Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #352 (August 29th, 2007)


Fifteen Impossible Things to Believe Before Breakfast That Make You a Good Feminist

1. A mother who works a full-time job and delegates to strangers the raising of her children eight hours a day, five days a week does just as good a job as a mother who hand-rears her children full time.

2. It makes great sense for the government to pay 10 to 15,000 dollars a year to fund a daycare space for a child so its mother - who pays perhaps 2,000 dollars in taxes - can be a contributing member of society.

3. A woman's doctor has more of a valid claim to participate in the decision to abort a fetus than does the father of that fetus.

4. So long as a woman makes a decision after consulting with her doctor, she is incapable of making an unethical choice.

5. A car with two steering wheels, two gas pedals and two brakes drives more efficiently than a car with one steering wheel, one gas pedal and one brake which is why marriage should always be an equal partnership.

6. It is absolutely necessary for women to be allowed to join or participate fully in any gathering place for men, just as it is absolutely necessary that there be women only environments from which men are excluded.

7. Because it involves taking jobs away from men and giving them to women, affirmative action makes for a fairer and more just society.

8. It is important to have lower physical standards for women firepersons and women policepersons so that, one day, half of all firepersons and policepersons will be women, thus more effectively protecting the safety of the public.

9. Affirmative action at colleges and universities needs to be maintained now that more women than men are being enrolled, in order to keep from giving men an unfair advantage academically.

10. Having ensured that there is no environment for men where women don't belong (see no.6) it is important to have zero tolerance of any expression or action which any woman might regard as sexist to ensure greater freedom for everyone.

11. Only in a society which maintains a level of 95% of alimony and child support being paid by men to women can men and women be considered as equals.

12. An airline stewardess who earned $20,000 a year at the time that she married a baseball player earning $6 million a year is entitled, in the event of a divorce, to $3 million for each year of the marriage and probably more.

13. A man's opinions on how to rear and/or raise a child are invalid because he is not the child's mother. However, his financial obligation is greater because no woman gets pregnant by herself.

14. Disagreeing with any of these statements makes you anti-woman and/or a misogynist.

15. Legislature Seats must be allocated to women and women must be allowed to bypass the democratic winnowing process in order to guarantee female representation and, thereby, make democracy fairer.


Still can’t make up my mind if I’m going to do this INK thing. I can never decide if these things are good for comic books, so I’m obligated to participate, bad for comic books so I should stay away from them or neutral for comic books, so don’t worry about it. Did the CRUMB film do any good? Did AMERICAN SPLENDOR? Not for Robert Crumb and Harvey. I assume it did some good for them. But for comic books in general. Or is it just this freak show gig. Look at this WEIRD GUY AND HIS FAMILY that we found and followed around with a camera watching him be weird! Look at this other WEIRD GUY AND HIS FAMILY and the LESS WEIRD guy we got to play him and the animated character we turned him into! If you believe movies are capable of content, I guess you can see that as content.

But, most people do. See movies as being and having content, I mean, and their estimation of a person goes way up if he or she has been the subject of a documentary of any kind. In a world that actually takes Al Gore’s AN INCONTINENT TRUTH seriously there is a distinct possibility that the Independent Film Channel is where you want to be. Hmm.

While I’m making up my mind, here’s a funny one, dated 05/28/2007 and addressed to me in “Kitchner” and scrawled in ink by Robert H. of Aberdeen, WA on “Storm Surf Rock Band” notepad stationery:

Hi. I have a concept script you might be interested in. If so, please mail me info. Thank you. It’s a razzo.

I have to confess I don’t even know what a “razzo” is. Okay, this is the cue for an entire generation of post-adolescent rock band enthusiasts to flood my mailbox with DUDE! THE STORM SURFERS ARE THE ULTIMATE! IF ROBERT H. SAYS HIS CONCEPT SCRIPT IS A RAZZO U DEF9TLY NEED 2 DO IT!


What else have we got here. Oh, a note from Mimi Cruz. I called Night Flight on their 20th Anniversary and talked to her and Alan. She said that James Vance had showed up for the party and they had the new printing of his KINGS IN DISGUISE book in. She volunteered to send me one and I asked her to get Mr. Vance to sign it for me and she did. And he did.

To Dave with awe and amazement at your accomplishment.

Kitchen Sink originally published the series and now W.W. Norton, the same outfit that has the rights to the Will Eisner Library (his graphic novels) has published this new edition, sporting an introduction by Alan Moore, so Vance definitely has friends in the right places. KINGS IN DISGUISE has its origins in a play that he wrote in 1979

The result was a bizarre pastiche of Depression-era leftist melodrama called ON THE ROPES. Set in 1937, it was crammed with characters drawn from icons of that period: WPA artists and performers, labor agitators, messianic Communists, sociopathic strikebreakers, and the inevitable tough-but-tender-hearted female journalist…It worked. Over the next year, the play was revived and toured so often in regional and college theatres that I grew good and sick of it.

KINGS IN DISGUISE explores the origins of a favourite character of his from the play. It’s very interesting to watch a playwright write a comic book. The start is a little shaky and it has its weak moments where he tends to overload each panel with dialogue, still thinking with his stage mind that as long as the characters haven’t significantly changed their positions “on stage” they can just keep talking and not affect the pacing. Dan Burr with his background in underground comix (Death Rattle, Grateful Dead Comix, etc) tends to work with him in much the way that, say, Gary Dumm works with Harvey Pekar. Most of the job is to make it look as if the volume of dialogue is intentional (which it is) while finding a way to balance it with the graphic elements. If you haven’t actually had the experience you can’t really appreciate how difficult it is to achieve that balance and to maintain forward momentum in the narrative which Burr manages VERY effectively.

A couple of things stood out for me: it’s very hard to tell if Vance is actually a leftist and I wondered throughout, having read his introduction, if he was signalling something to the reader with the fact that he was “good and sick of” the original play. If you are documenting the hobo lifestyle of the 1930s -- the contention between the haves and the have nots where a good chunk of the North American population suddenly found themselves slipping from the former category into the latter category – it’s very difficult not to get boxed into the category of polemicist and flag-waver even if all you are trying to do is to document the human condition and including in their ranks the inevitable polemicists and flag-wavers. This was all Herbert Hoover’s fault and the author is really commenting on the evils of capitalism and the (Nixon/Reagan/Bush Sr./Bush Jr.) White House. I’m from very far over on the right, but as a writer I can certainly see that the bottom dropping out of the free market and the effect that had on the average person is great fodder for a human drama. If nothing else, the debates about communism vs. capitalism around hobo campfires is inherently interesting subject matter that would practically write itself. How you keep that from reading like an irate and incoherent screed such as that typical of your average self-pitying, self-righteous college student (of any generation) would be the challenge. The fact that there are sympathetic and (greater surprise) heroic Christian characters in the narrative suggests to me that Vance takes a much wider view than does the cover copy promoting his book:

When his father suddenly disappears and his brother gets arrested, Freddie finds himself homeless and adrift, trying to survive the Detroit labour riots and the furor of violent, anti-Communist mobs.

Well, yes, there is that to it. But, as I say, that isn’t ALL there is to it. Still W.W. Norton is a mainstream book publisher and a quick look around any mainstream bookstore will tell you that you’re going to move more “product” by skewing your cover copy hard left than you are through a more balanced presentation (or, God forbid, skewing your cover copy to the right). Still I wonder if Vance himself looks at it that way. Having struggled to achieve balance in his narrative, his own publisher is dressing him up in the garb of hammer and sickle victimology and all but promising a good “Dearborn bashing” for those who long for the good old days of Labour Good, Management Evil absolutism.

The other interesting thing was the pedophile/homosexual subtext, the number of hobos preying on young boys. There are female characters in the book, but, to me, a clear sign that Vance isn’t a leftist polemicist is that they don’t dominate the proceedings and they aren’t inherently good (“the inevitable tough-but-tender-hearted female journalist” he sneers at in the introduction, recalling his original play). It was mostly men riding the rails and, like convicts, with an absence of access to female flesh, there is a substitution of young male flesh. Any port in a storm. It’s a subtext in the book, but a persuasive argument could be made that it is also a core theme and that this might well be Vance’s largest point. Where lawlessness holds sway and there are no women, young male flesh becomes currency. Not exactly what you would call an attribute you’re going to see on The Top Ten Leftist Hit List of Literary Themes.

Bring on Henry Ford! Bring on the police! Bring on the strikebreakers! This is starting to make us look bad! Major, major bonus points to James Vance for moving that particular chess piece to the center of the board. Okay, NOW let’s talk about the Depression, he seems to say.

In fact the only serious criticism I would have of KINGS IN DISGUISE is that Vance plays more than a little coy with the relationship between Freddie and Sam. They’re inseparable through most of the book but there isn’t a conversation or a gesture or a single scene which would lead you to believe that they were doing the horizontal mamba off-panel. Which colours the story a specific way – they’re just two regular guys, one older, one younger, both looking out for each other even though the older one is desperately ill and, as a result, not very useful for the protection that the older hobo/younger hobo configuration is indicated in the subtext as providing. So Freddie becomes noble in sticking by Sam. Sam becomes noble in not taking sexual advantage of Freddie. There is some good in the world. They could be played by Jimmy Stewart and a young Mickey Rooney in an MGM musical version.

And then very late in the proceedings (page 182 of 184 – which is about as late in the proceedings as you could hope to get) (yes, that is a SPOILER WARNING) having returned to Sam’s home (or, rather, “home”) to the good woman he had left behind when he hit the road, Sam’s dying of pneumonia and the good woman, Elizabeth, and Freddie have a chat and she says, “I don’t care what you’ve been to each other – he came back to me.”

I think she’d told me that for Sam’s sake, she would accept me. All I had to do was maintain the lie that everything would be fine. Many lies ago I might have been able to.

In the silent hours that followed, I tried to make my mind a blank, to feel nothing – but the chaos in my head made that impossible. By nightfall, the walls of that house were closing in on me.

He writes a postcard and leaves it with the unconscious Sam.

Dear Sam,

I guess it’s time I lit out for the territory. Ha ha. Good luck to you and Elizabeth.

Your pal,


And then, in the next panel, as Sam stirs and coughs in his sleep, Freddie leans over and kisses him on the cheek.

It doesn’t, to me, have the necessary quality of a revelation to it so much as it tries to have its cake and eat it, too. Freddie has no response to Elizabeth’s “I don’t care what you’ve been to each other – he came back to me.” Call me old-fashioned, but if someone implied something like that between Jimmy Stewart and Mickey Rooney, I don’t think Judge Hardy’s boy would have taken it lying down. “Say, sister – what do you mean by a crack like that? ‘What we’ve been to each other’?”

Conversely, if that IS what was going on throughout the story – completely off-panel and with so few hints that you’d have to be a complete and utter homophile to find them – then the postcard is just a little too casual and off-handed considering what they had Been To Each Other (as opposed to what they had been to each other). And the kiss on the cheek. Well, it wouldn’t matter if mountain lions had torn out Jimmy Stewart’s guts and he had only seconds to live – it would never occur to Mickey Rooney to kiss him on the cheek. “Heck no. That’s sissy stuff.” I might be a member of the last generation to think that way (Vance is three years younger than I am) but, trust me, its an insurmountable barrier.

It’s particularly unfortunate to strike just so anachronistic a note in a book that takes such pains elsewhere to really make you believe that this is all taking place in the 1930s and a book that really gets the tone and ambience of a more innocent time and innocent way of life on pretty much every page and in pretty much every panel. But it certainly doesn’t undermine (not completely anyway) Alan’s assertion that “This is simply one of the most moving and compelling human stories to emerge out of the graphic story medium thus far.” For 181 of the 184 pages I go along with Alan on that one 100%.

Thanks to Mimi for sending it along and particularly thanks to Jack Vance for signing it for me. Definitely a great permanent addition to the Cerebus Archive

Tomorrow: Reply to Kit P. at INK


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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