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February 28, 2008

Go, Read: Long Post And Discussion of Dave Sim’s Legacy at The Beat


Heidi MacDonald has written a very long post about Dave Sim and his artistic and industry legacies heading into the publication of his Cerebus follow-up projects, Glamourpuss and Judenhass. A cantankerous comments sections follows. If the subject interests you at all, it's a must-read if only for the variety of opinions on display and the inarticulate fan fury with which many of them are expressed. If it interests you greatly, you'll probably know going in that MacDonald was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Sim's work.

There's one thing that I've always found a bit confusing. When some folks boil down the way they feel about Sim, they do so in terms of a construction whereby we should consider separating one's judgment of an artist from one's appraisal of his work. I have yet to sit down and read Cerebus in its entirety, so maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that his philosophy finds frequent purchase in his comics. Now, certainly the support material plays a role in how Sim and his comics are perceived. I suspect the essays and interviews are a big reason why the tone of the discussion about Sim feels different than similar discussions about R. Crumb. And I'm not equating the art from each that's come under criticism. I think they're very different. I'm saying I think people might have done so more frequently -- and maybe to Sim's advantage -- if Sim were a mostly-silent recluse instead of active within his industry and (especially) so vocal on his own behalf. My point is that I'm not certain there's a line to be drawn between artist and art with Sim the way there might be with other artists. If Sim had created Mutts, say, I can see that line of reasoning being more relevant.

I'm also not certain why anyone who holds the view that Sim should be denounced and shunned can be surprised that comics hasn't already done so. The vast majority of the American comics industry was built not by people who hold views folks might find objectionable or abhorrent -- they may or may not have held such views, I don't know -- but on the outright unethical and immoral exploitation of artists. It's an industry where members sitting on a board can receive money for a creator credit on a toy they only in the barest sense supervised while the person who actually created the character that led to the comic that led to the toy gets nothing at all. Comics: not exactly big on moral stands.

Additionally, I'm always a little perplexed that people don't make stronger distinctions between the issues around enjoying and consuming a work, the issues of public support and advocacy versus personal relationships, and the issues of honestly appraising art and adjudicating industry history. They seem to me conflated in a lot of these arguments, and not in a good way.

What do I think about Dave Sim? I think he's clearly a talented cartoonist and I believe he's historically important as both a creator and an industry figure. He's been nice to me at times, grumpy with me at others, but I've only had severely limited contact of any kind with Sim, most of which was positive. I find repugnant a great deal of what I've read of his philosophies, although I admire what I've read about his asceticism. I don't wish him harm because of those beliefs and don't know him personally in a way I could even begin to formulate an overall opinion about the man. As a matter of rule, I distrust interacting with cartoonists as if I know them when I don't. I haven't finished reading Cerebus, so I don't have a valid opinion on its overall level of achievement, but I enjoyed a lot of the stuff I read when I was buying the comic book (through #150) and didn't care for a lot of what I read in random comics after that. I disagree with a lot of his views of the comics industry, particularly the degree to which he believes certain things. A little bit of what I've seen and read makes me think that Sim has brought the curious brand of regard and disdain with which he's held onto himself, although given the kind of casual intimacy with which he engaged fans in his work and especially its supplementary material for so many years it might be hard for him to adopt a new way of interacting with the comics public. I'm not in a position where I'd have to decide whether or not to buy his work for enjoyment, so I don't know if I would or not. As I had stopped reading Cerebus before the flashpoint issue #186, I suspect not. Still, I'm happy to cover his work and his industry efforts, and I hope I can do so fairly, the same courtesy I'd afford any other cartoonist. Anything else, I'd have to make a decision when it came up.

I also think that's a really high number of thoughts to have about one cartoonist I don't even read anymore, even when trying to make certain distinctions. Sometimes I wonder if Dave Sim is of a time, not so much for his comics but in the way a specific generation of readers came to interact with them.
posted 9:15 am PST | Permalink

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