Propaganda on Dave Sim & Glamourpuss. Genius can do some strange things…..
Glamourpuss # 1
by Dave Sim
Glamourpuss is the new series from Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus. The enormity of his accomplishments with that 6000 page, unmatched in the history of the comics medium 26 year magnum opus tends to be overshadowed by some of Sim’s personal beliefs and opinions. But here is not the place for a discussion of that aspect of Sim. For the purposes of this review, let’s just leave it as:
Dave Sim, one of the world’s greatest living cartoonists
(and it’s not just me, Heidi has the same opinion on his talents.)
No, this is all about the answer to the question: “So Dave, what are you going to do after finishing Cerebus?” For a while I imagine his only answer was rest and sleep. But after a while the answer became something stranger:
“Basic business stuff, putting together the Cerebus Archive, a secret project (since completed – Judenhass), my daily blog and mail… But! What I wanted to be working on hadn’t changed very much since I wrote in the annotations for Latter Days…. Cute teenaged girls in my best Al Williamson photo-realism style. If I think of anything story-wise (which isn’t likely to happen) I’ll let you know”
“I ended up having to skew my subjects just a little older just because the best free photo reference is advertisements in fashion magazines … and most of those models are at least in their early twenties…”
And, whatever you think of Sim, the one thing you can say is that he really sticks to his guns. Here’s Glamourpuss # 1. Beautiful images of 20 year old models in fantastic clothes all done in his best Al Williamson photo-realism style.
And whatever else you can say about Glamourpuss, I wouldn’t think anyone would be able to doubt it’s an absolute work of artistic beauty. Because through all of his years as Dave Sim; evil genius comics mastermind, people did tend to forget that he was also Dave Sim; bloody good artist. His illustrations here are just perfection, with a mix of styles as the page demands. But everything in the book just looks sublime. Also of note, as always, is his use of lettering. Sim should, if nothing else, go down as one of the most creative letterers in the comics business. It’s toned down slightly here from some of the absolutely incredible and radical work in Cerebus, but it’s still inventive and downright clever how he plays with his typography and lettering.
(See what I mean? – that’s just stunning. Example of Dave Sim’s version of photo-realistic artwork. Art from Glamourpuss # 1 (c) Dave Sim)
But apart from the beautiful artwork, the thing that really had me both intrigued and perplexed about Glamourpuss was the sheer concept of it all. There is layer upon layer of work here:
Sim is out to give us an illustrated history of the photo-realism style of comic art best seen in the work of Alex Raymond (40s) Al Williamson (50s) and possibly last realised by Neil Adams in the 70s.
But whilst he’s doing that he’ll also be teaching himself how to draw in the same photo-realistic style that he’s discussing.
And whilst teaching himself to draw in the style he’ll use the finished art, the models and the characters on his pages to tell the story of how he’s getting on, both with the techniques of the art and the history of the photo-realistic style. This means that on the page the art will tell one story, or segments of story as Sim painstakingly copies panels from his photo-realist mentors, yet the words will be Sim, in the first person, detaling his journey so far. And it is as strange to read as it is to read about.
And, if all that wasn’t enough, halfway through describing what he intends to achieve he flies off on a bizzarro flight of fancy – into the world of the Glamourpuss and high fashion adventure, having his photo-realistic models take on a life of their own and developing a parody of the haut cauture fashion magazine at the same time.
(Glamourpuss takes shape in Sim’s mind. Art from Glamourpuss # 1 (c) Dave Sim)
I found myself reading through it wondering exactly what he was trying to do, trying to second guess where he was going with it all, trying to work out what spin he was going to put on it, what trick he’d drop in. But what I should have remembered is that this is Dave Sim, who promised us very early on in Cerebus that his lead character would die, alone, unmourned and unloved in his final issue of the comic. And he did. And that’s why Glamourpuss is nothing more and nothing less than Dave Sim’s book about beautiful 20 something models all done in his best Al Williamson photo-realistic style.
Not that I particularly have a problem with this. As a book full of extremely pretty pictures, Glamourpuss works. As a book looking at the technical qualities of an art style I think (from my non-artistic point of view) that it works. As a book chronicling the development of the photo-realistic style in the 50s and 60s it works as a piece of journalism. Finally as a wacky parady of high fashion magazines it …. well, it sort of works.
And one reason why it only sort of works is perhaps best illustrated by the following:
This is the point six pages into the Glamourpuss fashion mag parody where Sim feels the need to press himself further into the book, reminding us of the author’s reputation yet again. Because whether we like it or not, Sim’s reputation, his opinions and his viewpoint all come bundled in with Glamourpuss. And panels like this and the section of mock articles at the back (Skanko’s Dating Guide?) just bring that part of Dave Sim back into hard focus. And I’d promised I was going to keep that out of this review.
Glamourpuss #1 is many things, but most of all it’s unique. Depending on your position on both Sim and what he’s trying to do here, you may or may not like the uniqueness. Me? Truthfully? I’m still not sure. On a purely artistic level, just looking at the pictures, I think it’s amazing. Even going one or two levels in and looking at it as a treatise on an art style or a diary of an artist trying to teach himself a new way of working it’s fascinating. But there’s an aspect of it that just doesn’t sit right, not yet. Of course, I’ll be around for subsequent issues to see where he’s going with it.
Glamourpuss: Ridiculously great artwork, Brilliant but fractured, compelling yet vaguely unsettling. And if that isn’t a good description of Dave Sim himself I don’t know what is.
Richard Bruton is writing in the third person again. This is worrying to him. Anyway, Richard is amazed at how a simple “let’s very quickly review this latest comic by Dave Sim” can result in this longer review that managed to get completely out of control and was a git to write. His favourite Cerebus volume is High Society if he’s in the mood for fun, politics and a bit of Marx Brothers and Jaka’s Story if he’s in the mood for weeping like a baby. He would recommend both as the perfect introduction to just what this comics lark is all about.