Dave Sim's blogandmail #321 (July 29th, 2007)
Jeff Seiler, formerly of Carollton Texas and now of Tulsa, Oklahoma writes:
"I'm sitting here, balancing my checkbook, while watching a re-presentation of the 10-year-old movie, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE, which starred Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron (yum!) and Al Pacino. The upshot of the story, as you may recall, is that everyone has a chink (at least) in their armour into which the Devil might worm his way.
Or, her way or its way. In the case of Mr. Reeves' character in that movie, that chink was that which goeth before the fall.
"Contemplating that led me to remember the days, recorded by you in the back of CEREBUS, during which you certainly and unabashedly engaged in many acts of chutzpah or, even, prideful arrogance. Pardon my being forward, but you DID put it on record. As I recently was discussing with Kaye; in the past nine and a half years, I had only one sexual encounter before her and since Terri Dawn, and I recorded THAT in a comic book. I remarked to Kaye that you and I are perhaps the only two people I know of who have been so quick to record our foibles in comic books. And, yes, the above DOES make it official; you're back in a club of one male.
"How does one avoid indulging in pride when one has accomplished so much; when one is the sole proprietor of the most successful independent comic-book company in the world? When one can look up one's company in the DIAMOND PREVIEWS and know that one's early listing in the book is the only such listing that represents a company that is owned and operated by one man, how does one avoid pride?
"Or is some measure of pride acceptable? Seriously; if one has accomplished some measure of success through honourable effort and ethical practices, shouldn't one be allowed SOME measure of reasonable satisfaction and even PRIDE in one's accomplishments? For the record, I'M proud of YOU.
"But, I don't know. I've struggled with that question over the years. I may not be wealthy or even successful by most people's definitions, but I have had an impact on a lot of lives by virtue of being a mental health worker and a teacher. When someone tells you that they think they might have killed themselves if it weren't for you – and they MEAN it – it makes an impact. But, should you have PRIDE as a result?
"I really do struggle with this, as a God-fearing man. Sometimes, I suspect God has led me down the paths I've chosen so as to limit my susceptibility to pride, knowing, as He must, my weakness in that area.
"And so, I ask again, how do YOU avoid it? And, as I ask, I suspect that you will be first tempted to answer "prayer and fasting". Yes, prayer and fasting and devotion to God. But, even God-fearing men, like David, Muhammad, Peter, Paul and perhaps even Jesus have given in to Pride. One could make a case for the occasion of Jesus' rage at the Temple towards the moneychangers as being a result of pride, though it would be a tough sell.
"Even God, being described in the Torah as vengeful, mighty, jealous, wrathful, etc. could also be described as being prideful. Of course, His would be the exception that proves the rule.
"So, ultimately, I close with the question, once again; how do YOU avoid Pride? Is observing the tenets of Islam enough? Does it take some extra, non-denominational faith in God? And, while I'm at it [and since you are so remarkably open (as am I, regrettably) to probing, personal questions], how do you avoid the more intense, perhaps more damnable PRIVATE pride? You know; the pride that you never let on to with others, but the one that is, all the more, insidious?
"Wondering, without judgement (self-righteous or otherwise), I remain, Yours beyond 300
Well virtually all of the vengeful, wrathful emotional stuff in the Torah is about YHWH. When God actually says or does something, which He does very infrequently and mostly at the beginning, He just matter-of-factly does it.
Sorry, I digress.
Hunh. Well, uh, I just don't have a frame of reference for pride in my life to be honest. It doesn't apply to an anti-feminsit in a feminist context. Everyone in the world besides me is in complete agreement that we need to turn the world into PEEWEE'S PLAYHOUSE and they've done so. Put anything that I've done on the set of PEEWEE'S PLAYHOUSE and it isn't going to show up as anything, let alone anything to have pride in. It's like someone asking my reaction to "Would you let your sister marry a black man?" I check it out against my innermost, private response and come up empty. What was the question again? Pride?
I work hard. I work very hard and I work to try to get things to come out the way I picture them coming out but for a very long time everything that I have done has just gone out into the void as if it never existed and I have to settle for metaphorical crickets chirping as a response. It's been that way for at least thirteen years. As far as I can see no one in the world and the world itself haven't changed one iota in those thirteen years. 9/11 transformed a lot of things, but it didn't even make feminism blink.
Okay, let's take the latest book: COLLECTED LETTERS 2. People bought copies of it. Are they going to say anything to me about the content? Well, uh, no. I already know that. The response is practically guaranteed at this point: Dead Silence. And what's more, THEY already know that. They knew what their reaction to the book would be before they bought the book and before they read the book. "I will say nothing to Dave Sim or to anyone about this book. I will not agree with it and I will not disagree with it. I will read it and I will be completely silent in perpetuity about its content." It's just how things are. Now, if you ask me, "Doesn't that strike you as a REALLY STRANGE WAY to react to a book?" I would have to answer, yes. But I would have given you the same answer about READS, MINDS, GUYS, RICK'S STORY, GOING HOME, FORM & VOID, LATTER DAYS, THE LAST DAY and COLLECTED LETTERS 2004.
That's a REALLY STRANGE WAY to react to a book. As far as I know, I'm the only person who can maintain a perfect record across thirteen years and nine (now ten) books of zero reaction across the board. Having no evidence to the contrary, I'm pretty sure that that will be the reaction to my secret project, to COLLECTED LETTERS 3, COLLECTED LETTERS 4, COLLECTED LETTERS 5 and everything else I write and draw and publish right up to the day I die whenever that might be. I'm not sure how I could be "proud" of that though. It's just how things are.
To me, it was worth doing – it was worth writing and drawing all of those books because to me those books point in the direction of reality. Someday, someone besides me has to re-learn to be interested in reality and they'll probably want something to read when it happens, so creating something for them to read seems worthwhile even though I'll probably have been dead fifty years when they read it. It's very hard to be proud when the best you can say is "I think I will have a good reason to be proud of this fifty years after I'm dead when someone finally reads it and agrees with it."
There was the big exchange of viewpoints with Ray Earles back three years ago, as an example. I forget about things like that until, as in this case, I'm proof-reading the letters from 2004 and then I go, right, Ray Earles. I wonder what happened to him? He did a strip for your comic with me as Lucy holding the football and him as Charlie Brown trying to kick it (at least, I seem to remember that was Ray). Nice to know he's still out there somewhere. Is being seen metaphorically as Lucy pulling away the football something that YOU would take pride in? Even secretly? No. That's not a good character. No one wants to be seen as Lucy Van Pelt. There is a base meanness to pulling away the football, like you aren't holding up your side of an implicit bargain, you are at a base level being mean and unkind, a bad sport. Is that how I see myself and how I see the letters that I invested hours of my time writing to Ray when I could have been doing something I would get paid for? No, definitely not. Is that how Ray sees them? Well, evidently. Am I hurt by it? Well, no. I don't get personally invested in anything or anyone that way. My only investment is in ideas and creativity. I re-read the letters I sent to Ray and I go, "Yeah, I think I got that pretty well. I think the metaphors sustain themselves on at least a couple of levels and sustain my viewpoint as a consequence."
But, to have pride in those letters, well, you really need either something a) collective or b) joint. That is, at one level or another, I would have to be turning to someone and going "How about that? I nailed that one didn't I?" And there's no one there. There hasn't been anyone there for a LOOOOONG time. Truth to tell, there has never been anyone there. And I know that, so there is really only the actual act of accomplishing what the task was. CEREBUS 1-300. There. I'll never have to do that again. COLLECTED LETTERS 2. There. I'll never have to do that again. It has nothing to do with people. Not even in an imaginary sense. Let's picture Norman Mailer reading this someday. What would his reaction be? I assume he would get quiet, sullen, belligerent and resentful just like everyone else does. It might ruin his afternoon. How do you take pride in ruining someone's afternoon? Why would you take pride in ruining someone's afternoon? How do you even PRIVATELY take pride in ruining someone's afternoon? And you have to remember that I don't see what I'm saying as being too terribly difficult to say or explain. If anything I have to keep coming up with more and varied ways of saying "Two plus two doesn't equal five. Two plus two equals four." It's very difficult to take pride in saying something over and over that -- as far as I'm concerned -- everyone over the age of five either already knows and is hiding from themselves or doesn't already know and should. And knows they should.
God is aware of my work and understands it better than I do. I would assume that I am functioning at some fraction of my ability in God's eyes that I could improve upon. So there is no sense of pride there. At the level where you're trying to please God and that becomes your sole motivation and interest (as it has become mine) all you can know for certain is that He could do what you're doing a lot better than you can. He could make far better and more efficient use of the twelve hours (and counting!) that I've been sitting at this keyboard today. So even imagining yourself as being proud of what you have "accomplished" for God is beyond ludicrous, in my view.
It's far more like a military gig. I am writing for a context that either doesn't exist because it has been made not to exist by popular acclaim or something that never did exist and which we only discovered didn't exist in 1970 (and which I don't "get" and everyone else does) or something which never did exist and will never exist or something which doesn't exist YET. Everyone who knows me and everyone who knows of me have a huge stake in believing its one of the first two or a combination of the first two. If they're right then I've spent the last thirty years writing the equivalent of the sound effects of the adults talking on the PEANUTS cartoons. How are you going to take pride in that? But, in my view, what I'm saying is important and actually constitutes a last thread attaching our civilization to some semblance of reality. If that's the case then anything that destabilizes the situation is apt to break the thread and then that's it and the consequences are my fault for allowing the destabilization to happen. It's very difficult to take pride in saying "I don't exactly know what I'm doing here and I'm pretty sure at one level or another it's all up to me and I may be wrong but at least so far I appear not to have done anything irretrievably stupid enough to send the whole works down the toilet."
But that's a lot "edgier" than "pride in a job well done." There's a lot more at stake in that case. If I suddenly go in 2011, "Wow, what was I thinking? You guys were right all along. Feminism is the cat's pyjamas" then, so far as I know everything's down the toilet. Even if I switch back to making sense right away, there's still that moment of weakness, that opening in the matrix, that loophole and everything that I've worked for from 1996 to 2011 goes for naught. "I haven't let that happen yet" isn't something to have pride in when the imperative is: that must not be allowed to happen. And I'm the only one in the world with any sense that That Must Not Be Allowed to Happen.
I mean, for all I know I already have done any number of irretrievably stupid things that I was too stupid to see what they were and as a result the whole works went right down the toilet some time back. That's why I say it's a military kind of thing. This is my post and I think I know what it is that I'm supposed to do and I keep doing it. I try to resist the temptation to stop doing it as you are supposed to resist such temptations in a military situation. "I feel funny so I think I have to run away now." Not an option as far as I'm concerned. I have no idea how much is at stake and I don't expect to know until Judgment Day. I'd hate to think that I get to see the instant replays and there's someone there going, "See, you were doing fine right up until here – you were actually preventing the Whore of Babylon scenario, but then you fumbled this play and you missed this off-ramp and someone ran a really simple scam on you and that cost you this and so on." How could you take pride in whatever you did right from 1999 to 2008 if you screwed everything up in 2009? As far as I know the only way to avoid screwing things up in 2009 is to not make any mistakes in 2007. Running a successful independent comics operation is one way of looking at it, I guess. Adding "most" to anything attached to Dave Sim just means that people get to kick me in the nuts and tell me how many other people are infinitely more successful than I am and well liked as I am not. For that reason, I tend to see my situation on an on-going basis as a bunker with x number of sandbags, y number of rounds of ammunition and z number of rations built up over the last thirty years. If there are enough sandbags and enough rounds of ammunition and enough rations, it's a successful independent comics operation. If all of those run out before I'm dead, then it's not a successful independent comics operation. I would take pride in the former if there was absolutely no chance it was the latter.
"I don't think they've beaten me YET" isn't one of those things that you take pride in, either. The "YET" means anything approaching pride can turn into over-confidence and over-confidence is always a mistake. "I'm alert" is going to help the situation. "I'm so proud of being as alert as I am. I wonder if I'm the most alert person who ever lived?" is just asking for trouble.
Most of the time, it's just a series of tests. I would assume that your period of celibacy was one of those "Let's give Dave the impression that there's someone else out there who takes all of this as seriously as he does and then suddenly have the guy pack it in and move in with his girlfriend and see if that causes Dave to crack.."
Well, again, I'm not personally invested enough in other people's lives to have it venture anywhere into proximity of where I might crack or where I might not crack. Gerhard has to leave. Complete loss of confidence. Well, okay. Goodbye. Jeff Seiler's being celibate. Well, okay, good for Jeff. But, I'm not Jeff, I'm Dave. Jeff isn't celibate anymore. Well, okay, good for Jeff. But I'm still not Jeff, I'm Dave. In fact, Jeff is pretty sure that the girlfriend he moved in with is an Angel! Well, okay, good for Jeff. I hope for his sake she is. But, I'm still not Jeff, I'm Dave and I don't believe a woman can be an angel let alone an Angel. I believe women are just women.
There is this peculiar lunatic illusion of urgency and pressure that people seem to be always trying to build up around me apparently in an effort to make me crack but I don't really see it as something that you can "crack" ABOUT even if I had any sense at all of any inclination to do so. Most of the time the feminism opposing me is like Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition. The best they can come up with is "the comfy chair". "NO WOMAN WILL HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH YOU! EVER!" I remark upon and to a degree wonder about the level of sanity of people who are incapable of understanding the difference between genuine urgency and pressure and a "comfy chair" (like having a "woman-ectomy" performed on your life) but it doesn't, you know, make me dread the "comfy chair" by the way it's being portrayed to me. "GASP! NO WOMAN WILL HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ME? EVER!? YOU, YOU ARCH-FIENDS! HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME?"
Let me put it this way: if all of your friends abandoned you and you were universally vilified and shunned and disparaged and your livelihood started to evaporate on you and your business partner and creative collaborator of a quarter of a century suddenly announced "I don't want to do this any more," and was gone…
…would that start to convince you that two and two doesn't equal four? Would you start to think, The reason I've lost all of this is because I'm wrong – everyone else believes that two and two equals five. I must be being punished because I'm so very wrong about what two and two is.
Watch my lips:
The one. Doesn't have. ANYTHING. To do. With the other.
If the earth opened up beneath the house and swallowed me alive tomorrow and giant flames lit up the night sky spelling out "DAVE SIM IS SO VERY, VERY WRONG," and every Cerebus trade paperback in the world suddenly collapsed into a pile of maggot-riddled dust…
…Two. Plus Two. Is STILL. Going. To equal. Four.
Do I take Pride or pride in that fact? Uh, no. Why would I take pride in a fact that has nothing to do with me? Two and two equalled four long before I was born and two and two will still equal four long after I'm dead.
I mean, do YOU take pride in two plus two equalling four?
Thanks for writing. Best of luck to you and Kaye.
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