The Craft Behind Cerebus: An Interview with Gerhard (Part Three of Three)

Posted by on February 16th, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One, Part Two.

Sean Michael Robinson: Moving on to Rick’s Story, there are some interesting things happening here, some new tricks. I really like the faux stained glass on 130. This has got to be what your coloring book looked like when you and your babysitter were done with it.

Gerhard: Right.

Robinson: So on these where the figures are really integrated into the panel, how many of these were worked out by Dave?

Gerhard: You know, in this particular example, I believe Dave probably did most of this. I probably just did the decorative strips on the side.

Robinson: How about, say, 128.

Gerhard: Right. Dave did the foreground figures and I did the rest of it.

Robinson: I like the combination of the optical and the medieval perspective.

Gerhard: I spent so much time and thought trying to get the perspective right on the backgrounds, and I was now trying to do this and have to figure out “How did they do it wrong?” We had some reference books on medieval stained glass and I’d see that they would flatten the perspective.  They would see the top of the bar stool as round instead of an ellipse from there. I had to unlearn everything that I was trying to get right.

Robinson: I really like how when you guys have the figures that hearken back to classical sculpture, you both drop the contour line. That’s really nice.

Gerhard: Yeah.

Robinson: I suppose I should put some of these in the form of a question, huh? [Laughter.] So on 143 there’s this mind-boggling portrayal of a cracked fresco in ink …

Gerhard: That’s all Dave.

Robinson: Really.

Gerhard: I may be just flattering myself, but I think he was trying to emulate me there.

Robinson: So that was a surprise when it came to you?

Gerhard: Yeah. Every once in a while he would just decide to do something. You know, we had this kind of unspoken competition, where I would look at something like that and go “Shit! If he’s gonna pull this out of his ass I’d better straighten up and fly right.” And over the next couple of pages my line work would get even more tight and meticulous, and then he would see that and his line would get more tight and meticulous. We were trying to out-meticulous each other. [Laughter.]

Robinson: Towards the end of the book, on 196, we’ve finally almost left the bar, and you get your big stepping-out moment.



“Dave’s dialogue — “You might be surprised at who you’re driving crazy- staying in one place this long, I mean.”

Gerhard: After I finished that page, I was wondering if people would get it. That’s a photocopy of the Staedler pencil and my ruler and my floor plan. Those are all the issue numbers that we’ve been in the bar. And the bottom left panel is a reference to way back when, when Dave said that if I wanted to, I could draw the interior of a submarine behind the characters, the backgrounds were up to me. Well, I finally got to draw my interior of a submarine. I wonder how many people actually got that, or were they thinking, “What the hell is going on here?”

Robinson: In Going Home, it seems to me like there’s a pretty significant stylistic shift at the beginning of the book. There seems to be a shift toward more pattern, especially in the exterior scenes. I was just curious about the design-y-ness of some of the pages.

Click to view larger image.

Gerhard: It has a lot to do with there being no outline to the panel border again. It made the design aspect more important. The only thing that defines the top of the panel on page 57 is the line of the clouds and the corn and the fence going through.

I need something here to show where the edge of the panel is. As far as the corn went, I would draw the contour of the front row of corn, and then it was a matter of putting little indications of corn behind the front row. It was quick and efficient and looked good, so into the bag of tricks it goes, and then belabor it to death.

Robinson: On 76, there’s that great quilt. Did those designs come from anywhere in particular?

Click to view larger image.

Gerhard: Dave had some books around the studio on medieval times and that kind of stuff. Those designs were in that book, I’m sure.

Robinson: I didn’t want to ascribe too much intentionality to the stylistic shift …

Gerhard: It’s all intentional when it comes to Dave.

Robinson: When we get to “Fall and the River,” the screen tone technique is interesting.

Gerhard: At the beginning of a new story arc it was a chance for me to stylistically change what I was doing, so I wasn’t stuck doing the same thing again. Looking back on it now it doesn’t look too bad, but I think I got better at it as I went along.

Click to view larger image.

It was a change for me, because before if I was going to use tone on the background, I would use that stipple tone stuff, because it had a non-mechanical, organic feel to it — as if it could have been hand-drawn as opposed to using a dot tone, because again I can’t use a dot tone behind Cerebus. But especially on the boat itself I didn’t want to have a lot of crosshatching, but I still wanted to define shadows. So I selected a very fine tone, with a much finer dot per inch, that was much lighter than Cerebus. I didn’t want that Church and State, rough hewn look. This was another case where I actually built another model — I had a physical model of the barge.

Robinson: I didn’t know if you had gotten to the computer era yet.

Gerhard: I used a little of both. I had a computer model of the staterooms, and a physical model of the whole thing. It was a pretty crude computer program by today’s standards, but it did what I needed it to do. This is where we started putting the panel borders back in, so I didn’t have to worry about defining every edge.

Robinson: There’s a really interesting panel on 265.

The perspective is so flat, I don’t know why, but when I did it, I thought, “That’s what I want.” The moiré pattern happens because you put one dot screen on top of another. And I thought “I like that too.”

Robinson: You managed to get the sun glinting off the water from the moiré pattern. It’s interesting, in Japan, the comics industry is huge — there are a ton of books on really specific techniques you can use with screen tone, that kind of thing. But I guess intelligent people using the same tools will sometimes come up with really similar solutions.

Gerhard: I discovered the moiré effect quite early on working with tone. It’s hard not to — all you have to do is accidentally put two pieces of tone on top of each other and you go “Isn’t that cool?” Of course it’s also distracting — more often than not it’s something you’re trying to avoid. But when you can use it as an effect …. like Dave said: “If it occurs to you…”

Robinson: So where did the photo covers come from?

Gerhard: Vacation pictures, mostly. Some of them are from across the street or the backyard, but a lot of them are photos from travel. Dave decided that we would do photo covers; one reason was then we wouldn’t have to draw them. I used to take slide photos all the time, so I sat down with all my slides and my projector. We’re talking thousands of slides. So over the course of one or two nights I literally saw my life flash before my eyes one slide at a time. And I just pulled out hundreds, all that I thought might be appropriate, that didn’t have any anachronisms, any that might make a nice cover or could be used thematically for the book. So I gave all those to Dave, and he picked out the ones he wanted to use for the covers.

Robinson: It’s inspiring to see the stylistic shift you pulled off in this book.


Gerhard: They do stand apart from each other. 292’s interesting — dense. Where it’s supposed to be foggy, there’s gray on everything.

Robinson: Did you draw in reverse on the back of the page for the tone that didn’t have any contour?

Gerhard: No, I just cut out a strip of tone and stuck it on there. Man, I went through a lot of Letratone on this one.

Robinson: It’s not cheap.

Gerhard: No.

Robinson: But at least they were still making it.

Gerhard: Yeah, that became a problem before we finished the book. We were having a tough time finding the Cerebus tone. Letraset stopped importing Letratone to Canada.  It’s not like we could suddenly change  the gray on the main character. It was always the same numbers too, depending on how big the Cerebus was on the page. LT 10,LT 17, LT 30 or whatever.

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7 Responses to “The Craft Behind Cerebus: An Interview with Gerhard (Part Three of Three)”

  1. [...] FEB 14:The Craft Behind Cerebus: An Interview with Gerhard (Part One of Three) FEB 15: The Craft Behind Cerebus: an Interview with Gerhard (Part Two of Three) FEB 16: The Craft Behind Cerebus: an Interview with Gerhard (Part Three of Three) [...]

  2. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    You can read some final thoughts on this interview over at the Hooded Utilitarian- http://hoodedutilitarian.com/2011/02/gerhard-craft-credit-cross-hatching-and-completion/

  3. vollsticks says:

    Great, great interview! So interesting to get such a deep insight into how those wonderful pages were made. The stuff at the end from the children’s book reminds me a little of Denis Kitchen’s work, for some reason…

  4. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    Glad you enjoyed it! It was really interesting for me to see Gerhard’s children’s book artwork, especially having seen so many thousand pages of fairly realistically rendered work. Although looking back on some segments of “Going Home” especially, I can see some antecedents to the bounciness and light artwork of “the Wish”.

  5. nobodyowns says:

    Great interview, Sean– best I’ve ever read with Gerhard. You were absolutely right to focus on the man’s craft and it was an illuminating look into his enormous contributions to Cerebus.

    Question: something I’ve been wondering since I picked up Cerebus 186 back in 1993 or whenever that was: how does he pronounce Gerhard? That’s a common German first name, but does he pronounce the G like G as in Gate (as the Germans do) or like J in Jerry?

    That said, most of the houses in Church and State and Mothers and Daughters look quite German (people used to often mention the “Bavarian” look of Cerebus’ world). I wonder if, given Gerhard’s German name and presumably German heritage, there was a conscious influence there?

    Gerhard, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU for so many years of wonderful artwork. You created countless unforgettable images in Cerebus that now, even though it’s been years since I’ve read the books, come to mind so vividly.

  6. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    Nobodyowns-

    It’s G as in “gate,” German style. “Gairhard.” I believe Gerhard’s parents are German immigrants, actually.

    That’s a great question about the architecture- perhaps if he’s reading he’ll respond himself? The building design throughout the series is pretty striking, although some of the main architectural features of Iest are inherited from the pre-Gerhard portions of the book. Sim described one particular High Society-era street scene like this- “My attempt at the time to convey the rooftops of Paris at the time of the French Revolution.”

  7. Michael Grabowski says:

    Thanks, Sean and Gerhard, for the interview and a too-long ignored look at this aspect of making Cerebus. Thanks, tcj for posting it.