple as possible. Literally anyone could have done it. With a few easy instructions, anyone could
learn to do an Andy Warhol print or silk screen. In a very real way—in the
context of work ethic as it applies to art—Andy Warhol is to Impressionism what
Impressionism is to the Royal Academy.
I read The Warhol Diaries a
number of years ago but never really bothered to look up Warhol’s actual
works. I knew the covers from the
Rolling Stones albums (Sticky Fingers (Fig.2) which I didn’t have and Love
You Live (Fig.3) which I did); the Cars video “All I Want
Is You”; Interview magazine. I didn’t really have to see that much of what he did. My primary admiration was for the immaculate purity of his
underlying artistic concept and the extent to which he purified it still
further. I mean, you already have the
world’s easiest art to make and what do you do? You start a studio called (wait for it) The Factory where you
have all of these other people working on the simplest art ever conceived and
doing most of the work. It’s like a
multi-layered joke that gets funnier the further back you move away from it and
the more you look at the layers involved.
And at the same time, it certainly fulfills a central requirement of
art. People like to look at it.
[A short digression to observe that this is
a point of intersection for First Quarto and Third Quarto: One of the core points of Whistler’s
philosophy on art and where he was at odds with the Royal Academy was the
notion of Art as Narrative, his view being diametrically opposed to the view,
then current, that it was the bounden duty of the painter—and through the
painter, his picture—to tell a multi-layered story in a single image: to
“instruct,” to “edify” and to “uplift” the viewer. One can recognize the scorched earth of Whistler’s ultimate
triumph in the extent to which those three verbs fall flush upon the ear of
modern sensibility with a dull thud.
The “Large Narrative in Image, Large Narrative as Image”
was the philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelites who were Whistler’s contemporaries
and principle artistic adversaries. It was Whistler’s view that art was far
closer to music than it was to literature, more purely aesthetic in its
implicit nature, in other words, which is why he called his pictures variously Nocturnes,
Symphonies, Arrangements and Harmonies—using musical terms to stake out his
territory at the opposite end of the artistic spectrum from formalist narrative
and content. Part of my purpose with
Phase II is to attempt to move the debate back in the other direction, thus
this extensive description of the piece and thus the selection of my terms
which are literary rather than musical.
The images are described as Quartos and the concepts behind those Quartos are here described at exponentially greater length, several orders of
magnitude above what is commonly accepted to be “allowable” in the field of
art. As Whistler was an outlaw force
against the Royal Academy, so I attempt to become an outlaw force opposing
Whistler and the heirs to his thematic legacy)
They can look at it as art or they can
look at it as a garish image of Liz Taylor (Fig.4)
in a clashing colour scheme. Or
Marilyn Monroe (Fig.5). Or Mick
Jagger Fig.6). The fame aspect of Andy Warhol’s overall
concept for his work can’t be understated (it’s also worth noting that the Mick
Jagger print is the only one I was able to find where Warhol got the subject to
the sign the print as well:
Warhol wasn’t one to
share his own fame, it seems). “This is interesting because this person is
famous.” “Look! Famous person!” (Where?
Where?). Hah. Pavlov was right. So Warhol started “doing” famous people he’d
only heard and read about—Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe—and soon he was
“doing” famous people who were coming to The Factory to “get done” because Andy
Warhol “did” famous people. As I say,
the further back you stand, the funnier the layers get. So I thought about that. I thought, Why not do some fake Andy Warhol’s? Take the single photorealistic image from
the newspaper and copy it four times or six times, make an arrangement of them,
trace them, pencil and ink them, drop flat colour on them and sign my
name. So that was in my same mental
compartment with the idea of single-image photorealism, drawn from a newspaper
photograph. And I still never got
around to cutting photographs out of the paper, so I suspected that I wasn’t
really that interested (which, now that I think of it, is probably the required
state of mind to do a fake Andy Warhol).
So, that was still rolling around in my mind at the point when I
realized—having suggested to Neil that we might auction his three favourite
Swoon pages to benefit the CBLDF—that most if not all of the Swoon pages had
already been sold on the ’92 Tour.
Including the “Swoon, Mortals” page which had been auctioned...to
benefit the CBLDF! Which left me having to decide, what were Neil and I going
to auction to benefit the CBLDF?
Another interesting aspect was that, while
I saw myself as breaking new ground, Ger and I had actually done a couple of
fake Warhols already: the covers of Cerebus
214 (Fig.7) and 215 (Fig.8) which I didn’t remember until
very late in the proceedings. And those
two had probably been motivated unconsciously by something else I hadn’t
remembered until even later in the
proceedings: the issue of Miracleman, number
19, mentioned in the Note from the President (Fig.9). I distinctly remember Neil giving it to me: around 1993 or
so, when you would have guessed (or I would have, anyway) that he was certainly
far too successful and popular to be bothered about such things. But there he was at the Capital City Trade
Show in ’93 (I think it was) wandering around in his original and now largely
threadbare Cerebus U.K. Tour ’86 t-shirt
(the wearing of which at a comic book event we were both attending I thought a
very nice gesture considering our relative stature in the field by then). Anyway he had brought the Andy Warhol issue
of Miracleman all that way with him
to give to me, reiterating that it was because he was proud of how it had
And he had every good reason to be. He did a very good job of capturing the Andy
Warhol flat intonation and flat inflection (“It’s him. Oh gee. Oh wow. Stay
cool. Don’t say anything.”) Clearly I wasn’t the only person who had read The Warhol Diaries. Mark Buckingham did a wonderful job on
the art, as well, with his own fake Warhol’s.
Page 14 (Fig.10) is about as
good as it gets, in my view: making use of the nine-panel grid to do nine fake
Warhol’s, each panel constituting its own fake Warhol and its own nine-panel
grid. And the bottom tier (Fig.11) with
the three fake Warhol’s definitely excited envy. It’s not often that I would say, reading someone else’s comic
book, I wish I had done that. But I definitely said it, on this occasion, to
myself. I wish I had done that.
And given the Cerebus 214 and 215 covers,
I suppose it could be said, to paraphrase Whistler’s bon mot at Oscar Wilde’s expense:
Dave. You will.”
[For those of you not familiar with the
story, early on in their master and protégé relationship—at the time when Wilde
was just beginning to irritate Whistler by misappropriating many of Whistler’s
aphorisms and witty sayings and claiming them as his own—Whistler and Wilde
were both at a dinner party and among the guests there was an art critic from
one of the London papers. Whistler—with Wilde hanging on his every word—having
recently read one of the critic’s reviews, was telling him in no uncertain
terms that, because the critic wasn’t, himself, an artist it was inaccurate for
him to say in a review that “this picture is good” and “that picture is
bad.” As a non-artist, it was only
accurate if he was to limit himself to “I like
this picture” and “I don’t like that picture.” Whistler then took the critic’s arm and
graciously added, “Come now, and have a hock and seltzer. You’re sure to like that.” Dazzled with admiration at Whistler’s deft
touch, Oscar said, “I wish I had said
that.” To which Whistler replied, “You will, Oscar. You will.”]
So that was when I first conceived of the
idea of doing a fake Andy Warhol of Neil Gaiman and decided I had better take a
look at a collection of actual Andy Warhol pictures to make sure that I got it
Part II: Neil
It’s a very unique experience to go back
and look at a book that you’ve used for research purposes as opposed to a book
you’ve looked at or read only for your own pleasure. Since there’s more at
stake with a research book, it tends to create a more vivid memory by its first
impression. I’ve just gone back to the
library and checked out Andy Warhol
Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1987.
I remember vividly the first night when I had flipped through
These are really bad.
It’s kind of funny now, but at the time it
was very disheartening. Page after
page, thinking, “I really don’t like any
of this stuff. I think Mark
Buckingham’s fake Andy Warhol’s in Miracleman put the real Warhol to shame.”
Because I wasn’t just flipping through for my own pleasure (I would’ve
just put it back), I started asking myself questions.
Well, okay, why do I think these are bad?
The garish colour was at the top of the
list. Not just garish but colours that
seemed to me to be intentionally offensive, visually. It reminded me of something.
What did it remind me of? Oh,
black light posters. Really, really bad
black light posters where the colours are climbing all over each other. That seemed to be it. Andy Warhol came from a time period when
black light posters and ultraviolet lighting (which had actually been around
since the 20s) were considered really startling. The fashion for them, I would assume was, at least partly,
attributable to the drug culture: mirroring the intensification of colour
perception which LSD engenders. It
would certainly be a very painterly reaction to see the profusion of black
light posters and ultraviolet light effects in nightclubs and to wonder how you
could get that same effect with paint or with silk screens.
Purple flesh and green hair.
Yeah, that gets pretty close.
These are really bad.
There was also a kind of antagonism to the
work—as if its subjects were being purposely made unattractive, their features
vandalized. This seemed to reach its
apogee where the screens had been slashed and cut haphazardly eyes and mouths
missing on the various overlays.
I did see one that I liked a lot, Joseph Beuys in Memoriam 1986.(Fig.12) The only problem was it
didn’t look remotely as if it had been done by Andy Warhol. The colours were
complementary and the entire effect very subdued. Back to the drawing board.
It wasn’t until the next day that the piece
started taking shape in my mind around my initial reaction—less “Andy Warhol” than “anti-Warhol”. More pleasing
colours. Still using flat colour, but
colours that at least look as if they belong on the same page together. And cleaner edges, more illustrative.
While (and this seemed critical to
capturing the Warhol quality) keeping it easy and fun.
Part III: Neil
It was interesting coming out of the AGO
with Chester Brown after viewing the TurnerWhistlerMonet
exhibit because he was the first one to say something and what he said was
“I thought the best one was the one that was just a dark strip of green and two
light strips of green.” I knew exactly
which one he was referring to and had thought the same thing. Later, going through the catalogue I found
out that it was called Nocturne in Grey
and Silver (Fig.13) and was painted by Whistler c.
1873-75. Whatever qualities it had in
person that had so impressed Chet and me it was unable to communicate via
photographic reproduction in the catalogue.
There it just looked like, well, a dark strip of green with two light
strips of green. The only near
competitor to it, to my mind, turned out to be called Nocturne: Blue and silver Chelsea (Fig.14) which was painted
in 1871. It seems to me that the former, painted at a later date, was a more
perfect execution of the idea first developed in the latter, which is why the
latter reproduced better. Whistler had,
I suspect, come nearer to his intention—having had a couple of years to think
about it—and had created a picture that was “all picture” and no discernable
technique, whereas the technique is more visible in the earlier version. What was interesting to me was that they both
seemed like hard intellectual exercises originating from Whistler’s desire to
depict, accurately, fog on the Thames River.
(One of the points made in the catalogue is
that the London smog—the combination of industrial smoke and fog—through the
last few decades of the nineteenth century was, by many accounts, absolutely
extraordinary, accounting for the obsessive interest of so many artists in
trying to capture the colours and effects it created, colour and effects which
had inexplicably vanished by the time the twentieth century was a couple of
decades old. By way of example, some
years after Whistler, Monet had himself taken rooms on the sixth floor of the
Savoy and painted numerous canvases of the Thames, Waterloo Bridge ((Figs. 15, 16, 17) and the Hungerford
Bridge. At one point his room was
filled with half-finished canvases and he would feverishly change one for
another on his easel as the light and colour changed through the day.)
And I think what Whistler did was to get
established in his mind that by thinning his colours with turpentine and
basically just letting the watery paint run down the canvas—a light layer and
then a darker layer—and then leaving it to dry and then going in and adding a few
patches of brightness to represent lights from the windows across the river as
seen through the fog, that he would achieve exactly the visual quality he was
looking for. And, knowing that that would allow him to achieve exactly the
visual quality he was looking for, I suspect he wondered, Why try to achieve it
by some other means? I wonder how long he had to think about it—how long had he
to mull over just how far from the Academy viewpoint he was willing to
stray. I think that was the point when
he just decided, Look, a picture is a picture. The idea behind a picture is to
do something attractive that people want to look at. Right? Right. And this is attractive. I think it’s one of the best paintings I’ve
ever done (Chet and I certainly agree with him). So does it matter how long it took me to do it? To the Academy it did. It would be ludicrous to suggest that a
finished landscape could be done in a day and a half—with most of the time
taken up with the drying process. This
formed the foundation of the testimony in the Whistler v. Ruskin libel
John Holker: Did it take much time to
paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How
soon did you knock it off? [Laughter]
Whistler: I beg your pardon? [Laughter]
John: I’m afraid I’m using a term that
applies rather to my own work. [Laughter] I should have said, “How long did it
take you to paint that picture?”
Whistler: Oh, no. Permit me. I am too greatly
flattered to think that you apply, to a work of mine, any term you are in the
habit of using with reference to your own.
Let us say, then, how long did I take to “knock off”—I think that’s
it—to knock off that Nocturne. Well, as well as I remember, about a
day. I may have put a few more touches
to it the next day if the painting were not dry. I had better say, then, that I
was two days work on it.
John: The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred
I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.
As Weintraub notes, “There was warm
applause, for the first time in the trial.
Huddleston rapped sharply and announced that if such a manifestation of feeling
were repeated he would have to clear the courtroom.”
The point is well taken in my own case. Having examined the two Nocturnes closely at the AGO, I was satisfied that a full day’s
execution in their case might be a gross exaggeration. In actual fact they might’ve been “knocked
off” in an hour or two, once you subtract the length of time it would take for
the turpentine-thinned paint to dry.
And yet I spent more time admiring them both than any other picture in
(With the exception of the Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling
Rocket and that had more to do with its notoriety in the Whistler v. Ruskin
trial than with the picture as
a picture. Discussing it later with
Chet, I said that where I thought Whistler had fallen down—no pun intended—with
the Nocturne in Black and Gold was in
not having an equivalent of the small retouches that “made” the Nocturne in Blue and silver Chelsea and
the Nocturne in Grey and Silver: in
the case of those pictures, the paint used to convey the light from windows
shining through the fog and their reflection in the water. It’s certainly very clever to depict
expiring fireworks by means of small blobs of bright white, yellow and red
paint, but it seemed to me that Whistler needed to be able to convey the reflection of those expiring fireworks
in the water to create the same eye-pleasing quality. And that would require knowing what expiring fireworks look like
reflected in water and to be able to reproduce the effect in paint. Which takes a much sharper and quicker eye
than is required to see what light from a window reflected in water looks like
…and, if the exhibit hadn’t been as crowded
as it was, I could’ve spent much more time looking at them. So, while I come down on the side of the
Academy against Whistler, Whistler’s argument is iron-clad, as far as I’m
concerned, when it comes to those two Nocturnes. It might not have taken a whole lifetime
to acquire the knowledge of the effect that could be created by thinning oil
paint with turpentine and pouring it down a canvas, but there is no question
that that knowledge—and innovation—was Whistler’s alone and the enduring
quality of the result(s), irrefutable.
So, that was on my mind as well. Let’s just do it in a hurry, let’s have fun
with it. What I originally pictured was
a four-panel picture, alternating two of the jacket photos from American Gods and two of Neil’s part of
the jacket photo of Good Omens. Unfortunately the photo on the back of Good Omens was too dark, so that even on
the lightest setting on the photocopier there wasn’t enough detail coming
through: which was unfortunate because I really wanted to do the crumbling
stonework (sorry, Neil, the crumbling stonework was what was visually
interesting). So, I mulled things over for a while and decided that I would do
one frame recreating the “It…comforts me” panel and three of the back cover
photo from American Gods: which moved away from Warhol and in the
direction of Mark Buckingham. In
Warhol’s prints, there were few, if any, instances of Warhol doing an “odd man
out” picture. Either all six frames
were the same with different colours or they were done in a checkerboard,
alternating image fashion. What is
interesting is that that “odd man out” composition was a major plus on my
personal list of Warhol mannerisms and I was amused to find out that it wasn’t
a Warhol mannerism at all—either Neil or Mark Buckingham had come up with it on
that (by now legendary in my mind) page 14 bottom tier in Miracleman. So, I set to work recreating the “it…comforts me panel”
and realized I was getting even further off track. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t fast. I persevered, but cursing myself for having gotten that far off
track already. It took me the better part of a day to finish that Quarto.
Not fun, not fast. So, I
resolved to do a better job on the other three Quartos. I enlarged Neil’s
picture from the back cover of American
Gods, traced it off, flopped it, traced the other side, flopped it back
again, transferred it to the artboard three times, tightened up the images in
pencil and then inked them over the course of a Saturday. Then clipped the—by now, virtually
finished—piece to the wall and spent several days a) admiring it, b) trying to
picture a colour scheme for it and c) trying to decide which of the three
pictures constituted the best likeness of Neil. About a week later, I took the piece down and started working on
adding an illustrative finish to the images of Neil, working exclusively
through the meridian of his face (the shadow thrown across his left cheek by
his nose and by the contours of his lips).
This was the only area where I would allow myself to do anything
illustrative: whiting out the hard-edged ink line and working carefully through
the entire area with fine pen-lines.
Then sat back and looked. Well,
now that was interesting. Neil’s eye
had gone dead. The mouth was too
lifelike with the fine lines so it
took the life out of the eye. So I
expanded the illustrative field to include the eye and eyebrow. And sat back and looked and realized that I
had lost the only thing that was left of Warhol, really: the stark, graphic
quality. The more I worked on it, the
more I really didn’t like it. So I
started whiting out the pen-lines and realized that I would have to start over,
since all I had where Neil’s mouth used to be were blobs of white paint.
So this time I got really determined. Fun.
Since I was starting over, I thought, what
else didn’t I like about the first version?
That was easy—the four Quartos. The Warhol and Buckingham compositions I
liked the best were all at least six images.
And I didn’t like the “it…comforts me” panel in there. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t fast. So that was when I photocopied Neil’s face
again and enlarged it dramatically. Big Neil. And this time I just went in with white paint and with black ink,
sharpening up all the lines by taking out all of the mid-tones you get on a
photograph. And that went very
well. That was fun and fast. Just going to town with the white paint and
the blank ink to get that stark Warhol quality, leaving the photographic dust
on Neil’s right cheek and a bit around the mouth and the eye as a concession to
my more illustrative interests. Took
about an hour in total and looked great.
So then I copied Neil’s finished face six times and laid them out on a
grid. That was when the idea hit me of
doing background images, essentially Warhol’s-within-the-Warhol’s as Neil and
Mark Buckingham had done with that page 14.
But of what?
A momentary concern with copyright, but,
no, this was, at least theoretically, a work of art. Warhol did a print of Mickey Mouse (Double Mickey Mouse 1981) (Fig.18) and another really good one of Donald Duck (Anniversary Donald Duck 1985) (Fig.19)—which I suspect only strikes me as really good because it looks
like a good rough storyboard design by someone at Disney—and none of them have
© Walt Disney on them anywhere: likewise his Superman (part of Myths 1981) no © DC Comics.
Dave Mackean covers?
And that was the first time that it
occurred to me that what I was doing was what had been rolling around in my
mind back at the beginning: the point of the whole exercise that had been
eluding me. I wasn’t doing a fake
Warhol of Neil Gaiman as a comic book creator, per se. I was doing Neil Gaiman as I saw him. My Neil
Gaiman. No Sandman. No Death.
Yes, The Savoy. What else? The interview. Yes, the interview…and the 24-hour comic. Neil’s participation in Cerebus. “The Neil Gaiman
of Earth-Dave” in a manner of speaking.
Very possibly, this would just be the first one—possibly just the first
No. 1” popped into my head.
Yes. Exactly. A final wry nod and a
high-pitched cackling laugh to James Abbot Whistler (Whistler was said to have
a very distinctive high-pitched cackling laugh) before taking our leave of
him. James Abbot Whistler who had
fudged things in first drawing his images on transfer paper and then
transferring them to the lithographic stone, which means that they aren’t,
technically, lithographs at all. To be
called lithographs, the work needs to be done on the stone itself. At the time, only Whistler could have done
that and made it stick. And he
did. No one today would seriously
consider describing “Savoy Pigeons” or “By the Balcony” or “The Siesta” as
anything but lithographs. Arguably this
was the thin end of the wedge which has led to our own day and age where all
manner of reproductions—from the photographic to the offset—are called
And why not? Consider the strides that photographic reproduction and commercial
printing have made in the last hundred years. Hell, there are photocopiers today that will give you a
better and more accurate impression—and finer lines—than you’ll get from a
lithographic stone. Aardvark-Vanaheim is the proud owner of two Robert Bateman
“prints” which are mere photographic reproductions, signed and numbered by the
artist, for which we paid several hundred dollars each back in 1990. I wouldn’t have a clue if, today, they’re
considered completely valueless or if they’re worth ten times what we paid for
them. We bought them because we wanted them.
They look really good and they’re nice to own.
Phase II—a photographic reproduction on
Archival grade paper—finally had a name:
Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman,
in the exact spirit of James Abbot Whistler.
“It’s a lithograph because I say it is.”
In this case, “It’s a lithograph because
it says so at the top.”
So I went and selected a nice typeface on
the computer (Bookman Old Style—the same typeface that I’m using for this text
here) typed it in and put it at the top.
It looked as if it belonged there right away.
That was good. I liked that. So, I set
about the process of photocopying the necessary photographs of the Savoy and
Neil the starving journalist and retouching them with the white paint and the
black ink, drawing them up as separate compositions in the illustrative fashion
that I prefer. Clean lines and tight
corners, not messy. Illustrative. So I put together the four images of Neil
the starving journalist, did a “rough cut” incorporating the large picture of
Neil and I thought, It looks like an album cover. An album cover needs a title at the top. So, I thought I’ll put
the Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman line
in, but just as a placeholder until I figure out what I want to put there. Again, it looked as if it belonged there. So
despite the temptation to change it to Second
Quarto: The Interview, I left it as it was. That was when I noticed that the background composition was
“off”. The four images weren’t “squared
up” because I had put the borders on by hand—fast and fun—and hadn’t measured
them carefully enough. That was when I
decided that I would treat Preney Print & Litho as my Factory. I’m the artist, let them do the hard work of making sure all the lines are the same
size and at a ninety-degree angle to each other. I just want to do the fun
parts. So I did a mock-up of the Savoy
backdrop and then just retouched the photograph with instructions on how it was
supposed to look and where it was supposed to go, how wide the inset gutter was
supposed to be and left them to it. But
I decided to leave the background of Quarto
Two cockeyed, by way of emphasizing the extent to which The Interview will
always give me a distorted and imperfect mental image of Neil. No matter how
close I can get it to realism, it will always be a little lopsided.
And I left the “When I was young I loved
Gilbert and Sullivan” completely alone.
And I even left the caption out of the fragmentary bottom left frame, in
case Neil wants to drawn anything in there with his gold signing pen.
And I left the other three images of Neil
alone as well—no inset images of my personal memories of Neil and no
titles. So the viewer has a choice: to
have his or her eye follow a curving trajectory from top left to middle right
to bottom left and see the strange “Neil Gaiman of Earth-Dave” or to have his
or her eye follow a curving trajectory from top right to middle left to bottom
right and see Neil Gaiman.
Just as he actually is.
So, these three images—alternating a dark
teal and a light teal on the background and on Neil’s features—constitute the Fourth Quarto—hence, its name:
“Neil, Neil, Neil”.
Part IIIb: Neil
I was privileged to attend Will Eisner’s
80th birthday reception at the Cartoon Art Museum in Boca Raton, Florida in
February of 1997 and to be invited to a brunch the next day at his home. As my then-girlfriend and I knocked at the
front door, I could hear a very emphatic discussion taking place inside. Will answered the door himself. “Come on in, come on in, just the man I was
looking for,” he said, shaking my hand.
And then to my girlfriend, “Forgive me. I have to steal your boyfriend
for a moment.” He led me by the arm
into the kitchen. “We’re having a very
interesting discussion about the difference between the auteur in comic books and the collaboration and which is better.” I
agreed that that sounded like an interesting subject and poured myself a coffee
from the urn on the counter. When Will
and I turned around all of the comic-book people who had been arguing so
vociferously had melted into the woodwork.
I have that strange effect on
Neil was one of the comic-book people
there and he hadn’t so much melted into the woodwork as he had moved away at an
oblique angle in the direction of the living room.
“You know, Neil,” I said, “What I’ve
always admired about you and Alan Moore is that you’re very careful in your
scripts to describe everything as meticulously as you can—down to the last
visual detail—as you envision it. And
then you always write to whomever the artist is, ‘This is just a suggestion. If
you can think of something better, feel free to ignore all of this’.”
Neil had made vague head movements in
response. In retrospect I suspect that
he thought that he had been too slow at evacuating the kitchen and so had been
elected fall-guy for the comic-book collaboration side of the argument. And that I was firing a first salvo in the
argument and he was, therefore, bracing himself for whatever might come
But that was all I had to say.
On the one hand I was acknowledging that
no one there was interested in discussing the subject with me. On the other hand, I wanted to make what I
thought was an important point in an end of the comic book medium—and, hence,
the industry—in which I have had very little participation. My point was: given the extent to which Alan
Moore and Neil Gaiman transformed the level of literacy in mainstream comics
with their work, no one could have been too terribly surprised had they chosen
to turn into complete dictatorial bastards with their collaborators. And, had they done that, I’d bet you dollars
to donuts that you could’ve watched “getting to be a dictatorial bastard with
your collaborators” spread like cancer as one of the job perks of being a
top-ranked writer. But both Alan and
Neil knew, instinctively, that that wasn’t the way to get the best work from
people and it certainly isn’t the way you have fun getting your work done.
I mention this because Lithograph No.1 Neil Gaiman is a
collaboration between Neil and myself in just this way:
As I flip through Andy Warhol Prints, I note with interest the number of different
techniques he has used in the production of his pictures, the number of his
prints which were each individualized by something he chose to do with
them. As I said earlier, I like very
clean lines and sharp corners, so this is how I picture Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman looking:
just as you see it here. As a nod in
the direction Andy Warhol who signed many of his works in felt tip pen or ball
point (prints and lithographs are supposed to be signed in pencil, which at
least theoretically doesn’t fade the way ink does—Warhol signed many of his in
pencil as well), I’ll be signing my name in black ballpoint. What I picture is Neil signing his own name
in gold ink—as a kind of homage to Nocturne
in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket—and I picture, as I mentioned above,
Neil adding a single flower in gold ink to Quarto
Three. But, then, I’m a very
austere fellow both in my life and in my work.
So, now I’m curious.
What does Neil Gaiman see in Andy
Warhol’s work? Is he a big fan of
Warhol or a distanced observer, and what are the elements of Warhol’s prints
that appeal to him? Maybe he likes the
thin tracing line that Warhol would often used to overlay the photo-realistic
imagery (this could be achieved with a crow quill pen, a good bottle of white
ink and a steady hand). Or it would be
possible to use the same line that Warhol would use to outline an image and
delineate the hair of its subject (Fig.20).
That would take a light touch. Or maybe the collage effect he would achieve
by overlaying the images with different areas of colour blocked out and added
on the different screens—that could be accomplished with self-adhesive film (Fig.21) or maybe Neil likes the hasty
little scribbles in behind Chairman Mao (Fig.22). Art stores are filled with bits and pieces
that you could use to make your own fake Warhol. Mix and match. Darken
part of the face and then render the obscured parts in white ink. Or pink.
Warhol used pink outlines. And blue.
One way or the other, I hope Neil has fun
with it. I hope that he metaphorically
(or perhaps literally) sprawls out on his stomach with his tongue (doing all
the hard work) sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and makes whatever
artistic contribution he wants to make.
So take a close look at the final image of Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman at the end of this article. This might be the last time that it looks
like this. And the only people who will
see the finished version…
…are those at the Fiddler’s Green Sandman
Convention later this week. Unless Neil
hasn’t had a chance to do his part, yet (he’s a very busy fellow, you
know). In which case, when he finally
finishes it to his own satisfaction, the only person who is going to know what
the finished piece looks like…
…is the winning bidder.
Lithograph No.1: Neil
By Dave Sim & Neil
(NOTE – not actually a
Lithograph. Lithograph No.1:Neil Gaiman is the title)
Only 50 copies of the
piece have been produced of which Neil Gaiman and Dave Sim have signed and
numbered only 2: “#1/50” and “#2/50” and both have written the year, “2004”,
adjacent to their respective signatures.
“#1/50” is being auctioned on eBay with the auction closing Friday
November 12, 2004 and all proceeds going to the Comic Book Legal Defense
Fund. The #2/50 is being raffled at the
Fiddler’s Green Sandman Convention the next day. In the event that neither has
been completed by those dates, they will be FedExed to the winning recipients.
Of those pieces which
remain, Sim and Gaiman will both sign—and Neil Gaiman will complete—one copy in
November of each year (i.e. #3/50 in 2005; #4/50 in 2006) which will then be
auctioned on eBay to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, by way of
illustrating in as pointed a fashion as possible that even though Dave Sim and
Neil Gaiman are at diametric opposite poles on the political spectrum, they
will always be on good enough terms, personally, to cooperate in jointly
supporting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the First Amendment to the
Constitution of the United States of America.
They will also sign
(and Neil Gaiman will complete) five AP (Artist’s Proofs) for each other on the
understanding that these will not be sold for a period of at least five years
(although they can be given away as presents to any individual who agrees not
to sell them on the same basis).
If either Neil Gaiman
or Dave Sim dies before the last piece is signed—in the year 2053— the survivor
agrees to sign the remaining pieces at the agreed upon rate of one per
year. After both have died, the
remaining pieces will be auctioned at the same rate of one a year, in each case
to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.