In Defense of Dave Sim’s ‘glamourpuss’
The first thing I think of when I consider dissecting Dave Sim's "glamourpuss " is "(No Pussyfooting)."
Go ahead, laugh it out. What I'm referring to is the classic loop/ambient collaboration between King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp and electronic music pioneer Brian Eno. In 1973, the two convened with a Gibson Les Paul and a couple of modified A77 Tape Recorders. Across two songs, the pair recorded forty minutes of improvised guitar loops -- waves of sound that swell up and fade, roll over and fold back into sequence. Simultaneously groundbreaking and gimmicky, it remains a must-have for any recreational drug user.
Specifically, though, I'm thinking of the cover: Fripp and Eno sitting in a room made entirely of mirrors, Fripp the parent genius turned slightly and holding something in his right hand, Eno the child genius done up in glam makeup, playing with nudie cards. A column of reflections leads out the upper left corner of the cover, repeating infinitely past the borders.
Creator Dave Sim has been cast in many roles over his years in the comics industry. Self-publishing guru and troop marshal. Willful iconoclast. Mentally-deranged pariah. But after finishing his six-thousand-page opus "Cerebus" (with collaborator Gerhard) in March 2004, the Canadian cartoonist seemed likely to fade into -- if not obscurity -- then irrelevance. By the series' conclusion with issue #300 he had lost much of the readership to his opinions, and more to disappointment in the story's direction. After twenty-seven years, the comics "community" overall seemed both genuinely congratulatory and genuinely content to let him go away quietly.
For some time, it looked like he was going to do exactly that. For me, it wasn't until 2006 when I crossed a Sim-related news item: his work on an online diary comic of a Canadian actress called "Diary of an Actress: Siu Ta (So Far)." Literally the least likely thing anyone expected him to do. Then in 2008 came the chilling "Judenhass" and shortly after, the bi-monthly "glamourpuss."
An appreciation of the photo-realism thread in comics wrapped in a parody of fashion magazines, "glamourpuss" is a book to be consumed on several levels. As a scholarly work, it provides a unique depth and insight into the lives and works of Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, Stan Drake, and other artists whose contributions to the medium are immeasurable. By copying from the best-possible sources, Sim shows a glimpse of what long out-of-print strips might look like with restored fidelity, tuned to brush lines the thickness of a single hair.
Despite the high quality and cultural importance of the scholastic portion of the book, the thing that really makes it pop (and skirt the realm of controversy) is the parody. By choosing fashion magazines as the references for his own art, Sim not only also finds a plentiful source of young (socially-accepted) beauties, he also uncovers a mother lode rife for parody.
Yes, fashion magazines are an easy target. They're also a big one, and a perfect springboard to comment on commercialism, materialism, vanity, the pharmaceutical industry, mob culture, advertising, sex, and of course, feminism, the comics industry, and himself.
The list doesn't end there. Sim is a gifted satirist, darting from topic to topic over the span of a few sentences. Woven into the design, it comes at the reader from many angles: a column for a Dr. Phil-like character in "Ask Dr. Norm," letters to Glamourpuss (the editor of the fashion mag, not the scrubby little comic book), ad spreads, and short comics.
But because Sim is a lunatic misogynist, "glamourpuss" must be thinly-veiled hatespeech, and to purchase even a single issue would be to support his twisted opinions. Apparently. That seems to be the opinion of scores of posters on several forums, anyway. And even though many of them take the time to assert their appreciation for his work and recognition of his talent, they refuse to buy (sometimes even look at) the comic.
Though the term has come to replace words like "sexist" and "chauvinist," the classical definition of "misogynist" is "one who hates women." After spending the last fifteen years expanding on his anti-feminism beliefs, Sim is adamant that he doesn't hate women, and has even established an online petition to that effect. That difference -- if in fact it exists -- might simply be a matter of semantics, but when comparing Sim's beliefs to those of misogynists at large, it's like comparing the space shuttle to a hang-glider. Misogynists only wish they had a worldview as specific as his.
The Cliffs Notes version of his beliefs: Men reason, women feel, women cannot create on their own so they steal creativity from men, though there are "Exceptions" (one of whom is Coco Chanel, parodied in "glamourpuss" 4), and though society is portrayed as male-dominated, it is, in fact, a matriarchy. That's just the foundation. It goes very deep, and very wide, and is very thorough, beginning with the essays in the "Reads" storyline, climaxing in issue 186, spilling over onto the letters page and returning in essay form in "Tangent" once again.
Sim lost nearly half his readers, most of whom believed he'd suffered some psychotic break and wedged it into "Cerebus," derailing the story beyond repair. Sim claims that he had had that exact moment in mind for nearly sixteen years, and that everything from "High Society" on was building towards it.
The evidence is in his favor. Gender issues and commentary on feminism (in infant form, long before Sim had carved out his ethos) occur as early as the introduction of the character Red Sophia, a parody of Red Sonja from "Conan," all the way back in issue 3. For those hoping to blame everything on a mental breakdown, they need look no further than his hospitalization in 1979 after an extended period of heavy LSD use. According to Sim, the entirety of Cerebus's story spawned from this incident, including all the allegories on feminism and womanhood. This event (I believe) is also re-enacted in "Church & State," when Cerebus ascends to the moon and returns to the country of Iest to find it taken over by Cirin and her army of telepathic feminists.
In rereading the entirety of "Reads," "Tangent," numerous letters pages and his Daily Blog and Mail, I can honestly say this is as far as I'll go in defending Dave Sim. I disagree with him on far too many points to keep at it. He can handle his self-defense himself, and has done so for the last fifteen years. In his quest to promote "The Truth," he has lost fans and friends, and seems
destined determined to end up like Cerebus -- alone, unmourned, and unloved.
I will, however, continue to defend his work. But I'm weird.