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I’m worried about Dave Sim.
The final issue (number 26) of Glamourpuss contained a rather sad closing letter from Dave to his fans (“my almost totally silent audience of 2,400” as he calls us) describing what he sees as the rather depressive conclusion to what is arguably one of the most important, astonishing cartooning careers in comic book history.
If you think I exaggerate on that front out of fanboy love, well, you’re only half right. I did indeed, before I began worrying that he’d lost his mind completely, consider Dave Sim an idol of mine. As a comics lover and aspiring cartoonist in the late seventies, early eighties, it was Sim who inspired what I wanted to do. I saw the talent and writing ability but I also saw the sheer gall, the balls to set out to self-publish a 300 issue comic book, with themes including religion, politics and gender, featuring a smart-ass, self absorbed, violence prone Aardvark in the Big Two work-for-hire dominated comics landscape of the time. Think about it. The audacity, the commitment, the genuine courage it took to undertake that task.
And then. In March 2004.
To fucking complete it.
So, yeah, I’m slightly biased in my admiration of the man’s work, if not of some of the quirkier aspects of his personalty that surfaced along the way. I admire the bloody mindedness it took to do that. It took a toll on him, for sure, and Things Got Strange, but the work? The actual cartooning aspect? Who else has anything close to that on his or her resume? A mere handful in the entire history of the art form. And, oh, by the way, it is, at times, utterly fucking brilliant. Warren Ellis considers both aspects of it, in typically interesting fashion:
‘Over the course of many thousands of pages, [Cerebus] has been a detailed political novel, a comedy of the court, a drama of the church, a vision quest, a biography of the last days of Oscar Wilde, several deeply strange attacks on feminism and women in general, and an exegesis of Sim’s own bizarre personal take on religion. It fascinates because Sim is an absolutely brilliant maker of pages, a sublime cartoonist with total control of the form… and because, during the progression of the work, you can clearly see his mind crumbling under the pressure of his immense undertaking and twenty-five years of increasing solitude in which he can only express himself to the world through the agency of a talking anteater.’
So, yes, bear that in mind. Genius often pays a price. It’s not a new tale in the art world, is it? One cannot argue the merits of the work as a whole, however. It is monumental. Singular in it’s scope and execution and the independent spirit it represented. Dave Sim, as he sang to us at The Last Signing, did it “his way”.
There was a time I adored him for it, I fully admit. A hero to me he was. I read Cerebus religiously, I wrote to the letters pages, and Dave wrote me back. Hell, I appeared in the letters pages once. Four illustrious photos in issue number 154, the “Connie Lingus Backlash Photos”. Half-naked in a diaper and work boots, hat and shades, sporting beer and weapons (thankfully grainy proof below). Yeah. You might say I was into it.
So maybe that will help you understand the poignant sadness I feel these days when I read the last pages of Glamourpuss #26. When I see words like this, Dave Sim describing the failing sales of that book and Cerebus Archive and why he’s drawing the curtain, so to speak:
I had arrived at my career end point.
I pulled the plug first on Cerebus Archive, then on Cerebus TV and then on glamourpuss. Not really saying anything to anyone, just walking away and starting my Doomsday Scenario — selling my Cerebus original artwork as slowly as possible, and looking at ways to liquidate the Cerebus Archive itself, up to and including just sending all of it to a landfill site or paying 1-800-GOT-JUNK to haul it all away, selling the house, liquidating the last of my RRSPs and my life insurance policy and just… disappearing.
Read the full letter here at the wonderful Moment of Cerebus site.
There’s a lot of insight in there to the mind of Dave Sim, good and bad. There’s the frustrating seeming resignation to his fate, that he’s got little left to “sell” to the world and Doomsday is upon him. I have trouble believing that, myself. I still see the talent. His work is not yet that of a shaky-handed old man who can’t produce meaningful art. In Glamourpuss, especially in it’s central story “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond”, he has proven to me just the opposite, that he does indeed still have the hands of a Master. There’s a skill there that still makes me sick with envy. There were days I’d have killed for a small portion of that talent. To produce one page like the 6000+ he produced. That part is maddening, to think that, at a reasonably young age (only 56!), he’s resigned to a fate of near irrelevance in his work. This is not something, to me, that needs to be.
There’s also in there, his stubborn, admirable loyalty to his long time Cerebus art partner Gerhard, with whom he shared all the business rewards of their work at a 60-40 percentage and how, in honoring that agreement, part of what has left him so thin monetarily is paying off Ger what he was deserved from a business that, according to Sim, was steadily failing. He did so in 2011, to his utter credit. That you cannot help but respect. Whatever else may be said about Dave Sim, you can never question his integrity, artistic or otherwise. The man stands by his word, he stands by his beliefs. For good or ill, he will continue to do so.
So why does it bother me so? I haven’t spent this much time thinking about Dave Sim and Cerebus in decades. Well, perhaps that this news coincides with the recent Kickstarter Campaign I contributed to which had me rather excited to revisit my love of Cerebus. In fact, I just received a few very nice autographed items from Dave and John Scrudder, the architect of the campaign which would give us a digital version of High Society replete with high resolution art scans, audio and other goodies. Fascinating project which, tragically, has been delayed by an unfortunate fire (see links below).
That this was beginning to reignite an old flame in my heart only to be tempered by Sim telling us he was entering his very own “Latter Days” scenario, is part of it. It’s much more, however. It’s almost a “rage at the dying of the light” situation for me. I can’t stand the thought, cant stand it, as I grow a bit older, that an artist with so much former potency, is willing to just let it all fade away like this. It feels like a gut punch. It’s selfish, perhaps, on my part. Unrealistic, even. I don’t actually know Dave Sim, I have no tangible idea about what his life is like nor any place advising him what it should be. I’d be a fool if I thought I could do so. Period.
However. Speaking, as a longtime admirer of the work. A “fan”, if you will. Who has invested countless hours of his life in pure delight at the man’s art and writing. I feel like pleading to him to not give up like this. To find other avenues. I feel there is an audience, there has to be. Not to revisit Cerebus, which he obviously sees as his defining work, but to find new things, new creations. Whether it’s the gorgeous explorations of photorealism in comic art in “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond”, admittedly not the idea with the most potential for monetary reward, or something as yet completely unimagined. I’d be interested. I’d buy it. Many others would too. It doesn’t have to be The End.
It’s a blank page, at this point, Mr. Sim. An empty piece of S-172 illustration board. Its sits before you ready to be filled and you’ve years and years ahead of you to do so. Good years, I think, if you want them to be.
I’ll be here, waiting to see. Hell, I stuck with you for a 27 year long illustrated novel. I can wait as long as you need me to.
I’m a patient fucker.
P.S. Those of you new to this subject or who, like me, might have wandered for a time, there is a lot of great information available. Dave Sim can be heard from, sometimes, at Dave Sim Art. The site is run by communications director for Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc., Sandeep Atwal, who was also the gentleman scanning the High Society negatives when a fire struck his residence and destroyed them. Help him out if you can, details here. I’ve mentioned Moment of Cerebus already and there’s a wonderful Cerebus Facebook Group I’ve been lucky enough to join where a lot of active information can be garnered from some very astute folks.
Gerhard, the sublimely talented backround artist on Cerebus, who deserves a post entirely unto himself at some point, can be found here. Suffice to say, I consider him one of the all time great pen and ink artists I’ve ever seen.
Update: As of today, September 5th, Dave Sim Art has suspended all sales and the future of the site seems in doubt due to the fire. However, Cerebus Downloads seems to be pressing ahead for the September 12th launch of High Society Audio Digital.