Dave Sim's blogandmail #101 (December 21st, 2006)
TWO DAYS TO GO.
Darrell and I have also been having an on-going debate about realistic art versus non-realistic art (i.e. Rembrandt versus Picasso, as an example) and then we got into "cartooniness versus non-cartooniness" which is the same discussion I keep having in one form or another with Chet centering on the same subject: content (a discussion dropped in November of 2004 and just revived by Darrell this week—yes, I think that might look more than a little insane to some folks). "Your championing of photo realism in comics leaves me cold, however. I like the way your art looks, but whenever anybody else does photo realism in comics, the figures usually look unconvincing, stiff, phoney, the facial expressions unnatural…" Well, granted, but that just means that they aren't doing it right. I maintain that isn't a problem with Al Williamson or Neal Adams or Stan Drake which is why those are the guys whose work I aspire to. It's a lofty plateau to strive for in my view. "Also, when I see someone who put so much effort into making his drawing of the guy look just like a photograph, I end up wondering why he just didn't take a photograph then and save himself the trouble." I'm not a photorealism Absolutist. I'm not a fan of paintings that are so tight that you can't tell from a distance if it's a painting or a photograph. That's not what I see in Williamson or Neal Adams or Stan Drake. It's obviously a drawing but it is very realistic i.e. if the girl's right eye was drawn 1/32nd of an inch lower it would look grotesque. It has to be right where it is and it has to be rendered in such a way as to look life-like, not sitting there dead on the page. That's the challenge and that's what interests me in, say, the Siu Ta strips. To be successful it has to be a good likeness and a good drawing and a good comic strip. It's almost impossible to get all three of those to work. Some of the shots of Siu are good drawings but not good likenesses. Some of them are good likenesses but they're not good drawings. I'll flatter myself that all three are pretty good comic strips—something that would catch your eye if they were on a newspaper page as an ad, as an example. It's like the difference between being able to do a handstand and being able to do a handstand on a teeterboard balanced on top of a rubber ball on top of a highwire thirty feet off the ground. Most cartooning is just doing a handstand. For those of us where doing a handstand is no big trick, we just keep adding more layers of difficulty to it. That doesn't mean we can't appreciate a good idiosyncratic handstand that doesn't pose the same level of difficulty. I mean, I could spend the rest of my life just doing Roach pictures in a cartoon style that comes very easily to me and getting well compensated for it. I could probably invent a Jules Feiffer style for myself that I could do in my sleep. I wouldn't rule out either of those, but I know where the top of the mountain is and the top of the mountain is primo Al Williamson, Neal Adams and Stan Drake. I have to try climbing it and having tried to climb it in various forms, I can say that it's ridiculous to try to make a basic handstand the same as doing a handstand on top of a teeterboard balanced on a ball balanced on a highwire thirty feet off the ground. If you can do it: if you can do a drop-dead gorgeous Stan Drake style Sunday page in a few hours working from photographs and show it to me so that it takes my breath away and THEN you want to say, "But I think this is the REAL art" and then do something in broad brush cartoony style, well, all right then we might have a discussion. But if you CAN'T do it—and all of the guys I know who pooh-pooh Stan Drake and Neal Adams and Al Williamson CAN'T do it—then I think it's just sour grapes.
I agree that the content isn't there. For reasons unknown to me—but which probably has a lot to do with a mass market family audience—none of those guys has ever done a comic-book story or graphic novel that actually had anything important to say (but I think that's true of Little Orphan Annie and Gasoline Alley, too). I would not measure Ben Casey against Maus or Secret Agent Corrigan against Louis Riel, but I find that an unpersuasive argument against photorealism in comics. "Gee, Dave, obviously no one has done photorealism with content so you should probably be teaching yourself to draw like Seth." That just doesn't follow logically to me. The significance to me is the challenge to get a life-like drawing, a good likeness and a good drawing. That IS content if you measure things on a "degree of difficulty" scale as I do. Yeah, there's a lot of photorealism stuff out there that is flat and lifeless. But that just means they only had the chops to get halfway up the mountain. They knew how to trace a photograph and they have their own inking style, but they don't have the chops to get a good likeness or a life-like drawing. "…can you see situation where there are skilled guys who go to different ends of the spectrum to achieve different ends, or does craft, and keeping it close the photorealistic side of things supersede all, for you?" No—there are lots of good things being done from super-cartoony to super-realistic but, to me, it's a matter of reality vs. unreality. If it is more difficult to balance on a teeterboard balanced on a ball balanced on a highwire thirty feet off the ground than it is to do a basic handstand on the sidewalk outside your home then I think for the sake of maintaining a firm grip on reality, that needs to be acknowledged. A handstand is difficult. The other kind is BEYOND DIFFICULT AND VERGES ON THE IMPOSSIBLE. And consequently needs to be acknowledged as being a higher level of achievement. Even as I'm fully aware that it not only won't be acknowledged as a higher level of achievement in the sort of world that we live in—it will be degraded, deprecated, mocked at and dismissed. I just don't think there's any legitimacy in that dismissal and, personally, I would rather achieve at the highest level I'm capable of, fall short and know that I will be degraded, deprecated, mocked and dismissed largely because I aimed so high than to settle for doing something that I can do effortlessly and which is infinitely more popular and lucrative. Why? Beats hell out of me, but it seems to come from the same place as my unwillingness to kowtow to feminism.
Reality versus unreality. I'd rather live in the gutter embracing reality than live like a king embracing unreality. Or Truth and illusion if you prefer.
You have a good day, too, Darrell. Oh, and your postscript ("actually this whole letter's a bit much. I can't believe you made it to the end")…no, you always write an interesting letter even though there's very little that we agree on. And it gave me an excuse to get up on my photorealism hobby horse again.
And here's a new poem by Darrell:
rahim rants about the computer-
a falafel, gives me half. i wonder
where dorothee is, try to ignore
the television. the television's
louder than hell
(i've always imagined heaven
to be very quiet, like it was
populated solely by librarians).
i wonder where dorothee is.
stupid as pavlov's goat i get
up to check the mail (maybe
she felt the urge to write a
letter for the first time in her
life) but immediately sit back
down, there's no point, there's
no mail delivery today.
today's a holiday.
THERE'S MORE FOR YOU…
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