Tuesday, 1 March 2016

"Jack Chick In A World Without Christians"

(from Suggested For Mature Readers, 30 November 2015)
..."I had arrived at my career end point," Dave wrote in the back of [Glamourpuss] #26. By then, the comic was down to 2,400 readers. I wasn't one; I'd bought the first five issues but, going to comic shops infrequently, missed a few and gave up. I thought maybe I'd get the collection when it came out, a method of reading comics pioneered by Aardvark-Vanaheim and Dave Sim. In my absence the comic had devolved from a professional presentation, with variant covers and all, to something more closely resembling the fanzine scene where Cerebus began. Back covers were ads for back issues or the Cerebus Archive which ran concurrently. The Notes From Glamourpuss in the frontispiece had been replaced first by random reminiscences from Russ Heath then by unreadable letters from the comic's only regular correspondent, Johnny McPhanbot. The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, known as SDOAR at this point, is gathering momentum but everything else has visibly run out of velocity, interest, steam. "It was very weird and doomed to failure from Day One... but it was a lot of fun while it lasted," is Dave's final line. There seems little conviction in it.

There's something simultaneously admirable and pitiable about Dave's decision, when faced with financial adversity, to do exactly the same thing he did 31 years earlier. Launching a bi-monthly comic he wrote and drew with no real idea what the content will be worked the first time, so why not again? And the same miracle, arguable pre-disposed because of his work ethic and talent, does happen again; he finds something to write about, and a flailing mess of a comic gets a focus. But Dave was lucky enough in the 70s to launch into a market receptive to his kind of work, and that took shape in some part around it. In the 00s the comics audience wasn’t receptive to a black-and-white comic with no idea what it was saying or where it was going and it wasn't receptive to a Dave Sim comic. The B&W independent comics hit comes via original graphic novels in bookshops, and everyone's had enough of Dave Sim's politics. He's not the pariah he insists he is. A Dave Sim project could sell. But his curved psychology means everything comes back to his refutations of feminism, and nobody except a small coterie of superfans finds anything worthwhile in them. Jack Chick in a world without Christians.

One of the elements in Dave Sim's famous revelation, the one where he decided to write and draw Cerebus for 26 years and 6,000 pages, was that he could put everything in there. He didn't have to write different stories, different characters, different worlds, because everything he wanted to say could go into this. Neil Gaiman, in a tribute to Cerebus, remembered when he interviewed Sim: "I remember asking him what he'd do if there was something he wanted to write about, something he had to say that didn’t fit into Cerebus. 'I'd use a big hammer,' he grinned. 'I'd get it in somehow.'" And he did, and he got everything in, unusual as it all turned out to be, and left himself without anything he wanted to write about. And that's Glamourpuss.

The above is a short excerpt from a longer review of Dave Sim's Glamourpuss. Full article here...


Sandeep Atwal said...

People moaning and complaining about Dave Sim always seem so fucking miserable and depressed, like they want to expel all their depression onto someone else. I wonder what it's like looking for things to complain about all the time. Wait, no I don't.

As someone who was actually there, glamourpuss WAS a lot of fun. Are you kidding? Every weekend, Dave would come over with the newest pages, I'd scan them in and we'd talk about whatever. Brand new pages from Dave Sim, the best work he'd ever done! It was lots of fun! That there was no narrative in the early issues wasn't really a factor. Dave wanted to do a parody of fashion magazines, so he did a parody of fashion magazines. "Pretty girls in his best Al Williamson style." What narrative is there in fashion magazines?!? You're supposed to look at the pretty pictures, stupid!

As it turns out, a narrative did eventually emerge from the work Dave was doing. That's kind of how it worked with Cerebus: a parody of Conan and Howard the Duck becomes a 6,000 page work on politics, religion, gender, power and the rest of the world. Will people like Tom suddenly have something good to say about Sim when The Strange Death of Alex Raymond is released? Not bloody likely! (Sadly sidelined by his hand injury, but we're on the final set of proofs now. Trust me, we're dancing as fast as we can.) But those who are interested in the work (rather than, say, complaints about the work) will find much to admire. And he has LOTS to say. If Tom wasn't trying to come up with pained comparisons to Jack Chick he might have noticed the things Sim had to say about Alex Raymond and Rip Kirby and Stan Drake and photorealism and comic book drawing techniques in glamourpuss. Nah, best to stick to the moaning and complaining...

Anthony Kuchar said...

What is with this constant theme of people who think Dave is a morbidly depressed guy? Reminds me of Dave mentioning in a letter to Jeff Seiler about how a ton of people where making bets on when he was going to kill himself when Cerebus ended.

(To be honest, Tom Whiteley's article come off as more of a swan song for the "Golden Era of self published independents", "Woe those bygone days", "Nobody could ever do what Dave did".)

Tony Dunlop said...

Tangential question, but I've always assumed Johnny McPhanbot was our own Jeff S. Confirm? Deny? Equivocate?

iestyn said...

@Sandeep - having read the article a number of times and just seen your reply I'm struck by how, basically, you say exactly the same thing as Tom, but say it like you're telling him something new.

It seems like there's a great amount of defensiveness around any outside comments, even when, at heart they are positive, if those comments aren't phrased in the right manner. Or insist on diverging from accepted opinion.

Tom clearly lays out how he feels Dave is good and how exciting it is when SDOAR suddenly hits the floor running, just like Cerebus did. The man likes Dave's work and respects his bravery for sticking to doing what he wants, even if he disagrees with his views.

Dave's work isn't the fight against feminism, that may be his calling, Dave's work is much more complex, involved, intuitive and observational than his politics. I suspect his politics are equally as nuanced and certainly I'd be surprised if he could, for example, easily fit in the 'men's rights' movement camp because of his non-mainstream religious views.

iestyn said...

As a different matter - I know everyone has mentioned having a hard time getting through the Torah sections, but can I say I actually enjoyed those.

I found them quite interesting as an insight into how Dave thinks about religion and about his approach to his own religious observation.

I like reading people opinions on religion and their own beliefs, despite being a complete atheist.

Go figure

iestyn said...

I'd be really interested to hear Dave's own commentary about how it feels to see his work re-produced so well in the new Church & State.

If Dave has the time and the inclination, it would be really interesting to know how he feels these improvements alter the experience of the work.

To me, it would also be interesting to think about the difference in technology and how it affect the reproduction of artwork - how would Alex Raymond feel if he knew how well his originals could be reproduced now?

Does Dave view his SDOAR work differently, having now got physical evidence of how well his line work CAN reproduce now?

Sorry to be a hog.

iestyn said...

Final note hogging - Did Dave know that Classic Comic Press is releasing Kelly Green a full collection of adult(grownup, not Porn)comics published originally in Europe featuring artwork by Stan Drake and written by Leonard Starr?

Jeff Seiler said...

Tony, sorry to disappoint you, but I was (am?) not Johnny McPhanbot.

He was actually the primary reason why I stopped writing in.

Personally, I always thought Johnny was "ghosted" by Dave.

But that would be cheating, right?

Dominick Grace said...

Glamourpuss the best work Dave had ever done? Weeellllll, I have a hard time seeing a claim like that as having much objective validity. I've read a lot of Dave's work--all of Cerebus, a lot of the rest, but I have to be honest. I gave up on glamourpuss. I'm not even sure I own all the issues, though I did probably buy them. I will certainly buy SDOAR when it comes out, but I don't have high hopes. Based on what I did read of it in glamourpuss, it is going to be a beautifully-drawn but highly unblievable set of speculations about Raymond that have more to do with Dave's own belief systems than anything to do with Raymond.

Dave Kopperman said...

I so, so desperately wanted to love Glamourpuss, but in spite of the lovely art, I felt it lacked in two areas that I had really become accustomed to from Dave: story (and I totally got a huge laugh out of "Restraint" as it coincidentally implicated me for that attitude) and design - the latter being an element that I hadn't realized was crucial to Cerebus until it was removed. Turns out, Dave isn't just a master letterer, but that lettering aesthetic informed the overall non-comic design of the monthly comic, to the point where it was almost unfailingly the nicest-looking cover on any comic stand month in and month out.

Whatever else can be said about the vacuousness of high-fashion mags like Elle, they are incredibly well-designed affairs, and if you're going to do a parody/satire of them, you need to meet them in kind. Admittedly, Cosmo (another target) is and always has been an eyesore, but it does have a very iconic look.

To the emergent narrative aspect, I only really started to "get into it" when the Juliet Jones pages started to appear.

Sandeep: no doubt it WAS fun having Dave in the room discussing the book with you, but that's not really the experience of the average reader, no?

Eddie said...

I guess I was one of the few that thought glamourpuss, ESPECIALLY the fashion pages, were laugh out loud hilarious. Although I seem to recall Marsha Cooke (Darwin Cooke's wife) loved the fashion parody as well (I think she may have even gone as far as to say that it was her favourite comic at the time?Apologies if I'm misremembering).

I gave some of the issues to a female friend of mine who also enjoyed them, mostly because Dave really nailed the voice of fashion magazines and how the articles are written (I remember the bit about how to distract your boyfriend by asking him about some important sports game that everyone at work was talking about really connecting. "I've done that before!" she exclaimed).

And I'm still laughing at parts of it. Like when I realized the other day that the cover to Zootanapuss#1 was a parody of the iconic Vampirella Pinup by Pepe Gonzales. Just thinking about the expressions on Vampirella's face vs Zootanapuss' sets me off again. But I have been told I have a very weird sense of humour.

Travis Pelkie said...

The visual here reminds me that I don't have the Cerebus Archive issues that weren't offered through Diamond. If there's not a way to currently get them in print or digitally, might I suggest a digital download of the Cerebus Archive comic book as a pledge offering for the next kickstarter? (Provided we ever get the Collected Letters 3 download, that is... ;) )

And while I don't think Dave is a constantly depressed guy, reading that glamourpuss farewell piece again (the thing that got me here to AMOC, actually), that piece is Ol' Doom and Gloom Sim at his Doomiest and Gloomiest.

Tom W said...

Well hello again. Sandeep. You've published one excerpt from my Glamourpuss piece and we've discussed it. Publishing another, and then adding a lengthy irritated comment about it - the first comment - suggests that the point of publishing it was to leave the comment. Why bother? Comment under the piece itself, tweet me or if you want my email I'll give it to you. What's the point of doing it here? Did you think everyone would rally round?

People moaning and complaining do seem miserable and depressed, don't they? For example, when you're moaning and complaining about me, above, you don't come across as full of joy. Rather than putting that down to fundamental character flaws, however, I think that's more because nobody seems happy when they're moaning and complaining. Given that you seem to have sought out and quoted me just in order to moan and complain, seeming miserable and depressed, tautological at all times, I'd posit that it won't take a great leap of empathy to know what kind of person looks for things to complain about all the time. Indeed you may be able to see that kind of person right now, reflected in the screen.

Good things to say about Dave Sim? Cerebus is a colossus of the comics form, an achievement which will likely never be equalled and the magnitude of which has yet to be assimilated. The latter half, for most of which I'm in total opposition to Dave's views on feminism, especially. There is a middle ground; one can admire and complain, moan and praise, find misery compellingly depicted or depression masterfully drawn. The vast majority of Cerebus readers, I'd hazard, feel conflicted about it; at 6,000 pages, ranging from inside-baseball comics parody to historical tragedy to metafictional experimentation, it would be odd if they didn't. I'm ordinary in this, not win the least exceptional. Assuming otherwise is wilfully blind.

Eddie said...

(Errrr....pssst. Tom. I don't think Sandeep, you know, posted the blog entry. That was most likely Tim).