Thursday, 19 October 2017

Get Him Out of the Hotel

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.

The last time we looked at Dave's notebook #14 was just in August in Refuge of the Shallow and a look at Dave's sketches of Oscar. It covers Cerebus #113 through #117, and on page 35 there is a lot of writing for Oscar's story about young Jaka. 

Notebook 14, page 35
Dave would write and rewrite the text from Jaka's Story, but it is the notes in black pen on the side of the page that caught my interest:

Close up of page 35 from notebook 14
It looks as if Dave was taking all the negative comments that he got from letter writers about the High Society and the Church and State storylines.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Many Faces of Khem

Sean Michael Robinson:

It's been a busy few weeks out here in San Diego, as I wrangle the artwork and juggle the files for You Don't Know Jack issue #1 and #2, and work with Dave and Benjamin Hobbs to finish off the next half-dozen or so issues of Cerebus in Hell?

... but for various reasons, most of that is currently in the realm of un-shareable. And really, in the case of Cerebus in Hell?, you don't really want to be teased with comics you won't get to read for another year or so, do you?

So instead, let's take a brief detour in the CEREBUS ART DRAGNET.

Yes, we're still looking for scans of "in the wild" original artwork! Yes, we're still sending out certificates and our eternal gratitude! Yes, WE WANT YOUR SCANS!


We've gotten a few inquiries over the past two months, but only a few pages. Here's the story of one of them.

I received an email from Cerebus super-fan and regular AMOC reader David Branning. His friend, comics compatriot, and long-time Cerebus reader Steve Hay, had sadly passed away the previous year, and he was helping Steve's widow Donna sort through and organize Steve's massive comics collection. And what should he find in the process but a framed piece of familiar artwork?

David said of his friend: "Steve was a voracious reader and collector of comics, and a lover of the medium and all of its history. I think he would be very proud to see one of his pages contribute to the preservation of Cerebus!"

It's always a thrill to get pages, but particularly when we receive pages a. that are very poorly represented by the original photography (or for which the negatives no longer exist), and b. pages from people who are very eager to contribute, who see this work in the same meaningful light that I do. So this page in particular was doubly gratifying.

So I wrote to David with some details (okay, too much detail...) on how to free the page from the frame, and some scanning options...

Removing it from the frame should be easy if you decide to do it yourself. There will most likely be a brown backing paper on the rear, that's attached with staples or a little glue. This can be cut to remove. Underneath will be (most likely) little metal l-shapes that can be loosed with screw drivers, which will enable you to take the frame apart. Lastly, the art itself is probably held on the matte with tape that would need to be removed. Take a thin knife or exacto to the corner of the tape to lift it a bit before removing. Luckily Dave and Ger drew on very rugged and thick board!

Yes, a place specializing in photo stuff is likely to have a very good scanner. Asking them to "Turn off any sharpening" would help. An Office Depot or Fedex Office however will have a color printer that also scans that will do an okay job as long as they have the settings set to Color. It's not a huge deal which you end up at for a single page, as I know how to deal with scans of varying sources--just scanning it at the right res and color mode is the biggie :)

Most of the really fine distinctions/possible scan screw-ups don't apply to a page like this, as it doesn't have iterative dot tone on it, only "noise" tone. So there's a lot more leeway!

Unfortunately Heritage won't make scans for us. I've put in a lot of time trying to persuade them otherwise... however, ComicLink (a great auction site) does. So if she decides to sell through them, then give me a heads up and I'll get it from Jason Crosby, one of their employees.

And lo and behold, the scan arrived! And boy, is this page a beauty up-close.

A big slab of the scribble tone right on top, and separate secondary layers in places to capture a painterly effect, over what are some pretty uncharacteristiclly Gerhard marks/hatching. As well as some uncharacteristic Gerhard drawing. Most likely because he was working from a model-- the "many faces of KHEM" from waaay back in issue 2.

I asked Gerhard about this kind of "inherited device" when I interviewed him in December 2010.

Robinson: On 416, there’s a couple of visual devices that you inherited from issues that you didn’t work on.
Gerhard: Are you talking about the streams of light?
Robinson: Yeah. What was your reaction to those things that you were called upon to replicate?
Gerhard: Not happy. Not happy, no. It was difficult to try to emulate some of the things that Dave had done. I would have much rather he had done those streams of light, because I think he was better at it.
Regardless of his feelings about it while working on it, the "heads and skuwws" is an interesting example of something that started with a clear model but transformed pretty wildly over time to become something very different. As such, this is a pretty significant page in the artistic development of the book, and an early attempt at many of the techniques, largely-invisible to the reader, which would help Dave and Gerhard produce the book month after month.

Such as photocopies! China White! Scribble tone! Scribble tone on top of China White next to photocopies! &c &c &c

Quoting me to David Branning:
By the way, Dave's (photocopied) lettering in the upper right is most likely the only bit of drawing he did on this page. This is a great example of early Gerhard, almost if not entirely solo. (Although it's loosely based on the backgrounds of issue 2 of the series--- check out pg 45 in the first phonebook). Dave helped lay out/rough the backgrounds for the first two or so issues Ger was on, then it was mostly solo from there...

More me:

Yeah, the bigger the slabs of tone they used, the more problems there are in the restoration. The tone is shrinking every year, as a percentage of its overall area--so the bigger the tone, the more visible that shrinkage is. And the better burnished pieces of tone, like this massive one here, tend to tear as the different sections shrink away from each other, but remain affixed to the art board by the burnishing...

Special thanks to David Branning, and Donna and Steve Hay, for their time and generosity, and for sharing their Cerebus page with us.

(By the way, Donna is planning on selling this page, so if you're interested, and would like to make a preemptive offer at market value, feel free to send any inquiries to cerebusarthunt at gmail and I'll pass them on to David.)

More next week!

The Death of Cerebus in Hell? #1-- "Funny" Animal Sour Grapes, the Last Wednesday of Every Month!

Order at your Local Comics Shop now! Diamond Order Code: SEP171028

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Gone Fishing!

Cerebus #211 (October 1996)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Normal service will resume shortly. 
Please stand by. 

Saturday, 14 October 2017

On Sale 7 Years Ago: Cerebus Archive #10

Cerebus Archive #10 (October 2010)
Art by Dave Sim

(from Cerebus Archive #10, October 2010)
...Ali Baba, Prince of Thieves was pretty much -- apart from the unconscious Judaic, Christian and Islamic subtext! -- boilerplate sword-and-sorcery... but there was definitely more going on below the surface as I was taken with -- and by! -- the idea of an epic comic-book story of my very own.

If you take the time to read my outlines for parts two and three which follow the roughs [for the first chapter], you can see the groundwork I was already laying with Theta, The One-Armed Warrior Woman (and Red Sonja knock-off). I was writing a lot of what, today in Hollywood they call backstory. I already had a major theme -- the "sorcery" was dying in this "sword-and-sorcery" environment. "Our hosts must have run short of sorcery." It would be a major theme in the early Cerebus. I had completely forgotten that Ali Baba, Prince Of Thieves was where I had first come up with it.

I was developing as many of the Forty Thieves as I could, as individual characters. One was going to be a mouthy young kid. I was going to base him on Sabu, the character played by Sabu Dastsgir in the classic 1940 film, The Thief of Baghdad... it would be a running gag that none of the rest of the thieves... or the readers... would be able to stand him. And then, five issues in, maybe ten, he would shoot off his mouth once too often and get cornered in an alleyway by persons unknown... and have his tongue cut out. Which would have been a real tearjerker both for the thieves and (I hoped) for the readers. He would go from comedy relief to core dramatic element -- totally mute for the rest of the series.

And then, just like that, it was over.

No Orb magazie.

No Ali Baba, Prince of Thieves epic comic book.

Just eight pages of roughs... outlines for parts two and three... and a lot of scribbled notes, now long-lost.

It was back to The Beavers, my hoped-for great Canadian comic strip...

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Terror in a Turgid Tool

Dave Sim's notebook thirteen Cerebus notebook, which covers Cerebus #112 / 113 and some early Jaka's story notes, has been shown here seven times previously at AMoC most recently in Playing Bingo While Wearing Tight Pants. While Cerebus #112 / 113 has a cover date of July 1988, Dave and Gerhard did work that appeared in Alan Moore's AARGH! which came out in October 1988.

The first three pages of notebook #13 contain Dave's notes for the Roach story, An Untold Tale Of The Secret Sacred Wars, that appears in AARGH! Page one of the notebook is page one from the story, with all the dialogue and sketch of the Roach about to pop a kidney.

Notebook #13, page 1
The next two pages of the notebook have the dialogue for pages two to four of the story, with some extra dialogue that wasn't use and a re-write of some of it.

Notebook #13, page 2

Notebook #13, page 3

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Cerebus in Hell-- First Seven Issues, All Sold Out

Sean Michael Robinson:

Received some additional news yesterday that I thought I'd pass on to you all...

Here is the new, updated back cover to Death of Cerebus In Hell? , which will be going to press in a week or two...

Why an updated back cover? Check out the details below.
Strange Cerebus #1 will be in stores two weeks from now, on October 25th 2017. And Death of Cerebus in Hell? #1 is available to order now! Diamond order code is SEP171028.

Cerebus in Hell Contest--the Handbook of Hell?

Sean Michael Robinson:


After a long Friday and Monday morning doing prepress for the first issue of You Don't Know Jack! (details coming next week...), I spent the first chunk of my Tuesday morning work time putting together a road map and monthly schedule for the next issues of Cerebus In Hell?

As I've mentioned before, although the online strip ended its run at the end of March, Dave never stopped producing strips, and that constant production of between seven and ten strips a week has meant that we continue to gain lead time for the series. In fact, there's currently material enough to project out as far as May of 2019. That's right, that sequence of "Cerebus Woman" you got a peek at on Friday will be published nineteen months from now, and not a day sooner.

That being said, the need for new material continues, and we continue to look for different books, and even different formats, to try on for size.

Which brings us to the current contest—

The Handbook of Hell?

The much-loved and equally maligned Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe was first published in 1983. The massive undertaking was initiated by Jim Shooter, who claimed baseball card stats as his inspiration—but I think a more obvious inspiration would be the current exploding popularity of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and other table-top role-playing and adventure games. Stats were everywhere.

And inside OFOTMU, it's definitely the minutiae that dominate.

The majority of the writing was done by the incredibly disciplined and long-suffering Mark Gruenwald, who managed to make semi-coherent narratives out of several decades of scattershot monthly storytelling.

Entries fall into a few broad categories.

Take it away, Wikipedia--
The OHOTMU detailed the more significant characters, items and locations in the Marvel Universe, itemizing them into individual entries. Individual entries usually consisted of:
  • A frontal full-body view of the character.
  • Prose text describing the character's origin, powers, and other abilities and unique traits, as well as "statistics" such as place of birth, former aliases, height, weight, hair and eye color and so forth. The original edition opted only to describe the "origins" of characters (how they acquired their powers), instead focusing heavily on detailed explanations for how those powers functioned. In the Book of the Dead supplement, however, the handbook provided entire "histories" for the deceased characters, a trend which was then adopted for the main body of the Deluxe Edition, allowing the entire life and career of the characters to be covered. Major important pieces of equipment were also given technical illustrations with breakdowns of their functions and features.
  • Example images of the character in action, taken directly from the comics themselves.

And in a move that must have delighted me as a prepubescent but I now find mostly hilarious, individual entries are also reserved for, ahem, important weapons, locations, vehicles, pretty much anything that can be viewed in a neato exploded view with lots of tech speak jutting out from it.

So, yes, the plan is to write a Handbook of Hell? , twenty (or so!) entries about assorted random characters/background characters/locations/objects/groups of people/etc. These will be primarily funny, NOT really long recitations of their lives as depicted in Cerebus in Hell? unless you're a comic genius who can make such a thing funny. Deviating from the normal course of things, in addition to the normal Dore Inferno illustrations, we'll also (most likely) be illustrating the technical objects with original drawings by myself or Benjamin (or, hey, stolen from somewhere and doctored up a bit). Just to give you an idea of where we are on this, the currently-written "object" entries include "The Whore of Babylon's Waffle Maker", lovingly labeled with the least technical language ever committed to paper. 

Want to participate? Write your entry and email it to cerebusarthunt at gmail dot com. Make me laugh (yes, this is Dave's criteria for acceptance--that it makes me laugh...) and we'll slot it into the issue! You'll receive a by-line in the issue and a cool $25.00 for your trouble.

For instance—see a random background Inferno figure who clearly has a story to tell? Give 'em an entry!

Like, say... that guy!

No, no, THAT guy!

I hope that some of the regular AMOC readers who also happen to be very fine writers will take a crack at putting together a few entries. This could end up being the strangest issue of the book yet, and let me tell you, as one of the three people who's read every single strip, that's saying a lot.

Any questions about the contest? Hit me up in the comments! And good luck!

Special thanks to Cerebus fan David Branning for the copious OHOTMU scans! It's much appreciated!


For entries about individual characters or organizations, i.e. the really text-dense ones, I'd recommend a length of somewhere between 900 and no more than 1,200 words. For the other types of entries, take a look at the samples above for some idea of what we're looking for!

Edit Number Dos:

Can anyone name the (pretty significant) tie that OHOTMU has to Cerebus? Hint--the answer is on the credits page above! 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dave Sim: "Get A Life"

(from the Cerebus Guide To Self-Publishing, 2010 Revised Edition)
...Remember, as well, that self-publishing -- or being published in any way -- is neither a primary nor pressing concern when measured against the actual act of creativity. In a world where so much of everyone’s leisure time is taken up with viewing and/or participating in activities which, in the Bard’s words, are "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" -- television, movies, concerts, drinking, drugs, most love affairs, most sex, most conversations -- a person with an aptitude for writing and drawing should be wary of diminishing the importance of these talents and/or diminishing the role they play in his or her life. Remember that people who sneer "get a life" usually have no particular talent of their own and are unable to see beyond the limited, temporary, and immediate gratification to be had through wholehearted participation in the various "sounds and furies" available to them.

Alone at your drawing board with a stack of empty pages, a sharpened pencil, and an eraser, you are free to explore whatever you deem to be significant, to navigate the largely uninvestigated waters of your conscious and unconscious awareness, to choose when to dive deep and when to skim the surface. Pencil line by pencil line, rendered and erased, amended and enhanced, step by instinctive step you bring something into existence which you can truly call your own. If and when you can achieve a period of creative existence -- whether for a few hours after work, for an entire Saturday, or (oh, bliss) a week of vacation -- you will be experiencing the same exhilarating state which keeps me going, which keeps any comic-book creator going. For those who achieve their fullest satisfaction from creativity after an hour or two -- and then find it to be the most tedious kind of drudgery -- it is still worth visiting the world of "creativity within" for that hour or two. For those who can’t tear themselves away, who find everything else  the world of leisure has to offer to be flat and lifeless by comparison, publication can be fruitfully postponed until the time is right, and months or even years of development of writing and drawing skills can be enjoyed for their own sake. In fact, Scott Berwanger, who I have known for about ten years now, has been working on his Magnum Opus, Anubis, for all of that time and is at about the 1,500-page mark in what he thinks will be a 4,500-page story. He has chosen not to even consider publication until it’s done so as to devote all of his time and energy in his spare time from his regular job to bringing it to life. Even though it is an unorthodox solution, it many ways it seems the most sensible one for the genuinely dedicated cartoonist and a clear separation between being a cartoonist and being a self-publisher -- first one and then the other. I’m hoping that when he’s (God willing) done that his own experience will serve as an inspiration for others balancing real-world and creative needs.

It is a conventional and accurate piece of wisdom that "you have two thousand bad drawings in you, and once you get those done you start doing good ones." What is often not added - and really should be, in my view - is that there is a world of joy and gratification and surprise to be had in doing those two thousand bad drawings, watching them get less bad, watching your own style emerge, your own ideas take shape and coalesce and develop a life of their own. Enjoy it. Enjoy creativity, first, last, and always for its own sake. If it isn't fun, find a new way to do it that is fun. Satisfy yourself every step of the way. Draw what you want to draw. Write what you want to write. If you want to revise the earlier work, revise the earlier work. Your leisure time is your leisure time and no one else's - "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" - and if your greatest happiness is to be had in writing and drawing comic books, you are miles ahead of most of your peers, who haven't the faintest notion of what would make them happy.

Write and draw and draw and write for their own sake and to please yourself - enjoy it to the fullest, and always pursue the avenue that seems to be the most fun, that compels you, irresistibly, to pick up that pencil and start committing your words and pictures to paper. It won't take long before you can grin and say in perfect honesty:

"Get a life? Man, I've got a life."

Monday, 9 October 2017

On Sale 8 Years Ago: Cerebus Archive #4

Cerebus Archive #10 (October 2009)
Art by Dave Sim

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Aardvarkian Gothic

Cerebus #25 (March 1981)
Art by Dave Sim

I have just had an article published called "Aardvarkian Gothic", focusing on issues 23-25 of Cerebus, in the academic periodical The Journal of Comics & Graphic Novels. The article is currently only available online and behind a paywall, but the abstract appears below. The paper was originally presented at a conference focusing on gothic and comics, so it approaches Cerebus as a work in which gothic motifs and elements are important. Anyone interested in reading the full article can contact the me at: dgrace2 [at] uwo [dot] ca to request a link for a free download. Only a limited number are available, so first-come, first-served!

"Aardvarkian Gothic" Abstract

Gothic motifs figure strongly in several storylines in Dave Sim’s Cerebus series, albeit initially for predominantly parodic purposes. One of Sim’s earliest multi-issue arcs, comprising issues 23–25, involves not merely parody of specific mainstream comic elements but also of gothic tropes. Sim’s genre-bending is one of the strengths of Cerebus, and this arc demonstrates Sim’s skill in weaving gothic elements into the book, for parodic purposes but also to serve Sim’s gestational thematic interests. Sim exploits several characteristic elements of the gothic to trouble questions of gender and representation. He reverses the standard trope of the vulnerable woman in a mysterious space, threatened explicitly with violence and implicitly with sex, by making the male Cerebus the vulnerable figure, surrounded by sexually tempting adolescent girls. The story further complicates questions of gender in its invocation of drag, climaxing its interrogation with an innovative take on the doppelgänger motif by introducing Woman Thing and Sump Thing as parodic monstrous others whose violent/sexual encounter literalizes Sim’s sexual politics, not to mention the crisis of representation sometimes seen as a key element of gothic. In doing so, he lays the groundwork for much of what will follow in Cerebus.

Dominick Grace is the co-editor, with Eric Hoffman, of the interview collection "Dave Sim: Conversations" published in 2013 by the University Press of Mississippi, as well as "Seth: Conversations", "Chester Brown: Conversations" and "Jim Shooter: Conversations". He is Professor of English at Brescia University College in London, Ontario, and the author of The Science Fiction of Phyllis Gotlieb: A Critical Reading and co-editor of Approaching Twin Peaks: Critical Essays on the Original Series and the forthcoming The Canadian Alternative: Cartoonists, Comics, and Graphic Novels, with Eric Hoffman.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Now & Then Times: Jerry Lazare

The following interview with artist Jerry Lazare was conducted by Dave Sim and first appeared in Now & Then Times #2 in October 1973 and was subsequently reprinted in Alter Ego #36 in May 2004. The photos accompanying the text were taken at Jerry Lazare's home in Toronto on the occasion of his 90th birthday in September 2017.

 Jerry Lazare with Dave Sim (2017)
Photo @ Ivan Kocmarek
The following interview was held at Jerry Lazare's studio on Prince Arthur in Toronto in April [1973]. Since his early years with Bell Features, Jerry has become a top-notch illustrator and a fine painter. At the time of this interview, he was preparing to embark on one of the most important projects of his career -- an enormous mural in the National Art Gallery depicting the rise of civilization. After its completion, he wishes to spend one whole year just painting and then, hopefully, stage a one-man show at a Toronto gallery. ~ Dave Sim

When and where were you born, and do you recall your first inclination to being an artist?

I was born in Toronto in 1927. The earliest recollection I have is that I had a half-brother, and he stayed with the family every once in a while. He wanted to draw just for fun from the big Saturday comic strip pages. I guess I was about four or five, and I remember lying on the floor when he was drawing and watching him. And then I started to fiddle around. That's my first recollection of holding a pencil. When I got into high school, I read comics and was fascinated with the work of Alex Raymond [Flash Gordon], primarily because I thought he was such a great draftsman. The comics that were funny or the people who didn't draw well -- and a lot of them didn't -- didn't interest me.

You became interested in art, then, as a result of comic strips?

Yes, and primarily Raymond, just because he made things looks so real. And he was, I think, a great artist. But as I went on, I discovered that he was influenced by Matt and Benton Clark and the whole field of illustration. Stan Drake, for instance, was an illustrator, and I saw his work long before he did Heart of Juliet Jones. NoelSickles, who was really the guy whose style Milt Caniff aped, is a tremendous illustrator today. He's illustrated for The Saturday Evening Post and all the major magazines. I would spend, between the ages of nine and ten until I entered high school at thirteen, a lot of time in the evenings, because I was the only child in the family and, I guess, to a certain extent a loner, sitting and sketching while I listened to radio programs. A lot of the inspiration I got was from radio shows -- something that wasn't visual, things like The Shadow and Sam Spade and I Love a Mystery. I used to sit, and things I heard on the radio I would try and draw. Or I would just copy Raymond's style.

Besides Raymond, who influenced your art?

My influences were almost exclusively Raymond, because I never liked Caniff's style that much. My partner Lew [Parker] knew Caniff, and he also did cartoons for Stars and Stripes [U.S. servicemen's newspaper] during the war. He never got into the comic strips in the Bell Features area at all, though. I liked Frank Robbins, the guy who is very much like Caniff. After about the third or fourth year, I began to look at magazines and became interested in illustrators, and I realized where Alex Raymond stemmed from, and I saw Noel Sickles' work. My influence then went into the illustration field with people like Albert Dorne -- artists that weren't into comics at all, but who were all great draftsmen and illustrators. There was another guy who influenced me tremendously and used to do a strip called The Spirit -- Will Eisner. I think Lou Fine was involved with that strip. I went to New York after Dell folded to try and work down there. But when I went down, I found that I would have been drafted. I didn't want to go into the Army, so I came back. One of the things that surprised me was that Will Eisner just penciled the pages and another guy did the inking. They showed me his penciled strips, which were just fantastic. The guy who inked them couldn't do wrong, because they were so good. I had never heard of that before. I knew that one guy wrote them and another guy did the drawing, but I hadn't realized that they had refined it to the point where one guy did the penciling and another did the inking. And this is the way Eisner did all of them -- so they told me, anyway. But strips like Superman and Batman I thought were poorly drawn. Compared to guys like Raymond or Eisner, those guys were nowhere, I thought. I was just interested in the people who drew well. [Harold] Foster was one of them and [Burne] Hogarth was another, but Raymond beat them all, I thought. I wasn’t alone. A lot of other people did, too. Raymond's Flash Gordon was by far the most copied strip, and I guess Caniff's strips would be next.

 Jerry Lazare with Dave Sim (2017)
Photo @ Ivan Kocmarek
What did you think of the style of work in New York?

The atmosphere looked pretty hack when I went down there. The artists were all lined up in one big room like a bullpen. I had been used to working on my own -- writing it and drawing it, doing the whole bit myself. There I would have just been doing penciling or inking. It just didn't look that thrilling to me, and I was worried about the draft there. Now, it would be just the last thing in the world I'd want to do.

How did you first come in contact with Bell Features?

I was in third form [equivalent of a US high school junior]. I don't know why I did it, but, for some reason I saw the Bell Features as the Canadian comics were coming out. So I sent in some pencil drawings, and about a week later I got a phone call from Cy [Bell] saying, "Do you want to do a strip?" I didn't expect anything. I was still going to high school and I just wanted criticism -- what they thought of the drawing. Around that time, I started to think seriously about an art career in comic strips. I spoke to my parents about leaving school and going to an art school, but they didn't like the idea at all. When I went down to see Cy, Murray Karn, I think it was, had just been drafted. Cy said, "Would you like to take over Jeff Waring?" and I said, "Sure. Great." So I tried to do the strip in the evenings and on weekends, and my marks just went whump! So it was either quit school and do comic strips or go to art school. My parents realized how serious I was, so they talked to the principal, and he said, "Look, I think he should go to a technical school." I didn’t really last that long at the "tech", because the whole cult that has grown up around comics was unheard of then -- no one cared. I didn't attend art schools at all until much later on. I was completely self-taught. No one helped me. I didn't know any artists. My teacher was just Alex Raymond strips, and that's all. I just took them out and copied them and learned what I did from that.

Do you remember the first time you went into the Bell offices on York Street?

No, I don’t remember the first time, but I do remember the office. It was a long time ago, and I just vaguely remember the offices and the plant. I remember I was very young and nervous, full of humility. I was just amazed that anyone would want to buy the stuff. The other people there were mostly a few years older. They were guys who, at that point, were beginning to feel their oats, and when they got paid they went down the street and had beer at the local pub. I was just too young to do that, so I used to go home. By the time it folded, I was still only about nineteen. With Fred [Kelly] -- he was much older, about twenty-seven -- I sort-of learned about drinking and had my first game of poker when I had the studio with Fred.

What did you think of the others artists at Bell Features?

The people I knew at Bell were hacks as far as I was concerned. They were just out to make a dollar and were living out a fantasy of drawing comics. There were no people except maybe [Adrian]Dingle or a few others who had, I thought -- and I realize what I’m saying here is kind of alarming people -- any creative ability. This is not technically true. Some of them, like the guy who went into show business [Leo Bachle], were obviously creative people. But they didn’t draw well, and they didn't go to art school. Dingle came into the thing as a painter -- a man who had gone to art school and studied. He obviously had a lot of training. He was older, for one thing. We were just kids then. I was sixteen, and Ted Steele and people like that were maybe a little older, like Fred Kelly, whom I finally got a studio with after about a year working on strips for Bell. But most of them, I don't think, were interested in furthering an art career, in learning how to draw well. They'd copy American strips -- swipe them. I don't want to say everybody was like that, because obviously Dingle wasn't, but a lot were. I remember one of the turning points for me came when I was still swiping Raymond's work. One day I took my stuff in and Dingle said, "You ought to quit doing this. You're just swiping his stuff!" I went away and I thought, "You know, he’s right." So I just put aside all of the Raymond strips and I tried to do it on my own.

Were you a fast illustrator?

I don't know if I was fast or not. I wasn't slow. I was just as fast as anyone else, actually. I think Ted Steele and Leo Bachle were faster, but I never used a projector when I copied. The way I copied or swiped was to just have the strip in front of me and draw it or try to fit things together. And after that session with Dingle, I just stopped completely. I think the next time I brought a strip in, Dingle was absolutely shocked at the quality, because it just went right down. I had a very hard time after I decided to stop swiping, and from that point on I just did everything out of my head. However, I discovered when I got into illustration that you don't do that -- you use models or reference. From that day on, I never swiped another person's art. Later I worked from photographs, but I didn't on the strips. I either swiped Raymond or I made it up. Actually, when you start drawing on your own, you eventually speed up. With swiping, I think you slow yourself down, almost. When I got into advertising, I got a reputation for being very fast. The guys who would take a whole story and really steal it were very fast because, heck, that would be easy. My penciling was reasonably tight.

Did you write the story as you drew it?

I used to write out a rough draft for the story. I wouldn't write out every word, but I used to write a plot. Then I'd do it page by page. I'd start the story and then think of what they were going to say in the balloon. We did everything. We did our own lettering and our own stories. I don't know if the other guys hired people to write the stories. Fred Kelly and I used to collaborate. We used to get together and talk about ideas. We didn't work on each other’s strips physically, but we used to talk over what we were doing. Any two people together will. I was always looking for ideas, always trying to figure out plots, and I used to get a terrific kick out of the writing.

Ivan Kocmarek,  Ron Kasman, Art Cooper, Gerald Lazare, James Waley & Dave Sim (2017)
Photo @ Ivan Kocmarek

After you stopped swiping Raymond, do you think you had a distinctive style?

No. I didn't think very much of my work at all. I didn't really like it until very late on, when I felt something coming. Then I started to get pride in my work. But that only happened near the end. They had a party at Peter Martin's place when The Great Canadian Comic Books hardcover was released. There was one Air Woman page -- they had a whole mock display with curtains that they drew back. This was the first time I had seen things that I couldn't remember ever doing. These were so far back that it was like looking at another person's work, so I was very objective. A friend of mine was there and he thought the Air Woman was great -- the best one there. I tried looking at it objectively; it was easy and I felt differently. I felt, "It’s not bad for sixteen or seventeen." I teach, and if I have a student who can do black-&-white that well, I'd think it isn't bad at all. But then, I thought it was terrible. It retrospect it's not bad. One of the last strips I did was a color one called Master Key. I think I did just one or two before it folded. At that point, I thought I was drawing better than I ever had.

Of the strips you drew, which were your favorites?

The strip I liked that I did was The Dreamer, which is a take-off on the Morpheus and sleep thing. I did Drummy Young because I was crazy about jazz. I still love jazz. I didn't get into the war thing much at all. I don't know why. I came along fairly late. Cy had been going for quite a while, and he had quite a stable of artists. I was just sort of on the outskirts of it all. When I was doing nine strips, I was working very hard, and I did that for about a year before it folded. I'd like to stress that that is the reason the strips have an appeal now -- because they are strips about the war. The strips that would apply today aren't as important to people like the National Gallery of Canada.

In your work for Bell, did you ever consciously inject patriotism into your stories in order to sell them? 

I don’t remember anyone ever telling me to put anything in the strip that said “Canada First” or “Our Boys Overseas” or anything like that, except maybe “Air Woman” had a bit of it. But when I was doing “Drummy Young,” any mention of the war was strictly accidental, because it was a part of our lives. It wasn’t an act of patri- otism at all. It would be with Leo [Bachle], because his strips dealt directly with the war.

Were you ever worried about the financial situation at Bell, whether or not they were going under? 

No, I never knew anything about the finances at Bell. I was just a kid, and Cy didn’t tell me about such things. He might have with Ted and those people, because he used to go out and drink with them, but I never associated with him. Cy never told me about finances, so I didn’t worry about it at all.

But the question of money did enter into your decision to take the job as a fulltime comic artist. 

No, I didn’t take it because I needed money at all. But the change from that time to my early days as an illustrator was fantastic. At the end, I was earning around $90 a week, which in those days, for 18- 19, was a lot of dough for someone who didn’t work too much. I mean, I worked hard, but mostly my time was my own. After comics, when I went into commercial art and illustration, as soon as they saw my comic samples, they said, “Your drawing isn’t bad, but you’re going to have to get that comic strip stuff out of your blood. That’s terrible!” So I had to change my whole approach, and I started at, like, $25 a week as an apprentice illustrator at a studio. It was a struggle for two or three years before I became a senior illustrator, where I’d be earning $150 to $200 a week. There was quite a letdown from comics to that, because I was beginning to feel, “Wow! Ninety bucks a week, and this is going to go on and on!”

How deep was your interest in comic art? Did you see it as a new, experimental art form? 

I didn’t see it as an experimental art form. That phrase “experimental art form” is, to me, practically contemporary. No one talked about it in the sense that you talk about it. The fact that the work that I did at Bell is being sent around by the National Gallery of Canada I find kind-of shocking, to tell you the truth. I don’t want to put comics down, because I think they are an art form, but, to me, most comic strip artists are not good artists in the gallery or illustrative sense. They’re creators and they create either humorous or adventure strips, but they are not men who will go any further. Stan Drake hasn’t progressed, as far as I’m concerned, from the 1950s when he began Juliet Jones . It’s a different kind of art form. The reason I like it is because as a kid I could act out my fantasies and feelings through a strip. I could write the kind of adventure story I might hear on the radio. I’ve always loved mystery stories, and I’ve always loved books like Treasure Island . To be able to draw and write for other people was something I got a terrific kick out of. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was obviously mad to draw well. I’ve always loved looking at good drawing, and I’ve always admired people who could draw a figure beautifully. That’s really my main goal. If I hadn’t been picked up by Bell, I probably would have gone to art school to learn how to draw in the traditional sense.

Did your artwork for the Bell comic books have any effect on your artwork after the war? 

I think comics gave me a head start in black-&-white illus- tration. As an apprentice illustrator, you get a lot of black-&-white work, and I knew how to spot blacks, and I had a feeling for using a pen and a brush. I knew nothing about color and I never had any training. I took the “Famous Artists” course years later, and I now teach at the Ontario College of Art and at Humber [College], and I teach color. But it evolved from developing it on my own. I’ve often said I wished I hadn’t gone into comics and just had a traditional art training, but Lew and a number of others say I don’t really realize how that helped me in getting into black-&-white illustration, and they’re probably right. I’m sure it would help anyone.

Why did the Bell Features comic books fail, even the color ones? 

I thought when Bell went into color that it was a good thing. We got more money to begin with. It seemed like we could compete. He didn’t go from black-&-white to color for aesthetic reasons; he did it because he thought he could compete with the Americans. I have no preferences between the two. I think it’s harder to do a good black-&- white drawing than it is to do a color one, often because when we did the color, instead of worrying about the texture or some of the line work, we could fill in with color. So it made it easier, in a way. But I don’t think he would have succeeded. I think the writing was on the wall. The Canadian comics weren’t as good, I don’t think, as the American comics. The sort of nostalgia about Canada in the war—the important thing there is the war—is a result of the content being uniquely Canadian. Canadian soldiers were Canadian; the artists who did the strips were Canadian. To that extent they’re unique. But it ends there. The quality wasn’t as good and the ideas weren’t any better. I think Dingle was a guy who could’ve done a strip in the States and have been successful, because he was, I think, the best of the group. He was older and he knew more about drawing and painting. I don’t know about his ideas for the strips; I’m pretty foggy on that. But, there again, he was mad about Frank Robbins. He thought Johnny Hazard was the greatest for style and approach. We were eclectic. We weren’t origi- nators, and I think that’s the important thing. Some of the people who went on—I think Dingle’s a good painter now in a different world, doing a different thing—became originators. Then we were eclectic, and any value we had stemmed from the stuff we copied. That’s how I feel about it.

Were the Bell comics a freak occurrence in Canadian culture? 

Yes. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but I like people who are as fanatical as I was about Raymond’s work, and collectors, because I go to shops and collect anything I can find on Frankenstein . But I think the pretentious thing about it being an intrinsic part of our culture is a lot of crap. I think it’s a sort of folk thing and is fun, but I don’t think it’s important. Yes, that’s a contradiction, because, as a young boy, it was my whole world. I used to just live for the next issue of a certain comic, and I still feel quite nostalgic about it. But I don’t really like the way it’s being pushed. I don’t mean the magazine you put out, because I’m interested in collectors and fans, but I don’t like the idea of the National Gallery sending around a show of Canadian comic strips. There are painters out there who are fantastic artists who are starving and would just love to have a show of their work going around. Instead, they send around comic strips that were, a lot of them, swiped from American strips. It seems ridiculous to me. But the idea of publishing books like the ones I saw at Cosmic Con appeals to me, because it feeds your imagination. It’s just when people like the National Gallery get involved that it seems pretentious to me. It just didn’t seem like that great a thing. We didn’t really feel like that about them at the time, like “We’re doing something for Canada.” Either, as in my case, we wanted to draw well, or we wanted the money or the ego thing of having the strips printed. We weren’t doing it for the country.

What do you think are the possibilities of Canadian comic books being published today?

I wish we did have Canadian comic books, because there are a lot of students at the college every year who like comics and want to draw comics. I wish we had a comics culture field here that they could go into so they didn’t have to go to the States. I think it’s all money and supply and demand. You can’t compete, or rather no one wants to. I think publishers in Canada tend to be notoriously conservative people. They only publish when they’re sure they are going to make profits, or just about sure. They won’t take a flyer.

Do you follow today’s comic strips to any great extent?

I tend to follow the school, because I still have a feeling for it. It’s entered my commercial work. People have seen some of my old strips, and they’ll phone me up. Like last year the University of Toronto phoned me up to do a comic strip for a book on communication. So I did the comic strip without balloons. It was didactic to the extent that I was not telling a story but illustrating this author’s point on communication. I lived in England for a year, and some of the samples I showed them showed a comic strip feeling, and they were mad about comic strips in England at that point, using them as an ad form. So I did a lot of comic strip work then. I know and follow Peanuts and B.C. I don’t know the name of the guy who does Dr. Kildare , but I think he’s a great draftsman. He draws very well and spots his blacks beautifully. Aesthetically the strip is great. I don’t follow them in the comic books any more, but I was at the convention at York [University -- 1972’s Cosmic Con] because they asked me to go to talk about Canadian comics. I sort-of looked at everything that was going on. After Bell went out of business, I tried for about a year to get into comics, and then my whole interest in comics completely went, and I just wanted to be the greatest illustrator in the world. I got into magazines and, instead of going to see comic strip artists, I went to see illustrators. With people like Sickles, there was a merging to a certain extent. Albert Dorne was a man who really had a very good black-&- white style that would have fit the comics beautifully. Then I got interested in painting and fine arts. I just completely dropped any interest in comics except for nostalgia that I’ve always had about Raymond. The rest of the field didn’t mean that much to me. Ten years ago, I cleaned out my basement and I threw out every scrapbook I had from the time when I used to cut out every day’s strips. I threw out all my scrapbooks, all my comic books, which I wish I hadn’t now, because I had all the original Action Comics , etc., everything. I kept the Big Little Books. I have the first dailies of Rip Kirby. I was really sad the day Alex Raymond died, because it was like something out of the past. It’s a real love. I’d never forget him or what he meant to me.

Further Reading:
Lazare Studio
Famous Artist Magazine (Spring 1963)
Comic Book Daily
Now & Then Times #2 (October 1973)
Cover art by Gerry Lazare

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