Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chester Brown: Back & Forth

The following extract is taken from an interview with graphic novelist Chester Brown (Ed The Happy Clown, Louis Riel, Paying For It) posted at in May 2011 in which Chester discusses the end of his friendship with Dave Sim. This is followed by a response from Dave Sim.


I wanted to ask about another cartoonist. I was reading your back-and-forth with Dave Sim in the Cerebus issues.

Chester Brown:
Oh my. [laughs]

And there was one part where you say that Cerebus 186 was an influence on your thinking about romantic relationships. Can you say to what extent, or how?

Let me see. Up until that point, I just kind of accepted [that] everyone’s supposed to have a girlfriend and that’s the natural order. If you don’t have a girlfriend, you’re a loser. That’s what men do, they either have girlfriends or they marry - well, as long as you’re heterosexual. So, reading Cerebus 186, even though I didn’t agree with all the misogynistic views - I didn’t agree that women are inferior, all that stuff - still, here was a guy who was looking at male-female relationships in a different way. It kind of showed me, you don’t have to think like everyone else thinks about these things. Part of it was that I respected Dave a whole lot, and I knew him, and I thought he was very intelligent. That issue of Cerebus was a bombshell in a lot of ways. Like a lot of people at the time, I wasn’t sure, “Is he kidding? Is this a joke? Is he serious?” But it got me re-evaluating the whole male-female dynamic, and thinking about it in a different way, even if my conclusions are different from Dave’s. At that point I was right in the middle of my boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with Sook-Yin. Up until that point, if Sook-Yin had broken up with me, I probably would have been totally depressed and despondent. But when Sook-Yin did break up with me - even though I didn’t want to break up with her, I was totally happy in that relationship - because that [Cerebus issue] changed my thinking about relationships, I think that’s one of the reasons why when she did break up with me, I was able to accept it without being emotionally upset about it. At one point, when I was originally starting to do this book, I was going to go through my whole sex life: losing my virginity, and my girlfriends, and everything. And of course I’m still good friends with two of those girlfriends, Kris and Sook-Yin. So I started to write this script and I thought, “I should probably get permission from them.” [laughs] So I asked them, “Can I do this book?” And neither of them wanted me to do the book. They were like, “Well, you can’t write about our relationship, definitely not.”

So did that take you aback for a little while?

Well, that meant I had to rethink the book. “Okay, I can’t do stuff about the girlfriends. It’ll have to just focus on the prostitution stuff.” But if I had done the book about my whole sex life, then all that stuff about reading Cerebus 186 and how that changed my thinking, all that would’ve been in that book. And I still could’ve put that in, to some degree, in [Paying for It]. I was considering, at a certain point, having Dave as a character in the book, in the way that Seth and Joe are, because Dave and I had lots of discussions about prostitution, and he was very disapproving.

He would want you to conserve your energy or something, right?

Well, he 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. So I was considering having us talk about all that kind of stuff. But at a certain point I decided not to put him in there, which turned out to be a good idea once our friendship fell through. Then I would have felt funny about getting his permission for depicting him in the book.

If you’re okay with it, we should clarify why your friendship fell through. I don’t know if it’s something you’re comfortable talking about, or…

Oh, I’m completely comfortable talking about it. Well, he believes, apparently, that he’s not a misogynist, and I think it’s pretty clear that he is one. That didn’t bother me - I’m totally willing to be his friend despite the fact that, you know, he’s a misogynist. But at a certain point in time he decided he was fed up with people considering him to be a misogynist, and that he didn’t want to deal with people who thought he was one, so he set up that petition on the internet. I think it reads, “Dave Sim is not a misogynist,” and if you agree with that then you sign that petition. So he sent me a fax asking if I could sign that, and I sent back a relatively long letter by fax - I think it was maybe a page and a half or so - where I explained why I wasn’t and how I hoped we could still be friends anyways, that it didn’t influence or affect my thinking, I still liked him as a person and respected his work as a creator and all that sort of stuff. And that upset him apparently. I think he would deny that he was upset by that. I mean, he claims that he very rarely feels emotion. But we had a fax exchange back and forth - I don’t know if you’ve read those. He sent them to someone and they were put up online, so it’s documented. So there was this fax exchange back and forth, and I realized this was getting us nowhere, and a friend - the cinematographer John Tran, another friend of Dave’s, who I know here in Toronto - we were talking on the phone. I was asking him if he was going to sign this petition, and he said he didn’t feel like he could sign it either. But we thought, rather than dealing with him on the phone, or sending faxes or whatever, it would be better if we just dealt with him in person. We were like, “Well, okay, let’s drive up to Kitchener and get together with him.” And it seemed pretty clear from the tone of his faxes that if we phoned ahead, he would just say, no, don’t come. So we decided we would just drive up to Kitchener and knock on his door, which we did. I had been so used to dealing with Dave - with the Dave that I knew, a friendly, affable guy - and that’s who I was expecting to deal with when he opened the door. And although he agreed to come out with us and have a coffee with us, he seemed very angry. I mean, like I said, he claims to not feel emotion, but he seemed angry. He wasn’t yelling or anything, but he had a scowl on his face. John was making small talk - he had a film that was opening around that time, Daddy Tran. So I think he was talking about the opening night of the film or something, and Dave just cut him short and was like, “John, that has nothing to do with me,” or “What does that have to do with me?” [Rogers laughs.] In a very angry tone. The whole conversation was kind of like that: confrontational, and angry on his side. He just wanted to deal with this issue - whether or not we considered him to be a misogynist. So it was unpleasant and basically confirmed that we were no longer friends.

So there’s been no contact since?

No. I was even wondering - because I send out these Christmas cards every year - should I send him a Christmas card? He sends out those form letters to people who try to write to him, and I think it says in there, “If you’re not willing to sign my petition, please don’t bother me with trying to get in contact further.” So I was like, “Okay, if he says that, I should respect his wishes.” With this book coming out, I do mention him in the afterword to the book - I was wondering, should I send him a copy of the book? I haven’t decided one way or the other on it. But, yeah, that’s where things stand with me and Dave.
(from a fax, 4 March 2013)
Chester leaves out the fact that he called me to invite me to help judge the Doug Wright Awards that year, at Seth and Brad McKay's behest. This happened right after I had gotten Margaret Liss, Cerebus Fangirl, to put the I don't Believe Dave Sim is a Misogynist petition together. I told him that I couldn't go to the ceremony because even though I don't think I'm a misogynist, you have to respect a 99% consensus in a democracy. I also said I would give a "bye" on signing the petition to whom ever would be the "civilian" -- i.e. non-comics judge -- that year. But, as comic-book people, I would need to have Seth and Brad and Chester all sign the petition. Chet said that he would check with them and called me back shortly thereafter and said the answer from all three was definitely no. Okay, no problem. But it did make me wonder, if you think I'm a misogynist why would you ask me to help judge a prestigious award like the Doug Wright Awards?

I wasn't angry when Chester and John Tran came to Kitchener, but I was VERY uncomfortable since I didn't want to invite two people into my home who think I'm a misogynist. Chet's quite right. If they had phoned, I would have said, "Don't come". Actually, because I don't answer the phone, I would have just deleted the message. No offence intended, I just misunderstood. I would never have had anything to do with either of you if I thought you believed I was a misogynist. Sincere apologies for the misunderstanding.

Also, I have never required anyone to ask my permission to use me or my work as a raw material in another creative work. It's on the indicia page of every trade paperback and has been for some years.

I would have offered my own recollection of Chet's and my conversation sooner if I had been made aware of the interview previous to this. Unfortunately in the political climate that dominates the comic-book field that doesn't happen. People just read what someone writes about me and don't ask for my version of the story. That's really sad, but it's just how the comic-book field is, I've discovered. I didn't know about the interview until I read the footnote in COMICS JOURNAL No. 302.


M Southall said...

Why might someone who doesn't believe Dave Sim a misogynist still not sign an online petition?

Being required to sign a petition to be granted leave to speak to someone can seem like an imposition, a way of establishing a one-sided dominance in the relationship, right from the beginning and thus many people will balk, because of the control issue, whatever they might think about perceived misogyny.

Famed Aartvark Brian Coppola once opined that it would be more accurate to have a petition that affirmed a belief in Dave's purported misogyny, because it would tell you definitively who held that belief, rather than the mistaken assumption that anyone who doesn't sign it - like about 7 billion people - believes Dave is.

Those who think otherwise could still compelling reasons for not signing without thinking he is a misogynist.

And conversely, there are those who have signed, yet who do actually believe he is, but found for personal or financial reasons they were still willing to do so.

Jim Sheridan said...

Sure. There could be an alternate petition that says that even if you do think Dave is a misogynist, you recognize that he is a great writer/artist. Plenty of folks are able to see T.S. Eliot's anti-Semitism while still praising his poetry.

Anonymous said...

Dave Sim has been outspoken I believe that he has mental health issues - I'm basing this on the collected interviews. My memory is that he said he is a schizophrenic (correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think I am). And, in my opinion whatever he asks should be viewed in that light; in other words, sure what the hell I would sign a petition if it makes him happy and keeps open the lines of communication. I have compassion for him and hope he finds peace, as he seems profoundly repressed.