Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Dave Sim Post I Never Wrote

I just read a stirring and heart-felt post by Heidi MacDonald on Dave Sim, and it occured to me that I never really touched upon his views on this forum.

I wrote a comment to Heidi's post, and I thought I would share it here. I hope it explains in full why I have never posted about Dave Sim.

To be honest, while I have heard of the controversy surrounding Sim, and I am familiar with Cerebus, I have not sat down and read either his philosophy on women or his work. I know, with the stuff I write about on my blog, it's a little shocking that I never touched on the topic before.

But I will say this:

There has been a great deal of coddling, protecting, and willful blind eyes turned away from rampant misogynists in sectors of this industry. It has disgusted me deeply.

If Gaiman is guilty for supporting Sim, there are a lot of people out there who are just as guilty.

Sim, by virtue of his apparent outspokenness, just seems to have the biggest spotlight shined on him. He's just not "cuddly" (sorry, Dave). He solidifies his views within quotable words, instead of committing a series of actions that friends can explain away and cover up.

But I would argue that it is exactly those men who actually act upon their misogynist thoughts, unconsciously, destructively, impacting other women's lives, impacting the lives of women within the comic book community -- those men who have long histories of such behavior, yet whose actions are only spoken of in whispers -- who are far more a danger to females than Sim's comments.

And until I see those persons brought into the spotlight and talked about and chastised for their actions, I just don't have the heart nor the energy to get too upset or even delve in the Sim situation. Not because what Heidi wrote about her concerns are not justified -- because they are! -- but because I, by virtue of my own experiences, have my attention directed elsewhere.

That said, I realize that Sim's Cerebus has come highly recommended, and plan to read them at some point. By necessity of being a blogger covering current comics culture, I have had to not only read but purchase with my own money books connected with people I despise. I am all "toughened up." I can handle Cerebus. My only question is, what collected volume shall I start with; would it make more sense to just start from the beginning, or is there a particularly good arc I should try first?


  1. Val--the conventional wisdom is to avoid the first volume until you've gotten into the series, because it's basically Sim's juvenilia. The second volume, "High Society," is the funniest; the fifth, "Jaka's Story," is the most moving, and they're both pretty much standalone stories.

  2. I'd start at the beginning. Think of the first volume as the Archives edition. He *does* hit his stride with High Society, but that's built, at least a bit, on characters that first appeared in volume 1.

    I've read through "Reads" or so... maybe up through "Rick's Story." I know I have at least one volume that I bought but never got around to reading. But the first half is really wonderful -- with Jaka's story one of the real highlights.

  3. The first volume is juvenilia, as you say, but lays some groundwork you'd be remiss to skip. If you did, though, the second IS the best volume. Stop by & I'll cu you a good deal.

  4. Wow, Heidi's written a nice piece there. I re-state what I said there: there is no better example of Art surpassing & existing independently of the artist. Cerebus is AMAZING at points, is cartoon & comic greatness on the order of the best (I'd put it side by side with Bone on my reading list). Sims, honestly, comes off as small & pathetic & frankly, like a guy with some serious problems. Poor dear.

  5. I don't like Dave Sim, but I've never wanted to dogpile on the guy with criticism, either. At the end of the day, he has a right to his opinions just like everyone else and unless he's actively mistreating women in his day to day life, I don't see why people would care that much.

    As a cartoonist, he's alright, but he's not *that* great. I think his run of 300 self-published issues is a more a testament to his perseverance than any measure of his talent. He's a capable artist and a bad writer, to be frank.

    I've often thought his whole, "I hate women" schtick was more an angle to sell comics more than anything else.

  6. After reading Heidi's column, I agree with you more now than I did earlier. Sim's guilty of having an opinion, not much more than that, so really, who cares? There are plenty of bad men out there engaging in misogynistic acts on a daily basis who aren't speaking about them, and people are whining about Dave Sim? It's a waste of time. Let Sim rot in his lonely existence and save the anger for someone who's actually doing bad things.

  7. Hm. Yeah I've never read Cerebus, too big and expensive to start now so I chalk it up in the who cares column myself.

    I think a lot of times its better to not know too much about artists you like. I'd probably listen to Oasis more if I didn't know what a Jackass their singer was. Modest Mouse is one of my favorite bands but I don't think I'd like hanging out with their singer either.

  8. I don't consider Heidi's post as "whining" -- she had very good points.

    It's just that my observation has been that sometimes the stuff that isn't as bombastic as Sim -- the stuff that operates quietly and with the apparent sanction of elements of its community -- can sometimes be more damaging.

  9. Val,

    I'm sorry if I associated you with my perception of Heidi's column as whining. Truth to tell, I've met Heidi on a few occasions and I did not walk away with the warm fuzzies on any occasion! lol So, I think the perception of her as whining is based more on my general dislike of her than anything she actually said.

    (Shhh...I'm admitting I can be petty! lol)

  10. I think what Douglas said is the way to go and it's the way that most the people of my age got into it, since it wasn't THAT easily found prior to "High Society" - at least not where I lived during that era.

    As far as Dave himself goes, I knew him back in the day and my wife and I both liked him immensely - of all the people we met in the comic book industry, he was gracious and he kept his word, he was always reliable. I can't really say that about anyone else.

    I've learned over the years that some people I like very much have opinions that are extremely far afield of what I think. For instance, I have a delightful uncle who believes in the Biblical creation myth and is the epitome of an evangelical Christian in all his worst political beliefs. And yet, person to person, he is caring and funny.

    Neither Sim nor my uncle go out and commit atrocities in the name of the beliefs they hold that are opposite mine and that would probably be the line. I do believe that people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, as wrongheaded as it might seem, they just aren't free to act on everything they believe, for obvious reasons.

    And so, yeah, some of Dave's opinions toward women are going to be a turn-off to some people, much in the same way that racism and sexism is something you cannot separate from American films prior to the 60s. There is no easy answer, and you just have to make the move that's right for you.

    That said, Howard Cruse is a neighbor of mine and he went and appeared with Dave at the Rockwell thing. He remarked to me what a nice time he and Dave had chatting and told me that Dave mentioned something to the effect of "There's probably some topics we should just avoid" and "I didn't think this would go this well." That pretty much mirrors my personal experience with the guy.

    In fact, yeah, this was all a very long-winded way of saying that this is a non-issue. And Valerie is right, there are really asses in the industry that are far worse news to women.

  11. I'd second what Mordicai said. The first volume is rough at times, especially towards the beginning, but if you keep in mind there's better stuff coming, it's worth starting there instead of "High Society," which is where the series really kicks in.

    If you do start with the first, it might be helpful to skim some of those old Barry Windsor-Smith Conan comics first, since the first several issues are pretty directly parodying/homaging them.

    I think the series is also important to look at because it seemed to pioneer the trade format, as well as decompression.

    On the Sims' views thing, they're what led me to drop the book (which I'd been reading in the monthly form). Sooner or later, I'll probably go back and read the rest of it, but I'm not in a hurry to give the guy my money. (I'll probably go the library route.)

    On the other hand, the two volumes right at the middle of the series, "Jaka's Story" and "Melmoth" are hands down some of the best comics I've read. Particularly "Melmoth," which is largely about the death of Oscar Wilde. Those two should not be missed - they're pinnacles of the medium, in my opinion.

    They're also, I dunno, I think Sim's whole cosmic-misogyny worldview was something that developed over the course of the series, rather than something he started out with. There are elements that start appearing at some point, or that shift towards that at some point (like the Cirinists), but there were also some great women in the book, like Jaka (as she eventually developed, past her initial appearance), and Astoria (who still gets a great exit from the series even after Sim 2.0 kicked in).

    I'm not at all trying to be an apologist - some of the views he expresses later in the book (and in the monthly letter columns) are reprehensible and ridiculous in equal measure. And reading some of his forum exchanges with Gail Simone and others the past few weeks made it clear that he still stands by those views, and that they're as ridiculous and ungrounded as they were when they burst out in his "Tangents" essay. But the man who finished the series is not the man who started the series, as near as I can tell.

    All of which is a long way of saying that "Jaka's Story" and "Melmoth" are (more or less) the last part of the series where the merits and worth of the series aren't yet undermined or compromised by what was to come. If that makes sense.

    Anyhoo, that's my 2 cents on the subject.

    Have a good vacation.

  12. I'll support what seems to be the consensus so far. First, re-read 5 or 6 of the Thomas/Smith Conans so that you are re-familiarized with what's being parodied at the beginning. If you aren't up to that, then start with High Society. Yes, it's richer if you have the background from the earlier volume, but it's a strong enough work by itself. And I also agree that Jaka's Story and Melmoth are the strongest, although at the time people were disappointed because "it wasn't really Cerebus."

    I honestly think this is where Sim began to derail. He had made a commitment to 300 issues of Cerebus, and even though he wanted to do a graphic novel about the death of Oscar Wilde, he couldn't unless he somehow shoehorned it into Cerebus. The fact that Cerebus is near-catatonic throughout the storyline pretty much says it all.

    What I've most wished for is better paper versions of the phonebooks. I bought some of the earlier versions, and the paper is aging badly. If Sim would put them out on solid acid-free paper, I'd repurchase them, at least up through Melmoth. But Dave Sim doesn't appear to be able to make those sort of changes. It seems as though he invested so much energy into the fight with Diamond to sell THOSE phonebook collections, that he simply can't fathom selling them in any other form.

  13. I've read every last damn word that Sim's ever written (even the torah commentaries) and STILL remain undecided on the man. My opinion changes daily.
    I want to write him a letter, having been such an ardent supporter of his work for so many years, but I have absolutely no idea what tone/position to take in such a letter.
    Obviously, I don't think he's a bad writer. As a comics creator, he's actually the model of everything I want to be- uncompromising, moderately successful and ON TIME. Moreover, according to every report I've ever read, he's perfectly cordial to everyone he meets, as far as I know has never been accused of, say, violence against women. How can we be for free speech but so rabidly against someone who has unpopular opinions but hasn't (again, as far as I know) actually committed anything evil? Isn't that kind of the point of Cirin and Astoria's beef as described in Mothers and Daughters? (I'd rather not ruin it for those who haven't read)

    As far as the best place to start, I just happened to start reading the whole thing with High Society, because I happened to see that one in the store. As far as I know it was the only one they had. It seems to be the consensus for the best place to start, but I've spent my entire Cerebobsession wondering if my opinion wouldn't have been different if I had started at the beginning. Just sayin'.
    No place you start really prepares you for the rest of the book, which changes so radically and unpredictably that it's more or less inevitable that you really won't like it at some point.
    I find "Going Home" to be endlessly boring, but then it picks right back up again in "Latter Days." Until the Torah commentaries of course, which are not only long but written in very small type. It's too late to quit by then, though, since you know the old bastard is going to die soon and you've already made it this far. Fortunately the torah commentaries end up being kind of interesting, if hard to read.
    Anyway, if you start with High Society, I recommend that you eventually get around to the first volume before you hit the third, otherwise you'll be quite confused. But I say start at the beginning. Juvenile is right, but how is that synonymous with bad? Don't go in with the mind that "this is going to get better," go in with the mind that "the point and tone of this story is going to change multiple times before it's over."
    Just like as with life, though, most of the fun stuff is at the beginning though.

    Reposted on The Agency Blog, mostly because I turned out to have more to say than I thought I did.

  14. " How can we be for free speech but so rabidly against someone who has unpopular opinions but hasn't (again, as far as I know) actually committed anything evil?"

    Supporting free speech is not the same as agreeing with everything someone says. Nor is it the same holding back your objections to something that's been said. It's entirely possible to oppose Sim's opinions (publicly or otherwise) without opposing or circumventing his right to express those opinions.

  15. I realize that, I'm talking about our ability to divorce enjoyment of the work from liking the man. I was talking about myself as much as "the community."

  16. Re: "Let Sim rot in his lonely existence."

    I suppose Sim is a solitary guy, but here's a little secret: he's not actually that lonely. He has genuine friends. And they're not friends because they agree with everything he believes. Most of his friends don't. They are his friends because, as other commenters have already mentioned, he is a thoroughly decent and likeable guy, who'll bend over backwards to help others.

  17. Absolutely. The amount of time that he's volunteered- that's volunteered as in, for free- to fellow creators regardless of gender is unparalleled as far as I know. He doesn't just seem like a nice guy except for the hating-women thing.. he actually does nice things with no expectation of reward.