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Die Alone, Unmourned, and Unloved: Reflections upon Reading Cerebus

Last Sunday, I finished reading Cerebus. I bought all 16 phonebooks collecting the series last year (I already had the zero issue and World Tour book from backing the digital High Society Kickstarter, so no gaps there either) and, prompted by Andrew Hickey deciding to write about the series over at Mindless Ones, I dove in. Two months later, give or take, I have finished and have spent the last week thinking about the series, wondering if I have anything to say about it. I believe I do.

Finishing Cerebus is not unlike finishing Ulysses: you have read a large, ‘important’ work and you look around, waiting for someone to pop out, congratulate you, and declare you a winner or some other equally stupid sentiment. When, really, all you did was read 300 comics, something you possibly do all of the time, consistently reaching that ‘milestone’ without realising it. Still, there’s an emptiness to finishing something so immense and singular. You’re done. And that’s it. No more Cerebus for you. Sure, there are some apocryphal stories and Following Cerebus and, hey, a good reason to reread glamourpuss, but Cerebus itself is done. There is no more.

Given the reputation that Cerebus has and the way its readership dropped during the final third or so, you wouldn’t think that the case. Most people talk about having to push through to the end if they even make it there. Yet, I hit the end of the series and wanted more. Not literally, of course. The series had run its course and there was nothing else to add. Nonetheless, the instinct was there: “I want more of this! I’ve read 300 issues over the past couple of months and I can’t stop now! Give me more!” It’s a reaction of habit, of mindset towards a specific task, and a comment on how goddamn great Cerebus is. It wasn’t a chore to reach the end; it was a joy. It may have went into unexpected areas and storytelling approaches, but the high level of skill and craft that Dave Sim brought to the writing and, along with Gerhard, to the art is so staggering that, even in the final third, there’s no looking away, no feelings of “Well, I made it this far, I guess I’ll stick it out…” It was always engaging, always challenging, always interesting. The closest I got to those seemingly typical feelings was in looking at a lot of small-print text and going “I thought that I was reading a comic” or my general frustration with reading excessive phonetic dialogue (but that isn’t a Cerebus-specific criticism (the amount of desire/willpower it requires for me to dive into an Irvine Welsh novel is pretty high and I rather like his writing)).

Part of my level of engagement comes from not worrying about Sim’s intentions too much. That’s a mistake that so many readers fall into. While aware of his personal beliefs (particularly when they were expressed explicitly in the comic), I didn’t let them limit what I took out of the work. A good example is the very end of Cerebus where (and, here, we hit me talking in detail about the very end of this series and, considering when it finished and the seemingly lack of drive on most people’s parts to read this comic, I’m not going to worry about spoilers) Cerebus dies, his life flashes before his eyes, he goes to Heaven, sees all of his loved ones, friends, family, past associates, etc., notices that Rick Nash isn’t among them, questions what’s going on, and does his best to escape being pulled into the light, screaming for God to save him, which does not happen. There are several important details at play here that inform Cerebus’s reaction to his death. The absence of Rick strikes him as strange/suspicious because Rick was a prophet that created the Cerebite faith through the “Book of Rick” where Cerebus is depicted as a prophet, leading him on the path to write the “Book of Cerebus” and stand at the head of that church, eventually reading the “Books of Moshe” (aka the Torah), becoming devout to God, and so on. Rick not being in Heaven seems strange because, as a man of faith responsible for Cerebus’s religious awakening, his absence is conspicuous. Add to that the idea that the light represents Yoohwhoo, the “He/She/It” that broke off from God, and is seen as a negative force in the world (a false god), and Cerebus is terrified of going into the light. Sim’s intention with this ending is that Cerebus, once again, fails to recognise the dangerous path he is on, sucked in by Jaka (the love of his life) and his other dead friends. He only sees too late that the wrong people are in ‘Heaven’ and that he has failed another test of faith (as he consistently did while alive). What happens as a result is left ambiguous.

However, I only learned of Sim’s intention with this ending after I read it. What I read was Cerebus dying, going to Heaven, seeing his loved ones, failing to see a man who, while responsible for the Cerebite faith, was someone that Cerebus mockingly referred to as “Girly Boy” and generally had little regard for in life, places so much emphasis on his specific, personal belief in how the universe is, that he panics when the reality doesn’t conform to that specific, personal belief. Rick isn’t in Heaven because Cerebus doesn’t really want him there; Rick was an impediment to both Jaka and Joanne, and someone that Cerebus didn’t really like. Cerebus is so caught up in the religious world that Rick has foisted on him, one that left him alone, scorned by his son, and fairly miserable that what he gets upon his death is what he really wants: Jaka, Bear, Ham Ernestway, and all of his old friends. That is his real Heaven. There is no failed test. There is just a man who cannot escape a way of life that has left him miserable even after that life is over. The one big hole in this interpretation is that Heaven is populated with a wide array of characters from the comic, including some that Cerebus didn’t particularly like. However, they all were allies at one time or another and were more… annoyances that anything. They were from more exciting, interesting, fun times… Rick, on the other hand, was someone who was always in the way.

Obviously, my reading of the end conflicts with Sim’s intention, but what does that matter? My reading is based off of what I read. Sim’s intention has no bearing on that aside from creating an internal dialogue where I consider my interpretation and his intention. That’s part of where my interest in Cerebus was cultivated as I read: Sim raising ideas and arguments that I disagree with and, then, considering them, rethinking both what he raised and what my initial reaction was. That dialogue, that tension, is part of the joy of this comic. The commentaries on the “Book of Genesis” in Latter Days are fantastic for that – and is actually a place where I’m sympathetic to Sim’s approach. As an atheist, I obviously don’t agree with those commentaries (nor any that would put those stories in any context than as stories in a book), but Sim’s personal interpretation is so unique and different from anything I had encountered before that it is captivating. And, what’s more, it is a close reading of the text where he takes what’s there and gives a radically different interpretation that what was seemingly intended. The intention and common reading doesn’t matter, because Sim gets something completely different out of the text. And is pretty funny about it much of the time, too. However, Sim suggests the primacy of what one takes from the work is what matters, not the intention upon creation (despite arguing that only his interpretation is what the Torah was really intended to communicate, semi-end-running the whole interpretation/intention argument by making his interpretation the intention).

Much of the final third of Cerebus is like that: what Sim apparently meant and what is there on the page for me. Something that seems to get people tripped up is the idea that Cerebus is a character whose views are to be taken seriously at all, whether they represent what Sim thinks or not. Cerebus is a very flawed person, something Sim explicitly points out in Minds. This is a character that will jump on any chance to be in power, to be rich, to be loved, to get what he wants. His entire religious life during the final 50 pages seems less than a sincere show of faith and belief than another chance for Cerebus to be in charge and be important. It’s the only time where, once he attains that goal, he doesn’t screw it up immediately, seemingly allowing himself to fall into a life where he believes the hype that put him in that position. He lives in the giant Sanctuary and begins his commentaries on the Torah, because that’s part of what that lifestyle entails. He delivers a radically divergent interpretation because that’s how he maintains his position of primacy in his Church. And, when a woman that looks just like Jaka shows up, his old urge to be with her comes up again. It’s not that he “fails the Jaka test” again, it’s that Cerebus is Cerebus is Cerebus and he is always selfish, always greedy, always lustful, always determined to get what he wants when he wants it – so determined that he can make himself believe anything in that goal. So, when Cerebus becomes a mouthpiece for views or ideas that I don’t agree with, how is that anything new? While Cerebus is an engaging protagonist and one that I rooted for most of the time, that doesn’t mean he’s one that I agreed with. Similar to Walter White in Breaking Bad, you root for his success because that keeps the story going. Cerebus is interesting because of his myriad of flaws.

Dave Sim’s supposed misogyny didn’t pose much of an issue for me either for a few reasons. Firstly, his personal views don’t matter to me. They don’t. What matters is the work. Secondly, based on what I see, he isn’t a misogynist because that necessitates hatred and I never saw evidence of hatred. Sim presented his view of the world in a fairly rational (from his perspective) manner, free of emotions. His views on women are extremely problematic and, hey why not just say it, wrong. However, it isn’t hate. It’s simply the world as he sees it, no more dissimilar than you describing what you see in society when you observe cars or trees. It’s such an odd way to observe the world that it’s understandable how it can be conflated with misogyny. (The one thing you need to understand is that applying typical concepts to Sim doesn’t work because his approach to the world is so outside the norm that those concepts lose all applicable meaning with him. At least, from what I’ve seen/read.) (And before anyone jumps on me, I’ll through my old partner in crime under the bus with me, since Tim Callahan wrote pretty much the same thing in his “When Words Collide” column when he reread Cerebus three years ago: part one, part two, and part three. Thirdly, all of those views are filtered through characters in the comic. Those characters all have unique personalities, motives, histories, and reasons for arriving at where they are in the story. If a character expresses a view that I disagree with or acts in a way that I disagree with, that doesn’t offend me, that’s part of reading fiction. I expect to encounter a variety of characters that bring forth ideas and perspectives that challenge my own, especially in a work as sprawling and large as Cerebus. That any of the characters represent the true views of the author is immaterial. I don’t presume to know if they do or they don’t, and I don’t allow the certainty of that knowledge, when available, to impact my reading of the work, if possible.

The most challenging instance of this approach was when I read the conclusion of Reads, the infamous issue 186. In Reads, Sim spends a large chunk of the volume using text pieces to tell two stories that intersect thematically with what’s happening in the comic, but also exist outside of the narrative, particularly the second set of text pieces, centring on Viktor Davis, a seeming stand-in for Dave Sim (though, the character is folded into the narrative proper later as a friend of Rick’s before he married Jaka). In issue 186, Davis outlines the ‘Male Light/Female Void’ concept that is now one of the main things that people know about Sim and one of the main reason why so many were driven away from Cerebus at the time and, now, don’t bother with it. I get that. Not many people want to read a paper-thin analogue for the author talk about the innate brilliance of the ‘ rational Male Light’ that is sucked away by the ‘ emotional Female Void,’ especially when it seems to inform his approach to his comic. Reading it, I prepared for the worst and found a fairly superficial ‘men are great, women and family are not’ piece that wasn’t anything that I haven’t seen a hundred times before in a wide variety of contexts (from family sitcoms to the downfall of the Beatles to people in my day to day life). But, then, I started considering what he wrote and how it applies to me. That was the challenge. I didn’t want to immediately dismiss what was written just because it struck me as Wrong. I wanted to examine what I really thought. And I found that, sometimes, I completely agree with what he wrote. Ironically, those times are the ones when I’m at my most emotional and irrational. As the father of an eight-month-old, I’m still struggling with the dramatic change that marriage and fatherhood have brought into my life. Sometimes, it’s incredibly frustrating that things aren’t like they were and, it’s at those times, when I’m self-pitying, selfish, and angry that these people have prevented me from doing what I want when I want, that, yeah, the idea that it’s nothing more than a ‘Female Void’ (and something else that isn’t a ‘Male Light,’ because “light does not breed”) sucking away my ‘Male Light’ is appealing. Why wouldn’t an argument where I’m amazing, I am always right, and everything wrong in my life is the fault of others not be appealing? It plays upon the most self-indulgent parts of me – I have this ‘Male Light’ that is so singular, so spectacular, so amazing – yeah, right, you know? But, like I said, that’s when I’m at my most emotional and irrational – something that still makes me laugh about this whole thing. When I’m rational and think about my life, I love it. But, it is something that I struggle with, and issue 186 has helped me with that, because it held up a view of the world that I sometimes indulge in, privately. It laid out the arguments for that alternate world where I’m somehow aggrieved and wronged by my own choices (that weren’t my fault!) that allowed me to look at it and see how wrong it was, rationally.

Beyond that, it was just characters on the page, acting the way that they act. While their construction wasn’t always as well-rounded as they could be in that final third, that, oddly, made them easier to read about. They were even more imperfect, creating more dynamic conflicts. Sometimes, as Tim noted, they wound up talking at one another than to one another, but that seemed appropriate for the conflicts in question. In Going Home and Form & Void, Cerebus and Jaka couldn’t talk to one another, because they were never having the same conversation. Before, sometimes, they were. Now, they were in the relationship that they had both tried to make happen in the past and, through external circumstances, failed; however, it was a doomed relationship, especially by that point. Both of them had been through so much that they weren’t the same people that fell in love initially. They got together because of that old love and stayed together because of it, hoping that they could somehow find their way back to it. Instead, it was a relationship of reluctant compromises and wildly differing desires.

The conflict between the Cirinist and Kevillists always read to me less a criticism of women than a presentation of the conflict between ideologies in a manner that didn’t necessarily draw in dominant political ideologies from the real world. Basically, a stand in for a conflict between capitalism and socialist, but through a completely different motivator than economics. More than that, it was boiled down to a conflict between two people from those ideologies and their personal issues. It may have played out on a grander stage, but, filtered through Cirin and Astoria, it was really about Cirin and Astoria. The ‘magnifying effect’ that Cerebus and the other aardvarks had was at play and was a big part of how the series was constructed where these largescale events happened in the background to a degree as we followed the specific conflicts and events in the lives of these specific people. That Cirin was the leader of the Cirinists and represented them was part of her character, but what was primary about her actions was that they were her actions, to put it more explicitly. What Cerebus thought about women only went as far as what Cerebus thought about women (and who would put much stock in that?).

It isn’t a matter of ignoring the intention entirely, just not being constrained by it. Or, more accurately, allowing that intention to manifest itself in the work without outside commentary being necessary. Sim considers the work itself primary and self-evident in communicating what he wants to communicate, and has said so on numerous occasions. There is a small tradition of authors revising works to have the specific intender impact; the most notable example is Pamela by Samuel Richardson where he put out several revised editions based on how readers misinterpreted the work per what he intended. If it was solely about communicating specific ideas in a specific way where there is no mistake what is meant, then doing so through a fictional narrative in an artful fashion is just about the worst way to do it. If all Sim wanted to do was express his ideas cleanly and directly, he could. Instead, he produced a comic book centred around a fictional aardvark where what he wanted to communicate had to be filtered through that lens – and, because Sim wanted to make it ‘good,’ he did so in a manner that emphasised his technique and skill, both as a writer and artist, leaving a giant gap between intention and what was on the page. It’s an unavoidable gap – but it’s as large a gap as the one between Cerebus and Sim himself.

***

I don’t disagree with people who dismiss the first volume of Cerebus as somewhat unnecessary (or, really, not the best starting place based on how the series shapes up once High Society begins), but I don’t agree either. That perspective is valid. A good chunk of that first volume features crude art and stories that bear little relationship to what comes later. However, Sim shows a lot of glimpses of the cleverness and intelligence that would be on display for the rest of the series. I rather enjoyed those fantasy parody stories and the groundwork laid there that Sim would never disown or even really distance himself from. While the series evolved and changed, he drew upon those first 25 issues at various points and always allowed that element of Cerebus’s past to stand. That he was once the character from those stories informed him extensively. Reading them isn’t required to pick up on that, but it doesn’t hurt.

It’s kind of funny how, for some, the first volume isn’t essential, nor are the final… actually, I never quite got where it was exactly that people stopped reading Cerebus. Issue 200 was the end of Sim’s planned stories up to that point (he seemed to do just fine with the remaining 100 issues…) so that could be an easy jumping-off point. But, that’s post-issue 186… I’m sure there are some who stick to High Society through Jaka’s Story since that seems like the mostly agreed upon peak of the series. For me, that misses out on the most thrilling part of the series: the epilogue/end of Melmoth where Cerebus kills the Cirinist guards and is off-and-running. After the quiet nature of that volume with Cerebus’s reaction to the then-thought death of Jaka, it’s just one of those moments where you can hear the musical score in your head and your pulse jumps and you can’t wait to grab the next volume. I can’t really grasp the idea of leaving anything out since it’s all important, all of the single pieces of these 300 issues. Any time I try to think of place where someone could just jump off, I remember a bunch of amazing things in the next volume that they would be missing out on.

***

Cerebus provides a unique opportunity to see an artist develop, grow, and change in such a constrained environment. For most writers and artists, you see this happen over a variety of works where there isn’t as direct a line because of the differing demands of each individual work. While Cerebus is divided into individual issues and larger stories, it is a single, linear work where each issue and volume flows into the next somehow. Tim said it best when the story of Cerebus is the autobiography of Dave Sim, both as a person and an artist. Looking at the first issue of Cerebus alongside the last, the contrast is remarkable. Besides the title character and the writer/artist, nothing is the same (and Sim had Gerhard providing the backgrounds in #300 so even that’s an additional change). Yet, it’s a straight progression from one to the other where you can see each step of development and growth. Where Sim goes from aspiring creator doing a light parody of Conan the Barbarian to ending the epic story of a man’s life as he faces his death and what lies beyond, done in as spectacular and moving a fashion as anything I can think of.

Whenever I went back to a previous volume to check on something, I was constantly amazed at how much Sim had progressed as an artist. While, by the beginning of High Society, he had mostly settled into the style most recognisable as his, he never stopped improving and experimenting and pushing himself. Because I’m a very writer-oriented reader (and writer about comics), I didn’t pay as much attention to the art as I should have. (While I noticed the difference Gerhard made, I really need to go back and really look hard at his contributions. What’s funny is that I was probably more aware of him than Sim when I was much younger, because I had an issue of Wizard where he did one of those art instruction features that ran in every issue about how to draw the background. If I recall, he used a page from Guys for the feature. I remember Marty very clearly from that feature.) That said, you would have to be blind to not take note of the amazing art that Sim and Gerhard produced. The formal experiments that Sim constantly engaged in, pushing the comic book page as far as he could and beyond. I remember Augie de Blieck talking, once (or twice), about Sim’s phenomenal lettering and was blown away at how much Augie undersold it. The integration of the writing, the art, and the lettering is of the highest calibre in Cerebus. It reaches its height in Guys and Rick’s Story with Cerebus’s internal dialogues as thought balloons overlap and compete for space over top of incredibly expressive art. Those were pages that I would stop and just look at, blown away at how everything was working together in seamless harmony. I have never seen pages that work as well as those ones on every level.

Sim’s willingness to do very minimalist pages was surprised. I expected him, with his formalist experimentation to move in a more dense direction, but much of the middle portion of the book, from Jaka’s Story up through Minds, he definitely pulled back a lot of the time, willing to let images sit by themselves, to let them have pages to themselves (though only taking up a portion of the page) and seeing what impact that has. That makes the latter third feel even denser, because Sim pulled back so much for that middle third as times.

From a sheer cartooning/artistic perspective, nothing touches The Last Day. Old Cerebus… just thinking about him makes me laugh. Cerebus pushed the idea of Cerebus as an ancient aardvark so far and did so much physical comedy with him… Cerebus was always a funny book (even during its ‘serious’ phases), but that may be the funniest (and, by the end, saddest) volume because of the way that Sim can consistently do stunning visual gags with this wrinkled, shriveled up old aardvark holding his pants up and shuffling around his room. If I had any doubts that Sim was a master of his craft by that point in the series, The Last Day killed them.

But, he was always a very visually-oriented humorist. That shouldn’t be surprising in a visual medium like comics, but, often, funny comics are funny because of the writing and not the art as much it seems. At least in comic books. Even comic strips to a degree don’t rely on the art to communicate the jokes as much as the words. Sim, while a funny writer, uses his art more, I found. Or, at least, to complement and enhance verbal/written jokes. Elrod, for example, is very funny for his dialogue, but would only be half as funny were it not for Sim’s visuals of this lanky, blank-eyed, lanky albino imposes himself in the physical space of others. It wasn’t just that his imposing, interrupting personality evidenced itself through words, he went right up to characters and physically invaded their space and made sure to plant himself there.

The way that Sim could alternate between styles took me aback. Prior to Cerebus, I had gotten glamourpuss as it came out, but, there, Sim was very much in a photorealist preference of style. I didn’t expect him to so easily depict cartoon animals, realistic looking humans, cartoony humans, superheroes… When others talk about Cerebus being, at certain points, characters from a variety of genres interacting, that extends to visual representations. Yet, it doesn’t look like a mishmash of conflicting and competing styles. Cerebus, while different from Astoria and the various incarnations of the Roach, for example, still looks of that world. They somehow coexist through Sim. It’s a subtle difference and was still effective even when he would tell different narratives in the same volume, using different styles, and still produce a surprisingly harmonious-looking work.

The harmony between Sim and Gerhard was also surprising given that Gerhard is very much an adherent to realism and Sim was willing to go in any and all directions. The contrast between Cerebus and Gerhard’s backgrounds only served to make Cerebus seem more real somehow. You would think that the ornate, intricate, strongly referenced backgrounds with produce an effect like seeing animated characters in a live action world in a movie, but it doesn’t. Maybe because it’s all drawn art… But, that definitely surprised me. That and the way that the foreground characters and backgrounds rarely seemed out of touch with one another. It was a very visually smooth synthesis of the two men’s work.

***

Read 300 issues like this and they’ll impact you in weird ways. The weirdest, for me, had to be the morning where I woke up and couldn’t get the phrase “Something fell” out of my head. It kept coming back. In Cerebus, it designates a moment of change/bad things happening. That day, something happened at work with a co-worker that resulted in their termination. Cue spooky music.

***

One weakness of Sim is that, once he gets into an idea, he will run it into the ground. He knows few half measures. Something that I was surprised that I didn’t particularly enjoy as the series went on is the use of the Cockroach, a character that shifts from one superhero identity to the next (always with the word ‘Roach’ in there somewhere… aside from when he becomes Swoon, a riff on Morpheus from Sandman). It was a gag that worked sometimes, but I often found tedious. I have read a lot of superhero parody material and Sim’s is fairly middling. He didn’t seem to have a lot to say really beyond poking fun at some of the more superficial elements. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was an occasional gag, but the Cockroach crops up a lot in the first 150 issues. However, that’s a character that’s a favourite of many people, so it’s definitely personal taste. Even the excessiveness of the Torah commentaries seems a bit much at times. While interesting at first, there isn’t a lot of new material, really, as it goes on. Just variations on the same ideas and arguments about God and Yoohwhoo.

As well, while we’re on the very subjective pet peeves I have: I mentioned phonetic spelling of dialogue, but also overly stylised lettering can be a big annoyance. The faux-scripture for the various religious books shown is just flat-out terrible to read, both in style and lettering font. It’s not the idea of that much text that makes those sections more of a chore to get through, it’s font where numerous letters look nearly identical written in a style that doesn’t adhere to modern grammar, spelling, and transposes letters. It worked the first time, but just dragged me down any time that style popped up.

***

Something that I can’t get over is that the comics industry seems to have gone out of its way to justify Sim’s paranoia and self-perception as a martyr at the altar of ‘feminism’ by treating him and his work like such a pariah. Cerebus won exactly one Eisner award and that was for the reprint of Flight as a collection. I know it’s not uncommon for important, phenomenal works to not be rewarded in every artistic medium, but it’s hard to believe that a writer, artist, and letterer of this high a level not winning a single Eisner for any of those disciplines. Nor Gerhard winning an Eisner. It boggles the mind and is definitely symptomatic of people’s inability to separate a work and an artist. But, also, pre-issue 186, what the fuck was going on? Nothing? Really? (Beyond the Eisners, Sim won a little bit more, but not as much as you’d think for something so well crafted.)

***

The use of real people as inspiration for various characters shows how good Sim could be at mimicry (again, not always in ways that were conducive to an entertaining read). Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest and Mary Hemingway are the big ones when it comes to taking their writing and using it for his own purpose, either outright or by doing his best to mimic their styles. Sim wasn’t afraid to steal outright and alter in small ways to make it fit the story he was telling, but that technique definitely made the inclusion of those characters more worthwhile and deep. I did laugh at the Fitzgerald/Hemingway shift where one was introduced in one volume and the other in the next, clearly for a specific effect and, in doing research on Hemingway after Fitzgerald, Sim realised that he didn’t care for Hemingway’s writing. It still worked, but, damn, talk about finding yourself in a weird little corner.

***

I wanted to have more to say about the work itself, not just delivering a lengthy defence of it, but that seems to have exhausted my thoughts on the series to a degree. It’s so large that it’s difficult to pick out specific elements to expand upon. To a degree, it’s hard to separate the events of certain volumes from one another. And, having spent the last bit with those final volumes, the earlier ones are less prominent in my memory, making a response to the latter third more natural than expansive gushing on the brilliance of High Society or Jaka’s Story (a volume that didn’t blow me away as much as it was hyped up to – but, that’s what hype does, I guess). I’ll end by repeating myself to a degree:

I enjoyed Cerebus immensely. It is one of the Great Works in comic books. You should read it. Don’t listen to what anyone says about its content (even me). Read it, think about it, and make your own determination. It’s worth it. I don’t know when I will reread Cerebus, but I look forward to it.

50 Comments

Cerebus is a master class in storytelling and how to put together a comic book page. I’m a huge fan of the story and also encourage everyone to read it. I enjoyed the parodies more but I read them when the jokes were current which probably helped.

Travis Pelkie

June 14, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Ooh, Chad on my favorite comic series ever. I will have to take the time to absorb this one.

“Secondly, based on what I see, he isn’t a misogynist because that necessitates hatred and I never saw evidence of hatred. Sim presented his view of the world in a fairly rational (from his perspective) manner, free of emotions. His views on women are extremely problematic and, hey why not just say it, wrong. However, it isn’t hate.”

Throughout history, how many racists and misogynists have been guys that froth at the mouth and say that they are driven by hatred, while beating at their chests proudly? That is almost as unheard of as people who describe themselves as “evil” while crackling madly. Most of the haters present themselves as the “rational ones”, obviously.

No, it’s not that I hate Jews/black/gays/women, obviously not. I am a rational guy. It’s just that Jews/blacks/gays/women have this conspiracy to control all the banks, or they’re draining males’ light, or they’re subtly influencing all children to be gay or there is science that quite rationally “proves” they’re inferior, or, or, or…

Or whatever crazy notion paranoid minds cook up.

“Sometimes, it’s incredibly frustrating that things aren’t like they were and, it’s at those times, when I’m self-pitying, selfish, and angry that these people have prevented me from doing what I want when I want, that, yeah, the idea that it’s nothing more than a ‘Female Void’ (and something else that isn’t a ‘Male Light,’ because “light does not breed”) sucking away my ‘Male Light’ is appealing.”

You recognize that these notions appeal to you when you’re at your most emotional and irrational. Self-pitying, selfish, and angry. Some people are so immersed in such psychological states that they acquire a patina of false rationality over them, they sort of learn to live with them. Your emotional and irrational is their new rational. Meet Dave Sim.

“Firstly, his personal views don’t matter to me. They don’t. What matters is the work.”

And still you felt the need to say that, twice, and to spend some other paragraphs talking about them.

However, it’s true that his personal views shouldn’t stop people from enjoying his work. People enjoy reading H. P. Lovecraft, and he had some monstrous views. People enjoy reading Patricia Highsmith, D. H. Lawrence, a lot of other people who were very despicable human beings and believed in some very fucked-up things.

Why not Dave Sim? Just because he is still alive?

Even a point-of-view one don’t agree with can be very interesting to dive into. Lawrence was pratically a fascist that wanted to have the common mass of people gassed in death-chambers (before the Nazis came up with the notion) and he was from a time when people still could be more sincere about their hatred. Yep, believe me, there was a time, before the Nazis, when hatred still didn’t acquite such a bad rap. He was a guy that actually admited that he felt black hatred for mankind.

Still, many of his literary works are fascinating novels, even great novels.

Does Dave Sim have a right to think what he thinks? Yes. Does he have a right to publish these views? Absolutely. Do I think he should be censored or silenced? Nope.

But am I going to read his work or kiss his ass? HELL NO. Fuck Dave Sim and fuck his sexist, homophobic bullshit. I don’t care if he wrote the script to Citizen Kane or the Harry Potter series – dude is still a repellant human being and he sure as hell doesn’t deserve my money or respect.

Rene – “why not Dave Sim?”

Because he brings himself into the work too far to leave him out of a conversation about it.

H.P. Lovecraft’s racism, it trickles into his work, but it is rarely highlighted and never what the story is about. Sim stops the actual story he is telling in order to insert a lengthy “logical” rant about how women are inferior to men, which is what he genuinely believes.

Yeah I’m always staggered by the way some people will validate Dave Sim’s views by saying they aren’t misogynist, they so clearly are, or at least were, I’m not sure where he’s at these days. The reasons Rene gives are pretty decisive on this matter for me. Read his essay Tangents (written around issue 186 as my dodgy memory serves) for his ill thought-out and often irrational views on gender issues. In it (as he often does in his essays) he suggests an idea, or possible logic one moment, then repeats it as fact later to further his point. As though the earlier discussion of said point, which had left room for debate had somehow solidified as irrefutable by the time of its later mention, somewhere between the lines. It appears well written but a closer examination leaves a lot of room to pull it apart, with ease. The clever language and deception of rational argument seem to help the idea that he’s just expressing a logical view. He’s not and therefore his horrid views are exposed for what they are (were?).

That said I bloody love Cerebus.

The need to separate writer from his works is clear and also difficult and no better seen in ‘Minds’ when in a fantasy Cerebus meets Joanne. Knowing Sim’s views at this point (and having read interviews after) its clear that the exchanges between the two are meant to represent female void sucking away and deceiving male light leading them astray. They are so beautifully observed reflections of human interaction that I get a completely different reading from them. Its just too very confused people, trying as best they can to make sense of their feelings. Cerebus as ever makes some terrible decisions. Is it not always so. Its not about men and women, its about a man (aardvark) and woman and their specific ‘failing’, more correctly their relationship and offers no judgment on either gender, or between gender, whatever the author’s intent. The characters are just glorious filled out individuals and the complexity of their relationship represents the confusion in all (many) of our minds when desire and perceived love are in play. Sim’s desire for it to be about something different only provides a fantastic insight into the different ways people can use the same events to symbolism different things. It reflects Cerebus’ (the human) ability to continually justify his own failing as the faults of others always, never his doing, especially when those actions and thoughts are magnified though the lens of a political, or religious dogma.

Knowing Sim’s intent merely makes the sequence all the more fascinating and adds layers to the story.

For me its always worth remembering that a writer and artists, comic creators, whomever creates a piece of imaginative literature are merely one half the story process. They are the architect, they set out their intent and what they want to create. The builder, the actual creator of the story is in fact the reader, taking the work of that architect and making it their reality.

So yeah read Cerebus and save this brilliant work (probably the best comic I have read) from its creator, a horribly misogynist yet truly brilliant comic book creator.

I’m skimming (and keeping it short in case the blog still won’t take my comments), but I too had that Wizard with Ger and the page from Guys. I remember my first reaction was “Dave doesn’t even draw the rice cakes in the hands of the characters?”

Cerebus is my favorite comic ever.

“H.P. Lovecraft’s racism, it trickles into his work, but it is rarely highlighted and never what the story is about.”

That’s fairly debatable. One could argue that the entire Lovecraftian theme of a hostile and alien universe surrounding humanity is in part a reflection/product of his xenophobia.

But that said, and though I vehemently object to any attempts to whitewash Sim’s nastiness (particularly given how misogyny and the denials thereof remain an issue in comics culture today), I still definitely stand with the people saying you should read Cerebus anyway. You may or may not *like* it – there are several things I found annoying even before Sim went off the deep end – but while this is kind of a cliche, it really is that important a work.

In all the years that people have been so hostile to Sim the one thing that everyone always conveniently “forgets” to mentions is that Sim is a muslim and any claim that he’s “sexist” or “homophobic” is saying that muslim beliefs are inherently bigoted, i.e. nothing more than thinly and weakly veiled islamophobia.

But of course western-centricism among comics fandom and especially among their political beliefs is always going to ignore this problematic fact about their own western-centric world view and without repercussions for their own anti-muslim bigotry of course.

Bottom line is if you think Sim is “wrong” or that his views are “problematic” then you’re nothing more than a racist who’s using the fact that Sim is white to use him as a convenient target to direct your own hatred of muslims and their culture which you’d be too afraid to say the same things about if Sim was brown. When you’re criticizing Sim’s “views” what you’re really criticizing is muslim culture, i.e. being racist.

And before the denial starts, no, I’m not muslim, but let’s not pretend that muslims aren’t the most persecuted and oppressed people in the world. Hence why it’s so easily to make casually racist criticisms of muslim culture like people are doing in this comments section without having to worry about the repercussions they would face if they directed the same criticisms toward any other culture.

But this being a western-centric website I expect this comment will be censored.

It’s easier to forgive a dead writer for their flaws because they’re dead, and it’s too late for them to change. I’m sure in 100 years we will all be judged monsterous for something we don’t even think about, but just accept as the way things are.

FuckFuryOfFirestorm

June 15, 2014 at 7:20 am

There is sexism in comics and it’s great to take a stand -however Dave Sim is not the problem. It’s not white washing to say that Dave Sim (when not going off on “tangent”) is for chivalry and is an opponent of sexism in comics. He supports female artists. Sure there are some dip shits who will only have focused on one aspect of what he’s said, but there is so much more that makes for a much more enlightening and complex view. He’s not running for office -he’s an artist. saying stuff for dramatic effect is basically his job description. To apply regular thinking to his will fall short -his thinking is what most would call a bit out there. About issue 186 Dave Sim said that him and Alan Moore agree that “all stories are true”. And to quote: “Is 186 true? Don’t know if it’s true or not but it makes a good story. It engages people attention, and that’s all we’re interested in doing. I think there’s a case to be made that storytellers were probably the genesis point for a lot of religions” And yes he confirms you can choose your own story and it will be also equally true. So yep everything is equally true…and i suppose untrue at the same time. Go figure.

It’s safe to say Rene has not read all 300 issues yet feels entitled to go off on a hateful screed about the author proving that she/he is every bit as hateful as the many examples he/she cites such as Lovecraft

Had Dave Sim when writing a graphic novel on the “war of the sexes” woven himself into the story as some hallmark “even steven” guy -it would have been pretty eye rolling lol Was it mean as black humor? The intention behind the work is not important. Great art is by it’s definition larger than it’s artist and transcends beyond all.

it’s sad reading what sounds like Chad has been “trapped” and is struggling being a nice guy about it. So common yet so rarely talked about.

Lovecraft would not be Lovecraft if he weren’t terrified of sex and of “inferior” races. It’s a part of what he was and it informed his work. (Still, an interesting fact is that Lovecraft became a better man in the last years of his life, I read that he came to be more open to the idea of democracy and modernity, and even regretted some of his earlier views. I don’t know if he even recanted on race matters, though)

It’s natural for people to try to make excuses for creators they admire. There is a whole army of scholars that try to make people forget that Lawrence was really a nasty piece of work and just insert him in the Grand Tradition of the British novel. Deep down, it’s the same mentality of any fan. “If we give a lot of exposure to his flaws as a person, people will stop reading him, and that is a shame.” That verges on dishonesty, however, when Lawrence’s views are so much a part of his work.

Whenever he has main characters daydreaming about how nice it would be if “glorious, irrational” death came and cleansed the Earth of the hoi polloi, leaving only a few hundred people to carry on, you have to be willfully blind to not correlate that with the views on mankind that Lawrence exposed in his letters and that are really a part of the zeitgeist of the 1920s, and that produced so many attrocities.

However, Lawrence really deserves to be read, despite all that. Not only so people can better understand the crazy romanticism that was one of the seeds of fascism, but because Lawrence was much MORE than just a collection of crazy views. That is the difference between Lawrence and, say, William Luther Pierce. Lawrence had that mysterious gift of true talent. He created characters that lived and breathed and had many dimensions, despite his poisonous views.

“Misogyny” is just another word thrown around by the fascistic Left to silence dissent. Just as any criticism of Barack Obama is decried as “racism,” any points which Sim makes, however vaild, are pooh-poohed because “he hates womyn.” I have no doubt this comment will likewise be pooh-poohed, but, like Sim, I don’t care what you think. And I use the word “think” extremely loosely. Have a nice day.

Dave Sim supports female artists -he thinks there is much needed estrogen in the comicbook world. When not going off on a “tangent” (fighting fire with fire as he put it) he is a big believer in chivalry. While often using broadstrokes, and most have been guilty of that, he does not believe we are cookie cutter and that there aren’t exceptions to the rule. And he also believes he may be wrong about everything. He’s not a politician -being hyperbolic and dramatic is pretty much his job description as an artist. To focus on just one thing he’s said and not look at everything is a gross over simplification.
About 186 he said: “Is 186 true? Don’t know if it’s true or not but it makes a good story. It engages people’s attention, and that’s all we’re interested in.”
To use kneejerk regular pedestrian thinking will fall short when applying it to his thought process and where he’s coming from.

akkadiannumen

June 15, 2014 at 9:53 am

“Firstly, his personal views don’t matter to me. They don’t. What matters is the work. ”

Bravo. Well said.

Cerebus is a landmark work. One that was mostly available in the underground and underground only.
So many things to say about the sole publishing and availability of Cerebus, stories to share, that would
also be a great socio-political commentary. But not today.

—-
I know what you mean by “I want more”, as the story ends at very interesting moment,
and the plot could very easily continue for another 100 issues. That’s for sure.

—-
While, I agree with a lot what cool arrow posted, I would put it that way:

neither Sim nor his detractors are 100% correct.
The truth is always somewhere in the middle.
But Sim at least is not afraid of breaking certain PC taboos.
Sure, we can pretend that everything is swell, just swell, and that anyone who disagrees
with feminists is a mysoginist, but there is one tendency that humankind has:
that the victims very quickly turn into oppressors, if they have a chance, and vice versa.

Today one group of humans is treated unfairly. And when this group finally will have a voice,
it will use it as an opportunity to treat unfairly others. At least it’s what I observed.
Which is why I don’t support any ideologies except free, rational and critical thinking.

It’s also amazing how people happily still stigmatize Sim as “misogynist”, after all these years,
despite the fact that women in Cerebus are one of the most interesting and deep characters.
I could go on, but I will end here.

Holy crap, the butthurt masculinists are really showing up in force to defend not just Sim’s work (which I also enjoy) but his crusade against the “feminist/homosexualist axis,” to use his own words. I shouldn’t be surprised by this stuff anymore after all the dogpiling to shut the women bloggers up, lord knows, but somehow I still am. But yeah, fellas, continue to fight the power by protecting your own power against anyone who might like to share it. You’re freaking heroes. Have a nice day.

Indeed. And that’s my fault completely. While I don’t consider Sim a misogynist, that’s only on a technicality of the defintion of that term. That doesn’t mean that his views aren’t repugnant and wrong. And the end-result of those views are equivalent to misogyny in almost every way. My argument is a subtle linguistic one and I didn’t make it clearly enough. Intention and what’s there on the page (er, screen…) at work… It’s such a meaningless distinction that mentioning it within this context (online) was not a smart choice..

I love you, buttler. Well, at the very least, your comment.

buttler’s statement on power dynamics is masterful and I am grateful for his succinct expression.

Even more so, Chad deserves accolades for his forthrightness. Thank you both.

I haven’t read the entire series yet (I’m halfway through Mothers and Daughters) but it’s been clearly to me since High Society that Cerebus is one of the greatest comics ever. It’s both shocking and sad that so few people have read the series in its entirely, especially, as you point out, that most comics fans regularly read 300 issues worth of comics. Every time I start a reading a volume I look at the number of editions that were printed and the number keeps getting smaller.

It’s been great to read your thoughts on the series particularly because you’ve been able to separate your own emotions from the content of the series. I haven’t read the infamous issue at the end of Reads but it’s been clear from the early issues on that Sim’s gender politics don’t match up with the norm. Nice post.

I have to admit, when I mentioned “how misogyny and the denials thereof remain an issue in comics culture today”, I wasn’t expecting a demonstration quite so quickly. Kudos to buttler for not mincing words when calling it out and Chad for acknowledging the role he played in triggering it.

@Anonymous: Jesus, that was one of the stupidest things i’ve ever heard. Criticizing Sim for his anti-woman and anti-gay views is not a slam against the Muslim religion or Sim’s Muslim beliefs. There are some Muslims that are not bigoted against women and gays, and some that are…same goes for Christians, Jews, atheists, etc. His religion is not the issue, and is not the point here. That had to be one of lamest strawmen I’ve ever read, and considering that i’ve read the comments page at Breitbart and Fox News’ websites, that is some kind of accomplishment you’ve achieved.

@FuckFuryOfFirestorm: I’m very flattered that you went through all that trouble to get my attention. You sound like you might be a hot dude. Send me a pic of yourself to my Tumblr page, and maybe we’ll meet for a drink.

@the MRAs on here that is drooling over Dave Sim’s balls: Disagreeing with feminists =/= misogyny. However, calling women “emotionally unstable voids that suck the light out of men” is pretty damn misogynistic. Also, saying (direct quote here) “It was really the first time in my adult life that I spoke to women who I found physically unattractive and the first time I spoke to women with any motive besides getting them into bed.” makes you sound like sexist pig that sees woman as objects that exist solely for your sexual enjoyment.

No one is saying that his work isn’t important or that we should burn every issue of Cerebus. But to pretend that Dave Sim doesn’t hold abhorrent views on women/gays and that his later work hasn’t been tainted by his “philosophy” is seriously deluded.

Travis Pelkie

June 16, 2014 at 2:22 am

Oy. When this person (and I have to assume that since the semi-anonymous comments above all seem to parrot the same “thinking” and even use some of the same examples, that it’s all one person) and others like them act out like asses like this, even those of us who love Sim’s work and the Cerebus comic shake our heads and wonder why they shoot themselves in the foot like that.

Some of us do find Dave’s views intriguing, interesting, and even to a certain degree right, but morons like the ones above make the rest of us look bad. Thanks, jackasses.

And that’s what’s frustrating about being a Dave fan. You can think highly of his comics work and even find his opinions interesting, but any time the series is brought up, it all boils down to either “Dave Sim is a misogynist and you shouldn’t bother with Cerebus” vs “despite Dave’s views, Cerebus is an important work that you should read”.

Granted, it’s all Dave’s own fault. I’m not suggesting that “poor Dave” is wahwahwah whatever, but I do wonder why one guy’s opinions, no matter how repellent to certain people, are so offensive that he’s not worth thinking about.

I mean, I hope that most of you CSBG regulars are familiar with what Dave has actually written (at least vaguely, and something he actually wrote versus someone else’s synopsis of his views) rather than just “he’s a misogynist, so screw him”.

All that said, I think I’m of the viewpoint that Dave isn’t misogynist so much as a male chauvinist. And I do think there’s a distinction that’s more than academic. I would classify groups like the Taliban, or the Bokom Haram (the group that kidnapped those girls in Africa) as being misogynist because they are actively and violently trying to keep women and girls from basic human rights, like learning to read and not having to be “barefoot and pregnant” all the time. People who shoot a girl in the face for having the audacity for wanting to go to school are scumbags and nothing I’ve read of Dave’s views indicate that he is against women being human.

However, he is obviously of the view that women are inferior to men, mostly due to biology, and that because of that feminism, particularly kinds that advocate anything more than merely equality to men, is something he’s against.

And while I think it’s obvious that biologically men and women are different and this affects how the sexes view and experience the world (I can’t get pregnant, for one example), I don’t think that this therefore means that women are at heart emotional creatures inferior to rational men.

But a lot of what Dave writes is worth pondering and thinking about in the same way philosophy courses in college are worthwhile, as they present a worldview that can perhaps challenge your own and even if it doesn’t change your mind to a different viewpoint, at least might sharpen your own personal arguments for why you believe what you do.

And even though his views permeated his comic, isn’t that at the heart what an artwork SHOULD do, express the point of view of the artist and make someone consider their own views in relation?

Man, I haven’t even gotten to a bunch of other stuff about Cerebus that I wanted to, but this is already really long (and I’m not sure it will post).

Cerebus is one of my favorite comics.

All of this “Dave Sim is an asshole” aside, the article doesn’t mention one mind boggling monumental point about the series. Sim self published Cerebus for almost 30 years. On a MONTHLY schedule for the majority of the run. That blows my mind. The dedication and discipline required to accomplish such a feat are astounding. He was always at the forefront of independent publishing, encouraging new creators to take hold of their own work, and be uncompromising in their vision.
As a craftsman and creator, Dave Sim is someone to look up to. He has a keen understanding of how comics work, and an encyclopedic knowledge of comics history. To my mind, (and I am sure he would disagree) he is the greatest comics draftsman since Will Eisner himself. His work is that good. His layouts and storytelling techniques represent the peak of the craft.

He’s the best.

What’s the best way to collect the trades, when I get around to this series? I suppose if you were able to purchase them new they would still support the artist.

I don’t know how anyone can read any of Sim’s quotes and then declare that he isn’t a misogynist:

“Emotion, whatever the Female Void would have you believe, is not a more Exalted State than is Thought. In point of fact, I think Emotion is animalistic, serpent-brain stuff. Animals do not Think, but I am reasonably certain that they have Emotions. ‘Eating this makes me Happy.’ ‘When my fur is all wet and I am cold, it makes me Sad.” “Ooo! Puppies!’ ‘It makes me Excited to Chase the Ball!’ Reason, as any husband can tell you, doesn’t stand a chance in an argument with Emotion… this was the fundamental reason, I believe, that women were denied the vote for so long.”
“Behind this…lies the Greater Void, the Omnivorous Engine which drives every… institutionalised waste of human time and energy, which drives, in point of fact, our entire degraded society. The wife and kids.”

“In one of those Poor Us studies for which the Emotional Female Void is notorious, it was pointed out that after a divorce, the average male standard of living rises… the average female standard of living drops… I think the…explanation is that the excision of a five-to-six- foot leech from the surface of a human body is going to have more of its own blood in its own veins. Unless the leech finds another body, it is going to go hungry.”

“In labouring to fill the insatiable Void Need for material possessions at home, his time and his energy and his spirit disappear into the Vaginal Bottom Line of the workplace.”

“The Male Light and the Female Void: Seminal Energy and Omnivorous Parasite.”

“If you look at her and see anything besides emptiness, fear and emotional hunger, you are looking at the parts of yourself which have been consumed to that point.”

“It wouldn’t be that big a stretch to categorize my writing as Hate Literature against women . . . in this Fascistic Feminist country”

I would never buy his books or support his work as his writings are that of a mad man who’s blaming his trouble on women.

If I’m not mistaken, saying Dave Sim is muslim is a bit inaccurate. His actual religious belief system is one that borrows from the Christian, Jewish *and* Muslim. He basically cherry-picked which parts of those religions he thought got it “right” and discarded anything parts of them he felt were in error or created by Yoo-whoo. Moreover, I think it’s hard to discount the affect his marriage to Deni Loubert and his relationships with other women (Susan Ashton, Zoe, etc.) had on his views regarding women. It’s hard to believe his negative attitude towards the opposite sex is strictly religious in origin and nature.

That said, re-reading “Cerebus”, everything including the stories in “Epic Illustrated” and the bonus tales in “Swords of Cerebus” in what I hope is chronological order, is a task/project I’ve had on the back-burner for quite some time. I’ve been really curious to see how well the series holds together when read at a pace faster than the monthly schedule the book had. “Cerebus” was one of the greatest comic book series ever published and I remember feeling sad when I read issue 300, because I knew it was once and for all finished.

“That’s fairly debatable. One could argue that the entire Lovecraftian theme of a hostile and alien universe surrounding humanity is in part a reflection/product of his xenophobia.”

Yes, one can interpret art any way one chooses, however the point is that the Elder Things, the hostile and alien universe, are not LITERALLY black people. You have to reinterpret the literal words that he uses to get at that reading. On the other hand, in order to pretend that Dave Sim is saying anything other than “Women are worse than men,” you have to reinterpret the literal words that he uses to get away from that reading.

You see the difference now?

I sent a letter to Dave once, after I finished reading the entire series, and I asked him to clarify a couple things. His response was to Sharpie his “answers” on my letter and the answers were dismissals of the questions themselves. That, to me, sums up Dave and his rabid fans.

I liked Cerebus, thought it was good, but a little tedious. People tend to praise the fact that it’s 300 issues and monthly and self-contained, but very few admit to the fact that the work as a whole is tedious: the parodies are far too on the nose to be anything other than moderately humourous, storylines run on far too long, there’s waaaay too much dialogue and paratextual material, and of course, issue 186 is a piece of shit.

I’m pumped to see so many people denouncing Dave and his rabid fans here. Good on you

“When you’re criticizing Sim’s “views” what you’re really criticizing is muslim culture, i.e. being racist.”

I am 100% sure that saying that Islam is an inherently morally inferior culture is far more “racist” (you actually mean xenophobic) than saying that specific beliefs that a person attributes to Islam are morally inferior.

Yes, one can interpret art any way one chooses, however the point is that the Elder Things, the hostile and alien universe, are not LITERALLY black people.

No, but Lovecraft not only tends to make the human worshippers of these creatures into nonwhite or mixed-race people, he also used many of the same descriptors he employed for the creepy aliens in his horror stories in his personal writing to describe the multiethnic crowds he encountered in New York City. There are also stories like “Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” that would be hard to read as anything *other* than thinly-veiled allegories about miscegenation.

The author may or may not be dead, but writing still occurs in a historical context; the literary imagination is not a separate universe, but rather one influenced by the culture around it.

Travis -

I’m answering to you not because I’m picking on you, but because the semi-anonymous posts aren’t even worth bothering about.

I don’t know if I agree with the distinction between misogynist and male chauvinist. It seems more like a misogynist that is just a writer versus a misogynist who is an activist, politician, etc.

But I wonder how anyone could read something like the quote below and not feel disgust at Dave Sim:

“If you look at her and see anything besides emptiness, fear and emotional hunger, you are looking at the parts of yourself which have been consumed to that point.”

That is one of the most horrible things that I have ever read. And I’ve read some fucked-up things. But that one takes the cake.

That Sim believes that 50% of the human populace are these hideous emotional vampires. It makes me question Dave Sim’s sanity. It sounds like something General Jack D. Ripper would say in DR. STRANGELOVE, except it’s not as funny as communists plotting to dillute his bodily fluids. I don’t think that is something that is “worth pondering about” anymore than I’d listen to the most extreme of all the 1970s feminists saying that 50% of the human populace are sadist rapists.

However, I also believe that all this has ZERO to do with the merits of CEREBUS as a work of art. Many artists and genius people have been monsters and madmen.

It’s also true that every discussion about CEREBUS ends up becoming a discussion about misogyny. However, I would not have bothered to pop up here if Chad hadn’t included a big paragraph about it. I was answering to it.

“Lovecraft not only tends to make the human worshippers of these creatures into nonwhite or mixed-race people”

If you’re going to bring up “historical context”, it seems incredibly disengenuous to ignore that this is completely in keeping with the context of fiction at the time. The “savage uncivilized” people that are more in touch with the supernatural side.

“he also used many of the same descriptors he employed for the creepy aliens in his horror stories in his personal writing to describe the multiethnic crowds he encountered in New York City”
“thinly-veiled allegories”

Yes, these are very good examples of exactly what I said was the difference between Sim and Lovecraft. Not sure why you appear to think of them as counter-points, but thanks for bringing it up.

“the literary imagination is not a separate universe, but rather one influenced by the culture around it.”

So, wait, are you trying to defend Lovecraft for being racist now? I’m sorry, I know you generally make really good points, but I can’t follow what point you’re trying to make at all. You start out by “proving” Lovecraft is racist (which nobody disputes) while simultaenously pointing out that his racism is hidden behind allegory rather than completely dropping the veil as Sim does, yet you present it as if we are disagreeing when that is literally what I said. Are you just responding to single posts without following the conversation or something?

I misread your first couple of sentences, I think. With that in mind, consider my comment an additional prophylaxis against the whole “if it’s not literally said, it’s not there” sort of thing so often seen in various places.

The stuff about the death of the author isn’t meant to excuse Lovecraft’s racism. It’s my perhaps clumsy way of noting that the culture around him was hardly as exclusively and extremely racist as he and his work, while retaining the idea that, without an awareness of the context of racism of that time, the allegory becomes illegible (as does the degree to which Lovecraft’s racism was extreme even for his time).

More generally, it’s targeted at the language in Chad’s post that tries to discard Sims and the context of pseudo-philosophical misogyny; he’s not inventing all of that imagery and rhetoric in the infamous Cerebus #186 himself, for example.

I would highly recommend ‘Cerebus’ to anyone interested in comics. It’s a great work and the artwork is phenomenal. However, it is also largely the ravings of someone who is very intelligent, but also very mentally ill.

I don’t see how you can have a honest read of Dave Sim’s words and not come up with the conclusion that his writing is often misogynist. I think that word is thrown around way too often. It’s now being used to describe minor offenses like work that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. It’s often used to decry works that are merely ‘sexist’ rather than demonstrating any hatred of women. Dave Sim’s words drip with actual hatred of women. It’s sad. Reading ‘Cerebus’, you hope that it is just a character that he is playing….that it will all work out. But it doesn’t. Dave Sim actually believed that stuff and is abhorrent.

In addition, Sim spent a while of his book commenting on a ‘piecemeal’ religion that he created himself. That is troubling behavior as well. It’s incorrect to say that he is being targeted because he is a Muslim. He started the misogyny stuff prior to his discovering religion. The discovering his own religion stuff came later.

I think Sim is a genius. I also think he has problems that reflect poorly on his work. I don’t know if he can control it. I feel sad for him. I feel sad that his work is marginalized because of his issues. But I also can’t deny they exist nor that they had a profound effect on the last tomes of his work. It is pretty solid through about ‘Going Home’, but that Latter Days stuff is borderline unreadable and the whole series suffers from Sim going from one topic/author to another with little regard for the story he is telling.

Also, speaking as an academic who studies comics, cultural studies, and critical race theory, I can assure you that the “death of the author” stuff is fun for undergrads, but is no longer taken as seriously within the Academy. To study something is to always bear in mind the subject position of the author AND the subject position of the person doing the studying. How can one understand a text’s historical context without first acknowledging the historical context within which the academic is working?

At no point should the wild homophobia and misogyny of Dave Sim ever be discarded from discussions of his work. His subject position informs and shapes ever work he produces. No cultural product is ever produced in a vacuum.

Also, speaking as an academic who studies comics, cultural studies, and critical race theory, I can assure you that the “death of the author” stuff is fun for undergrads, but is no longer taken as seriously within the Academy.

I think of it a little like discussing the “intentional fallacy,” an even creakier notion in academic criticism: it’s useful for getting certain undergrads out of the habit of responding to every interpretative question about a text by seeking or demanding an authorial declaration of intent. It’s one of those “lies to children” moments where a simplified, not entirely workable concept acts as stage-setting for hopefully more complex work down the line.

The reason because Dave Sim isn’t easily pigeon holed as a misogynist by many is actually because of a number of things he’s also said. When not going off on a “tangent” (fighting fire with fire as he put it) he is a big believer in chivalry. He even believes in taking a bullet to protect women. He supports female artists. A saving grace is when generalizing he sees many exceptions -not to mention that he believes he may be wrong about absolutely everything. To focus on just one thing he’s said and not look at everything is a gross over simplification. He’s not running for office -being hyperbolic and dramatic is pretty much his job description as an artist.
About 186 he even said: “Is 186 true? Don’t know if it’s true or not but it makes a good story. It engages people’s attention, and that’s all we’re interested in.” He also said all stories are true -so a story saying the opposite is equally true.
For people who like to get incensed about everything on the internet will fall short in figuring out a complex and contradictory work and artist -and hey the same can be said of much of the human condition:)

Can we stop claiming that “chivalry” is some sort of antidote to misogyny, please? Chilvary is a super archaic form of sexism that implies women are in need of protection, in need of doors being opened, chairs being pulled out. You know what opening doors and pulling out chairs implies? That you command the physical space that women move through.

It’s a logical fallacy to believe that Dave Sim isn’t a misogynist just because he would take a bullet for a woman.

“To focus on just one thing he’s said and not look at everything is a gross over simplification”

If only it was “one thing” and not a long career of saying vile things about women, LGBT people, and anybody who isn’t a male. Your defence of Sim is asinine considering the mountain of evidence presented in this very comment thread. See above for a bunch of quotes that accurately depict Sim as a piece of shit.

What he also said

June 16, 2014 at 10:48 pm

By all means get your rabid rage on, Matthew.
Please tell me you didn’t just say: “That you command the physical space that women move through.” Here on planet earth I’ve had many a women expecting me to do those things. Not sure who is commanding who there:)
Oh yeah he’s the piece of shit alright. Why don’t you try opening the door for once?:)
It seems so far all the quotes in the comments are from one piece, Matthew. And Dave has written so much -mountains of evidence of stuff, you could say, of his many various views.
Regarding LGBT Dave Sim lovingly dedicated the phonebook about Oscar Wilde to his gay cousin who died of aids. A lesbian has worked with him on a number of Cerebus projects for many years. I suspect not just Cerebus but life itself is a lot more grey than you are aware of.
And yeah if there are any men out there thinking they are off the hook forget it:)

Yeah, anyone who describes Sim’s beliefs – at least the beliefs he articulated in the past; I’ll admit I have no idea what’s become of him in the last decade or so – as misunderstood or thought-provoking really needs to read some of the things he’s actually said. They’re not just “politically incorrect” or ignorant or even sexist; they’re genuinely *hateful* towards women.

About the only conceivable “defense” I can think of is the possibility that he was genuinely suffering from some kind of serious mental illness, because some of this stuff was way out of line even by the standards of things I see on the internet today.

Yeah, the philosophy/religion/conspiracy theory Dave Sim cobbled together is so out there that it also made me question his sanity.

Why is it that so many self-proclaimed “rational” supermen come to their theories after some big emotional crisis? It’s almost always a nasty divorce or a string of romantic rejections. And suddenly all women are “bloodsucking bitches!” because that one woman didn’t love them.

I don’t know, I have trouble understanding these guys. If Sim loved his gay cousin and I suppose he must at least love his mother and other women in his life, how can he believe in such horrible things? When I think of my wife, my dear departed mother, my aunt that is like a second mother to me, my cousins, my female friends, it gets me so angry when some psycho comes up with these theories about women being inferior beings.

So Sim can dedicate one book to one person, and that somehow repudiates his frothing at the mouth about the “homosexualist axis” which is the most classic example of gay panic I’ve seen in a long time? Please. The man literally believes that LGBT people are inferior:
“I firmly believe that homosexuality – not homosexualists themselves – belongs at the margins of society and behind closed doors.”

Yay! So he’s saying that I, by dint of my own sexuality, belong in a marginal position, away from the eyes of the great straight white male. I might add that his opinions on LGBT people are seemingly confined only to a perception of queer people being only either “dykes” or “interior decorators.”

If you ever wanted an example of strawmen, look no further than any time Sim writes about feminism: “all feminists” do this and “all feminists” do that. Fundamentally misunderstanding that feminism is an ideology with a spectrum, which is to say, it is not a fucking monolith where all feminists believe the same thing.

Life itself is more grey? Of course. But that doesn’t magically disprove that Sim is a fucking homophobe, regardless of your invocation of the “he has a [x] friend” defense.

For fuck’s sake, on what planet do you live where he thinks LGBT people are Nazis (totalitarians, he says) for wanting a Pride Parade and you think that’s acceptable?

I miss the days (if they ever truly existed) where artists and creators kept their politics to themselves and just endeavored to make good material for its own sake. Now everyone has to weigh in and fill out a questionnaire on their stances on everything so we can decide which works to like and which to ignore.

I don’t think Cerebus was served well by Sim putting his ridiculous beliefs out in public. He can think whatever he wants and be as cynical and bitter about women as he feels will help his life but unless he’s trying to make a living specifically off of woman-hating then it would probably have been better for him just to shut up. That goes for a lot of entertainers these days. If I wanted them to tell me how to live I’d vote for them to take office.

beta ray steve

June 17, 2014 at 11:14 am

Sim lost me somewhere in Mothers and Daughters, when his letters pages devolved into pure screed. Around that point, reading Cerebus became more and more of a chore.

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