Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Notorious Issue 186

Cerebus #186 (September 1994)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from The Idler, Spring 2004)
...Circulation of the monthly book grew steadily over the first ten years, settling at between 30,000 and 37,000, and remaining in that range for most of 1986 and 1987. Black & White comics went through a major recession in the years that followed, and Cerebus sales suffered as a result. By July 1989's Cerebus 124 - the last issue in which Sim carried a circulation figure - sales were down to 24,500. Some of the lost readers would have simply started buying the phone book collections instead, but others must have abandoned the title completely.

There have been times when Sim seems to have gone out of his way to alienate readers - most memorably with the notorious issue 186. Sim summed up his argument in that issue's essay with an image of "the female void and the male light". Men, he said, represented reason and women represented emotion. Reason was a far more reliable tool, and yet had been comprehensively defeated by emotion to form a world where what one thought was accorded far less importance than what one felt. Men remained the main source of "light" in the world - that is, of creativity, discipline and rationality - but many had cravenly abandoned these virtues in return for the promise of sex.

No good could come of this. Any man who succumbed to "merged permanence" - Sim's term for marriage or long-term cohabitation - would find his spirit drained away by his leech-like female partner. "If you merge with that sensibility, you will share in its sickness," Sim wrote. "No matter what you pour into it, it remains empty; no matter how much you reassure it, it remains afraid; no matter how much of yourself you permit it to devour, it remains hungry. If you look at her and see anything besides emptiness, fear and emotional hunger, you are looking at the parts of yourself that have been consumed to that point."

Sim knew full well that Cerebus was one of the very few comics to attract female fans, so he must have realised also that the essay would cost him readers. His decision to plough ahead regardless reveals a heroic degree of bloody-mindedness. It's impossible to say how many Cerebus readers quit the book as a direct reaction to 186 and the furore that followed. What we do know, however, is that by the time Sim wrapped up issue 300, he had a total of only 7,000 Cerebus readers left to thank.

When all the dust has settled, Sim's greatest achievement may be seen as his success in maintaining complete independence for so long. By ensuring that the lion's share of the book's income comes directly to the people who create it he has managed to parlay a small but loyal readership into absolute artistic freedom and a higher standard of living than most conventional comics artists could hope for. Cerebus has never been a top-selling book, but that has clearly never been Sim's measure of success...


Anonymous said...

That is so sexist to say that those quotes would alienate female readers. There are plenty of female "A type" personalities who put career first. Sure in the form of a male pov (which is at least honest), but really any pov...there might be some truth to it. Being in a relationship is saying you are sorry a lot lol it is a lot of compromise. Having said that there is no doubt Deni played a pivotal role -but who is to say if Dave wouldn't have been even more successful otherwise...very likely not, but you know.

Dr. Fleming said...

As far as I know, "Tangent" was penned by Viktor Davis, not by Sim under his own name, right?

To what extent does Viktor Davis represent Sim?

David Birdsong said...

Dr. Fleming, "Tangent" was written and published by Dave Sim. Everything in READS comes from a fictional character. It becomes hard to separate the fiction from the reality because Dave chose to explain his ideas further when questioned about what he had included in the CEREBUS storyline. Maybe he should have just said something like "All of that material was written by Viktor Davis" and then just let everybody wonder about it, but Dave is usually always willing to answer questions that are put to him and those answers can become lengthy at times. The READS story and Dave's actual opinions will be forever intwined.

Anonymous said...

In this av club interview, Sim calls 186 and Tangent "my seminal anti-feminist writings".

I believe that means that 186 represented Dave's own opinion. Dave has owned the opinions in 186 over the years and has never claimed the views expressed were simply that of a character.

I don't think there's much to these arguments that we can't separate Sim's opinion from Cerebus as a fictional work. Tangent, 186, the Bible exegesis and the cosmology are all Sim's views. Another example: Sim admits Cerebus' Bible exegesis represented his own views in an interview he gave on Youtube with Steve Peters.

- Reginald P.

Anonymous said...

"The READS story and Dave's actual opinions will be forever intwined."

Because, sadly, Sim made himself part of the Cerebus narrative. He'd hedged around with author avatars for quite some time prior to READS; READS only made it official. That VD/VR's narrative is about the trials & tribulations of publishing as well as relationships does tend to encourage the audience to infer 'Dave Sim' where-ever faced with the names Davis or Reid. That Dave followed this masquerade by inserting himself-as-creator into MINDS pretty much ensured that READS would be forever be interpreted as Sim's opinions. He can argue the degrees & definitions of fiction all he likes: he went too meta and as a result made the search-for-truth narrative a morass of unwieldy disinformation, in addition to plain pissing off longtime fans, peers and friends.

I've long been a fan & student of the man's work and believe READS is, plainly put, Bad Art. MINDS would have been far more effective & artful were it not for the off-stage "events" of READS. Let's be fair, READS is less than the best prose the man's produced. Alan Moore praised it for its effect in:re metafiction, but I think he was being overly kind to a friend. It's a meta, largely superfluous mess. The only aspect particularly germane to Cerebus was the Elrod cameo.

How arcane & deranged is that? I'm arguing a cameo from a magickal hangover is more important than than the eleven issues of narrative text that contain it.

READS didn't stop me from following to the end, but it did make for a substantial stammer in my reading of the series as a whole, fragmenting my enjoyment of what had been, by & large, a strange & beautiful experience.

-David P.