Saturday, 8 September 2012

Reaction To "The End?"

Cerebus #145 (April 1991)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Below is round-up of the online reaction to Dave Sim's essay The End?, which originally appeared in the final issue of Glamourpuss (#26, published in August 2012).

(from The Comics Reporter, 7 September 2012)
It's not easy reading. It's basically Sim's announcement that he's leaving the comics business, or that he's currently operating with the intention of doing so. The editorial suggests he's in the midst of a wind-down of what a departure entails: ending various on-line and comics projects, pushing the original art sales (since suspended) as a way to bridge to whatever comes next, putting the finishing touches on that fascinating Alex Raymond comic he's been doing. I'm sure a part of that is seeing to the Kickstarter-driven digital publication project regarding the book High Society, a project that recently hit a major stumbling block with the destruction of the negatives from which the scans were being made. I'm not certain that dooms the project because a lot depends on how the original crowd-funding effort and its incentives were structured, but it has to be pretty rough right now.

Sim's current situation may or may not be instructive in terms of something I think is going to be a huge issue moving ahead: the aging of the alternative and independent comics generation. It's my belief -- and smart people in comics totally disagree with me on this -- that there are going to be specific problems for the next generation of comics-makers getting older, issues that may not have been present for those that worked in mainstream comic books in the '40s, '50s and '60s. There are a lot of reasons, including a) the bulk of the first group of indy/alternative cartoonists moving into their late 50s and beyond right now may have made less money overall than many of the mainstream creators in those first two generations, b) the current creators are aligned with characters and concepts that may offer less in the way of nostalgic appeal than mainstream comic book characters do, c) we've moved into a hyper-competitive era that may be more hostile than ever to work that some cartoonists may be capable of doing. Leaving aside any sort of judgmental attitude towards any particular situation, and I think that's the only human thing to do, that a reliable money-earner and highly skilled cartoonist like Dave Sim may have been discombobulated by wider economic concerns and the specific ordering patterns of today's market is something of which everyone should take note.

Dave Sim's always been his own man, and I assume he'll stay that way. I wish him all the best in the weeks and months ahead. I do wonder if there aren't some options open to him that may not have been options that he might have pursued in the past. I know that there are people that would honorably and fairly publish that Raymond work -- one person told as me much directly -- and I suspect there are people that would do the same for at least big chunks of the Cerebus work if that were to be available: maybe higher quality reissues, maybe more digital archiving, maybe big art books derived from original art like all the kids enjoy now. I don't know. I know I would be interested in seeing such projects come out and I suspect there are at least a few others that agree with me. For now I'm going to bookmark the Dave Sim art site, which I don't think I know existed until I read that final issue editorial. I hope it comes back.

(from the comments to 'This Week In Comics: 9/5/12' at The Comics Journal, 7 September 2012)
I thought the Alex Raymond / Stan Drake serial in Glamourpuss was the most compelling thing going in periodical comics the last two years. I was bummed to learn it was ending. I would love to publish the finished book.

(from the FPI Blog, 8 September 2012)
The end? The end of what? Well, according to the final editorial of Glamourpuss... it’s the end of Sim's career in comics. And he’s going out surprisingly quietly, liquidating the lot, shutting up shop, retreating into obscurity...

And it just made me feel utterly depressed. Absolutely, miserably, completely depressed.

Seriously, no matter what you think of Sim's varying politics, his religious views, the whole light/void stuff, I hope there's a similar feeling on your part as well.

Dave Sim, let's not forget, was a one man comics revolution. Three hundred issues of Cerebus. And again, no matter what you necessarily think of the second half, I defy you to not find something of pure genius in that first half...

Cerebus was/is a monumental achievement in comics. And now, many years later, nearly a decade after the conclusion of his magnum opus, Dave Sim isn't so much retiring from comics, as being violently, ungratefully, brutally ejected from it...

I’m hopeful that this isn’t the end, despite how convinced Sim seems. I simply can't believe that someone as important as Dave Sim, someone of his stature in comics, could check out like this. Because frankly, if this is his fate, then how many more will we be reporting on as the years go on?

(from Comics Alliance, 7 September 2012)
...glamourpuss is a unique work of value, generating not just some very pretty pictures but also some thoughtful discussion, like this ComicsAlliance piece by John Parker and a recent episode of the always fascinating Comic Books Are Burning In Hell podcast by critics and occasional CA and Comics Journal contributors Matt Seneca, Tucker Stone, Joe McCulloch and Chris Mautner. It's a terrible shame that there seems to be no avenue in this industry for glamourpuss to be even modestly successful in the financial terms Sim requires to continue it, especially given the fact that the comic is itself a commentary on the artform.

That the failure of glamourpuss leaves only one pathway to Sim, oblivion, is something that many would take issue with. As I said, glamourpuss was a deeply idiosyncratic work, even by Sim's standards, but just because longtime Sim readers didn't support it as they had Cerebus does not mean they wouldn't support something else...

That Dave Sim would become an Internet crowd-funding success story would have once seemed like one of the least likely things that would ever happen, so it's hard to say that a licensing agreement with a mainstream publisher is out of the question. Certainly, Cerebus deserves to remain in print.

(from Comic Book Resources,  6 September 2012)
...Sim seems to think he has no options whatsoever, and some of the commenters point out that yes, he does have options. I get that he wants to stay completely and fiercely independent, and that's cool, but that just means he might have to quit. Gail Simone mentioned this on her Facebook page (which is where I saw it first), and she thinks it’s a shame that “the industry can’t support one of its grand masters.” I think the industry could easily support Dave Sim if Sim wanted to give up some of his independence. He doesn’t, and that’s fine, but it’s his choice...

(from 'The End Of Glamour' by Ken Socrates, 4 September 2012)
I'm worried about Dave Sim. The final issue (number 26) of Glamourpuss contained a rather sad closing letter from Dave to his fans ("my almost totally silent audience of 2,400" as he calls us) describing what he sees as the rather depressive conclusion to what is arguably one of the most important, astonishing cartooning careers in comic book history.

If you think I exaggerate on that front out of fanboy love, well, you're only half right. I did indeed, before I began worrying that he'd lost his mind completely, consider Dave Sim an idol of mine. As a comics lover and aspiring cartoonist in the late seventies, early eighties, it was Sim who inspired what I wanted to do. I saw the talent and writing ability but I also saw the sheer gall, the balls to set out to self-publish a 300 issue comic book, with themes including religion, politics and gender, featuring a smart-ass, self absorbed, violence prone Aardvark in the Big Two work-for-hire dominated comics landscape of the time. Think about it. The audacity, the commitment, the genuine courage it took to undertake that task.

And then. In March 2004.

To fucking complete it...

...There's a lot of insight in [The End?] to the mind of Dave Sim, good and bad. There's the frustrating seeming resignation to his fate, that he’s got little left to "sell" to the world and Doomsday is upon him. I have trouble believing that, myself. I still see the talent. His work is not yet that of a shaky-handed old man who can't produce meaningful art. In Glamourpuss, especially in it's central story “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond”, he has proven to me just the opposite, that he does indeed still have the hands of a Master. There’s a skill there that still makes me sick with envy. There were days I'd have killed for a small portion of that talent. To produce one page like the 6000+ he produced. That part is maddening, to think that, at a reasonably young age (only 56!), he's resigned to a fate of near irrelevance in his work. This is not something, to me, that needs to be.

There's also in there, his stubborn, admirable loyalty to his long time Cerebus art partner Gerhard, with whom he shared all the business rewards of their work at a 60-40 percentage and how, in honoring that agreement, part of what has left him so thin monetarily is paying off Ger what he was deserved from a business that, according to Sim, was steadily failing. He did so in 2011, to his utter credit. That you cannot help but respect. Whatever else may be said about Dave Sim, you can never question his integrity, artistic or otherwise. The man stands by his word, he stands by his beliefs. For good or ill, he will continue to do so.

So why does it bother me so? I haven’t spent this much time thinking about Dave Sim and Cerebus in decades. Well, perhaps that this news coincides with the recent Kickstarter Campaign I contributed to which had me rather excited to revisit my love of Cerebus. In fact, I just received a few very nice autographed items from Dave and John Scrudder, the architect of the campaign which would give us a digital version of High Society replete with high resolution art scans, audio and other goodies. Fascinating project which, tragically, has been delayed by an unfortunate fire

That this was beginning to reignite an old flame in my heart only to be tempered by Sim telling us he was entering his very own "Latter Days" scenario, is part of it. It's much more, however. It's almost a "rage at the dying of the light" situation for me. I can't stand the thought, can't stand it, as I grow a bit older, that an artist with so much former potency, is willing to just let it all fade away like this. It feels like a gut punch. It's selfish, perhaps, on my part. Unrealistic, even. I don't actually know Dave Sim, I have no tangible idea about what his life is like nor any place advising him what it should be. I'd be a fool if I thought I could do so. Period.

However. Speaking, as a longtime admirer of the work. A "fan", if you will. Who has invested countless hours of his life in pure delight at the man’s art and writing. I feel like pleading to him to not give up like this. To find other avenues. I feel there is an audience, there has to be. Not to revisit Cerebus, which he obviously sees as his defining work, but to find new things, new creations. Whether it’s the gorgeous explorations of photorealism in comic art in “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond”, admittedly not the idea with the most potential for monetary reward, or something as yet completely unimagined. I’d be interested. I’d buy it. Many others would too. It doesn't have to be The End.

It's a blank page, at this point, Mr. Sim. An empty piece of S-172 illustration board. Its sits before you ready to be filled and you've years and years ahead of you to do so. Good years, I think, if you want them to be.

I'll be here, waiting to see. Hell, I stuck with you for a 27 year long illustrated novel. I can wait as long as you need me to. 

I'm a patient fucker.

(from the comments to 'This Week In Comics: 9/5/12' at The Comics Journal, 6/7 September 2012)
I’d be perfectly happy to repackage the CEREBUS material in a more bookstore-friendly format than those fucking phone books and give the material the new lease on life it (or at least the first two thirds of it) so richly deserves. (For the matter, I’d love to do the same for Ditko’s MISTER A and AVENGING WORLD, whose self-imposed exile to those crummily-produced virtually-self-published undesigned things is a genuine tragedy.) Heck, such repackaging might very well pay Sim enough that he could spend the next several years drawing up whatever the hell he wanted in terms of new projects and not have to worry about making a dime off of them in the interim. (If he’s got too much of a terminal hatred for us, I suspect IDW or Top Shelf would step into the breach too.) But I think he’s too deep into his Final-Station-of-Dave-Sim-the-Martyr narrative to even consider such an idea.

...I’d be fine with reading a well-done, interesting comic that espouses a (to me) lunatic and loathsome point of view, and I think many comics readers would agree. If I objected to misogyny in my entertainment I wouldn’t have a big pile of Sam Peckinpah DVDs at home. (And MISTER A is a great, great comic.) The post-"Tangent” CEREBUS’s sin was being impenetrable and boring. GLAMOURPUSS’s sin was being half unreadable, half fascinating but so inside-baseball its audience barely clawed its way into four figures. (By the way, I was one of the 2,000 or so paying customers on that one.) I think Sim could reinvent himself just fine if he did a comic book or graphic novel that people wanted to read, cf. Jeff Smith moving smoothly from BONE to RASL. He is also such a skillful cartoonist by now he could probably take a break from auteurdom and work with a writer to give himself a break (and get himself a nest egg) — cf. Colleen Doran or P. Craig Russell. But none of that would fit the martyr “I’m just too good for this fallen world” Sim is now taking to its inevitable conclusion.

...The phone books, with their massive girth, total lack of any explanatory or contextual material on the back cover, and basic production values, are virtually designed to keep CEREBUS within the confines of the direct-sales market generally and CEREBUS fans specifically. They're kind of the last manifestation of the graphic-novel-as-serialized-comics-bound-together syndrome of the 1980s. It’s completely impossible to imagine any potential new reader picking up a copy at a Barnes & Noble and making any fucking sense of it whatsoever… or for that matter Barnes & Noble stocking it in the first place.

...To specify, I didn’t mean fannish, explanatory, DVD-special behind-the-scenes anecdotal stuff, but just the kind of blurbs and contextualization that enable a reader coming onto the books cold to get some sort of sense as to what they’re about and why they matter. (And maybe even just a short introductory page setting up the world and basic characters in each one.) I think that by the time you get to the last third it's mostly impenetrable gibberish and the most editorially savvy attempts at presenting the material wouldn't work, but much of the rest is complex but coherent and just in need of the kind of small pre-orientation some judiciously written back cover copy, or maybe a foreword, could bring. fact Sim swore at one point he'd never allow foreign versions of CEREBUS because it would be outside his control, but has since amply relented. Which I think is perfectly reasonable. I'd hate to be shackled to positions I took 25 years ago.

...The dynamics of the marketplace have changed so fundamentally that something that made (relative) sense 20 years ago doesn’t necessarily make sense today. The market has turned decisively against pamphlets and against self-publishers, and that’s just a reality. The battlefield is littered with the corpses of self-publishers. A sensible person adapts to reality.


Tony Dunlop said...

Maybe I'm in a very small group, but I've been waiting for years for high-quality, good-binding (i.e. meant to last, heirloom quality stuff) hardcover editions of CEREBUS. I've already got them all in newsprint (either the original issues or Swords), so the phone books don't appeal to me. I bet I'm not alone.

As far as I'm concerned only Eisner is better and/or more important than Sim. Cerebus NEEDS to be preserved and promulgated. I hope he can swallow his pride and come to terms with a publisher who has the resources to produce and promote such a thing. And I hope Dave keeps making comics until he's 85.

adampasz said...

+1 for the high quality reprints, please. Would snap them up in a second. Been waiting over a decade for that!

APMorris said...

Another vote for the high quality reprints here. Can't think of a series that deserves them more.

Slumbering Agartha said...

I don't understand the whole "I'd love to reprint the first two-thirds of Cerebus" mentality. I can see why Dave is reluctant to let anyone else touch it. The final act of Cerebus is one of the most brilliantly realized pieces of work I've encountered in my 40 plus years of life on earth, and Cerebus as a whole is just that much richer for it, what a crime it would be for a publisher to omit it. Also, is anyone else sick of the whole "I think Dave Sim is crazy but I can't deny his skill" sentiment? It comes across as more hollow, shallow, ignorant and ridiculous every time I encounter it.

Jim Sheridan said...

Michael Aaron, I think that sentiment is the heartfelt expression made by many readers who still wrestle with Sim's different facets. Dave is both polarized and polarizing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kim 2/3 of the way. Cerebus needs to be reprinted in the most beautiful, long-lasting way possible, WITH the "contextualization" included (hell, why couldn't, or wouldn't, Dave do that himself for new versions of HIS books?). However, it's 'High Society' though 'The Last Day' or no go! Clearly, Kim didn't like the last 1/3 of Cerebus. Well, publisher guy, A LOT of us did. So make the offer to do it right or step off the plate (inside-baseball speak, that).