Back & Forth With Dave Sim

One of the end-of-the-year surprises of 2010 has been a series of communiques with Dave Sim. As Dave expressed a desire to (a) publicly share this conversation, and (b) post it in one location, it made some sense to do both here on my own daily blog.

A little background (I’ll keep this brief):

Dave and I go way back. Met in 1983 or 1984 (Mid-Ohio Con), stayed in touch ever since; Dave provided John Totleben and I with our first-ever ride in a limo (still a rare incident), since DC never would; around 1985, Dave offered to bankroll anything Alan Moore, John Totleben, and I wished to do, hoping we’d just pull up stakes from DC Comics and Swamp Thing and do it all ourselves; the learning curve was steep, though, and only John and I accepted, which led to John and I launching Taboo (which was not what Dave had in mind at all, but he stuck to his offer and promise), bankrolled by Dave, which led to John bowing out and just me and my first wife Nancy (now Marlene) O’Connor publishing Taboo in 1988, in the wake of Dave closing his own publishing imprint (Aardvark One International) while still assisting us through the initial humps.

This all led to my increasing activism on behalf of Creator’s Rights; Dave kept me in the circle of what became the Creator Summits, culminating in the ratification of Scott McCloud‘s Creator Bill of Rights; culminating in Tyrant, after a major detour with Tundra, 1963, and other diversions.

[Note: I'll post active links to my earlier Myrant posts covering some of these events in Part 2 of this dialogue with Dave; those interested in finding out more will find ample resources and documentation with those.]

I used to visit Dave and Gerhard annually in Kitchener, Ontario, between 1989 and 1994; miss ‘em both. Ger and Rose have paid a visit to Marge (my second wife) and I since; Dave and I have communicated since, a couple of times by phone, but primarily via Albert Nickerson‘s Creator’s Rights venue and other clumsy but effective online back-and-forths.

This is the latest manifestation of that process. Lucky you, you’re in on the conversation.

  • Working with John Scrudder and Oliver Simonsen, Dave has recently launched Cerebus TV online (here’s the link),
  • and Oliver and Frank have put Dave and I back in touch with one another via another clumsy online variation:

    1. Dave‘s first episode about me on Cerebus TV (no longer archived online? I’ll correct this ASAP if I’m advised otherwise), with the second to come on December 31st (at the above provided link).

    2. My posting to this thread on the Comicon.com discussion board:

  • Comicon.com‘s thread “Dave Sim on Cerebus TV 2010″ (here’s the link, give it a read).
  • 3. My posting a companion thread on my Facebook wall:

  • The Bissette companion thread (you’ll have to be a Facebook user to access this, natch).
  • 4. Dave‘s FAX replies, which Oliver posted for me and all to read on Flicker.

    I’ve taken the bold step of posting Dave‘s FAX letter to me, and my reply, below.

    Great to hear from you, Dave! Let’s dance…

    * I’ve thought of your position often over the years, and in time have come (I think) to understand completely.

    The quote (“I don’t want to have this conversation”) was compliments of Warren Ellis a few years back (April/May 2003, in fact), FYI. It succinctly summarized all I have had to deal with since the  mid-1990s, and especially since 1999. Warren‘s dismissal came within a few hours after I posted on his public discussion board, on a thread where he was caricaturing me as a “madman” due to my past exchanges with Rick Veitch on the Comicon.com boards about the whole Alan Moore/Jim Lee/Wildstorm/ABC Comics/DC Comics thing, which inevitably led to 1963 and the subsequent breakup with Alan, and that led inevitably to Warren stating something about my having treated Alan “shoddily” or some such, and when I asked once again “enlighten me!” (as I’ve asked many over the years) because I still don’t know what my supposed offense was, Warren posted, “I don’t want to have this conversation,” and cut me (and the thread) off.

    A year or two after that, I met him face-to-face at my last European comic convention in Copenhagen—our first ever meet, in fact—and no surprise, he still didn’t want to have the conversation, and acted like nothing had happened. (I might add that Leah Moore, on the other hand, was marvelous and we happily rekindled our contact from years ago, when she was a mere lass and I first met her at her father’s home in Northampton, UK.)

    Welcome to my world; but then again, you know that aspect of it too well (and, in some ways, much better than I, don’t you?)

    * My current thoughts on the whole Spirit of Independence tour, Dave, is that we played a key role in initiating something that is now the primary means of commerce for the current generation of cartoonists and self-publishers who are now making their way in the world. I no longer attend conventions (I’ve only been to two since 1998: one in Copenhagen, Denmark, the other in Portsmouth, NH), but my CCS students build their years around attending the existing convention seasons that have refashioned themselves around the new comix scenes. Thus, I have observed how the conventions accessible/inviting to them as self-publishers have fundamentally changed, grown, and in effect become a wholly new “direct market,” sans brick-and-mortar retail or any centralized distribution running the show or providing access to the potential audience.

    The indy shows are the new marketplace, if you will—and that began, in part, with the Spirit of Independence shows and what became APE in the west coast and SPX on the east coast.

    I see my Center for Cartoon Studies students every year graduate (some with one-year certificates, some with two year, some with MFAs) into a marketplace that, in the manner we used to define that marketplace, has labored mightily since the mid-1990s to shut them out. That is: Diamond Comics has no room for their work; the so-called “mainstream” American comic book industry has shut them out (I no longer consider it truly mainstream, since the former Direct Market has steadily eroded since the 1990s implosion, and the bookstore chains that now dominate rack far more manga, children’s graphic novels, and a potpourri of “graphic novels” that is comprised of far more diversity of product than we imagined possible in the 1980s); and their sole regular venue for selling their creations has become the regional and national “independent comics” conventions.

    As of 2010, I can see that those regional indy comics shows have become almost monthly events, state by state. They’ve become, in effect, the independent comics equivalent of craft fairs, if you will, even as the post-Millennium comix scene they’re part of has gravitated increasingly toward comix and minicomics as “art objects” in and of themselves: unique, hand-made offshoots of photocopy printing that now embraces silkscreen covers, diecut covers, hand-painted (or otherwise hand-adorned) covers and/or features, special folds, handbound books and/or comics, etc.

    This is a pretty young and fragile environment, as yet, and it’s uncertain whether it has enough momentum to survive, much less grow. For the creators and self-publishers, it’s risky and expensive as ever; travel, room and board, table costs, etc. isn’t cheap, and many trade far, far more comix than they sell (how long can they sustain that equation?). On the other hand, the “meeting of the tribes” aspect, and the hands-on comix “craft fair” gravitation pull for creators/ peddlars and audience/buyers is strong, as few (if any) viable alternatives exist for them.

    I could say more, Dave, but (a) my students know far, far more about the reality of this new marketplace than I do, (b) so it’s all hearsay from me, and (c) I’ve neither time nor space here to really get into it.

    But I think the Spirits tour played a key role in laying whatever passes for a “foundation” in this ever-shifting environment, and I see first-hand (by the CCSers planning, prep, launches, and returns for/from these events) from here how primary and essential the emergence and proliferation of such regional “indy comix cons” have become to CCS’s students, graduates, and community members (and their wider communities, outside CCS).

    I’ve also seen how these events have, in some cases, priced CCSers out of markets they used to target and depend upon; and how the ever-changing dates have also determined which shows they consider affordable/essential, and which ones are avoided or discarded as either non-essential or no longer manageable. It’s fascinating, from here, but (as I said) still quite new and fragile. We’ll see where it goes.

    In any case, though few remember it started in part with the Spirits tour of the 1990s, know that we were part of something that has lived on, and pat yourself on the back for your role in it, however it all shook out from your perspective.

    * As for Creator’s Rights and your other two comments on this first page—allow me to address that at length tomorrow.

    Tomorrow: Part 2!

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    Discussion (6) ¬

    1. Peter Urkowitz

      Steve, Thank you for having this conversation with Dave, and for posting it here, where it can be easily referenced. Dave’s understandable aversion to maintaining his own online presence has put his well-meaning volunteers in a bind, and so all of his various online projects have this odd, patchwork quality. Who knows how long any of them will last? I guess that could be said about any online site, but it feels especially true in Dave’s case.

      Maybe you could teach him a thing or two about donating his archives to a library, also? I’m not sure if he was ever successful in finding a home for all his stuff, after having difficulties in that regard a few years ago?

      Anyway, looking forward to part two!

    2. M Kitchen

      Thank you for hosting this conversation Steve!
      I look forward to it (sans trolls).

    3. Roger Green

      Oh, this will be interesting for sure.

    4. M Kitchen

      For what it’s worth, Warren Ellis just a few months back pulled a similar stunt to me when I brought up digital comics, and how they don’t interest me as a consumer, though as someone who makes a comic I do think it’s something to keep a pulse on, and worth contributing to the collective brainstorm.

      http://freakangels.com/whitechapel/comments.php?DiscussionID=8951&page=1#Item_0

      He told me to “F— off” and closed the thread.

    5. srbissette

      Well, that’s pretty curt (just read the thread). The difference, to me, is Warren was talking ABOUT me very specifically, then was taken aback and resented my speaking up. It wasn’t in any way rewarding for anyone involved, I assure you; if you’re going to offer a public forum and talk about other pros, seems to me one should be prepared to hear from them from time to time, and deal with that with some measure of aplomb.

    6. M Kitchen

      I completely agree.

    Comment ¬

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