Friday, July 10, 2009
Cerebus and Me
Dave Sim is currently putting out a comic book called Cerebus Archives, in which he is reprinting his early work which led up to the creation of Cerebus the Aardvark, a series that changed the course of comics history, inspiring many creators to publish their own comic books rather than go to work for one of the major comic companies. Sim was at the forefront of the growing independent comics movement in the late 1970s. Some call Cerebus the single most important series of that movement. I'm not sure about all that, but I know that Cerebus had a major impact on me when I first discovered it.
In the summer of 1979 I was 17 years old but did not yet own a car.(Though I bought a 1973 Mustang Mach 1 a little later that year.) My father drove me and my cousin Rick down to the Atlanta Fantasy Fair, a convention being held at the Castlegate (I think it was called Dunfey's Royal Coach Inn at the time.) Hotel, just outside of downtown Atlanta and left us there for the weekend, with instructions not to leave the hotel and to watch out for 'weirdos.' This led to me punching out a guy in a Thor costume, but that's another story. Though I had been to several cons before, it was the first time I'd ever attended all three days of a convention and stayed in the Con Hotel. And it was the weekend that I discovered Independent Comic Books.
I think it was the second day of the Con and I was wandering around the area where artists had tables set up. I remember that John Byrne was there. He was just starting to hit big in the comics world and he was churning out tons of con sketches. Back in the day, most comics artists would turn out quick pencil and marker sketches of whatever character you wanted for twenty bucks or so. I bought my first one from Gil Kane by accident, but that too is another story. I was watching Byrne sketch, trying to pick up some drawing techniques (and I did, actually). There was a guy sitting next to Byrne with a really nice set of color markers and he was coloring one of Byrne's sketches. At first I thought he was John Byrne's assistant, but then I noticed that he had several stacks of some odd looking comics. The covers only had a couple of colors and the hero appeared to be a short, gray animal of some sort. One of the covers featured Red Sonja or someone who looked like Red Sonja.
There was a cute brunette woman sitting by the guy and she noticed me looking over the comics. She said Hi and introduced herself as Deni Loubert and started telling me about the comic book, Cerebus. Then she introduced the guy who was coloring away on a sketch of the Vision as Dave Sim, artist and writer of the comic. He looked up and gave me a grin and then began talking about Cerebus as well. Deni, it would turn out, was Dave's girlfriend and partner in publishing. She too, would be very important to the fledgling independent comics world, but that would be later. Dave finished his coloring and turned his attention to me and a couple of other comics collectors and we ended up chatting for a good while. I found him very funny and he and Deni seemed like genuinely nice people. So I bought a copy of each issue of Cerebus, mostly just to be friendly. They were out of issue #1 but they had 2,3,4, and 5.
Later, back in my hotel room I read the second issue and found it hilarious. Three, four, and five were even better. The early issues of the comic were basically a parody of the Roy Thomas/Barry Smith run on Conan the Barbarian, with Sim doing his best to imitate Smith's 'dot-dash' style of inking in the first couple of issues. Issue 3 featured the Red Sonja analog Red Sophia and issue 4 had a parody of my pal Michael Moorcock's Elric. I loved it, and I wanted more. I knew that Sim didn't have any more issues of Cerebus so I went down to the dealers room and tried to find a copy of issue one, but no one had any. I did however discover Wendy Pini's Elfquest, another early independent comic that would be very popular and influential.
I just noticed that I've neglected to explain what I meant by Independent Comic. When I started collecting comics in 1972, there were two major comics companies, DC (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) and Marvel (Spiderman, The Hulk, Fantastic Four). Gold Key and Charleton were still holding on, but Marvel and DC were the heavy hitters. The only other form of comics around for the most part were the so called Underground Comics that had come out of the 1960s, and they weren't really aimed at the mainstream. Independent Comics, comic books published by small companies or by individuals were comics seeking to reach some of the same audience as the big boys but without being bound by corporate control. Creator owned comics, hopefully offering something different than what you would get at Marvel and DC. And boy was Cerebus different.
Anyway, the next day I went back down to Artist's Alley to tell Dave and Deni how much I liked Cerebus. They seemed genuinely pleased. I bought a poster of Cerebus, which Dave signed, and I decided to buy a sketch from Dave too, but they had an early plane to catch, so Deni took my name and address and twenty five bucks and they headed out. A few weeks later I received the classic drawing displayed alongside this long and rambling post.
Over the next few months Cerebus began to attract a lot of readers and some critical interest as Dave's art and writing became more sophisticated. The book was on its way to becoming the first really big hit in the independent market. That market would flourish and eventually I would enter it, doing some drawing and writing. But once again, that's another story. It would be a couple of years before I would run into Dave Sim again. I'll talk about that in another post with another sketch very soon.