The Second Coming of Dave Sim?A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Geoffrey D. Wessel
Here’s the funny thing about Dave Sim. It’s not his iconoclasm, his frankly frightening views on the place of women in this society, his mashup of every Abrahamic faith that he chooses to practice, or any of that.
It’s when he gets an IDEA, he sees it through to completion, come Hell or high water.
Certainly that proved useful as he (& Gerhard for most of it!) worked long and hard on Cerebus, planning, plotting, drawing and ultimately reaching that goal of 300 self-published issues. The goal of self-publishing, while maybe not the ORIGINAL original plan, served Sim well throughout the years, maintaining total ownership of the iconic aardvark.
So when, in the final issue of Sim’s thesis-on-photorealism-in-comics-by-way-of-fashion-magazine-parody glamourpuss, he ended with an essay on why he was probably not long for cartooning, and maybe if you read between the lines, not long for this Earth (Sim has made snarky comments to that effect before), it was a cause for concern for many people. Because let’s face it: Sim has some odd views to say the least, but he’s hardly the only one in comics who does. And the man can DRAW. So would Sim be missed? Most definitely.
Look, I’m not gonna lie: I was a HUGE fan of Sim and Cerebus. I met with Sim no less than four times at the 1993 Chicago Comicon, where you’d think HE was the Guest of Honor at times (it was Neil Gaiman, actually), but I’ll get back to that later. I’d been with the book since the character’s appearance in TMNT #8, and started reading it for real not long after that, with #87. Smack dab in the middle of Church & State, with a hilarious and disturbing parody of The Dark Knight Returns found within. I was hooked. I started buying back issues, and even begged for the then-brand-new High Society collection for my 13th birthday (I got it).
Even when Sim and my worldviews started to diverge greatly, and Cerebus ultimately became unreadable in my humble opinion, I still respected the man for his talent and his contribution to independent comics and self-publishing especially. I even had the occasion to a pseudo-interview him on Millarworld when glamourpuss was about to premiere. So, yeah, you could say I was a bit blown away by Sim’s statement of intent, one which he says he was thinking about even as far back as glamourpuss’s debut.
Now, I’ll be the first to say it: as baffling as Sim’s insistence on self-destructing his cartooning career was, so was Fantagraphics’ offer to publish hardcover editions of the “phonebooks.” Put simply, there is way way way too much bad blood between Sim and Gary Groth & Kim Thompson for that to ever be a viable reality. But as baffling as that whole affair was, the shock announcements of first a Cerebus covers book(s), then the High Society Digital Audio Edition being released in some format, by IDW set the cat among the pigeons. [To wit: this article began life as a very, VERY different piece prior to the IDW announcements.]
The unthinkable is upon us: Dave Sim could be *gasp!* WRONG about the direction he’s headed. Sim’s plan for self-destruction might be *shock!* diverted. What’s more, Sim, and his works could be *holy fuck!* re-evaluated.
Which not only is that not the fairest thing to happen with Sim, both the man AND his work, as both are fascinatingly complex, complicated and intricate; but it turns out, it couldn’t be a better time for this to happen.
As I intimated above, despite the fact it was Neil Gaiman that was GOH at the 1993 Chicago Comicon [NOTE: as it was called long before Wizard had their Worlds], the case could be made that Sim was Vice-GOH, if there was such a thing. See, in the early 1990s, Sim and Cerebus were something of a “hot item.” The title had begun its Mothers & Daughters book, signifying the beginning of the second half of the series in general. The opening issues of the book had shown a swing back to sword-wielding action, albeit briefly, and in its most insane incarnation of the “Punisheroach”, parodying some dude with a skull on his chest, armed with “automatic mini-crossbows.” Sales were rising, as was the book’s profile. This culminated in the biggest boost Sim could have received to this point: an invitation from Todd McFarlane to join the likes of Alan Moore, Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman in writing an issue of Spawn. Sim took a bit of pride (if not some skepticism) in being on the front line of creators rights, and maybe being one of the spiritual inspirations behind the Image Revolution.
Of course, at the height of all this, Sim then unleashed his first salvo in the “Women are soul-sucking voids” wars in #186, and that all kinda put a halt to that momentum. [Sidebar: anyone ever notice that Sim’s real-life “women are voids” philosophy was the complete opposite of that espoused at the end of Church & State? Yeah? No? Anyway…]
But the point of all this is, it couldn’t happen at a better time for Sim, because comics in general is in the midst of Nineties Nostalgia: the Rob Liefeld/Extreme revival, the design sensibilities behind DC’s New52, variant covers, Valiant Comics, the works. Sim was, for whatever reasons, part of that in the earlier part of that decade. And sorry, but for all of Sim’s protestations that Cerebus was “It,” and he can never go beyond it, well, Akira Toriyama may never have reached the same career highs as he did when Dragonball was in full swing, but that didn’t stop him from doing Sand Land or any of his numerous other short works either. (And Sim HAS done work outside of his “comfort zone” lately himself, to wit, his recent pieces for Richard Starkings’ Elephantmen series)
So maybe Dave Sim WAS at the end of his rope when he ended glamourpuss, and announced The Strange Death of Alex Raymond. Maybe Judenhass didn’t exactly set the graphic novel world on fire. Maybe Sim has some repulsive negative views of the world and the people who live in it. None of which belies that Sim is still fully capable of producing beautifully drawn, thought provoking work.
Maybe this is the perfect time for Dave Sim to change his mind about his endgame. He’s already admitted that the Kickstarter money for High Society Digital would help keep him in, for a little while. I’m sure IDW’s contribution and assistance will extend that even more.
And maybe, just maybe, we can all take the time to properly reassess Sim, Cerebus, Judenhass, and glamourpuss, for the works, and for the art. Warts and all. Just in time for The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, at that.
Because in the end, as much as Dave Sim makes us scratch our heads sometimes with his comments, comics in general would be much, much poorer without his contributions to the artform.
Geoffrey D. Wessel writes the sports thriller Keeper and is a regular contributor to SF anthology webcomic Hadron Colliderscope. He has also contributed to the "community created" (tm!) fantasy television series Bar Karma, did a story with 2000AD veteran Henry Flint in the Spirit of Hope charity anthology and has a story coming in a TBA Image anthology. His website is athttp://gdwessel.com and he can also be found on Twitter as @gdwessel, as well as on Facebook with the same name.