Monday, 17 December 2012

It's Okay Not To Like Dave Sim

Cerebus #219 (June 1997)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from 'Dave Sim Responds To The Fantagraphics Offer' at, 29 September 2012)
...I'm not sure what the point of all the political discussions we're having here is. Lurking behind the discussion seems to be the assumption (perhaps on Sim's part and that of his allies) that whoever publishes Cerebus should share Sim's politics. There is the further assumption that the best person to write an introduction to Cerebus is someone who is broadly simpatico not just with Sim's aesthetic aims but also his politics and very idiosyncratic worldview. But if we think about it, there is no necessity for politics and publishing to be in alignment in this way. Chris Oliveros [Drawn & Quartely publisher] is far from being a libertarian, but that doesn't prevent him from doing an excellent job keeping Chester Brown in print. Fantagraphics publishes cartoonists with a diversity of political points of view: Carl Barks was classical conservative and Peter Bagge is a libertarian, as is (if I remember rightly) Rick Altergott. I actually don't know the politics of most Fanta cartoonists (or most cartoonists in general). In literature, James Laughlin during his distinguished tenure at New Directions published many writers of the right (Ezra Pound, Celine, Mishima, Kenner) but also many liberals and radicals (George Oppen, W.C. Williams, Guy Davenport). Aside from his first two books, William F. Buckley almost always worked with liberal editors and publishers. As a Hemingway expert, Sim is probably aware that Maxwell Perkins didn't necessarily agree with the politics of his authors (who in any case had divergent politics).

For that matter critics and other readers don't have to be in sympathy with a writer's politics to enjoy it, especially if we are talking about a work of imaginative literature. Simply as a matter of fact, a critic or historian or analyst can be fair to an artist despite ideological disagreement. Hugh Kenner was a conservative Catholic in the National Review mould, but he was wonderfully appreciative of Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen, left-liberal Jews with a strong Marxist past. The socialist Irving Howe was equally insightful, and even good-naturedly affectionate, when writing about Kipling. And Fredric Jameson's Marxism hasn't prevented him from being a persuasive advocate on behalf of Wyndham Lewis, who can fairly be described as a fascist fellow traveler. Back when he was a radical, Christopher Hitchens wrote very good appreciations of several right-wing authors (Anthony Powell, Waugh, etc). Speaking for myself, I'll say that I have a very high regard for all sorts of writers and cartoonists whose politics I don't share: Harold Gray, for one, also Ditko, Barks, Bagge, and Chester Gould. Not to mention T.S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, and countless others).

All of the authors mentioned above are writers who have politics that are far more repugnant to most people than Sim's (here is Larkin's political manifest: "Prison for strikers / Bring back the cat, / Kick out the n*****s – / How about that?"). Yet they remain in print and have an audience (as do on the opposite end of the spectrum communist writers like Neruda and Sartre). So I suspect that if Cerebus doesn't have the audience Dave Sim would like, it's not primarily because of politics. It may very well be because of format and accessibility. The types of people who would like an epic world-building graphic novel aren't going to like the format Sim is offering it in (and may very well not want to step into a comic book store). So the best move forward for Sim is to negotiate with a publisher like Fantagraphics (or someone comparable) who can bring Cerebus out in a more accessible & popular format.

Jeet Heer is a Toronto based journalist who focuses on arts and culture. He is co-editor, with Kent Worcester, of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters On A Popular Medium (University of Mississippi Press). With Chris Ware and Chris Oliveros, he is editing a series of volumes reprinting Frank King’s Gasoline Alley (Drawn and Quarterly), and he has written introductory essays to George Herriman’s Krazy & Ignatz (Fantagraphics).


Anonymous said...

Paragraph one is full of assumptions and straw men. The rest is fine. You can like Dave Sim's work and not agree with him. I think much has been established and agreed upon.

David Birdsong

Charro said...

What I can't understand is why Dave Sim isn't allowing Fantagraphics to print the entire run, or at least a large portion of Cerebus. After following the correspondance, I couldn't understand, or believe his reasoning in regards to this NYT fetish he has. He must understand that this deal would bring Cerebus into thousands of public libraries just like Love and Rockets, in addition to the increased book store distribution and reviews. I know he at one point expressed concern of it's longevity, so why not do this? And if he's to be believed, why not take the film option money, if he's truly in need. Even if the film is produced, people will be able to seperate the two mediums, + even if it's bad it would still bring alot of publicity, hence become a bigger seller than it is now.

Max Southall/CerebusTV said...

There are other publishers. How 'bout that Doctor Who cover for IDW?

Charro said...

I agree, there are other publishers, of course, and Dave Sim is still doing excellent work. Very good to see his art getting out in the shops.