Monday, August 18, 2008

Graphic Lit: Glamourpuss and Judenhass

What do you do when confronted with an artist whose work you admire but whose beliefs you find offensive?

That's the question many comic book fans have had to ask themselves about Dave Sim.

Sim first made a name for himself with the debut of the black and white comic book "Cerebus the Aardvark" in 1977.

Initially a parody of "Conan the Barbarian," after about twenty issues Sim decided to expand the book's scope considerably, ultimately delivering a complex 300-issue epic that spanned 30 years and delved into issues of politics, religion, gender and human experience.

Sim did virtually the whole thing himself, and, for many years, "Cerebus" was lauded as an example of the rewards of self-publishing. Accolades were plentiful and the series had a strong, devoted fan base.

Then, something changed.

Beginning with issue 186, Sim began protesting in lengthy, rambling and increasingly ugly essays on what he regarded as the evil excesses of feminism, liberalism and women in general. Here are a few samples: 
"Reason, as any husband can tell you, doesn't stand a chance in an argument with Emotion ... this was the fundamental reason, I believe, that women were denied the vote for so long."
"What the feminists and their ventriloquist puppet husbands are talking about doing with Government-Funded Daycare is raising children as if they were a herd of interchangeable swine. No surprise coming from a gender which has no ethics, no scruples, no sense of right and wrong."
"No one wants to be a woman."

As a result of all of this, Sim became one of the most polarizing figures in comics, reviled by some and warily tolerated by others. Those who chose to stick with the series often found themselves beginning sentences with "Yes, but."

Having wrapped up "Cerebus" in 2004, Sim came roaring back this year with two new comics, the bi-monthly "Glamourpuss," and the stand-alone "Judenhass."

"Glamourpuss" is a bit ... idiosyncratic, to put it mildly. It's a parody of fashion magazines, narrated by the title character, a shallow, self-absorbed but witty model who gripes about having to take anti-depressants or deal with her evil twin sister, Skanko.

But really, "Glamourpuss" is an excuse for Sim to practice and expound upon the photo realistic school of comic art pioneered by such folk as Alex Raymond and Al Williamson. Glamourpuss' monologues are frequently interrupted by Sim as he expounds at length about various styles, techniques and influences.

It's aimed at a select audience, but I found the two issues released so far to be a fascinating read. The fashion jokes are a bit obvious (and, considering Sim's professed feelings toward women, come with a slightly bitter edge) but watching Sim try to show what exactly captivates him about these artists is surprisingly compelling.

"Judenhass," on the other hand, tackles a much more somber subject matter — the Holocaust.

Working from the premise that centuries of Antisemitism directly led to the systematic genocide of millions of Jews, Sim juxtaposes noxious quotes from historical figures like Martin Luther and Voltaire with repeated images of dead bodies found at the concentration camps, all done in his new, photo realistic manner.

Some critics have noted that certain quotes seem to be taken wildly out of context, and I'm not sure I agree with Sim that centuries of prejudice and hate made the Holocaust "inevitable" (though it certainly didn't hurt matters, there were certainly other factors at work that led to the rise of the Nazis).

This is at times a harrowing and moving book. Sim takes an interesting tack, using a single image and breaking it up into tiny panels, each focusing on a different aspect, so that we notice say, a victim's teeth or clasped hands. It's a striking attempt to humanize the dehumanized.

There are those who will refuse to give any money to Sim because of his views, and I can sympathize with that attitude to a point.

Yet despite being the self-appointed chairman of the he-man woman-haters club, Dave Sim remains an artist worth paying attention to. Though very problematic works, "Glamourpuss" and "Judenhass" are alive and take chances in ways that few comic books these days are or do.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2008


At 9:04 PM, Blogger Frank Santoro said...

I still really think that Sim only did Judenhass to distract away from any potential negative reactions against Glamourpuss. The sexism, etc. Both seem to be only reviewed together.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Chris Mautner said...

It's possible, though Sim stated that several times that he wanted Judenhass to be reviewed separately from Glamourpuss; that considering the book's subject matter he felt it shouldn't be lumped together in reviews with something as "light" as Glamourpuss.

We all just chose to ignore him.

At 12:03 AM, Blogger BlueNight said...

Thanks for bringing these to my attention. I'll see if my local store has them.

Cerebus gave me a sense of history I hadn't gotten from any other fiction, before or since. Armies for hire; bank draughts for thousands, endorsed and re-endorsed by dozens of individuals but never cashed; state religions and fallen empires; the glory of the sublime subsumed by the inevitability of the mundane.

I almost got sucked into his philosophy (men=reason=light, women=emotion=dark); in fact, my own, Triessentialism, is partly based on revelations I had while figuring out what was wrong with his!

He lost me about halfway through his exposition on Genesis; that's where the story, such as it was, died. Actually, the big twist was that he had only planned the story up to issue 200, and from there he let the characters inhabit and explore the universe he had created. That explains the aimlessness of everything from about issue 230 to 285.

Like I said, thank you for pointing this out.


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