Saturday, 23 January 2016

Jeff Seiler: Dave Sim & Me

Eleven years ago, when Cerebus ended, Dave Sim decided to answer all of his back mail. A month or so later, he had his "Jeff Seiler Day" in which he answered multiple letters I had written over the previous year. After I received that letter, I decided to keep writing, and he kept his promise to answer every letter he received. Now, I have a foot-high stack of letters written and received over 10 years or so. I'll be running interesting excerpts from those letters each week.

23 February, 2005

Dear Jeff:

I'm typing this as part of my February answers to the [Cerebus] Newsgroup, so you might want to post your letter and indicate that that’s what this is about. [Ed: If anyone wants to see my letter, let me know, I’ll try to find it. This is not an exact science, keeping letters for decades. Although, Dave has done a pretty good job of it, with his archive.]

I think it’s a good idea to try for some level of political identification in the Newsgroup for exactly the reasons you outline. I’d be very curious as to what a survey would turn up if you asked everyone to identify themselves as Liberal, Conservative, or Something In Between as a good starting point for the discussion. I also think that you make a good point about finding the monthly answers more conveniently. I have been honestly trying in recent weeks to make an effort to get to the library and check the occasional website on the Internet if someone specifically asks me to--previously I just ignored all such requests--and I just have no patience with it. What am I supposed to “click on”? How do I “turn the page?” “Where did everything go?” With a book, I can check the index, then find the page number, flip to that page, and see if it’s what I’m looking for. On the Internet, I have to find what I think is a pertinent reference (and never is), click on that, scroll through it until I give up, go back to the home page, click on something else. Given a hundred years of evolution it might achieve the efficiency of a book with an index, but I’m not holding my breath.

And I do think that Cerebus would be better served by Conservative interests and that a Foundation would be a good idea eventually. Ger and I are mutually insured through the company through the company, so he would be getting a pretty good sum of money at my passing, but that’s his money. I’d certainly recommend forming a Cerebus Foundation and dovetailing it with Cerebus Legacy, but that will be his decision to make--I can’t tie his hands ahead of time in good conscience. And, as I said before, I think that the possibility of a [metaphorical feeding] trough should be resisted in the early planning for Cerebus Legacy because, otherwise, you attract the wrong kind of people. If you accomplish as many tasks as you can just structurally and then apply specific amounts of money to specific problems--like memory for Margaret’s, etc.--then you’re going to be making better choices. If you start talking about salaried positions, then you have a vested interest in someone continuing to draw the salary and you have a perhaps terminal drain on resources if Cerebus stays the size that it is and a cesspool of corruption if it gets much or even a little larger. But, definitely, if I had to pick a good early course direction to take, it would be giving a disproportionately larger voice to those who identify themselves as Conservative. Trying to avoid creating a Foundation with salaried positions and keeping money as far as possible from the day-to-day running of Cerebus Legacy is a Conservative approach. I can’t see the problems that exist as having any chance of being solved by having money thrown at them and you’re going to need a strong Conservative hand on the tiller--and Conservative voices willing to speak up and be heard--to keep that from happening.

On the subject of replacing the “originals” [Ed: the original readers/fans of Cerebus], I think as long as an honest dialogue is taking place that that won’t be necessary. How many honest dialogues do you know of? I think they’re: a) pretty rare, and b) pretty attractive in no small part because they’re pretty rare. I didn’t want to make you all self-conscious about your ages--or, more relevantly, about your pertinence to Cerebus--but I’m definitely aware of the condition you describe. My own view is that you will become Cerebus celebrities in your own right directly relative to the level of celebrity attached to the book as the years go by. The fewer there are of you, the more important you’re going to be seen as being. The fact that--I assume--the poll will indicate the vast majority of the Newsgroup identifies themselves as Liberal will--again, I assume--prove to be a genuine credential in the years to come. You stuck it out with a viewpoint that you deplored. Well, that’s genuine Liberalism, inclusive rather than exclusive. It will get tested every time there’s another societal convulsion that doesn’t favour the book and it will get tested every time there’s another societal convulsion that does favour the book. If I’ve done my work properly, that should go on pretty much indefinitely. As an “original”, I wouldn’t worry about “successors” too much. When we all start to lose it, they’ll be very nice about edging us out of the way and trying to live up to what we’ve laid down as the original groundwork. They’ll either improve it or wreck it or maintain it but by that we’ll all be drooling in our oatmeal or be six feet under. The key thing is to do what we can now while we’re still “all here” in every sense of the term.

You raise another good point when you mention the cover art. I would definitely never want the covers reprinted inside the trade paperbacks. They are supposed to be graphic novels and that purpose is defeated if there’s another comic-book cover every twenty pages. If the covers are reprinted [Ed: They now are.], my preference would be a separate volume. I could grudgingly allow for them being reprinted in the back of each trade--very grudgingly--but having the covers interleaved into the books, no, to me that’s in the same category as computer colour.

Thanks for writing, Jeff.


Anonymous said...

If you can find the letter, Jeff -- or even just recall -- I'd be curious to know what reasons you outlined for it being a good idea to try for some level of political identification in the Newsgroup.

-- Damian

Steve said...

I know Dave feels very strongly that the graphic novel aspect of Cerebus is best served by reprinting only the story.

But for me, with the custom bound runs I've made over the years, including the whole issue is part of the nostalgia and completeness of the whole story.

Sure there are times (...most of the time...) when the letters have next to nothing to do with Cerebus the comic - but everything to do with Dave and Ger, the fans, the industry - simply put, the times while the comics were in print.

And the covers. Sure, there isn't dialogue or a progression of panels and all that of a story page. But so often the covers are a paragraph as it were to the story, a part of the whole which while not critical as such can be missed when absent.

And I'm sure there are fans (and more simply readers) who prefer just the story pages. But from experience I know there's a market for collecting everything.


eric fennessey said...

I've never really thought too much about the reprinting of the covers. I came aboard with the start of Jaka's Story and very soon caught up when the bi-weeklies came out, so a complete run of covers was always there for me to look back at. Quite often they formed an overture to the issue inside, and I would muse on a cover for the bus journey back from the comic shop. In that sense they were integral to my reading, but that might also have been a function of the month long wait, which also can't really be reproduced in the phone books. I'll be pleased to have the IDW volume of them when it finally appear, if only for easy reference; I'm sure other will love it for the chance to see them as they should be seen.

Jeff Seiler said...

Damian, back in those early days of our correspondence, I wasn't savvy enough to make copies of my letters to Dave before mailing them off. As to my reasoning, after 12 years, it's a bit difficult to remember exactly. I suspect that it had to do with my burgeoning awareness that Dave and I shared a lot of political (Conservative) and religious viewpoints, along with an increasing awareness on my part that many, if not most, Cerebus fans and readers did not share those same views. That, in fact, many or most of them held diametrically opposed viewpoints. Back then, I thought that that might make a difference in their ongoing support of Cerebus. Now, I see a slowly increasing number of religious fans and supporters, as well as a glacial but incremental increase in the number of Cerebus fans and readers who are not diametrically opposed to Dave's anti-feminist views. Hope that helps to clear that up.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the answer, Jeff. It seems strange to me that one would have to share political and religious views with the author in order to support a work by that author. Do you have a line of argument in favour of that viewpoint? (Pre-emptive disclaimer: that's a genuine, not snarky, request.)

-- Damian

Jeff Seiler said...

No, Damian, I think you misapprehend. My initial comment/question to Dave that he responds to here is about to whom should the Cerebus legacy (in its then-fledgling state, later to become the Cerebus Trust, and then, just last year, the Cerebus Foundation) be entrusted. IIRC (and I regularly do not), I posited that it might be better off being managed by conservatives who are respectful of, even if they don't share, Dave's religious values.

As it turns out, it looks like the Cerebus Foundation is to be managed by a bank.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I see; thanks Jeff. That is more specific than I had inferred. I suspect we might agree that what Dave would want is that the "Cerebus Legacy" itself be preserved, not interpreted or expanded upon. (That latter stuff would be for criticism, and would form a de facto part of the small-L legacy of Cerebus, but not be part of the Foundation.) I think we further agree that guardians of such a Foundation would need to be respectful of Dave's beliefs, even if they don't share them.

I don't think I agree that such people are more likely to be found among conservatives, who are not generally known to be respectful of religious beliefs that differ from their own. But Dave does poke liberals in the eye, so that might be enough for them.

-- Damian