Is Dave Sim going mad?
August 27, 2002 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Is Dave Sim going mad? Speculation has been running rampant in the Interweb comic book community that Dave Sim, writer and artist of Cerebus, arguably one of the greatest comic book series of all time, has lost his mind. Granted, many of Sim's essays have been misogynist, and he has publicly challenged Bone creator Jeff Smith to a fist fight for a somewhat trivial slight, but that is hardly evidence of insanity. Has he crossed the line from extremist to madman? Is his writing a Swiftian satire or, as one critic called it, the Mein Kampf of misogyny?
posted by Joey Michaels (38 comments total)
Thanks for the link, I've been in love with Cerebus for years, own all the trade editions and many of the individual editions, and can't wait for him to reach 300. My vote is for satire.
posted by Grod at 8:31 PM on August 27, 2002

Dave Sim might very well be firing on fewer than all cylinders. I hadn't heard about all these shenanigans before, but I do remember hearing about his advice for people who print their own comics: (paraphrasing)-
Print it on newsprint, which the cheapest glue possible on the binding. The books will disintegrate in a few years, and they'll buy the same book again and again...

Still, I love older works of Cerebus. You know, the ones where he used some creative talent and actually put effort into making a narrative, with characters...
posted by Busithoth at 8:33 PM on August 27, 2002

Yeah. The comic that we fell in love with doesn't really exist any more; the most I can say in its favour is that Sim remains a virtuoso at actually constructing comic book pages.
posted by Grod at 8:38 PM on August 27, 2002

In (AFAIR) "Flight". Cerebus encounters many of the secondary cast in a series of visions while playing a game of chess with Sutenus Po. One of these was a character from the very first book, a mad king who was building a huge, and somewhat abstract monument. When we first saw him, the King had a city full of slave labour working on it, and was in love with a woman named Sedra. In the vision, the king is alone, raving at hallucinations of a goddess with Sedras' face. It is explained that after Sedra deserted him, he drove all of his slaves away and left the monument half finished.

The physical appearance of the King is similar to Dave Sim's real life appearance. Dave Sim's wife divorced him and by all accounts this threw him for a loop. If you assume that the monument represents the comic book series as Dave Sim originally conceived it (300 issues of a single coherent story). Then this all suggests that Dave Sim wrote his own epitaph with Sutenous Po's comment on the King

"The Monument was significant... it's completion would have wrought lasting change. Now he is a mad broken figure, having conversations with a goddess with whom he is less than a Joke."

I don't know wether this was deliberate on Sim's part or is just a massive coincidence, but it's interesting nonetheless.
posted by Grimgrin at 8:52 PM on August 27, 2002 [1 favorite]

Going mad? No, I'm afraid Dave's been fully around the bend for some time.

I was a great fan of Cerebus during its early days. It was one of the best written, best illustrated comics of its time.

It's time came to an end, however, when Dave started to take the book and himself too seriously. Then it went into a tailspin from which it has never pulled out.

A shame, really.
posted by SPrintF at 8:55 PM on August 27, 2002

From the Comics Journal article: "I'm very leery of friendships, for exactly the reason you see before you... There's a backlash when you try to help autonomous people.... Unless it's completely simpatico, there's an overwhelming compulsion to prove Dave wrong." He added that with many of the self-publishers he has advised, "I knew that they'd come to resent Dave Sim."

I've always been leery of people who refer to themselves in the third person. The Cerebus stories I have read are pretty amazing, but Sim himself comes off as a loon who must've been through some pretty amazing break-ups to be devoting so much of his private life to anti-feminist bile. With all of these strange public feuds with other pros, he's really claiming a spot for himself as comicdom's Harlan Ellison.
posted by rcade at 9:16 PM on August 27, 2002's article Hooked on Crank talks about Dave Simm and other "strongly-opinioned" comic artists: Robert Crumb, Dick Tracy's Chester Gould, Little Orphan Annie's Harold Gray, Spider-Man's Steve Ditko, Jack Chick, and Li'l Abner's Al Capp.
posted by Stuart_R at 9:27 PM on August 27, 2002

After reading part of a story that was online, I vote for insane. The idea was that all women (probably metaphorically) eat men's brains, killing off their intelligence and life, and that only single men have actual brains. I have never once noticed myself sucking the life out of any man I've dated, unless you count trying to get someone to behave sucking the life out of them. It's a bit too much exaggeration to say that every woman is a ghoul.
posted by stoneegg21 at 10:28 PM on August 27, 2002

...I want a ghoul just like the ghoul that married dear old Dad...
posted by taz at 11:50 PM on August 27, 2002

Cerebus the book has been fairly consistently good, even with the problem of issue 186 (from which the misogynist rant came). At least he takes the subject seriously enough that he writes his female characters well - particularly Astoria and Jaka through Going Home. The end of this latter book is where I've read up to.

But the essays of Dave Sim I've found intrusive and, well, bad. It's not just a question of agreeing or disagreeing, but rather that the tone of the pieces - one of those drunks who hangs around at the bar aching to start an argument about anything because he loves shouting so much (maybe he should be given membership of Metafilter - what do you suppose his opinions on I/P are?).

The irony for me is that the most important moments that deal with gender differences in the narrative so far are the scene just before the ascention (so Church and State Volume II I suppose), where Cerebus has visions of the same confrontation being played out over and over again, divided between genders but with the roles constantly reversed (oppressed and oppressor just as easily male as female), echoed in the scene just before the issue 186 screed where Astoria, Cirin, Cerebus and Suenteus Po meet up and Astoria realises that she can just walk away as Po did at the last cycle. The suggestion is that there is no distinction between genders, really, that the tragedy will play itself out over and over again until the participants wise up and just walk away. Astoria is Suenteus Po in some ways (that Cerebus is not and cannot be). To me, for some reason, Po resembles Marcel Duchamp (who also famously retreated from the world in order to play chess and who also returned decades later with one final bewildering statement).

The "cheap paper" remark that busitoth quotes is typical Sim - his relation to the Comic Book industry is a bit like that of Steve Albini in "The Problem With Music", but less kind and with a crusading streak. He's very strongly asserted the idea that the aspiring writer should self publish (in the same way and for the same reasons that many people believe that aspiring musicians should promote themselves over the web rather than seek music industry backing), and I believe his original point was that the creator shouldn't get hung up on printing on expensive art paper in sophisticated six-colour processes, but that the idea was the thing - print as cheaply as possible, make your money back and publish again and again (analogous to the idea that mp3s may not be Steely Dan Hi Fi, but they are easy to make and distribute). And then as an afterthought, the books won't last forever, but what the hell the reader will have to buy them again. It's typical Sim that this sound advice to budding creators is remembered as a way to screw money out of people and that transformation was probably effected by Sim himself in retelling.

At its best Cerebus is as wise as Editorial Sim isn't. I do wish he wouldn't put the essays in the collected books (the last couple featured a very bad piece on FS Fitzgerald and Hemingway respectively - I have no interest in the former, really, and actively dislike the latter, but Sim's pieces were so boorish and uncharitable that they left a bad taste in the mouth. By contrast the characterisations in the book were equally as critical but written with much more skill and intelligence). But the illustration is glorious, if restrained, and the writing is beautifully subtle and intelligent and funny.

It seems a terrible shame that having put all that work into the book, he is successfully convincing anyone who might get anything out of it that it is not worth reading.

(Hmm, I appear to be a bit of a screed-meister myself... I just got up - please forgive if the above makes little sense, but I wanted to strike while the iron was hot, as it were.)
posted by Grangousier at 1:26 AM on August 28, 2002

oh, i dunno.

He may be an idiot and an asshole without a rational thought driving either of his misogynist little heads, but I don't think I'd necessarily call him insane. I've known plenty of people just as outspoken with worldviews just as screwed up and wrong. True, most of them were in the death metal scene, really way too into Wicca, or involved with a christian fundamentalist movement, but I don't think any of them were certified as "lock him up and throw away the key" crazy. By the Merriam Webster definition 3, "something utterly foolish or unreasonable," then, yeah, he suffers from insanity. But I imagine he still manages to function on some basic level. He even runs a business, from what I gather. His kind of asshole are a dime a dozen.

What I find really interesting is his belief that All Men Are Rational, when he himself so clearly is not. It's a neat trick, being your own counter-example.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:37 AM on August 28, 2002

I was giving his article a sympathetic read, i.e. converting gross generalizations into my my own plausible rationalizations, until I came across this.

"Inexplicable as it is that some acts of coitus produce offspring while others do not (despite the best efforts of medical science to establish irrefutable "laws" of cause-and~effect) it seems to me that here, God's hand is very much in evidence and "what God hath joyned together let not man put asunder" - sperm and egg, fertilized egg and uterine wall - very much applicable. If abortion is, as the feminists insist, a matter of a woman having control over her own body, then I think a public demonstration of a woman willing herself to become un-pregnant or willing her fertilized egg to detach itself from her uterine wall would settle the issue once and for all. At which point I would happily go along with the secular-humanist consensus view."

Anyone who invokes God to support a social positions is de facto lumped into the Insane category.
posted by rhizome23 at 1:46 AM on August 28, 2002

rhizome, you're as rigid as Sim if you believe that.

Mostly what Grangousier said. I haven't bought any of the books since Guys, which was sort of exemplary of the direction he'd been going -- exquisitely planned storylines, stretching practically no action across a 20-issue series (nearly 2 years! in this case, a bunch of hanging out in a bar), executed with panache and precision (individual snippets of dialog were brilliant), yet seeming to play the game of These folks love Cerebus, right? Let's see what it takes to drive them away! Well, it worked.

You really can enjoy the comics while completely skipping the essays. And there was a neat letters-page community that sprung up -- I think it even resulted in a marriage. And bunches of early bloggers were Cerebus fans; it seemed to go hand in hand. But frankly, he tried his best to alienate people who didn't follow him skipping down the path to the house made of chocolate and candy. To some extent, he viewed it as a privilege of the comfortable, yet modest, wealth he had achieved: I'm rich now, so screw all of you.

I don't even mind that he played the asshole; it's when he flips out to the extent that, well, masturbation is sapping one's precious bodily fluids (what is he, Hindu?!), or whatnot, adds asshole, adds artistic pretensions (as his overidentification with the persecution of Oscar Wilde), and writes incoherent, purple essays as the actual comic (which one was that? Jaka's childhood) ... it's one thing to stretch the artform, it's another to distort it beyond the level at which it's accessible and abuse the platform you've been given, of a half-hour's entertainment once a month, to shove poorly-considered and barely-articulated political thought down the throats of people who, in the beginning, were just interested in your funny-animal comic with a satirical bent.

As it happens, the guy who introduced me to Cerebus is still buying it by the issue. I really, truly, enjoyed it for a long while, but the more I read about Sim since I quit, the happier I am that I did.
posted by dhartung at 5:31 AM on August 28, 2002

Cerebus was a revelation when I first read it. High Society and Church and State I & II I would recommend to anyone - hilarious, intelligent, consitently witty satire. However, he really has gone off the deep end - not that I'm saying he's insane, but he has done the classic 'I'm a genius, therefore my work is good' routine as opposed to the 'My work is good, I'm a genius' sensibility on which Cerebus was founded. I haven't bought a new issue for 2-4 years, but I do wish Dave well (and Gerhardt of course).
posted by fluffy1984 at 6:22 AM on August 28, 2002


"You should pick your prey carefully, because otherwise you might accidentally speak with (horrors!) a woman who is not attractive, or you might even put the moves on a male and thus perpetuate the feminist/homosexualist axis. How can you tell if someone is part of this axis? Why, it couldn't be simpler--do they agree with me? No?


It's just that simple."

Hee. You know, whether or not ol' Dave is being sincere, I just can find this silliness threatening. Either this is actually self-deprecating humor, or he's so entirely wack that it's not worth getting upse
posted by Fenriss at 6:59 AM on August 28, 2002

"upset about it." WTF?? This has been happening with some regularity.
posted by Fenriss at 7:01 AM on August 28, 2002

I decided to give Cerebus a chance, after seeing it on so many Amazon customers' top 10 lists. Also, hearing about Sim being crazy, and his misogynist rants made me curious. I found the first trade paperback at a used bookstore for $5. I'd say it was pound for pound the worst comic i've ever bothered reading (and I've read a ton of bad comics). Still unsatisfied, I did a spot check of other volumes of Cerebus, at my local comics store. All just as horrible. At least "married with children" was funny during it's first season. I think the question we need to ask is: Are Dave Sim's readers sane?
posted by octavius at 7:08 AM on August 28, 2002

octavius: The book to start with is "High Society," really - the first book starts very rough. I can well imagine people being turned off by the first half of "Cerebus" if they go into it with high expectations. For you it may be too late but I'm just sayin'.

Sim's pluses: He brought humor in comics to an entirely new level by marrying it to an extended narrative - as far as I know that hadn't really been done in that way previously, and Doonesbury (the closest example I can think of) doesn't count as "that way." Bone would probably not have happened without Cerebus. Also there are his layouts (which have been mentioned) and especially his expressive lettering which really stands out now that so much comics lettering is being done via font. His whole-cloth inclusion of various celebrities in the story for me is enjoyably bizarre, though I can see how you'd think it was just lazy if you're being uncharitable. And then there's his status as a self-publishing avatar in all his bullheadedness, which I think is on the whole to be commended.

But, yeah, the last book I bought was Flight on account of the going crazy in the coconut. And I skipped Jaka's Story.
posted by furiousthought at 7:44 AM on August 28, 2002

Oh, yeah: dhartung mentioned Cerebus's letters page. The old ones are a lot of fun - similar to how the letters page of Suck used to be. Was there a magazine that did the snide letters-page-reply routine before Cerebus? There probably was and I don't know it. Still it was neat at the time.
posted by furiousthought at 7:56 AM on August 28, 2002

But, yeah, the last book I bought was Flight on account of the going crazy in the coconut. And I skipped Jaka's Story.

I kind of drifted away during "Mothers and Daughters", but I will put in votes for "Jaka's Story" and "Melmoth". Yes they're really, reallllly slow, but I found them beautiful. Writers of good fiction are often crazy and strident in their personal beliefs: Wyndham Lewis (though he later recanted), Salinger, Harlan Ellison, etc. It sounds like Sim's nuttiness is starting to ooze into his work though.

Utterly OT: "Crazy in the coconut": like The Avalanches do we, or just eine coincidence?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:57 AM on August 28, 2002

Since I agree with most of the comments here regarding Sim's lunacy and which Cerebus books are the best, I just want to ask: Does anyone else ever find themselves using the phrase "suck wet farts out of dead pigeons?"
posted by Cyrano at 8:09 AM on August 28, 2002

Yes, Sim is a nut and it's sad. He always was offensive, just not this bad.

I guess I can still look back fondly on things like the issue where Cerebus tripped on codeine-laced whiskey with Mick Jagger and hallucinated that his nose was floating off his face ("Stick it back on before the sap freezes!!") Classic.

So it goes.
posted by Shane at 8:39 AM on August 28, 2002

Afterthought: I wonder what (Cerebus embellisher) Gerhard thinks about all the fuss? I don't recall ever hearing his point of view. Great inker...
posted by Shane at 8:41 AM on August 28, 2002

PinkStainlessTail: good catch! Hehe. That phrase has stuck. And Cyrano, thanks! I forgot all about the wet farts from dead pigeons.

Now, the last time I had a chance to read any of Jaka's Story or Melmoth was back in college since my roommate collected Cerebus and that's when I was exposed to it. I don't remember it all that well except for it being slow. Wasn't Melmoth the book with the infamous six pages of pissing interlude? Or maybe it's in Mothers and Daughters. At work I am far away from my phone books.
posted by furiousthought at 9:26 AM on August 28, 2002

Melmoth is the one year/12 issue retelling of Sebastian Melmoth's (really Oscar Wilde's) death. this is intercut with Cerebus sitting at a cafe, clutching a doll, and saying nothing but "aye" and "nay" in response to questions from a waitress who looks a little bit like Jaka. Don't remember any pissing, but it's been quite a while.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:35 AM on August 28, 2002

Right. Yeah. Hmmm.

Come to think of it, the six pages of pissing happen at the end of Church and State II. Or the beginning of Jaka's Story. Before he snaps and goes into doll-clutching mode at any rate. I just brought it up 'cause for a lot of people it's a prime example of Sim's "platform abuse." (I pay for twenty pages and you waste six of them on Cerebus taking a piss?!) I like the sequence myself.
posted by furiousthought at 10:29 AM on August 28, 2002

Aside from his maniacal screeds on women, God, the Universe and everything, there is other evidence regarding Sim's mental state. I seem to recall something he wrote years ago where he mentions once have been diagnosed with mild schizphrenia, or some such (or possibly that was the fictional version of himself presented in "Reads"). He's also talked about the definition of "the real world", where he observed that he spent significantly more hours a day immersed in the Cerebus universe than operating in the consensus reality, so what was truly "real?"

I've entertained a theory that this may have something to do with his phenomenal gift for characterization and a possible explanation for why his strong female characters don't fit into the mold outlined by his extensive editorial rantings. I think his characters become so real for him in his mind that they insist on doing what they want, rather than what fits his theories. Dave Sim may believe that men are rational and women irrational, but Astoria (a female character) displays more rationality than almost any of Sims' male characters.

Just a thought, anyway.

I recently stopped buying Cerebus, because Sims' editorial obsessions have started leaking into the main body of the comic to the point where it isn't fun any more. I'll spend my money instead on picking up the back issues I don't have.
posted by tdismukes at 10:56 AM on August 28, 2002

Dave Sim may believe that men are rational and women irrational, but Astoria (a female character) displays more rationality than almost any of Sims' male characters.

Interesting, and it casts a whole new light on the rape of Astoria in Church and State. Dimestore psychology: was Sim maybe "punishing" the character for not conforming to his worldview? (OT: I'm amazed at how much of the Cerebus storyline is coming back to me).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:02 AM on August 28, 2002

What about the revelation that Cerebus is a hermaphrodite, but due to a childhood injury can never be a mother? If Cerebus is an avatar for Sim, than perhaps he is saying that, while he believes all his own nonsense, there is no such thing as a true "man", not even Cerebus.
I dunno.
posted by Grod at 11:31 AM on August 28, 2002

octavius: I'd never say it's for everyone; as a fan, you'd want to find a certain kind of person to recommend it to. I was asked to start reading from the beginning, and indicated my reservations, but my friend kept pushing me and we had several conversations that helped put things in context. For instance, the various superhero characters played by the Roach are both hommage, parody, and even vicious satire at times of the bread-and-butter of the comics world. Sim simultaneously could grasp what was appealing and ridiculous about the genre while seamlessly integrating it into his own storylines. The very first issues, he was obviously writing a "funny animal" comic, a genre unto itself, which then evolved into something much more interesting; watching that evolution in the first volume is fascinating, in retrospect. He was just a kid, after all, stretching his abilities, and leaning heavily on protoypes (e.g. Groucho Marx). But by the time he'd decided to do the extended storyline of High Society, he had greater ambitions. Really, HS is the apex of the popular appeal of the series. The misogynism and his whole world philosophy (whether real-world, or in-story world) hadn't become calcified and essential. HS may still be read as a political adventure, and if you're approaching it from the right angle, it's very funny.

True, more interesting work has been done since, but nobody -- full stop -- ever tried doing a 300-issue comics storyline before, especially self-published out of a studio in bumfuck Ontario. That may not be your cup of tea, but it's deserving of respect.

Sorry you didn't like it. As I say, I've stopped reading the comics, but I would still absolutely recommend the earlier works.
posted by dhartung at 12:25 PM on August 28, 2002

I met Dave back in 94/95 when we were all working on CBLDF projects...and I knew his girlfriend at the time, who was an amazing woman...and back then, I thought his writing was misogynistic, but *he*, as a person, didn't seem to be.

Even if he has gone over to the dark side, he's done an enormous amount of work and fund raising to keep independent comic publishers out of the reach of censors.

Besides, I don't have to like what someone long as they have the right to write it.
posted by dejah420 at 12:28 PM on August 28, 2002

Quite coincidentally, I started to reread High Society an hour before this thread was posted, last night.

I haven't paid much attention to Cerebus for a few years, mostly because story wandered after Jaka's Story. As Dave is now on issue 280, and i've been a fan since issue 84, i thought i owed it to myself to get on the bandwagon for the final 20 issues to complete something that i started 18 years ago.

Is Dave crazy? Probably not. My guess is that he is just a brilliant, lonely writer that spends too much time in Narnia.
posted by mr.abominable at 12:36 PM on August 28, 2002

...the various superhero characters played by the Roach are both hommage, parody, and even vicious satire at times of the bread-and-butter of the comics world.

This (and other things) earned Sim a parody of himself in the character of S'ym the demon in Marvel's New Mutants (in the late '80s, early '90s?) Chris Claremont wrote him in, I think.

The very first issues, he was obviously writing a "funny animal" comic, a genre unto itself...

...and a parody of Conan the Barbarian. How long ago that seems now!-- practically forgotten. Cerebus even started off wearing the same necklace Barry Windsor-Smith used to draw on Conan in the first comic series.

Sim did another parody of Conan and "barbarian" comics in a short-story in Marvel's in Epic magazine in the '80s.
posted by Shane at 2:04 PM on August 28, 2002

I am still enjoying Cerebus, though I don't read his essays at all. I don't mind reading points of view that I disagree with, but I just don't find them interesting.

Much of Cerebus' recent genocidal treatment of the Cirinists comes across, to me, as a logical outgrowth of his character. He is taking the baby throwing thing from Church and State to one logical extreme. However, since I am aware of Sim's personal views, I can't help but wonder if Sim is advocating mass murder of feminists. I really don't think that he is, but, at the same time, I wonder about it.

Anyhow, I wonder what somebody reading the entire text of Cerebus from start to finish without any knowledge of Sim would think of the work.

I am reminded of similar conversations I have had about Woody Allen and Professor Griff (of Public Enemy). Does an artists' personal views or personal behavior diminish their art?
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:26 PM on August 28, 2002

Footnote: By "I don't find them interesting," I am, of course, referring specifically to Sim's essays. I enjoy reading essays that contain points of view that I disagree with when said articles are well written,
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:28 PM on August 28, 2002

A question for the long-time Cerebus readers here:

Didn't you wonder about Sim's ego when he constantly published photo's of himself on the back cover of Cerebus, often at a comic convention with a glass of booze in hand and a beautiful woman at his side?

That always made me go Hmm...
posted by Shane at 2:29 PM on August 28, 2002

Yes, Shane. Those always made me chuckle, too.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:31 PM on August 28, 2002

This is slightly off-thread at this point, but... Out of an awful lot of bizarre suppositions, I found Sim's belief that the Biblical phrase "two women grinding together" refered to lesbians particularly odd. Its proximity to the two-men-in-bed verse notwithstanding, my first guess is that it means two women grinding meal side-by-side.
posted by hippugeek at 10:53 PM on August 28, 2002

« Older Did you know "88" means "Heil Hitler"? Neither did...   |   Howard Dean Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments