Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #63 (November 13th, 2006)






"I can't tell you how often I've started this letter in my head"—the last time was just a few days ago when I decided to send you a copy of my short story "Chess Club" (specially censored just for you!). This basically started with the thought: "What if Dave Sim is right?!" It was written a year or two ago and it's primitive but, like, y'know, like whatever…Anyway, my printer broke so I decided not to bother…But! Flash forward a few days and I'm flicking through your Collected Letters 2004, here's the letter to Norman Mailer, and I'm thinking: "I wonder if Dave is still unaware that Mailer's reference to his sending one of his books to Ernest Hemingway is in Advertisements for Myself, in the Postscript to the Fourth Advertisement for Myself?" Yes: so anyway I printed you out a copy of "Chess Club," the printing isn't so bad, just an occasional faint word.

Well, much appreciated. I'd been looking for the reference, literally, for years and you're right: here it is. This is the inscription that Mailer sent to Ernest Hemingway written inside a copy of his nearly universally panned book, The Deer Park:


—because finally after all these years I am deeply curious to know what you think of this.

—but if you do not answer, or if you answer with the kind of crap you use to answer unprofessional writers, sycophants, brown-nosers, etc. then fuck you, and I will never attempt to communicate with you again.

—and since I suspect that you're even more vain than I am, I might as well warn you that there is a reference to you on page 353 which you may or may not like.


I don't really have the time or space to transcribe the whole section, but it's certainly valuable as a "what not to do" when soliciting the opinions of a writer more famous than yourself. As Mailer prefaced the dedication in his description of it: "Filled with this hard new knowledge that the secret to everything is never to cheat life, I set out immediately to try to cheat life." This is an astute "after the fact" assessment. That is, trying to turn a potential half-success of a book into a raging success by getting Hemingway to say something nice about it is a cheat. A book really needs to stand or fall on its own merits and Mailer obviously knew that but the temptation to solicit outside help proved too great and was probably destructive of whatever stature he had achieved to that point.

I think it's gratifying that Jason would send me a copy of his story "Chess Club" largely on the same basis, but with an absence of the snarling confrontational quality that Mailer brought to bear in his own efforts. It's certainly an interesting story. Roughly 32 pages long and broken up into short segments which are numbered and which count down from -64 to 00. It's quite a bit to read and, given that I am now halfway through day two of writing these postings—and still need to finish page two of "Reply to Roberta Gregory" which I have barely started on and which is soon going to be very close to overdue—I can't go into nearly the depth that I would like to. This was the same problem I faced when answering the mail was a full-time proposition: how much of my own professional time do I owe to others? Am I obligated to read all of the books that people send me and comment intelligently on them? It's certainly a profane work, riddled with profanity—whatever Jason censored for me it definitely wasn't the profanity—and possibly directed specifically at myself


Here, victory is fleeting: as is defeat. The game exists in a state of almost perpetual equilibrium. The pieces are always lined up and ready to begin again.

There are three Jokers: plus you equals four. They inhabit the radioactive land at the end of this journey, their harlequin colours flowing into one another, blues and reds and greens and yellows over their white skin. You're never quite sure if they're laughing at you or with you…This is the future: we round up all the stand-up comedians, put them on pyres and torch them and we make their mouthy girlfriends be quiet and watch and learn: he only ever wanted to make me laugh! You should both be feeling very proud right now. Idiot god in black boots, black jeans, red T-shirt, melting idiot face is he laughing or crying? Pay not attention to that smirk behind the question mark. Tangle: this is the future.

"You never know," she said: how the fuck would she know?

Certainly if the fate of our world and ourselves and our souls hinges on deciphering this and making use of it in some way, we're probably all in a lot of serious trouble. This is usually when I start checking the clock to find out how far away my next prayer time is when I can read aloud from the Koran again. I have to confess that I don't think much about victory or defeat these days and I haven't for some time. Just survival and maintaining however tenuous a connection to God that I can: doing what I think is right and avoiding what I think is wrong and holding out hope for generations unborn fifty or a hundred years up ahead.

Jason, I really don't know what you can do with this and I really have no idea what you even hope my reaction is. At least in the case of Mailer approaching Hemingway, it was pretty obvious what it was that he wanted: he wanted to be endorsed as a writer of equal stature and as an equal as a man. As he wrote: "…I shared with Papa the notion, arrived at slowly in my case, that even if one dulled one's talent in the punishment of becoming a man, it was more important to be a man than a very good writer, that probably I could not become a very good writer unless I learned how to keep my nerve, and what is more difficult, learned how to find more of it." I think both Hemingway and Mailer were chewed to bits by proto-feminism since being a good husband and father would have been inseparable for both of them from being a man. Hemingway was a household name in a positive sense whereas I'm the Pariah King of Comics: shunned and vilified in the least well thought of creative context in our society. Maybe all you're looking for is some general observations.

Your story is well written in the sense that the sentences are lucid in their composition and have nice word rhythms going and you have a good vocabulary and know how to use it. It certainly seems to be modeled on the twin motifs of the game of chess and the solar system that I used extensively in the last half of Cerebus—and it seems to grudgingly acknowledge that women are more than a little problematic now that they have chosen feminism over pre-feminism. So, it seems to me that there really isn't much that can be done with it. If it started, as you say, with the notion "What if Dave Sim is right?" it certainly doesn't seem to convey anything of what I attempted to convey which makes me suspect that it might be both an attempt to blunt my criticisms by addressing them obliquely, tangentially and opaquely and is also an attempt to make use of them. The problem, of course, is that this is not a game—which seems to be the newly revived assessment of Dave Sim: he's just playing games with all of us trying to make normal and healthy things like feminism sound like abnormal and unhealthy things. The reaction is certainly not a game and I would sincerely caution you against treating it as such. If you oppose feminism the vast majority of our society will actively seek to destroy you, so if you are just playing at it, I suggest you find some more harmless enterprise within feminism's confines to play at—you know, being a Goth or a stoner or a slacker or some other way of being where men and women are interchangeable.

I appreciate your dedicating it to me, but I would caution you that that's probably a recipe for disaster if you're actually looking to make a living writing. Most people have absolutely no awareness of me and the few who do have an instant negative association with my name and that's all you can accomplish by linking yourself with me, however tangentially.

Unlike what Hemingway potentially represented for Mailer, I'm not a good career move. I just thought it only fair to warn you. And best of luck with whatever course you adopt.





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
Station C
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:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.