Monday, 11 July 2016

Influences


DAVE SIM:
(from a reply to J. Hagey in Aardvark Comments, Cerebus #192, March 1995)
...You can mention the names that you have as 'inspirations' for my work. This is an error of scholarship - the assumption that others' ideas are the building blocks from which a creative work is constructed. Scholars are always stopped dead in their tracks by the denial of influence. How can such a thing be? The ideas presented have so much in common with the influence, it simply isn't POSSIBLE that there is no direct cause and effect. I am put in mind of Larry Marder as a fan-boy tad, much enamoured and well read on the subject of the Hopi Indians - a Hopi fanatic - who saw whole pieces of the big Hopi cloth writ large - nay, gargantuan - in Kirby's Fourth World series. When the opportunity presented itself at a comic-book convention to inquire about this, Kirby proved to be completely unwitting of anything having to do with the Hopi Indians. Fortunately Larry was and is a creative individual, so the answer didn't bring any ersatz-scholar castle crashing to ruins, but instead fed his reverance, delight and satisfaction with the Funny Way These Things Are (you see? Not being scholars, we have no words for this. It just Is).

Out of your list, I have read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. Curiosity finally overcame me - so many earnest individuals had insisted that I must be a major Rand fan (MUST be). When I assured them that this was not the case, to a one they were insistent that I MUST read Rand's work. If my castle was not built on their foundation, at least a kind of after-the-fact, closing-the-barn-door cause and effect could be hoped for.

Your world and my world are diametrically opposed. You don't accept this. Well and good. I am documenting the Funny Way These Things Are. I find many of my same views and the views which are in opposition to them. If I had a nickel for every classical theme, universal myth, philosophy and icon which has been hitched to Cerebus in the minds of its readers, I would have many, many nickels.

I have yet to read anything about Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead that has anything to do with the book I read. I have only infrequently read anything about myself or Cerebus that has anything to do with the work I am writing. Scholarship about creativity is important only to scholars. Analysis is important only to analysts. Criticism is important only to critics. You attempt to label and classify that which is important because it cannot be successfully labeled and cannot successfully be classified...

20 comments:

Travis Pelkie said...

The "Funny Way These Things Are".

AKA Comic Book Metaphysics?

heh.

I understand that things aren't necessarily A to B to C to etc re: ideas leading to creative works, but I wonder if just because a certain idea isn't directly an influence, that doesn't necessarily mean that the idea hasn't ... permeated into one's consciousness and influences a work somehow.

Dave seems to be saying here that analysis is worthless to creativity, but I think it's something that can enhance one's understanding of a work (and one's creation of a work). No creative work is a vacuum, and it seems ridiculous to suggest that analyzing Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or Wilde would give no understanding to Cerebus, or that Dave's reading of analysis of those authors didn't inform Cerebus either.

OK, I'm not sure I've made my points well. I plead sleepiness!

Michael Grabowski said...

I find the attitude Dave expresses here to be amusing in light of his speculatively analytical approach on display in the BONE COMMENTARIES and SDOAR. Which is not to say that they aren't useful or entertaining interpretations of the art and storytelling, but who really knows what Drake and Raymond were thinking about each other when they were each making their art?

Jack said...

I don't think anyone really believes that all criticism and analysis of art is worthless. That would mean that if two people see a movie together, they shouldn't talk about it afterwards.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Once again Dave's ego is out of control. It has always been very important to Dave that he be unique if possible -- the only one to complete a comics work that weighs this much, the only one to figure out the correct interpretation of the Bible, the only one to correctly diagnose society, the only one to figure out a Unified Field Theory. It's not enough for Dave to be good, or even the best; he must be unprecedented. "I am a special snowflake! I am self-created with no stain of influence upon me!" It is unseemly.

-- Damian

Jack said...

Damien, that's not it--he was objecting to that J. Hagey guy attributing (female) influences to him with which he wasn't even familiar. You can't blame him for that, and he's definitely spoken elsewhere about having influences (like Eisner and Mailer). I just think the talk about how scholars and critics are Uncreative People who will never understand the work of Creative People is bullshit. Writing about art is a form of creativity, and while a lot of scholars and critics are annoying, so are plenty of artists.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jack: Mm, no. I don't think your interpretation of Dave's words here is correct. I think it is clear that he is talking about influence, not female influence; he mentions the turgid romance-novelist Ayn Rand as one of the names on a list. Even if that list is all women (I can check my copy of issue 192), that's not the argument he's making. Rather, he's denigrating scholars and critics in general.

-- Damian

Sandeep Atwal said...

I went to UW with J. Hagey! Funny guy.

Jack said...

Yeah, I know he's denigrating scholars and critics in general. That's what I just criticized him for. But he's not claiming that he has no influences; he's claiming that the specific writers Hagey mentioned (all of whom were women, but that's not the major point of contention, which is why I mentioned it in parentheses) didn't influence him.

Does anyone else hate this comment section's CAPTCHA check as much as I do? It's just an endless supply of rivers and storefronts with this goddamned thing.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jack: It seems we have a difference of opinion. And I think that's an opportunity for an interesting point: two individuals, reading the same text, have differing views on the meaning of that text. Who is correct? Well, one perspective would be to ask Dave what he meant, and regard him as the authority; who would know better what he meant? But from another perspective, if you have to ask the author for clarification you're now dealing with a new, expanded text. From another perspective, even the author's intention is irrelevant; what matters is what can be supported from the text. Some critics say that not all artists are good at interpreting their own work; it may contain implications or references that they didn't consciously put there, or intend to be taken the way that a reasonable read might.

I include Dave in the group of creators who are not always the best interpreter of their own work. He hands down authoritative misreadings of his older stuff based on his current phoolosophy, eg. his claim that Jaka was always a spoiled, selfish Palnu princess. That may be how Dave views her now, but the way he portrayed her didn't support that reading until "Going Home" (I could have an interesting conversation about "Jaka's Story").

My first comment in this thread addresses Dave's thesis as encapsulated in his statement, "You attempt to label and classify that which is important because it cannot be successfully labelled and cannot successfully be classified." Dave is such a unique snowflake that words cannot contain him! He's also said that he can't say what Cerebus is about because it took him 298 issues (putting two numbers on one comic doesn't turn it into two comics) to say. Well, either he's dumb and doesn't understand the question (and I don't think he's dumb), or he's being deliberately churlish. "I am unclassifiable! I am unique!"

-- Damian

Jack said...

But he implies that other artists can't be labelled or classified, either; i.e., you can't explain The New Gods as a reworking of Hopi mythology. (By the way, I just Googled "Hopi mythology," and the Wikipedia page has a section about the Hopis' belief that earth is "The Fourth World." Nothing about the Black Racer or Jimmy Olsen, though.) I just don't see anything there that suggests he's a special snowflake.

Mouse Skull Entertainment said...

Damian,

"it took him 298 issues (putting two numbers on one comic doesn't turn it into two comics)"

While I'll concede that I can't argue against your premise , I will argue that it's a false premise.

Dave (and Ger,) didn't just put two numbers on one comic, they did two double issues. #112/113 and #289/290 were 40 pages apiece. A normal issue of Cerebus was 20. How does double the content of a normal issue not "count"?

I mean, as much as I sometimes get tired of Seiler's "Dave can do no wrong" attitude, I really can't fathom your "Dave can do no right" one.

It doesn't matter what the topic is you're always pointing and saying the emperor has no clothes. Even when he's wearing a three-piece suit.

If you wanna call out Dave for what you perceive as bullshit, fine. But don't start making shit up...

Matt Dow

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jack: Hm. Reviewing all the comments we have made, I think that you are more correct than I. I still think your first comment was not as clear as it might have been, but I was perhaps distracted by your dragging women into it (a frequent Simean tactic). And I was influenced also by Dave's recent rant about how you can't compare Cerebus to other graphic novels because of page count (although it turns out that argument was more specific than originally painted), and by his oft- (but not on this occasion) voiced claims of his absolute uniqueness.

I still think I am right about Dave's egotism and unseemly insistence that he is unique and special to the cosmos. He seems to think he has some kind of Objective Significance To The Universe, when he's just another guy.

Nevertheless, Jack, I think you were correct to call me out for misinterpreting the actual text that we were commenting on.

I think one of the best assessments (related to the current discussion) of Cerebus and Dave is Tim O'Neil's (http://whenwillthehurtingstop.blogspot.ca/2011/09/how-we-will-read-cerebus-part-i-as-i.html). I think Dave's complete dismissal of critics and scholars is ironic in that "when the time comes for Cerebus to be rediscovered and to reenter the critical dialogue about comics in any meaningful way, it will be championed by the audience Dave Sim himself is probably least eager to cultivate, the critics and scholars of academia."

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Matt: My statement was a throwaway joke in parentheses, but as you've chosen that particular hill to die on, I can indulge you. Cerebus consists of 298 (mostly) regularly-published issues, a few special issues (eg. Cerebus Jam), and some short strips within other publications. I don't think pointing this out constitutes "making shit up".

The key criterion of a periodical is its periodicity. Page count does not decide the boundaries of one "issue" of a periodical. Dave can do one 40-page issue, or two 20-page issues (hey, it's his comic!). But he can't redefine the meaning of the word to suit him.

As with, say, Playboy (it publishes 10 issues a year, with two "double issues" counting as two for your subscription cost) this is a marketing decision. Dave saved money on his printing bill (one larger issue being cheaper to print than two smaller issues), and saved time on packaging and administrative charges (not having to prepare covers, back-matter, etc. for two issues).

Let's consider two practical matters: First, my complete run of Cerebus comics consists of 298 units. If I walked my fingers through your collection, would I find "111, 112/113, 112/113, 114"? If not, then you've got a complete run of 298 issues also.

Second, what about the retailers that Dave screwed over with this decision? These retailers, months in advance, ordered X copies of Cerebus 112 and Y copies of Cerebus 113 to sell to their customers. Dave added X and Y together, and sent retailers that many copies of one comic. The retailers are now looking at twice as many copies as they can sell.

My ultimate assessment is that this is a small matter. I always thought Dave was weird to promote a by-the-pound valuation of Cerebus ("6,000 pages!"), which makes his comic exactly as significant as the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. I like to think everyone who reads this blog would agree that Cerebus is more significant than that.

(continued in next comment)

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

(continued from previous comment)

The main reason that I chose to address your comment is to dispute your assertion that I have a "Dave can do no right" attitude. I think Dave is a hell of a cartoonist; I think he has a great knowledge of comics history. But when he steps outside his wheelhouse, he becomes ... wonky, at best. Dave is like a Hollywood celebrity pontificating about social issues; he's Susan Sarandon. Even when I agree with his conclusion, I usually have to buttress his "reasoning" with my own.

If Dave wants to talk about cartooning, I'm an eager audience. I am still looking forward to Strange Death, even though it won't be the project he initially conceived and even though he's promised it will contain a heapin' helpin' of his ludicrous Comics Metaphysics Theology. If he wants to talk about social issues or women or the Bible -- well, he's a noted non-expert. This is an individual who refuses to read any scholarship on the most-studied book in history lest it taint his glittering insight as the first individual to understand it, who mistook an article from The Onion for a real news report, who claimed the population of the USA was declining (and who, rather than admit he was wrong, repeatedly moved the goalposts until his position was indistinguishable from racists whose complaint is that white people face demographic extinction).

I think I put this best here, a while ago: Dave said, "I'm a funny cartoonist!” And we the people agreed; you're a funny cartoonist. Then he said, "I'm a graphic novelist!” and we the people agreed: you're a graphic novelist. Then he said, "I'm a serious artist!” and we agreed: you're a serious artist. Then he said, "I'm a champion of creative integrity!” and we agreed: you're a champion of creative integrity. Then he said, "I'm a great thinker!” and we said, "Yeah, not so much, really.” And that just drove him up the wall. How dare we?!!

Dave once (wisely) pointed out that interest does not equal aptitude. It is perhaps unfortunate that two of his biggest interests (thinking and photorealistic drawing) are two things for which he does not display much aptitude. Insisting that these areas are vital to him doesn't endow him with greater skill in them, and dismissing and demonizing (literally!) those who criticize him ensures that he will never develop these skills.

(Disclaimer to leaven above snark: Dave had over a quarter-century of daily practice in his cartoony drawing style with Cerebus. It would have been very interesting to see what he might have become if he had been capable of a quarter-century of daily practice in photorealistic drawing.)

-- Damian

Jack said...

I agree that Dave's political/social commentary doesn't make much logical sense, that he usually ignores inconvenient facts/arguments, and that he tends to move the goalposts whenever he does argue with people. Still, his particular way of quasi-mystical thinking, with all of its hyperbole and linkage of disparate facts and half-facts, probably has served him well creatively. I remember Dave writing something along the lines of, "JFK's head is blown into four pieces, which come to life as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. This is an idea." If you're making some kind of political or social argument, it's a really stupid idea, but if you're creating a graphic novel, it might be a valuable one (or it might not--depends on the execution). I actually think the ending of Cerebus was pretty powerful in its depiction of a creepy liberalism obsessed with breaking down more and more traditional barriers of sexuality, gender, and possibly species. To paraphrase something P.J. O'Rourke said about Ann Coulter, "There's some truth there. The problem is, it's what you would call a poetic truth, and it's the kind of poetic truth that you probably shouldn't share unless it's three o'clock in the morning and you've been drinking heavily since eight." But another place for sharing it is in art, where sloppy thinking isn't necessarily a problem.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jack: Oh yeah! I have no problem with Dave's sources of creativity. The problem is that he (and you) seem to think that he's making some kind of point about this world.

For example, you say, "the ending of Cerebus was pretty powerful in its depiction of a creepy liberalism obsessed with breaking down more and more traditional barriers of sexuality, gender, and possibly species." I don't think that "The Last Day" was one of the stronger books, but I can agree with your assessment. Where you lose me is where you affirm, "There's some truth there." The "creepy liberalism" portrayed in the comic simply doesn't exist in this world; Dave (as usual) tilts wildly at strawmen.

I mean, I like Star Wars just fine. And in that world there is The Force; sure, fine. But I don't have any fear whatsoever that The Dark Side will ensnare me, because there ain't so such animal in this universe.

I agree also with your last sentence. That's why I view Dave's writing as reports from the alternate universe he lives in. I find them interesting, but there's no real parallel to the real world.

-- Damian

Jack said...

To clarify, I don't think it's true that liberalism or growing societal acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism are bad. (Also, I should add that I don't see P.J. O'Rourke as some wonderful alternative to Ann Coulter, although he's clearly less stupid than she is.) But I think "progressive" ideals have the potential to be destructive and have been in the past, and I think there's plenty of emotional truth in finding them scary or (especially in the case of surface trends like tattoos and piercings) just distasteful. Also, I think Dave came close to reality with his climactic human/lion hybrid--some of the genetic and computer research in the works may really change what it means to be human very soon, at least according to a very convincing book I just read (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari).

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jack: I am not familiar with that book; I'll check it out. Thanks!

-- Damian

al roney said...

@Damian - Few ideologues see their beliefs leading to ultimate destruction, decay and chaos.

They always think they are right.

You obviously don't live in the US, and I'm gonna guess that you lean to the left by your apparent blindness to any end-game scenarios, especially as laid out by Dave.

You're naive if you think that "creepy liberalism" doesn't exist in this world.

It does, as does "creepy conservatism". As each victory is achieved there is no "we're done, that's all we wanted. Thanks for your time." , it's always more, more, more...Damn the Torpedoes.

Here in the US each "side", liberal or conservative, always pulls out the worse case Mad Maxian scenario in describing a state/county/world where only the policies of the opposing ideology are in play. The R vs. L war is also highly profitable here too.

As a New Yorker, I can also honestly say that liberal policies are clearly "winning" and it hasn't made our state any better. Not...at...all.

Sure, gays can get legally married now, family leave is (hyper) extended and mandatory, and our minimum wage is increasing rapidly, but good luck finding or keeping a REAL good-paying job, paying those school and property taxes, or supporting that family through good honest hard work.

I'll spare the laundry list.

Our state bleeds people, as once they retire or find a better job, they leave. Countless friends of mine have left New York and they ain't ever coming back.

The policies in place are simply not sustainable, affordable or sane, but they make people FEEL good, all safe and cuddly knowing, falsely believing, that when our Governor says we are "the leader in progressive policies" that it's a good thing...a REAL good thing. It's not.

Our state is a good example of Dave's nightmarish vision in it's early to middling stages.

Anyway...

I see as much merit in Dave's apocalyptic scenario as I did in Alan Moore's warning against fascism as laid out in his V for Vendetta.

We have to be vigilant. Extremes are dangerous.

I'll spare you any more current and historical examples, but they most certainly exist.

What's funny is I think, you and Dave are actually more alike than I think either of you would care to admit or realize.

You guys should do a live stream debate/discussion sometime.

I'd find that entertaining.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Al: I don't imagine it will surprise you that we disagree about the reasons why your complaints are occurring.

It is true that I have a generally leftist viewpoint, but I try (as I'm sure we all do) to be evidence-based. I think trickle-down economics has been tried and has proven not to work as the theory said it would; I think California's leftist government has helped that state flourish, and Kansas's rightist government has helped that state fail.

I am opposed to any form of totalitarianism, left or right. I am opposed to any form of censorship; although I disagree with some of Dave's opinions, and think he's simply wrong on some matters of argument and even fact, if there really was a Feminist / Homosexualist / Liberalist conspiracy against him I would be his unwavering supporter.

All that said, my reading of Cerebus is not graded by whether it agrees with my politics; I try to take the work as I find it. I hope you would not find yourself saying, "Lefties can't read Cerebus correctly," and dismissing my or others' points based on that alone. If you want to discuss politics, I'm always game, but perhaps we could take if off AMOC; please email me.

-- Damian