Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #122 (January 11th, 2007)


Or maybe just a song called "Star OOO Seventy, Star OOO Seventy-One"

To the tune of "We Three Kings (of Orient Are)"?

I don't know. I'll leave it up to all of you

Michael Dean is the new Managing Editor of The Comics Journal with whom I have had a cordial telephone acquaintanceship over the years when he'd call for a quote about something or to ask a question for an item in "Newswatch". He has a few in "Opening Shot" some of which may be rhetorical, but let me treat them as if they are asked in good faith.

Do you feel [emphasis mine] the superhero comic is a fundamentally mediocre and juvenile genre that will breathe its last gasp with the Baby Boom's second childhood and that, as a magazine for literate adults, The Comics Journal should have bigger fish to fry?

I think the largest context in which super-heroes and the super-hero readership can be addressed is in terms of vigilantism vs. the rule of law. In the sense that a juvenile is always going to want a "quick fix" and violence seems like the shortest distance between two points, you can say that super-heroes and a positive response to super-heroes is evidence of arrested development. But I think the question is more interesting posed in a societal sense with super-hero fans at complete odds with the rule of law for nearly seventy years now. Personally I don't think that there's much to say about super-heroes beyond a certain point as I found was the case with my writing on Mr. A recently (to me, the purest example of vigilantism vs. the rule of law with a minimum of garish acoutrements) and as has been my experience anytime someone asked me about writing for DC and Marvel. Writing comes from the ability to put yourself in the place of your subject, so in potentially writing a Batman script I go "All right, I'm running across a rooftop in leotards with my underwear on the outside, a mask and a long flowing cape…" and at that point my reaction is: "I'm doing…WHAT!??" because I can't separate Dave Sim, citizen of the real world from Dave Sim creator of imaginative fiction. If I try to go deeper than "I'm doing…WHAT!?!" all I see is the sort of intentional self-humiliation that running around in leotards and a mask and a long flowing cape suggests. That is, leaving out motive, all I come up with is that I'm wearing intentionally embarrassing clothing that is inappropriate as streetwear, a mask to hide my embarrassment behind anonymity and a long cape because this issues from suppressed homosexuality or really overt dandyism of some kind. When Moebius did his notorious Batman story (has anyone ever published that? I have a third generation fax by way of Frank Miller and Jo Duffy) I think he found the same thing. "I've never brought my creative mind to bear on the subject but you've asked me to do a Batman story so let me bring my creative mind to bear on the subject." It doesn't require any great depth of psychoanalytic examination. Asking Moebius to do a Batman story, I'm sure it was as if someone has come up to Moebius and said "I don't know what's wrong with me. Every week I go to the butcher shop and I buy a big sausage and I actually hate sausage. I take it home and I sit and caress it and pet it like a dog. And then I kiss it and hold it tenderly and shake it lightly. Tell me, Friend Moebius, why do you think I do this?" All that can be said is: Look, this is what this stuff is about pretty transparently. In deference to your obsessive interest in it, I will diplomatically say as little as possible. Moebius did a quick five-pager that went all the way into the transparent psychology of what Batman self-evidently is. It was the most diplomatic way of indicating both the problem and to indicate that you should really stop asking him about this, because he will give you an answer but it isn't going to make you very happy. Which, from what I understand it definitely didn't. Make the Batman editors very happy, I mean.

Or do you feel the Journal is only going to have bigger fish to wrap, if it refuses to make room in its pages for the superhero figure, in whose veins courses the lifeblood of the American comic book?

Well, again, it depends on what you mean by "make room". I think it's worth examining the super-hero in adult frames of reference along the lines of "So what is up with this near-religious worship of vigilantism among hard-left liberals who deplore vigilantism in the real world?" Or (if you think they can stand it, which I don't think they can) "What is it about me as a hard-left liberal that still responds to this stuff years after every one of my peers put it away permanently as a self-evident embarrassment and as a sign of barely repressed fascistic impulses?" Or you can back off completely from the interesting questions and ask happy-time bulls**t questions like: "How did Alan Moore manage to do what was basically the world's greatest Justice League story when he did Watchmen?" Since, personally, I can't get past the "I'm doing…WHAT!?!" question, I'm always curious about how grown men can shift mental gears sufficiently to accommodate both vigilantism and the overtly gay façade and the inherent fascism of the super-hero and then bring adult writerly values to bear on the creative problem. Which Alan obviously did. And which Frank obviously did. But, I'm not sure that that's going to help your circulation since the actual answer from where you're sitting as the Managing Editor of the Journal is, you can accommodate super-heroes as long as you can find people capable of bringing the same high level of journalistic and critical values to the super-hero table while also ignoring the vigilantism, the gay façade and the inherent fascism. A sociological (and political) treatise on Marvel's Civil War is probably a great idea. The American response to 9/11 was very super-heroish, Two Crushing Hulk-Like Blows against Afghanistan and Iraq. My own view is that although a lot of that super-heroish reaction was undoubtedly emotional and unbecoming—particularly for confirmed pacifists—it was also sensible and effective and long overdue in the aftermath of the USS Cole, Beirut and Mogadishu among other incidents. Civil War (I haven't read it, but I got the concept right away) is the first examination of the response to 9/11 and documenting the schism in the American psyche that resulted from that response. Of course to effectively review the series, you have to document yourself as well as the series and identify where your own sympathies lie. No one is outside that particular Petri dish I don't think. Are super-hero people able to face their inner vigilante gay fascists? Can they write honestly about their inner vigilante gay fascists (what else is political correctness? What else is feminism?)? And (most importantly from your point of view) will vigilante gay fascist apologists be interested in paying to read about it.

Doubt it.

Or are you not that crazy about superheroes but pray that the Journal, for God's sake, doesn't become the equivalent of some precious poetry zine, acknowledging only the most obscure, impenetrable works of outsider art?

Well, no offence, Michael, but I think the Journal is already there and has been there for some time. It's interesting that you would frame it in terms of "pray" and "for God's sake" because I think it's pretty apparent that at least as far as Gary and Kim have been steering the ship the whole point of the magazine was everything except for "God's sake"—that is the usual secular, leftist view that God and religion are the problem and secular leftist choices—and creativity—are the solution. If we can just document enough alienated leftist secular stories we'll find out what we're here for and know what it is that we're supposed to be doing—besides whining and complaining and trying to figure out how to have bigger parties with more famous people and better looking chicks. The arts community has been universally in that bag for decades if not centuries. Whether Gary and Kim chose that political and social philosophy in order to legitimize themselves, the magazine and the medium in the eyes of the Larger Arts Community or whether that's just the way they, in fact, are it seems to me that the process is very far along and probably not anything that anyone at the Journal can do anything about. People in comic book stores know what the Journal is and whether it's their kind of thing or not. Most people I know have decided against it and pick up an issue only if they have flipped through it and found that it has a particularly interesting traffic accident in it. It's a guilty pleasure. If Jack Jackson shot himself you want to read the Comics Journal to find out just how voyeuristic they plan to go on it if you're inclined that way.

What kind of magazine should the Comics Journal be evolving into? Is it too elitist or not elitist enough?

If what you're looking for is some sort of ammunition to use against Gary to try and force him to pull his magazine back from the Precious Poetry Brink, I don't think you're going to succeed—not that a bunch of us don't wish you well in the attempt and sympathize with a more balanced approach to TCJ content. My own best guess is that the fact that you don't hate super-heroes completely and have still been made Managing Editor is probably as much of a concession as you're going to win out of him and then it's just toe-to-toe on a daily basis trying to change a mind that is probably unchangeable. But, hey, good luck.

Tomorrow: Okay, let's see what else they have going on in here.


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

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