Monday, 2 October 2017

Dave Sim, Genius

Cerebus #280 (July 2002)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

Woody Allen once wrote an essay on the geniuses of comedy. He said that Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were geniuses. So were Groucho and Harpo but not Chico. Peter Sellers was a genius. But Bob Hope was not, according to Allen. Bob Hope was just a very funny comedian. Allen said that for a comedian to be a genius everyone after him must be influenced by him.

Using the same standard I think Dave Sim can be called a genius. He gave us a lot.

He stayed on a book for three hundred issues. And yes, I am aware that others stayed on their characters for that many stories and more, but near the start Dave said he would draw three hundred monthly issues and did what he said he would do, then ended the story.

He self-published. There were a lot of people doing it and we called them fan publishers. Most put out two or three issues which is what I expected from Aarvark-Vanaheim. I was wrong. Dave (and WARP graphics and Jack Katz) showed us that we could self-publish and gain more advantages in doing so than in working with established companies.

He aimed higher than almost anyone. I don't think Dave would deny that the superhero books were important to him with Cerebus starting out as a parody of Conan. Moon Roach and Wolveroach, and a two headed Swamp Monster that looked, in part, like Alan Moore came later. But he went beyond that and had Cerebus participating in Dave’s particular view of the world. We can all do it now if we want to.

He showed guys like me the high watermark for good lettering. I have a weak spot for good lettering.

He partnered with Gerhard to draw backgrounds that were ambitious beyond anything we had seen in comics before.

And he didn’t sell out. When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out I always took the "Turtles" part as being from Cerebus. When TMNT became a phenomenon many tried to hype their own comics into something just as financially successful. Who would blame them? But I didn’t hear that sort of hype coming from Kitchener. I don’t know if Dave had offers; I assume he did. But I didn’t hear him flogging Cerebus which is gratifying. He showed us that we could be successful without our creations becoming movies.

Let me say it again so there is no confusion… GENIUS. Woody would approve.

Ron Kasman is the writer/artist of "The Tower of the Comic Book Freaks" and has worked for many major comic companies, including Image and DC Comics. He was one of the four coordinators of Cosmicon, Canada’s first major comic convention and created the first Canadian graphic novel on Canadian history called "William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada".


Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Ron K.: Using that criterion, Dave Sim is definitely not a genius. One surprising thing about comics is how little influence Dave has had on cartooning. On the business side, he was one of the pioneers of the "individual story published issue-by-issue and then collected into TPBs" method that is now standard. And certainly no one can overstate his influence on self-publishing. But Dave's greatest skills as a cartoonist -- layout, pacing, caricature, lettering -- have had very little influence on comics.

I think this might be due to the fact (articulated by myself and others) that most comics follow Jack Kirby, whereas Dave did not; he followed Will Eisner. This is especially interesting as Dave started off wanting to be Barry Smith, who was one of the Kirby Klones.

I absolutely agree that Dave aimed higher than almost anyone. If, in the end, his reach exceeded his grasp (and it did) -- well, better to aim high and miss than settle for aiming low.

-- Damian

Jack said...

It's kind of a dumb criterion for genius, though. Plenty of bad art has been influential.

Ron said...

Thanks, Damian and thanks, Jack. It's always nice to hear other viewpoints. The one's that disagree are the ones that make me think the most. --Ron K

Jack said...

Sure, Ron. Is the Woody Allen essay you wrote about online? I used to be a huge fan of his, but I've never read that one.

Ron said...

Hi, Jack. I have tried to find the essay on two occasions, the first time about three years ago. Every time I use what I think are appropriate search words I get essays about how people think Woody Allen is a genius. I have talked to one other person who has read it and she was convinced that she could find it but has not. So I am working from memory and my memory is clear because I am deeply interested in comedy. He mentions many more geniuses of comedy in it. As I recall the essay is fairly short-- perhaps seven hundred words. If you do find it please let me know. I would love to read it again.

Ko said...

Ron, Is this the essay on genius you're thinking of?

It's not by Woody Allen, but it's based on an interview with him.

Jack said...

Thanks, that was pretty interesting. Funny that he called the NY Times back to demote Mae West.

Ron said...

Hi, Ko. There is a good chance that is it. I can't find any other even remotely like it. Thanks for doing the research. I enjoyed reading it again.

Barry Deutsch said...

My comics are very influenced by Dave's. So were some others - Hepcats, of course. I think Carla Speed McNeil's work shows some Sim influence. Adam Warren's work has some Sim in it's gene mix, too.

But yeah, it does seem to me that Dave's work has had far less impact on how comics art is laid out and drawn than I think it deserves.