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Last Friday night I took your advice, and it seems to have worked.

As you may recall, I was scheduled to appear at PI-Con, a small science fiction convention near my home.  I had arranged to read my work aloud on Friday night, and since I couldn’t decide which of my diaries would be be the least ridiculous the best way to introduce myself to the adoring masses, I polled you, my faithful readers, for advice.  I gave you a list of about half a dozen choices, you voted, and I tallied up the results.  

The winning diary, “The Silence of the Peeps,” wasn’t my first choice – I’d originally intended to read part of either “His Plagiarized Materials” or “The Seduction of the Crossover” – but it was the collective choice of you, my faithful readers.  I accordingly spent an evening polishing and editing, spent another evening practicing reading it aloud, and sallied forth to see if anyone who wasn’t a Kossack or a personal friend thought the saga of several drunk college students destroying inoffensive Easter treats was funny.

I’m pleased to report that the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.”  There weren’t many people at the reading – not a surprise, since PI-Con is small and the hour was late – but those who attended were all but on the floor.   One in particular was guffawing the whole time, while the woman next to her, the programming chair for the convention, could not stop giggling.  It was a success by any measure, and the person who was follow me actually turned to me, still chuckling, and said, “I’m not sure how I’m going to follow that.”

I couldn’t help breaking into a grin; this woman not only had a book in print, she was one of PI-Con’s featured guests.  Making her laugh was a real coup as far as I was concerned.

“Thanks,” I said.  “I really appreciate it.”

She grinned back, settled down, and began to read an excerpt from her own novel.  It was a cleverly written, amusing fantasy about an eccentric artist, his marmosets, his pet spider, and his no-nonsense housekeeper, and we all seemed to enjoy quite a bit.  It wasn’t until she’d finished, we’d both answered some questions, and the panel had broken up for the night that she turned to me and asked if I belonged to Broad Universe.

I blinked at the question.  Broad Universe is a writer’s organization devoted to advocating, supporting, and networking among women writers of science fiction, and fantasy, with members ranging from beginners to seasoned pros.  Their New England chapter is very active, and I’d gotten used to seeing their panels, joint readings, parties, and dealer’ls tables at Arisia and other New England conventions over the past couple of years.

“Am I member?  Uh, I’ve been considering it, but I haven’t joined yet and – “

“I’m the coordinator for our podcasts,” she said.  “I thought your reading was hilarious and I’d love to include it.  Of course you have to be a member, but – “

I snapped my jaw shut before she could have a chance to examine my dental work too closely.  “That would be great.  Where do I join?”

“At our booth, just down the hall.”

And that, my friends, is why I paid my money down on the spot for a membership in Broad Universe, why I spent much of the con hanging out at their table and getting to know the other locals, and why I came home with several books by my fellow Broads to review in this space over the next couple of weeks.  This is a chance to get my work known and to spread the cult of peep slaughtering far and wide, MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!! make contacts, and if it means I have to figure out how to download appropriate software, record 2500 words without making a fool of myself, and then e-mail an audio file, well, I’ve done worse.  This could be the start of something important in my life, and I will most definitely keep you posted.

Sisterhood is powerful, it seems.

The subject of tonight’s diary would almost certainly disagree.  A comic artist/writer of genuine and considerable talent, he’s become notorious in recent years for his burning hatred of anything female.  Whether this occurred thanks to an ugly divorce or was bubbling under the surface of his work all along is not clear, but the resulting stew of extreme misogyny, ultra-conservative if less than coherent politics, and self-created religion has come close to eclipsing his very real contributions to graphic storytelling.  

His name is Dave Sim. He’s the author, artist, and publisher of what may well be the single longest comic book/graphic novel ever written, Cerebus the Aardvark.  And his opinions are, to say the least…

Unique.

Little in Dave Sim’s background would lead the average reader to guess at his future opinions.  Born in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1956 to a Scottish-born labor negotiator and a school secretary, Sim and his older sister grew up in comfortable middle class home.  He began reading comic books in the second or third grade, became a devotee of Silver Age artists such as Curt Swan, Neal Adams, and Barry Windsor-Smith, and was collecting both DC superhero books and Mad magazine by the time he hit high school.  By 1971 he was so inspired by the graphic art he loved that he’d decided to become a comic artist, and if he spent so much time drawing that he flunked the eleventh grade, well, it wasn’t as if the average Canadian high school curriculum could teach him anything about being a comic artist.

No, that Sim learned on his own.  He’d begun writing and drawing for fanzines in the early 1970’s, and between obsessively copying his favorite artists to learn his techniques, interviewing established artists for ‘zines, and working tirelessly on several original projects, by 1976 he’d begun to be published in local newspapers and small anthologies.  He even got a book of strip cartoons, The Beavers, published in 1976.  Sim earned the princely sum of $125 for his work, which wasn’t nearly as pitiful as it sounds today.

Alas, his publisher went under soon after The Beavers appeared in print, scuttling plans for a sequel.  Sim managed to get some work from second tier comics publishers like Charlton, but quickly came to see professional editors and comic lines as more of a hindrance than a help.  Their suggestions and edits were mere interference based on commercial considerations, not the fruit of years of experience, and by 1977 Sim had decided that the only way to make it as a comic artist was to work for himself.

By then Sim had met a fellow comics enthusiast, Deni Loubert.  They began dating in 1976, and she was more than happy to work with him to publish a bimonthly black and white book called Cerebus the Aardvark.  Cerebus, which had begun as the title of a fanzine published by Deni (the name was originally supposed to be Cerberus, after the three-headed hound of Hades in Greek mythology, but Deni has unclear on the spelling), was intended as a simultaneous parody of sword and sorcery stalwart Conan the Barbarian and Marvel’s gonzo funny animal book Howard the Duck.  Cerebus himself, a morose creature with a habit of wearing bolero vests, hitting on human women, and referring to himself in the third person, became an aardvark, not a duck, thanks to a Loubert family joke about Deni’s sister’s ex-boyfriend.

Of such stuff are legends made, not that this was apparent at first.  Cerebus the Aardvark, published by Aardvark-Vanaheim (another Loubert-Sim insider joke), began as a fairly standard comic book, albeit witty enough to attract a small but loyal following.  Sim, who both wrote and drew the book, soon shifted to a monthly publication schedule.  The narrative shifted from single issues to longer story arcs, and as the Me Decade staggered to a conclusion, Dave Sim found himself with a genuine phenomenon on his hands.

He also acquired a wife (Deni, whom he married in 1979), and a drug habit (first pot, then frequent and massive doses LSD) that eventually landed him in the hospital with schizophrenia-like symptoms.  It was during this time that he decided to do something that no one in Western comics had ever attempted: write and draw a monthly 300 issue series about a single character.

For those keeping score that home, that’s twenty-five years.

Now, for those of you who wonder how anyone would possibly stretch a take off on mighty-thewed Conan and wisecracking Howard from the Carter administration to the second Bush era, be advised that Sim had quickly moved beyond mere parody.  Cerebus might still wear a bolero and have an obsession with human women (especially Jaka, a dancer whom he both loved and loathed), but beginning with the High Society story arc, the book was constructed as a series of sixteen novels, each of which told a segment of Cerebus’ life story.  

These novels, eventually collected in massive volumes that Sim referred to as “phone books,” were like nothing else in comics.  Graphically innovative, with panel arrangements that could flip from vertical to horizontal, intricate backgrounds, and complex storylines that ranged from penetrating character studies to pointed satire, the adventures of Cerebus and his huge supporting cast were popular enough by the early 1980’s to sell 36,000 copies per month.  Even more impressive, almost all of these sales were through specialized shops or mail order rather than the newsstand sales that were still the backbone of the humor and superhero lines.  

Needless to say, Sim spent much of the early 1980’s either working on Cerebus or traveling to comic shops and conventions to promote his work.  Soon he had to hire a background artist, Gerhard, to free up enough time for him to draw the main characters and write the scripts.  Aardvark-Vanaheim, which was one of the first independent comic companies to last more than a couple of years (or issues), expanded to publish titles such as Journey and Flaming Carrot.  Sim, who’d never liked working for other publishers, began using the editorial pages of Cerebus to advocate for creators’ rights and self-publishing.  This led to the rise of creator-owned books like Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, which eventually led to a rash of lawsuits by older artists and writers for back royalties, rights to characters they’d created, the return of original artwork, and public recognition of their work in future publications.

It’s little wonder that Sim, who was now commanding six figure fees to produce guest issues of other comics, became an early and major supporter of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  It’s even less wonder that he turned down a lucrative offer from DC Comics to purchase Cerebus outright for $100,000 plus 10% of all licensing and merchandising rights.  The money would have made him rich beyond his wildest dreams, but DC, even its Vertigo adult line, still would have required more creative control over the world’s most famous aardvark than Sim was willing to surrender.

If the above doesn’t sound much like an Author So Bad He’s Good, it’s because if quality is the only criterion, Dave Sim is anything but.  Cerebus, which began as a parody, is a true landmark of graphic storytelling, has influenced not only comic books and other forms of graphic art, but was a major inspiration for the structure J. Michael Straczynski’s brilliant television series Babylon 5 and other genre works.  Sim has won a slew of awards, including the comics equivalent of the Oscar, the Eisner, and is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in comics history.  If he’d confined his public utterances to Cerebus and other literary projects, I never would have mentioned his name.

No, it’s not the work that’s the problem. It’s the creator.

Dave Sim has always had an independent streak, going back to his decision to self-publish rather than work for an established company.  However, his increasingly – how do I put this delicately? - eccentric pronunciamenti on politics, economics, and gender relations are in a class by themselves.  Like Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism, Dave Sim’s misogyny has so stained his legacy that it’s difficult to imagine future critics (especially female critics) being able to write about his work without also considering his crazed rants less savory writings.

Fans had started to notice an increasingly hostile tone toward the female characters (and women in general) in Cerebus as the series reached its midpoint.  This wasn’t uncommon in comics (and still isn’t, alas; see Gail Simone’s essay “Women in Refrigerators” for more), but it was becoming more and more noticeable.  Part of it might have been Sim’s divorce from Deni in the early 1980’s, especially since her new comic company, Renegade, retained the publishing rights to every Aardvark-Vanaheim title except Cerebus.  There were also rumors that Sim’s heavy drug use in the 70’s had permanently pickled his brain, although the continued excellence of his work and his strongly argued advocacy of creator’s rights would indicate otherwise.

At the same time, it’s hard not to wonder if drugs were behind the story arc called “Reads.”

“Reads,” the third part of a four-phone book series called “Mothers and Daughters,” is simultaneously a complex meditation on the dangers of commercial success, a dialogue about aardvarks and the conflict between the pursuit of power and the pursuit of pleasure,  the revelation that Cerebus is actually a hermaphrodite, and a long, long, long about the nature of the genders by one “Viktor Davis.”  It was the last, which appeared in Cerebus #186, that caused the controversy, not to mention a lot of speculation that Dave Sim may be somewhat less than sane.

You think I exaggerate?  Remember those quotes I reprinted last week?  Well, those were only the tip of the iceberg:

"Two heads are better than one" has much in common with "two can live as cheaply as one". It represents, at its core, the Merged Void raking the Male Light with its Emotion-based fingernails. There is little empirical evidence to support either statement. As the Emotional Female Void devours what is left of the civilisation which has been built by the Rational Male Light, it has extrapolated the former maxim into Larger and More Efficient Voids ("If two heads are better than one, think how good a dozen heads will be!"). Study Groups, Steering Committees, Regional Advisory Boards, Crown Commissions, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam. While it is a basic truth that Light does not Merge, that Light does not Breed, Voids do nothing else. The Merged Void represents Consensus. It is a purely Emotion-based belief (or, rather, feeling) that through Consensus, one arrives at "Truth" (or, rather, Truth).
And here I thought fingernails were merely hardened keratin.
Paper-clipped to that one:

What was the essence of Jesus' philosophy but the reformation of Judaism as constituted in his time? "You consume an elephant and excrete a gnat," he scolded. In regarding the centuries-long work that Merged Voids had committed upon the Word of God, layers of interpretation on layers of interpretation, the Word itself so obscured that little remained but the Profession of Interpretation itself, he had attempted to inject a note of sanity into the proceedings. "You know, if you just say do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you could probably knock a good four hundred pages out of the rule book right there." What he failed to recognise was that the Letter of the Law is the province of the Merged Void. It is only the Male Light that is concerned with its Spirit.

Too sensible.

Too much Light.

Bang Bang Bang

I don't think this is what Jesus meant by "I am the Light of the world."
It is up to each individual Male in whom the creative fire burns, in the words of Pater, "as a hard, gem-like flame" to decide whether to maintain that radiance, whether to settle for a wavery, uncertain light, or whether to extinguish it altogether. The individual Male decides for himself which side in the ancient battle is the better armed, who gets the best reinforcements, the most effective weapons, whose barricades are solid and well-fortified, and whose are makeshift and ramshackle. John Lennon maintained through his House-Husband years of baking bread and minding the baby that he had "lost his Muse". Untruer words were never spoken. He drove his Muse from him. The forces within his Groin and his Heart, armed to the teeth, legion upon legion upon legion, surrounded those forces in his Brain and in his Mind, and the battle was lost. John Lennon was a triumph for the malignant forces of Discordia, of Diana, of Venus.
What a fascinating take on the breakup of the Beatles.
During the great polio epidemics of this century, whole neighbourhoods were scrubbed clean. Pesticides were sprayed on every tree, every inch of lawn. Whole communities mobilised in a concerted effort to eliminate any likely or even remotely possible source for the pestilence. When the polio vaccine was discovered, it was found that the source of the disease was a bacteria found in raw sewage, to which humans had previously been immune because they used to be exposed to it in trace amounts over extended periods.

No! Bad! That's dirty!

DIR-TEE!

I can't wait for "Viktor Davis's" take on the Black Death or cholera.

The above seems so exaggerated, and so ludicrous, that it’s hard not to wonder if Sim was actually engaging in an elaborate joke…except that Cerebus #186 also contained another essay by Sim that not only confirmed that yes, he was absolutely serious in describing women as intellectually deficient Voids, that fellow cartoonist Jeff Smith was a fine example of a male who was completely at the mercy of his wife.  Not only that, when Smith responded that Sim was pretty much full of aardvark poop, Sim not only accused Smith of lying about his personal relationships, but challenged him to a boxing match.

Fortunately for all concerned, Smith decided that he had no interest in imitating Ernest Hemingway (or possibly Woody Allen’s parody of Hemingway) and turned Sim down.  How that would have gone down in literary history isn’t clear, but it’s doubtful that it would have ended well.

Sim, who had begun to formulate his own idiosyncratic blend of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam that requires frequent fasting, daily prayer, and celibacy, followed up “Reads” with a long running feud with Gary Groth, editor in chief of The Comics Journal.  Highlights included Groth defending traditional publishing against Sim’s self-publishing model, an interview with Deni Loubert about “Reads” that included Deni speculating that the essay was evidence that her ex-husband was “very scared,” and illustrations that blatantly compared Sim to a concentration camp guard.  Eventually editor and aardvark-lover patched things up enough for TCJ to publish a roundtable about the continuing influence of Cerebus, but it’s a wonder that Sim didn’t lace up his boxing gloves and challenge Groth to a few rounds.

Sim then doubled down on both controversies with an essay in Cerebus #265, “Tangent,” that saw the downfall of western civilization in the widespread acceptance of feminism and political liberalism:

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.

But, of course, a woman no more has control over her reproductive functions – apart from abstinence – than she has over the number of hairs growing on her head or the colour of her eyes.

Thus, to me, “a woman's right to choose” constitutes little more than an imbecilic paraphrase of “free will”. That is, we are all, by the grace of God, free to choose. That is what free will is. We can choose to commit murder, we can choose to steal, we can choose to commit adultery. The underpinning of the life of the God-fearing individual is that there is a price to be paid – sometimes in this world, sometimes in the world to come, sometimes in both – for choosing incorrectly. The ritual sacrifice of babies is well-documented among the pagan peoples named in the Torah and is, irrefutably, an abomination in the eyes of God.

I wonder if he's on the board of Hobby Lobby?
Although I have given the husbands a hard time here, I am not without sympathy, having been one myself once. Husbands, it seems to me, are caught between the Rock of Feminism and the Hard Place of their own marriages: that is, capitulate or leave. “Deadbeat Dads,” to me, is a skewed feminist perception. It is not that men are deserting their families in many cases, so much as it is that they are being driven from their families by the pressure to Believe Five Impossible Things Before Breakfast, to capitulate, that is, to Feminist Ideology, to admit to the Orwellian imperative to believe that Feminist Lies are the Truth and that Masculine Truths are Lies. Reason can't win in an argument with Emotion. Reason can capitulate to Emotion or Reason can leave. In either case Emotion, being without any sound intellectual foundation, will always find itself fully justified in its every action.

For feminists, for wives, for women, for Emotion-based beings, it is a win/win/win/win situation. Either her husband a) capitulates to her views and, thus, places himself and his assets under her jurisdiction or b) portrays himself to her as having capitulated to her views and, thus, places himself and his assets under her jurisdiction or c) removes himself from her jurisdiction and surrenders half of his assets to her voluntarily or d) removes himself from her jurisdiction and is forced to surrender half of his assets to her by the courts (Did you hear about the new Divorced Barbie? She comes with half of Ken's stuff).

It is ridiculous to discuss equality between the genders as anything but a feminist hallucination until women agree to surrender their “right” to alimony. Of course women will never surrender alimony because they are not, contrary to their very vocal protestations, equal to men. A percentage of the female population is capable of providing, for themselves, the basic necessities of life. But it is a small percentage, indeed, when compared with the female population which relies on the largesse of boyfriends, husbands, ex-husbands, fathers and/or the government . . .

I guess he figures he got the shaft in the divorce, even though Renegade folded soon thereafter while Cerebus continued unscathed and Sim himself won award after award after award.
Where I most particularly take issue with the feminist-homosexualist axis is with what I see as their monomaniacal haste to blur all distinctions between “tolerance” and “celebration” of “alternative” lifestyles. While feminists, in my experience, tend to view themselves as being very much unshockable “been there, done that” veterans of jaded sexual world-weariness, I beg to differ. When placed alongside the multiplicity of hues which make up the full spectrum of sexual “orientations,” the “rainbow” of your average feminists' sexual experiences will (I can practically guarantee) prove positively monochromatic by contrast.

As a civilized person, I am more than willing to tolerate the algolagnist in his or her proper place at the margins of society and behind closed doors. An Algolagnist Pride Parade is another thing entirely.

I am not sure how widespread irrumation and self-irrumation are but I am sure that its devotees are very fond of it. However, my tolerance of their preference does not extend to public demonstrations of it in the food court of my local shopping mall and, no, I do not consider my intransigence on the subject to originate from either bigotry or intolerance.

Purely on an aesthetic level and with a wincing eye on the rapidly aging Baby Boom population, I think the place for gerontophilia is very much “out of sight” and very much “out of mind”.

Scopophilia is, I rather suppose, more universal than not, both in its legal and illegal forms. To the extent that (in the former instance) it has a nearly insatiable need for volunteers on both sides of the equation, I do not think that – in a civilized world – handing out application forms on street corners or soliciting by telephone would be any great improvement on its present place in society.

Not only does he use Very Big, Very Serious Words, he doesn't like gay people very much.  Does this surprise anyone?

TCJ published this masterpiece in full on its website, albeit with an introduction that called it “nutty and loathsome” (which begs the question of why Gary Groth decided to reprint it in the first place).  TCJ followed up with a rebuttal one issue later, then yet another rebuttal that included a discussion of Cerebus and Dave Sim by Renee Stephen entitled “Masculinity’s Last Hope, or Creepily Paranoid Misogynist?  An Open Letter to Dave Sim.”  Sim then replied to Stephen, who replied to Sim, who fortunately let it drop rather than challenging her to a boxing match.

If that weren’t enough, Sim began sending out form letters to his fans to defend himself against charges of misogyny.  These letters, which revealed that very few people had defended Sim’s views (you don’t say!), closed with a statement that anyone who wanted to remain in his good graces should publicly state, “I do not believe Dave Sim is a misogynist,” either in writing or on line.  Anyone who declined to do so would be removed from Sim’s mailing list and asked not to contact him again.

Yes.  Really.

Despite, or perhaps because, of all these incomprehensible shrieks and yowls Very Serious Words, Dave Sim is still writing, still drawing, and still actively working for creator's writers.  He bought out Gerhard's rights to Cerebus years ago and publicly announced that the work would go into the public domain upon his death, runs a Web TV network called CerebusTV, and has continued to write and publish comics.  His political opinions are a curious mix of libertarianism, hard right lunacy, and extreme dislike of the feminist-homosexualist dominance of public discourse.  A digital version of High Society, one of his bestCerebus novels, went up in smoke (literally) due to a fire, but he's still working away, still on the cutting edge of graphic art, and still one of the best comic artists out there.  

Recent projects include Judenhass, a searing look at anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, Glamourpuss, a superhero book/parody of fashion magazines/history of photorealistic comics, and even inclusion in a recent reprint of some classic
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
books.  All are, as usual, beautifully produced and very much at the forefront of the industry.  Sim clearly hasn't lost his touch.

Then again, it's not the quality of his work that's the problem here....

%%%%%

Do you have an old issue or two of Cerebus in your attic?  A Dave Sim autograph?  Are you a Light? A Void?  A homosexualist?  Have you ever heard of words like "irrumation" before?  Do you wish you could somehow scrub the memory of all those Very Serious Big Words from your brainpan?  Come 'round the red lamp, my friends, and share....

%%%%%

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Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Sat Jul 05, 2014 at 06:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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