Dave Sim, one of the most polarizing figures in the comic book world, has created, in “Glamourpuss” #1, something shockingly different than “Cerebus.” I admire the attempt to head in a different creative direction, and I’ll be honest: I never finished reading “Cerebus.” Like many readers, I stopped somewhere around the halfway point, before Sim went off in his more explicitly religious and anti-feminist direction. I stopped, initially, because I wasn’t enjoying the monthly pace of the story by that point, and I just assumed that I would catch up by purchasing the “phone books”–the “Cerebus” trade paperback collections–at a later date. I never got around to it, especially once I started sampling his more text-heavy, Bible-heavy installments and decided “Cerebus” was something I was no longer interested in at all.
I don’t really have an opinion about his personal beliefs, or about his seemingly misogynistic statements. Okay, I do have an opinion, but I’m not inclined to let that opinion affect my judgment of his art at all. I believe a work of art should speak for itself, outside of authorial intent and regardless of whether or not the creator has different beliefs than I do. The comic book is the thing that’s important, and what Dave Sim says or does outside the pages of the comic should have no influence on how we look at his work.
Here’s the thing: “Glamourpuss” #1, part fashion magazine parody, part Dave Sim sketchbook, part essay on Alex Raymond and other classic artists, is just not a very good comic book.
It’s fascinating, in the way that skimming through someone’s diary might be fascinating, but as a comic book, it doesn’t really work. I once had a discussion with critic Douglas Wolk, frequent supporter of Dave Sim’s art if not his politics, about the difference between a good comic and a bad comic. The gist of the conversation was that I thought a comic had no obligation to be anything. It just has to exist, I said, and then we, as critics, have to interpret what it means. Wolk disagreed with that, saying that a comic book — a monthly comic book that you shell out three bucks for — has the “obligation to be comprehensible.” I’m not sure I yet agree with Wolk, and what is “challenging” to some may be “incomprehensible” to others, but I do see his point. And even though I still don’t think a work of art — a comic book, or anything else — has an obligation to be anything in particular, it should have an internal consistency, a unity of effect, a structural comprehensibility, before it might be considered good.
And that’s lacking in “Glamourpuss.”
What Sim does in “Glamourpuss” is spend page after page showing his inked versions of tracings he’s made of various fashion photographs, interspersed with his recreations of classic “Rip Kirby” panels. He uses captions and word balloons to narrate his thoughts about this style of illustration and the meta-commentary on how poorly all of this will read as a comic book. So then he throws in feeble, self-aware attempts at “narrative” using comic book tropes like “secret origins” and hyperbolic exclamations. Those supposed parody sections fail as parodies (they aren’t funny) and as mini-narratives (they aren’t interesting), and the same thing is true for the fashion-magazine parody sections which don’t even look like the fashion magazines they are presumably mocking, and don’t go far enough in their viciousness.
Sim ends up with a collection of underdeveloped, lightweight pseudo-parodies that fail and several legitimately interesting comments on the history of photorealist art and comic strips. Had he devoted the entire comic to his digressions on Alex Raymond and Al Williamson and attempts to replicate that style, “Glamourpuss” might be worth reading (if you’re interested in the artistic process), but he sabotages the better parts of this comic with limp, irrelevant parodies. This certainly isn’t “Cerebus,” and it certainly isn’t like any other comic you’ve ever read. But that certainly doesn’t make it any good.