Saturday, 9 July 2016

Aardvark Comment: Is The Petition Helping?

Back in 2008 Dave Sim started the "I don't believe Dave Sim is a misogynist" petition and began issuing the form-letter below to any correspondence he received. However, in a recent weekly update Dave Sim stated:
"Six years with the petition, six hundred signatures on it, no signature from any major creator still working in the comic book field, except for Kevin Eastman, Steve Bissette, Troy Little and a handful of other people. Picture virtually any big name in the comic book field and their name is not on the petition."
Even among Dave's supporters the petition isn't a straight forward proposition, as Iestyn recently commented on AMOC:
"I won't sign the petition even though I believe Dave is not a misogynist because I believe the thing to be a straw man argument in the first place. I believe that maintaining it, reinforces the very thing it supposedly exists to deny."
To detractors, the petition is just further evidence of Dave Sim's erratic behaviour, and as comics-writer Ed Brubaker mentioned this back in 2012 on that tortuous 'Sim/Fantagraphics Negotiations' thread at
"I’ve been in comics about 20 years, and I didn’t even know Dave Sim had a petition he was demanding people sign. So I don’t see how the number of signatures he’s gathered is an indication of anything."

A recent exchange on the Cerebus Facebook Group highlighted the problems with how the petition is perceived:

...if Dave IS going to give you even more of his time for free, all he asks is that you state publicly that you don't think he's scum. Considering how many people do think he's scum (and take a look at Twitter anytime if you doubt it), that doesn't seem too much to ask...

...If there's a "problem," I think it's the petition, and Dave's insistence upon it. No one who would agree with Dave will sign the petition because it's a stupid idea, and few people who might agree with Dave will even be inclined to inquire whether or not he's a misogynist, because who wants to deal with someone who makes you sign a petition before he'll deal with you? I was one of the first people to sign the petition because he's not a misogynist, duh. But all that gets me is a ticket into Dave's world. All insisting on the petition does is deny Dave a ticket into anybody else's world, which he's going to need if his work will remain viable in the short-term.

The short-term is an important point. It's how Dave gets paid, and Ger, and everyone else. Does no good to focus on the long-term if everybody starves to death before we get there. I freely admit that I don't have a good answer to how Dave can get through this, and I don't pretend that any of my advice would work, and not leave him in a horrible ghostly form swearing revenge upon me in the classic superhero mode. And I can't even say 'get rid of the petition' because it's worked for him the same way everything else has. I think it's a bad idea, but it's his bad idea and doesn't harm anyone else. [Which actually places it higher than a lot of other bad ideas in history.]

The world that exiled him is not remotely the world which exists now. I don't know if that helps, but I do think he's hurting himself with the petition.

SA: I appreciate your comments. I think I know what you're saying. But honestly, as far as the petition goes, I don't think it makes much of a difference. Sign the petition: Okay, thanks! Don't sign the petition: Okay, no hard feelings! And that's pretty much about it. It's not like if Dave got rid of the petition there would all of a sudden be this massive influx of interest, acclaim and money coming his way. I honestly don't know if anybody would even notice. So I think it's just a real-world way of not doing free work for people trying to slander him, as many have done and are doing...

...I certainly don't see a massive explosion in attention and acclaim for Dave Sim happening anytime soon, as much as I think he deserves it. More like slow and steady wins the race, continue to build a group of dedicated fans who are the hardcores who support the art and the artist and are the ones who keep the work alive for the next generation. That's just the way I see these sorts of things playing out in general. If you want to be romantic about it, just remember Oscar Wilde died in complete disgrace, in debt, and in exile; William Blake had about 4 people at his funeral; nobody cared who Edgar Allan Poe was; Van Gogh lived a life of poverty and then shot himself, and it took about 200 years of obscurity before Vermeer was recognized as one of history's greatest painters. But everyone loves them now. So there's always that.

CW: "Slow and steady wins the race" is a good way to put it, and it's exactly where Dave has proven himself. And you're right, there would not be an influx of interest if he ditched the petition. And I can understand why he thought the petition was a good idea. He worked himself up from a fanboy in the 1970s writing articles and doing interviews into the legendary comics creator that he is. And if he is exiled from the world that he helped build, he has every right to demand that anyone he deals with sign a petition before he wastes a single second on them.

I just don't see him making any progress, even among the people who are most receptive to his work, if he insists on a decades-old petition being signed before he'll even consider responding. It's a needless impediment, and we're in an internet world. Needless impediments are the first things to make you go 'screw this.' Not the best way to approach people who could be receptive towards your work.

SA: I appreciate the input. I certainly don't speak for Dave (he does that for himself, if you've noticed!) but I would say.... it's a needed impediment. Believe me, I don't think Dave takes these things lightly at all and has fully considered how it would affect his career, etc. But, again (this is me) I think that after 20 years of slander he decided to do something about it. Anyway, it's really not THAT much of an impediment, is it?

CW: Look at it from the perspective of somebody [anybody] who thinks this Dave Sim guy might be saying things worth paying attention to, but any attempts to investigate [i.e. Google] lead to him whining about how the world considers him a misogynist, without any context, or how we need to sign a petition before having any further contact. I agree that Dave doesn't consider this lightly, I agree that he's made the best possible decisions for his career, and since those decisions are how he made "Cerebus" possible, I can't in good conscience tell him he's wrong, but yes, for any potential "Cerebus" reader [or Dave Sim fan] the petition is a needless impediment.

Dave himself often points out to people who've made their own comics past issue #50 that they didn't become "Cerebus" fans until they read "Cerebus" #150 [made-up example by the way, but there are plenty of real examples] and asking where they would be if he'd given up during those hundred issues before they discovered his work. That's where I think the petition is self-defeating, that it gives potential fans a reason to give up. We're in an internet world where #186 and "Tangent" are easily-Googled, but why should I give this guy the slightest effort when he's always whining about how Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman won't sign his petition? Why is that guy who did the "Stardust" movie so important anyway? Oh, I have to sign a petition before he'll tell me. Oh well, thanks for the advice on women. Didn't cost me a penny.

SA: Even if Dave was lauded by every publication on the planet and never wrote 186 and was a feminist, you're still talking about a 6,000 page comic book about an aardvark. The work itself is an impediment to the work. Dave made it pretty clear years ago that this is about him doing his work on his terms. If anyone else finds that too constrictive, well, okay. I think what you see as needless impediments, are simply part of the story. These people overcame those obstacles. Those people didn't. I don't think that there is an endgame where Dave just does X, Y and Z and all of a sudden he's popular. Plus, playing the game of doing things just to get an audience never works. Instead, the game Dave is playing, I think, is my work, my way. Want to come along for the ride? Great, hope you have a good time. Don't want to come along for the ride? No hard feelings, hope you find what you're looking for. My work, my way. Nothing beats that. Not even the cover of the New Yorker.

CW: But it works both ways. Yes the sheer scale of the work is itself an impediment. So why add another impediment? Particularly one which makes the work itself far too easy to dismiss as some guy who sat at home and wrote a 6000-page manifesto, but won't talk to anyone about it unless they've signed his petition. Let's face it, that is not a completely inaccurate description of "Cerebus" and how it was created. It's not fair nor entirely honest, but it's not completely inaccurate either.

Popularity is a capricious thing and I certainly wouldn't bet any money on Dave becoming popular, but he also wants an audience. He wants people to pay money for his work, and we all want that for him as well. Front-loading the reader's investment in this 6000-page work with a petition on some website somewhere, or even just creating the perception that this petition is anywhere near as important to him as the work, is needlessly detrimental to the work finding an audience, in my opinion. It's simply not as important to the reader or potential audience.

I don't think this would mean contravening any of Dave's moral positions, which he's worked very hard to achieve and maintain. I would advise him to drop the petition as a battle that's been lost, but only because the larger points he's made all along are a battle that can be won, but not by focusing on the petition. And I freely admit I have no idea where he could turn his limited time and energy towards, whether he takes my advice or not...


Jimmy Gownley said...

"The work itself is an impediment to the work."
Put that on the back of "unlikely the hardcover."

James said...

The whole petition is just a lost cause at this point anyway since these days people take "misogyny" to mean "anything that doesn't support the idea that women should be totally the same as men in every way except the ways they don't want to be the same". The actual meaning, "hatred of women", is becoming more lost by the day. I've seen people call R Crumb a misogynist, how can a happily married man hate women?

Even if Dave were to abolish the petition, he still probably couldn't respond to correspondence with any regularity due to his one-handed typing, but it would demonstrate a willingness to at least listen to people who disagree with him. I'm sure that the word "misogynist" sticks in Dave's craw, he seems to find it supremely offensive, but people use it as a synonym for sexist these days or (if you're talking to some really irritating people) even just "you disagreed with a woman, therefore you are a misogynist." Yeah its obnoxious, but Dave shouldn't hide behind a petition from the idiots who use the word to quash any disagreement.

I haven't signed the petition because as far as I'm concerned Dave is the only one who can know if he hates women. Some of the things he's said could certainly have come from the mouth of a misogynist but I don't think those statements MAKE him one. Do I believe Dave Sim is a misogynist? No, if he says he isn't one, I believe him. Do I feel the slightest urge to sign what is essentially a loyalty pledge? No, if he wants to throw walls between himself and the rest of the world to ostracize himself even more than the feminism brigade already have, he can, but he should at least recognize that's what he's doing. He's not "bowing to the desires of society" as he's fond of saying, he's hiding. If he really finds being called a misogynist THAT unbearable, then I guess hiding is a perfectly reasonable reaction, but its not going to help convince anyone that he's not a crackpot.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

A few of the usual lies and distortions in this piece. Sandeep, as usual, makes a mendacious argument of false equivalency (and will he ever get around to replying, as he said he would, to Barry Deutsch's thorough evisceration of his position ( Christopher repeats (twice!) the zombie lie that the world "exiled" Dave, but Dave was never "exiled" from comics; he left. He was still receiving offers of work and invitations to conventions. Being a quitter is not the same as being a pariah, however bad it makes Dave feel.

The petition is not helping because it is a ridiculous demand, and Dave makes himself ridiculous by insisting on it. Look at the accounts of people who know nothing of comics: when they are informed of the petition, they laugh out loud.

Sheesh ...

Of course, having said all that, it is Dave's life and Dave's career. He is entitled to run it any way he wants.

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Oops, I missed one! Dave whines, "Nobody defended me." Actually, everybody defended him. All critiques -- at the time, and to this day -- said some variation of, "It's his comic, and he has the right to say anything he wants." What chaps Dave's hide is that everybody didn't agree with him. How dare they, when he is so obviously correct? The only possible explanation is a deliberate conspiracy by his "enemies".

-- Damian

Jim Sheridan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Sheridan said...

I don't see any way that the petition, the self exile, or the "woe is me" pieces have ever HELPED Dave.

What does seem to have helped over the past few years is Dave's gradual embrace of the Internet.

Barry Deutsch said...

CW: Look at it from the perspective of somebody [anybody] who thinks this Dave Sim guy might be saying things worth paying attention to, but any attempts to investigate [i.e. Google] lead to him whining about how the world considers him a misogynist, without any context, or how we need to sign a petition before having any further contact.

Looking at the front page of google results, I'd say that the top links are mostly helpful or pro-Cerebus. And none of them are about the petition.

I doubt the petition makes a significant difference either way. The vast, vast majority of books I read, I never attempt to contact the creator, and I think that's true for most readers.

I think Cerebus' biggest commercial problem is that Dave went from doing work that's entertaining to more people, to work that are entertaining to fewer people. (Relatively few comics readers are entertained by a detailed prose analysis of the Old Testament, for example.)

And that's fine. As Sandeep says, Dave did the work the way Dave wanted it done. I wouldn't have wanted Dave to do it any other way.

Alan Moore's Promethia will never be as popular as his earlier books like Watchmen. That doesn't mean Promethia isn't an excellent comic, or that Moore was wrong to write it; it means that a detailed analysis of Moore's mythological belief system isn't entertaining to that many readers.

The problem is that it's easy to introduce Watchmen to readers who wouldn't be interested in Promethia, because they are separate works. You can't say the same thing about High Society and Latter Days.

So yes, Cerebus has commercial problems. But I doubt the petition is a significant part of that.

P.S. Damian, thanks for linking to my response to Sandeep. And although I'd welcome a reply from Sandeep, I also think it's fine if he doesn't want to reply, or has better things to do with his time.

Erick said...

A Question
To Dave or his surrogates: What is the purpose behind publicly stating your views on Women and society?

Anonymous said...

I always thought having an aardvark to illustrate philosophical points served as a strength: Had it been a human, the character's race/appearance might have influenced readers' opinions of the character.

It's like good science fiction: Take a contemporary concept or moral issue, project it into a new setting, era, or group, and explore the idea fully. That's why The X-Men's mutations as a proxy for racism, for example, yielded interesting storylines.

An aardvark is a blank slate of sorts. Cerebus does not bring the same representational baggage as a human.

I've always wondered if the Cerebus we see in the illustrations is/was the same Cerebus seen by the book's characters. I half suspect he appears differently to them.

--Claude Flowers

Anonymous said...

At the top of page 79 in the Latter Days phone book, there is a painting in the Sanctuary that features human feet with only three toes per foot. Pretty sure these are meant to be Cerebus' feet. Which indicates that either 1)people see Cerebus as human Or 2) that the painter assumed Rick's description of Cerebus was describing a human.

I believe there are other references in the series of Cerebus appearing human to the other characters, but I can't recall those off the top of my head.

-Benjamin Hobbs

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Barry: Your essay is pretty much the definitive answer to the question "Is Dave Sim a misogynist?" Sandeep is, of course, free to do with his time as he wishes and doesn't have to speak on demand; I called him out because I see this as yet another example of him abandoning an argument and running away when he's losing.

Erick: Dave's stated purpose is "reading into the record". He seems to think that there exists some kind of record, like Hansard or something, that society consults as it goes along, and that his words, though ignored now, will be acclaimed after his death. He may be right; some artists have been discovered after their death. Many more artists died in obscurity and remain obscure. We can assemble evidence and construct arguments as which is the more likely fate for Cerebus, but we won't know until the future is over, will we?

Claude and Benjamin: Interesting question! It seems clear to me that, at the beginning of the book, Cerebus was an actual anthropomorphic animal in a world of humans, and that that changed over time to Cerebus's looks depending on the observer. One of the early chapters of "Church and State" featured two political flacks discussing Cerebus as "deformed", and his father seemed to see him as a short, ugly boy with big ears. That's just off the top of my head; anyone got any other examples?

-- Damian

Dave Sim said...

Well, I'm trying not to invert the situation, but I think I'm safe in saying that my opinion is the inverse of the Feminist Theocracy's opinion: the only three reasons for being a feminist is a) you're crazy b) you're evil or c) you're crazy and evil. I try to believe that those three options are INADVERTENT on the part of feminists -- they mean well -- But I do think that 86% of women being out in the workforce is unsustainable.

"Be fruitful and multiply" doesn't appear to me to be a negotiable position on God's part. Nor is "subdue the earth". Could be wrong about both of those. And I'll be long dead when the issue is settled definitively.

The people that I talk to -- who have signed the petition now more than 1,000 -- seem to be of the view that -- Damian Lloyds and Ericks and Barry Deutschs aside -- most of the people deciding not to sign are just gutless. Afraid of what the Feminist Theocracy might do to them if they back self-evident
reality: A person who is not a feminist is not, by definition, a misogynist. I'm not sure if that's true -- I don't think it's true of genuine DL & E & BD Feminist ideologues -- but I definitely hear that a lot.

And I can't fault them for that: employers are making it clear that they consider the Internet "open season" for determining suitability for employment. And given that 93% of HRDs are women...

...well 2+2=4, I think.

Dave Sim said...

I also think there's a "thin blue line" quality at work.

We are not going to want to live in a world where not being a feminist de facto makes you a misogynist.

I'm one of the few guys who isn't easy prey for female HRD's, so I think it's a big part of my job description to "hold the line" on behalf of the guys who can't because of Feminist Theocracy absolutism in the workplace.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Oh dear, Dave; oh dear. As Will Rogers said, "It ain't what we don't know that's the trouble; it's what we do know that ain't so." Whenever Dave says, "it's self-evident that" (or his more recent "2 + 2 = 4"), prepare for a statement is logically unsupported, factually incorrect, incredibly naive, or mind-stunningly stupid. Dave is not a stupid individual; he just doesn't know how to think. Mix that with paranoia and a persecution complex, and you can write your own "Tangent"-creating robot.

Dave being an anti-feminist is not why people think he's a misogynist. Saying misogynist things is why people think he's a misogynist. Saying, "Women are best suited as home-makers and child-rearers," is an anti-feminist position. Saying, "Women are the same as animals, are intrinsically inferior to and the property of men, and should be beaten if they disagree with you," is a misogynist position. That Dave can't see a difference demonstrates the poor quality of his mind. Barry Deutsch's essay on the subject seems to be the final, best word:

Dave said in the July 12 post here, "It seems self-evident to me that if two people have widely differing views, then what is being discussed is not fact but opinion." Obviously then, Dave agrees that whether he is a misogynist or not is a matter of opinion.

-- Damian

Barry Deutsch said...

Probably this has come up a bunch and my mind is being slow. But could someone tell me what "HRDs" stands for? Thanks.

Dave, regarding 86% - this may be a case where I have more trust in the free market than you do. If it's unsustainable to be at 86%, then we either won't reach 86%, or if we reach it then it won't be sustained. There will also be a substantial number of women (and men, too, actually) who find it incredibly important to have and raise a family, and who are willing to pay for that in some way (usually with lower earnings for a while).

I just don't see any evidence to support the premise that, in a free market system, an unsustainable number of people who'd prefer not to work outside the home, will work outside the home. The opposite worry - that with increasing automation and globalization, there simply won't be enough jobs for people who want to work - is more plausible.

(I still don't think it's a likely outcome. But it's more plausible.)

Finally, if you start a petition simply stating that "A person who is not a feminist is not, by definition, a misogynist," I will happily sign it.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Barry: I believe Dave means "Human Resources Department". I am not sure of its relevance.

-- Damian

Barry Deutsch said...

Thanks, Damian.

It occurs to me that there are two ways of reading "A person who is not a feminist is not, by definition, a misogynist."

One is that we cannot conclude a person is a misogynist merely because they're not a feminist. That, I agree with, and would sign.

The other way of reading it is that by definition, if someone is not a feminist, they also cannot be a misogynist. That one I don't agree with and wouldn't sign; but I don't think that's how Dave meant it.

Jeff Seiler said...

Actually, Damian and Barry, the acronym HRD stands for Human Resources Director, a single position of (in many,if not most, cases) unusual power over workers. And, a position that is noticeably overrepresented by females. I'm not sure (and too lazy to research it) if 93% of all HRDs are female, but I'd say the percentage is waaaay up there. As an aside, I once worked at a clinic where the female that held the position had chosen (or was given) the title of Human Resources *Officer*. Scary. And, yeah, she was scary.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Ah! Thanks for the correction, Jeff.

-- Damian

Tony Dunlop said...

A word on "Human Resources" that most people already know, but that hasn't been stated explicitly here (yes, it's late enough that very few people will see this, but I don't have time to post more than a quick sentence or two during the work-week):

"Human Resources" offices are nothing new to large-ish employers, it's just that until about 20-30 years ago, they were called "personnel" offices. To me there's something vaguely Orwellian about the new nomenclature, but I can't quite put my finger on it. I've always said that "human resources" sounds like an organ bank. Anyway - these offices, until recently, did very mundane but necessary things - keep track of applicants' application forms and/or resumes; keep track of employees' vacation time and sick leave time; in some cases (e.g. my own employer), keep track of employees' health insurance plans (not an issue in Canada, obviously); et cetera. A perfectly noble, if slightly dull, profession.

Nowadays there is an added layer. Bias laws; "hostile workplace" litigation; equal opportuniy/affirmative action mandates (whether from the civil authorities or from corporate headquarters). It is beacuse of these things that there isn't really a "free market" in employment. In fact I'd argue that such a "free market" isn't possible, although I'm open to other views on the matter. It all depends on whose "freedom" one is focused on.

Anti-bias laws restrict the freedom of employers to hire or fire whom they want, when they want, for whatever reason they want. Yet that lack of these laws restricts the freedom of individuals to compete for jobs on their own mertis, for if an employer can refuse to hire them, or restrict them only to certain specific jobs, or freely fire them, simply for being black, or gay, or female, or Muslim, or what have you - then the jobs marketplace is not free from the point of view of the job-seeker/employee.

This is the morass the modern "human resource" department has to navigate. I do not envy them.

(Please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors; it's a blog comment so I can't be bothered to carefully proofread.)

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

This is a test comment. I have received three times now an automatic email containing a comment by Tony Dunlop, but in the three hours since the most recent email his comment has not appeared on this blog. Is there a technical problem?

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Huh. Now I see my comment, but not Tony's. His was under the 4,096-character word-limit, so that can't be it.

-- Damian

Tony one more time said...

Boy, is that weird. Above is my original post, which was not appearing after multiple "reloads" of the site. So I rewrote it, posted again ("cutting" it this time in case it still wasn't showing up) and sure enough, it didn't show; so I "pasted" the second comment, and this time it *did* show up. Only the post above *isn't* the one that finally showed up!

Is "Blogger" going buggy? Or is Mercury retrograde…?

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Hi Tony,
I don't know why, but your post was caught in Blogger's spam filter. I manually released your first comment and deleted the others. Hope that was okay.

Tony again said...

Thanks, Tim!

Tony one more time said...

One thought from my second "draft": I believe that most "HR" workers are trying their best to be as fair as possible while stepping on as few legal landmines as possible. No doubt a few are out to impose their vision of "social justice," but I don't think those "scary" people are more than a small minority.

OK, I'm done now.

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