Dave Sim's blogandmail #93 (December 13th, 2006)
For the next two weeks, the Blog & Mail revisits
In honour of Steve Ditko's 80th year coming up in 2007 and in the hopes of drumming up a little business for his post-Marvel work published through Robin Snyder's RSCOMICS.
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3745 Canterbury Lane #81
Bellingham, Washington 98225-1186
Wednesday December 13 -
Since this is Steve Ditko we're talking about—Mr. Either/Or—I don't want to be accused of being either evasive or indifferent so let me say that I do believe in the American constitutional right to bear arms, largely because of statistics which have come to light in the U.K. and Australia since they banned civilian ownership of handguns, statistics which show that their handgun crime rate is climbing alarmingly since they did so. A weapon is a weapon and if you make a weapon illegal, essentially what you are doing is telling any criminal with a handgun in his pocket that in any situation where he is in a crowd and he doesn't see a policeman or a soldier, he can take it as a given that he holds the trump card: by virtue of his criminality he can assert his control over any situation just by pulling his gun out and using it. It's taking the exceptional nature of criminality and empowering it by reverse inference. If you feel aggrieved, powerless and impotent, just become a criminal and buy an illegal handgun and you will automatically outrank everyone except the police and soldiers when it comes to power and potency. Not the best message in the world to convey to the aggrieved, powerless and impotent.
In the United States, particularly in a large metropolitan area, the criminal has no such guarantee. In any crowd anyone could be carrying a handgun and it could be of a larger calibre than his own and the guy carrying it could be more proficient in its use than the criminal is. This definitely, to me, constitutes a demonstrable level of deference resulting from having the right to own and carry a handgun as a basic human right.
Even though I wouldn't carry one myself.
See, to me, one of the key elements is proficiency and another is predisposition. In order to validate carrying a handgun, you have to have confidence that if a situation comes up where you need to use it, you will use it and that you will use it effectively. That requires not only training with the thing long hours until you are as comfortable with it as I am with this computer keyboard but having the confidence that if you're in a variety store and a guy comes in and holds up the cashier that you will pull your own gun out, tell him to drop his own and make it stick. If he turns around and sees me staring at him with my finger rock-steady on the trigger, the barrel pointed unwaveringly between his eyes and my eye staring unflinchingly into his own, then the odds are I will become a citizen hero. If, however, he turns around and sees my gun vibrating and me behind it, wide-eyed and twitchy because this is worlds away from firing at human outlines in a shooting range, then all I've really done is bought myself a mess of trouble. What you are doing as a gun owner who carries his weapon with him is deciding ahead of time that you are willing to match your nerve against that of a criminal in a situation where you will probably have less than two seconds to decide what you're going to do and then to do it. If he's more comfortable and proficient with his gun than you are with yours and/or if he is in the "mad dog" category (as soon as he locks eyes with you he is going to know that he is top dog because there is virtually nothing in him that resembles a human being, he is virtually 100% attack dog) he's going to shoot you dead while you're still assessing his state of mind and your own—and then he will probably shoot the store owner or cashier as well in the heat of the animalistic moment so instead of making the situation better, you would have made it worse. And what's the point of that?
To me, that's the real-world debate about gun ownership and the use of firearms. In the context of the Mr. A story, however, everything is just too far outside the realm of the actual to be dealt with sensibly. If I lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant instead of Kitchener and I heard about a kidnapping and I somehow found out where the kidnappers and the child were and I owned a handgun, would I go over there and break in and start shooting them? No. However much training I have with my firearm and however much confidence I have in my nerve and matching it against the nerve of a known criminal a big part of a civilized society is understanding what is the job of the police and what is the job of the citizen. If I know where they are, I phone the police and tell them and leave it up to them to deal with it, even if I think the kidnappers deserve to die and I know that the Canadian justice system is probably going to let them off with a slap on the wrist.
The fact that Canadian police officers live with this reality on a day-to-day basis—it might surprise my American readers to know that we're still debating whether or not to issue sidearms to our border guards in this country (seriously!)—indicates to me that people are basically good. If anyone is justified in going outside the law it's those with daily experience with the "mad dogs" and "bad seeds" which exist (Mr. A's secret identity is Rex Graine, crusading journalist). And yet they don't. There is a genuine and deep-rooted awareness that the only hope is to play by the rules even though, as I've said elsewhere, if you gave any police chief in any jurisdiction five "freebies"—five bad guys they could just wish out of existence or blow away with their service revolvers—they would know which five to pick and the elimination of those individuals would improve the quality of life in any given community exponentially.
Anyway, one of the kidnappers bashes the other over the head with a club and attempts to flee with the ransom money. The other kidnapper, his head bathed in blood shoots the fleeing kidnapper in the back, all under the watchful gaze of the white silhouette of Mr. A who then blithely steps into the scene and retrieves the bag of ransom money, while ignoring the mortally wounded kidnappers ("I can't see…ooohh…h…help" "Sob…please Mr. A have…sob…mercy…I'm in pain…sob…help me…I don't want to suffer…die…sob…please!"). Mr. A tenderly unties Lilly and carries her away with the bag of ransom money across his metaphorical calling card out of the black square and into the white square as the kidnappers, clinging to the edge of the black square, plead for help.
Lilly: They're calling! Will you help them?
Mr. A: No.
Lilly: Why won't you?
Mr. A: I won't help anyone who believes he has a right to hurt you!
Lilly: Don't you care what happens to bad people?
Mr. A: No! I only care what happens to the innocent and the good people!
Lilly: I was afraid of them. But I'm not afraid of you! …You're not mean!
Mr.A: I treat people the way they act toward human life! I grant them what their actions deserve, have earned! I don't reward the bad or cheat the good!
There's a certain dishonesty to this exchange, I think, centering on the fact that I see liberalism as originating in the feminizing of society. From an early age, girls are aware of being in a situation of intrinsic vulnerability and, as a result, tend always to identify with the vulnerable even when common sense would indicate that it's misguided to do so. Since females are emotion-based, common sense seldom has much to do with their actions and reactions. The fact that the kidnappers are mortally wounded and pleading for help would strike a resonant female chord and, once Lilly was safe herself, I think her identification would shift to the kidnappers and the alleviation of their suffering. It's a core flaw of Mr. A, to me, that Ditko overlooks that—although mercy for mad dogs might be (and I think he and I would agree, actually is) misguided—this view is not shared by our liberal society and most particularly not by the female members of it. What I think Ditko was documenting and what has become even more pronounced in our feminized society is the extent to which justice suffers when compassion is given disproportionate weight in deciding the severity of imposed consequences for wrong-doing. All prison sentences in Canada are routinely cut in half from the sentences that are mandated by statute. I think this is directly attributable to the disproportionate influx of women into the criminal justice environs that has resulted from feminism. Protected as they tend to be from societal realities women tend not to believe that there is such a thing as a human mad dog and consequently tend to consider all criminals as just needing the right level of TLC and social engineering to become upstanding citizens. And, of course, they believe that there is never any reason to commit an act of violence.
Whatever you might personally think of their views (and I think very little of their views), there are unavoidable unhappy consequences of viewing the world the way they do. I'm thinking of Marc Lepine, the gunman who took a classroom hostage in Montreal, ordered all of the male students out of the room and then shot the fourteen female students to death. Well, that to me is a mad dog and a good example of what happens when you so feminize a society that when a gunman shows up and orders all the male students (I hesitate to call them men) out of the room, they just dutifully go and leave the female students to their fate. In what I would consider a good society, the men would have found that an unacceptable choice (Either-Or) in the same way that the men on Flight 93 found it unacceptable to just acquiesce on September 11 and would have realized the only right thing to do was to attack. Marc Lepine could have shot one of them or two of them or maybe three of them but a classroom of men would have overwhelmed him whatever the casualty figure and instead of fourteen dead women you would have had two or three dead men…and one dead or at least severely injured mad dog. In the same way that you elevate the stature and implicit advantage of the gun-toting criminal by outlawing guns, by indoctrinating boys from an early age that violence is always wrong in all circumstances, you also give the mad dog a disproportionate advantage in any circumstance where he crops up. Years later, I read a newspaper story that one of the males who dutifully exited the classroom killed himself the following summer. I can certainly understand him doing that but I think society would have been better served if it had trained him, instead, to kill a mad dog like Marc Lepine and to prepare himself for that situation when it arose.
At the conclusion of the story, the black square quickly begins to shred ("How can you be so cruel to the needs of the suffering human life…sob") as Mr. A concludes his soliloquy ("We must not give up hope…must believe the irrational, injustice and suffering are the abnormal in life…that reason, happiness are the normal and justice will triumph!"). In the penultimate panel, Lilly rushes into the loving arms of her parents across the white square which is surrounded by the words Reason, Honesty, Logic, Truth, Good, Rights, Rationality, Mutual Consent, Retaliatory Force, Principles as the black square falls completely to pieces and the kidnappers, in the final panel, plunge downward into Irrationality, Corruption, Injustice, Deceit, Lies, Crime, Force, Compromise, Dishonesty ("Have mercy…we didn't mean any harm…we're not bad…it's not our fault…sob…we couldn't help it…sob.." "…Forgive us…give us another chance…we're sorry…forget what we did…save us!...sob").
Thirty-three years later, turning the page to find a two-page The Monster Times Super-Duper Back Issue Department! at with cover reproductions and descriptions of the first 23 issues plus order blank, I experienced the same sense of temporary relief from Steve Ditko's Absolutist Onslaught.
It's a short respite. The next page begins with Mr. A's narration: "No man can have it both ways! When a man refuses to uphold the truth, he betrays the good! But he will not get away with it! He will constantly be on the scales fearfully waiting for what he dreads most—the verdict of justice!" and the reader is up to his eyeballs in a Mr. A six-pager from 1972, a two-page centrefold from 1972 ("A is A. A thing is what it is. No man can have it both ways. Only through black and white principles can man distinguish between good and evil. The principles guide man's basic choice of actions. Men can attempt to choose contradictions, grey principles, like men can choose to be dishonest, corrupt. But that choice only leads to evil—to self-destruction!"), an 8-pager from 1969 ("Those who attempt to create a fake world by evading the truth only succeed in making themselves a slave to an unreal world and a fake in the real world!" The switch to the plural "themselves" is inopportune, but it is, I think, a very valid indictment of liberal excesses). And then there are eight single pages, each making up a chapter in the concluding story.
Like I say, I think this stuff really should be reprinted, hopefully with commentaries by Ditko himself.
Tomorrow: Meanwhile, back at Dr. Strange.
Viewers of the www.cerebusart.com website have probably noticed by now that the calendar has been taken down. It turns out that two commissioned pieces a month is going to be a little optimistic over the next while. So, instead, I'm inviting interested individuals to contact me by phone (519.576.0610) to discuss any commission that they are interested in. When you phone, I can let you know what the current high offer is for the next commissioned piece after Dr. Strangeroach is and which I will be beginning probably after Christmas or early in the New Year (so I can get some uninterrupted working time on my secret project and commentaries on Mark). If you want a Gerhard background, you can let me know on the phone and then negotiate with Gerhard separately. The best rule of thumb on a Dave Sim commission is that you will get the best results if you are paying roughly $400 to $600 per figure. That is, a $1,000 commission of Cerebus and Jaka is going to look better than a $1,000 commission of Cerebus, Jaka, the Roach, Lord Julius, Astoria and Konigsberg. If you let me know what you're interested in, I can let you know what part of your picture is going to be the most time-consuming and then leave it up to you as to whether you want to stick to your original request or modify it in order to get more picture for your money.
That number again is 519.576.0610
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