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ORIGINALLY FEATURED IN 1994- by Andrew Goletz

Almost 15 years ago, Dave Sim set out to do the impossible: self publish a monthly book featuring a creator that he alone would write and draw (with an assist from Gerhard in backgrounds) for a 300 issue story. 150 issues later, no one is laughing anymore. Dave Sim is the man; the Yoda of self publishing. He was kind enough to grant Gray Haven our first major interview and answer every question, regardless of how stupid we may have sounded.

AG: Why did you decide to self publish when there were other options available?

DS: The decision to self publish Cerebus came from a frustration with the small publishers I was working for. Even when they had a pretty secure footing in terms of sales and what not, they spent a lot more time talking about what they were going to do than actually doing it. They tended to change the books between issues. Star*Reach ranged from the top of the line, to excruciatingly bad; often the same comic just issue to issue.  I decided to put out three bi-monthly issues that came out on time, that featured one character, and which had a letter’s page: all three of which had never really been tried. Single character books were one-shots, everything was published irregularly, and no one published letters of comment. I figured if it flopped, I would have three published comic books that I could use to get more work, and I would stop complaining about how stupid everyone else was, because then, I would be stupid as well.

AG: Do you think everyone should try to self publish their work?
DS: The reason I advocate TRYING self publishing is because it is definitely worth a shot. If it pans out, you have complete control over your work. You can continue to make money off of it, you can do what you want to do, and you are not at the mercy of an editor or publisher, particularly if one or the other changes on you and you go from having a good working relationship to a bad one. If you fail, you’re no worse off than you were before and at least you have some idea of other parts of the business you’re working in.

AG: How can retailers get more people interested in Cerebus, or any book for that matter?

DS: The most effective way to push a book is to give away copies to people you think might be interested. Failing that, the best way is to let them take a reprint collection or a handful of issues home to read, on the understanding that if they don’t like them, they just bring them back in mint condition and there’s no harm done.  Some retailers have ‘reading’ copies of the phone books that they lend out. If someone is interested in buying, they can buy a mint one. The key with the phone books is to have a lot of them, same as in a real book store. If you have 20 copies of ‘Flight’ on display or ‘Jaka’s Story’, you’ll sell a lot of them. If you only have one, it will sit there for months, and every time a customer sees it, he’ll think it can’t be very good because it’s always there.

(ed note: A ‘phone book’ is the term used for the massive trade paperbacks of Cerebus issues, usually 20-25 issues in one, also known as spider-whomping volumes).

AG: What is your opinion of Image?

DS: I think Image is to comics today what Marvel was in 1963: The future.

AG: Will they survive?
DS: And flourish. They offer top mainstream creators a chance to make in one issue what they would take 2 years to make working at Marvel. This is no exaggeration. Had John Byrne walked away from Marvel after X-Men and done Next Men, he could have done it. This was just the first time that top creators split while at the top of their game. If you wait too long, you’re not hot anymore and just another book on the racks.

AG: New companies are springing up all the time. What about their chances?

DS: New companies will attract a certain amount of sales and attention and then fade away unless they have top creators doing regular characters and maintaining their schedule. American Flagg died when Chaykin left. It didn’t matter who did it, it wasn’t Chaykin and all it could do was die.

AG: How do you actually write Cerebus? Is everything worked out in your head before you begin writing the issues?

DS: I don’t write anything down about any of the novels until I’m ready to start work on them. There’s a lot of room to improvise and I love throwing things in when I have an appropriate place for them. The death of Regency Elf was supposed to be tragic right up until the point where I was writing it, and then I found out it was really quite funny. By the time I’m working on one of the novels, I’m so busy saying what I have to say, I couldn’t change it if I wanted to. The reaction is always a surprise. I thought everyone would love ‘Church and State’ and they hated it (at the time) and thought everyone would hate ‘Jaka’s Story’ and they loved it. Go figure.

AG: Besides the Spawn fill in (#10), what else will you be doing?

DS: Just Cerebus. I’m working on a jam with Chester Brown. He drew the first panel, I drew the second, he drew the third, and so on. We’re up to about 20 pages and it’s very strange and surrealistic. I didn’t do anything on it during the tour, so I’m eager to get back to it. It’s a lot of fun. I’m sure we’ll publish it somewhere, sometime. That’s really not the point. It’s just a fun thing to do.

AG: Cerebus is planned as a 300 issue series. What’s after that?

DS: After Cerebus, I’ll do comic stories, just not with Cerebus and Definitely not on a monthly schedule.

Copyright©2000 Andrew Goletz