Saturday, 25 March 2017

Jeff Smith vs Dave Sim: Round 1

by Dave Sim
(Cerebus #264, March 2001)

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you about this, Jeff, but, considering that it took you nearly five years to "go public" with your side of our disagreement(s) – and in light of my own avowed intention to limit myself to writing only "Chasing Scott" and "To Ham & Ham Not" here in the back of the book (and nothing elsewhere) for the three-year-minus-two-months it was going to take me to finish Going Home – I didn't think that time was of the essence.

My "sabbatical" was partly an exercise in self-discipline and partly my concession to the comic-book environment. Having been "all over the place" in promoting self-publishing as a viable direct market vehicle for comic-book creators for three years or so...

[and – whatever else you have attempted to portray my efforts as in subsequent years – that is all that I was trying to do. I know you find it hard to believe that the direct market existed before you came along, Jeff, but believe me it did. And there was a time when virtually the entire direct market – most especially publishers like Gary Groth, Denis Kitchen and Mike Richardson – made a great point of the fact that self-publishing was not a viable option and that Dave Sim was the "exception that proved the rule". My efforts on behalf of self-publishing were not to create a "self-publishing movement" (as you keep saying), but to disprove Groth, Kitchen, Richardson et al and to show that it was possible – more than possible – for others besides Dave Sim to make a living self-publishing their work and only self-publishing their own work. I intended to devote a fixed amount of time to that task (which I did) and then I intended to walk away (which I did) and – if, thereupon, self-publishing proved itself to not be a viable option for others (without my on-going, hands-on interference) – I intended to eat Crow back issues (as it were) and admit that I was wrong and that I was, in fact, some sort of mystical being, the only one endowed with the ability to self-publish successfully. The fact that you are one of the outstanding examples that assisted me in refuting that misapprehension is one of the reasons – 'til now, anyway – that I have not responded to your own vague but passionate insinuations that "Dave Sim is terribly, terribly, terribly wrong and terribly, terribly, terribly evil in some way". However inadvertently, you helped me to disprove the only misapprehension about myself that really concerned me: that I was uniquely and exclusively suited to self-publish. The rest of the "terribly, terribly, terribly wrong and terribly, terribly, terribly evil" stuff is just part of the price one pays for being a non-feminist in a feminist world. Water off a duck's back.] seemed as if a comparable period of keeping the direct market "Dave Free" (outside the pages of Cerebus) was the least that I could do. Apart from a letter to The Comic Buyer's Guide on the occasion of Gil Kane's passing, a press release when Going Home caught us flat-footed by selling out its second print run too quickly and a cover and introduction for Dork Tower and an interview or two for small fanzines, I stuck by that vow. As the three-years-minus-two-months unfolded, I reminded myself that if there was anything which really stuck in my craw, I could address it after the three-years-minus-two-months were over. Many things stuck in my craw (my craw just seems to be constructed that way) but, as the three-years-minus-two-months came to an end, nothing had really "stuck" (craw-wise) that I could count worthy of attention. Attention, in my view, better spent preparing myself, mentally, physically and artistically for the final three year climb up the final rock face on my own personal Mount Everest, the 300-issue Cerebus project.

Except one.

Just about a year ago at this time, I was still "pissed off" (a definite exception to the rule of my largely non-emotional life) about your assertion in your Comics Journal interview (the belated Trilogy Tour issue) that you had threatened to give me a "fat lip" that time that I stayed in your lovely A-frame house overlooking the San Andreas Fault.

Can't remember the last time I ever said this, but I'm saying it now – to you, Jeff.

You are lying.

(If anyone doubts that you are lying, I invite them to read what I wrote about that visit in Reads – page 241 - and compare it with your recollection of what I wrote as you "reconstructed" it – that is to say as you completely fabricated my words – in the aforementioned interview)

Leaving aside your "Big Johnson Bone" fabrications, I'm not sure what my reaction would've been had you, indeed, threatened to give me a fat lip. I find accurate perception a sufficiently arguous on-going task without muddying the waters of perception by dealing in various permutations of the hypothetical. I suspect I would've asked to use the phone and called the nearest hotel and then the nearest limo company and made arrangements to leave (since you had picked me up in a limo, I could at least be sure that one could have made it up those mountain roads) and then I wouldn've taken you up on your little "challenge" once I was sure that I wasn't staying under your roof any longer.

But, of course, there was no "challenge".

That's the really infuriating part of this whole business, Jeff: your assertion in the interview that you presented me with this "challenge", and "everything got very quiet" and then you proceeded to "enjoy your weekend". The comic-book field is not a particularly masculine environment so, for a certain unknown-but-presumably-large percentage of the people who read your interview, the whole thing was very straightforward. You threatened me and I backed down. For a likewise unknown-but-presumably-small percentage of the people who read your interview – that is for the (dozen? two dozen? three dozen?) men as opposed to males in the Comics Journal's readership, let's face it, Jeff. You were calling me a coward who backs down from another man's challenge to settle things man-to-man. And then you compounded your insult by portraying me as a weasel who would stay under another man's roof after having backed down from that man's challenge to a fight.

Off-and-on, I have now spent the better part of a year trying to figure out how to address another man's entirely fictional "challenge" to "step outside" (presumably we would have stepped outside as opposed to "duking it out" in your living room) made five years after the "fact". At the height of my "pissed-offedness", I just kept thinking to myself, "I'd like to see him try."

Once my "pissed offedness" had subsided (it took a few weeks), to my own not inconsiderable amusement I realized that that was exactly the sum and substance of my reaction. All emotion aside:

I'd like to see you try, Jeff.

I have to confess that I never thought that, at the ripe old age of forty-four (forty-five in May) I would be "stepping into the ring" with someone, least of all a fellow cartoonist. No matter how much of a fighter you are – George Foreman aside – it's really a game for one's twenties and thirties. But, clearly, I can't just let this pass without taking some action to defend myself from this... (whatever you call it. Before this, who would have needed a word for "lying about a challenge to fight man-to-man"?)

[I do understand – given the fact that I am not a feminist – I have to accept that it is "open season" on Dave Sim. Any feminist is going to feel him - or herself more than entitled to talk about me behind my back and to exert any and all efforts to destroy my reputation and credibility through gossip, innuendo and outright lies. I would expect nothing les of the unfairer sex and their allies and I knew that was the inevitable result of declaring myself to be "not a feminist" in an almost wholly feminist environment.

But you are supposed to do it behind my back, Jeff. That is how the feminist game is played. "girl fighting", as it were. However. To lie, in a public forum, about having offered to give another man a "fat lip". That's something else again.]

I would assume from your choice of the phrase that you have had a certain amount of fight experience. Offering to give someone a "fat lip" implies a disproportionately larger amount of fight experience on the part of the "offerer" than on the part of the "offeree".

I have to say that in the short space of time that we knew each other, I never once thought of you as being a fighter but, presumably, I was wrong about that. Or maybe I wasn't.

Which brings us back to "I'd like to see him try":

I will fly to Columbus on any date that you would care to name and I will give you three three-minute "rounds" to try to give me a "fat lip". I'm in a the light heavyweight class – on any given day between five and ten pounds lighter than a heavyweight. I would assume you are somewhere in that vicinity as well. I have ten-ounce gloves. Opinion is divided as to which sort of glove dish out the greater punishment: sixteen-ounce (just because they’re heavier) or ten-ounce (because there’s less "cushion"). If your opinion is that ten-ounce gloves won't do the job for you ("fat lip-wise"), let me know which weight you prefer and I'll pick up a pair. Or if you want to go all the way up to twenty-four ounce gloves I'm more than amenable. Likewise with headgear. I'm comfortable fighting without it. If you prefer headgear, just let me know.

I'll let you pick the venue and the time keeper and the referee and I'm more than willing to listen to any requirements you might have that I haven't covered here.

Just in case some "bright lights" out there get the idea of turning this into a benefit for the CBLDF or some other charity at a convention, let me head you off at the pass right now:

Having had a year to try to figure out how to explain this to a largely feminist, largely feminized crowed I figure the best bet is a (may God forgive me) movie analogy:

Do you remember in the movie The Color of Money, the sequel – make that, the "sequel" – to The Hustler where the Tom Cruise character tells the Paul Newman character that he "threw" their big championship game, so he could "clean up" on side bets? And the Paul Newman character corners the Tom Cruise character and challenges him to a game, a for-real game? And he says to the Tom Cruise character, "Let's clean this up"?

That's what I’m doing here. You can't "clean up" a mess like this in a circus atmosphere.

Jeff, I am saying, flat out, that you have lied. In lying, you have made a mess – a non-masculine mess.

You have made a mess.


Let's you and me, man-to-man, clean up the mess that you have made.


Next: Seconds Out... Round 2


Unknown said...

The illustration was for our signing at the Silver Snail in Toronto. I had already had very good experiences with doing jam pieces that could be signed for interested (and, more important in some ways, disinterested) customers starting with the jam piece I did with Martin Wagner for the Cap City Trade Show. So I phoned Jeff and suggested we do the same thing: do a Bone drawing and send it to me with room for a Cerebus and I'll get the Snail folks to quick-print it when I've got my part done.

When I got his picture of Phoney Bone, it was pretty obvious what sort of gag he was going for. So, I tried to take it down a few notches...

[Phoney, I think you'll agree, looks mighty steamed -- with six dew-flaps, Mort Walker's term (and he should know!) for cartoon sweat]

...I didn't think a picture of Cerebus looking AS steamed was a good idea in the "giving people the wrong idea" end of things.

Unfortunately, I had to come up with something that fit with the drawing I was given and the best I could come up with was a Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck riff.

Which might have actually been the RIGHT idea.

How steamed WAS Jeff and how early?

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

As I recall, it was Dave's pugnaciousness here that led Diana Schutz to resign as his proofreader.

-- Damian

Tony Dunlop said...

That's OK - Jeff has much better dresses in his wardrobe.

Tony again said...

Hopefully it's clear that I meant Seiler, not Smith...

Jeff Seiler said...

Just one, Tony. It'll be walking around Wrigley Field, at the Buffett show, in July.

Jeff Smith threatened a fat lip when he perceived Dave as pissing him off. When Dave kind of pissed me off by misinterpreting something I had said, I responded with a 25-page letter.

Not sure which was the more appropriate response.

But, Dave and I still get, there's that.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure how this qualifies as Round 1. Shouldn't Round 1 be the actual paragraph or two from #186 since, presumably, that's what Jeff Smith saw as the justification for threatening to give me a fat lip? Or "deck me" as he had it in another version?

Is Round 2 going to be Jeff Smith's version from the COMICS JOURNAL's TRILOGY TOUR ISSUE...or is it going to be the early draft of it on Tom Spurgeon's site of his TCJ interviews?

I mean, I get it: Jeff Smith: feminist GOOD Dave Sim NOT feminist EVIL!! But isn't the feminist threatening to give me a fat lip (that's Jeff's story, by the way, not mine) in the middle of a discussion the pugnacious one? All I was doing was explaining that Birth was way ahead of Death in our world. Which it would pretty have to be -- to the tune of billions -- or the human race would have disappeared by now.

I insulted Vijaya. Okay, HOW did I insult Vijaya? I know Vijaya FELT insulted but until someone can find a "Vijaya insult" in #186, we're missing a major piece of the puzzle.

Running this as Round 1, you've got the story backwards: making it look as if I was the one who threatened Jeff instead of (according to Jeff, anyway) the other way around.

But, that's fine, Tim -- your website, your rules.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

If Dave wants to get technical, I guess Round 1 would be the actual conversation, thus making Cerebus 186 Round 2 and so forth. So the "major piece of the puzzle" is not a "Vijaya insult" in Cerebus 186 (Round 2: Dave's recounting of the event) but a "Vijaya insult" in the actual event (Round 1).

-- Damian

Anonymous said...

Round 1, Vijaya feels insulted.

Round 2, Vijaya's husband defends his wife, several years after the fact.

Round 3, Vijaya wins. There's something about the guy who made Vijaya feel insulted and his response to Vijaya's husband who defended his wife several years after she felt insulted, but no one really cares about that stuff.

Vijaya wins by TKO. The men never even have to 'take it out back.'

A few moments ago, I was posting about artists' 'earlier, funnier' moments, where they were throwing everything in, and for whatever reason, I thought of Grant Morrison's "Animal Man" #7 or 8, the issue where he's setting up all the plotlines for the rest of his run. And there's a panel where Mirror Master has invaded Buddy's house and caused as many problems as possible. Buddy runs off, the Mirror Master fires a laser gun at him and tells him to put on his costume so he doesn't have to beat a guy in his skinnies.

The next panel is exactly what I was talking about on that "earlier, funnier stuff" post. Buddy is still drawn with cartoony realism, but he's running into his bedroom with both legs perpendicular to his body like a Looney Toon. That's just funny, and it's probably something that Grant Morrison thought of while writing the script. I'm pretty sure Chas Truog wasn't drawing that issue, but maybe it was the guest-artist's idea.

Either way, the rest of the issue is mostly Mirror Master kicking the crap out of Animal Man, until Buddy's wife comes home from shopping or whatever she was doing. Cartooning meets feminism meets good storytelling meets superheroes for one of the most awesome comic book scenes ever. Mirror Master terrorizes Ellen and the kids. He acts like the horrible villain. She calls him an asshole and kicks him in the nuts. After recovering (ouch) he slaps her around, and then she kicks him again, this time down the stairs, where he lands at the feet of the recovered Animal Man. Although Buddy has shown himself to be anything but a masculine husband, the reader feels the menace in his eyes as he asks "Did you just hit my wife?" The rest of the issue works out perfectly, and sets up long-running subplots for the rest of Morrison's storyline.

To me, this is where comics and real life merge and diverge. If Jeff Smith had any basis for defending Vijaya's honor (which Dave supposedly insulted) he would have done so on the spot. You don't slap my wife around and get away with it. This means war!

Since Dave was talking about nothing that Vijaya had anything to do with, that's not how Mr. and Mrs. Smith decided to handle things. I think Dave was wrong by using his horribly long-winded style of defending himself. But that's about it. He did nothing else wrong, the Smiths took offense regardless, and Dave's schedule meant that he waited years to return fire, another study in bad optics. It is what it is, but Dave wasn't the one who inferred offence where none was implied.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Chris W.'s description of the rounds does not comport with reality.

-- Damian

Tony again said...

Do you mean reality, "reality," Reality, or "Reality?"

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Dave Sim said:
But, that's fine, Tim -- your website, your rules.

Not quite sure how I've become the "bad guy" for running this. Perhaps you could wait for the second two parts before passing judgment? The first I knew about this "issue" with Jeff was reading this article in the back pages of Cerebus, so it is offered here in the same spirit. As I say, perhaps wait until part 2 and 3 before passing judgement on my motives.

FYI - all 3 parts were going to run on consecutive days, but Travis came through with his Preview Picks, so the second 2 parts got bumped to the weekend. Sorry for keeping everyone in suspense... gripping though it may be...


Craig Johnson said...

It *is* gripping - I remember the original article in the back of the issue and am reserving judgement (such as it is) until Parts 2 and 3, because Jeff Smith's response is clearly what's needed here.

I agree with ChrisW in this regard - you don't wait to defend your wife's honour, you do it on the spot or not at all (unless of course you don't feel she has been insulted but are so pussy-whipped that when she goes on and on and on about how she's insulted you feel forced into defending her honour some time after the event, even if just to shut her up).

I disagree with ChrisW about Dave using his "horribly long-winded style" - this is Tim's site, Tim's rules. Cerebus was Dave's comic, Dave's rules. He was and is entitled to go into as short or long a length as he feels justified and appropriate. I actually quite liked - and still like - Dave's turn of phrase (from the introductions to the Swords through to modern pieces) and as far as I'm concerned, more Dave writing is all to the good.

This doesn't mean Dave gets a free pass to say what he likes and I'd go ra-ra-ra, but in this regard I don't see (so far!) Dave has done anything wrong at all.

Anonymous said...

I'm not using "wrong" in the sense that he's done something morally or legally wrong, I'm using it in the sense of 'bad optics.' He's done it less since "Cerebus" ended, but he has a tendency to use fifty words instead of ten. He could have quoted the relevant text from #186, pointed out that Vijaya was barely mentioned, and there was obviously nothing in the event as described in #186 that would have offended her so badly that Smith demanded to 'take it out back.'

See? I've just described what Dave could have done for the same purpose in far fewer words than Dave used. "Bad optics."

Dave could also have responded to Smith much more quickly. Didn't he used to point out that, doing a monthly title, he could respond to Gary Groth or Kim Thompson much more quickly than they could respond to him? In this case, again, "bad optics."

He comes off sounding like someone whining about something bad someone said about him in an interview a year or three ago. It's his right to do so, but I think the way he chose to go about it was "bad optics."


Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Chris W.: I'm afraid you've missed the point. Vijaya didn't object to the events Dave depicted in Cerebus 186. The offence (real or imagined) was given by real-life Dave years earlier.

-- Damian

Anonymous said...

And what was the offense? The offense that was so horrible that Jeff Smith waited years to tell The Comics Journal about it, instead of taking Dave out back and settling it like men? Or at least like Buddy Baker and the Mirror Master?

You're missing the point, that there was no offense until Mrs. and Mr. Smith decided there was years later, at which point Mr. Smith said he was going to take Dave out back and pummel him, and Dave backed down.

I'll criticize Dave about how he handled the situation (I've done so on this very thread) but no one has pointed to what he said or did that equals an offense to Vijaya, other than what she decided after-the-fact, which isn't Dave's fault.


Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Chris W.: You're missing the point, because that's not what happened by anyone's account. In both Dave's and Jeff's account, the offense (whatever it was) was given in the event, not in Cerebus 186. In the event is when Jeff threatened to give Dave a fat lip, not after seeing Cerebus 186. You have the facts wrong.

It's also interesting that Dave often decries gossip as "character assassination", yet it's another frequently-used Simean rhetocial tactic. Why did we need to know about Neil Gaiman's temporary concubine, or Susan Alston's fondness for spanking?

Dave has claimed repeatedly that, by virtue of being included in a work of fiction, "Jeff Smith" (and "Neil Gaiman" and "bi-curious Avril Lavigne") is a fictional character. So we're talking about Dave's "Jeff Smith", not the cartoonist Jeff Smith, hence (by Dave's own criterion) we're not to accept Dave's account as factual; he's using raw materials from real life in the service of his themes.

-- Damian