Jeff Smith is an amazingly talented comics artist. I confess to not having read the epic Bone, but the artwork is stunning and I've admired it from afar. I know that it has reduced grown men to tears, and that is not hyperbole!
What I have been reading is his new series RASL, which is really stunning and masterfully drawn. I really recommend finding it. Aside from being a terrific artist, he is a really really nice guy.
He started self publishing in 1991, and became one of the hardest working guys in comics. He was publishing consistently, pushing his wares, networking with other artists and distributors; basically everything you and I should be doing.
He also happened to become friends with the golden calf of self-publishing, Dave Sim.
Jeff Smith rose to fame with a bevy of independent comics artists who were all doing these amazing black and white stories with the veracity of wild wolves and the method of a Swedish clock. Colleen Doran, Neil Gaiman, and Martin Wagner and others who aren't as well known.
Well, the stodgy good ol' boys of the comics industry didn't much care for these young upstarts, and they were banned from participating in cons. You know what ingenuity is? These self-publishers set up tables in the lounge to sign autographs and meet fans. Dave Sim would invite everyone up to his suite.
Two things turned Jeff Smith's dynamite into rocket fuel. The internet was just beginning it's jet speed crawl from the caves, and these comics rock stars not playing by the King's rules, made something we like to call buzz. The second is that in the nineties, people were thinking comics were worth a lot of money, and kids would peruse the aisles not as the rabid geeks that they were, but as speculators looking to hit a veign. Comics probably hit a stride they will forever after fall short of. It was the California gold rush in CMYK.
When Dave Sim published his fated issue (likening women to voids and whimsied destroyers of all that is holy) he could have probably slipped under the radar, the friends would have argued and all would be in balance in the world. Unless you subscribe to Sim's worldview that is. But he made it personal. He (in true genius Cerebus style, where everything fictional or non in the world gets swallowed up) drew Jeff Smith into the comic. He drew Jeff Smith's wife into the comic. Suffice to say, it's not a pretty picture.
These two auteurs were under such scrutiny that their fighting became very public. Jeff Smith offered to give Dave Sim a "fat lip" which were popular in the nineties. All of this was recorded by various comics magazines and reports.
They are apparently, fine now. Like all break-ups, after the initial sting, you can usually be friends from a very healthy distance.
So this has all been a huge pretense to me showing you Dave Sim's very public letter to Jeff Smith. It's funny how Dave keeps mentioning how "femenized" or girly the world of comics is, and he uses an analogy from a man's man's movie. Yet he wouldn't dream of breaking out of the world of comics, even reportedly turning down Spielberg for the chance to make a Cerebus movie (having seen Howard the Duck; probably a smart move).
Perhaps this somehow femenized world, this Zenda is the only place he feels he belongs. It is ironically, one of the few places that gives him gracious space and a tolerant soap-box for his viewpoint. I can't imagine it (or him) any place else.
DAVE SIM'S LETTER TO JEFF SMITH:
Dear Jeff Smith.
Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you about this, Jeff, but, considering that it took you nearly five years to “go public” with your side of our disagreement(s)–and in light of my own avowed intention to limit myself to writing only “Chasing Scott” and “To Ham & Ham Not” here in the back of the book (and nothing elsewhere) for the three-year-minus-two-months it was going to take me to finish Going Home–I didn’t think that time was of the essence.
My “sabbatical” was partly an exercise in self-discipline and partly my concession to the comic-book environment. Having been “all over the place” in promoting self-publishing as a viable direct market vehicle for comic-book creators for three years or so…
[and--whatever else you have attempted to portray my efforts as in subsequent years--that is all that I was trying to do. I know you find it hard to believe that the direct market existed before you came along, Jeff, but believe me it did. And there was a time when virtually the entire direct market--most especially publishers like Gary Groth, Denis Kitchen and Mike Richardson--made a great point of the fact that self-publishing was not a viable option and that Dave Sim was the "exception that proved the rule". My efforts on behalf of self-publishing were not to create a "self-publishing movement" (as you keep saying), but to disprove Groth, Kitchen, Richardson et al and to show that it was possible--more than possible--for others besides Dave Sim to make a living self-publishing their work and only self-publishing their own work. I intended to devote a fixed amount of time to that task (which I did) and then I intended to walk away (which I did) and--if, thereupon, self-publishing proved itself to not be a viable option for others (without my on-going, hands-on interference)--I intended to eat Crow back issues (as it were) and admit that I was wrong and that I was, in fact, some sort of mystical being, the only one endowed with the ability to self-publish successfully. The fact that you are one of the outstanding examples that assisted me in refuting that misapprehension is one of the reasons--'til now, anyway--that I have not responded to your own vague but passionate insinuations that "Dave Sim is terribly, terribly, terribly wrong and terribly, terribly, terribly evil in some way". However inadvertently, you helped me to disprove the only misapprehension about myself that really concerned me: that I was uniquely and exclusively suited to self-publish. The rest of the "terribly, terribly, terribly wrong and terribly, terribly, terribly evil" stuff is just part of the price one pays for being a non-feminist in a feminist world. Water off a duck's back.]
…it seemed as if a comparable period of keeping the direct market “Dave Free” (outside the pages of Cerebus) was the least that I could do. Apart from a letter to The Comic Buyer’s Guide on the occasion of Gil Kane’s passing, a press release when Going Home caught us flat-footed by selling out its second print run too quickly and a cover and introduction for Dork Tower and an interview or two for small fanzines, I stuck by that vow. As the three-years-minus-two-months unfolded, I reminded myself that if there was anything which really stuck in my craw, I could address it after the three-years-minus-two-months were over. Many things stuck in my craw (my craw just seems to be constructed that way) but, as the three-years-minus-two-months came to an end, nothing had really “stuck” (craw-wise) that I could count worthy of attention. Attention, in my view, better spent preparing myself, mentally, physically and artistically for the final three year climb up the final rock face on my own personal Mount Everest, the 300-issue Cerebus project.
Just about a year ago at this time, I was still “pissed off” (a definite exception to the rule of my largely non-emotional life) about your assertion in your Comics Journal interview (the belated Trilogy Tour issue) that you had threatened to give me a “fat lip” that time that I stayed in your lovely A-frame house overlooking the San Andreas Fault.
Can’t remember the last time I ever said this, but I’m saying it now–to you, Jeff.
You are lying.
(If anyone doubts that you are lying, I invite them to read what I wrote about that visit in Reads–page 241-and compare it with your recollection of what I wrote as you “reconstructed” it–that is to say as you completely fabricated my words–in the aforementioned interview)
Leaving aside your “Big Johnson Bone” fabrications, I’m not sure what my reaction would’ve been had you, indeed, threatened to give me a fat lip. I find accurate perception a sufficiently arguous on-going task without muddying the waters of perception by dealing in various permutations of the hypothetical. I suspect I would’ve asked to use the phone and called the nearest hotel and then the nearest limo company and made arrangements to leave (since you had picked me up in a limo, I could at least be sure that one could have made it up those mountain roads) and then I wouldn’ve taken you up on your little “challenge” once I was sure that I wasn’t staying under your roof any longer.
But, of course, there was no “challenge”.
That’s the really infuriating part of this whole business, Jeff: your assertion in the interview that you presented me with this “challenge,” and “everything got very quiet” and then you proceeded to “enjoy your weekend”. The comic-book field is not a particularly masculine environment so, for a certain unknown-but-presumably-large percentage of the people who read your interview, the whole thing was very straightforward. You threatened me and I backed down. For a likewise unknown-but-presumably-small percentage of the people who read your interview–that is for the (dozen? two dozen? three dozen?) men as opposed to males in the Comics Journal’s readership, let’s face it, Jeff. You were calling me a coward who backs down from another man’s challenge to settle things man-to-man. And then you compounded your insult by portraying me as a weasel who would stay under another man’s roof after having backed down from that man’s challenge to a fight.
Off-and-on, I have now spent the better part of a year trying to figure out how to address another man’s entirely fictional “challenge” to “step outside” (presumably we would have stepped outside as opposed to “duking it out” in your living room) made five years after the “fact”. At the height of my “pissed-offedness,” I just kept thinking to myself, “I’d like to see him try.”
Once my “pissed offedness” had subsided (it took a few weeks), to my own not inconsiderable amusement I realized that that was exactly the sum and substance of my reaction. All emotion aside:
I’d like to see you try, Jeff.
I have to confess that I never thought that, at the ripe old age of forty-four (forty-five in May) I would be “stepping into the ring” with someone, least of all a fellow cartoonist. No matter how much of a fighter you are–George Foreman aside–it’s really a game for one’s twenties and thirties. But, clearly, I can’t just let this pass without taking some action to defend myself from this…(whatever you call it. Before this, who would have needed a word for “lying about a challenge to fight man-to-man”?)
[I do understand--given the fact that I am not a feminist--I have to accept that it is "open season" on Dave Sim. Any feminist is going to feel him- or herself more than entitled to talk about me behind my back and to exert any and all efforts to destroy my reputation and credibility through gossip, innuendo and outright lies. I would expect nothing les of the unfairer sex and their allies and I knew that was the inevitable result of declaring myself to be "not a feminist" in an almost wholly feminist environment.
But you are supposed to do it behind my back, Jeff. That is how the feminist game is played. "girl fighting," as it were. However. To lie, in a public forum, about having offered to give another man a "fat lip." That's something else again.]
I would assume from your choice of the phrase that you have had a certain amount of fight experience. Offering to give someone a “fat lip” implies a disproportionately larger amount of fight experience on the part of the “offerer” than on the part of the “offeree”.
I have to say that in the short space of time that we knew each other, I never once thought of you as being a fighter but, presumably, I was wrong about that. Or maybe I wasn’t.
Which brings us back to “I’d like to see him try”:
I will fly to Columbus on any date that you would care to name and I will give you three three-minute “rounds” to try to give me a “fat lip”. I’m in a the light heavyweight class–on any given day between five and ten pounds lighter than a heavyweight. I would assume you are somewhere in that vicinity as well. I have ten-ounce gloves. Opinion is divided as to which sort of glove dish out the greater punishment: sixteen-ounce (just because they’re heavier) or ten-ounce (because there’s less “cushion”). If your opinion is that ten-ounce gloves won’t do the job for you (“fat lip-wise”), let me know which weight you prefer and I’ll pick up a pair. Or if you want to go all the way up to twenty-four ounce gloves I’m more than amenable. Likewise with headgear. I’m comfortable fighting without it. If you prefer headgear, just let me know.
I’ll let you pick the venue and the time keeper and the referee and I’m more than willing to listen to any requirements you might have that I haven’t covered here.
Just in case some “bright lights” out there get the idea of turning this into a benefit for the CBLDF or some other charity at a convention, let me head you off at the pass right now:
Having had a year to try to figure out how to explain this to a largely feminist, largely feminized crowd I figure the best bet is a (may God forgive me) movie analogy:
Do you remember in the movie The Color of Money, the sequel–make that, the “sequel”–to The Hustler where the Tom Cruise character tells the Paul Newman character that he “threw” their big championship game, so he could “clean up” on side bets? And the Paul Newman character corners the Tom Cruise character and challenges him to a game, a for-real game? And he says to the Tom Cruise character, “Let’s clean this up”?
That’s what I’m doing here. You can’t “clean up” a mess like this in a circus atmosphere.
Jeff, I am saying, flat out, that you have lied. In lying, you have made a mess–a non-masculine mess.
You have made a mess.
Let’s you and me, man-to-man, clean up the mess that you have made.