Dave Sim comes to Halifax

Cerebus creator does his Final Signing

Cerebus "phone book" Volume One
Cerebus "phone book" Volume One
Kitchener, Ontario resident Dave Sim is the creator of Cerebus, the internationally acclaimed comic that ran for 300 issues from 1977 to 2004. It’s a massive achievement, by anyone’s standards, a 6,000 page work.

He published it himself, under his Aardvark Vanaheim shingle. He wrote and drew the black and white comic on his own until 1984, when he recruited background artist, the single-named Gerhard. Together, they became the longest-running creative duo in the history of comics.

Sim also has been a champion of creator-owned comics and worked tirelessly to support the rights of comic creators in an industry that often exploits the characters without properly crediting, or compensating, the men and women who wrote and drew them. If that’s changed in recent years, Sim can take a great deal of credit for it.

The story, of a short, curmudgeonly funny animal creature Cerebus the Aardvark, started as a satire of Conan comics, but Sim rapidly evolved his tale to comment on politics, organized religion---at one point, Cerebus becomes the pope---and the metaphysical.

Fans adore the comic---now collected in a series of phone book sized trade paperbacks---for the way he spoofs recognizable celebrities, politicians and even other comic book characters and creators. Supporting characters in Cerebus have included Mick and Keith from the 'Stones, a very Groucho Marx-like monarch named Uncle Julius, Oscar Wilde, and characters inspired by Mary Astor, Margaret Thatcher, Sheila Copps and Woody Allen.

Sim has also attracted what he considers more than his fair share of controversy. As the comic went on, the letters pages became as compelling a read as the comic itself as Sim shared correspondence with readers, other comic professionals and friends. All the subjects he so deftly skewered in his comic were debated in the many pages of letters in every issue. Women, a singular subject of interest of his lead character, have been trouble for Sim. He’s gone on record as not being a feminist.

“I believe any woman who can do the same job as, say, a male fireman---life the same weight, pass the same tests---should be considered on an equal basis,” he writes. “I think it’s crazy, however, to lower standards just so you have more female firefighters. I don’t think that makes me a misogynist. I think that’s just fairness and common sense.”

He’s had fallings out with peers, including Gerhard and Bone creator Jeff Smith, a sample of whose work Sim ran in the back of an issue of Cerebus in the early ‘90s. And as Cerebus neared its conclusion, the stories became bleaker and despairing. Fans of the comic often speak of the earlier years as their favourites as a result.

At a press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival this month, Allen was quoted as saying this about growing old: “I think things get worse and worse. I see no advantages of aging whatsoever. You become shrivelled, you become decrepit, you lose your faculties, your peer group passes away.”

In this, Allen and Sim’s opinions parallel.

“The plain fact of the matter is is that life doesn’t get any funnier as it goes along,” writes Sim, in response to the suggestion that people are more fond of his early work. “The ability to do humour effectively in your 20s and 30s really comes from a fundamental ignorance of how mordant and depressing life is.”

Sim is now 54 and quite devout, incorporating in his worship a mix of elements of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He no longer uses a computer, preferring a typewriter. He still creates and publishes comics, including a 56-page graphic narrative about the Holocaust and anti-semitism called Judenhass and the ongoing “fashion and pop-culture parody” glamourpuss, as well as a web TV series at cerebustv.com.

My interview with him was conducted by fax. I compared his work and public persona to Allen’s---since both have been steadily and inexorably devoted to their craft, both incorporated much more humour in their early work and then became more serious, both have endured criticism for their personal beliefs and choices, and both are fans of the Marx Brothers. Sim had both praise and serious criticism’s of Allen’s work.

The praise: “The line from Allen’s Stardust Memories. ‘We like your movies, especially the early, funnier ones.’ And telling him when he asks what he can do to make the world a better place, ‘Tell funnier jokes.’ It’s a magnificent piece of writing, totally cruel, totally cold, but totally fair ---and self-directed. I can definitely relate.”

And the criticism: “His job in the totalitarian construct is no longer to write funnier jokes but to make Scarlett Johannsen (sp) sound like a genius, as he attempted to do with Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. He’s not very good at it. He keeps wanting to write women who sound like women, but that’s not what the Marxist-feminists are looking for. They’re looking for transformational rationales that will make their husbands and boyfriends go, ‘Oh, WOW! YES! YES! THIS is what women are ACTUALLY like!’ They mistook Annie Hall for a genuine creative expression instead of the serial womanizer tactic it was.”

Sim remarks that Allan has had an easier time of it that he has, from the press and public, and muses that other comic creators, specifically Bryan Lee O’Malley of Scott Pilgrim fame, are never questioned or assessed based on whether their work is autobiographical---many see the stubborn aardvark as Sim in fur with a sword. “Is Hope [Larson, O’Malley’s wife, also a cartoonist] the girl in the film? The question never came up as far as I know.”

As Sim completes what he calls The Last Signing, the question of whether his beloved creation Cerebus will ever make a return will certainly come up. He does, in fact, have plans.

“The only way I would revisit the character---and here’s a Coast exclusive for you---is if I was to do a miniseries or graphic novel, Cerebus: The Afterlife, which I have a few mental notes floating around in my head about. I might have to wait a few years. People were squeamish enough about seeing Cerebus in his old age, not wanting to think about getting---or being---old. Speculations on an afterlife would really push some hot buttons, I think.”

Sim’s appearance in Halifax is his first since a signing in 1983 at the now defunct Odyssey 2000 on Barrington Street. This time, as well as his appearance at The Last Signing at Strange Adventures (5262 Sackville Street, 425-2140) 10pm on Friday, September 24, he’ll be participating in an airport meet and greet. Sim arrives on Air Canada 606 from Toronto at 1pm Wednesday, September 22. Be there with a “Welcome to Halifax” sign---or something to that effect,“the maritimes welcomes Cerebus” etc.---and Sim will choose his favourite to win a set of Cerebus books, plus, you’ll get another set for your local school or public library. Wednesday afternoon there’ll be a Q&A and autographs at Strange Adventures from 4 to 8pm. Sim will do portfolio reviews of aspiring comic artists at the Spring Garden Road Library from 4 and 7pm Thursday and 1:30 to 4:30pm Friday.

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