Dave Sim and Gerhard Interview
Forward: I want to thank Adrian, who works with the gang over at the web magazine Popimage (which if you haven't checked it out yet, I suggest you do -- lots of great news on comics there!) for letting me post this great Sim and Gerhard interview, which hasn't been posted anywhere else! Enjoy!
Dave Sim & Gerhard - 23 Sept 93
Preamble: I wanted to start the ball rolling in an interesting way, so that it wouldn't be just another interview. To that end, I started by pointing out that it was the 23rd, and that part 23 of Mothers and Daughters had just come out, which tied in quite neatly with the Illuminatus influence on Cerebus. We chatted a while about this and that, and then started on the interview proper, but the theme of coincidences and Illuminatus cropped up a few more times and helped shape a wide-ranging discussion that I think we all enjoyed. Many thanks to Mark and Steve at Comics Showcase for arranging it (they’ve since opened the excellent Page 45), and to Dave Sim and Gerhard for taking the time to talk.
The interview transcription is as accurate as I could make it. You could probably quibble about the punctuation in places, but the words are right, and the only bits that were lost on tape were a couple of comments of mine towards the start and the odd bit later on, usually when we were all laughing and talking at the same time. Hopefully it'll make some sort of sense. 'Sim' and 'Ger' are Messrs. Sim and Gerhard, and AR is myself - Adrian Reynolds.
AR:: OK, for a start off, outside of comics, what influences would you say have shaped Cerebus?
Sim:: Oh, a lot of different things. A line in a book, a line in a song...it's just an endless pick-and-choose process.
AR [Something indistinguishable, to which Sim replies:]
Sim: There, that's what I'm talking about - that's a good phrase. Yeah, I've noticed that too. You'll be reading a book - I'm just reading The Bonfire of the Vanities right now, and he's got a lot of the things in there, just inexplicable coincidences that aren't coincidences because they're virtually universal. It does happen all the time, there's just no reasonable explanation for it, so you just sort of shrug amiably and say 'Wow, it's a coincidence', which doesn't explain it, it's just a word for it - two things happen simultaneously and it's like, 'Yes, I already said that'. But to some people, two things happening simultaneously means something, and to most people two things happening simultaneously is just 'They both happen simultaneously, what about it?'
AR: Yeah - 'coincidence' is a convenient label but it doesn't actually explain anything. Any particular writers, film makers or anything that have stayed with you?
Sim: Oh yeah, I mean Jules Feiffer's cartoon work Little Murders I still read quite often, and watch the film version...anything that's got good structure to it. It doesn't have to be particularly well thought of - if it's appropriate to my creativity I know it right away. I have to be vague about it because as soon as I get specific...
AR: People are too quick to draw conclusions.
Sim: Yeah. I think most of the world tends to look at creativity and they want to see a cause-and-effect relationship. What is it that produces creativity? The essence of it, particularly talking from the writing standpoint...I have no better idea than anyone else as to why this comes out. I don't have an idea, and then I do have an idea...I can backtrack through the thought processes, I can say 'well I was thinking this and then I thought that and I hooked the two together and it became something entirely different and something usable'. Artwork is the same kind of thing - whose stuff do you like the best? I found as a fan, the older I got, the fewer things I liked. When I moved out of my parents' place I had whatever, 2000, 4000 comic books, and of the stuff I kept, what I really hung on to was Kaluta to a degree, but I would have to say the biggest ones were Barry Windsor-Smith, Neal Adams, Berni Wrightson. Then you get to the process where it's not just them - it's not that I have to go and change my underwear when I see something by Adams I haven't seen before. One of the things that I'd like, from a period or style that I like, is full-size reproductions of every Dan Casey newspaper strip, although it's not really what he's known for. Black and white reproductions of the work especially that he did with Dick Giordona in the early 70s. Berni Wrightson - I like Swamp Thing, but Swamp Thing is really an ordinary dumb colour comic book at heart.
[Enter man with coffee - cups are filled, cigarettes lit, and the interview is resumed.]
Sim: When looking at Wrightson's work, the Black Cat story that he did for Warren in one issue of Creepy - an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe, and it's just...that's it! When I look at that I go 'Yeah - that's it! That's what I want my work to look like!' I don't want it to look like Wrightson...I don't mind when it swerves over in that direction - that's why it was great doing a parody of Sandman, because Sandman really hit its stride when Kelley Jones was drawing it and Kelley Jones looks a lot like Wrightson so it's a good chance for me to parody a character and at the same time get some of those Wrightson brush strokes out of my system. I wanna do this - I love those round folds and things that he does.
AR: All those billowing curtains.
Sim: Let's see if I can get it this time.
AR: With Sandman in mind, and the Dave McKean-influenced covers you’re doing…Do you work on something between you, or do you go to a junk shop and find 'Hey - some of that will do!'
Ger: Yeah, that was all Dave's doing - he went out to the used book store, and whatever book presented itself...
Sim: It was really Robert Anton Wilson, because every book that I needed was right at the front of the store in a display, and I looked at them and went 'Yeah - I didn't know what I was looking for but this is exactly it' and then bought those and then foolishly went and looked through the rest of the book store. And I could feel whatever larger forces there are in the universe going 'What are you doing?' 'Well I'm looking round to see if there's anything else.' 'Well didn't you get what you wanted?' 'Well yeah...'
AR: And a hundred dollars later...
Sim: Yeah, and I was just wasting my time. I was walking around the store, and they were right there in the front where I needed them.
AR: Also to do with the covers lately, I've noticed a Tarot theme. 172 you've got Astoria as the Lady Pope, 173 Cirin - the Empress, and then I backtracked and thought, aha, 171 - that makes Cerebus the Magician, which we're starting to come through with now...
Sim: I've been sitting on this stuff for 14 years you know.
AR: At what point did it start to gain that scope for you?
Sim: About '79, just after I finished reading the Iluminatus trilogy. I sat down and a book on the Tarot came across my path, and I started looking at that and thinking 'Yeah, there's really something here'. I mean, this is very comic books - talk about words and pictures together, having a specific proportion of this much picture and this specific word at the bottom.
AR: And when they're in a layout they've got a structure as well.
Sim: Yeah! It is a sequential art. And then I noticed that, looking at the first ten issues, which were already done at that point, that they corresponded to the Tarot cards. Cerebus is the Magician on the cover of number one. The unknown, some sort of spiritual entity/demon, which is exactly the way I tend to view Priestesses, on number two. Number three - Red Sophia, the Empress. Number four - Elrod, not really an Emperor in his own way, but the 'last ruler of a dying race', and that's an Emperor. And then the fifth was Bran Mac Muffin, very close to the Hierophant - the interpreter of rules, telling Cerebus that he is this deity incarnate sort of thing. Six had Jaka in it - that was the Lovers.
AR: That's what I've been wondering now - who's going to be the Emperor, and is that going to continue into the next book, after Mothers and Daughters has finished.
Sim: No. Just up to 174 - I'm obvious, but I'm not transparent. [Laughs.]
AR: [Laughing.] It's nice to have it there though.
Sim: Yeah - and the effect continues. I had the dramatic change of location between issues 20 and 21 [of Mothers & Daughters], which I quite enjoyed just as a literary device - I've never seen anyone do this. You know, now we are seeing everything from his viewpoint because he was here and now he's there and he doesn't know how he got there, and everybody's waiting for the 'Five pages later on somebody walks on with a manuscript and goes [affects melodramatic voice] "Well, while you were passed out..."'' [Everyone laughs.] You know, I'm not gonna do that - let's make this a genuine mystery here. And I found out that the Fool card, which I've always given the numerical value of zero, and it has become the new traditional place, used to be between cards 20 and 21.
AR: Really? I didn't know that.
Sim: I didn't know that either. I see that in a book and I go 'Aha, alright'. I don't know what I'm tapped into here, but it's lucrative and a lot of times it's pleasant.
AR: If you've got a choice of ways of looking at the world, you might as well choose the ones that gain you most satisfaction and get a bit of fun with at the same time.
Sim: Yeah. You have to be careful - you have to realise that there are responsibilities; that you are genuinely creating something, or whatever it is that creates things is using your right hand to create this thing, whatever it is. And it has an effect, whatever it is, depending on the person - particularly at this point, just sheer gravitational pull, reading 3000 pages of what I'm talking about will change you. I mean, that was the end of the Iluminatus trilogy - Wilson flat out tells you that you've been changed by this book, and something inside your head just rears back from that and goes 'No I haven't!', and at the same time there's another part right back there behind him going 'No, we have - let's all admit to it.' It's the same thing...the story about the cop phoning. I wasn't there.
Ger: Dave was at a convention or something and I get a call from a police officer in a neighbouring city. He let me know right off the bat that this wasn't an official police investigation but a friend of his, his son was reading this 'mind-altering literature', and he wanted to know what this was all about. And I thought 'Fuck, isn't this what literature is supposed to do, alter your mind?'
Sim: You would hope so, but that's a difference in interpretation as well, because most people see literature for entertainment or whatever else. You know - it should be uplifting, the feelgood movie of the year, the Hollywood happy ending, high concept...
AR: I don't know where they got that term. When I first came across it I figured maybe this means Kafka or something.
Sim No, that would be low concept.
AR: And it means, like, Macauly Culkin with Hulk Hogan in something about child abuse.
Sim: That's high concept! That'll fly! Have you got them both under contract? That's doable! Yeah...they've even lost the whole concept of enriching. It's not that they're saying 'Well this is junk literature, shouldn't our children be reading something more enriching?'. It's that feeling good is the best thing you can aspire to...a universal deification of the soporific; it's like you plug into it and you just feel better at the end. And I think, why would I bother? Why would you write something for 26 years just to make someone feel good?
AR: Exactly. As with the music business. There's a wonderful way Frank Zappa puts it, about how the ideal music audience as far as record companies are concerned is this 8 year old girl in a midwestern city called Debbie, and music is aimed at this 8 year old girl.
Sim It's true. If you want the most lucrative, you look at Madonna, you look at Michael Jackson; what do you think you're going to find there ? And the answer to anyone with a brain that they exercise from time to time is that there's nothing there. That's the whole point - to feel good. 'That song makes me feel good. I feel like dancing - I like dancing to that song.'
AR: 'And I will buy lots of other songs that have the same beat'.
Ger: Yeah, and so comics are aimed at 12 year old boys. The same thing. Adolescent power fantasies, that's what they want...
Sim: It just reinforces it completely. It just says yes, what you've always suspected, that if you were just bigger and stronger that your life would be a lot better. No problem could be so great that it couldn't be solved with a good right cross to the jaw if you were the biggest guy in the superhero universe.
AR: And you're prepared to wear the y-fronts the way they do...Focussing more on Cerebus and the creation of the story - now that there is the big picture...
Sim: I think I know where he's going with this one. This is 'How much have you got planned out?' [Laughs.]
AR: No, not necessarily [Somewhat feebly, it has to be said.] On an issue-by-issue basis obviously a lot of it is planned out but when it comes to 'Hey, let's do issue 180' or whatever, how much do you already know of the content, and how much still surprises you when you're doing it?
Sim: It's a nice mix. As Neil Gaiman put it, it's as if you're building a bridge, but you're not building a bridge sequentially, the way you have to do it in the physical world. The moment you start building it on this side, it starts growing from the other side. And you just start trying to predict where all the curlicues and whatnot are going to be, and all of a sudden one of them shows up, and you've got a chunk of the bridge about 30 feet out in mid-air that's about 15 feet higher than you thought it was supposed to be.
AR: And you don't know how the hell it's going to work.
Sim: You don't let that trouble you. You just start building the rest of it, and eventually some dramatic curve comes in and you go 'Oh, alright, it's going to rise up in some way and hook up with this side. And I can see now looking at all this stuff that's getting built on the other side in my unconscious mind that yeah, this could be quite attractive when it's done. You know, it could be quite symmetrical.'
AR: Gerhard, do you ever chip in with story ideas?
Ger: [Laughs.] No. I had one suggestion years ago and it got me nothing but trouble. My suggestion was when the giant stone Thrunk was outside the hotel, that the little character that repeats everything he says should be the Archie Goodwin character. I don't know if you're familiar with Archie Goodwin but he was running Epic at the time. And that got me into nothing but trouble so I just keep my trap shut. No, it's Dave's story - it has been from the start. I just try to draw as best I can in behind him.
AR: You're doing very well.
Ger: Thank you.
AR: What would you be doing if you weren't doing Cerebus do you think?
Ger: A lot of drugs probably.
AR: A lot of drugs?
Ger: Yeah. Lying in a gutter somewhere...
AR: Well I'm clean out at the moment.
Ger: Before I started working with Dave I was doing anything I could just to draw for a living. So I was doing a lot of illustrations for magazines, newspapers and whatnot. Slide presentations for corporate functions...Plus I framed up 18 pieces of pen and ink with watercolour and did 3 or 4 shows just in pens and it took that long just to sell the 18 pieces. It takes a long time getting your money back after framing them up and stuff. I figured there had to be a better way to live. But... that's a good question. I have no idea what I'd be doing.
AR: But it wouldn't be likely to be comics if it wasn't for having met Dave.
Ger: No - I can't write a comic to save my life. I tried doing that a little while ago - I had an experience with an MRI machine.
AR: What's that?
Ger: Magnetic Resonance Imaging. They stick you in this giant tube with a supermagnet in it and...it was quite a harrowing experience, and I tried to tell that story.
AR: You didn't develop mutant powers?
Sim: That's right. If it had been a Marvel comic he'd have come out big and purple.
Ger: I got half way through and I gave up because of course I didn't like it. And I wasn't happy with the ending anyway. So it's sitting there still half completed. If it weren't for this guy's motivation, if he weren't 12 pages ahead of me...I see him sitting there working all day, he comes in at the weekends and works; I try to keep it to a 9-5 five days a week kind of normal job.
AR: How have you worked the scheduling in terms of doing the tour? Did you have to work extra hard before you came over?
Ger: That's right. The problem was 174 was a bitch to draw, which is a real pisser 'cause you can read it in about two minutes. Those are the worst ones. And so I got that one done but I couldn't get 175 done before we came over. I've got a bunch of blue squiggly lines on the pages I want to get back to, and I'll be going 'What the hell was this? What's this supposed to be?' Try and decipher what I thought I was doing before I left.
Sim: I'm sure you'll get it done as soon as possible.
AR: I find that with notes - some of the notes you make at the time make perfect sense at the time, but you go back to them a week later and it's like 'cabbage... Emperor...cheese', and that was the germ of something absolutely wonderful at the time.
Sim: It was great!
Ger: So we're right up against it - well actually I'm about two weeks behind I guess. But hopefully we'll get caught up over the next few months.
AR: So we're going to see a lot of photocopy backgrounds then?
Ger: No, no! The format has changed though - now the Reads book has started. Women is over now, the collection will be out early next year, and the next book is called Reads. Most of the book is one page of text with the facing page a single illustration and at the end of the issue there's a few pages of regular comic format.
AR: And Reads is going to be looking at the comic industry I guess?
Ger: Yeah! It's brilliant, it's great...
Sim: You're either gonna universally hate it or universally like it, or some of them are gonna hate it and some of them are gonna like it.
Ger: Some of them will get it because that's what happens.
AR: Gary Groth?
Sim: Gary's actually in it, so I'm sure he won't like it.
AR: I'm a keen follower of the Roach and his developments over the years. The Laminated Foil-Embossed McFarlane Noun Roach who appeared in 173 was beautiful.
Sim: Well there's only one way to parody that side of the field and that's to actually do it.
AR: It's beyond parody.
Sim: You can't do it one Roach at a time any more. That's virtually the way they're creating superheroes now, you know.
AR: It's got to be Crossover Roach.
Sim: Yeah. Here's a costume, here's his name, here's a little trademark, so... onto the next one. Oop! They liked that one - let's put it in a separate book and we'll get this yo-yo over here to draw it. Oh! Sold brilliantly! Let's put out five more!
AR: Speaking of which, has doing the issue of Spawn noticeably changed the Cerebus sales figures yet ?
Sim: Yeah. Particularly on the reprint volumes - but you can't nail it down to one thing. Everything happened at once.
AR: I guess with Campaign 93 in general...
Sim: That's it. I mean we just started firing all the guns that we had available towards the end of 91.
Ger: We released all the reprint volumes three months at a time, so by the end of the year they were all in the distribution system. Then the 92 tour - 22 US cities over the course of a year. And it all just sort of happened at once. And there's the Spawn thing...
Sim: ...The free Cerebus that we tried, Campaign 93, Cerebus Zero.
AR: Thanks for Cerebus Zero.
Sim: You see! It becomes very easy to become complacent when you double your sales over the course of a year and then you think 'Oh wow - this is it, we're rich and famous now, so we can just lie back and enjoy the fruits of our labour'. But if it's working the thing to do is keep hitting that gong and realising how vulnerable the majors are. I mean they're not the majors any more - DC and Marvel are the farm teams for independent comics. If you've got anything to say and any visible talent you go somewhere where you can make some money, and that's not Marvel or DC. That changed a year ago with Image coming on, and now Image is dying apart from Spawn. And looking up ahead, what's going to happen next? It's just going to be an endless fracturing at this point. The whole superhero end of it - I think the majors will be down to 17-20% market share inside of a year, and there will be seven or eight other players considerably smaller than that, but all...
AR: Of growing stature.
Sim: ...And all of them only lasting three or four months. You'll have endless challengers for Marvel and DC that will only challenge them for three or four months, and then they'll go away but that's fine because there'll be a new one coming right in behind them.
AR: And even if a lot of what they're putting out might not be very good, it's good to reduce the whole brand loyalty factor that Marvel and DC encourage.
AR: I've got this perverse fascination with old Bullpen Bulletins of Stan Lee. I wrote this story once where there was a character channeling Stan Lee speaking in Bullpen Bulletin style, but thinking back to it, the effect that that has on kids; introducing you to this big old happy Marvel family with Ring-a-Ding Romita, Rascally Roy, and all this bullshit...
Sim: Yeah, I mean it was effective.
AR: But I bought it at the time - 12 years old.
Sim: But that's really what that's there for. What I'm trying to do is emphasise the direct link that Larry Marder talks about between creators and comic book stores, and doing it on the basis for the stores of 'you want cradle to grave customers'. You have the raw material in the store with these people reading ninth and tenth generation Gil Kane swipes and story ideas that were fresh in 1972 - all of the so-called relevant stuff.
AR: But it's the same relevance that they were doing back then.
Sim: Exactly. It's still drugs, it's still child abuse, it's still race - pasted-on relevance. And if you haven't seen it before it's pretty flashy, but the period of time that you can fool them with this stuff is getting shorter and shorter - you're just using the same five rhetorical devices. As soon as something comes along that sells well it's the same as the music business - they just...how many different ways can you imitate this, and how many elements of it are you going to imitate, and it reduces itself to self-parody very quickly. Alan Moore and Frank Miller were very innovative with Watchmen and Dark Knight, and now it's seven years later.
AR: And we've still got X amounts of...X is the word isn't it?
Sim: Yeah. Grim and gritty - if they don't sell, get them to become grim and gritty. We'll do a grittier, more realistic Sugar and Spike or whatever it is - you don't care what it is as long as it sells well it's great, it's another trend for six months.
[Pause, punctuated by AR pouring more coffee.]
AR: Thinking back to Cerebus and the way things are going...
Sim: That's how my interviews always go. 'If we could get back to Cerebus...'
AR: I want to talk about everything! But at the moment, thinking about the Tarot cards and the stuff about Cerebus as the Magician we've been getting, I'm wondering if we're going to see some 'Iron John' theme to Cerebus, with Cerebus discovering his 'hairy man within' like Robert Bly.
Sim: No. [Laughs.]
AR: Thank God.
Sim: No, because what I'm talking about is genuine maleness, not pasted-on 1960s psychotherapy crap...witches, and all that 'real men' groupings and going out in the woods.
AR: Beating drums.
Sim: Obviously generated by the Kevillists or the Cirinists. Men so completely cast adrift by the steamroller of femaleness that's gone through society that this is their last try at some sort of maleness. To me you don't do that - you don't go out in the woods at the weekend and then go back and become the same wimpy guy that you always were.
AR: If you want to go out to the woods at the weekend, fine. Have a good time, take some beers.
Sim: Yeah. Men I think stopped talking to each other for about four years after women came up with the phrase 'male bonding'. And that just sounded - 'You wanna bond? we better lock the john'. I don't think so. It's so fucking...faggy. But once you get all the psychocrap out of it, then you realise that there is something, but it's just hanging round with your mates though. You wanna fucking call something, then call it to somebody else, don't pull that shit on me. And I think that has more to do with the loss of any coherency on the female side. Very much like the comic book companies, they've fractured into 400 different contradictory theories of what they're about, and they become very envious, contemplating males who just don't do that. You get five guys together, they're not sitting there and trying to figure out 'What does it mean to be a man?'. Any guy sits down in a pub and says 'What do you think it means to be a man?', he's going to be sitting by himself pretty shortly.
Sim: 'We're watching the football match, can you cut us some slack?'
AR: That's good. I didn't like the idea of Cerebus as a New Aardvark.
Sim: Well no...you see it's funny. The book is sort of obvious and non-obvious at the same time. Most of the time I think they're gonna say 'God they're gonna see exactly what I'm saying', and then the more it is I get asked about what it is that I'm saying I'm thinking 'I'm not being as clear as I think'. So I go 'Alright, let's have a page of text that gives it to them on the end of a spoon right in front of their faces'...and finding out that you can do that and still the people who don't get it, don't get it...that's very comforting in a way. It means that I can say a great deal of what I thought - I'd better sketch this in, I'd better build my argument, because people are naturally resistant to the conclusions that I'm drawing. But if you can build a solid enough argument in advance of a conclusion they're not going to like, you can lead them right up to it till there's no other place to go. I mean, you agreed with everything I said right up to here and here's my conclusion, and...
AR: ...And if you want to disagree with it you're going to have to do some thinking.
Sim: That's right. If you've got a better working model of the world than mine I'll be happy to hear it. But most of the time when people start rebelling about what I'm saying about Cirinism and Kevillism, I think I can take my descriptions and apply them to just about anything that comes up and you can say that fits in there pretty well. Whereas when you are trying to convince me of feminist rhetoric I just don't see the application. It's the same thing to me as Communism - it looks good on paper, but you try to apply it to real life and it's got absolutely nothing to stand on.
AR: It's a self-contained system that exists entirely through language as far as I can work out.
Sim: Just reading Marxist feminist theory...I read a lot of those books with Mothers and Daughters coming out, and it's interesting up to a point until they've led you this merry chase out into the woods and then say 'OK - now everyone will change what they're like and we'll be overe here'. I'm sorry, but...
Ger: That's a bit of a leap.
AR: 'I'll buy that, I'll buy that, I'll buy that, I fall off down there.'
Sim: Yeah. And that's the same thing I try to do in Cerebus - if I'm leading them to a conclusion the conclusion has to be right there in front of them.
Ger: As the next step.
Sim: As the next step. If you're saying 'And we haven't really figured out the 25 bits we're going to have inbetween here, but this is the Nirvana, this is where we're going to be' it's like 'Come back and tell me when you've got something.'
AR: As it says here [Brandishing a copy of Discordia, an anthology title I put out some years ago.] 'Learn to pull the wool over your own eyes'.
AR: A quote from Bob Dobbs.
[Toilet break or other similar pause, and a short recording break, after which...]
AR: ...I think Jaka's Story is my favourite of the volumes so far. A lot of people seemed to be complaining that it was slow, but for me it was a comic that worked on a very human level. This little group of people in that little place...I thought was wonderful. As far as comics are concerned it's very easy to do the big stuff -
Sim: Oh yeah.
AR: - galactic battles or whatever. Jaka's Story I admired a lot.
Sim: I appreciate that. That's one of those things that you start doing because you think 'I'm so sick of love stories that have nothing to do with what love is like'. At the time that I was working on Jaka's Story and then again on Mothers and Daughters I was reading trashy romance novels, and you think 'No wonder their political theories are so cock-eyed'. You read the male characters and, who are these cyphers? They're just the same as female characters in James Bond novels - just a cardboard representation. But this is a genuine subject about affection, large affection, overwhelming affection and...sex. And reality portrayal, betrayal...that's worth writing about to me. 'Who gets the girl?' I sure as hell wouldn't waste two years on who ends up with the girl.
AR: And the change of pace between that and Melmoth, then Mothers and Daughters was wonderful, you've launched into...
Ger: Melmoth was like, 'if you thought Jaka's Story was slow, boring...'
Sim: Let's call a spade a spade. Like they're falling asleep, it's been almost a year now, then you just wait till they've all nodded off and they've got their chins down on their chests and you hit them all on the forehead with a hammer simultaneously. To me, that's writing.
AR: I like Melmoth, but I think to know it properly I need to read more Oscar Wilde and get more into Oscar Wilde before I can...
Sim: Well to a degree...
AR: And it's interested me enough in Oscar Wilde to make me want to do that.
Sim: The whole first half of the storyline is the male cycle, and there's a lot of guys I've been talking to touring round, fans and whatnot, and getting letters in, where if they're getting towards 40, all of a sudden they understand Melmoth a little better. Jaka's Story is for guys in their twenties.
AR: That must be why I like it.
Sim: Sure! 'Oh wow! This happened to me! I know that situation - my friend's going through it, I'm going through it'.
AR: That's right - if I'd read it when I was 16, it would be 'What is this? I haven't met a woman yet'.
Sim: Right. But then when you get to the Melmoth age...because it's about death, and it's not about your death it's about death in general. Suddenly death starts figuring in your life more prominently - your parents are getting older...Both my grandfathers are dead now, one grandmother's living in a home, the other one's by herself, she's had to move into an apartment, and you just realise the death circle is coming up. It was always way off in the future, and now it's 'Middle-aged, huh?' Do I want to live to be 76, because I'm right in the middle of my life if I live to be 76, but that's very different from saying 'Well, I think I could picture living to 50, maybe 55, not much older than that and I'm 22 now so that's OK, I've got time left'. And then you think 'Am I going to be a doddering old wreck? Maybe I should think about getting laid more 'cause I don't know how much time I've got left'. It's always been the pressure on me in relationships - 'If this is the only one'...you raincheck the watch and you go 'Yes, I'm 38 years old, hmm; do I really want to be chasing after young girls when I'm 60?' Well obviously.
AR: Or have them chase after you. The way things are going at the moment, by the time issue 300 comes that might be happening.
Sim: Yeah...that's part of trying to write the book, it's 'OK, what does life look like to me?' because there are very few things that look to me the way people describe them. They tell me that this is this - alright, I don't see it that way, I see it like this. Once I tell them how I see it it usually pisses them off on the one hand because it's such a contrary thing to say, it pisses them off on the other hand because it doesn't fit together with what they're saying and it looks a little more accurate, but even to contemplate...A lot of people cling to different things in their lives - one of the basic natures of the human animal is to say 'This is something I can count on'. To me it's...you light a cigarette on the end and you pull on it and you'll get smoke out of it. If you drink enough you'll get drunk. The Toronto Bluejays play baseball six months out of the year, the Maple Leaves play hockey six months. If it says it's going to be on television it'll be on television - that's what I can count on. And then people say 'What about your family?' Family's family - that's a bunch of other crazy people. Everybody's normal until you get to know them - everyone knows their family too well to even begin to imagine they're normal...Well enough about me, let's talk about me.
[Pause while AR tries to find his bearings.]
AR: What's the best part of doing Cerebus for you both? Working on an issue, seeing an issue when it's completed, starting on the next one..? Five o'clock?
Sim: Five o'clock is good.
Ger: It's good if I feel good about the work I've gotten done - then I feel good about leaving. There's a certain point of the page I get to, usually just before I've started inking it, where I feel the page has a lot of potential, that I've done the best job I can on it. That's usually the height of it for me - working on it when it's still in progress and I haven't buggered it up yet. Usually by the time the page is done I don't like it any more and I don't want to see it ever again.
AR: But at least that way you've got an idea of progress within your...
Ger: It always feels like one step forward and two steps back. And then when it does come in from the printers I quickly flick through it to see if there's any major printing mistakes, and then it gets thrown on the pile because I don't want to ever see it again. Then when the reprint volume comes out a year later I'm looking through it and going 'God, I wish I could draw like that now'.
Sim: 'I was so good at what I was doing then...where did that guy go?'
AR: Speaking of printing mistakes, where did the illuminated letters go [in 172]?
Ger: There's a good one man!
Sim: They'll be in the reprint volumes.
AR: Maybe you could put a little envelope with the letters in...
Ger: We've already done a few at the signings - 'Could you put an A in there please?'
Sim: I don't feel personally about the book...it's like being proud of yourself because you won the lottery or something. I don't know why this comes out of me, and that's always the central question - 'Where do you get your ideas?' And the honest answer is 'Beats the shit out of me'. Sometimes I get good ones and sometimes I get not-so good ones. Sometimes I misunderstand the ideas I'm given, and then figure out later on 'Oh, now I'm starting to get it'. I'm very pleased to be a custodian of it - I like having the sandbox to play in. It's a very large sandbox at this point.
AR: With a lot of great toys in it.
Sim: Yeah. And it's very isolated - I built my own sandbox and there's all these people standing around with varying degrees of jealousy, malice, joy...But there's something about the structure of it, like a well-drawn pentagram with all the candles in the right spot, you can't come in here. When people ask me about the story 'Do you have it written down?'. Well no, fuck you, it's my story - I've worked 16 years on it and I think I'm onto something and I'm really enjoying the percentage of it that I'm able to get out, and I enjoy the challenge of taking an overwhelming feeling that I have and trying to express it in words. If someone asked me to describe the next book it wouldn't be very coherent because you can't describe a feeling but, you know, a couple of...
AR: But that feeling is there and you know when what you're doing is in touch with it.
Sim: And it's all being worked out in my unconscious mind - there's these little creative elves in the back of my mind that are putting things together, and they've had fourteen years now to be working on what I'm doing now, and they just keep trundling up from the mineshaft with this perfectly formed something-or-other. It's like 'Do you think you've got a spot for this?'
Ger: 'I've been looking for that! It fits just there!'
Sim: You drop it right in and go 'Hook it up over here'. The biggest problem for me is doing it one step at a time, because you can drive yourself insane.
AR: Knowing that you've got stuff that you won't be working on for, say, ten months...
Sim: Yeah...The four books of Mothers and Daughters are four very different books. The first two are similar but largely different - I mean the tone of Flight is very different from the tone of Women and then there's this radical departure on the next book, and the book after that is an even more radical departure. But I can only do one book at a time - you want to give full value to Women - you want to say 'OK, I'm focussing on this; this is what I have to say about it'. After that, I'm going to continue talking about Women, but I'm going to take a couple of steps remove. And as soon as I started writing that - I wrote that when I had about 30 pages left to go on 174, just jotting down ideas, and the momentum was excruciating. It was like having to swim back upstream to get back into the frame of mind of this thing that's already been constructed - I already knew how the last 30 pages went but now I had to draw them.
AR: I'll be interested to see how Women turns into Reads - comics are traditionally seen as a very male thing, and how that's going to interact with the next part of Mothers and Daughters...
Sim: If I wanted to take a completely uncommercial name to try and sell in a comic book store full of adolescent boys, Mothers and Daughters would be very close to the top of the list. But at the same time there is a peculiar kind of momentum to that - it took me a long time to figure out that nothing bad happens to the book. I mean the book gets done...
[Ger knocks the table.]
AR: That's wood there, yeah.
Sim: Bad things would happen to me, but they were all...that's just a human being, your own ego, your own problems, your own bad psychic baggage you're bringing along with you. The overwhelming sensation I have is that the best thing to do is not worry about it - worrying about it is not going to improve it. If you're confident in what you're doing, you will get where you're going, and the more you can hang onto that the better you get at it...It's the same thing Gerhard's saying about how you get the page done and you never want to see it again. 'That's not nearly what it looked like in my head'...it'll just have to do. If you build the confidence that it's at least 80% of your best, and the average fan is not going to notice until the quality slips down to 20%, just because they don't write and draw themselves. I'm sure it's the same way with guitar players - there are people who think they've just seen the best Eric Clapton performance ever, and there's five guitarists in the audience going 'What the hell was wrong with that?'.
AR: Have there been many occasions when it has touched what you imagined it was going to be?
Sim: Every once in a while.
Ger: Every once in a while. That's what keeps you going. 'Ooh, do that again - had to wait six months for that! There it is again, ooh!'
Sim: You're talking about two different things as well - when it gets down on paper and after the fact. Like reading through Jaka's Story and going 'This is really good'. There were pages in there I wouldn't know the difference from that page I took all day to do, and I have no idea why it took all day because this is a very basic page; this is a very complicated page but I somehow managed to knock that out in three or four hours. After the fact...there's a few pages you remember because of something really horrible in your life at the time that you had to pitch around. You just go in and it's like 'I know I have to do a page today - I sure as hell don't want to do a page today'. But to me that's a big argument for not having much of a personal life. Every time I have a personal life it's like 'Alright I was really happy here and then six issues later I was really down, so let's stop doing that'.
AR: So come issue 300 you'll have exhausted all of those ideas for Cerebus?
Sim: I don't think you can exhaust those ideas - I think those ideas are everywhere. For those people who see those things, there's a hundred different ways to tell the story. It's all basically one story, or implications of other stories. It is disheartening to see artists and writers who are just so afraid to fall too far away from the tree when there's really nothing but open territory out there, particularly in comic books. You don't need another Love and Rockets - what we need is...I don't know! But that big blank spot over there, no one's ever done anything like that, just walk out into the middle of it. Yummy Fur produces Peepshow, and part of me just wants to throttle Joe Matt and say 'Do your thing!' It's close enough to what Chester's doing that I think he'd be a lot happier going twenty steps over that way. But in terms of exhausting the ideas, I think I'll still be dealing with the same ideas.
Ger: You won't see the cast of Cerebus any more.
Sim: No - but it's always the same story. I'm convinced it's all the same thing at sub-atomic level, the same thing with organisms...
AR: If we think back to what we were saying about Tarot...
AR: Different masks at different times...
Sim: That's all it is - it's the same story expressing itself in different ways. Putting the major arcana in with chess in a story...To me, I don't know how much more blatant I can be: 'Look, there it is again!' And then it's like [adopts whiny voice] 'Cerebus doesn't play chess very well, does he.' Oh my god...OK, 'You know what an allegory is?' 'Here, see this sledgehammer? You see me arching it over my shoulder - now what's going to happen next?' [Adopts whiny voice again.] 'Haven't the faintest idea.' 'Alright - whoom!'
AR: Reel 'em in, and whack 'em over the head.
Sim: Yeah. And it'll be the same thing with the stories I do after Cerebus - once you see something you can't unsee it.
Ger: Then you start seeing it everywhere.
Sim: And that's the very troubling thing about me - some friend said at one point 'There's no such thing as a casual conversation with you'. I suppose not. They sit there, very unsettled and you're being very cryptic and it's like 'No I'm not, I'm not being cryptic at all'.
Ger: And the woman who said 'It's all foreplay with you, isn't it?'
Sim: That's right - dating, the whole ritual...
Ger: 'There is no casual conversation, this is part of the foreplay.'
Sim: That's it. Fuck the world - literally, figuratively, every way you can imagine...I'm looking forward to stepping outside Cerebus's world and just...you know, peculiar little stories that you get in your head. If you've got a writer's sensibility you sit in a room full of people and start making up stories about them. Most writers are happier watching a conversation that they can't hear.
AR: There was a great one here earlier. A guy trying to do his car insurance scam for about ten minutes over the phone.
Sim: Yeah - you just sit there going 'I couldn't write something like that, it's so brilliant'.
AR: Or if you did you'd never believe it.
Sim: That is a problem too. We are definitely at the Alice in Wonderland point for western civilisation, and it's one of the reasons that I'm so happy to retreat into Cerebus. I spend 75% of my life in this fictional world and 25% in the ostensible real world, and I don't find the writing in the real world terribly compelling - so much of it is made up out of television. Television to me is the same way it's done in a Steven Spielberg film - clips, soundbites and whatnot that are audible in the background at a particular lull in the conversation that apply to the conversation. And I can't not see that - to me that's what channel skipping is, which is something that men do and something women tend not to. Getting those fragmented images just to get some kind of pagan tapestry in sequence that tells you 'big gorilla', 'guy with a gun', 'woman crying'...and it's telling a specific story that's impacting like crazy in the more imaginitive parts of your brain, but it's putting the rest of you to sleep. It's like, 'This is really dull', but there's a part of your brain that's going 'No - this is great' or 'This is terrifying; did you see what that television just told you?' 'Well no, I...' 'I know you didn't - shut up, just keep watching it'.
AR: OK, thank you very much.
...the ending wasn't quite as abrupt as it seems there; Dave and Gerhard had other things to do and I'd been with them over an hour already. I did get my copy of Jaka's Story signed with a sketch of Jaka however, during which Gerhard pointed out something on p 129 which he'd drawn but was unaware of himself at the time...I'll leave you to find out what.