Dave Sim's blogandmail #59 (November 9th, 2006)
[you, um. Don't mean Starro the Conqueror do you?
The octopus-looking thing that the Justice League squared off against in Brave & Bold #28?
Um, no. But thank you for sharing that fanboy moment with us.
Here's another one where I think if I just leave the guy's name off I can stay on the sunny side of privacy issues and still have the benefit of filling up today's Blog & Mail with a good letter.
In a daze of boredom, I was wandering through some deep, dusty corners of blog archives and I came across a neat little note from Neil Gaiman's blog way back in 2004. Well, as I'm sure you're expecting, it mentioned your work with the Sandman parodies, and your general distaste with internet communication, accepting open written letter submissions in exchange for a special autographed issue of Cerebus. I would like to take you up on that offer, that is if you haven't run out of stock, but that's not the whole reason why I'm writing. I am a pretty big fan of your work. I have all of the Cerebus volumes up to Women. I'm gettin' there; you just have so much stuff in this series. I admire the hell out of you both as a writer and an artist. I'm almost jealous, even. I'm a student of the English and probably the Creative Writing here at Georgia State University. I'd like to think that studying writing isn't a waste of time, but it makes me think of some saying going, like, "you've got it or you don't: all colleges can do is teach you the best way to fake being a writer. I don't know if that's true or not, but it is a very scary thing to think about, since four years is a long time. I definitely want to be a comic writer, since that is the medium that has the most untouched potential and the most mystery involved in it. Reading your work gives me uncontrollable hope and desire to be a writer. Do you have any words of enlightenment to share? Also, I've included two of my drawings. I don't know if they're good or not, but I like them. I've been tossing around some narrative ideas based on this particular kind of style of art, but nothing solidified yet. Anyways, I wish you well in your future endeavours, and am extremely excited to read the rest of Cerebus. Have a wonderful weekend, Mr. Sim.
Thanks. You too.
I think there are probably advantages to University English courses in that you might as well know that end of things. It's a pretty insular environment and there is the old aphorism "Those who can, do, those who can't, teach" which is probably too flattering by half to non-teachers. Norman Mailer is a brilliant writer but I'm not sure he would make a very good teacher. Some people, like myself, are self-taught because that's how we learn best. Some people need teachers even if it's just to have someone show you the direction you don't want to go in.
In terms of becoming a writer, I think it's pretty much the same as everything else. You have to find out if you have a compelling interest and then find out how compelling an interest you have (is it going to sustain you for a lifetime?). Then you have to determine if you have the aptitude which can be as easy as showing people your writing and asking for honest criticism both to a) toughen your skin against the relentless daily trauma that being a writer involves (if you think that writing will make people like you I would strongly urge you to think again) b) learn how to view your work from some other direction besides your own. Compliments are very stingily granted in our society so the occasional compliment is usually well-deserved and can tell you what your personal strength(s) is/are. "You write good dialogue". So I wrote a lot of dialogue. "Your work actually makes me laugh" so I wrote humour wherever possible. "Your writing makes me think about things I wouldn't otherwise think about" so I started writing about thought-filled subjects. On a percentage basis writing material that makes people think will make about 2% of the population absolutely adore you and 98% of the population (no hyperbole here) absolutely hate your guts. Again, if you think that writing is going to make people like you, think again.
Something I used to say all the time about self-publishing but which applies to writing and drawing, playing guitar and everything else: "If you really want to do it nothing and no one is going to stop you, if you don't really want to do it, nothing and no one is going to help you." I wanted to know how to play guitar but I wasn't interested enough to work at it so I never learned how to play guitar. I wanted to write and I was interested enough to apply myself relentlessly even when I was getting nothing but rejection slips, so eventually I became a writer.
Your context only SEEMS scary because you're aware of being undifferentiated, lumped in with everyone else, nothing special and no real idea of where your next meal is coming from (relatively speaking). But everything is POSSIBLE for someone your age (or someone in their twenties or thirties). People my age can beat you with our reputations, our status and our (relatively) larger bank accounts. But you can beat us with your stamina and determination. There are not a lot of guys in their fifties who are capable of pulling an "all nighter" on anything and they gradually lose place to those who are able to pull "all nighters". We also have more obligations. If you re-read my interview with Harvey Kurtzman in Following Cerebus #3—which I had done with when I was 18 back in 1974—I asked him if he would ever revive Trump magazine—he points at another distinction between a man in his fifties and someone who is in his teens:
Starting magazines is a rough business, and I'm very comfortable now. I'd like to start a magazine, but it would take a good kick in the rear end for me to want to want to go into that again. You've got to be able to sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice to start a magazine. Not that you necessarily have to sacrifice, but you have to be prepared to. I have yet to hear of a success story in the magazine field that didn't start with blood, sweat and tears. When you are relatively unencumbered as you are, and as I am not, it is a lot easier to start magazines. When the rent comes due and the baby needs new shoes, it becomes a lot more difficult.
Those, I'm sure were not easy things for him to say and were probably all the more difficult because he was looking at someone who was completely uncomprehending both of what he was saying specifically and the concession that he was making from across the generation gap between us. If I had thought about what Kurtzman was saying it would have been just a stray response like: Me? What did I have to do with starting magazines? I was asking about Trump. See, that's the other side of the jealousy that you're experiencing. "I want to be a famous writer like you." Yeah, well, I'd like to have the stamina of a guy in his teens. You have the advantages you have and you need to make the best use of them you can.
I sincerely regret frittering a lot of my stamina away on cigarettes, booze, drugs, sex and relationships. But that's all I can do now is regret not recognizing that stamina is a limited commodity for each individual. By God's grace, you get to decide what you use it up on, but the bottom line is that you will use it up. Kurtzman, evidently, used his up on paying the rent and buying new shoes for the baby, I used mine up on various vices.
Choose wisely. There's my best advice.
And here's yer autographed funnybook, as requested.
There's more for YOU
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If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:
Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2
Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:
Or, you can check out Mars Import:
Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.