Month in and month out, year after year, and persistently on time, the two collaborators produced some of the most dynamic work ever seen in North America. The odyssey ended in 2004 when Cerebus reached issue No.300 and the title character, as Dave Sim had promised early in his career, died.
As you will see by the striking artwork that follows our interview, Gerhard has not been idle since Cerebus’ death. Besides his work for children’s books, his commissions include The World Without Cerebus, richly detailed recreations of backgrounds from the pages and covers of Cerebus.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to being an artist?
Gerhard: I don’t think that I was led to being an artist. I have a strong suspicion that we are born artists and that life drains it out of us. A first grade teacher commented that her kids are all artistic geniuses; little Picassos. You just need to know when to take the drawing paper away from them before they wreck it.
I have an early memory; I was about four years old, doodling on a blackboard in a hospital waiting room. A man came in, saw what I was doing, told me that it was really good and said that he hoped I didn’t lose the talent or ability to draw as I got older. I wondered how I could lose such a thing; something that seemed to be so much a part of me. When I asked him why he thought I would lose it, he shrugged and said, “People just do.”
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
G: My schooling consisted of high school art and drafting classes most of which I didn’t go to. My training was drawing as often as I could and working on over 4500 pages of Cerebus with Dave Sim. On the job training.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of illustration and architecture?
G: Probably a cave person somewhere a long, long time ago. I was never much for art history. I always skipped those weeks in school. When test time came around, there would be questions like, “Describe how Greek and Roman culture influenced their art?” I would answer, “Greeks and Romans threw a lot of parties and that’s why there are so many broken statues around.”
JM: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
G: Dave Sim did. After many menial jobs I had decided that I was going to make a living by drawing or starve. I needed money. He offered me work.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
G: I guess it’s a lot like that line about trying to define pornography; not sure how to define it but I know it when I see it.
JM: Do you find that the sequential art platform provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
G: Dave was the one in charge of writing the story. My contribution was limited to finishing pages he had already started. But I certainly witnessed firsthand and close up the near-limitless possibilities for storytelling. My own first attempts can be seen on my website on the “Stories” page.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for an artist to have?
G: Perception. Patience. Perseverance.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
G: I approach with caution and a great degree of trepidation, try not to make any sudden moves, stay low, not make eye contact and then I back away slowly.
JM: What tools and supplies do you favour?
G: These days, for my inking, I use the Sakura Pigma Micron pen. It is a fine point drawing and illustration pen that possesses archival quality ink. They are waterproof, fade resistant, chemical proof, and will not bleed through most papers. Ideal for serious technical and artistic applications such as pen and ink illustrations and graphic art. For my colour work, I’m still using the same set of Windsor & Newton Designer watercolour dyes that I bought about 25 – 30 years ago. They are highly concentrated transparent colours in little bottles with dropper tops. When I contacted W&N a year or so ago about purchasing replacements, I was told that not only do they not make them anymore but that they never did.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
G: I can’t answer that right now, I’m watching Lost on DVD. I’ve never seen it before. It’s pretty good.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
G: I mentioned that I had decided to draw for a living or starve. I was doing better at the starving part than the making a living part.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
G: Working on over 4500 pages of Cerebus with Dave Sim.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
G: If I may quote people who have said it better than I can, Leonard Bernstein said, “Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the [artist] must develop an approach for the rest of the time… The wait is simply too long.” And Frank Tibolt: “We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.”
…plus, getting paid helps.
JM: What is your position on digital illustration? Are illustration software and the Cintiq tablet useful artists’ tools or enemies of traditional art?
G: I’m not that familiar with the latest digital tools. But a tool is a tool. The tool does not do the creating. I’d love to get my hands on one of those tablet thingies. Too pricey.