Friday, 15 January 2016

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. Now, I have a foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so. I'll be running interesting excerpts from those letters each week.

13 November, 2004

Dear Jeff:

Thanks for your letter of October 24.

I would be glad to do an interview with Ethan Nahte [Ed: an employee at Titan Comics in Dallas and who was at the time working on a documentary about Robert E. Howard] but it does seem unlikely given his budget restraints[sic] and the geography problem, so I guess it will probably be better to leave it at that for the time being and just see what (if anything) changes as we go along. Very good news about Jeremy Shorr and Titan Comics. If you’re talking to him, tell him that Ger and I appreciate a great deal his keeping all of the trades in stock. Likewise with Lone Star [Comics]. I know that they are primarily a mainstream store and Buddy and I have had our differences over the years so it’s nice to know that they’re still “on board”. Did you know that Craig Miller [Ed: RIP] of Following Cerebus used to work there? I had completely forgotten about it until I ran across a copy of Lone Star Express that he used to edit where he interviewed me on the ‘82 Tour. Time flies.

I don’t think that the page Jeremy has is from Reads, but rather from “Reads”, the short story from early in Church & State. Glad he’s hung on to it all this time. [Ed: Jeremy, at my request, did send a scan of that page to Sean and Mara for the remastering of Church & State I.]

I’m not really sure if I pioneered the sequential reprinting. That honour probably goes to Russ Cochrane with his E.C. Library when he decided to reprint the entire runs of the E.C. titles, including colour covers. I think if you look at most collections of reprints, they include the covers and sometimes the advertisements. I was driving at something else, modeled more on the completed serialization that used to be done in Dickens’ and Dostoevsky’s time where the completed serialization was collected into book form. In fact, I’ve taken a lot of flack [sic] over the years for not reprinting the Cerebus covers in the trades. Just another example of me swimming upstream against the tide. To me, if you call them graphic novels, they should read sequentially from front to back with no outside material. In fact, I worked very hard to get to the point where it would be difficult if not impossible to tell where one issue ended and another began in the reprintings. That’s the exact opposite from the effect created by reprinting the covers.

I wonder myself at what the city council members think of me. They had a special tent set up in front of City Hall during the Oktoberfest opening ceremonies and, as a promotion, the Council members were all dishing up sauerkraut and wiener-schnitzel. Councillor Geoff Lorentz saw me walking by and yelled, “Hey, you should be in here doing this with us.” Which would seem to indicate a “we consider you part of the family” gesture, which was nice. I try to maintain a distance because I see myself as monitoring what’s going on rather than as a participant and I think it’s very easy to get seduced into taking their side rather than keeping an adversarial frame of mind, which seems necessary if only because I’m about the only person who’s there every week. Whenever there’s an award ceremony before the Council meeting, Mayor Zehr always tells the people who are there for the ceremony, “You’re welcome to stay for the rest of the council meeting…”. This invariably gets a big laugh. “As if!” Disheartening, for obvious reasons.

Enclosed is the latest service and return with Mr. Jeffrey. It took a lot of rewriting to keep my response calm, cool and collected.

I enjoyed your John Kerry anecdote from The Dr. Phil Show. I still find it hard to believe that there’s an interviewer named “Dr. Phil”, let alone the rest of the story. I really do wonder if the momentum is towards or away from Senator Kerry and the Ketchup Lady. Three million votes is not a huge margin of victory for an incumbent President, so a lot of folks must’ve looked at the Democrat and approved of what they saw. That is, not even being able to give a straight answer on whether he and his wife have a favourite between their two daughters--obviously that and the number of other instances of indecisiveness didn’t meet with any serious level of disapproval by a good half of the voting American public. It certainly raises questions about whether Hillary Clinton will run in 2008, whether she will get the nomination and what the Democrats and “swing” Republicans are going to of her. Revenge of the Ketchup Lady.

I intended the accusation of sophistry in the exact way, I think, that you and Billy did vis-a-vis my original viewpoint: “You can’t be serious.” Although, it seems obvious to me that we are each of us serious about our own viewpoint and incredulous about the opposing viewpoint. The reaction was more to your reaction in saying that my viewpoint on Luke 17:35 made you doubt that I was a serious thinker. I don’t think a counter-accusation of sophistry is a disproportionate response in that instance. You left it up to me to choose the extent to which you considered me an “un-serious” thinker, I left it up to you to decide which definition of sophistry and Pharisaical argument you thought I might’ve intended. In my mind, I was responding to a warning shot across my bow with a warning shot across your bow. And we’ve now arrived at a “let sleeping dogs lie” situation, which I think is only sensible. Although I’m sure we’ll be getting last words after last words “in” at each other as Billy and I did up until our most recent exchange of letters. That’s how those things tend to go, in my experience.

Well, I’ll take your word for it that you’re a supporter, even though--and I mean no offense by this--it isn’t going to affect “Dave Sim going forward”. There has been an interesting shift of viewpoint at the margins of my mail from “I think you’re wrong, but I defend your right to say what you’re saying” to “I’ve agreed with you all along, I just wasn’t aware that you were being drawn-and-quartered on the messages boards”. It’s a welcome shift but, since I’m not on the Internet, it’s just something (again) I have to take as face value on a here-and-now basis. “Nice letter” being the way I would sum up my reaction. I’ve been assured for many, many years that everything is getting better and, at this point, it’s just not in my nature to change the way I conduct my life in response to that. I think there’s probably a real chance that much of the Cerebus readership that was offended by [issue #] 186 and “Tangent”, having had time for both of them to sink in and having the inescapable face of insatiable feminism always before them, that some of them might very well be “coming around”. But agreeing with me in a letter to me is very different from vocally advancing a viewpoint. There is no question that if you speak up you will become a pariah. It’s been ten years for me and there’s no end in sight. After ten years of “holding the fort” on my own, it just isn’t sensible to stake any hope whatsoever on that changing any time soon. My assumption is that I will be the one guy “holding the fort” up until the day that I die. If something happens that will make it otherwise, fine and dandy. But I think it’s just one of the inevitabilities that become attached to deciding that this is an “until the day I die” circumstance. Once you make that decision, wishful thinking and looking on the bright side go out the window. It has to, in my opinion, The hard realism of “the rest of my life” and meaning it just won’t allow for any ifs, ands or buts.

On the subject of the gift, I do tend to react to the constant strain that I’m under at inopportune moments. Your gift, unfortunately, came in as part of a seeming wave of gifts, all of which had to be assessed on their respective merits and potential for problem-causing. Billy [Beach] sending me the issue of Watchtower being a good example. This is difficult enough, holding down a solitary position for ten years. I get multi-page letters that I reply to as best and as thoroughly as I can. It ain’t easy a lot of the time, although it is certainly easier than writing and drawing a monthly comic book. What I indicated through the gift-giving phase was that I thought that was taking unfair advantage in a general sense and I was more addressing myself to the malign spirits that I saw as the motivation behind it of which I always assume my correspondents are ignorant. I didn’t think you were sending me the book of prayer as a test, but that didn’t rule out some djinn or other suggesting it to you. So, I was drawing the line: attempting to frame a distinction that I didn’t think publications were legitimate in the context of the everyone-pile-on-Dave format, unless it was that person’s own publication. Otherwise, what would prevent someone from sending me unlimited piles of outside publications and then declaring a win because I didn’t catch something on page 98 of the twelfth one? Drawing the line in the last letter I wrote to you actually worked quite well--the outside publications dried up and I’m back to responding to letters, clippings, questions, and ideas. David W. Johnson and I discussed the Kingdom Interlinear Translation in several letters and he sent me excerpts from it--copied out by hand: he wouldn’t hear of me sending him money to photocopy the material--and when I expressed greater interest he sent me the whole thing and wrote a while ago to tell me that I can keep it. To me that’s a very different thing from just sending a book. Had you described the [Robert Louis] Stephenson book to me, I probably would’ve just passed over that part of your letter--it would’ve sounded “borderline” to me. Had you sent me a photocopied page, I probably would’ve thanked you for it and said, sorry, not really my kind of thing. The postcard, well a postcard is a postcard. It’s like a clipping. You keep it or you don’t. I think you’ve sent several clippings that I haven’t commented on when writing back. It just doesn’t apply. A book--particularly a hardcover book--is a different kind of thing. Had I just politely thanked you for it and lied and said I had found it interesting, the odds are that you would do it again or you would be apt to ask in the next letter if I had gotten the book. One way or the other, it needed to be dealt with which is, again, to me, comparable to the Watchtower situation I dealt with. Please don’t send me these. And Billy was perfectly amenable. It was an extension of the Imprimis situation as well, no question about it, which was another reason that I drew the line. Imprimis is just political commentary and it’s a periodical. I can read it in about ten minutes. Thank you. That was great. The Stephenson book of prayers was in another direction so, it seemed to me that what the malign spirit behind it was saying was “You accepted a gift, so now I get to test where your boundaries are when it comes to gifts. Here is something that may be Christian or may be pagan or it may be a little of both.” That’s very different from reading political commentary and I assume that whatever would’ve come next would’ve been worse, a little further across the borderline. All unbeknownst to you, in my opinion. THis a very unpleasant part of my job: having to explain these things at excruciating length.

What I did with the book was to put it in with the other religious texts that I keep in the bookcase in my room on the shelf below the Koran, the Torah and the Gospels. The reason that I did that was to indicate to the malign spirit that I would give the whole thing the benefit of the doubt. . .THIS TIME. Having drawn a line in the sand, I can’t see any reason to be completely ungracious and to not give a benefit of the doubt where it might be warranted. The situation is apt to be different if I start getting a wave of gifts again, but as long as the status quo has returned, I am at peace with the decision that I have made.

Thanks for the clipping from the Dallas Morning News. Yes, that was a strange one. She just phone out of clear, blue sky, told me that she was a Cerebus reader and she wanted to write about Cerebus coming to an end and wondered if I would do an interview. It was such an unusual request that I said, sure, fire away. I answered her questions for about forty minutes or so and then the last two questions were about my views on feminism and my religious beliefs. Which is usually a bad sign. It usually means that they’re softening you up and then they want the quote that they want for the smear piece. So, I was pleasantly surprised that that wasn’t the case. The quotes certainly don’t sound like me, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t accurate. When all you’re doing is pulling three sentences out of forty minutes of conversation, “out of context” is pretty much a given. I was particularly surprised that there is absolutely no reference to anti-feminism apart from the description of parts of the book containing anti-feminist treatises. I have no idea what the motivation might’ve been behind the piece being done or how the editor could have authorized it--presumably it was old news in any newspaper frame of reference--but it was definitely a “one-off”, so it didn’t bear with thinking about. Yeah, the charity thing doesn’t get mentioned much because it just doesn’t fit the profile of the raving, lunatic misogynist. People who go insane aren’t usually big contributors to charities, so that part usually just gets edited out while they’re creating their version of Dave Sim. The recurrent motif is “the edge of madness”, “the brink of madness”, I suspect to avoid possible libel actions. I’ve been considering spreading the word that I have no intention of ever suing anyone for libel as a matter of principle, so all the folks who have been holding back can really let fly. It seems to comfort them.

The article on the ranked system of voting was interesting in a way. I don’t believe it will help anything, personally. All it really does is allow a lot of minority parties to start up and get on the ballot, which essentially takes lobbyists from the influence-peddling game and puts them in the driver’s seat: “coalition building” is, to me, a discrete euphemism for influence peddling. It’s taken Italy, to cite one example, years to climb out of the pit of having too many political parties--Berlusconi is the longest-serving leader they’ve had since the Second World War. I don’t think they’re eager to go back to the days when they would have two or three governments fall within a year. First-past-the-post is still the best system, to me, and I say that as someone whose political views are nowhere represented in his country. If Canada wants Marxist-feminism, you are better off enduring eleven or fifteen or twenty years of Marxist-feminism rather than inventing a system which neutralizes Marxist-feminism by creating dozens of political ducks that can nibble it to death. Political ducks just nibble governments to death and that doesn’t get you anywhere. I’d prefer to just see more fundamental loyalty of the kind you see on the right. Republicans don’t pour out into the streets to protest something a Democratic President is doing. He got elected, he runs the show for four years. Show some loyalty.

I appreciated the [now retired four-star general of the U.S. Army] Tommy Franks article a great deal. Very calm, very matter-of-fact. Just goes to show that the War on Terror is not that complicated, it’s just very time-consuming and very expensive to do properly.

The VeriChip [Ed: a chip inserted under the skin of human beings that would contain their entire medical history and more, an idea which has just recently regained momentum] article was interesting in a vague and distant sort of way. I think I’d be the last one to actually undergo it, because of my rock-solid conviction that all health concerns are in the hand of God. I don’t know of any good medical stories [Ed: He does now]. Gene Day had a checkup and was given a clean bill of health the week before he died of a heart attack at the age of 31. I tend not to read any medical stories because of my belief that good health is a matter of taking as good care of yourself as you can and accepting that only God knows when your “best before” date is. There’s a part of the Koran which describes the ambivalence about going to war--those poor fellows who would be alive today if they hadn’t gone to war. This is sharply corrected by the observation that if they had chosen to stay at home they would’ve walked to where they are lying right now because it was God’s will that that was where they were going to die. Sounds like fatalism or predestination, but that’s my view of life. When you number is up, your number is up.

Thanks for writing.


P.S.: See, this is where I start running into problems. David Carrington has written me, I believe, two or three letters at the most, all of which I have answered. He is certainly not turning to me with “every spiritual dilemma” and I tell him the same thing I tell everyone else if they come to me for an answer: submit yourself to the will of God, acknowledge God’s sovereignty, pray and fast and pay the stated alms. I wouldn’t know what to advise beyond that. As I wrote to Billy [Beach], I think it highly unlikely that anyone would be a follower or “follower” of mine, per se. I am just too much at variance with my society for it to be possible that someone would believe what I was saying within a year of first publication. Later? Maybe. But, as I say, I’ve been out here on my own for a long time, so I think I know the difference. There are people who credit me with helping them through what I’ve written. That, I assume, is not unheard of. Norman Mailer gave me an enormous amount of help through his writing but I’d hardly describe myself as one of Mailer’s followers or even “followers”. There are a number of people who are very enthusiastic about what I have to say and credit me with breaking them out of the feminist mindset. Whether that’s actually the case, there’s no way for me, as a human being, to know. Only God knows what is actually inside of those people. I answer my mail as honestly as I can. I answer David Carrington’s letters and your letters and Billy’s letters. I’m interested in ideas and exchanges of viewpoint and I don’t trust anyone any further [sic] than I can throw them--except for God.

PPS: No, I don’t believe I’m a prophet of God. Five times a day I acknowledge my belief that Muhammad was God’s Last Messenger and Seal of Prophets. I’m just someone who thinks it makes more sense to believe that 2 out of every 100 people are going to get a passing grade on Judgment Day. I just happen to live in a time and a society where most people believe that either: a) there isn’t going to be a Judgment Day or, b) if there is a Judgment Day, it’ll be enough that you flossed after every meal to allow you to “make the cut”. I’m “reading into the record” because I assume at some point in the distant future society will begin to take Judgment Day as seriously as I do and that it will be useful to have a record of what someone who took Judgment Day seriously [today] had to say. If that resonates with anyone in the next twenty or thirty years or however long it takes for the “penny to drop”, well, hey, bonus. But to say that I don’t anticipate that to be the case seriously understates my viewpoint. I do figure that a lot of people are going to claim to agree with me, but I assume that will mostly be a tactical means of trying to distract me and get the subjects under discussion off track. That’s one of the reasons behind Collected Letter 2004: “This is what I’m saying. This is 580 pages of what I am saying. You can disagree with it if you want or you can change it if you want by paraphrasing it or misrepresenting it, but this is what I’m actually saying.” Thanks, Jeff.


Tony Dunlop said...

Haven't we seen parts or all of this one before? It sure sounds familiar…and no, I've never read (or even seen) any of the "Collected Letters" books...

Steve said...

And why couldn't it have been a djinn / malign spirit which planted the idea in Dave's mind that there was a djinn / malign spirit suggesting to someone to send Dave a gift?

Or perhaps some spirit behind his worldview?

Or (shudder the thought) behind this comment?

Trip down a rabbit hole anyone?