(from a Patreon Update, 4 March 2017)
Tim, of the website A Moment Of Cerebus, reposted some things over there that I originally posted here on Patreon about Cerebus writer-artist Dave Sim.
In the comments section for that repost, Dave responds:
"I never considered Chester to be a friend."
According to Dave, this was his reason for hanging out with me regularly:
"I [thought] it was worth maintaining communication for the sake of Canadian Cartooning Posterity."
He wasn’t my friend, he was fraternizing with me for the sake of Canadian Cartooning Posterity? Perhaps that’s so, but I do remember Dave saying that he was my friend. Perhaps he was using the word ironically. At the time I assumed he was sincere because he certainly acted like a friend. I was sincere in being Dave's friend. I genuinely like the guy.
"I thought it was even-handed of ME to associate with HIM even though he was […] a whoremonger."
Maybe it would have been, depending on his motive for associating with me. I’m not sure I understand what he means when he says that he did so for sake of posterity.
In later comments for the repost, Dave discusses sex-work.
"Do you want your daughter to be a hooker? Do you want your sister to be [a] hooker? Do you want your mother to be a hooker? If you don’t want them to be hookers, then you think being a hooker is a bad idea."
In the 1950s, most people would have been upset if they'd found out that they had a gay brother. That doesn’t mean that homosexuality was wrong, but it felt like it was wrong in a society that was more homophobic than the one we live in now. We live in a society that’s as whorephobic as it ever was, so most people would feel badly if they had a sister who was a sex-worker. But the emotional reactions of the siblings of prostitutes (or their parents or other family members) says nothing about the morality of the work or whether it really is "a bad idea".
Incidentally, it would not bother me if I had a daughter, sister, or mother who was a sex-worker. It shouldn't bother any intelligent person.
Dave goes on to recount how, before he was old enough, he was eager to be in strip-clubs. When he was finally able to enter them, he found it a depressing experience. (Note that this was an emotional reaction on Dave’s part. While he supposedly now eschews emotional arguments, he refers to his individual emotional reaction as if it’s relevant to the broad subject of the morality of sex-work.) On the few times he was in such a club, the dancers seemed "dead inside" — like there was "no light in their eyes." He elaborates:
"I think it’s a matter of women being naked in front of a bunch of strange men on an on-going basis eats at their soul very, very quickly. Even more so with hookers because there’s a greater physical intimacy."
Dave seems to think that, because he was initially eager to get into strip-clubs, this therefore indicates that he wasn’t affected by the whorephobia that surrounded him as he grew up, and that that prejudice didn't influence his emotions when he looked into the eyes of a few strippers and felt that they looked “dead”. It's my opinion that he wasn't aware of the underlying whorephobia in his mind. It felt true to Dave that those women had "dead" eyes, but that was a subjective reaction. On top of the whorephobic bias that was affecting Dave’s perception, you have to remember that an interaction with a sex-worker happens between two people. It’s entirely possible that whatever Dave was saying to those women was getting a “dead” reaction in response. (How old was he again? How clueless did he seem?) But that doesn’t mean that the eyes of those women were dead for their other clients or for people outside of their work — for their family, for their friends, for their neighbours. So 18 year-old Dave walks away from the club feeling bad — depressed, as he said — and he concludes that all sex-workers are soulless husks and that sex-work is bad.
I’ve met many, many sex-workers. There were the ones I depicted in Paying For It, of course, but also, since then, I’ve met many people in the sex-worker-rights community and many sex-workers who’ve come out to my book signings. None of them had dead eyes, and the majority had lively ones. I’ve been paying Denise for sex for fourteen years now and her eyes have as much light in them as when I first met her. You should have seen how her eyes lit up when she first saw a printed copy of Mary Wept, or how she reacts when something exciting is going on in her life. This idea that her soul was eaten away many years ago is... well, it’s a tired and very untrue cliché.
When it comes to this subject, Dave has clichés, emotional reactions, and his idiosyncratic religious beliefs — what he does not have is a rational argument.
In a later comment, Dave states:
“I think Chet slipped — BADLY — from his otherwise “even-handed and fair” persona when he claimed that the reason Joe Matt wasn’t using prostitutes was because he was too cheap and the reason I wasn’t using prostitutes was because I didn’t think women should work. […] Which, I think, just demonstrates how CRITICALLY IMPORTANT prostitution is to Chet. I can’t think of a single other instance when he wasn’t 100% truthful about whatever he was talking about.”
I’m not sure where Dave gets this idea that I said that the only reason why Joe doesn’t pay for sex is because he’s too cheap. In panel 52:2 in Paying For It, Seth makes a joke to that effect:
Joe expressed concern to me that people might take that joke seriously, so I wrote this in the notes section, on page 264:
"Joe would like me to note that, while he is cheap, that’s not why he isn’t a john. He wouldn’t pay for sex even if he was rich, because, despite his reputation, he’s very romantic. Which is true."
In addition, in the scene in which I first tell Seth and Joe about my first experience with a prostitute, Joe’s reactions aren’t about money, but about love (panel 52:6) and how it’s supposedly “cold and clinical to pay for sex.” (Panel 52:7.) There’s also the scene on pages 181 to 184 in which Joe defends romantic love and advocates for holding on to one’s ideals. It seems to me that most readers would get the impression that Joe’s avoidance of sex-workers goes beyond being cheap even if those readers ignored the notes section.
Dave also thinks that I “wasn’t 100% truthful" when I said this in an interview that I did with Sean Rogers for The Comics Journal:
“[Dave] disapproved of paying for sex. He thinks women shouldn’t have jobs. He wants them at home getting pregnant and raising children, not out in the world having jobs. And so prostitution, for him, is just another job that keeps them away from their real role in life. That’s why he disapproves of it.”
Dave can’t recall ever saying such a thing. All I can say is that that was my impression of his views, and I was surprised to read that he doesn’t think that that passage at least resembles something he would have said to me. (Rereading the passage now, the part that looks a bit inaccurate to my memories of things he said is where I imply that that was his sole reason for disapproving of sex-work.) I don’t think Dave would lie about this. It’s possible that he’s forgotten that he said such a thing, but it’s much more likely that my memory is at fault or that I misinterpreted various things he said. Obviously, in establishing what Dave believes, he should be the preferred source, especially since he’s honest and forthright about those beliefs, even when they’re enormously unpopular.
According to Dave:
“Chet […] got the idea of using prostitutes from reading CEREBUS No. 186.”
That’s wrong — Cerebus 186 got me questioning romantic love. I didn’t contemplate paying for sex until years later, when I found myself in a situation where I could have paid to have a Playboy model embrace me, as I depicted on pages 19 to 23 of Paying For It.
At one point in the comments, Dave writes that, because he doesn’t think I hate women, I should therefore “extend [him] the same intellectual courtesy” and acknowledge that he also doesn’t hate women. Sure, I acknowledge that he doesn’t hate women. I’ve never said that Dave hates women. When the subject of The Petition came up many years ago, I told him to his face that I don’t believe that he hates women. I think he’s a misogynist. Misogynists don’t necessarily hate women. I explained that to him at length, not just in person but also in a series of faxed letters (which have been posted somewhere on the internet).
I’m starting to think that maybe he does have a memory problem.
In the context of A Moment Of Cerebus, my opinion about the cover of Latter Days (that it’s ugly) seems harsh, so let me add that that cover is an anomaly. Most of the covers that Dave and Gerhard produced were great.
Cerebus is a masterpiece. I don’t have to agree with an author (or be that author's friend) to enjoy his-or-her work. I’ve read all sixteen volumes at least twice through, and some of them I’ve read more than twice. There seems to be a popular view out there that the early volumes are good and the later ones are unreadable, but, to me, Cerebus becomes more and more interesting as it progresses.
And I’m looking forward to reading a completed version of The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond.
Tim, you have my permission to repost this, too — although I understand if you don’t want to because you don’t want a prostitution debate taking over your site.
Chester Brown has been writing and drawing comics and graphic novels since the 1980s: Yummy Fur, Ed The Happy Clown, I Never Liked You, Louis Riel, Paying For It, Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus. You can help provide him with a stable source of income while he works on his next graphic novel by donating at Patreon.