Following Up Again

Following Cerebus #9

To say I hadn’t entirely expected what’s in this issue would be a little misleading; after all, it’s not like Following Cerebus - the Craig Miller & John Thorne-produced magazine that usually has something to do with Dave Sim’s and Gerhard’s comics series Cerebus but often branches out into the Cerebus creators’ other concerns - hasn’t jumped around in page count and temporary focus. And hell, they said right at the end of last issue that this one would be about Neal Adams.

And yet, I still wasn’t quite steeled for the reality of this latest issue, an $8.95, 104-page square bound book, 97 pages of which are devoted to Neal Adams, Niagra Falls, & Other Forces of Nature, an essay by Dave Sim concerning a day he spent with Adams and his family at the titular natural attraction, the conversation never stopping. Sure, there’s also a 5-page backup essay concerning Adams’ influence on Cerebus, but never has this magazine’s interest in following Dave Sim’s interests been quite so sharply stated.

Luckily, it’s all very much worth reading; longtime perusers of Cerebus already know that Sim can conduct some fascinating interviews with those comics pros that he’s interested in (recall those multi-issue chats with Alan Moore and Chester Brown), yet it’s still easy to forget how good a writer Sim can be with a piece of pure, standalone prose. This one is no simple back-and-forth Adams interview, though that’s one technique duly rolled out; Sim also brings us right into his own head as he waits at the airport, allowing for an encapsulation of his personal history with Adams (including a brief letters column skirmish and a multitude of anecdotes), plus he presents short selections from Pierre Berton’s Niagra: A History of the Falls as part of a ‘vehicle ride over’ sequence, and neatly intermingles wanderings around the attractions of the Falls (a photographic map is included) and all that accompanying natural wonder with Adams’ own stances on the Earth’s geology.

Oh yes, there’s plenty of talk on subduction, and the growth of the Earth, and Sim is disarmingly good at presenting Adams’ presentation of his own position with maximum efficiency, complete with well-timed comic relief and observations as to the effect Adams’ chat (which, remember, is taking place all throughout a series of tourist attractions) is having on nearby people, some of them drifting in to listen at first, then pulling away as the tone of the talk is realized as going quite intensely against the grain; it’s a clever observational detail from someone who’s no stranger to propounding minority viewpoints, and Sim is (needless to say) not shy about inserting bits of his own experience.

But lest you think it’s nothing but talk about rocks, I assure you that there’s plenty of material on comics as well, all of it guided by Sim’s personal interests in Adams’ career, particularly his years of often comics-flavored advertising work at Johnstone & Cushing, and his experiences in the world of dramatic/adventurous newspaper strips. Plenty of discussion of various names, like Leonard Starr and Alex Raymond (Sim prefers the look of Rip Kirby to the romanticism of Flash Gordon), and lots of good anecdotes; there’s even a underlying sense of melancholy, as Sim faces up to the clash between fannish appreciation of classic strips and the realities that went into their production: was that immediate, beautifully dashed-off line he enjoyed a lovely bit of flourish, or evidence of a desire to hit the golf course early? Hell, was such-and-such a strip even drawn by the creator, or a ghost covering for the boss as he hit the beach for a few weeks? Stories have a way of eating into the idealism of virgin review of works, and Sim’s anecdote-heavy piece can’t help but become self-reflexive in that regard.

It’s also heavily illustrated with works from all over Adams’ career, pertinent bits of other works (yes, including Cerebus) provided when necessary. Another strong, worthwhile issue of this magazine, truly something that can appeal beyond the seemingly constrained boundaries of its subject matter.