Sunday, 18 November 2012

Who Reviews The Reviewers?

"Wow! A Tony Millionaire Cerebus!"
The Believer #27 (September 2005)
(from 'Who Reviews The Reviewers?' in Following Cerebus #7, February 2006)
It came as something of a surprise when word circulated in late September of last year that Cerebus had been reviewed in a mainstream magazine called The Believer. I was in no hurry to read the piece since mainstream magazines are completely in thrall to feminism and consequently bound to make vilification of Cerebus (and me) the core of their coverage. It did, however, seem oddly premature. My best guess had been that the publication of issue 300 - having passed largely without consequence - that the feminists would elect to entrench within their universally favoured high-school-cheerleader-clique approach to intellectual debate and to maintain a "zero tolerance" level of ostracism of the book (and myself) for a period of some years if not decades leaving it to their guerrilla bands of the internet to continue laying the ground-work of the "Dave Sim is insane" retrenchment of intellectually vacuous but largely effective quasi-rebuttal.

Peter Straub mailed me a copy asking me in his cover note to phone him to discuss it when when I had "absorbed it." I phoned him a few days later and basically said that - given that I was believed to be clinically insane - it really wasn't relevant what I thought of the piece. As a member-in-good-standing of the 21st century mainstream (a New York Times bestselling author who knows Stephen King and Neil Gaiman personally), however, I was interested in what he had thought of the piece and what, in his view, the journalist in question was attempting to express.

"Well," he said, thoughtful as always before giving an assessment, "I thought what he was, in effect, saying was 'What if - instead of being a miserable failure as a painter - Hitler had been a painter with the abilities of a Rembrandt.'"

It was an interesting and succinct way of putting it (something Peter excels at which was why I had asked). Indeed even a cursory examination of the article reveals such references as "an absolute masterpiece" (in the subhead), "one of the most ambitious and fully realised narratives of the past century" "a novel of (very big) ideas" "a Gesamtkunstwerk of word and image and idea" [I have no idea what the dictionary-definition of Gesamtkunstwerk might be, but from the context, I'll take it as a "plus"] "the Birth Of A Nation of comics" and asserts that "The formal symmetries and echoes within Cerebus are spectacular, especially given that every chapter has gone unrevised since its initial publication," and I'm described as "a shockingly gifted cartoonist, one of the most innovative storytellers in the history of his medium... [he] routinely pulls off technical feats that no other cartoonist would dare." Of course, it's also noted that "Sim's reputation as a world-class jerk tends to overshadow his actual work" which - given the exalted heights of praise in which the writer, Douglas Wolk clearly felt himself compelled to indulge as regards that work (I would tend to agree with Peter Straub) - would seem to require a "world-class-jerkiness" of virtually Hitlerian proportions to overshadow.

"I was wondering  if he's actually a fan and he's just pretending to be the outraged feminist because he knew that was the only way he could get the piece published," I suggested to Peter. He grasped immediately what I was saying - if it takes kicking Dave in the nuts a bunch of times, at least someone can officially go on record as saying the work itself is as good as Wolk believes it to be.

Peter didn't think so. Pushed to the wall, I didn't think so either - but there was still the inexplicable appearance of the piece itself a mere year-and-a-half since the end of the book. There seemed to be no accounting for the excessive praise in our present degraded and feminist-dominated political context. Was it even possible in the deepest sanctuaries of feminist delusion to believe that someone could be simultaneously Rembrandt and Hitler?

...Peter turned up a copy of the magazine itself for me and for the Cerebus Archive just in time for my wonderful home-cooked dinner with him and his wife Susan in their spectacular brownstone just off Central Park West in mid-town Manhattan. My first reaction to the piece in photocopy form had been "Wow. A Tony Millionaire Cerebus." To that was now added "Wow. A Charles Burns Cerebus."

Hitler or Rembrandt: once a fanboy always a fanboy.

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