Sean Michael Robinson: The Craft Behind Cerebus: An Interview with Gerhard (Part One of Three)

Posted by on February 14th, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Robinson: The first section in Church and State 2, you guys introduced the fingerprints.

Gerhard: That was Dave’s thing too, something he had done in an earlier issue, and again somehow I thought he managed to do better than I did. His always seemed more spontaneous, grainier and messier, and mine seemed too finicky.

Robinson: The overall value got a little bit darker too.

Gerhard: I was getting more confident in putting in solid blacks. Part of the thing was, because all I was doing was the background, my Judeo-Christian work ethic compelled me to put in as many lines as possible. I figured that just doing Dave’s trick of using an entirely black background was cheating. I would see it in his work and think, “That’s brilliant,” but if I did it in my work I would think I was somehow slacking off. [Laughter.]

Robinson: I’m looking at these early scenes now. How much of this wood was drawn in reverse, in white on black?

Gerhard: None. That’s all black.

Robinson: None? That seems so impractical. [Laughter.]

Gerhard: Tell me about it. [Laughter.] But it was almost fun.

Robinson: So you got a kind of hypnotic effect.

Gerhard: Yeah, I’d get this kind of zen-like effect.

Robinson: I find that inking in general can be like that.

Gerhard: Well, for me laying out the page and penciling and working out the perspective and lighting and all that is mentally engaging. It takes a lot of concentration and focus and thinking to do it right, especially in the penciling stage. There were a few times when I would have trouble inking a page, and I would think, “Why am I having so much trouble with this?” And then I would realize “I’m not done penciling.” So I would put the inking stuff down and tighten up the pencils more. When the pencils are tight enough, when I ink I can just put my mind in neutral and away I go. All I have to do is turn what I see in pencil into ink

Robinson: It has a kind of performance aspect to it, where you might rehearse for a hundred hours on a set of songs before you play them.

Gerhard: Yep, there’s definitely an element to that. That’s very good. But inking for me was always nerve-wracking in some ways too. Because that’s the final version. If I screw up on the inking, I’ve screwed everything up.

Robinson: I wanted to ask you about the snow …

Gerhard: Oh, the snowstorm! [Chuckles.] Yes.

Robinson: So were you using a toothbrush for the splatter?

Gerhard: Yep. It always made a huge mess, but it was fun to do.

Robinson: Well, it looks great. It gives a kind of randomness to the pages that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Gerhard: On the 708-709 spread look at the cityscape at the top of the page there. All those little lines and all that crosshatching and stuff and then I just cover it all with splatter. [Laughing.]

click to view larger image

Robinson: Where did you pick up that particular technique from?

Gerhard: Oh, Dave had used it in previous issues. He showed me how he had done it, and I thought, “Well, that’s just the coolest thing. I’m going to do that.” It’s the same technique I used for the moon as well. After I was done splattering on my cityscape, I would go in and ink out any blobs that were too big, if any of them individually drew my attention. You know, I tried an airbrush once and that didn’t go too well, so I went back to the toothbrush. I guess I’m more of a toothbrush kind of guy. [Laughing.]

Robinson: Let’s skip way ahead here. These are beautiful pages here by the way. So in this next dream sequence [897] there are a few pages of full-bleed. You guys used actual full-bleed so infrequently. Was that a function of the printer, pricing or an aesthetic decision?

Gerhard: I remember our printer, Kim Preney, saying something at some point about full-bleed being a pain because it made a big mess of the press, but those were done as full-bleed. Notice they don’t actually bleed off the side of the page in the phone book, but they did in the monthly book. The reprints are a slightly different aspect. That’s why you have the rough, unfinished edges on the left and right, although it bleeds off the top and the bottom. Anyway, Dave wanted the full bleed for the dream quality. I remember Dave did a solid black full bleed in one of the earlier Mind Games issues, and someone wrote to him and said they didn’t like it because their fingers would get dirty when they were turning the pages. [Laughs.]

Tomorrow: Gerhard and Robinson cover technique in Jaka’s Story, Melmoth and more.

All images ©Gerhard; Cerebus images ©Dave Sim

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9 Responses to “Sean Michael Robinson: The Craft Behind Cerebus: An Interview with Gerhard (Part One of Three)”

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