Sunday, 18 March 2012

Dave Sim: The Glamourpuss Interview

Page 45 in Nottingham is one of the best comics shops in the UK, and has been a strong supporter of Cerebus since opening its doors in 1994. In the following interview conducted in 2008, Page 45 co-founder, Stephen L. Holland, talks to Dave Sim about the launch of Glamourpuss, his first new comic series since the end of Cerebus in March 2004.
"I don’t want to turn heads, I want to snap necks."

Dave Sim is back. And just so we're clear, he's talking about his craft, not some newly discovered interest in martial arts. Four years after completing Cerebus, the longest sustained narrative in comicbook history, racking in at 300 issues and 6,000 pages of gentle-to-scathing sociopolitical satire - each written and drawn by himself with fellow Canadian Gerhard on backgrounds - Dave Sim is returning to the mainstream of comicbook fiction with a new title: glamourpuss.

Its theme? "If you don’t look good, don't go out."

Its style? "Gucci. Flat-out, no holds barred Gucci. And then just when you’re not expecting it: Vera Wang."

Its mood? "Something danceable with a really fabulous matching shoes, purse and nail polish thing happening. I mean, like, the identical shade."

And what can Dave tell us about its main character, the delirious Dior darling, Glamourpuss herself? "As little as possible – being a gentleman. I’m loathe to discuss a lady behind her back… or behind her comicbook for that matter." I'm being toyed with. If so far this sounds totally bonkers, do not adjust your sets: glamourpuss is deliciously bonkers, but it's also outstandingly beautiful and wickedly clever, messing so far with the proverbial fourth wall that we might have to find ourselves a fifth.
Parody Playground

Sim has always been an innovative force. From his constantly inventive approach to sequential-art storytelling in Cerebus to the pages' lettering whose calligraphic approach was often the visual equivalent of onomatopoeia, the man has pushed, smashed and rebuilt more boundaries in this medium than any single artist. And now he's doing it again. Laced with the sort of extras Alan Moore's League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen boasted (there in the form of a mock-archaic letter column; here in the form of faux-editorials, dietary regimes, style tips and next issue advertisements), glamourpuss is a comic that casts the illusion that it's also an artifact - a fashion magazine, edited by Glamourpuss herself - that doesn't actually exist.

"That couldn't exist," Sim corrects, "but which - through the bande desinée hocus pocus - does. Imagine a fashion magazine counselling its reader to 'pick one or at most two of the deadly C.A.N. - caffeine, alcohol and nicotine.' Anna Wintour would absolutely have kittens."

So what is glamourpuss? It's part-satire of the fashion industry, part-parody of fashion magazines and wicked wink at those who edit, inhabit and buy them. It's suspiciously well informed - I had no idea Dave subscribed to Vogue! This is someone, after all, who has retreated from the materialism of the modern world with all its traps and trappings, ditching the digital in favour of the Divine.

"The only one I subscribe to is Glamour although Vogue has its good points as well. It's not an issue of materialism, it's the purity of the core feminine voice discussing things with itself and relentlessly seeking to present its Best Adorned Self to the world photographically. There are undoubtedly better uses for $100 billion a year but, hey, it's not my money."

No, Dave's priorities lie elsewhere, like the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund for which he's helped raise and personally donated tens of thousands of dollars, including the whole of his scripting fee for Spawn #10, which in those days was considerable and earned Sim their first ever Defender of Liberty Award in 1996.
Scaling Mount Everest

glamourpuss also doubles as an extended exploration of photorealism in comics, as Dave Sim studies the work of Al Williamson, Neal Adams et al, works out how they achieved certain effects, discusses their techniques then emulates and adapts them within the comic he's creating. That's something for both professional and aspiring artists to get their teeth into. "Rick Veitch [Swamp Thing, Bratpack] says that part 'spoke to him' which I consider high praise indeed."

For Dave at least it's a departure from Cerebus, which featured a lot of caricature in the form of Mick Jagger, Margaret Thatcher and co., with Cerebus himself being an anthropomorphized aardvark. It was Gerhard's meticulous backgrounds which constituted the photorealistic elements in Cerebus.

"That's a good was of putting it, although there were later elements of photorealism in my depictions of Ham Ernestway and Jaka in Form & Void and Going Home, quite apart from the pure photorealism of the Woody Allen/Konigsberg material." glamourpuss, however, is on another level entirely. "[It's] a step up... a very large step up... from cartooning to Raymond School Illustration, the most exacting discipline among the many Comic Art Schools." His interest in this field began at least as far back as 1970 when Sim began collecting Rip Kirby strips in 1970, and in addition to Alex Raymond, he cites other influences for the art style including Stan Drake, John Prentice, Al Williamson, Leonard Starr, Neal Adams: "Everyone who spent time at the top of the photorealist Mount Everest."

I asked Dave if he was enjoying his own art lesson. "Enjoying would be a stretch. It's too nerve-wracking to enjoy. All that pencilling and then just one chance to get it right in the inking, which is 'done in a bold and spontaneous yet simple style' as Raymond instructs me, 67 years ago [Tom Roberts' Alex Raymond: His Life & Times]. It even works on me when I get it right - or, more accurately, less wrong. 'Gee, that looks like fun.' You'd think I would know better." Additional challenges include the switch from pen to brush. Also: "Remembering to dip the brush into the inkwell. Otherwise the pictures, just, you know, stay in my head."
Publishing & Promotion

Projected at this point to run for some 25 issues, glamourpuss shouldn't be as much hard work for readers as it will be for Sim. "Cerebus was a 26-year search for Truth or at least Reality. glamourpuss is intended to be a) fun b) funny and c) pretty."

This should come as a relief to those who feared that Sim had gone irrevocably serious on them. One look at the glamourpuss website [now off-line]  is enough to dispel that notion. A virtual warren of rabbit holes, it boasts posters you can download that poke fun at Glamourpuss, glamourpuss and even Dave himself: "The high fashion comicbook that's so six months ago..." "Are you sure Dave Sim did this...?" and "Buy it now while it's still at the "early, funnier ones" stage..."  For such a self-confessed Luddite, an awful lot of lateral thinking and interwebbery pre-planning has gone into the promotion of this new project. On top of the website, there have been internet chats, 4,500 copies of a Comicbook Industry Preview Edition of #1 dispatched in time for retailers to judge their initial orders, generous initial ordering incentives and an exclusive Fashion Industry Edition to entice real-life glamourpusses into comic shops to laugh at (or swoon over) themselves. Does Dave believe that creators and publishers need to do more for retailers than simply deliver the product?

"Well, I think so. Particularly in a field where 1) you know you'll have at least 500 pages of competition every month, 2) the orders on issue #1 are the precipice from which you will shortly plummet and 3) everyone is watching a different 'channel' on the internet." That's one of the reasons he's sticking to self-publishing. "You need that control if you want to do things differently. How could I get DC to pay my salary for three months strictly on promotion?"

How indeed, since DC doesn't even pay to fly its key UK artists over to US conventions? But what about - if just for the sake of penetration into the book stores - Dave gave up such limited distribution rights to someone as aesthetically sound and ethically unimpeachable as Chris Staros of Top Shelf publishing, home to the next incarnations of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?

"No, I’m 100% exclusively interested in keeping comicbook stores alive and flourishing. I'm probably the only publisher that doesn't sell to Amazon.com." Respect.
Appearances & Perception

So what can we expect from glamourpuss or even Glamourpuss herself? Sim is renowned for having planned Cerebus' first 200 issues well in advance, however much those plans may have later evolved. Is Glamourpuss going to be languidly extolling her own glorious virtues each issue, or are we going to be following her through the trials and tribulations of accessorisation to some destination Dave has in mind other than her wardrobe? "It's ill-advised to think of any real lady in terms of a destination I've found, and the truly fashion-conscious experience no trials nor tribulations in accessorising their wardrobes, do they? That's what makes them a glamourpuss. They always get it right the first time. Always."

Joined in the first issue - very reluctantly indeed - by Glamourpuss' long-term psychotherapist Dr. Norm in the form of a letter he strongly advises her against publishing but which she turns into a column (whoops), and even longer-term evil twin sister Skanko in a laugh-out-loud Dating Guide which Dr. Norm also counsels her against incorporating into the magazine ("You are so @#%!ing dead!" shouts Skanko), Glamourpuss looks set to live out both her inner conflicts and her sibling rivalry in public on paper. In fact, she appears to relish it. Constantly referring to herself in the third person singular as 'Glamourpuss', she's obviously in love with herself, with the sound of her name, and indeed with her own social status as a glamourpuss. "Hey, wouldn't you be?"

The fact that Cerebus did the same thing Sim ascribes to "Borealan dialect" but one has to wonder - because it's an unusual verbal tick to refer to oneself like that - whether it was a subconscious decision that took him by surprise, or an entirely conscious one. "It's a good marketing ploy to associate with characters who always refer to themselves in the third person. They’re like little walking banner ads."

Nevertheless, that's two consecutive works starring two egomaniacs, with both comics also prominently featuring Dave Sim as himself or "himself" as creator of the comics in question. Is Dave Sim, perhaps, an egomaniac? "Not me. I consider myself to be neither evil nor a genius, unlike the fictional Dave Sim depicted in glamourpuss. Give the people what they, evidently, want. That's my motto."

Dave, of course, is referring to the barrage of vocal outrage spread across the internet ever since a certain issue of Cerebus (#186) in which another fictional Dave Sim (Viktor Davis) came out against what he considered the excesses of feminism, then later issues in which the editorial content confirmed it as his own political stance. Branded a misogynist (Concise Oxford Dictionary definition, 1983: "one who hates all women") he's since constantly referred to himself on his blog and elsewhere as "Dave Sim, The Evil Misogynist". Why?

"I hoped to have people reflect on the self-description and really the real foolishness is in someone thinking that holding political differences with feminism either constitutes Evil or Misogyny. Turned out to be a faint hope, as we've seen."

Where Sim can’t fail in his efforts to inspire serious reflection is in his other imminent publication Judenhass (read the Page 45 review here), which has already garnered emphatic praise from the likes of Neil Gaiman and Peter Straub.

Glamourpuss is published every other month and is available from your local comic shop (and Page 45 in Nottingham, UK). Back issues of Glamourpuss are always available at ComiXpress.

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