Thursday, April 6, 2017

Another comics person who loves RAW — Dave Sim

Canadian cartoonist Dave Sim (public domain photo via Wikipedia)

Our British friend Adrian Reynolds kindly wrote to me recently to tell me about his interview with Dave Sim, a major comics figure and also a RAW fan. Adrian writes:

"When comics and RAW are mentioned, the go-to writers are Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. Back in 1993, I interviewed indie comics creator Dave Sim. He, with background artist Gerhard, created the 300 monthly issue story Cerebus, which starts off as a Conan pastiche starring an aardvark and becomes a rich and complex work taking in politics, religion, and gender. Along the way Sim expressed views about women that many claim are misogynistic, and I can see why they'd do so. But reality is more complex than that kind of reductionism. For one thing, some female comics creators including Colleen Doran have said he was very supportive of their careers. For another, Sim also had mental health problems, and it's my experience both as someone who's been sectioned and worked with mentally ill people for some years that for some people experiencing such illness it can coincide with the expression of ugly beliefs."

I know little about the comics world, so I contacted Val D'Orazio, a comics professional and RAW fan  and the blogger at the excellent Butterfly Language blog (which Adrian, as it happens, called my attention to) and asked for feedback on Sim. She wrote, "Dave Sim is a pretty big deal in the world of comics as a comic creator, and his 'Cerebus' is a HUGE influential comic book. Not quite 'Stan Lee' but maybe 'Stan Lee' -like in the indie comic sphere."

Here below are the bits from Adrian's interview with Sim that has to do with Robert Anton Wilson. Full interview here, an overview of Sim and Cerberus here,  and to see Adrian's Dadtown webcomic, go here.  — The Management

From Adrian's preamble to the interview: "I wanted to start the ball rolling in an interesting way, so that it wouldn't be just another interview. To that end, I started by pointing out that it was the 23rd, and that part 23 of Mothers and Daughters had just come out, which tied in quite neatly with the Illuminatus! influence on Cerebus. We chatted a while about this and that, and then started on the interview proper, but the theme of coincidences and Illuminatus! cropped up a few more times and helped shape a wide-ranging discussion that I think we all enjoyed."

Adrian Reynolds

AR   With Sandman in mind, and the Dave McKean-influenced (collage) covers you’re doing…Do you work on something between you, or do you go to a junk shop and find 'Hey - some of that will do!'

Ger   Yeah, that was all Dave's doing - he went out to the used book store, and whatever book presented itself...

Sim   It was really Robert Anton Wilson, because every book that I needed was right at the front of the store in a display, and I looked at them and went 'Yeah — I didn't know what I was looking for but this is exactly it' and then bought those and then foolishly went and looked through the rest of the book store.  And I could feel whatever larger forces there are in the universe going 'What are you doing?' 'Well I'm looking round to see if there's anything else.' 'Well didn't you get what you wanted?' 'Well yeah...'

AR   And a hundred dollars later...

Sim   Yeah, and I was just wasting my time.  I was walking around the store, and they were right there in the front where I needed them.

AR   Also to do with the covers lately, I've noticed a Tarot theme.  172 you've got Astoria as the Lady Pope, 173 Cirin — the Empress, and then I backtracked and thought, aha, 171 — that makes Cerebus the Magician, which we're starting to come through with now...

Sim   I've been sitting on this stuff for 14 years you know.

AR   At what point did it start to gain that scope for you?

Sim   About '79, just after I finished reading the Iluminatus! trilogy.  I sat down and a book on the Tarot came across my path, and I started looking at that and thinking 'Yeah, there's really something here'.  I mean, this is very comic books — talk about words and pictures together, having a specific proportion of this much picture and this specific word at the bottom.

AR   And when they're in a layout they've got a structure as well.

Sim   Yeah!  It is a sequential art.  And then I noticed that, looking at the first ten issues, which were already done at that point, that they corresponded to the Tarot cards.  Cerebus is the Magician on the cover of number one.  The unknown, some sort of spiritual entity/demon, which is exactly the way I tend to view Priestesses, on number two.  Number three — Red Sophia, the Empress.  Number four - Elrod, not really an Emperor in his own way, but the 'last ruler of a dying race', and that's an Emperor.  And then the fifth was Bran Mac Muffin, very close to the Hierophant — the interpreter of rules, telling Cerebus that he is this deity incarnate sort of thing.  Six had Jaka in it — that was the Lovers.

AR   That's what I've been wondering now - who's going to be the Emperor, and is that going to continue into the next book, after Mothers and Daughters has finished.

Sim   No.  Just up to 174 — I'm obvious, but I'm not transparent.  [Laughs.]

AR   [Laughing.]  It's nice to have it there though.

Sim   Yeah - and the effect continues.  I had the dramatic change of location between issues 20 and 21 [of Mothers & Daughters], which I quite enjoyed just as a literary device — I've never seen anyone do this.  You know, now we are seeing everything from his viewpoint because he was here and now he's there and he doesn't know how he got there, and everybody's waiting for the 'Five pages later on somebody walks on with a manuscript and goes [affects melodramatic voice] "Well, while you were passed out..."'' [Everyone laughs.]  You know, I'm not gonna do that - let's make this a genuine mystery here.  And I found out that the Fool card, which I've always given the numerical value of zero, and it has become the new traditional place, used to be between cards 20 and 21.

AR   Really?  I didn't know that.

Sim   I didn't know that either.  I see that in a book and I go 'Aha, alright'.  I don't know what I'm tapped into here, but it's lucrative and a lot of times it's pleasant.

AR   If you've got a choice of ways of looking at the world, you might as well choose the ones that gain you most satisfaction and get a bit of fun with at the same time.

Sim   Yeah.  You have to be careful — you have to realise that there are responsibilities; that you are genuinely creating something, or whatever it is that creates things is using your right hand to create this thing, whatever it is.  And it has an effect, whatever it is, depending on the person - particularly at this point, just sheer gravitational pull, reading 3000 pages of what I'm talking about will change you.  I mean, that was the end of the Iluminatus! trilogy — Wilson flat out tells you that you've been changed by this book, and something inside your head just rears back from that and goes 'No I haven't!', and at the same time there's another part right back there behind him going 'No, we have - let's all admit to it.'  It's the same thing...the story about the cop phoning.  I wasn't there.

Ger   Dave was at a convention or something and I get a call from a police officer in a neighbouring city.  He let me know right off the bat that this wasn't an official police investigation but a friend of his, his son was reading this 'mind-altering literature', and he wanted to know what this was all about.  And I thought 'Fuck, isn't this what literature is supposed to do, alter your mind?'

Sim   You would hope so, but that's a difference in interpretation as well, because most people see literature for entertainment or whatever else.  You know — it should be uplifting, the feelgood movie of the year, the Hollywood happy ending, high concept...


Bob Campbell said...

Very interesting! I see Dave Sim as a kind of Ezra Pound type figure. Extremely innovative and influential artist who fell into some pretty reprehensible and indefensible positions. Which is a strangely prevalent theme in RAW's world. The disgraced genius.

Eric Wagner said...

I loved Cerebus. Thanks for sharing this.