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2012.10.18

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Actually, I think the Sim/Ware analogy is worth pursuing: both are given to formalist experimentation and typographical trickry, both mix together anthromorphic animals (the bee, the aardvark) with humans, both bring an encyclopedic interest in the outside world into their comics (in politics, literature and religion with Sim, politics, science and literature with Ware), both are interested in gender roles and gender polorization (like Cerebus, Bradford the Bee has hermaphrodital tendencies), both like to make the reader rotate the page. The chief difference is that Ware is a genius and Sim is a ... but I'll leave the rest of the sentence to your imagination.
(By the way, I can also do an elaborate Sim/Jaime Hernandez comparison if anyone wants to hear it).

yes plz

Ditto.

Well, Jaime and Sim both came out of common book culture of the 1960s/1970s, very much shaped by the vogue for ground-level fantasy and science fiction (Conan and Heavy Metal). Both Locas and Cerebus are world-building roman fleuves, or more accurately worlds-building roman fleuves. That is to say, in both Locas and Cerebus, what you have in not one coherent universe but really a series of overlapping universes (in Locas for example, there is the gritty punk rock Hopey world, the magic realist Isabel Ruebens world, the sci-fi Rand Race world, the superhero Penny Century world, etc). What holds these disparate worlds together is a central character who is flexible in enough to interact with the disparate cast (Maggie and Cerebus). In both works, time, aging and memory are central themes.

The chief difference is that Jaime is a genius and Sim is a ... but I'll leave the rest of the sentence to your imagination.

The chief idea here being that Dave Sim can be fruitfully compared to the great alternative cartoonists of the last three decades. Although from my point of view, the Sim is to Ware (or to Jaime Hernandez) as Bizarro is to Superman. Sim is a Chris Ware that went horribly, frightfully wrong. But I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong, and Sim is really the great cartoonist of the last few decades and all these other guys are just pretenders. I'd like to see Cerebus reprinted in a more accessible form so we can thrash out this debate.
(I should also add that to me a major problem with Tim Kreider's otherwise excellent Cerebus essay is that he compares Sim to Spiegelman/Satrapi/Bechdel -- cartoonists that really aren't usefully compared to the aardvark artist. Kreider's essay would have been stronger if he had compared Sim to Ware of J. Hernandez.)

I am a huge Cerebus fan. But I try and leave room for the Hernandez brother in any hyperbole I indulge myself in.

"Greatest non-Hernandez cartoonist of his generation..." and other dippy things like that.

I mostly liked it better when nobody was thinking about Cerebus and whenever Tucker would randomly bring it up, I could poke my head in and give anti-substantive shout-outs.

You know, I'm not so sure about the 'it's all a dream' thesis, but I really do think there is a lot of intentional blurring about what parts of the narrative 'actually' happen, and what parts are imagined stories by the main protagonist of the stories ... the idea that the stories of the other residents of the apartment building are in fact fictionalizations by the woman seem to be strongly implied in the strip "Browsing", when she talks about finding the very box we are reading from in a dream ...

I don't think that it can be subjected to any simple reading, though. Consider that the Branford Bee stuff - it could just be stories told to the child, but the bee getting stuck in the basement etc are 'objective' events that occur in other books. It's the fact that the reader is constantly being challenged to reconstruct the narrative in different ways that makes the work so exciting for me.

Travis, I think the woman is using the external world to create fictions. She sees the bee (and perhaps the bee getting crushed) and creates a fantasy world around the experience. Same thing with the landlady and other people in the house. She can't quite hear what the couple is yelling about, so she imagines their lives and turns that into a literary exercise for her writing class. That's my theory at the moment anyway ...

Of course, the central joke of the it's-all-a-dream theory is that Building Stories has no fixed narrative endpoint, nor even a firm narrative chronology, so it's difficult to confirm what, exactly, she's dreaming about... even to take the heroine's lament of the things she 'almost' had as confirmation of some fantasy aspect is to imbue that sequence with expectations grown from narrative ebb and flow. Do we expect the gaps between comics to be filled in the manner we fill the gaps between panels? Is this narrative expectation much different from the expectations of movement between panels, of the sort Matt sees Ware withholding?

I think Chris is right that there's a middle ground between "it's all a dream" (which in way it is: Chris Ware's dream) and "it all happened" (or to be more precise: "everything shown in the books happened in the world imagined in the books"). Perception and perceptional distortion is a major Ware theme of late (see also "Lint"), so I think Building Stories (or BS -- another Warean self-put-down?) gives us both events-that-happened-in-the-world-of-the-books and also events-being-filtered-through-the-imagination-of-the-main-character. The very act of dividing the stories into discrete units of different shapes and sizes is itself a foregrounding of perception. Perhaps the larger theme of the book is that what-is-real is not easily separable from what-we-think-is-real.

Also worth considering is the epigram Ware uses inside the box: "Everything you can imagine is real," Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). So, the concern of the book is not dream-life or real-life but rather that intermediary stage where dreams and reality merge in the shape of an imaginative engagement with the outside word. The emphasis on perception, by the way, is heightened by the use of different types of perspective throughout the book, often in heavily stylized ways.

Late to the party here: I'm resistant to Chris' idea that the Oak Park sequences are imagined by the protagonist, only because earlier memories (cf. the abortion) are folded into these scenes. This strikes me as too complicated for the protagonist's writing/dreaming style (if CW is willing to do these metatextual involutions, I don't think he allows his characters the same privilege... thin evidence I realize, and part of the pleasure of considering such questions is the inability to pin such details down). I tried to get at this a bit here (along with the question of CW's self-flagellation, which I think is more interesting than woe-is-me shtick... if this is a mask CW wears, he's worn it so long that the performance is real): http://www.tcj.com/beautifully-failing-anew/ and Peter Sattler will have a piece in TCJ this week where he refines these ideas (much better than I was able to do) in terms of CW's representations of memory. Unrelated: for the use of racial stereotype in Jimmy Corrigan, you get an intimation of this here http://www.tcj.com/body-schemas/ and Joanna writes about this at greater length in the book, where she convincingly makes the case the CW is trying to get at comics' relationship to caricature. I think it's an incomplete reading to say that he uncritically participates in racialist caricatures. He did an interview addressing this way back in 2000 or so (in TCJ?) where he spoke about this directly. My 2 cents, fwiw.

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