Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Glamorous Life

Dave Sim and his fans and critics are going yet another round over the Cerebus creator’s attitudes towards women. I find it hard to get worked up over this issue -- Sim seems to be fairly isolated and so the only person likely harmed by his ideas is himself. Yet what does agitate me about his work is

all of the errors in it. His recent comic glamourpuss is loaded with proofreading problems; there are missing periods and misspelled words, and chronic inconsistency in the use of dashes, capitalization, possessives, and bold text.

These errors might not be important for some readers, yet I think they reveal a major problem with this comic and the production of alternative comics in general -- the lack of editorial oversight. Even more than artists, publishers and editors bear responsibility for this task. Their job is to present the artists in the best possible light: in other words, leave them alone when that benefits the work and make suggestions when it helps. Sim has no editor and proofreader (at least none are listed in the credits) and so does it all himself -- a noble goal, but in this case not the best choice. When I read comics by my favorite creators, I rarely find mistakes like this, and never to this degree -- they are obsessive types who pay attention to every detail. It’s also true that in a book of a certain length, it’s hard to avoid a few problems creeping in, even when you use a team of copy-editors. Yet a comic page typically has far less text than a prose page, so getting it almost free of these problems shouldn't be impossible.

You could argue, and you'd be correct to a large extent, that comics are different than prose, and therefore should not be subject to the same kinds of “rules” and expectations. In prose, for example, a sentence has some form of period-based punctuation at the end: ., !, or ?. But a sentence in a word balloon might not

and it can read just fine. The problem in general is one of communication and consistency. When the lack or (mis)use of punctuation leads to confusion/annoyance for the reader (the kind the artist doesn’t want), chances are something’s gone wrong. And the best reason to find and correct such problems is that a reader will stay focused on the comic and not be distracted.

If I were Sim’s proofreader, a quick count reveals around 90-100 things I would ask him about -- that's a lot for a 25 page comic (there is, granted, a lot more text on these pages than in most comics). Here are just a few of the problems as I see them in glamourpuss:

They begin on the cover: there’s no period in the last balloon.

Is this intentional? It looks OK to me, and had Sim been consistent in the book I would assume that it was intentional -- a strong artist can make any deviation seem right by the context in which it appears. The possessive of glamourpuss appears here as glamourpuss’ -- but on page 22 both glamourpuss’ and glamourpuss’s are used. Both of these forms are accepted (many prefer the latter), but why the inconsistency?

It doesn’t look to me like Sim is paying attention -- he seems to care far more about the art than the writing.


I can’t find any consistency with his use of periods. Some sentences in caption boxes or balloons have them, some don’t. Some sentences outside of these have them, some don’t. This problem exists multiple times on nearly every page. The most important reason to use periods consistently is that they guide readers as to how to read the text - when a period was absent, I would assume that the sentence continued into the next part of the balloon. Then, it seemed like he used the frame of the balloon as a period. And when I thought I had this figured out, he would violate it and continue a sentence from a part of the balloon to the next.

Sometime he will use 2 followed by 1: “word -- word – word”
Sometimes 2 by 2: “word -- word -- word”
A character’s name is spelled as Skanko and later as Skank-o.

There's no consistency when he bolds an ellipsis.
He will do this: "word word word . . ." and the ellipsis is in bold.
And then "word word word . . ." and the ellipsis is not in bold.
Page 21: he writes “Beyond Noir Style” and then “Beyond Noir Style”:

Quotes and punctuation:
Sometimes: “word.” other times: “word ”.

Part of a balloon is noticeably chopped off on page 24.

Etc . . .

And if this post seems pedantic to you, fair enough -- but "comics are art too," and why not have high expectations or at least the same expectations as those you have for other art forms? I've never met a poet or fiction writer who didn't care about such details. I wonder if comic readers/publishers have lower standards -- would they accept this level of problems in other kinds of books?


DerikB said...

fwiw, Sim had a proofreader in the Cerebus days. She quit at one point late into the series over some of the "issues" involved with Sim and women (I think I have that right).

Gera Cook said...

Sim needs some work - but it's not just him. Read almost any book by Fantagraphics and you will find some obvious easy to correct mistakes - I get the feeling that the artists send in the art and then they publish it - maybe that's not how it goes - but it sure seems like it.

Anonymous said...

If you draw girls with big boobs or mopey 20something white guys or arty ninjas, comic fans will eat it up. Why waste time tightening the text up --Relax-- It's only comics! We're second rate and we love it! Bad punk-tuation gives us our "energy!" and it etsablishes our fuck the man streetcred. You wouldn't understand that.

Anonymous said...

Sim isn't lettering his new work. He has a guy do it for him. Also my understanding is that all of his illustrations are done separately and then imported into the computer layout as panels. Again, done by the same dude. At least that's the way Judenhass is done (to my knowledge).

As someone who loved Cerebus for Sim's control of lettering and typography, I am disappointed in this loss of control and artistry.

Joshua Leto said...

The most amazing thing to me is that he didn't do the lettering by hand (or even by himself). This is one of his greatest talents, and throughout his Cerebus run it was one of the most consistently impressive parts of the book.

I haven't read my copy yet, but this seemed to me to be a real shame.

And I read Cerebus only occasionally for the last 100 or so issues, but I rarely saw this issue pop up in his handmade lettering.

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough, I've just started to copy edit / proofread a new comic about the Chinese earthquake by Manhua creator Coco Wang (and failed to proofread that sentence the first time I posted it)...

Dan Barnes said...

people go on and on about Team Comics, but here is one way it has a definite effect - people don't tell their alt-cartoonists buddies that they need to get a proofreader.

dan barnes said...

and speaking of Team Comics, I've read a few other reviews of Sim's comic and no one mentions this.

BradyDale said...

Sim used to be so self-righteous about how great his lettering is, so that's funny.

I agree with you. You can tell when an error is intentional/stylistic and when it's just laziness.

You know who else has a lot of mistakes? Carla Speed McNeill.

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