Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Far Side of the Gender Politics Loony Bin

After that Tehanu review I'm going to take a few moments to give equal time to other lunatic fringe in gender politics. Though less noisy than the distaff lunatic fringe their masculine counterparts are no less loony. And despite what you may think this isn't going to be about someone who wants to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen or even a religious fundamentalist (pick your least favorite religion to fill in that blank).

I'm going to tell you a bit about Dave Sim. Not an awful lot since I wanted to do a whole set of stories on his gradual descent into madness and I still might in the future, but I wanted to give you an idea.

First let me give you an idea of why anyone would know who Dave Sim was to begin with and why anyone would pay attention to him. He is the creator of Cerebus, perhaps the most ambitious comic book project ever conceived. While the title started as a parody of Barry Winsor-Smith's Conan comics (thus two firm steps removed from Howard) it quickly metamorphized into a more philosophical book with a light touch wrapped heavily in the religion and politics of their medieval world. Sim decided that the comic would run for exactly 300 issues telling the story of its title character and conclude with that character's death. He conceived its ongoing story in vast movements of more than twenty issues each and he did this in the mid-seventies when such long term planning were just a twinkles in British comic writers' eyes.

In the 1980's he became one of the most outspoken political voices in the comic book world commenting on the industry, working to encourage self-published comic books, and rallying people for causes like defending obscenity charges against comic shop owners. He turned his company into a showcase for independent comic books and was generally a very popular person in industry circles.

And then came the madness.

There were hints of it before. It was not so blatant that the masses would say, "Aha! Misogyny! Shun him!" instead of looking it as an unusual direction to take his story but in retrospect it is the first signs. The title character raped a woman and it was treated lightly. That did set some people off but by the end of that story arc he's lost everything and learned that he will die miserable so some punishment was coming. That same story arc let readers know that the male aspect of the universe was the creative one. Those warning signs were followed up by stories that detailed the hard choices in a woman's life and a retelling of the death of Oscar Wilde which dispersed the concerns.

The real change over came in the early 90's. In the middle of a storyline about a matriarchy taking over the world due to the fact that all women are mind controllers who force men to do their bidding (start inserting "Really!"'s here) Sim went into a tangent about the comics publishing industry. One of these lengthy essays printed as part of the comic story (as opposed to an editorial printed outside of it) took the cosmic male creative force and female devourer and put it at a human level. It was essentially "Women are all inherently evil trying to tear down men!" Sound familiar?

Sim rapidly lost the support he built up over the years and his rants in his comic became angrier and stranger. He turned his anger against anything he perceived as feminism and you can read at least one of his rants at The Dave Sim Misogyny Page.

He did eventually finish his 300 issue long story and someday I might actually finish it and then go through each volume here. I just want to buy the books used so Dave Sim won't get any more money from me.