High Society page 96

This is from Cerebus No.30, the second issue to feature the Regency Elf. Having taken Cerebus out of his barbarian context and moved him into Iest’s Regency Hotel…

[which was modeled on the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, a stately Victorian-era hotel which is so fully integrated into the architecture of the Parliament Buildings which it adjoins that it might as well be a part of them. A uniquely Canadian quirk. It would be hard to imagine a luxury hotel abutting the U.S. Senate or Westminster. When I stayed there (as a guest of an Ottawa convention) I had to pass through several sets of doors to reach my room and my imagination took flight on the idea that your measure was taken by the desk clerk and your place in the pecking order was established by the number of doors you had to pass through to get to your room. The more doors you passed through, the lower your ranking. At some point I ran across a rather large Canadian coat of arms (which is flanked by a lion and a unicorn) and a further flight of imagination speculated that the hotel was divided into a Lion Wing (for politicians, bankers, royalty—at the time, the hotel restaurant the Canadian Grill Room was an unofficial Liberal party headquarters) and a Unicorn Wing (for artists, musicians, poets and so on). When it came time to apply this to Cerebus it seemed more fruitful to make the division between politics and religion and to apply it to the entire Upper City of Iest instead of just the hotel]

…much of the humour would be derived from the cultural dislocation and Cerebus’ complete ignorance of the way in which his profile had been elevated dramatically by his brief association with Lord Julius. That part was no problem. The problem was finding some way to communicate the depths of Cerebus’ confusion. Since he implicitly wouldn’t trust anyone, I needed to invent a confidant for him. There was no way to get another barbarian into the hotel, so that left only the fantasy aspect. Someone just as fantastic as himself would have to be introduced. A Regency…Ghost or a Regency Something-Like-a-Ghost. And that was when I thought, Why not a Regency Elf? Cerebus’ situation in the Regency was not altogether dissimilar to my own in the comic-book field—a kind of wild card, joker in the deck that didn’t fit anywhere. And there was someone else I saw as being in much the same situation: Wendy Pini. Of course, that wasn’t the case. The major dissimilarity being that Elfquest was a runaway hit and Cerebus was just a wild card, just a joker in the deck. Elfquest was charming and beloved and Cerebus was vulgar and weird. The fact that the two were usually mentioned together was more of an albatross around the Pinis’ necks than evidence of any sort of popularity on Cerebus’ part. I remained blithely ignorant of this for years. As I developed the Regency Elf she also, very quickly, didn’t fit the elf profile of which the Pini elves were the latest incarnation. Visualizing the Regency Elf, I struck an image which I had filed away in my mind for future reference which I had seen in an underground title called Dr. Wirtham’s Comix & Stories. I forget the name of the artist/editor/and possibly publisher, but he had had a panel in one of his issues of, well, basically, the Regency Elf, which captured the Disney-style glow-in-the-dark Tinkerbelle look, but entirely in black-and-white.

[Of course Tinkerbelle was a faerie, not an elf. Elves, faeries, sprites, what’s the difference? Not hard to see why I’ve always been unwelcome in the world of High Fantasy.]

I had just been flipping through an issue and hit that page and I thought, Wow. That really works. How did he do that? And looking more closely, I saw that it was pretty basic, consisting of thin hatched lines in all the areas where a shadow would be cast and no outline or defining line apart from that. And then the external glow rendered entirely in white dot pointillism: blacked in roughly in the shape of the interior figure and then just blob-blob-blobed with white paint to soften and sparkle the edge. Of course, multiply those three "blobs" times about a few hundred. On this page, you can see that I was already getting sort of careless with my blob-blob-blobs. I’m pretty sure I had abandoned white paint by this point (which I had to keep watering down to keep it thin enough to transfer from the tip of the brush to the page and then mixing in more paint to keep it white enough to reproduce photographically. If it was too thin, it would just make a small blue pool instead of a white dot) and had gone to using Liquid Paper, those little bottles of white-out people used on typewritten pages back when the earth was still cooling. It made a less circular blob, but it made a more consistently white blob and I could get a good ten or fifteen blobs off of the applicator before I had to put it back in the bottle and shake it up. I could only get two or three blobs off the end of a paint brush and every twenty blobs or so, I had to remix the paint. On a monthly schedule these are the things you base a lot of your choices on. Early on, here in the Liquid Paper switchover I was doing little stars with white paint (there are four of them here on the left side of the Elf). This was my attempt at misdirection so no one would notice how un-circular the blobs had gotten. I abandoned it pretty quickly. Either you would believe in Tinkerbelle or you wouldn’t, I decided. Blobs is blobs. I also didn’t realize it at the time but the thin line hatching I was doing in the shadowed areas was far too dark to really create the effect I was trying to create. The whole point is that you can go super-super light with the lines because they’re on a pure white backdrop—you never have to worry about them showing up because even the thinnest line shows up against pure white. The Regency Elf was in the book for years before I got the lines thin enough to really make her look as if she was glowing. It was always hard to explain to people at conventions that I couldn’t do a sketch of the Regency Elf because I lacked the materials. There are probably fewer than a dozen such sketches in existence, as a result.

I was really pushing the envelope of how much solid black you could use on a page with the inexplicably pitch dark Ambassador Suite. It was only once I had Cerebus inside the Regency that I remembered my initial motivation to choose to do a barbarian funny animal in the world of humans instead of a science-fiction funny animal in the world of humans: no straight geometrically precise edges. As you can see from the first two panels, I was no threat to Winsor McKay when it came to faking geometric precision (which he did a lot of in Little Nemo). The carpet is a chaotic mass of donut shapes which are supposed to be precise interlocking rows of donut shapes receding into a precise vanishing point. Not! I rather cleverly (I thought at the time) switched from using a 30% Letratone on Cerebus in the first two panels to using a 40% when he enters the stygian Ambassador Suite. Of course, this gave his eyes a kind of "switched-on headlight" quality. I mulled it over for a few years and the next time I did it, I used a 10% tone on his eyes in that situation which, in addition to be mathematically precise, actually looked right as well.

The look of the Regency Elf was my shameless peroxide tribute to Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry whom I adored at the time with a passion that surpasseth human understanding. A condition dramatically worsened by the acquiring of our first VCR (Beta, which I was assured was the format of the future) and a commercial tape which collected all the videos from the Eat to the Beat album (at a time when commercial videotapes retailed for around $90 each). "Dreaming" "Eat to the Beat" "In the Flesh". I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

A few years later, when Richard and Wendy were negotiating with Toronto’s Nelvana Productions to do the Elfquest animated film, Nelvana was in the middle of producing their big debut full-length animated film, Rock and Rule—which would prove to be as lousy as its title and take them out of the full-length animated film game permanently. Anyway, lo and behold, one of the characters in Rock and Rule was voiced by Debbie Harry, who just happened to be at Nelvana on a day when Wendy was there and they met. And sometime later, Wendy is dropping this casually into the conversation over the phone.

My mouth went dry and my heart started pounding. "You met Debbie Harry?"

"Oh, yes," she snorted. "What an awful woman. She is completely anti-art."

I just let it go and we moved on to other subjects. And I always wondered what she meant by that: "anti-art".

But what a weird footnote to the creation of the Regency Elf.

Copyright Dave Sim

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