Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dave Sim's blogandmail #383 (September 29th, 2007) - "Gary Groth (Part 2)"


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.






24 August 07

Dear Gary:

I understand that you think I'm "letting my paranoia get the better of [me]".

However, just for the record:

a) the rules of dealing with the COMICS JOURNAL – particularly when being interviewed -- are very well understood by everyone except yourself. In the same way that you have never understood that publishing comic books and doing a magazine about comic books represents a conflict of interest. Your failure to recognize the self-evident doesn't make it any less self-evident.

b) you have never run a positive review of my work.

c) I think it would be the case and in fact I think it is the case: stemming from your obvious and justified self-confidence that no one who reads the JOURNAL would ever think of me as anything but a lunatic and a crank. You're willing to publish me for the same reason that David Letterman had Harvey Pekar on his show.

d) At a specific point there is no value in expending hours of time, miles of tape and oceans of newsprint explaining why I'm not Gilbert Hernandez. I suspect that's the reason Chester Brown turned you down as well.

No, you're quite right, I should have put "that" [emphasis mine] and failed to do so. But I think it was implied and that my inferring such is sustained by your lack of a follow-up question asking Andrew to explain what he was talking about.

The "was" I will grant you, although even there Andrew was being careful to keep within the politically approved issue 50 to 100 guideline (i.e. nothing Dave Sim did post-186 can be addressed directly or anything favourable said about it) (that isn't just the JOURNAL that's the comic-book field-in-general universal consensus) and consequently your response dovetails with that. Way back before issue 186, Dave Sim had masterful comedic timing.

It wouldn't be a matter of Andrew being honest or not in answering your question, it would be a matter of the King of the Avant Garde (that's you) putting the question to him. Anyone in the Avant Garde is fully aware that you have a magazine that can crush them like an insect. He'll tell you whatever it is he thinks you want to hear. The same as any avant garde cartoonist you put a question to.

As to your being acerbic or not, well, I think you're ignoring the fact that I've been officially beneath your notice since you chose to have Tom Spurgeon do the last interview. There was no need to give me a poke in the ribs – that was what everyone else writing for the magazine or being interviewed by the magazine was for. I certainly know you well enough to know that if you want to criticize someone you will come out and do it straightforwardly. I also know that there are people you consider to be beneath your notice and I am well aware that I've been in that category for some time. I understand that you believe that expressing an interest in grilling me at length on why I'm not Gilbert Hernandez belies my being beneath your notice, but I think, on the contrary it demonstrates the category I'm in: non top-100, not Gilbert Hernandez, consequently beneath notice.

I'm not embattled, Gary, I am a pariah – that's a far more extreme form of merely being embattled. I don't let it poison my perceptions; I let the comic-book field in general take care of that. They've never let me down, yet, post-186. Fortunately, I have this unshakeable grasp of reality. Don't know where it comes from, but I'm certainly glad that I have it. Thank you for understanding my need to set the record straight.

You can relay this to Jeff from me:

I am calm, Jeff. I've been calm for thirteen years while all of you people have done your level best to destroy me. It hasn't worked BECAUSE I've been completely calm. Now, I'm -- very calmly through the Blog & Mail – reading into the record what has happened for the last thirteen years and -- you can thank Bryan Talbot for this -- revisiting your key role in that attempted destruction. I don't care and never did care what your "feelings" were about me or anyone or anything else. All I'm interested in and all I ever was interested in is reality.

Say, Gary, can I run your last two faxes on the Blog & Mail? I hate to do all this typing for nothing. I'll even quietly correct "sparring partner" instead of writing "sparing [sic] partner." How's that for generosity?




August 31, 2007


Sorry to take so long to reply, but between running the empire and single parenting, I've got my hands full. Not that you aren't a priority, mind you.

Your last letter was pretty funny, especially in light of your boast that you "have this unshakeable grasp of reality." I believe we may agree that getting one's facts straight is a prerequisite to having an unshakeable grasp of reality. With that in mind, let's look at a couple of "facts" proffered in your last letter.

You write:

" have never run a positive review of my work."

This is false and I knew it was false, but I didn't have the time (and nor did anyone else in my office) to search through every issue of the Journal to compile a full list of positive reviews of your work. Luckily, I remembered that some guy by the name of Kim Thompson wrote one and found it in issue #52. It was a rave review.

First, he favorably compares you Carl Barks, George Herriman and Lee/Ditko; then, he writes:

"Cerebus the Aardvark has surmounted its origins, both stylistic and thematic, to stand on its own two...feet as a delightful and admirable work of art, and is busily propelling its creator, Dave Sim, to the very forefront of artists currently working in comics...He has chosen to put his ever increasing craftsmanship in the service of telling, in a straightforward and articulate manor, highly entertaining and witty stories featuring well-developed and affecting characters. ...Cerebus himself is delight. Tempering his initial sullenness with a wicked sense of wit, Sim has evolved Cerebus into a sterling protagonist with a sharply defined personality, bringing to light traits both positive...and negative...Quite apart from the great charm of Sim's characters, the efficient command of the comics language evident throughout the series is one of its major assets. ...Sim uses the vocabulary of comics with such lucidity and craft that the techniques, most of which are frequently paraded around with no good lesser talents, are perfectly integrated. ...those who scrutinize the alternative press in search of future masters, and then delight in charting their progress, would do well to follow Cerebus...because Sim is here to stay -- if we are fortunate."

The only way this review could've been more positive was to have written it yourself.

Despite the fact that never means never and never has a very specific meaning that does not include "in a long time," I anticipate that the loophole you will be looking for is that this review was written pre-Tangents and therefore doesn't count (as if there was a statute of limitations on "never"). So, I checked Journal #263 (November 2004) because I knew we devoted an entire critical section to Cerebus in the post-300, post-Tangents world. In it, I find a very favorable review by David Groenewegen ("In Cerebus we have a unique piece of art precisely because it maps the changing mind and views of Dave Sim," "This is a delicate balance, and to me, over the course of 300 issues, he succeeded far more often than he failed," etc.) a well as a piece by Colby Cosh that puts your political stances in a more sympathetic context by reviewing the more outrageous leftist political inclinations of Canadian civil society.

(Which reminds me; In your last letter, you boast that "six years after first compiling them in 'Tangent,' no one has been able to refute..."Sixteen Impossible Things To Believe Before Breakfast..." In fact, they were refuted, with no little panache, in the issue of the Journal I cite above, by Renee Stephen. Which fact, again, calls into question your "unshakeable grasp of reality.")

Incidentally, falsely claiming that the Journal has "never" run a positive review of your work makes the next allegation (c) untenable as well.

(And I have no idea what you mean by saying we publish your writing in the Journal for the same reason David Letterman allows Harvey Pekar on his show. Do you do one-armed push-ups or something? And how would you know why David Letterman has Harvey Pekar on his show? And how could you extrapolate from that that I have the same reasons for publishing you in the Journal. These are suppositions, however logical or illogical, and have nothing to do with any reality except the reality in Dave Sim's head. For what it's worth, my supposition is that Letterman had Pekar on his show because Pekar was funny; nothing you've written for the Journal is particularly funny, so even your internal logic isn't consistent and is certainly not a shared reality with mine or, perhaps, with anyone else's.)

Dave, it's not just your factual assertions that are flat-out false, but even your rhetorical speculations that are meant to be truthful are empirically false. Practically every line you've written here and every point you try to hammer home indicates a certain remove from reality that, cumulatively, is frankly a little scary. Where to begin, or worse, where to end?

Let's take your assertion that there's an "unwritten rule" that as an interview subject, to quote from your previous letter, "you are better off not mentioning Dave Sim, but if you do mention Dave Sim, you can say something nice about his work but it has to be accompanied by a veiled reference to his running a Nazi concentration camp for women and/or being clinically insane." When I insisted there were no such rules and that cartoonists we interview were certainly unaware of any such rules, you scoffed in your next letter and insisted that "the rules of dealing with The Comics Journal -- particularly when being interviewed -- are very well understood by everyone except yourself," implying, of course, that it's my own sense of reality that is off kilter.

For a brief and fleeting moment, I thought to myself, maybe Dave knows something I don't; maybe there is an understanding among all the Journal interview subjects that they're not allowed to talk about Dave except under the circumscribed editorial parameters he's outlined. Since we were talking about Roger Langridge's interview, I decided to check with Roger. I quoted your understanding of the unwritten rule that everyone but me was aware of, and put it to him: Were you aware of this unwritten rule? His response:

"I'm not sure, but I get the impression Andrew missed the last half of Cerebus because (unlike me) he was busy having a life, so all the homosexualist/feminist axis stuff probably slipped right past him. And I didn't mention Dave at all, although I probably should have, at least the early funny ones (High Society-era), which were quite an influence. I bought Cerebus right to the bitter end, because I felt somebody should, but there are still about eighty issues I haven't read yet. The more comics I draw, the fewer I read, oddly enough.

"So I suppose answer to your question is that we didn't get the memo. If Dave ever invades Poland I'll write the Journal a letter or something."

I believe that means his failure to mention you was not attributable to the Unwritten Rule. In other words, there is no Unwritten Rule. There was no implicit understanding on the part of Jerry Robinson or Eddie Campbell or David B. or Mike Ploog or Sophie Crumb or Terry Moore or Frank Thorne or Melinda Gebbie or Alison Bechdel or Lewis Trondheim (to name the most recent Journal interviews) that they were prohibited from rhapsodizing about Dave Sim if they wanted to. This ambient Unwritten Rule you think is known by one and all simply doesn't exist in anyone's mind but your own.

OK, what else? Oh, this is pretty funny. In reference to (d), and your suspicion that the reason Chester chose not to give an interview to me for the Journal because he didn't want to spend hours explaining why he wasn't Gilbert Hernandez: Oooops, wrong again! I'd been meaning to give Chester a call for awhile and badger him again for an interview and this gave me even more reason, so I called him, and put it to him: I gave him the context (as best I could) and asked him if the reason he turned me down earlier was because I would interview him in such a way that would betray a Gilbert Hernnadez bias that would somehow put him at a disadvantage (which is the best I can do to make out what you're trying to say) and he said, flat out, no, that had never even occurred to him. He also said to say Hi. Even better, he agreed to be interviewed in the Journal! I'll do it upon the publication of his next book, which sounds like a doozy. So, this turned out to be a win-win for me: I disprove another one of your goofy theories plus I nailed Chester down for an interview.

I decided to go back and take a look at my interview with Andrew Langridge and see if I really dropped the ball by not following up on his comment about how your work influenced him. Andrew spent a paragraph describing how your visual pacing influened him (in answer to a question from me on the subject):

"In terms of the actual timing on the page, which was generally part of the breakdown that I'd come up with in the first instance, I'd say there are a few cartoonists whose visual timing was really influential. I think Dave Sim was doing some really interesting things in Cerebus in terms of pacing on the page during the mid-'80s. Particularly sort of round issue 50 to 100 where a lot of stories were really sparse in terms of dialogue and script. A lot of attention paid to how you time a gag visually."

To which I respond, "Right, he was quite masterful at that, yes." Note, again, that I used the past tense, because Andrew was referring specifically to a certain period of Cerebus and because you're no longer drawing Cerebus. "Naturally enough," you wrote in your August 24 fax, "you cut it off pretty quickly with 'Right, he was quite masterful at that, yes." Why would you interpret an affirmative response as to your mastery to be cutting Andrew off rather than encouraging him to continue? You continue with the somewhat megalomaniacal forensic point, "You weren't going to go out on a limb and ask, 'Well, how was the way Dave Sim set up a gag different from the way gags had been set up to that point?" In fact, I didn't need to because he went on to explicate what he learned from you:

"And some of the things which we latched onto as being important were parceling out the rate if change from panel to panel. If you cram every panel with too much visual information, it stops you reading it cinematically. Because you're trying to look at every detail and the details are changing from panel to panel. It's more like looking at a still picture which you have to digest rather than reading it as a flow of images which can then have a timing to it."

The reason I infer that he was still referring to Cerebus is because I tie this back to Cerebus with my next comment (which you somehow forgot to mention in your letter complaining about how we didn't talk about you enough) when I said:

"Your approach echoes Cerebus to some extent in that it's very slow-moving in the sense that the changes between panels are very subtle," to which Andrew replies: "Yeah."

I was wondering where the hell your obsession with Gilbert Hernandez was coming from; reviewing Andrew's interview, I found out. After Andrew replies in the affirmative, the exchange continues:

Groth: "And that was calculated"

Langridge: "That's right."

And then without any prompting from me whatsoever, Andrew has the temerity to change the subject from Dave Sim to guess-who:

"One of my favorite pieces of comic timing from the time was a one-page strip that Gilbert Hernandez did called, I think, 'Homo Eruptus.'"

Two observations;

First, you completely misrepresented the flow of the conversation. (Come to think of it, isn't one of your grievances against Jeff Smith that he misrepresented a conversation between the two of you?) Not only did I say that you were quite masterful, but I followed up with another comment about Cerebus, leaving him open to continue talking about you and Cerebus. Instead, he mentioned Gilbert Hernandez and since there is no Unwritten Rule dictating that he do so, we can only assume he did so of his own volition and because he felt that Gilbert's work was also relevant of the question of his influences.

Second, do you have any conception of how ego-driven this complaint is? Most artists would be pleased if someone spent two paragraphs describing an influence, but to you, that's not enough; most artists would be happy if the interviewer referred to them as masterful, but to you this is evidence of betrayal or sabotage. No, the interviewer should've asked more follow-up questions; the interview subject should have spent -- what? -- two, four six more paragraphs talking about his influence. Really, Dave, you've got to get a grip. To paranoia, we can add a sense of persecution along with an insatiable ego, a lethal combination that wouldn't be of any help to anyone who wants an unshakeable grasp on reality.

Your insinuation that Andrew only dragged Gilbert into the conversation because he thought that's what I wanted to hear and only wanted to please me is insulting to Andrew, and your reference to the Journal's ability to crush cartoonists like insects is not only an example of paranoia but paranoia 20 years out of date. Your

reference to me as the King of the Avant Garde is risible; if anything I am a bit fogeyish in my comics tastes (though there is much to like in young cartoonists like Kathy Malkasian, Josh Simmons, Tim Lane, Jonathan Bennett, and Eleanor Davis, to name only a few). You may be an unfortunate example, much as I distrust the term Avant Garde, of yesterday's Avant Garde becoming today's Reactionary.

As for your thinking of yourself as a pariah, I have noticed an unlovely whininess that has crept into your discourse, and I'd suggest that it's beneath you. If you publicly vent opinions that the majority of those who live in liberal democracies find abhorrent, you have to deal with the response. You once argued -- here in Seattle, over coffee --that I should not have written that little essay about Carol Kalish because people would take umbrage and make my life miserable.

You were right about people's response, but I argued then and would argue now that you have an obligation to speak your mind, to speak the truth as you understand it. If that's what you think you have done, more power to you, but you have to accept that people will disagree, and their response comes with the territory. All in all, I think you've been treated pretty fairly, at least from this enclave in the comics profession. I wanted to interview you after Cerebus 300 (an invitation you turned down, as is your prerogative); we enjoy publishing you in the pages of the Journal on those occasions you offer to write for it; you are mentioned in interviews whenever the hell the interview subject wants to mention you; we run positive as well as negative reviews of your work. We treat you and your work seriously.

"Fortunately," you write, presumably straight-facedly, "I have this unshakeable grasp of reality. I don't know where it comes from, but I'm certainly glad that I have it."

This reminds of me of the old joke about the man who thinks he's Napoleon. When confronted with the real Napoleon, his logical and rational response is: "Impostor!"

Plainly, I don't see things as you do. I don't think you're quite up to speed, reality-wise. My own suspicion is that it's not so much that you are treated like a pariah by an irrational cadre of commies and homosexualists than that people, both professionals and readers, have given up on you out of frustration precisely because your grasp of reality is so shaky.



PS: Sure, you can run this exchange on Blog & Mail (what the hell is Blog & Mail, by the way?). Two stipulations: I'd like it run in its entirety (whenever it runs its course), and I'd like the same right to post it on our web site if I choose to. Oh, and please fix my typos; my typing is getting sloppier and sloppier.

Do you want further proof of your divorce from reality? No problem. There's virtually no line in your entire letter that doesn't indicate a remoteness from reality, whether it's a reality displaced by 15 years or so, or reality qua reality.

The proposition that I am the King of the Avant Garde is risible.

(Further response from Dave will be posted sometime after October 6th)



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

Looking for a place to purchase Cerebus phonebooks? You can do so online through Win-Mill Productions -- producers of Following Cerebus. Convenient payment with PayPal:

Win-Mill Productions

Or, you can check out Mars Import:

Mars Import

Or ask your local retailer to order them for you through Diamond Comics distributors.