Thursday, October 13, 2016

Record: Dave Sim

Now here's an interesting idea for a comics writer whose work we could scrutinize. It doesn't have to be just writers working for mainstream superhero books we could focus on, and the Canadian cartoonist Dave Sim, author of Cerebus, the would-be humor comic about an anthropomorphic aardvark swordfighter that ran during 1977-2004, is somebody whose work was discussed in the past, and having done a little research, I too realized that he's got some viewpoints that are pretty disturbing. So let's see if I can write up the best possible entry here.
  • Early in the Cerebus run, Sim came up with a character called Red Sophia, allegedly a parody of Red Sonja, whom Roy Thomas introduced in the Conan series he'd launched/written in the early 70s that drew on a minor guest character from Robert E. Howard's old stories. And the character Sim featured was depicted as easy to defeat and ditzy. Of all the characters from Howard's own stable he could've riffed on, I wonder why it had to be one based on Red Sonja and not Conan himself, or even Kull the Conqueror? Though the spinoffs from Conan at the time had engaging stories in hindsight, the first Red Sonja title didn't last much more than 3-4 years at best, and was cancelled by the end of the 1970s (Kull's didn't fare much better either), so I'm not sure why Sim considered Sonja a perfect target for whatever vision he set out to employ. In any case, what matters is that he was insulting an impressive idea Thomas had for a sword-and-sorcery heroine, and it's bewildering he'd want to make a girl that incompetent.
  • In the mid-90s, he indicated that he saw nothing wrong with a Vietnamese family disowning their daughter for getting pregnant. He said in that insanity, "I watched an interview the other night on CBC Prime Time with a nineteen-year-old girl from an old-fashioned (which is to say "principled") Vietnamese family. She had gotten pregnant during her last year of high school. She knew that she had brought "shame" to her father, to her family. "But this is a free country, isn't it?" she asks the camera. "That means you can do whatever you want, doesn't it?" The camera was indulgently mute on the subject. The girl moved on. She felt scared that she was going to be a mother. She felt unhappy that she had been disowned by her father, but she also, you know, felt happy when her mother called to tell her that she would answer any questions that she had about pregnancy. She felt most enthusiastically about her school guidance counsellor because he had, you know, just listened to her "spill her guts" and hadn't tried to, you know, make her feel bad." In other words, he wasn't disappointed that the girl's family was rejecting her when, here, she could be bearing them a grandchild, somebody to love and hopefully raise to do good in the world? How somebody can basically dismiss the positivity of life so cynically is galling.
  • He once wrote a crazy essay where he put in a disgusting paragraph that basically implied that it's okay in all instances to use "physical discipline" against women and children. He said, "To me, taking it as a given that reason cannot prevail in any argument with emotion, there must come a point – with women and children – where verbal discipline has to be asserted, and if verbal discipline proves insufficient, that physical discipline be introduced. Women and children have soft, cushy buttocks which are, nonetheless, shot through with reasonably sensitive nerve endings. I believe that those buttocks are there for a very specific purpose intended by their Creator." It's not often I see smut as sick as that happens to be. I can't even begin to describe how his justifications for thrashing make my skin crawl. UGH!
Here's also some video links discussing Sim's justifications of domestic violence. To think that the medium once embraced this man is horrific. On a somewhat related note, some people may know that a certain artist/cartoonist with the initials "C.D" once accused the late DC editor Julius Schwartz of supposedly attacking her sexually in a limousine in article published in The Comics Journal in April 2004. But her associations in the past with Sim are but one reason why I couldn't believe what she alleged, and certainly couldn't take it at face value. I'd written about this some time ago on my main comics blog, and I guess I'll have to add at least one more commentary here as well. How is it possible that all those years before when she was chummy with Sim, she never noticed any of the crap he was spewing out? Why, in fact, how is it possible nobody else in the medium did either? It just simply beggars belief. Are we really supposed to think nobody could've spotted anything of the creepy stuff he'd said from the late 70s to now? I can't buy that. And it goes without saying that the limousine part is just one more contrived-sounding part in this whole bizarre mess. But what really made C.D's allegations come unglued was the failure to present the letter of apology she claimed Schwartz sent to an agent of hers (something else that's ambiguous: unlike movie stars, do cartoonists usually have talent agents? Not that I know of). Ironically, it was Sim and a colleague of his who provided some of the hints just how flaccid her accusations against Schwartz were, even as they acted hypocritically simultaneously.

Another puzzler: when I took a look at an excerpt of the story C.D drew in Cerebus in 1986 that supposedly alluded to her allegation, the way it was set up made it look like it was little more than a case of an ugly quarrel she had with a guy who talked sleazy, but little else. What kind of person who supposedly went through a terrible experience waters it down into a joke? As if that weren't problematic enough, I vaguely recall finding and reading a message she wrote on the old Comicon site in 2001, where, although she admitted Sim once insulted a buddy of hers by bragging about how he thought women looked funny when they're mad, she did anything but condemn him, and as a result, I remain unconvinced she understood the really bad impact of his past commentaries (also, I think I once spotted her conversing with Dan Slott, if that's telling anything). Needless to say, if she really did make a false accusation against Schwartz, that was wrong, mainly because of the harm it can do to actual victims. It's regrettable she'd do that, because I honestly never considered her the worst the medium's got to offer. But, that's life; full of people who just aren't what they could be.

So in the end, it's not that I don't want to believe a man like Schwartz was capable of pulling an offensive act. It's that I can't. Because C.D provided nothing concrete to go by. I don't think Schwartz was a saint, and I'm sure there were still infuriarating things he could've done regardless. But without solid proof, even Sim has no business trying to besmirch the guy's name, and his own writings, in and out of Cerebus, weigh against him very heavily.

Sim's antics started gaining the notoriety they should've had by the late 1990s, and since then, he's been mostly shunned by a lot of other writers and artists. But it's still hard to swallow that nobody within the industry ever spotted any of his atrocious politics years before, and didn't think to distance themselves from him well before.