Archive for February, 2008

Oh, it’s Dave Sim time again

Heidi’s post yesterday has kicked off another debate about Dave Sim, particularly relating to his new book Judenhass. For the record, I pretty much agree with her.

Skimming through the (108 at this writing) comments, Charles Hatfield weighs in:

Me, I’m not inclined to see this as a question of “separating the art from the artist.” Making that separation would impoverish my understanding of the art.

The Lovecraft example in the thread is apropos: racism not only informed Lovecraft’s life, it also informed and shaped his art. (For evidence of this, see, e.g., “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family,” a.k.a. “The White Ape.”) I read Lovecraft, when I read him at all, knowing full well that he was an ardent racist and in no way anxious to defend him from that charge. The dread of otherness that informs Lovecraft’s fiction is a symptom of his racism, though it also makes for interesting, intense, nightmarish fiction that can be read from a variety of other perspectives. I’d say this applies to Sim’s stuff, certainly during the second half of CEREBUS (though I confess to having read only a part of it). For this reason I don’t think Sim’s “philosophizing” is separable from his art. I’d say we’ve got to take it all, the whole package, and read the art against the artist, and vice versa.

That’s very well said. Lovecraft’s cosmic terror and racial anxiety are definitely related (although I wouldn’t call one symptomatic of the other, but rather categorize them both as manifestations of a general fear-of-Other). And Sim’s artistic output should only be seen as a product of the person he was at the time he created it.

Lovecraft, who once owned a cat named Nigger-Man
Lovecraft, who once owned a cat named Nigger-Man and wrote it into “The Rats in the Walls”

Elektra, in another comment, offers a fairly common rationale for distinguishing between historical bigotry and contemporary bigotry:

I’m not a Lovecraft fan either, but I can excuse the bigotry of a man born in the 19th century in a way I can’t excuse it in a man living in the 21st century.

But here’s the really interesting and ironic part: Judenhass appears to be Dave’s plea that we accept responsibility for the Holocaust in some way — that we stop being bewildered by the question “how could it have happened?” and acknowledge the latent judenhass that lies within each of us. It invites us, I assume, to consider the Holocaust as a manifestation of fears and desires that are inherent to ourselves.


As Heidi points out, there’s an irony here. It’s not only that Dave is eager to analyze the xenophobia* that led to the Holocaust while oblivious to the xenophobia that underlies his own attitude toward women. It’s also that we in the comics community seem to be throwing up our hands and saying “how could Dave have happened?” in the same way that Dave’s new book demands that we not do toward the Holocaust. Rather, he demands that we look within ourselves and see that repulsive act as merely an amplified incarnation of anxieties that are fundamental to our society’s (or species’) collective mind.

It’s an open question whether Dave’s demand is fair or not. But if we accept the premise that “the Holocaust did not occur in a vacuum but is part of a long tradition of anti-Jewish sentiment,” we ought to be consistent and ask whether “the nasty bits of Dave Sim’s frauenhass did not arise in a vacuum but are part of a long tradition of anti-female sentiment.”

Is Lovecraft excusable because he wrote from a culture of bigotry? Is Sim culpable because he doesn’t? (Doesn’t he?) I don’t think these are sensible questions, because we shouldn’t be in the business of “blaming” or “excusing” artists. The question is whether the artist has anything to teach us. To my mind, the answer is clearly “yes” for both. But what they intended to teach us is almost always a very small fraction of it.

*”Xenophobia” here used in its broader sense, “fear of those who are different”


Sic ’em up, li’l buddy

Click for full page

Sam & Max were a big part of my adolescence. I got The LucasArts Archives vol. 1 at age 10 or 11, after hearing my brother’s friends swap jokes from Sam & Max Hit the Road. I played Hit the Road for months and months, back during the Golden Age of Entertainment,* when I had the patience to do things like that.

A Max-head was the first avatar/icon I ever used on the internet. I still do, in certain places.

Somehow I got a copy of the comic collection, Surfin’ the Highway, and read it so much I internalized the damn thing. As the years went by, it disappeared — probably loaned to some miscreant friend, never to be seen again. A year or two ago, it was so out of print that copies were going for a hundred bucks on eBay.

So it’s great news that the Freelance Police are back. After years of aborted revival attempts at LucasArts, Steve Purcell was finally freed from his contract and signed with disgruntled ex-LucasArts programmers Telltale Games. Telltale (the folks who brought you the Bone games**) has been exploring new formats for videogames — releasing short games as “episodes” in a longer “season” or “series” — which I applaud even though I haven’t been motivated to plunk down the cash to try any of them. Diversity’s always a good thing, and I do have a soft spot for episodic fiction.

Anyway, I hadn’t realized this, but Telltale is not only producing a new line of S&M games (Season Two currently underway) and a weird, partially-animated webcomic… They’re also releasing a new edition of the original comics! Completely remastered and redesigned, the book looks great. I spotted the paperback edition last week at Cosmic Monkey Comics, but I just might hold out for the super sexy signed hardcover edition!

Telltale’s Emily Morganti has a neat blog post up explaining the process involved in creating the book. Like many reprint projects, it involved scanning the original film to a digital archive, plus touch-up work and reconstruction from second-generation copies when originals weren’t available. I was surprised to see a game publisher (a direct-download game publisher, at that) tackle a print project like this, and again surprised to see them pull it off so well. Hats off, and I hope they sell a million.

*Golden Age of Entertainment:
tom the dancing bug - when you were twelve

**Speaking of tapping into my childhood. Bone (via Disney Adventures) and Sam & Max are two of the reasons I work in comics today — and, I realize, two of the reasons why the division between “mainstream” and “indie” comics has never made sense to me.

Metal Mondays: Hurdy-gurdy of STEEEEEL

Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for a folk-metal band that wasn’t a joke?

Recently signed to Nuclear Blast is the Swiss band Eluveitie (etymologically related to “Helvetica“). Their first release on NB, Slania, came out two days ago, I just discovered it this morning, and it’s currently my favorite thing ever.

Essentially, these guys are playing Dark Tranquillity songs with bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy taking the place of DT’s synthesizers. The folk/Celtic element isn’t the central focus of the band, nor is it tacked on clumsily. It’s just part of what they do. And what they do is rock your face off.

This one’s my favorite tune at the moment:

EDIT: it’s been taken down from YouTube. Here’s the Amazon page for the song, with a streaming sample.

And here’s the single, with an actual music video. It is almost certainly the most earnest attempt to make a hurdy-gurdy look intimidating that you have ever seen. Unfortunately, the song itself is lame:

Keep an eye out for the vicious Sevan Kirder and his goat-skull-adorned pipes:



Today Is the Day 68

Today Is the Day
by Vegard T. Magnussen

Hat tip: the criminally underrated Miles Grover at Thinkin’ Lincoln

Deer-headed man kills 4, delights blogger


Brian Wood’s Northlanders, published monthly by Vertigo. Art by the stunning team of Davide Gianfelice and Dave McCaig.

Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.