Sunday, 3 June 2012

I Knew Dave Sim...

SANDEEP ATWAL:
(from comments on 'An Interview With Gerhard', 25 February 2011)
I interviewed him for the first time back in 1991 for the UW student newspaper, Imprint, then a couple of more times over the years. Shortly before Cerebus ended I asked if I could come over with some friends and film one of his last days drawing Cerebus, we shot about eight hours. Shortly after Cerebus ended, I moved back to Waterloo from Toronto and started a small magazine in town with some friends and got in touch with Sim to see if he would be willing to write some stories to help out a self-publisher. He was and he wrote some opinion pieces and we got to know each other a bit better. The magazine only lasted a year but about a year after that I started another magazine [Versus] which lasted about three years. Dave helped with that one as well painting several covers including portraits of L. Ron Hubbard, Lennox Lewis and Napoleon. Plus I'm really into Malcolm X and he drew me a couple of pictures of him as well. (These days I basically get one of those for every issue of glamourpus and Cerebus Archive. I've got a job, so I really don't need the money and would MUCH rather have the original art, and Dave's still paying off Gerhard, so Dave agreed to a work-for-art deal. You should see the Groucho I've got, it's great.) It was early 2006 (Sim had finished Judenhass) when he asked if I wanted to help him out with glamourpuss. Sure, why not?

To be perfectly honest, and I know nobody's really going to believe me, but Dave Sim is pretty much just a normal guy. He's very calm, deliberate, speaks thoughtfully, has a great sense of humour (as one would expect if you've read Cerebus), likes to laugh, etc. He's doing his best to be a straight-edge / no booze / no drugs / no sex / upright / Godfearing / work hard / save money kind of guy. (Okay, I guess that's not really normal....) He's up on his politics for sure, as am I, which is what we spend most of our time talking about when he comes over. But he's more of a classic old-school small-c conservative these days, so we sort of clash on that front, but he's not exactly a stupid man so the conversations are always quite interesting. We talk about pretty much everything from comic books to the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia to whether computers have a deleterious affect on human memory to the Marx Brothers to the current state of feminism to the possible unintended consequences of QE2. Construction on King St. Whatever, just normal conversations. You can't really talk to him about what's on TV or music or movies, he doesn't keep up on it, though he does know some older stuff. He knows all the words to Little Red Corvette. He's quite generous. He is ALWAYS doing free stuff for people and always has. As it says in the follow-up to the Gerhard interview:
...Sim extended credit (and praise) to his partner in every way possible- nominally, publicly, and financially...Sim noted and praised Gerhard’s contribution to the book in virtually every public forum he had- in interviews, in speeches and public appearances. Eventually Gerhard was made a financial partner in the work as well, having a 40 percent stake in the company up until the dissolution of their partnership."
Typical.
But he's a complete luddite (and proud of it), so he brings over the original artwork for gp and CA on Saturday afternoons and I scan it in, clean it up in Photoshop, bring it into InDesign, build the pages, sometimes do some colour work for the covers, lay out the text, etc. and create a PDF for the printer, Lebonfon in Quebec. (Who do a superb job on glamourpuss btw.) Plus, I help him with other stuff, look up Alex Raymond pictures on the internet, order The Heart of Juliet Jones from Amazon, send the solicitation for the next issue to Diamond, email someone a video clip for Cerebus TV, etc. It's pretty interesting. I work at Research in Motion like everyone else in Waterloo, so basically my Saturdays are taken up with Sim stuff. I work during the day, he usually swings by between 3 and 6, we do the proofreading, scanning, download some photos, whatever. It's work. Time consuming, don't mess it up, double check it, need to buy a new printer, artist who drew the page is literally looking over your shoulder, scanned in that page at the wrong dpi, why the fuck won't it print the crop marks properly when I export it as a fucking PDF?!?! type work. Plus, when you throw in Cerebus Archive, some stuff for Cerebus TV, get a few more Stan Drake books, scan in all of Rick's Story at 1200 dpi, set up a paypal account, email the publisher of the Italian edition, double check the sales of the Spanish Edition-type mission creep (that's not surprising when you're working with a well-known workaholic) and it can be taxing.

He's just really into his work, so he can talk Alex Raymond and Al Williamson and Stan Drake and Hal Foster and the difference between a Gillott 290 and a Hunt 102 till the cows come home. I'm certainly interested in that as much as the next guy, but outside of Sim, Moore, Ware, Pekar and a couple of others... Akira, Lone Wolf &Cub, I'm not really THAT into comics. I mean, not compared to Dave Sim! (Here's a funny game I will play every once in a while....Q: "Hey Dave, who did the lettering on Superman...uh....317? A: Uh, geez...317....hmmm...that was that Neal Adams cover...November 1977 so that would be Ben Oda. Curt Swan did the pencils." To describe his knowledge of comic book history as astonishingly encyclopedic would be an understatement. But, he would have no idea who's writing and drawing Batman or Superman today. Having said that, he's probably helped out a dozen self-publishers in the last year alone.)

He's kind of tired of Cerebus! Bit of an aardvark around his neck. If he never has to draw Cerebus again, he'll be a happy man! Not bitter about it, but you know, after 30-odd years you want to do something else once in a while. (Like pretty girls in your best Al Wiliamson style, hence glamourpuss). You know the funny thing is, even though he's been coming over to my place for several years, we often end up talking about everything EXCEPT Cerebus. But, whenever I ask him about something C-related, you get the big whole long detail about what he was thinking about at the time, the process that went into that, other possible storylines, what he likes about it, what he doesn't like, what he thinks about it twenty years later, etc. He can't stand looking at early work like High Society, thinks it's completely amateurish. It's fascinating if you care about the work at all.
He's certainly no frothing-at-the-mouth misogynist, sorry to disappoint the haters. The topic of feminism comes up as often as any other topic of the day and quite frankly he's always pretty rational and evenhanded on the issue. A little confirmation bias I suppose but not as bad as you think. Traditional, I'd say. The thing I think people need to take into consideration is this:

Cerebus, and specifically the Reads anti-feminism stuff or the God/YHWH stuff in Latter Days is his best attempt to tell a story and explain how he sees the world and he makes his argument as best he can, hopefully in an interesting way as part of this large 6,000-page work. But by definition his book on religion or his book on alcohol or his book on feminism is going to have to be a tightly encapsulated point. He did the best he could. if you don't buy it, and think it's all hatemongering nonsense, fine, that's your view and you're entitled to it. But say you were to sit down with Sim for a coffee for a few hours. Then maybe a couple of more afternoons after that, well, then you get to have the back and forth dialectic and ask him why he wrote X or Y and he explains it from his point of view, and you agree with this part but not this part, and you say why, then he says why he thinks he's right, because of a, b and c reasons, and you say that you agree with a but b and c are not the case, and he explains how he thinks that a necessarily leads to b because of these clear historical examples and you disagree with the argument, and you define your terms in a different way, then you settle on common ground on this issue, but still have to deal with how you get to c, etc. etc. etc. Well, after only a few conversations like that you might still come to the conclusion that he's wrong about what he thinks are the negative effects of feminism on marriage, alimony, paternity, domestic abuse, etc., but I really don't think you'll come to the conclusion that he deserves the batshitinsane tag. At least half a dozen of my friends have met him, Trevor did some filming with him, Dave works on CerebusTV, and I'm pretty sure we're not all misogynist assholes. Get all pissed off about the Void thing and decide it's so evil he shouldn't be allowed in polite society, I think it's an interesting story. And come on, he's just as hard on Guys. Maybe you don't see things as being as bad as Sim makes it out to be, fine, but insane? Hardly. A lazy label and it just doesn't fit. (Anyway, how the hell does a 'crazy' person run a successful publishing business and get a monthly comic book out on time?)

As for the REALLY out there stuff? Well I certainly don't agree with him 100% of the time, but hey, if you're going to do a 6,000 page story about an aardvark, you have to be a little crazy! (Tip your waitress.) But seriously...yes, he can be harsh and yes he can be out there and yes he can infuriate you and yes he can make you think. Isn't that what we want out of our artists? If you want to talk about Dave Sim and feminism, don't come at me after reading some quotes on some site. Read the entire thing first. It's the least you can do if you want to engage in some character assassination. Oh, you've read it all and you think he IS batshitinsane and belongs in the same garbage dump as other complete whackjobs like that crazy Steve Ditko? Fine. Goodbye.
I honestly consider Cerebus to be one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. No doubt. Sure some of it's a slog, but rip out the pages you absolutely hate and you'll still probably have at least 4,000 pages of artistry, comedy and brilliance that defined and redefined an entire medium. Both Dave Sim and Gerhard are two of the world's greatest living cartoonists and yes I'm biased but I'm not the only one who thinks so. Personally, I don't think Crumb, Clowes, Ware, Spiegelman, McFarlane, Finch, Jaime Hernandez or any of those guys hold a candle to him in terms of drawing or storytelling talent and I really, really like some of those guys. Hidden amongst the silliness of glamourpuss, you are watching a man who is learning how to draw as well as Alex Raymond. Alex. Raymond. The Alex Raymond. Alex "chastised for making his pictures too realistic, too gorgeous for its own sake", "some sort of genius", "the artist's artist" Raymond. A man who was able to draw lines with a Winsor-Newton Series 2 brush (not pen, brush) that were so thin that nobody else can do it. But Sim's getting there. As far as I'm concerned, this is artistry and skill at a whole other level from Ghost World or Love and Rockets.

It's been a pretty cool experience, that's for sure. But it's coming to an end, it's just too much to work six days a week, it takes up too much time, so after about 20-odd issues, I'll be slowly teaching Sim how to do this himself. But yeah, overall, supernice guy.

Sandeep Atwal is currently Director of Communications at Aardvark Vanaheim.

2 comments:

antihostile said...

Great post! Lol!

Jeff Seiler said...

Long time coming, Sandy, but I completely agree with you.

Dave has been, for decades, and still is the smartest person in the comics industry. Because of his independent stance (to say the least), he tends to be overlooked.

BUT: As, Dave has written to me many timea, fifty years after he's gone (as well as me), people will start to wake up.

We can only hope.