Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Dyeing for Color, Cerebus Covers, and More

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings Cerebus patrons!

This will be a quickie, and I won't be discussing anything I'm actually working on at the moment. (What I am doing but won't be discussing—prepping Cerebus in Hell? #1! Starting into the cleanup for Jaka's Story! Waiting for a package from Jeff S so I can finally put Cerebus Volume One to bed, where it will await the word from Diamond to enter the print qeue!)

Instead, I'd like to talk just a bit about color.

Cerebus always had striking color(colour) covers. Dave's strong design sense and ability to tell a complex story in a single image made the early covers of the book a continually evolving highlight of the book. (as you can now see collected under one cover, courtesty of the recently-released IDW book CEREBUS Cover Art Treasury. Here's an excellent preview of the book!)

But the covers took off to another level when Gerhard joined the book. Not surprising, since it was Gerhard's pen and ink and colour pieces that started their collaboration in the first place.

And unlike Gerhard's (in retrospect) comparatively shaky start working for reproduction and blending his pen technique with Dave's, his color, to my eyes, seemed spot-on from the go. Comics in general have had a strong tradition of local color only, that is, coloring objects by their named object color (or "true color" as viewed in pure white light), and for the most part disregarding the varying effects of atmosphere and varying qualities light and shadow on those local colors.(I'm sure someone more enterprising than myself could write an entire history of the comics industry through the lens of color handling and reproduction, for instance, noting that process color was incredibly rare for comics until rather late in the proceedings, and that, say, dulling the blue of Superman's outfit because he's backlit by a radiant orange sunset is, uh, bad business. Gotta get that blue, man.)

Not so for the Cerebus color work, whether that be from the early Epic shorts, or the collaborative covers. The color carries light quality and atmosphere and texture in equal amounts, while furthering and expanding the striking design of the early covers.

But really, why do you need me to tell you this? Just go get the book, eh?

Well, I thought I might be able to contribute a bit to the discussion.

Two weeks ago, on impulse, I purchased a set of the illustration "watercolours" that Gerhard used  to paint those beautiful covers throughout the run of the book.

They're called Designer Brilliant Watercolours, and they were made by Winsor & Newton sometime in the early 1980's. I used scare quotes around "watercolours" before because they're actually aniline dyes, and thus more sensitive to fading from direct exposure to sunlight than the most robust traditional watercolors. 

As best I can tell, Winsor & Newton made them to compete with (and emulate) the successful product of their rival, Dr. Ph Martin's, whose products "Radiant Concentrated Watercolours" and "Synchromatic Transparent Watercolours" are very similar to the Winsor & Newton set. These "liquid watercolors" became very popular in the seventies and eighties because they had fine enough pigments to be used in airbrushes, and enough flow to be used with rapidographs or nibs as well.

But after ten days of actually painting with these, the real take-away for me is how vivid the colors are, and how the transparency leads to very different strategies for building up color.

Anyone who's ever attempted complex color rendering with watercolor can tell you that they can be a real pain in the ass. Not only do the pigments have exotic names, mostly labeling them based on the minerals or locations of the minerals historically used to create the pigment for that particular color—they're extremely variable from brand to brand, and even batch to batch. Worse, they don't just vary in color, but in transparency as well, so if you want to really effectively work in layers, you not only need to know the exact color of every tube in your possession, but their relative opacity as well (not even getting into if they mineralize in washes, and other handling concerns).

From Dave and Gerhard's original collaboration, "His First Fifth." Still nuclear yellow after all these years.

As opposed to all of that esoterica, we have these designer dyes. Extremely transparent, uniform in brush feel and handling, and radiant in color and permanently staining, and thus able to be layered over and over to create effects that would be nigh-impossible in watercolor, like, say, wet-in-wet atop of more wet-in-wet, which, with a traditional watercolor, would lift the earlier washes and leave you with a muddy mess.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the heck out of these, and if you paint, I think you might as well.

And we've reached the end of this public service announcement! See you next week, God willing and the creek don't rise.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Barry Windsor-Smith vs Dave Sim

Barry Windsor-Smith & Dave Sim (19??)

On Sale 34 Years Ago: Cerebus #43

"Election Night"
Cerebus #43 (October 1982)
Art by Dave Sim

Monday, 24 October 2016

Carson Grubaugh's Cerebus Re-Read: Volume 10 "Minds"

(from Carson's Re-Read Blog, August 2016)
...A final thought about the idea that issue #200 was, at some point, the planned end of the book:  I do find it entirely possible that Sim fabricated the idea and wrote issue # 200 to lend validity to the gossip put forth in issue #175. If issue # 200 was never intended to be the ending, but only appear as such, the fairly dramatic change in content during the last hundred issues could arguably be part of experiment set up in Reads. How will people react to this elaborate piece of gossip? How many people would, and for what reasons, accept the false rumor? How many people would accept that the back 1/3 of the book was merely filler intended to meet an arbitrary numerical goal? Why would they think that? What does all of this say about our expectations for a narrative? How will people react to the real Dave Sim taking the reins? What makes one accept or reject his insertion into the book?... [Read the full review here...]

Cerebus Vol 11: Guys
Cerebus Vol 12: Rick's Story
Cerebus Vol 13: Going Home
Cerebus Vol 14: Form & Void
Cerebus Vol 15: Latter Days
Cerebus Vol 16: The Last Day

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Cerebus In Hell? #1

Cerebus In Hell? #1 (of 4)
by Dave Sim & Sandeep Atwal
Aardvark-Vanaheim, $4.00

In Shops: 25 January 2017
Diamond Order Code: NOV160995

Featuring Sandeep Atwal's "It’s Not Scary Because You’re Not Wearing Any Pants." And you thought EC homage covers were passé! Virgil and Dante! Sex and The City Fandom! Frank Sinatra! And 20 – count 'em, 20 – more epic-length four-panel strips loaded with dated Baby Boomer cultural references complete in this issue! Exclamation marks! Comiccraft's Joe Kubert computer font! Funny biographies! Funny house ad!

The Collected Neil The Horse

The Collected Neil The Horse
by Katherine Collins with an introduction by Trina Robbins
Conundrum Press
300 pages, b/w, softcover, $25 
In shops: May 2017

Originally published by Aardvark-Vanaheim and Renegade Press, Neil The Horse ran for 15 issues in the 1980s. With its tagline, "Making the World Safe for Musical Comedy" it is the world's only musical comic book. It is a totally original hybrid influenced more by Carl Barks and Fred Astaire than by the underground comics of the time. Originally produced under the name Arn Saba, Neil's creator transitioned to Katherine Collins after the last issue. Neil and his friends Soapy and Mam'selle Poupée are a struggling song-and-dance act. Neil is a happy-go-lucky horse with a mania for bananas. Mam'selle Poupée is a romantic and lovelorn living doll from France, whose wooden body is jointed with hinges. With red circles on her cheeks, curly blonde hair, and large bust, Poupée appears to be a cross between Raggedy Ann and Dolly Parton. Soapy is a street-wise and cynical (with a heart of gold) orange alley cat, a cigar smoker and a drinker, who serves as the brains of the operation. Their magical and absurd adventures take them to outer space, the past, and the future in a mix of slapstick, romance and show business. The book includes brand-new commentary by Collins, rare art, sheet music to accompany the stories, and reprints of early syndicated newspaper strips.

"Delighted at your continuing Neil The Horse efforts... and I'm particularly enthusiastic about your continuing probe of the medium. I welcome you as a fellow explorer." ~ Will Eisner

"Neil has a sense of magic to it that is in no way syrupy or cutesy. It should be read by every man, woman, and child in the English-speaking world." ~ Jackie Estrada

"...Influenced by classic funny animal cartoons and covers resembling 1930s art deco designs, the series appears an anomaly. Saba's premise was something both old and new: the musical comedy. Saba had a vaudevillian approach, changing the format of his comics several times within each issue. This variety act included the comic strip, comic book stories, illustrated stories, originally composed sheet music, crossword puzzles, and more. It appeared like a modern version of early twentieth-century hardbound children's annuals that employed such a variety of techniques rarely seen in comics." ~ Dave Kiersh, Indy Magazine

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Cerebus Cover Art Treasury -- The First Reviews Are In!

Cerebus Cover Art Treasury
by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(IDW, 2016)
Buy at or

(from a review/preview posted by Dan Greenfield, 17 October 2016)
This is one of the most fascinating comics art books I've seen in a long time. Rather than being an Artist's Edition, this volume from IDW is a collection of original cover art and notes by Dave Sim and Gerhard. It's brilliant stuff, whether you're a hardcover Cerebus devotee or not... [Read the full review/preview here...]

(from a review by Ian Jane, 18 October 2016)
One of the most influential independent comic books of its day, Cerebus The Aardvark, by Dave Sim and Gerard, ran from December 1977 until March 2004 for three hundred issues spanning six thousand pages. It is, in retrospect, an absolutely massive project and a fascinating look at how comics evolve. The story started as a parody of Barry Windsor-Smith's classic run on Conan The Barbarian for Marvel Comics but soon turned into something more, taking on politics, religion and all manner of social issues. The single issue format was soon passed over in favor of massive storylines (starting with the classic High Society run) and all of it done under Sim's own Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc. brand. Not only was the series a massive artistic achievement but it also played a huge part in the creator's rights movement that would eventually lead to publisher's like Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics, among quite a few others, becoming increasingly big players in the comic book industry.

This three hundred and fifty four page book, as you could probably have guessed, reproduces each and every cover art image from all three hundred issues of the series. It's fascinating to look through it, to see how that simple image from the first issue, clearly poking fun at Conan, changed over time. The second issue was swiped from a Jim Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. cover, the third another Windsor-Smith swipe and the fourth clearly influenced by a John Buscema Sub-Mariner cover. Frank Thorne pitched in for issue seven, and issue twenty-two borrowed heavily from a Marshall Rogers Detective Comics cover piece. Soon enough he switches over to water-colored cover pieces, which obviously have a very different look than the penciled and inked earlier covers.

As the series evolves and becomes more serious, so too does the cover art. The parodies of superhero and sword and sorcery books become replaced by more elaborate and dramatic pages, sometimes laying the art out sideways on the cover – something that was pretty unusual to see during this era of comic book history. The artwork becomes much more polished, occasionally the series uses black and white covers in place of the traditional color pieces, and the political leanings of the storylines start working their way to the front as it inevitably became a selling point for the series. Sim also experiments with using photographs on the cover in place of illustrations a few times (and for almost the entire Going Home run later in the series), and really just doing a lot of interesting, creative and unique things with character design and layout. If you hung out in comic books stores, especially during the eighties, Cerebus always stood out. Even if you didn't read it, you saw a lot of these covers and odds are pretty good they've stuck with you. The fact that they are so very different from the vast majority of what was coming out from other publishers at the time is a huge part of why they resonate with some of us the way they do... [Read the full review here...]

Friday, 21 October 2016

Weekly Update #153: Cerebus In Hell? -- Coming Soon!!!

Cerebus In Hell? #0 is on its way to Diamond Distributors
and will be hitting a comic book store near you soon!

Cerebus In Hell? - Week 17

CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at
CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at
CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at
CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at
CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at
CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at
CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at

CEREBUS IN HELL? #0 shipping soon!
(Diamond Order Code: JUL161105)
Read CEREBUS IN HELL? daily at

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Captain Cockroach and Bunky

A few years ago I scanned all of Dave Sim's notebooks. He had filled 36 notebooks during the years he created the monthly Cerebus series, covering issues #20 to 300, plus the other side items -- like the Epic stories, posters and prints, convention speeches etc. A total of 3,281 notebook pages detailing his creative process. I never really got the time to study the notebooks when I had them. Just did a quick look, scanned them in and sent them back to Dave as soon as possible. So this regular column is a chance for me to look through those scans and highlight some of the more interesting pages.

We've only looked at Albatross One, aka notebook one, once before. This past August we looked at page one in Albatross One, page one.

Since it is now Tuesday morning as I write this, and I won't have the proper time to sit down and write more this week, we get a quick look at Albatross One again. This time some sketches of Captain Cockroach:

This page also features Captain Cockroach's sidekick, Bunky.
Albatross One, page 37
Page 47 appears to have a quote from President Weisshaupt and shows us how Captain Cockroach is seven feet tall.
Albatross One, page 47

Albatross One, page 49

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Cerebus Volume One--that COVER!

Sean Michael Robinson:

Talk about iconic images.

The Cerebus Volume One cover certainly qualifies. I'd imagine for a significant chunk of readers it's their first interaction with the series, their first exposure to the material at all. And it's interesting too, in the way it serves to both contextualize and, well, distract from the interiors of the first volume of the series.

Although Dave had been discussing the Cerebus the Barbarian book in the back of the monthly book for several months, we don't get a peek at the cover (and release date!) until well after High Society was released into the world. The first look at the cover comes in an ad in the back of issue #97 (April 1987 listed publication date). It's not the finished image, though, just a thumbnail sketch from Dave in technical pen and (or marker? hard to tell from the reproduction). Here it is, along with the Church & State I thumbnail also included—

It's interesting to see that the composition is already there. The bay, the arc of land behind him creating a strong contrast with the sky and an interesting negative shape for the middle ground. The foreground stones and tree and the strongly indicated lighting. It's a great image even small, and it certainly captures something (or points to a hidden aspect of) the early book. Namely, this figure both simultaneously funny and menacing, in this case, glowering out at the viewer, fully-armed. It's reminiscent of the early segment of issue 5, where a sleeping Cerebus is awakened by the Pigts.

This is heightened in the finished image by the one thing missing here—the fire, still-smoking.

Four issues later, in the back of Issue #101 (August 1987), we get our first look at a Gerhard version of the image.

At first I thought this was a Gerhard sketch worked up over a photocopy of the Sim drawing of the figure, but after inverting it and placing it over the finished image, I think it's most likely a photocopy reduction of the finished image, either with all of the detail blown out, or of the image in process, after it's received all of the blacks but prior to the finished hatching. Either seems likely.

Here's the image inverted.

And then, a month later, the finished image finally appears in the rear of the book, in issue 102 (September 1987)— "The Sudden Return of the Melodramatic Narrator."

This is significant for a few reasons. Those of you who have read my Reads essay already might remember that this issue has narrative significance that, as far as I know, hasn't really been touched on anywhere else, and provides a bridging link between the early issues, Church & State, and Mothers & Daughters

It also happens to have this image, which is strikingly similar to the back-cover portion of the Cerebus Volume One cover.

Which brings us to the actual cover.

For the fully-restored Cerebus Volume One, Dave and Sandeep removed the original artwork from storage, de-framed it, and scanned it on the Epson 10000XL in overlapping sessions. I then stitched these scans together using Photoshop's fantastic "Photo Merge" tool, checked to confirm that the work was solid, and flattened to the final image. 

There was a shocking amount of detail there that's never seen print before.

I'd always wondered about the right edge of the cover, the whiting out effect that occurs as the image moves towards the bleed edge. I'd always assumed, I suppose, that it was an intentional effect, some kind of atmosphere blowing over the water, a mild fog or something like that. Seems now that it was overexposure while shooting the artwork. 

Here's the right edge of the image, scanned from by eighth printing of Cerebus Volume One, and then the same section from the original artwork.

The same is true for the entire image, many of the fine line details burned off in photography, with the strong blacks left to carry the image.

So how would this happen?

I've mentioned before that during several periods of the book, it would routine for the camera operators to play with the exposure of the images in an attempt to anticipate gain on-press. This was done by the Fairway Press camera ops, and the Preney camera operators. Sometimes this was done with masks, masking off certain areas with smaller tone and exposing those longer or shorter than other segments of the page to lighten certain areas, mostly areas using tone with fine LPI (the first few issues of Church + State I use this, with only the Cerebus figures with fine LPI masked off). Other times this was done universally, across the page, which oftentimes had the effect of blowing out detail and fine-lines (the three "Jaka returns!" issues of C + S I are fine examples of this). 

That seems to be what happened here. An overzealous camera operator saw the Cerebus dot tone and, anticipating gain, overexposed the entire image and blew out the detail. And away it remained, until now.

You can see that the nomally 30 percent Cerebus dot tone has been overexposed to a 15 percent (or so) tone.

Next week— some balance! I present some excerpts from a printing textbook from the 1970s to give you an idea of what a difficult job it was to be a camera operator. It's, uh, more exciting than it sounds from my synopsis :)

(Bonus! A related excerpt from the current draft of Cerebus Volume One essay:


Printing highly detailed line art from negatives shot on a stat camera is a complicated process that took a century to refine, and camera operators were skilled technicians. That kind of expertise is rare in an era where everyone has a scanner on their desk. Which is to say, if we’re at a high water mark for the quality of printing in the world, you would  never know it from looking at the average quality line art reproduction in books being produced today.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

OFF-WHITE HOUSE BULLETIN 1055 hrs 18 OCT 16-- Cerebus in Hell? #0 has shipped!

Cerebus in Hell? #0 has shipped!

That is, it's left Marquis Printing as of yesterday. It still has to go through Diamond. But it's ON ITS WAY.

On Sale 37 Years Ago: Cerebus #12

Cerebus #12 (October 1979)
Art by Dave Sim

Monday, 17 October 2016

Gerhard's Smile Of The Absent Cat

(from Gerz Blog, 17 October 2016)
My first eight pages of Grant Morrison's Smile of the Absent Cat will be in issue 283 of Heavy Metal Magazine. Available at the beginning of November or for pre-order here.

In Shops: 26 October 2016
Diamond Order Code: AUG161692

Tribute Art Round-Up #13

Cerebus (2016)
Art by Sonny Liew
"Cerebus the Aardvark for @escapepodcomics expressing himself Old Master Q style."

Cerebus the Aardvark! (2016)
Art by Troy Little
"My oh so clever work-around of not having any coloured markers handy."

Cerebus (2016)
Art by Jamie Jones
"Cerebus sketch from @boston_comic_con this was my favorite sketch of the show."

Cerebus (2016)
Art by Rich Tommaso

The Countess (2016)
Art by Carla Speed McNeil

Conan vs Cerebus (1980)
Art by George Perez & John Beatty

Sunday, 16 October 2016

SDOAR Update

Carson Grubaugh:

A couple of updates on SDOAR.

I finally got a printer/scanner that can handle the process outlined in my last post. That, plus having settled into my classes for the semester, allowed me to finally ink what will be page 1. Here it is scanned in grey-scale, before any adjustments.

A detail.

I didn't like how I used white-out to make the snow last time. It was hard to go back and draw over any pieces of snow with poor size, shape or placement of. I realized it would be easier to just plop the snow in using Photoshop

So, after some contrast adjustment I did the snow. Anything that bugs me or Dave on this version is now really easy to fix.

After seeing what Sean does with the the Archive restoration I feel pretty ashamed of my own adjustment skills. Hopefully he will be contributing his mastery to SODAR whenever it goes to print!

With the first four pages now done we run into a pretty big problem. The shop I photographed, Local Heroes (I was happy to see a big stack of Glamourpuss on the far-right, second row from the top, in the first image that pops up on their site!), and the shop-manager who modeled for me, Jack VanDyke, are in Norfolk, VA, where I spent the last school-year as a visiting professor of painting for Old Dominion University. When my contract ended in July I moved back home to Modesto, California. You can see the problem.
Jack said she could get someone to take the pictures I need so I prepared the following layouts for her to use as reference. The idea was to provide a structure to guide the shoot. I had the idea that the 'story' could be crafted almost entirely out of poses already in Dave's pages. This adds another layer of plagiarism and metaphysical life-imitating-art-imitating-
life-etc., which are central to SDOAR. It also seemed prudent to have a plot device that got rid of any need for Jack and Local Heroes in future volumes. Given how powerful the synchronicities seem to get around Dave I also wanted to make sure that we gave Jack, and honestly, myself, a backdoor out of any potential consequences of messing about with the Margaret Mitchell Glamour.

When I added notes and instructions the whole thing became its own weird mini-comic.

These layouts also provide a sneak-peek at some of Dave's art in SDOAR. Hope he doesn't mind. Eeek! I don't know how much of this Dave will use, or if he is going to mock up entirely different pages using the photos I take, but I felt like I had to have a narrative structure to work within for the photo-shoot to be successful, especially without me there.

A month or more went by after I sent these to Jack and I had not heard anything back. When I did speak with her I got the impression that the amount of photos needed was overwhelming her so I proposed to Dave the idea of flying me back out to Norfolk for a weekend to get the rest of the pictures. Dave, being the generous man that he was totally willing to pay for the flight, which is booked for November 2nd - 6th. When I get home from that I will update you all on how the trip went, share plenty of photos from the shoot and then get right to work on the pages. How fast I work from there will depend on what my teaching assignments look like for the Spring 2017 semester.