Colin Sharpe is one of those irritatingly handsome men who you can’t hate because he’s also extremely likable and manages to keep the terrifying things he does to kittens a secret. He’s a father, a cyclist, a rock-climber, hockey player, an Inventory Controller and an artist, but not always in that order. He has been involved in many aspects of Perth fandom, in many different roles, and was proudly one of the editors of the superb manga anthology Xuan Xuan.
Here he discusses his passion for comic books, and reveals his Precious Thing as an issue that those of us who were there at the time will recall with the kind of horrified fascination that we had the first time Johnny Depp sucked, or Al Pacino did that weird shouty thing he does, or the first time we saw Rob Liefeld’s work, or heard a Mariah Carey song, or realised Steven Segal was serious……
Precious Things: Colin Sharpe
My most precious literary possession is one that may come as a surprise to some, perhaps not to others, and for those that immediately know of it, and what it represents, it does come with preface, and a story.
When Lee asked what my most treasured literary possession was, it did not spring to mind immediately, I had to let the question percolate. I started to think of all the books I own, of all the texts I keep coming back to, and what has shaped me the most over the years, artistically. Comics, I started to think, it’s obviously a comic.
Graphic narrative is my preferred medium, and although I like working in colour sometimes, some of the best artwork and graphic storytelling I’ve ever seen, is black and white, and my favourite artists do their work in this way. I thought about the comics I have in my collection, and I realised that there was only one work that has shaped me artistically more than any other, Cerebus.
Cerebus, as a whole is one of the most beautifully drawn comic books I have ever read, and it was consistently drawn, once Dave Sim partnered with his background artist Gerhard, in a way that I still take inspiration from. The storyline quality varied greatly from its start as a parody of Conan and other pulp adventures, to many other sources, and evolved into musings by Sim on politics, religion and gender. The story along with the fantastic art in the beginning were what drew me to Cerebus, and when I get to the issue that is the most treasured, the art is what kept me coming back, and the story in a quite different way. Lee asked what is my most treasured literary possession, and there are many issues to choose from, but there is one issue that stands out, and the reasons to choose it are complicated, and I will try and explain, as concisely as I can, what they are, and what it means to me.
The issue in question is 186.
For those of you who know of it, the preface and story I mentioned at the start become clearer, but for those who don’t, this issue is the one where the narrative is violently disrupted by ‘Viktor’, an analogue for Sim the creator, who writes an essay about the male ‘light’ and the female ‘void’. It is every bit as bad as that may sound, and it was a very lengthy read, in the middle of what many would have described as a more intelligent funny animal story up until that point. It was a turning point for the work, after which it descended into what I will describe as madness, as it became clearer and clearer that the creator actually meant, and believed, that an entire gender were nothing more than a void that consumed the other’s light, their soul and creativity.
This issue coloured all before it, and certainly soured all that came after. I did continue to buy Cerebus until it ended at issue 300 (it was slated to end at that issue for a long time before issue 186 came out). At first, I thought it must not be the author’s true intent, and later it was more for the art, and as a record of what I would then aspire not to be.
Issue 186 of Cerebus marks two halves of Sim’s work, the first of which inspired me to be a comic artist. It showed me that there were other ways to draw comics, that you could tell all manner of stories with incredible art, and that they didn’t have to be about superheroes with miraculous powers. It showed me that you could publish them yourself, and that you could create a community around your work, the letters pages in the back of Cerebus could be as interesting as the book. The letters section also included previews of other independent books and artists, many of which rank among my favourites still.
The second half of Cerebus, after 186, inspires me to be better than Sim was. To create work that unifies and elevates us all, rather than belittling half of us. Issue 186 had a preview for Terry Moore’s comic Strangers in Paradise, which is another of my favourite comics, and that led to discovering Poison Elves, and Charles Vess, and Thieves and Kings, and many other of my favourite comics. Issue 186 of Cerebus is my most precious literary possession, and the reasons for it to be so are complicated, and messy, but it did ultimately shape me.
Not in the way the creator intended perhaps, but there is a lesson in that as well.