Writing on comics, and drawing on them too.

*I took a peek at that b&w coloring book variant of issue #5 of Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. yesterday, and if nothing else it's cute - what with the crayon-conductive paper quality and the coloring contest sponsored by Comic Book Resources (man, I haven't run into a good old-fashioned coloring contest since I stopped writing for that local newspaper!), there's certainly more of a sense of fun about it than the usual alternate covers and the like.

And now Chris Tamarri is really getting into it by turning his copy of the book into an online mass-participation project! Just click over to this post and present Chris with a word or phrase or whatever in the comments section. Any word or words you want. Chris will then, in about a week or two, select the best 22 entries and use them as the inspiration behind his beautifying of the Nextwave coloring book, one entry per page. Go think up some fine words and give them to Chris!

Following Cerebus #8

I’m like a broken record with this, but if Following Cerebus isn’t going to manage the decency to stop being an interesting magazine, one that I’m routinely flipping though as I start my car in the comics shop parking lot, then I’m just going to have to keep writing about it. It’s currently nominated for the Eisner for Best Comics-Related Periodical, the only one of the nominees devoted not to a generalized comics ’topic’ but a specific work of a specific creator, though a flip through the pages of just about any issue will reveal that the scope of Cerebus and the interests of its creator allow for all manner of interesting and varied material. I’m tempted to say that the 40-page pamphlet-format publication is in fact a natural evolution of Cerebus itself - with those 20 pages of comics per month no longer a concern, it’s as if the varied supplementary bits of whatever given issue have ballooned to the point of taking over the whole comic. Certainly there’s no lack of creator/writer/co-artist Dave Sim; the magazine might be officially edited by Craig Miller and John Thorne, but Sim’s unique tastes and point of view suffuse everything, setting aside the fact that he contributes generously to various features.

The latest issue was released yesterday, and it’s a ‘Mind Games’ special. Veteran Cerebus readers will instantly know what that refers to: a series of thematically linked issues interspersed throughout the series in which the titular aardvark was confronted with all manner of metaphysical quandary and visual abstraction. There’s a nice analytical essay discussing these issues, and it does a really nice job of covering recurring themes and concerns, setting out how Sim used such issues to skillfully impart necessary exposition in a unique manner, explaining how such issues became unnecessary as Sim’s concept of what the series should be about changed over time, and researching visual influences behind Sim’s often creative page constructions (more than one of these issues could have pages pulled out and reassembled into a ’secret’ poster, a technique apparently inspired by Neal Adams’ Deadman work in Strange Adventures).

But even folks who haven’t plowed through all 300 issues of Cerebus will find a lot to enjoy from this issue. There’s the general sense of genial fun that goes into the publication’s very paper-to-staple construction: in keeping with the ‘Mind Games’ theme, the issue’s cover is intentionally stapled on upside-down and the opening editorial (by Sim, who is not an editor of the magazine) starts in the middle of a sentence and ends in the middle of another (the two halves of sentences don’t join up Finnegans Wake style, though). There’s comics too, the most interesting being a new five-page story by Roberta Gregory concerning her reactions to Sim’s storied reputation (amusingly, Gregory’s Bitchy Bitch character pops up to join in Sim's dislike for feminists, albeit for totally different reasons), and a two-page jam featuring Sim, Chester Brown, Seth, and Joe Matt, accompanied by commentaries from all four participants. Matt's contribution in particular is fascinating, a lengthy rumination on what a 'good' jam strip should be, leading into a biting critique of the strip presented.

Brown returns later for another telling feature, a presentation of an e-mail exchange between him and Sim on the topic of what Sim calls The List: a group of media-approved comics talents that tend to get big stories and big features in big media crafted around them over and over, folks like Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman, Dan Clowes, Adrian Tomine, etc. It's a personal, revealing discussion; Sim is never afraid to sound sour or withering, and Brown often challenges his statements. For example, upon Sim's suggestion that cartoonists of that league stay away from him due to his ideas, Brown counters that "[m]ost Listers look at your drawings and experience a gut level 'yuck' reaction" which leads into material on how different visual approaches have become more or less valued as their proponents have grown in media/industry stature.

And still there's more! If anyone's been wondering what Dave Sim thinks of the recent Danish cartoons controvesy, there's an interview on the very topic. Sim reviews an 800-page, 8-volume graphic novel by Lee Thacker, One for Sorrow. There's transcrips of recent speeches, and baby pictures sent in by readers, and yet more talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or at least promotional stills from such). It's overstuffed with interesting material, though I'll readily admit that those who find Sim's famous stances on various sensitive issues mortifying to the point of their being unale to read anything of his might not want to jump in, since there's no holding back with that either. Just like with an actual issue of Cerebus, you can't escape seeing all of Sim. But also just like an actual issue of Cerebus, there's nothing quite like this publication on the stands today. Next issue it will bulk up to a 60+ page square-bound format to focus squarely on Neal Adams. Who knows what it might be next? It'll be very much Sim, at least.