The Long, Strange
History of Phase II
Fourth Quarto: Neil, Neil, Neil
Part I: Neil
Not being the sort of individual to leave things to chance, in the last year or so of working on Cerebus I had started sifting ideas in my mind of things that I could find to do that would keep me busy once I was retired. I had been warned frequently that I had to be prepared: that the separation anxiety was going to be extreme (foremost among these plain-spoken warners was Simon R. Green who—after many, many years—had finally completed his mammoth series of mammoth Deathstalker novels and then and then…well, reading between the lines of his letters, it didn’t sound pretty, whatever it was). Personally I didn’t think separation anxiety was going to be a problem, unless you describe “stopping hitting yourself in the head with hammer” (writing all of —and drawing half of—a monthly comic book is no day at the beach) as separation anxiety. So I started thinking of the most obvious options, such as: did I want to start hitting myself in the head with a hammer again right away (astute readers will have taken note of the retention of the “hammer” motif from Second Quarto)?
Mmm. No, I ruled that one out.
Did I want to write-and-not-draw something: a novel or a play or a movie? One of the first things that I did after finishing my part of Cerebus 300 was to read Neil’s American Gods first printing (which I’ve already thanked him for, but which I thank him for again: thank you, Neil) that he had sent me. And then I read, I think, nine more books in the space of about three weeks. The first books I had read which were not for research purposes in a number of years.
Enjoyed them all thoroughly.
Had no urge to write one of them.
Went to see about five plays (including Cinderella which shows you how much I had missed the theatre: me and 800 10-year-old girls and their mothers. You could have floated the Queen Mary on the collective sigh when the glittering, horse-drawn carriage came out on stage).
Enjoyed them all thoroughly.
Had no urge to write one of them.
Went to see several movies.
Boy, has the popcorn ever gone downhill.
Where was I? Oh, right: same with drawing—I had a certain number of drawings that I was obligated to do for various people and for various reasons: single illustrations, covers for Following Cerebus, pin-ups. It was like pulling teeth or, no, it was more like hitting myself in the head—just once, but really hard—with a hammer.
As it turns out, I’m still working full time, only now my job is answering my mail. That’s—literally—pretty much all that I do besides going to City Council meetings, praying, fasting, eating, sleeping, reading scripture, reading the newspaper, reading books. Go to watch the Kitchener Rangers play hockey every Friday night when it isn’t Ramadan or summer.
So, I never got very far with my conjectures. I had realized that I very much liked doing photorealism comics illustrations along the lines of the Alex Raymond-Al Williamson-Stan Drake-Neal Adams School. Basically, tracing photographs (as I did pretty extensively in the Konigsberg sections (Fig.1) of Latter Days) and then sitting with really good Al Williamson panels and trying to put exactly that finish on the traced pencil drawing. Many times, I would see a really good photograph in the National Post (which I read every morning, Monday to Saturday) and think, “I’d really like to trace that and then pencil and ink it.” I never got so far as actually cutting the photos out and starting a collection, but it was something that appealed to me.
Except it seemed, really, rather pointless.
You have the photograph, what do you need a tracing of it with an Al Williamson finish for? I mean “you” in a general “artistic posterity” sense and me-as-an-individual-with-theoretical-time-on-my-hands sense. So, then, I’d think—well, I could turn it into a comic-book story. Leaving aside the “hitting myself in the head with a hammer” aspect (which isn’t easy), I could never figure out the logistics. It would just be a single image. To have the people do things (which is kind of mandatory in a comic book) I would need more photographs of them doing things. So, I’d think about buying a camera and taking photographs of people doing things, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to take photographs; I just wanted the photographs themselves and to use them to draw pictures. I hate taking photographs. I’m the only person I know of who doesn’t take photographs on vacation because taking photographs would ruin my vacation for me. So, I’d picture going to a professional photographer and saying “Excuse me, do you have any massive quantities of pictures of the same person doing different things?” I never quite got to the point of figuring out how to ask in such a way that it wouldn’t be a criminal offence in Canada.
If I was famous, I think it would help.
Neil Gaiman, as an example, could walk into any photographers’ studio in the world and ask them that and they’d ask, “How many do you want?” or “What things do you want them doing?” Even if they’d never heard of him. Neil just looks and sounds like a really nice famous person you should do things for. But I’m not famous. I’m notorious. They’d take my name down, Google me and that it would be all she wrote and I’d have to ask Wilf (my lawyer) to find me a lawyer because he doesn’t do criminal law himself.
So that would always bring me back to the single image. What could I do with a single image in the area of photorealism? And the answer would come back right away: Andy Warhol. Now, Andy Warhol, there’s an example of the interesting things you get when you go to a lunatic extreme in the world of art (which is why I can never entirely rule out lunatic extremes when it comes to art). Andy Warhol’s whole gig was very, very simple. Not just the concept of doing photorealism, but the idea of doing multiple images and flat colour. Ask yourself, “What is the easiest art in the world to make?” and the answer will come back, nine times out of ten, Andy Warhol: which is a lot of the brilliance of it, because it is composed of so few ideas and each of those ideas is kept as simple as possible. Literally anyone could have done it. With a few easy instructions, anyone could learn to do an Andy Warhol print or silk screen. In a very real way—in the context of work ethic as it applies to art—Andy Warhol is to Impressionism what Impressionism is to the Royal Academy. I read The Warhol Diaries a number of years ago but never really bothered to look up Warhol’s actual works. I knew the covers from the Rolling Stones albums (Sticky Fingers (Fig.2) which I didn’t have and Love You Live (Fig.3) which I did); the Cars video “All I Want Is You”; Interview magazine. I didn’t really have to see that much of what he did. My primary admiration was for the immaculate purity of his underlying artistic concept and the extent to which he purified it still further. I mean, you already have the world’s easiest art to make and what do you do? You start a studio called (wait for it) The Factory where you have all of these other people working on the simplest art ever conceived and doing most of the work. It’s like a multi-layered joke that gets funnier the further back you move away from it and the more you look at the layers involved. And at the same time, it certainly fulfills a central requirement of art. People like to look at it.
[A short digression to observe that this is a point of intersection for First Quarto and Third Quarto: One of the core points of Whistler’s philosophy on art and where he was at odds with the Royal Academy was the notion of Art as Narrative, his view being diametrically opposed to the view, then current, that it was the bounden duty of the painter—and through the painter, his picture—to tell a multi-layered story in a single image: to “instruct,” to “edify” and to “uplift” the viewer. One can recognize the scorched earth of Whistler’s ultimate triumph in the extent to which those three verbs fall flush upon the ear of modern sensibility with a dull thud. The “Large Narrative in Image, Large Narrative as Image” was the philosophy of the Pre-Raphaelites who were Whistler’s contemporaries and principle artistic adversaries. It was Whistler’s view that art was far closer to music than it was to literature, more purely aesthetic in its implicit nature, in other words, which is why he called his pictures variously Nocturnes, Symphonies, Arrangements and Harmonies—using musical terms to stake out his territory at the opposite end of the artistic spectrum from formalist narrative and content. Part of my purpose with Phase II is to attempt to move the debate back in the other direction, thus this extensive description of the piece and thus the selection of my terms which are literary rather than musical. The images are described as Quartos and the concepts behind those Quartos are here described at exponentially greater length, several orders of magnitude above what is commonly accepted to be “allowable” in the field of art. As Whistler was an outlaw force against the Royal Academy, so I attempt to become an outlaw force opposing Whistler and the heirs to his thematic legacy)
They can look at it as art or they can look at it as a garish image of Liz Taylor (Fig.4) in a clashing colour scheme. Or Marilyn Monroe (Fig.5). Or Mick Jagger Fig.6). The fame aspect of Andy Warhol’s overall concept for his work can’t be understated (it’s also worth noting that the Mick Jagger print is the only one I was able to find where Warhol got the subject to the sign the print as well:
Warhol wasn’t one to share his own fame, it seems). “This is interesting because this person is famous.” “Look! Famous person!” (Where? Where?). Hah. Pavlov was right. So Warhol started “doing” famous people he’d only heard and read about—Jackie Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe—and soon he was “doing” famous people who were coming to The Factory to “get done” because Andy Warhol “did” famous people. As I say, the further back you stand, the funnier the layers get. So I thought about that. I thought, Why not do some fake Andy Warhol’s? Take the single photorealistic image from the newspaper and copy it four times or six times, make an arrangement of them, trace them, pencil and ink them, drop flat colour on them and sign my name. So that was in my same mental compartment with the idea of single-image photorealism, drawn from a newspaper photograph. And I still never got around to cutting photographs out of the paper, so I suspected that I wasn’t really that interested (which, now that I think of it, is probably the required state of mind to do a fake Andy Warhol). So, that was still rolling around in my mind at the point when I realized—having suggested to Neil that we might auction his three favourite Swoon pages to benefit the CBLDF—that most if not all of the Swoon pages had already been sold on the ’92 Tour. Including the “Swoon, Mortals” page which had been auctioned...to benefit the CBLDF! Which left me having to decide, what were Neil and I going to auction to benefit the CBLDF?
Another interesting aspect was that, while I saw myself as breaking new ground, Ger and I had actually done a couple of fake Warhols already: the covers of Cerebus 214 (Fig.7) and 215 (Fig.8) which I didn’t remember until very late in the proceedings. And those two had probably been motivated unconsciously by something else I hadn’t remembered until even later in the proceedings: the issue of Miracleman, number 19, mentioned in the Note from the President (Fig.9). I distinctly remember Neil giving it to me: around 1993 or so, when you would have guessed (or I would have, anyway) that he was certainly far too successful and popular to be bothered about such things. But there he was at the Capital City Trade Show in ’93 (I think it was) wandering around in his original and now largely threadbare Cerebus U.K. Tour ’86 t-shirt (the wearing of which at a comic book event we were both attending I thought a very nice gesture considering our relative stature in the field by then). Anyway he had brought the Andy Warhol issue of Miracleman all that way with him to give to me, reiterating that it was because he was proud of how it had turned out.
And he had every good reason to be. He did a very good job of capturing the Andy Warhol flat intonation and flat inflection (“It’s him. Oh gee. Oh wow. Stay cool. Don’t say anything.”) Clearly I wasn’t the only person who had read The Warhol Diaries. Mark Buckingham did a wonderful job on the art, as well, with his own fake Warhol’s. Page 14 (Fig.10) is about as good as it gets, in my view: making use of the nine-panel grid to do nine fake Warhol’s, each panel constituting its own fake Warhol and its own nine-panel grid. And the bottom tier (Fig.11) with the three fake Warhol’s definitely excited envy. It’s not often that I would say, reading someone else’s comic book, I wish I had done that. But I definitely said it, on this occasion, to myself. I wish I had done that.
And given the Cerebus 214 and 215 covers, I suppose it could be said, to paraphrase Whistler’s bon mot at Oscar Wilde’s expense:
“You will, Dave. You will.”
[For those of you not familiar with the story, early on in their master and protégé relationship—at the time when Wilde was just beginning to irritate Whistler by misappropriating many of Whistler’s aphorisms and witty sayings and claiming them as his own—Whistler and Wilde were both at a dinner party and among the guests there was an art critic from one of the London papers. Whistler—with Wilde hanging on his every word—having recently read one of the critic’s reviews, was telling him in no uncertain terms that, because the critic wasn’t, himself, an artist it was inaccurate for him to say in a review that “this picture is good” and “that picture is bad.” As a non-artist, it was only accurate if he was to limit himself to “I like this picture” and “I don’t like that picture.” Whistler then took the critic’s arm and graciously added, “Come now, and have a hock and seltzer. You’re sure to like that.” Dazzled with admiration at Whistler’s deft touch, Oscar said, “I wish I had said that.” To which Whistler replied, “You will, Oscar. You will.”]
So that was when I first conceived of the idea of doing a fake Andy Warhol of Neil Gaiman and decided I had better take a look at a collection of actual Andy Warhol pictures to make sure that I got it right.
Part II: Neil
It’s a very unique experience to go back and look at a book that you’ve used for research purposes as opposed to a book you’ve looked at or read only for your own pleasure. Since there’s more at stake with a research book, it tends to create a more vivid memory by its first impression. I’ve just gone back to the library and checked out Andy Warhol Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné 1962-1987. I remember vividly the first night when I had flipped through it.
These are really bad.
It’s kind of funny now, but at the time it was very disheartening. Page after page, thinking, “I really don’t like any of this stuff. I think Mark Buckingham’s fake Andy Warhol’s in Miracleman put the real Warhol to shame.” Because I wasn’t just flipping through for my own pleasure (I would’ve just put it back), I started asking myself questions.
Well, okay, why do I think these are bad?
The garish colour was at the top of the list. Not just garish but colours that seemed to me to be intentionally offensive, visually. It reminded me of something. What did it remind me of? Oh, black light posters. Really, really bad black light posters where the colours are climbing all over each other. That seemed to be it. Andy Warhol came from a time period when black light posters and ultraviolet lighting (which had actually been around since the 20s) were considered really startling. The fashion for them, I would assume was, at least partly, attributable to the drug culture: mirroring the intensification of colour perception which LSD engenders. It would certainly be a very painterly reaction to see the profusion of black light posters and ultraviolet light effects in nightclubs and to wonder how you could get that same effect with paint or with silk screens.
Purple flesh and green hair.
Yeah, that gets pretty close.
These are really bad.
There was also a kind of antagonism to the work—as if its subjects were being purposely made unattractive, their features vandalized. This seemed to reach its apogee where the screens had been slashed and cut haphazardly eyes and mouths missing on the various overlays.
I did see one that I liked a lot, Joseph Beuys in Memoriam 1986.(Fig.12) The only problem was it didn’t look remotely as if it had been done by Andy Warhol. The colours were complementary and the entire effect very subdued. Back to the drawing board.
It wasn’t until the next day that the piece started taking shape in my mind around my initial reaction—less “Andy Warhol” than “anti-Warhol”. More pleasing colours. Still using flat colour, but colours that at least look as if they belong on the same page together. And cleaner edges, more illustrative.
While (and this seemed critical to capturing the Warhol quality) keeping it easy and fun.
Part III: Neil
It was interesting coming out of the AGO with Chester Brown after viewing the TurnerWhistlerMonet exhibit because he was the first one to say something and what he said was “I thought the best one was the one that was just a dark strip of green and two light strips of green.” I knew exactly which one he was referring to and had thought the same thing. Later, going through the catalogue I found out that it was called Nocturne in Grey and Silver (Fig.13) and was painted by Whistler c. 1873-75. Whatever qualities it had in person that had so impressed Chet and me it was unable to communicate via photographic reproduction in the catalogue. There it just looked like, well, a dark strip of green with two light strips of green. The only near competitor to it, to my mind, turned out to be called Nocturne: Blue and silver Chelsea (Fig.14) which was painted in 1871. It seems to me that the former, painted at a later date, was a more perfect execution of the idea first developed in the latter, which is why the latter reproduced better. Whistler had, I suspect, come nearer to his intention—having had a couple of years to think about it—and had created a picture that was “all picture” and no discernable technique, whereas the technique is more visible in the earlier version. What was interesting to me was that they both seemed like hard intellectual exercises originating from Whistler’s desire to depict, accurately, fog on the Thames River.
(One of the points made in the catalogue is that the London smog—the combination of industrial smoke and fog—through the last few decades of the nineteenth century was, by many accounts, absolutely extraordinary, accounting for the obsessive interest of so many artists in trying to capture the colours and effects it created, colour and effects which had inexplicably vanished by the time the twentieth century was a couple of decades old. By way of example, some years after Whistler, Monet had himself taken rooms on the sixth floor of the Savoy and painted numerous canvases of the Thames, Waterloo Bridge ((Figs. 15, 16, 17) and the Hungerford Bridge. At one point his room was filled with half-finished canvases and he would feverishly change one for another on his easel as the light and colour changed through the day.)
And I think what Whistler did was to get established in his mind that by thinning his colours with turpentine and basically just letting the watery paint run down the canvas—a light layer and then a darker layer—and then leaving it to dry and then going in and adding a few patches of brightness to represent lights from the windows across the river as seen through the fog, that he would achieve exactly the visual quality he was looking for. And, knowing that that would allow him to achieve exactly the visual quality he was looking for, I suspect he wondered, Why try to achieve it by some other means? I wonder how long he had to think about it—how long had he to mull over just how far from the Academy viewpoint he was willing to stray. I think that was the point when he just decided, Look, a picture is a picture. The idea behind a picture is to do something attractive that people want to look at. Right? Right. And this is attractive. I think it’s one of the best paintings I’ve ever done (Chet and I certainly agree with him). So does it matter how long it took me to do it? To the Academy it did. It would be ludicrous to suggest that a finished landscape could be done in a day and a half—with most of the time taken up with the drying process. This formed the foundation of the testimony in the Whistler v. Ruskin libel action.
Sir John Holker: Did it take much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off? [Laughter]
Whistler: I beg your pardon? [Laughter]
Sir John: I’m afraid I’m using a term that applies rather to my own work. [Laughter] I should have said, “How long did it take you to paint that picture?”
Whistler: Oh, no. Permit me. I am too greatly flattered to think that you apply, to a work of mine, any term you are in the habit of using with reference to your own. Let us say, then, how long did I take to “knock off”—I think that’s it—to knock off that Nocturne. Well, as well as I remember, about a day. I may have put a few more touches to it the next day if the painting were not dry. I had better say, then, that I was two days work on it.
Sir John: The labour of two days, then, is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?
Whistler: No. I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.
As Weintraub notes, “There was warm applause, for the first time in the trial. Judge Huddleston rapped sharply and announced that if such a manifestation of feeling were repeated he would have to clear the courtroom.”
The point is well taken in my own case. Having examined the two Nocturnes closely at the AGO, I was satisfied that a full day’s execution in their case might be a gross exaggeration. In actual fact they might’ve been “knocked off” in an hour or two, once you subtract the length of time it would take for the turpentine-thinned paint to dry. And yet I spent more time admiring them both than any other picture in the exhibit…
(With the exception of the Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket and that had more to do with its notoriety in the Whistler v. Ruskin trial than with the picture as a picture. Discussing it later with Chet, I said that where I thought Whistler had fallen down—no pun intended—with the Nocturne in Black and Gold was in not having an equivalent of the small retouches that “made” the Nocturne in Blue and silver Chelsea and the Nocturne in Grey and Silver: in the case of those pictures, the paint used to convey the light from windows shining through the fog and their reflection in the water. It’s certainly very clever to depict expiring fireworks by means of small blobs of bright white, yellow and red paint, but it seemed to me that Whistler needed to be able to convey the reflection of those expiring fireworks in the water to create the same eye-pleasing quality. And that would require knowing what expiring fireworks look like reflected in water and to be able to reproduce the effect in paint. Which takes a much sharper and quicker eye than is required to see what light from a window reflected in water looks like through fog)
…and, if the exhibit hadn’t been as crowded as it was, I could’ve spent much more time looking at them. So, while I come down on the side of the Academy against Whistler, Whistler’s argument is iron-clad, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to those two Nocturnes. It might not have taken a whole lifetime to acquire the knowledge of the effect that could be created by thinning oil paint with turpentine and pouring it down a canvas, but there is no question that that knowledge—and innovation—was Whistler’s alone and the enduring quality of the result(s), irrefutable.
So, that was on my mind as well. Let’s just do it in a hurry, let’s have fun with it. What I originally pictured was a four-panel picture, alternating two of the jacket photos from American Gods and two of Neil’s part of the jacket photo of Good Omens. Unfortunately the photo on the back of Good Omens was too dark, so that even on the lightest setting on the photocopier there wasn’t enough detail coming through: which was unfortunate because I really wanted to do the crumbling stonework (sorry, Neil, the crumbling stonework was what was visually interesting). So, I mulled things over for a while and decided that I would do one frame recreating the “It…comforts me” panel and three of the back cover photo from American Gods: which moved away from Warhol and in the direction of Mark Buckingham. In Warhol’s prints, there were few, if any, instances of Warhol doing an “odd man out” picture. Either all six frames were the same with different colours or they were done in a checkerboard, alternating image fashion. What is interesting is that that “odd man out” composition was a major plus on my personal list of Warhol mannerisms and I was amused to find out that it wasn’t a Warhol mannerism at all—either Neil or Mark Buckingham had come up with it on that (by now legendary in my mind) page 14 bottom tier in Miracleman. So, I set to work recreating the “it…comforts me panel” and realized I was getting even further off track. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t fast. I persevered, but cursing myself for having gotten that far off track already. It took me the better part of a day to finish that Quarto. Not fun, not fast. So, I resolved to do a better job on the other three Quartos. I enlarged Neil’s picture from the back cover of American Gods, traced it off, flopped it, traced the other side, flopped it back again, transferred it to the artboard three times, tightened up the images in pencil and then inked them over the course of a Saturday. Then clipped the—by now, virtually finished—piece to the wall and spent several days a) admiring it, b) trying to picture a colour scheme for it and c) trying to decide which of the three pictures constituted the best likeness of Neil. About a week later, I took the piece down and started working on adding an illustrative finish to the images of Neil, working exclusively through the meridian of his face (the shadow thrown across his left cheek by his nose and by the contours of his lips). This was the only area where I would allow myself to do anything illustrative: whiting out the hard-edged ink line and working carefully through the entire area with fine pen-lines. Then sat back and looked. Well, now that was interesting. Neil’s eye had gone dead. The mouth was too lifelike with the fine lines so it took the life out of the eye. So I expanded the illustrative field to include the eye and eyebrow. And sat back and looked and realized that I had lost the only thing that was left of Warhol, really: the stark, graphic quality. The more I worked on it, the more I really didn’t like it. So I started whiting out the pen-lines and realized that I would have to start over, since all I had where Neil’s mouth used to be were blobs of white paint.
So this time I got really determined. Fun. And. Fast.
Since I was starting over, I thought, what else didn’t I like about the first version? That was easy—the four Quartos. The Warhol and Buckingham compositions I liked the best were all at least six images. And I didn’t like the “it…comforts me” panel in there. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t fast. So that was when I photocopied Neil’s face again and enlarged it dramatically. Big Neil. And this time I just went in with white paint and with black ink, sharpening up all the lines by taking out all of the mid-tones you get on a photograph. And that went very well. That was fun and fast. Just going to town with the white paint and the blank ink to get that stark Warhol quality, leaving the photographic dust on Neil’s right cheek and a bit around the mouth and the eye as a concession to my more illustrative interests. Took about an hour in total and looked great. So then I copied Neil’s finished face six times and laid them out on a grid. That was when the idea hit me of doing background images, essentially Warhol’s-within-the-Warhol’s as Neil and Mark Buckingham had done with that page 14.
But of what?
A momentary concern with copyright, but, no, this was, at least theoretically, a work of art. Warhol did a print of Mickey Mouse (Double Mickey Mouse 1981) (Fig.18) and another really good one of Donald Duck (Anniversary Donald Duck 1985) (Fig.19)—which I suspect only strikes me as really good because it looks like a good rough storyboard design by someone at Disney—and none of them have © Walt Disney on them anywhere: likewise his Superman (part of Myths 1981) no © DC Comics.
Dave Mackean covers?
And that was the first time that it occurred to me that what I was doing was what had been rolling around in my mind back at the beginning: the point of the whole exercise that had been eluding me. I wasn’t doing a fake Warhol of Neil Gaiman as a comic book creator, per se. I was doing Neil Gaiman as I saw him. My Neil Gaiman. No Sandman. No Death.
The Savoy. Yes, The Savoy. What else? The interview. Yes, the interview…and the 24-hour comic. Neil’s participation in Cerebus. “The Neil Gaiman of Earth-Dave” in a manner of speaking. Very possibly, this would just be the first one—possibly just the first of many.
“Lithograph No. 1” popped into my head.
Yes. Exactly. A final wry nod and a high-pitched cackling laugh to James Abbot Whistler (Whistler was said to have a very distinctive high-pitched cackling laugh) before taking our leave of him. James Abbot Whistler who had fudged things in first drawing his images on transfer paper and then transferring them to the lithographic stone, which means that they aren’t, technically, lithographs at all. To be called lithographs, the work needs to be done on the stone itself. At the time, only Whistler could have done that and made it stick. And he did. No one today would seriously consider describing “Savoy Pigeons” or “By the Balcony” or “The Siesta” as anything but lithographs. Arguably this was the thin end of the wedge which has led to our own day and age where all manner of reproductions—from the photographic to the offset—are called prints.
And why not? Consider the strides that photographic reproduction and commercial printing have made in the last hundred years. Hell, there are photocopiers today that will give you a better and more accurate impression—and finer lines—than you’ll get from a lithographic stone. Aardvark-Vanaheim is the proud owner of two Robert Bateman “prints” which are mere photographic reproductions, signed and numbered by the artist, for which we paid several hundred dollars each back in 1990. I wouldn’t have a clue if, today, they’re considered completely valueless or if they’re worth ten times what we paid for them. We bought them because we wanted them. They look really good and they’re nice to own.
Phase II—a photographic reproduction on Archival grade paper—finally had a name: Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman, in the exact spirit of James Abbot Whistler.
“It’s a lithograph because I say it is.”
In this case, “It’s a lithograph because it says so at the top.”
So I went and selected a nice typeface on the computer (Bookman Old Style—the same typeface that I’m using for this text here) typed it in and put it at the top. It looked as if it belonged there right away.
That was good. I liked that. So, I set about the process of photocopying the necessary photographs of the Savoy and Neil the starving journalist and retouching them with the white paint and the black ink, drawing them up as separate compositions in the illustrative fashion that I prefer. Clean lines and tight corners, not messy. Illustrative. So I put together the four images of Neil the starving journalist, did a “rough cut” incorporating the large picture of Neil and I thought, It looks like an album cover. An album cover needs a title at the top. So, I thought I’ll put the Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman line in, but just as a placeholder until I figure out what I want to put there. Again, it looked as if it belonged there. So despite the temptation to change it to Second Quarto: The Interview, I left it as it was. That was when I noticed that the background composition was “off”. The four images weren’t “squared up” because I had put the borders on by hand—fast and fun—and hadn’t measured them carefully enough. That was when I decided that I would treat Preney Print & Litho as my Factory. I’m the artist, let them do the hard work of making sure all the lines are the same size and at a ninety-degree angle to each other. I just want to do the fun parts. So I did a mock-up of the Savoy backdrop and then just retouched the photograph with instructions on how it was supposed to look and where it was supposed to go, how wide the inset gutter was supposed to be and left them to it. But I decided to leave the background of Quarto Two cockeyed, by way of emphasizing the extent to which The Interview will always give me a distorted and imperfect mental image of Neil. No matter how close I can get it to realism, it will always be a little lopsided.
And I left the “When I was young I loved Gilbert and Sullivan” completely alone. And I even left the caption out of the fragmentary bottom left frame, in case Neil wants to drawn anything in there with his gold signing pen.
And I left the other three images of Neil alone as well—no inset images of my personal memories of Neil and no titles. So the viewer has a choice: to have his or her eye follow a curving trajectory from top left to middle right to bottom left and see the strange “Neil Gaiman of Earth-Dave” or to have his or her eye follow a curving trajectory from top right to middle left to bottom right and see Neil Gaiman.
Just as he actually is.
So, these three images—alternating a dark teal and a light teal on the background and on Neil’s features—constitute the Fourth Quarto—hence, its name:
“Neil, Neil, Neil”.
Part IIIb: Neil
I was privileged to attend Will Eisner’s 80th birthday reception at the Cartoon Art Museum in Boca Raton, Florida in February of 1997 and to be invited to a brunch the next day at his home. As my then-girlfriend and I knocked at the front door, I could hear a very emphatic discussion taking place inside. Will answered the door himself. “Come on in, come on in, just the man I was looking for,” he said, shaking my hand. And then to my girlfriend, “Forgive me. I have to steal your boyfriend for a moment.” He led me by the arm into the kitchen. “We’re having a very interesting discussion about the difference between the auteur in comic books and the collaboration and which is better.” I agreed that that sounded like an interesting subject and poured myself a coffee from the urn on the counter. When Will and I turned around all of the comic-book people who had been arguing so vociferously had melted into the woodwork.
I have that strange effect on people.
Neil was one of the comic-book people there and he hadn’t so much melted into the woodwork as he had moved away at an oblique angle in the direction of the living room.
“You know, Neil,” I said, “What I’ve always admired about you and Alan Moore is that you’re very careful in your scripts to describe everything as meticulously as you can—down to the last visual detail—as you envision it. And then you always write to whomever the artist is, ‘This is just a suggestion. If you can think of something better, feel free to ignore all of this’.”
Neil had made vague head movements in response. In retrospect I suspect that he thought that he had been too slow at evacuating the kitchen and so had been elected fall-guy for the comic-book collaboration side of the argument. And that I was firing a first salvo in the argument and he was, therefore, bracing himself for whatever might come next.
But that was all I had to say.
On the one hand I was acknowledging that no one there was interested in discussing the subject with me. On the other hand, I wanted to make what I thought was an important point in an end of the comic book medium—and, hence, the industry—in which I have had very little participation. My point was: given the extent to which Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman transformed the level of literacy in mainstream comics with their work, no one could have been too terribly surprised had they chosen to turn into complete dictatorial bastards with their collaborators. And, had they done that, I’d bet you dollars to donuts that you could’ve watched “getting to be a dictatorial bastard with your collaborators” spread like cancer as one of the job perks of being a top-ranked writer. But both Alan and Neil knew, instinctively, that that wasn’t the way to get the best work from people and it certainly isn’t the way you have fun getting your work done.
I mention this because Lithograph No.1 Neil Gaiman is a collaboration between Neil and myself in just this way:
As I flip through Andy Warhol Prints, I note with interest the number of different techniques he has used in the production of his pictures, the number of his prints which were each individualized by something he chose to do with them. As I said earlier, I like very clean lines and sharp corners, so this is how I picture Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman looking: just as you see it here. As a nod in the direction Andy Warhol who signed many of his works in felt tip pen or ball point (prints and lithographs are supposed to be signed in pencil, which at least theoretically doesn’t fade the way ink does—Warhol signed many of his in pencil as well), I’ll be signing my name in black ballpoint. What I picture is Neil signing his own name in gold ink—as a kind of homage to Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket—and I picture, as I mentioned above, Neil adding a single flower in gold ink to Quarto Three. But, then, I’m a very austere fellow both in my life and in my work.
So, now I’m curious.
What does Neil Gaiman see in Andy Warhol’s work? Is he a big fan of Warhol or a distanced observer, and what are the elements of Warhol’s prints that appeal to him? Maybe he likes the thin tracing line that Warhol would often used to overlay the photo-realistic imagery (this could be achieved with a crow quill pen, a good bottle of white ink and a steady hand). Or it would be possible to use the same line that Warhol would use to outline an image and delineate the hair of its subject (Fig.20). That would take a light touch. Or maybe the collage effect he would achieve by overlaying the images with different areas of colour blocked out and added on the different screens—that could be accomplished with self-adhesive film (Fig.21) or maybe Neil likes the hasty little scribbles in behind Chairman Mao (Fig.22). Art stores are filled with bits and pieces that you could use to make your own fake Warhol. Mix and match. Darken part of the face and then render the obscured parts in white ink. Or pink. Warhol used pink outlines. And blue.
One way or the other, I hope Neil has fun with it. I hope that he metaphorically (or perhaps literally) sprawls out on his stomach with his tongue (doing all the hard work) sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and makes whatever artistic contribution he wants to make. So take a close look at the final image of Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman at the end of this article. This might be the last time that it looks like this. And the only people who will see the finished version…
…are those at the Fiddler’s Green Sandman Convention later this week. Unless Neil hasn’t had a chance to do his part, yet (he’s a very busy fellow, you know). In which case, when he finally finishes it to his own satisfaction, the only person who is going to know what the finished piece looks like…
…is the winning bidder.
Lithograph No.1: Neil Gaiman
By Dave Sim & Neil Gaiman
(NOTE – not actually a Lithograph. Lithograph No.1:Neil Gaiman is the title)
Only 50 copies of the piece have been produced of which Neil Gaiman and Dave Sim have signed and numbered only 2: “#1/50” and “#2/50” and both have written the year, “2004”, adjacent to their respective signatures. “#1/50” is being auctioned on eBay with the auction closing Friday November 12, 2004 and all proceeds going to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The #2/50 is being raffled at the Fiddler’s Green Sandman Convention the next day. In the event that neither has been completed by those dates, they will be FedExed to the winning recipients.
Of those pieces which remain, Sim and Gaiman will both sign—and Neil Gaiman will complete—one copy in November of each year (i.e. #3/50 in 2005; #4/50 in 2006) which will then be auctioned on eBay to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, by way of illustrating in as pointed a fashion as possible that even though Dave Sim and Neil Gaiman are at diametric opposite poles on the political spectrum, they will always be on good enough terms, personally, to cooperate in jointly supporting the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
They will also sign (and Neil Gaiman will complete) five AP (Artist’s Proofs) for each other on the understanding that these will not be sold for a period of at least five years (although they can be given away as presents to any individual who agrees not to sell them on the same basis).
If either Neil Gaiman or Dave Sim dies before the last piece is signed—in the year 2053— the survivor agrees to sign the remaining pieces at the agreed upon rate of one per year. After both have died, the remaining pieces will be auctioned at the same rate of one a year, in each case to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
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