TRUE BLOOD Season 4 – Episode 1: She’s Not There.

Previously on True Blood …

I’ll assume you did actually watch series 3 but, like me, you’ve probably forgotten a lot of it.  As final episodes go, ‘Evil is Going On’ was fairly short on spectacular dénouement but very heavy on loose ends to tie-up this year.

So, in no particular order:

Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) was pretty much in a holding pattern all last season, developing a relationship with Jesús (Kevin Alejandro) who, finally, confesses he is “a witch” which quite delights Lafayette.

Sam (Sam Trammell)’s back story has risen up and bitten him, meaning he has family matters to deal with that culminate with him shooting his brother, Tommy (Marshall Allman).
Jason (Ryan Kwanten)’s infatuation with Crystal the were-panther has resulted in him being left in charge of a clan of inbred hillbilly shape-shifters.

Tara (Rutina Wesley) has cut her hair, made peace with Sam and seems determined to stop being a victim.  She wants to be “a completely new person”

Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) – Bill’s ‘progeny’ - has finally come to terms with being a vampire, and with the fact that Hoyt (Jim Parrack) loves her no-matter what.  They have moved in together.

Bill (Stephen Moyer) has had a spectacular falling-out with Sookie - again - and has now been replaced in her light-switch affections by Eric.  This has changed him:  Having attempted to ‘kill’ Eric, he was last seen flying and fighting with Queen Sophie-Anne because he has, he claims, nothing left to lose.

Eric (Alexander Skarsgård) buries a barbecued Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) in cement (but he isn’t actually dead, so don’t be surprised if, like Being Human’s Herrick, he doesn’t reappear) then sticks the stake in Bill and Sookie’s relationship before returning home.  He also now has hallucinations of his progenitor, Godric (Allan Hyde), glowing all Obi-Wan like.

And Sookie (Anna Paquin)?  Well, she’s discovered that she’s part Faerie and that her blood is “vampire crack”.  That should ensure that her motto continues to be: “When am I not in trouble?”

Also rattling around in the mix we have the sexy werewolf Alcide (Joe Manganiello), the Wiccan waitress Holly (Lauren Bowles) and human/vampire relations advocate Nan Flanagan (Jessica Tuck).

So, without further ado:

I haven’t read the fourth Southern Vampire Mystery: Dead To The World, that this series will be loosely based upon, so I’m coming at it cold.  Cold blooded, you might say.

‘Bon Temps’ roughly translates as ‘good times’ and, if the first act of this opening episode is any guide, they are having a good time with Time this year. 

When the episode begins you would be forgiven for thinking you had fallen through a hole in Time and were watching Star Trek: Next Generation.  We open with beautiful people in classical gowns wandering round an obvious studio set, plucking glowing fruit off trees and generally acting all Olympian.

Then Sookie arrives and, inevitably, Heaven promptly goes to Hell.

She soon finds herself running through terrain that is not dissimilar to The Vasquez Rocks, being pursued by Mab, The Faerie Queen.  More from her later, no doubt.

We also get a brief cameo from Gary Cole who seems to have his own relationship with Time, since the fella clearly hasn’t aged a day since appearing in American Gothic some fifteen years ago.

But all this is by way of a starter, just to get the juices flowing – then we get to the main course: Sookie’s homecoming.

Although she has only been gone eight or nine minutes, a curiously precise twelve-and-a-half months have passed in Bon Temps and a few things have changed, but not Bill and Eric’s petty point-scoring “He gave up on you, I didn’t” type stuff.

Otherwise, show-runner Alan Ball has taken the chance to re-set the clock on the show, possibly as a result of the fan dissatisfaction over the end of season three.

Bill’s fight with The Queen obviously ended well as he’s still out and about and now has some political clout.  His charm offensive with the humans is cleverly intercut with Eric smarming into a camera and reassuring television viewers that not all vampires who appear on TV are going to tear out your spine.  Yeah, this is definitely the show to demonstrate that!

Elsewhere, Arlene’s had her baby which is remarkably well developed for its, what, nine months or so?

Tara.  Boy has Tara changed.  She’s spent her year productively and she’s hopefully going to be a much more dynamic character this year.

Now we have an established culture of witches as well a whole dimension full of Faeries to add to the mix and I can’t help but find myself noting how similar to the Whedoniverse everything is becoming, with a new supernatural species lurking around every corner.  I’m waiting for a green-skinned crooner to show up.

Of course, the sheer size of the cast and the number of plot-lines are reminiscent of Lost or Fringe – both of which have had fun playing with time and parallel dimensions.  So, it’s a shame that, with this first episode at least, the show has lost its unique voice.  But at least the buffet of plots available ensures that there will be something to everyone’s taste.

So, this is essentially the pilot of a whole new show, taken-up with introducing a whole new cast of characters.  They look like and sound like the characters we know, but they don’t necessarily behave like them.

There is fun to be had, seeing how they have shaken things up and discovering how the characters have changed, but it’s a once-only buzz.  Now they have to get on with the very serious business of telling a lot of stories quickly and well.

Fortunately, during the show’s last five minutes, all the introductions done, things start to move.  The world of True Blood is getting bigger, more complicated and, yes, more dangerous.  One wonders how much longer all of this activity will continue to gravitate around the little town of Bon Temps.  Only Time will tell.

You'll also find this article published by Obsessed With Film, here.


Back in the seventies, my grandad used to love watching ‘Columbo’.  He loved the way he missed nothing and always managed to get the suspect to tie themselves in knots.  “He’s a clever one, that Columbo”, he told me.  Of course, my grandad had never heard of Peter Falk.  Columbo was real to him and, in a way, he was right to think so.

Typecasting is a common fear among TV actors – although, of course, it’s something they all secretly pray for – but there are few who have deserved it and embraced it as much as Falk.  William Link and Richard Levinson may have created Columbo, but Falk owned him.

It was not inevitably so.  Falk wasn’t even the first person to play him.   The character first appeared in the person of one Bert Freed as part of a 1960 TV show called The Chevy Mystery Show, in a one-off episode called ‘Enough Rope’.

This episode was then adapted into the stage play ‘Prescription: Murder’ (where the role was played by Thomas Mitchell – Uncle Billy from It’s A Wonderful Life).  This, in-turn, was adapted back into a TV movie and that’s when Falk got to don the rumpled overcoat.  But only ’cos Bing Crosby turned it down.

In the 1968 TV movie Prescription: Murder, Columbo is quite a different character; persistent, yes, but crueller in his pursuit of his prey’s female accomplice.  He also lies in order to extract confession – something which, in later stories, he would always skilfully avoid.

It would be three years before Falk would get to wear the overcoat again, by which time his acting skills had leapt to a new level thanks to his working with John Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara on the very grown-up and largely-improvised Husbands.  Cassavetes practiced (and taught) The Method, whereby an actor effectively loses himself in his role.  This is something which Falk would increasingly come to do with Columbo.

Falk with his friend and occasional sparring-partner Cassavetes
Both the first Columbo movie and its follow-up Ransom for a Dead Man were directed by Richard Irving (who would go on to direct the pilot for The Six Million Dollar Man) and he succeeded in making them popular enough to warrant developing into a regular series.  The first episode of which was directed by a twenty-five year-old Steven Spielberg.  Wonder what happened to him? 

This story:  Murder by the Book tells of a catastrophic falling-out between two murder mystery writers.  I wonder if one can read anything into the fact that this wasn’t written by Levinson and Link but by Steven Bochco who would go on to be show-runner of a little thing called Hill Street Blues?

Indeed, Link and Levinson could afford to take an increasingly hands-off approach to their creation, overseeing the show more as producers than writers, because they knew the Lieutenant was in good hands.

Falk took it upon himself to maintain the quality control of the show – constantly arguing with writers and directors over details which he felt were not right for the character.  Of course, this was partly because he didn’t want the show’s focus taken away from him.  If they’d introduced side-kicks and car-chases it would have made the show more like everything else out there, and less of a study in character development.  It would be less about him.

Falk’s Columbo performances are text books in hogging the limelight.  Some of American TV’s best actors pitted their wits against him – and it is a real case of the actor trying to win scenes off Falk, in exactly the way that their character is trying to beat the Lieutenant.

Actors who came back for more include William Shatner, Robert Vaughan, Ray Milland and Patrick McGoohan (who turned up four times, directed a couple of later episodes and even wrote one).  Falk also wrote one of the latter episodes.

Yes, that's Captain Kirk wearing some kind of ill-fitting top-lip wig.
What is the appeal of a detective who is never wrong?  What could possibly hold our attention through sixty-nine virtually identical episodes over thirty-five years?  It’s Falk.  It’s his eccentricity, his patience and his intelligence (often well-disguised); it’s his humour, his modesty and his politeness.  One of the most delightful things about the show is just how gentlemanly it is. 

Like Agatha Christie’s greatest creations he is always very polite to his victims who, in turn, are gracious in admiring the tenacity of their captor.  But Christie’s stories were always set in a fantasy version of the 1920s.  Not Columbo … He was contemporary.  Indeed, in his very last outing – Columbo Likes The Nightlife, he found himself investigating 21st century nightclub culture.

There is a cosiness to the killings in a Columbo story, which is why they invariably crop-up on afternoon TV in a generally uncut form.  They’re harmless homicides.  Safe for the whole family. 

Whenever I watch Columbo, I think of my grandad, perched on the edge of his Windsor chair, rooting for the little rumpled detective.  He and I would watch the shows together and, despite the sixty-year age difference, we’d enjoy them equally.  We’d celebrate together when he hesitated, turned in the doorway, uttered the immortal line: “Just one more thing” and casually delivered the knock-out blow that would break down the killer’s defences.

You know that moment is coming, you may have even seen the episode so often you know exactly what is going to happen, but that doesn’t diminish your delight in watching the fly enter the trap one more time.

Given that I associate Falk with my grandad, imagine my delight when, now an adult myself, I saw him turn up in The Princess Bride as the unnamed grandfather of Fred Savage.  Their bickering over whether or not it is “a kissing book” is so beautifully observed it lifts what could, otherwise be an (albeit superior) piece of pastiche into a film of real depth and genuine affection.

But, for me, none of this is Falk’s lasting legacy.  No, for me that is his starting, unprecedented ‘special appearance’ in Wim Wenders’ masterpiece Wings of Desire.   Here he is told “You look like somebody’s grand-father”   Me.  He looks like my grand-father.   Well, maybe not look … But he certainly feels like him! 

Falk plays himself, mulling over life and legacy and Wenders has said he cast him because he “radiated gentleness and generosity”.  Falk said he took the role because Wenders hadn’t written him into the script and so he could, as with his Cassavetes work and, to an extent, Columbo, make the role up as he went along.  After all, he’d been playing Peter Falk all his life!
"I can't see you, but I know you're there!"  Makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck every time!
Towards the end of this film about angels, we learn that Falk is himself an angel; or rather, was once, but voluntarily gave up immortality – after millennia of watching and caring for humans - to experience real life.  He chose the impermanence of mortality.  He clearly has no regrets.

If there is any actor whose calm, warm wisdom suggests an understanding of those existential questions which haunt our unguarded moments, and reassures us that there is nothing to fear, it is Falk. 

He is back up there now, among the angels.  With my grandad.

Thanks to the good people at Obsessed With Film - you'll also find this piece, formated slightly differently, here.


Dave Sim wasn’t – and isn’t – like other comic-book writer-artists.  He decided that his comic, Cerebus, was going to run for 300 issues.  Then stop.  Since he was publishing it with his own money and owned it outright, it was his call.  So it ran to issue 300.  Then stopped.

What does he have to do with movies?  Well, frankly, not a fat lot.  I mean, movies have played their role in influencing his work, as they have everyone's, but his comics are not cinematic, they are literary and ... well, comics.  But the worlds of movie-production and comic-production are becoming increasingly inter-connected and inter-dependent.  How glorious would it be for someone to slap down the money it would take to make a good animated version of just one Cerebus phonebook?  Stranger things have happened.

This epic work is still available, gathered together as sixteen trade paperback collections.  The details of that and much else are here at the Cerebus Wiki.

After he finished Cerebus, he started a magazine about Cerebus called, appropriately, Following Cerebus.

He produced a one-off comic called Judenhass, which was his very personal, thought-provoking and deeply troubling take on The Jewish Holocaust.

In 2008 he started another ongoing comic – called Glamourpuss.  Issue 18 of which – published earlier this year – features the first new appearance of Cerebus since issue 300 - in a parody of the TV show Madmen.

Terms and conditions apply.  Cerebus brings his head-hunting skills to Madison Avenue.  Click to enlarge.
Sim also runs an occasional video blog called Cerebus TV which you can find here.

Partly because he is such an eccentric, willful and persistent character - but mostly because he is so darn good - Sim has gathered a dedicated fan following.  Here, for example, is a very well-informed blog about his and Gerhard's original artwork.  Here is a very detailed analytical blog of the man and his work.  Here is a very passionate fan community.

Finally, if you're the sort of lucky sod who has everything - including a pocket full of spare money - you can make your life complete by commissioning Dave and/or Gerhard to create a drawing for you - either a recreation of a Cerebus page or an entirely original piece - by contacting them directly here.

I've had the privilege of interviewing Dave Sim twice and on both occasions - despite his formidable body of work, his ferocious reputation and his intimidating intelligence - I found him to be a thoughtful, warm and witty interviewee.   I think some of that comes across in this short video intro to Dave and Cerebus I found lurking on YouTube:

Hopefully some of that also comes across in my interview, which is pretty much as I wrote it up 18 years ago - when Cerebus was still a decade from completion. 

Thanks again to Dave and to Gerhard for giving me an hour of their time, when they really had a lot more important things to do, and to Stephen Holland for arranging for me to be there.

This interview was conducted during the Aardvarks Over The UK Tour, the first time Dave Sim and Gerhard had toured this fair isle since 1986. During their travels they stopped over at Fantastic Store in Birmingham, and that’s where I caught up with them.

A moment should be taken here to introduce Cerebus The Aardvark to those who haven’t yet enjoyed it.  The comic began life in 1977, written and drawn by Sim. It didn’t exactly set the publishing world alight, but he kept plugging away. Initially Cerebus the Aardvark took the form of a Conan the Barbarian pastiche, focused around the adventures of a three-foot Aardvark in an imaginary land populated otherwise almost entirely by humans.  Since then, the characters and basic setting remain the same,  but the comic has changed dramatically, evolving until it stands today as one of the most elegant, literate and politically aware comics ever to grace the medium.  And those early issues are now worth a fortune!

Sim worked alone on it for the first few years, then teamed up with Gerhard, and their method is, to the best of my knowledge, unique: Sim writes the script and draws the characters, then Gerhard fills in the backgrounds.  This may sound like money for old rope, but pick up an issue and you will see just how much work goes into those backgrounds!

Cerebus is available in two formats, monthly installments of twenty pages each or gathered together into books, affectionately referred to as ‘phonebooks’ because of their inevitable size.  Both are self-published by Sim through his company Aardvark-Vanaheim, and he has become a vociferous champion of self-publishing over the years, a position which, for reasons he explained to me, has not endeared him to the big publishing companies.

Dave Sim and the pretending-he-isn't-loads-taller Gerhard in the UK in 1993 - photo courtesy Stephen Holland's Page 45 website.
Before the mammoth signing session at Fantastic Store, I took them on a sight-seeing tour of the town and we ended up sitting beside the new Egyptian-style waterfall in Birmingham’s city centre.  As Gerhard was happy to gaze at the cascading water, I began as the comic had, with Mr. Sim: Why had he pinned his career on the adventures of an aardvark?

The original idea for Cerebus was simply to do a more interesting comic book.  I wanted to do something that had adult values applied to it, as opposed to just doing something along typical comic-book lines. You know, “let's do a superhero 'cos they’re selling okay”.  And the further along I’ve gone, the more I’ve tried to do something that makes me happy, something that is satisfying to me.  I enjoyed superheroes the same as any twelve year old, when I was twelve, but I’m almost forty now, so I put things into Cerebus that I’m interested in now!

   Was simply earning a living a consideration at the beginning?

   “For the first five years I could have made more money babysitting than I did doing Cerebus, but that’s one of those things about discipline, the realisation that you do something that’s a bit difficult at first, with the idea that it won’t always be that way.  If you really care about it, it really doesn’t matter how much you’re making off of it, as long as you’re able to eat and pay the rent.  And now that we’re substantially past that point, the money is just there to throw at people to make 'em go away.  Y’know, people who come to cause trouble, most of the time all they want is a little bit of money and then they go away.

   “One of the things for me, particularly in a starting environment - comic books being sold in comic book stores was a very new thing when I started - was that you could get discouraged if you wanted to, but if you stop, you have to start doing something else.  I didn’t wanna go out and get a real job and I sure as hell didn’t want to draw Spiderman, so that narrows down your options right there.  You look at the fact that it’s providing a not terrible living for you, you look at the fact that you’re able to do what you want to do and very little besides that, which is very unusual in this day and age, and then you just have to have the faith that everything’ll come right in the end. Or, at least some time before 2004, I didn’t know when.  March 2004 is when the last issue comes out, issue 300, and the last working day is Friday February 29th ... it’s a leap year. And we always finish up on a Friday, so that’s worked out just right.”

   Cerebus is unique as far as I know, because you create it, self publish it and know exactly how long it will run; so where does the inspiration come from?

   “Well, influences are something that you have when you’re starting out, basically because you need some form of road-map to follow. What did I want it to be like? I wanted it to have a lot of the same qualities of Jules Feiffer’s cartoons, or political cartoons which have adult values to them ... that ingredient which allows people who’ve never read a comic book in 25 years to be quite happy reading Jules Feiffer.

   “But, in terms of influences, the greatest influence on me now is my own thinking.  You know, you just get off by yourself, look at what you’ve already said and try to come up with as many imaginative ways to emphasise what you’re trying to say now, you try as much as possible over the course of 6000 pages to tell people: “This is how things look to me, does this look familiar?” It’s the same thing with being a stand-up comedian, you have to have the identification, right away, with who you’re talking to or the joke is going to fall flat.  I’m trying to put into Cerebus something where people say ‘Oh yeah, I know people like that!’ or ‘That’s happened to me and I thought I was the only one!’.”
'Most Holy' Cerebus was a character unlike any other (with the possible exception of Howard The Duck and Fritz the Cat).
    How did you discover the works of Giles, which you have surreptitiously made reference to on occasion.

   “I think anywhere in the English speaking world, Giles is a Christmas tradition, with his collections with the before and after shots on the front and back covers.  I know Christmas wouldn’t be complete for me without picking up the new Giles book, and I usually end up getting two or three more as presents.

   “But it’s the same as with Groucho Marx and the Senator Claghorn character; there are voices and looks that are just a perfect shorthand.  I was having to come up with a mother-in-law for Cerebus during his brief marriage - obviously it would have to be some counterbalancing force to this walking id, this three foot tall aardvark with the bad attitude - and I just could not get the picture of the Giles grandmother out of my mind, so, my sincerest apologies to him, but it is a wonderful character.
Rumours of Groucho Marx's appearance in the comic have been greatly exaggerated.
   “She hasn’t been in for the last two years; but those were some of the most enjoyable times at the drawing board, sitting down and trying to get the grandmother just right.  It’s the perfect image. I just saw the poster that they have for The Giles Exhibition, and it just screams ‘Britannia’. It’s about time that the she was somewhere, six or seven feet tall, with that attitude that only she can do so well!”

   I recently heard in-jokes in movies referred to as ‘less movie-going, more train-spotting’, how do you react to that?

   “Primarily,  when I’m at my happiest,  I do the book exclusively for myself, so I put the things into it that I like, you know, if I enjoy drawing it, it’ll most likely end up in the book.  If there is an issue that I want to talk about, I’ll talk about it in the book.  So, of the in-jokes and what not, out of the dozens, even hundreds that I’ve done, I’m probably the only one who gets all of them, and that doesn’t trouble me at all.  I think that, if it becomes really self-conscious, where you’re using it to try and liven up a scene that’s otherwise dead, then I think that’s probably a failure of creativity.  But, if you’re just coming up with a name for a character, and it really doesn’t matter what the name is, to borrow that from the real world, or just use the name of a friend, I don’t see that that hurts anything.”

Wolveroach - He's the best at what he does.  But what he does isn't very good.
   What is the Roach character doing,  so far he’s been MoonRoach, Captain Roach, Wolveroach, Punisher Roach ...?

   “He’s just comic books personified! All of the things that I do with him are improvised at the time based on whatever is going on in comic books, and it becomes more and more difficult to do a parody of a superhero, because most superheroes look like parodies anyway now.  You can take as many spikes and chains and capes as you want and it’s not going to look too terribly different from the superheroes that are at the top of the sales charts right now.

   “Basically, because I’m trying to do a life, and I’m talking about my own life as much as life in general, that’s what my life is made up of, it’s a very ordinary kind of life, and every once in a while I go to a comic book convention or a comic book store and there they are the guys in the four colour tights, all around me.  So I just condense them all down to one superhero. But that is a very strange way to live, whereas I think my life is a lot like everyone else’s, except every once in a while along come the guys in the long underwear.”

   Over the last few years you’ve made yourself rather unpopular in some circles over the issue of creators’ rights, why is it so important to you?

   “With creators’ rights it's a matter of feeling responsible, as a current custodian of comic books as a medium.  I think I’ve always tended to have an historical perspective on the medium, and there have been various times when I think that someone or some group have had a large effect on changing the exploitative business practices employed in comics.  Now, attributable more to longevity than to anything else, I’ve become someone that people say, “Oh, well, y’know, he’s okay.” That makes it a good time to be  vocal about not needing business men and not needing publishers.

   “Your job as a writer and artist is to put your story down on paper as clearly as you can, and then your second responsibility is to stay alive, and indoors if possible. So that comes down to a negotiation over what it takes for you to put food on the table and pay your rent and be able to write and draw your book.  And I don’t think publishers are the best solution to that, in fact I think there’s hardly a worse solution.

   “So, really, I’m just someone who’s picked an alternative route.  I guess it would be easy to say “Well, I managed to hack my way through the underbrush, and got to the clearing, then start radioing back that it’s impossible to get through, that I was just lucky.  But, if there was any net effect of Cerebus when it is done, if we have a hundred people who start self-publishing, making it work, making a good living at it, giving exposure to young cartoonists in the back of their comic books, or whatever else, then, on the real world side of Cerebus, I’d feel that I’d accomplished a great deal." 
Dave Sim today - still doing things his own way.
  But doesn’t filling in the tax returns and talking to the lawyers detract from the artistic endeavour?

   “No. I do understand the starving artist in the garret idea; this belief that if you know anything about business you can’t be an artist, but I think that’s just a scam that goes back a couple of thousand years to make sure that business people can make money off of art.  It’s really the only thing of any great consequence where the people around whom it revolves are not the ones making the lion’s share of the money.

   “As long as you realise that you’re creativity is your primary interest, as long as you’re spending, oh, let’s say a maximum of twenty percent of your working day on the business side; what you find out is that it’s really not that difficult. Business people, and particularly multinational corporations, have a vested interest in making the business side seem like this immensely complicated interwoven maze that a poor artist will never be able to muddle through.

   “As long as you decide, “I’ll keep it very simple and very basic, I want to write and draw my comic book, I want the copies printed, I want them to go to a distributor who sends them to the stores, and I want to get paid for them”, after that it’s just a matter of having enough money on hand to give to the government when they come calling, enough money to give an accountant so that he can make out the tax returns, and as for the lawyer, apart from doing the original articles of incorporation and drawing up a will I don’t have any need for a lawyer.  I’m not suing anybody and nobody’s suing me, so ...”

   How important to you is your habit of featuring material by other artists in the back of Cerebus?

   “I think, being a current custodian, you just have the medium for a while.  In my case, who knows, Cerebus could be completely forgotten two months after the last issue comes out.  But if you’ve got 20,000 readers and you run across someone’s work that you think is really good, that you think should be seen by a wider audience, it's really not that difficult to leave eight pages at the back of your comic book to get them that kind of exposure, to help them on their way.  I have no urge to publish other people, because that’s one of the things that I’m trying to fight against - artists using either other artists, or businessmen, as crutches. It’s your career, it's your responsibility, I’ll help you out, I’ll give people a chance to see your work who wouldn’t see it otherwise, but I’m not a bank or a youth hostel or a charity. It’s up to you to find out what it’ll take to get your work solidly entrenched in the market!

   “And it’s very important to me!  It’s one of those things where just the fact of doing it will, I hope, provoke people, when they find themselves in a comparable situation, to say, “Oh yeah, Dave Sim used to run other people’s work in the back of his book, I think I’ll do that in mine.”

   “It just seemed an opportune time, with Maus winning the Special Pulitzer last year for Art Spiegelman.  If we now have a comic book that has won a Pulitzer, it is very sad that the stores are still filled, primarily, with guys in long underwear beating each other up.
NOT the first comic to use anthropomorphism to create a great work of actual art.
   “So, essentially, it’s a combination of trying to get Cerebus better known and therefore getting the sales up, but also helping to reinforce the knowledge that there are quality comic books out there.  To encourage people who don’t read comic books ordinarily to find the right store and the right store owner, someone who is willing to find out what their individual tastes are, and who is willing to recommend Hate or Love and Rockets or Eightball, or any of the books that get the critical acclaim, that get covered in newspapers.

   “And travelling around for a couple of weeks, signing autographs and building a line-up of people outside a shop, if that’s gonna help, then that’s what we’re trying to do.  And the same thing with giving promotional materials in raw form to the stores.  Here’s a t-shirt design, you can print up the t-shirts and sell them yourself, if you want more you go and print more. That’s as opposed to saying ‘All roads lead to me!’. You don’t have to come and sign a contract with me and I don’t have to get all of the money.  If we want comic books to receive a wider acceptance, then we have to make the better material more accessible, and that’s a matter of putting more control in the hands of store-owners and not relying on the big distributors to do all the promoting.”
The five-hour signing session - Gerhard left, then Dave, then Nabiel Kanan (Exit) with Paul Grist (Kane and Jack Staff) in the distance.
   How do you react to these queues forming outside shops?

   “I enjoy it. I mean, the great thing about touring is that it’s the complete opposite of creativity.  When I’m at home, as I say, I have a very, very ordinary, go-down-to-the-local-pub and watch-the-sports-on-television and drink-some-beer and smoke-a-few-cigarettes kind of life, and apart from that I write and draw usually about eight or nine hours a day, seven days a week.  But that does become a very isolated kind of existence, so basically touring helps just because it’s all social.  It’s people telling you how great you are, it’s signing autographs, it’s doing quick little sketches for people which, no matter how bad they are, they love.  Apart from that, it’s going out for dinner with people, drinking at someone else’s expense, staying in hotel rooms at someone else’s expense, and it’s a very nice contrast from the complete isolation and the complete lack of socialisation that I think you need for creativity.

   “And, of course, I do enjoy meeting the fans, it’s always nice to find out that you’re not just sitting in a room writing and drawing twenty pages and then sending it out in the trash. It did get printed up, it did go around the world, and that comic book I drew nine years ago in a little office building in Kitchener, someone has a copy of it in his hand and I’m autographing it in Birmingham, England. Y’know that feels pretty good! That’s one of the hidden sides that you don’t see until you go out and do the grip’n’grin circuit."

   There’s a lot of Victoriana in recent stories, is Britain of that period an interest?

   “Well, yeah, but it goes with the territory when you’re trying to document things as accurately as I can. Because one of the benefits of being in Canada is that you can see more clearly that everything did start over here in Britain.  I mean, America did not, as much as it likes to think so, spring full-blown from the head of Zeus, there was something before it. I think there’s no question that, being in Canada, there’s more of a UK influence, you know, the British traditions, and there’s a genuine affection for things Victorian, for the works of Oscar Wilde. The story of Oscar Wilde itself is one of those great tragedies where you can read nine biographies in a row and you’re still on the edge of your chair when you get to the critical part.  I think there is something to the idea of bloodlines tracing back as well! I mean, my dad was born in Glasgow and my grandparents in Edinburgh,  so you realise that you’re a little closer to something seminal than you are in America.

   “There is still a great deal of British influence in Canada, particularly in Ontario where we live, but North America is becoming very North American! They’re everywhere! Certainly, there’s a good deal more American presence in Britain than I saw on the last tour back in ‘86.  But we still came from somewhere, there is historical precedent.

   “I think that people are not that much different from the way they’ve been for hundreds of years, I think it’s just the cosmetics that change, and when I’m doing Cerebus, I try to emphasis that as much as I can. Religion is religion whatever the age or location, politics is politics, mothers are mothers and daughters are daughters.  Economics all fall along the same lines whenever and wherever you are, and that’s what I’m trying to point out in the book, probably more than anything else.”

   Recently you have used a lot of cinematic techniques in the frame breakdowns and in the lighting; is it difficult not to let technique get in the way of the storytelling?

   “In my case, because the writer is in charge, the idea is to get the story across.  Sometimes you do that with a flashy bit of storytelling which has immediate impact when someone’s looking at the page; but, most of the time, if you’re trying to get across quiet dialogue or something like that, you don’t want a rousing or complicated image going with it. So it depends on the page.

   “And comic books are idiosyncratic, they have their own means of expression.  Everyone says, ‘Oh well, you know you have this cinematic approach in your comic book’, but to me that’s a lot like saying an opera is heavily influenced by a ballet.  Yeah, there are elements that are in common, but opera is opera and ballet is ballet. Comic books are comic books.

   “This is one of the things that we’re starting to discover now, because it’s only been fifteen years that comic books have had a reliable place to be seen in: comic book stores run by comic book fans.  This allows us to say “So, what makes a good comic book?”, and you find out that, yeah, there’s lots of flashy cinematic techniques, but it's a matter of doing them right or doing them wrong, and it’s the same thing in finding out that they’re different from comic strips.  There are brilliant comic strips - Prince Valiant, Little Nemo - but I can’t look at them and take anything from them, because it’s a completely different artform. It’s one page a week, and that’s a very different way of telling a story from doing six thousand consecutive pages.”

   And finally, how has Gerhard influenced the look of the comic?

   “Well, why don’t we ask him!?”

   So, snapping Gerhard out of his waterfall-induced trance, I did just that.  Firstly I asked him how he got involved in such a personal ongoing project.

   “Oh, there’s the big question, isn’t it! One of these days Dave and I are going to make up a proper answer for that question, because neither of us can remember when we first met.  It was sort of, I dunno, call it evolution, call it fate, call it divine punishment, call it whatever you want.  We really don’t have an answer for that one.”

   So, what were you doing prior to this?

   “A lot of drugs.”


   “No?  Okay. I was doing anything I could. We’re both high-school drop-outs, and I tried to earn a living in the traditional manner: doing a lot of really bad jobs, which I didn’t stay with for any length of time.  But, slowly, I moved closer to the artistic field, which meant working in a silk-screen shop, an art-supply store, and in my spare time, usually between six o'clock at night and four in the morning, doing any drawing that I could, for newspaper advertisements and things like that.

   “Then, eventually, when I’d done a series of eighteen drawings in pen and ink with water colour, I had them framed up and did exhibitions. Dave had seen those and that’s actually what started the whole thing, I guess; because Archie Goodwin, at Epic Magazine at the time, asked Dave if he’d be interested in doing some colour work for Epic.  So Dave asked me if he laid out the pages and drew the aardvark, could I put in those pen and ink and watercolour backgrounds?  So we gave it a try and the rest, as they say, is a cliché.”

One of those early colour experiments from Epic Illustrated, which resulted in Gerhard spending the rest of his working life chained to a drawing desk.  Thankfully.
   So how does the workload break down?

   “I’m not involved in the scripting at all, it’s Dave’s story, it always has been, it always will be; so, basically I get surprised by each new page.  Sometimes I have questions dealing directly with the background, but most of the time it’s pretty obvious what needs to go where. I have pretty much a free rein as to what goes into the backgrounds. Every once in a while I have a question on the storyline, so I’ll ask Dave about it and he’ll ask me if I really wanna know, then it’s like “No, no, I’ll wait and find out, like everyone else!”

   Over the last few years there have been many pages of text accompanied by a single illustration, did you influence this?

   “Oh no; again, that’s a storytelling device, so that’s all Dave’s decision.  The most recent section of the book is called Reads , and that’s the basic format - one page of text with a single illustration on the facing page. That’s entirely a storytelling technique. But I enjoyed it! I prefer doing the single page illustrations 'cos I get to spend more time on one single drawing, rather than having to do between six and nine on a page.”

   Given that Dave is sitting within arm’s reach, how do you think the comic compares now to before you arrived?

   “Oh, it’s much better, isn’t it!  It’s like night and day. There’s no comparison.” (Dave isn’t listening, he’s checking out the lion statue we’re seated behind.)

   “No, I was very intimidated starting on it.  I basically didn’t know what I was doing and it was a very slow, painful learning process, that about 25,000 people got to watch. I think I’ve got a better handle on it now though, but at first I was basically trying to do what Dave had done previously.  Only ... I draw in a certain way, I wish I could draw differently, but no matter what I do, it always comes out looking like I did it, and there’s nothing I can seem to do to change that.”

Gerhard's work is known for its striking level of detail and very subtle, moody use of colour (when he gets the chance to use it).  Click to enlarge.  Go on, enjoy yourself.
   Do you work together or in separate studios?

   “We’ve got a quite lovely hundred year-old brick house in downtown Kitchener, which is completely just studios and offices. We both have our separate residences, of course. What used to be the living room is Dave’s studio, and the dining room adjoining it is mine. We’ve turned the kitchen into a library and the offices are upstairs. So we work in fairly close proximity.

   “In Dave’s studio there’s twenty nails in the wall, with clips on them.  When he finishes a page, it goes up on the wall and then I take it down and take it onto my drawing board, I do my bit, then put it back up on the wall, so at the end of the month you have twenty finished pages.  And then comes the worst part, taking them all down and having an empty wall, then it’s like ‘Lord, no, we have to do it again ... and again ... and again’.”

   And of course, working so close together, you must love each other’s company.

   “Oh yeaahh!!!  No, we do definitely have separate lives! Especially with working together that closely, and going out touring occasionally, we’re in constant contact with each other. Therefore, I think it’s important to have separate lives, your own way of doing things.”

   And what will you get up to after you become officially unemployed as of the 29th of February, 2004?

   “Well, what are you gonna be doing in ten years? Actually, I don’t look upon it as being unemployed; I prefer to look upon it as being retired. Or maybe just semi-retired.”


I then spoke to Stephen Holland then of Fantastic Store – now of the equally excellent Page 45 - who had been largely responsible for the tour.  I include him here because Stephen had further insight into the work and character of Dave Sim and also because he stood then – and stands now – for an intelligent and independent style of comic shop that is all too rare in the UK.  Furthermore: He talks here about the important role Dave and 'Ger' played in creating Page 45.

As the interview was originally intended for local radio, I asked him the classic question all good radio interviews begin with - what did he have for breakfast that morning - and when the answer came back “Coffee and a Jack Daniels. Isn’t that awful!” I knew we were talking the same language!

So how did you go about bringing Dave over all the way from Canada?

   “He mentioned in the back of Cerebus at the beginning of the year that he wanted to come to England, but no one was taking enough interest.  Well, the one signing we’d always wanted to do was Cerebus, because it’s something we believe in and think can appeal to a wider audience, wider than are actually reading comics at the moment. We knew it was something we could actively promote rather than just be a passive signing venue for, and we wanted something that we could put all our energy behind to make it quite a spectacular event. So we said, we’d like to do it.

   “Dave wrote back, asking if we wanted to get people interested, did we want to organise the thing.  Well, we thought long and hard about it and, after a couple of bottles of wine, we thought Oh, what the hell, let’s go for it. So we wrote back and said 'sure'!

  “Then, over the next couple of months, we worked out a strategy between here and Canada of which other stores to contact. Basically, we wanted independent, friendly stores who were already supporting independent comics, so they too would put as much energy into it as us.  You see, enthusiasm is invaluable. You can’t pay for enthusiasm.

   “We know Nabiel Kanan well, he self-publishes Exit comic, so we asked him which stores take his comic, got together a list of those, sent out feelers and drew up a proper tour plan, letting them know exactly what they were in for and what the benefits were.  Our main aim was to show this as part of a wider thing which could only benefit their stores.

   “DC rightly claim that The Death of Superman brought a lot of new people into comic stores, but they bought it, read it, went away thoroughly disappointed and they’re not coming back; this was a chance to really reach a wider readership.  To get a wider base of customers in, to bring in different groups of people, you need to show them something that they can enjoy in comics, show them that it isn’t an inherently esoteric medium.  There’s nothing about the medium of comics which stops there being a comic for everyone, just like there’s music for everyone, and films. Everyone reads books, but only a small percentage, at the moment, read comics and it just doesn’t have to be that way.  

Won't get fooled again.  Not the first time DC 'rebooted' a comic.  Not, apparently, the last time, either.
             “Cerebus was a great starting point.  Its sales were rising, Dave was prepared to come over here,  and he’s an active campaigner, he’s not just gonna show up and sign. So, once we got a number of stores confirmed, Dave took it one stage further and upped the ante.  He said he’d send over the phone books right away, so we could keep them on our shelves in the lead up to the signing, and he sold them to us at a 25% rate, which is an extraordinarily generous offer.  But, of course, that has helped the tour work out so well, because, again, it’s not just a tour, it’s a campaign in advance, designed to actively promote Cerebus and Indie comics.

   “It's not just a Fantastic Store signing, although there are three of our stores involved, we also managed to get the Newcastle branch of Forbidden Planet, who are, in some ways, our arch rivals.  In fact, they are one of the stars of the tour, because they alone ordered as many books as our three shops did put together.  And that is the great thing about this tour, it’s brought  together retailers who don’t normally  co-operate. Everyone’s a little suspicious, we don’t want the other guy to know what we’ve sold out of, where we’re making the money, and certainly not what we haven’t made money out of.  But with this, everyone across the board has co-operated completely. Which is a good sign for the future of comics retail, and it’s a great sign for the future of comics publishing, especially independent self-published comics.

   “I mean, if Cerebus can do it without in-house advertising and still pull off a crowded signing like this one, and all the others have lasted over four hours, then there’s no reason why we can’t do it for, say, Jeff Smith’s Bone. Ultimately, this is all good news for the reader, because they won’t be stuck with the same old dross to choose from.  If the retailers can make money out of it and publishers can make money out of it, then the readers are going to get a wider range of material on their shelves.

   “Early coups like getting a plug on the cover of the trade mag Comics International, which is unheard of for an independent comic, were a big boost, then we were able to report back to them that in just one shop we’d sold 400 copies of the special commemorative Cerebus Zero in just two weeks, which broke all our records.  You compare that with X-Men No 1, which is supposed to be the biggest seller ever: even though it came out with five different covers to make people buy more than one copy, we sold 350 in two months!

   “Now part of that relies on active salesmanship by the retailers, but most of it is down to the quality of Cerebus, otherwise they wouldn’t come back for more.  At the moment, in my Nottingham branch we sell something like twenty phonebooks a week yet we’re lucky to sell more than one Marvel trade paperback every fortnight, and we’re a mainstream shop!  But we know where the money is now!  People are sick of being charged £2.95 for what they call ‘a limited edition’, which has the same number of pages as a regular comic, but with a gimmick cover slapped on it, either embossed with silver foil, or a hologram or something.  They’re really charging you £2.95 for the pleasure of buying their cover. Cerebus Zero is four times as long as a normal issue, 96 pages, and it’s only £1.25. That’s a giveaway!”

   I noticed that Dave brought with him some of the Zeros with the special gold cover - a gimmick cover, I suppose - and he’s given them away, rather than selling them at ten times the price!

   “Again, it's a mark of his generosity and determination, and it really shows him putting his money where his mouth is.  He was very pleased with our ideas - such as an advert in NME, that everyone was prepared to put some money into, to get Cerebus seen in the music press. It is a natural cross-pollination, if you read the letters column in Cerebus, everyone is as obsessed with music as they are with the aardvark. It’s so, obvious, I can’t understand why it hasn’t been done before. Well, Dave put up half the total money for that. And now, as you say, he’s giving away Cerebus Gold, which is rare in this country and is selling for anything up to fifty pounds. He’s giving away twenty-five of them at each signing. Multiply that by fifty pounds. That’s generosity; he didn’t have to do that!”

  Go on, be honest, how exciting is all this for you?

  “Inestimably! There’s no point in just sitting behind a desk and taking money off people. If you’re gonna go to work, you might as well have fun doing it. So to actually get your favourite creator over, someone who you respect, to do a tour, and for it to be as successful as this has been - We feel great about it and it’ll keep us going for the next part of the campaign, probably for years. And, apart from everything else, I get to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, which is ... kinda nice. It’s a real bonus. I’m a roadie at heart. Some would say I’m a groupie, but I’m a roadie!"