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But the main impediment to Dave Sim’s literary reputation is Dave Sim himself. His regressive social and political views and obnoxious rhetoric have created a public persona that’s eclipsed his artistic achievement in the comics world much more completely than it would have in the larger, less insular artistic world — where, for example, plenty of people call John Updike a chauvinist but not even his bitterest detractors question his mastery as a prose stylist, where Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ill-advised statement about 9/11 being a work of art didn’t get him ejected from the first rank of postwar composers, and artists like Wagner and Pound are still secure in their respective pantheons despite having endorsed ideas that are, to put it charitably, pretty well discredited.
But Sim’s controversial ideas are not peripheral to his work; he ultimately makes them its central message and purpose. Wagner never actually wrote any operas about the villainy of the Jews, nor Pound cantos praising the wise and just rule of Franco, but Sim incorporated his screeds about women and the tenets of his one-man religion into the text of his novel, so that even a reader determined to ignore all the apocryphal gossipy bullshit accumulated around the artist and concentrate on the work itself is finally forced to confront the fact that the man has some bizarre ideas and an abrasive way of expressing them.
–Tim Kreider, in his must-read introduction to a longer essay on Dave Sim’s seminal (in more ways than one) independent comic Cerebus from The Comics Journal #301. (I made this exact point, complete with the Wagner example, a few years back.) It’s one thing to be an artist with odious ideas unrelated or tangential to your art; it’s quite another to make them your art’s main attraction. Kudos to Kreider for drawing the distinction so clearly.
Welcome to What Are You Reading?, where we talk about what comics and other stuff we’ve been reading lately.
Today’s special guest is Joe Keatinge, writer and co-creator of the upcoming Image comic Brutal with Frank Cho. He’s also the writer of the final “Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies” installment in April’s Savage Dragon #171, drawn by Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen, Billy Dogma’s Dean Haspiel, Nikolai Dante’s Simon Fraser, Parade (With Fireworks)’s Mike Cavallaro, The Transmigration of Ultra Lad’s Joe Infurnari, Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation’s Tim Hamilton and Olympians’ George O’Connor. He’s also executive editor of the PopGun anthology, he’s got an ongoing series coming soon that he can’t say anything else about and with his fellow studio members at Tranquility Base, regularly beats up on 13 year olds at laser tag.
To see what Joe and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
With this interview, Jason Little threw me a great curveball with the manner in which he answered the questions. In addition to his text replies, he supplied me with a wealth of graphics to accompany his answers. This approach appeals to me and I hope it clicks with other folks as well as proves to be an approach that interest others to try (be sure to click on the thumbnails for larger versions of the graphics). This email interview was in the wake of the December 15 release of Motel Art Improvement Service (Dark Horse), described by the publisher as “Eighteen–year–old Bee has finally saved up enough to embark on her long–planned cross–country bicycle trip. However, she doesn’t make it very far before disaster leaves her stranded at a motel. Her hormones surge when she meets a misunderstood young artist on a mission to ‘upgrade’ the banal “artwork” that hangs on the walls of every motel room. Taking a job there as a housekeeper, Bee snoops around in the motel’s dirty laundry and finds herself entangled in a scary drug deal gone dangerously wrong.” My thanks to Dark Horse’s Jim Gibbons for introducing me to the storyteller, as well as Little himself for the interview.
Tim O’Shea: Out of the gates, let me reveal a bit of ignorance on my part. Could you define “bubblegum noir”?
Jason Little: “Bubblegum noir” came from a comment in a reader mail. This is the second time I’ve lost track of his name, I will go through my email archives and find it! Bubblegum rock is a genre from the late 60s and early 70s with an emphasis on hooks, danceable beat, and enough mention of sugar in the lyrics to cause tooth decay. I suppose in the same way Bee is “bubblegum” because of the bright colors and clear cartooning, but noir because of the suspense, and flashes of darker content.