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Well-known creator Dave Sim surprised readers when issue #186 of his popular Cerebus comic book contained not the illustrated adventures of the title character they had been led to expect, but a misogynist nonfiction essay. While some voices in the industry questioned the logic of the essay, or a possible misuse of venue, the almost total silence on the part of male artists and publishers suggests that the comic book industry may be as repressive and sexist as its detractors have long bemoaned.

Sim tends to murkily imply rather than clearly state his supportive arguments, which rely heavily on anecdotal evidence, unsupported conclusions, and similar specious logic. His primary implied assertion that women = bad is largely underpinned by the circulus in demonstrando fallacy, more commonly known as the circular argument. In essence:

  • "The light" is male because it is embodied by men, and "the void" is female because it is embodied by women.
  • But there are woman who embody "the light" and men (even entire "male civilizations") who embody "the void."
  • Therefore they must be exceptions to the rule.
  • Therefore males are essentially "light" and women are essentially "void."

The largely escapist-based comic book industry has long been pejoratively stereotyped as a haven for adolescent and arrested-adolescent males who have difficulty relating to flesh-and-blood human beings, particularly women. This may best be exemplified by Robert Crumb, who to his credit takes responsibility for his own issues in acknowledging that his life-long hatred of women is founded on his resentment of woman's power to reject him sexually. Sim seems to have similar inadequacies relating to women to his satisfaction, but he shifts the burden of agency in suggesting that because he is unhappy with his relationship with women, fault must lie with the women he is unhappy with (and, by extension, with all women).

If Sim has a serious argument to forward, especially one which doesn't involve his Cerebus character in any way, is his "Cerebus" comic book really the best place to do it?


All quotes by Dave Sim:

"I venture to say if you want to find the leading cause of Domestic Violence, (withholding sex) is worth a second look."

"...I believe, that women were (rightly) denied the vote for so long."

"Behind this...lies the Greater Void, the Omnivorous Engine which drives every... institutionalized waste of human time and energy, which drives, in point of fact, our entire degraded society. The wife and kids."

"In one of those Poor Us studies for which the Emotional Female Void is notorious, it was pointed out that after a divorce, the average male standard of living rises... the average female standard of living drops... I think the...explanation is that the excision of a five-to-six-foot leech from the surface of a human body is going to have more of its own blood in its own veins. Unless the leech finds another body, it is going to go hungry."

"The Male Light and the Female Void: Seminal Energy and Omnivorous Parasite."

"If you look at her and see anything besides emptiness, fear and emotional hunger, you are looking at the parts of yourself which have been consumed to that point."

"It wouldn't be that big a stretch to categorize (my writing) as Hate Literature against women... "


"When I put Margaret Thatcher in the book and she was forced to resign by her male cabinet a few months later, well, when you're someone... who is not intellectually equipped to explain something away as coincidence, that can be a pretty unsettling experience... did I just knock off her queen?"

We didn't make this up. Dave really wrote this.

Sim's arrogance occasionally becomes a bit silly, as when he publishes conversations between himself and Neil Gaiman, where he basks in self-admiration for being the only person in the world to have created such a large body of work concerning a single comics character -- something done by dozens if not hundreds of Japanese comics creators. I believe his dismissal of Manga as "illiterate Japanese commuter comics" is an attempt to circumvent this inconvenient piece of intelligence. (If Hayao Miyazaki ever creates a character by combining Conan and Howard the Duck, we'll let you know.)

Elsewhere, Sim has hinted that his "radical" stance on openly hating women makes him a rebellious hero in his own eyes, a position more than a bit reminiscent of his Wolveroach character's laughable counter-culture posturing and attendant self-aggrandizement. Do we become the thing we mock?


Rumor has it that at least one girlfriend, at Sim's insistence, signed a one-year monogamy contract renewable at his option.

Within the last few years sales of Cerebus have plummeted even more dramatically than sales in the rest of the industry. In addition to the consensus among many readers that there's no reason to pay twice for material they plan to purchase in collection form anyway, many retailers will point to the fact that Cerebus was one of the few comics that enjoyed a fair-sized female readership (until the misogyny issue).

Mr. Sim and Neil Gaiman (scripter for the popular Sandman comic) have made frequent public allusions to their friendship. In Cerebus #186, Sim alleged that Gaiman was regularly cheating on his wife. Gaiman is rumored to have expressed displeasure that Sim would suggest this in print, particularly without his consent or prior notification.

Several people have emailed to report that Sim has been diagnosed as clinically schizophrenic. One source said that this was confirmed by Sim himself in the Cerebus letters column.


Reader Rebuttal

This website has generated a surprising amount of feedback, mostly "you-go-grrl!"s from female comics readers and every-second-word-is-misspelled imprecations from self-proclaimed misogynists. I did get one longish, well-considered rebuttal which I thought I'd share: (reprinted by permission of author)

Kristen,

I imagine that since this page was easily available to me, enough Cerebus fans must see it that you get your fair share of flames. That's not what I'm writing. I do think you are misrepresenting Dave's work, and I'm presenting what I consider to be a well-reasoned response. If you've seen enough of these before, feel free to delete this mail right now; I won't mind.

I'm going to assume that you've read some of Cerebus other than the infamous issue 186. You do seem to know a fair bit about Sim even if you haven't read the rest of his work. In any case, the major problem I have with your argument is that it is out of context with the rest of Cerebus, and even with issue 186. The quotes which comprise the middle two sections of your page, are, of course, not said in the book by Dave Sim but by a character named Viktor Davis. You've probably heard this point before, I know. My argument is that it is an important point... that Viktor Davis is not Dave Sim. You should in any case address the issue of Viktor Davis vs. Dave Sim to make your argument complete; otherwise it simply appears as if you are taking quotes out of context to suit your position. Clearly you believe that Dave has invented Viktor to represent his own thoughts and you should explain why.

My guess at why is the following set of points:

*Viktor Davis is represented as the author of Cerebus. *Passages in the introduction to the trade edition of _Reads_ suggest that he is expressing his own viewpoints: "A casual reader... will have gotten more than a lifetime supply of 'Dave Sim and What He Thinks'..."; "Most of my viewpoints are minority viewpoints." *The devotion of an entire issue to Viktor Davis's thoughts without a rebuttal in any form.

I'm probably overlooking some points so if you have taken the time to read my mail and consider it please point them out to me. These by themselves make a pretty strong case but there is other information that suggests otherwise....

Consider another quote from the introduction to _Reads_: "Victor Reid and Viktor Davis proved to be fascinating and challenging companions for the six months that I spent with each of them -- and for the fifteen years I spent preparing myself to bring them to life on the page." This, on the other hand, implies that Viktor Davis is as much a Cerebus character as Victor Reid. The question is whether he put a character in his place with views distinct from his. It is arguable from the case of Victor Reid that he did.... Victor Reid is such a character. Consider: Reid writes reads, the equivalent of comic books in Cerebus world. (The portions of Cerebus dealing with Victor Reid are presented in the format of reads, text pages facing illustrations.) I think we can both agree that his story is about the virtues of self-publishing in the comics world. (rather, the perils of not self-publishing.) I think we can also both agree that Reid is not Sim. But to a degree he is identified with Sim: both are comic book authors. The fact that Sim and Davis are both authors of Cerebus is a degree or two of a closer identification... but not a total identification. The fact that their names are different may seem trivial, but it was certainly a purposeful choice of names. He did not pull the name out of the air to protect himself from being associated with unpopular viewpoints. "Viktor Davis" suggests his own name and the name of Victor Reid, which in turn suggests that the new character is at a point in between the fictional one and the actual one.

There is a character called Dave Sim. If you read any Cerebus past issue 186, you know that in _Minds_ Dave himself talks to Cerebus. If Viktor Davis is truly Dave Sim as he appears in Cerebus, why is he called Dave in _Minds_? And why is Dave's attitude toward Jaka (a main topic of discussion with Cerebus) so lacking in the misogynist attitude expressed by Davis? Perhaps there is a rebuttal to Davis's position in _Reads_ - perhaps the rebuttal is _Minds_.

In addition, the positions in Davis's rant are not reflected in the rest of Sim's work. Cerebus has three primary female characters: Jaka, Astoria, and Cirin. (Red Sophia first appeared back when Cerebus was a Conan parody, and Sophia was herself a parody of Red Sonja. Sim tries to give her more depth in _Minds_, which in addition to being a continuation and counterpart to _Reads_ is an attempt to create continuity between the first 25 issues of Cerebus and the long, complicated storyline that followed.) Of these three characters, Jaka and Astoria both are not portrayed as Davis's "voids". Through _Women_ and _Reads_ we see Astoria fleshed out, not a power-hungry woman manipulating from behind the scenes but an idealist hoping to implement a better way of life. This is a clear counterexample to Davis's argument, who thought that women were controlling the men in power out of "the insatiable Void Need for material possessions". On the contrary, Astoria's goals were driven by her Kevillist ideals. She has more of the "Seminal Energy" than most of the Cerebus characters... maybe all of them except for Suenteus Po. Davis claimed that even the exceptions among women were not as strong as the men, but Astoria violates this.

Jaka, also, is uncharacteristic of Davis's views. The comment in _Minds_ from Dave is, "I can make her love you, but I can't make it stronger than her need for happiness or her need for self-preservation." Not "Her need for material possessions." Dave is capable of seeing women as more than a void, even if one of his characters isn't.

And although _Minds_ criticizes marriage nearly as much as _Reads_, it is for a different reason. The blame for the failure of Cerebus's marriage lies squarely on Cerebus himself, a fact that Dave tries to make clear to him. You claim that, "Sim seems to have similar inadequacies relating to women to his satisfaction, but he shifts the burden of agency in suggesting that because he is unhappy with his relationship with women, fault must lie with the women he is unhappy with (and, by extension, with all women)." But he says the same thing about Cerebus himself in _Minds_! If he really believes what Viktor Davis does, how could he ascribe a flaw like the above to Cerebus? No such flaw would exist in Viktor Davis's mind.

I'm somewhat surprised if you managed to read this far since I think I got rather long-winded. Writing this gave me a chance to sort out my own thoughts, since I just read _Reads_ myself a couple weeks ago. Although I was initially disturbed by issue 186 I got a different picture of Dave from _Minds_, and started to understand that Viktor Davis is not the same as Dave Sim. Maybe I'm just rationalizing the issue because I want to keep liking the book, but... I am a scientist (or at least in training) and I can usually tell when I am rationalizing something and when I have a valid point. Dave's work is filled with puzzles. They are simple early on (the backgrounds to "Mind Game" back in Cerebus Volume 1) and get more complicated. He likes parallel stories, as in _Melmoth_, which I still have not completely figured out. _Melmoth_ seems like one long non sequitur without an understanding of the parallel storyline. _Reads_ is a similar parallel story. "Each of the parts represents the other parts allegorically," he says in the introduction. Cerebus and Victor Reid and Viktor Davis are all playing out the same story, like Suenteus Po's heresy trial being repeated over history. I think to view issue 186 as a simple misogynist rant is to ignore the bigger picture.

The last thing I have to say on the topic is that I think the final section of your page is inappropriate. The inclusion of unconfirmed rumors with only tangential relation to your argument only undermines your points to the view of an intelligent reader. It is as if you think your main argument is not strong enough and needs backing even from rumors. I think your argument would be stronger if you removed this section, added the context of Viktor Davis, and explain why you think Viktor represents Dave's viewpoints.

OK. I'm going to shut up now. I thank you for reading this far, and I hope you will at least consider my points. If you still think you are right about Dave Sim, I will be open to a rebuttal.

Regards,
Travis Hime

Response

My information that the views attributed to "Viktor Davis" are accurate representations of Sim's personal views comes from the large overlap of acquaintance Sim and I share, including the woman he was having a relationship with immediately before writing #186 (who has asked not to be identified in print). His ex-wife has also confirmed that those are Sim's actual views.

The comics world is a teeny-tiny place, and the breadth of my female acquaintance who have endured passes by Mr. Sim is distressingly large. Since launching this website I receive several woundingly gallows-humor emails a year from women bemoaning Sim's attempts as a would-be sexual predator. Not so different from the average jerk, perhaps, except that the average jerk hasn't openly devoted a good chunk of his life to proselytizing hatred of women.

The "unconfirmed rumors" section is not meant to be part of my commentary on Dave Sim's Misogyny (as a supporting argument for my point, it would commit the "ad hominem" fallacy). It's just stuff I came across while researching that I wanted to mention somewhere. You're right, it should probably appear on a different page or something.

- Kristen Brennan


My Current Position

To what degree are we obligated to refute hate literature which would otherwise go unchallenged, and to what degree do we legitimize that literature by treating it seriously? Since I created this website in August of 1995, Sim has reversed his previous position, now claiming his arguments in issue #186 were intentionally specious. He still forwards (through implication) the proposition that women = bad, but has disowned even his own anecdotal evidence and similar broken logic without replacing it.

Sim alludes to figures of Norman Mailer-status as representing the male perspective, but to represent the female perspective he continues to evince apparent ignorance of feminist luminaries such as Robin Lakoff in favor of featherweights such as Oprah Winfrey.

This is just getting silly. I'm still not thrilled with what I see as a misuse of venue (and I'm still a bit nauseated by the tacit support within the comics industry), but in hindsight I think those who advised me against wasting my time on this were right: Sim's misogyny is little more than a projection of his own inadequacies in dealing with women, his Viktor Davis foil was a clumsy attempt to avoid accountability, and taking him seriously just feeds into his "I'm a rebellious hero" fantasy.

Although no longer maintained, this website still seems to generate lots of crosstalk, which hopefully will migrate to the Dave Sim Misogyny Page Forum. (We moved to a Delphi Forum from the old Dave Sim Misogyny Page Messageboard, because it "lost" the many well-thought-out messages posted to it. I apologize profusely to everyone whose message has been lost.)