Friday, 22 April 2016

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. Now, I have a foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so. I'll be running interesting excerpts from those letters each week.

This letter is dated 22 June, 2006, and has Dave addressing the tail end of his working relationship with Gerhard, when they were, essentially, only working on getting the Aardvark-Vanaheim, Inc., archives in order. I asked Dave what he and Ger do with my (and other people’s) letters, assuming that they were not found to be of any major or, for that matter, minor importance. Dave also spoke to his view, some time after the fact, of the 50th birthday party that I got some of the Yahoo Cerebus Chat Group regulars to stage for him at SPACE that year. We got him a couple of gifts and just, you know, held a birthday party. Matt Dow (IIRC) arranged for a sheet birthday cake with the image from the cover of the first issue of Cerebus made of frosting. And, then, he goes on to address my questions about his experiment (?) with having arranged to do public readings of the Bible, somewhere in Kitchener on a weekly basis. An experiment, IIRC, that he only gave up when he decided to start working on Judenhass (although, that was a secret project, so I didn’t know what it was for a couple more years). He ends with a comment about the short article in the Dallas Morning News tabloid, Quick, about Larry Hart’s and my comic magazine, CRIC #1, with which comment Dave takes me to task. Also, Dave briefly (or as briefly as he ever does) addresses his and Gerhard’s birthdays: You might want to take note of the dates and send out some birthday cards: I have been remiss in ever sending Ger a birthday card, despite him having been born on a date just slightly more than mine, if you believe the adoption agency. I send a card to Dave every year. He deserves it.

Dear Jeff:

Thanks for your letter of June 11.

Actually, what I leave out for Gerhard is the letters with copies of my replies that he then puts into the Archive boxes in chronological order, once he’s done reading them. I’m surprised to find out that he reads most of them. I had assumed that he just skims them and reads anything that catches his eye--maybe one out of ten, or so. [Ed: I am not that surprised by that. This was Gerhard playing out his string at A-V, Inc., trying to find things to do and this is Gerhard! Always THE nicest guy in the room, no matter where you are. It doesn’t surprise me that it would extend to his actually reading the letters of comment, even after the end of Cerebus.]

Yes, Bryan [Ed: The guy who was going to do a documentary about Cerebus and Cerebus fans, but who only got so far with that.] assures me that he has all of the footage that he needs to finish the film at this point. I’m just waiting to hear back from him. [Ed: To his credit, Bryan (so Dave said at the time) told Dave that he was impressed with how intelligent Cerebus fans seemed to be; not a big surprise to most readers here, eh? And, not to make excuses but, IIRC, Bryan worked for a Columbus, Ohio, TV station and, thus (presumably), was a very busy person as a video journalist, probably on call all of the time. Just sayin’.]

Yes. The birthday party. [Ed: Insert here a HUGE sigh.] I’m afraid, like most things in my life where I have to deal with the world as constituted, that was largely play-acting. I’m glad I did a convincing job. You had told me in a letter, or on the phone, that you wanted to propose a toast and if that was all right and I said, yes, that was fine. So, I was waiting for you to propose a toast all the way through dinner [Ed: At The Sausage Haus, a restaurant in GermanTown in Columbus, Ohio, where were there for SPACE.] and then everyone started talking about going back to the hotel, so I thought, okay, he’s going to propose the toast there. At that point, I was having to decide what I would do if alcohol was involved. What I pictured was that you would have bought champagne or something and I would be put in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation of either having to drink alcohol (Hey! How about that! Dave’s a hypocrite! Hey, look at this, everyone, Dave’s a hypocrite!) or reject drinking alcohol (Gee, Dave, that’s not very polite. Everyone chipped in to buy you some champagne. Why can’t you drink some of it?) and having to decide whether to do that before your toast or after--neither of which were very palatable options. As it got closer to midnight, the Sabbath Cut-Off became more the issue (Hey! How about that! Dave’s a hypocrite. It’s after midnight and he’s still partying. Hey, look at this everyone--Dave’s a hypocrite! Vs. Gee, Dave, everyone went to a lot of trouble to give you a birthday party here--you aren’t just going to gather up your presents and leave, are you? That’s not very polite.) and was obviously uppermost in my mind. After that, there was the size of the presents ...

[Ed: We all chipped in for an art portfolio bag {carrier? I dunno what it’s called} and I threw in a box set of books about the US White House because I knew how much Dave likes the White House {bigger than The Off-White House, which is located in Kitchener, Ontario}. Everyone chipped in on the book set, too. Looking back, I can see how that may have made Dave a bit nervous about how he was going to get it all home. But, to our defense, Dave’s previous artwork portfolio carrier {or whatever you call it} had holes in the bottom. When we presented Dave with the new carrier, he quipped, “But, with this old one, I can just reach through the holes in the bottom and get out my pens…”]

and how I was going to get them home again (and where I was going to put them in the severely limited living space that I have). And, of course, that compounds itself. I am having absolutely no positive response to this. I fight tooth and nail to keep my weight down and in this situation I have to eat a piece of cake that is 100% sugar and act happy about it, having already allowed myself a dessert at the restaurant. I have to accept gifts and act happy about it. I have to sit there and think of something to say with everyone staring at me and, of course, urgently wanting me to be happy. If I don’t act happy, I’ve spoiled everyone’s good time and I’m ungrateful and I’m inhuman, etc. And the longer everyone is staring at me the less luck I am having with coming up with something to say, since my basic view is that I work and I get done what it is that I think I’m supposed to get done and this doesn’t seem to fall into that category; I mean, At. All. I’m quite comfortable being Dave Sim, the creator of Cerebus. I’ll do sketches. I’ll autograph whatever you want autographed, I will answer questions--it’s all part of the job description. But I have absolutely no aptitude for having fun, particularly since the more that I pretend to have fun in order to fit the societal norm expected in those situations, the more that will be used to undermine my position. Dave may be an evil misogynist and a lunatic but, boy, you should have seen the fun he was having at the birthday party we gave him. [Ed: For what it’s worth, Dave turns 60 on 17 May of this year. Anyone want to repeat this debacle?]

No, there was absolutely no danger of my thinking that Gerhard was behind this [birthday party]. He and I have settled into a very comfortable split between business and personal concerns. I would assume that what he was thinking was, “Well, it’s extremely unlikely that this will go well but, what the heck, there will be beer there and I might as well drink beer at a party for Dave as in the bar. It’s all pretty much the same thing.” [Ed: If I recall correctly, Ger and one original Cerebite {not Dave} went out back and got small together, if you get the reference.] We used to make a point of going out for a drink with each other on or around our birthdays, but I think we both realized that that was playacting. I sincerely wish him a Happy Birthday when I’m not going to see him on April 14 or a Happy Birthday on April 14, if it turns out to be an office day for him, and I assume that he sincerely wishes me a Happy Birthday if he isn’t going to see me on May 17, or a Happy Birthday on May 17 if that turns out to be an office day. If he has something of a personal nature to tell me, he tells me and, if I have something of a personal nature to tell him, I tell him as concisely in both cases as we can on an office day. We share meals if we are in a business context at a convention and we are both expected to be there, but we usually don’t sit together. The fact that planet Earth is in the same place that it was the day we were born doesn’t (at least, in my case) seem to merit anything apart from “Happy Birthday, by the way.”

You’re quite welcome for my letting you trade on my good name at the show [Ed: SPACE]. Thank you for be willing to associate with Dave Sim and Cerebus publicly.

To be honest, Jeff, I really don’t remember what it is you’re talking about. If it makes you happy that you’re right, then that’s the important thing.

[ED: Okay. This one gets complicated: Back in Volume 16 of Cerebus, Dave and Gerhard drew a stairway that led to nowhere, next to a statue of {I think} Rick. Partway up the stairs that went to nowhere, there was wallpaper in the background. I asked Dave about the wallpaper, which looked very much like the huge tower of “demon heads and skuwws” {as Prince Mick put it}, and Dave said he had no idea what I was talking about. Then, at SPACE that year, I asked Ger. It took a bit of reminding him but, finally, Ger said, “Oh, yeah, I just thought I’d throw them in and see if Dave would notice.” My reaction set the room off a bit (Dave had already departed), as I wooped and hollered, “I was right!” So, I wrote that to Dave, and the second paragraph above was his response to my asserting my right to say, “I was right!” It’s been an interesting relationship, between Dave and Me, to say the least.]

Depending on how you count, there were either 11 or 5 people at the “No Preaching” Bible reading, two of whom left after about forty minutes and three of whom had driven from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m., from Montreal, to be there. The acoustics [of the auditorium] are good, the lighting was good, the price was right, and it’s the next thing on my list of things that it seems that I’m supposed to do, because I kept thinking about it. That can either mean that God wants me to do it or the adversary wants me to do it, or that it’s just my own half-baked idea. David W. J. sent a money order for $300 for me to do with as I saw fit, relative to the readings, so, in the spirit of attempting to go with God the extra mile when I’ve walked a mile on His path, I decided not to see the $300 as a way to pay the theatre rental at no cost to me and call it a loss if the first four didn’t work, but instead to absorb the cost of the first four, as I had planned, and to give the $300 to Food Bank AND use another $300 of my own money to do another four readings. This could be completely delusional and I would say it’s about 95% certain that, of the seven remaining readings in that scenario, I would be sitting in an empty theatre, basically reading to myself. But, that’s the nature of the deal when you deal with God, as far as I can see. To whatever extent it’s humiliating for me to sit there reading to myself and a bunch of empty chairs and a waste of money that I could have given to the Food Bank, I think it also constitutes “reading into the record”. This was the reaction of the People’s Republic of Kitchener to someone reading Scripture aloud and basically meeting them--everyone who disagrees with my theories, atheists and secularists--halfway by not preaching. A lot of times that’s the only way to communicate to your opposition what they are actually like, as opposed to how they like to see themselves. This is the foundational text for the English-speaking people’s civilization in which you live and from which you derive uncountable benefits. Why do you think this is worth three hours of your time on a Sunday afternoon and what do you think is more worthwhile than this? What did you do instead? Whatever their answer to that is, hypothetical, implied, or inferred, I think it’s worth my making what is a great deal of effort so that the answer has to be addressed somewhere in the spiritual hierarchy which surrounds us and which affects our actions. And, if the answer is an empty theatre for seven of the eight readings, then I can go back to observing the Sabbath the way I used to and not have this voice in the back of my head saying, “You should do this publicly.”. I did this publicly. I did this publicly eight times and no one showed up, so my conclusion is that this is not the voice of God, this is the voice of a troublemaker. Well, troublemaker, what does the reaction to my doing this tell you about a) yourself, b) the city you control and c) the inhabitants of that city that you control? And how much trouble does that answer make for you?

Thanks for the clippings, Jeff. I did appreciate the clipping about the Marine barracks for the wounded and recuperating guys. Boy, is that sensible and, boy, is it easy to see why it would take this long to come up with it. Sending the unmarried guys home to their parents or a relative. What on Earth could you even imagine they would have to say to each other? And, yet, that’s the knee-jerk response, always. Family. Shared bloodline; so you can’t go wrong. The father who went to Washington to protest the war and the son was sent home to live with him. Talk about the seventh circle of hell for a wounded Marine. Claude Flowers has pointed out that the military of all the Coalition of the Willing countries are on the same page, which I don’t doubt for a minute. It would be addictive, I think, having sensible people to talk to about the War on Terror. What a culture shock [it would be] to go back home and find out what the civilians are talking about.

Thanks, as well, for the Dallas Morning New Quick article. Yes, he did call and, at one point, he said that you had said that my doing artwork like this for a reader’s publication [Ed: for CRIC #1; my bad] is “pretty well unprecedented” [Ed: Again, my bad.] and I’m afraid I just couldn’t bluff my way through. “No, I usually try to do artwork for a reader’s fanzine or whatever he’s doing, if he wants me to do it.” And then, he asked how often I’ve done it and, of course, I came up blank. “I do it when the letter there and they want me to do something and, as soon as it’s done, it’s something that’s done.” I’m sorry I couldn’t make it sound more earth-shattering, but I try to be honest about these things. I thought the article came out okay, though.




Travis Pelkie said...

We Cerebus fans may be intelligent, but this one is juvenile as well. I laughed heartily at the idea of the Cerebus get together dinner being held at the Sausage Haus. Heh heh heh!

"To be honest, Jeff, I really don’t remember what it is you’re talking about. If it makes you happy that you’re right, then that’s the important thing."

Sounds like Dave's got you pegged, Jeff ;)

Interesting about the Bible reading. I kind of remember Dave mentioning this on the Blog and Mail, I think. Anyone know what translation Dave was reading, though? I think Dave reading the King James Bible would be pretty good, but if he was reading the ... transliteration, I think it was called, that he read around Christmas...yeah, I think that's straining people's patience with the Yoda-like quality of the bare bones translation.

Of course, me thinking that probably just means I'm going to hell....

Thanks as usual for sharing, Jeff.

Culpa Direct said...

Correct me if I'm wrong but I think for those Torah readings Dave used the original King James translation, which uses the Tetragrammaton and the old-style spellings but does not have the later embellishments. The Greek Interlinear translation of the New Testament seems to be his preference for the Gospels.

Dave Sim said...

Travis and Culpa - Yes, for the Gospels and Paul's Commentaries (only when someone specifically wants my opinion on them) I think the Interlinear is as close as you can get to the original sense which, I find, is usually at variance with the KJV. Sometimes at considerable variance.

The KJV doesn't use the Tetragrammaton PER SE -- YHWH is translated as LORD, YHWH God as LORD God
-- but it is, at least, translated as LORD and not Lord which seems to be a popular post-1611 erosion.

Jeff Seiler said...

You're very welcome, Travis, and everybody. I think this is one of the best letters from my foot-high stack of correspondence.

Jeff Seiler said...



Please tell the angry guy...

[Does his best Bishop Posey cringing impersonation...]



Cringing some more and limping away...


Proofreader Prof

Jeff Seiler said...

Oh, and...


Gonna send you another one of those sing-y cards again this year, for your birfday.


"It's A Small World After All!"

You're welcome!