Every time I read a comic by Dave Sim these days, I feel a very odd mix of emotions.
The biggest part of the emotion is confusion. Like with glamourpuss here, I feel all kinds of confusion. This comic is really two different things, at least on the surface: a very bizarre exploration of the world of swimsuit models, along with a straightforward and quite engaging look at the rather sordid love life of the great cartoonist Stan Drake.
On the pages that feature the swimsuit models, auteur Dave Sim presents models of pretty women in swimsuits. None of these women are comic-book pretty, nor do they have the kind of bizarrely proportioned female bodies that predominate American comics. They’re very pretty, but look like real women drawn out of real fashion magazines. Along with the pictures, we get some rather idiosyncratic comments – “If (unlike galmourpuss) you’ve had to give up your 24/7 on-call make-up consultant in the recent economic oopsie, do remember that magnifying mirrors are the leading cause of the debilitating scourge of over-plucked eyebrows. DIY if you must, but keep your wits about you.”
If you can get anything meaningful out of those comments, you’re a better reader than I am. I get that they’re intended to be satirical and clever, and I suppose the comments are somewhat humorous in a kind of “fake fashion magazine” sort of way, but they just leave me scratching my head. So too does the idea of listing the manufacturer of the suits and the website where you can buy them.
So that half of the comic is pretty odd. But the other half is completely interesting. In that section I feel fascination, joy and a pleasing touch of real-world schadenfreude.
Dave Sim’s portrait of Stan Drake presented here is thoroughly fascinating. Sim presents a short biography of his fellow cartoonist through Drake’s comics and his donations to a local university. Here we see Sim at his strongest, making trenchant commentary with the spectacular eye for detail for which he is well known. I was mesmerized by the way that Sim brilliantly dug below the surface of a letter that Hank Ketcham (creator of Dennis the Menace sent to Drake in 1967, Sim adroitly sussed out the hidden tensions between Drake and Ketcham over Drake’s choice of a “trophy wife.” In just a few terse sentences, Sim ably pulls out the tension that lurks directly below a placid surface, exposing the real relationship between the men.
But of course, it’s that eye for detail that makes Sim such a great cartoonist. The section on Drake is full of small thoughts that add up to a grand vision of the man: Drake’s toupee, the dissection of a newspaper article about Drake and his second wife, and, most fascinating, the reprinting of several panels that show both Drake’s first and second wives. I was entranced by the biographical pages in this comic, and would happily pay good money to read a biography of any figure by Sim. (In a way, of course, I already have – see Melmoth for his devastating portrait of Oscar Wilde.
I felt great joy reading this section because this is a Dave Sim with whom I’d like to spend a long time just listening to his stories. Sim is still a master storyteller despite – or maybe because – of all the slings and arrows thrown at him. Even when working with someone else’s art, or just using text, Sim is brilliant at keeping the reader involved and guiding our way around the page.
On the cover we get a wonderful penciled illustration by Gene Colan, drawn in his masterful style, of the Bride of Frankenstein. Colan’s cover manages to be both funny and scary at the same time. For years I’ve wanted a piece of original Gene Colan art for my collection; I envy Dave Sim for this wonderful acquisition.
Dave Sim’s storytelling ability and appreciation of comics history are unparalleled. But also unparalleled is his ability to confuse and baffle, to deliver material that leaves the reader completely nonplussed.
During the last few years of Cerebus I was baffled by Sim’s forays into religion, feeling confused by his complex and unique cosmology. Still, I stayed with the book because it was so brilliantly presented and the man had built up a strong loyalty with me. I feel the same way about glamourpuss.
With a typical level of idiosyncrasy, the avatar of self-publishing continues his thoroughly independent ways with glamourpuss. If he’s not the father, Dave Sim is at least the uncle of the indy comics movement. Whether he’s the crazy uncle is up to you – the man is well known for his less than typical comments about women and about religion in the past. This comic certainly encompasses all that makes Dave Sim so great and so maddening.