A&R2008: Glamourpuss

Glamourpuss (2008) #1-26 by Dave Sim

So what is this, then? Sim’s first new series after Cerebus (well, he’d done the Judenhass book, but that was a one-off), and it seems like it’s a parody of fashion magazines or something? Did anybody have that as their “Next Dave Sim Thing” bet?

(This is going to be one of those long blog posts, and I recommend finding something else to do than scroll through this one. Cleaning the shower drains will probably be both 1) more useful and 2) more fun.)

Sim explains that his original idea was to draw teenaged girls, but there’s such a wealth of reference material in fashion magazines, and those the models there are older. I’m not altogether sure how tongue in cheek this is, but I’m willing to take Sim on his word here.

And… some of these are rather good (like the one with the dark jacket) and some are rather wonky (like the walking woman up to the right). Sim had been pretty comfortable drawing wild caricatures of women in Cerebus, but when trying to draw actual women’s faces, he had only one template (the Jaka/Astoria/etc face with varying hair styles), and when trying to draw a real face, they tended to look pretty off model. He’s improved a lot since Cerebus ended, though, as evidenced by these faces.

But some bits are still pretty wonky — look at the hair at the one to the left. It seems like she has 3x as much hair as she should have, and it’s weirdly piled… and indeed, Sim explains that he had problems with the hair, but that he’s satisfied with the results.

So is this book going to be just Sim tracing women from fashion magazines? No! It’s also Sim tracing artwork from Rip Kirby, especially the Alex Raymond years. Sim helpfully explains that by putting the text into speech bubbles, he can trick readers into thinking that they’re reading a narrative comic book instead of just a bunch of brush exercises with some musings about how Raymond drew alongside. And he apparently sold 16K copies of the first issue — but that dwindled down to 2400 by the final issue. Which is still a lot for something like this, don’t you think?

Is Gandhi giving Blue Steel in that drawing?

Dave Sim won many awards for his lettering, so it’s rather disappointing seeing him go with computer lettering in Glamourpuss. But I guess that’s not what he wanted to spend time on: He just wants to practice his Raymond style.

Sim helpfully explains what he’s doing in this book, and that he wasn’t kidding on the earlier pages: He’s really going to do a book based around himself practicing drawing in Alex Raymond’s style: Tracing from fashion magazines, and tracing from Rip Kirby strips.

Nice work if you can get it? And the series lasted for 26 issues, which means that it worked! That’s what I like about the American direct marked back in those days: You could do really out there projects, and you’d find quite a lot of readers anyway.

The things I find most interesting about his book are Sim’s musings on Raymond’s craft — how he achieved his line and so on. But as always with Sim, I’m not sure whether I’m getting real insights or just some random wacko stuff Sim has imagined for himself. Sim is one of those “autodidact” types, which means that he has a tendency to reach conclusions without talking to people who also have knowledge in a field. Or, you know, open a book. So when Sim describes how he has an epiphany when figuring out how to pen a panel, you have no idea whether what he’s saying is something trivial they’re teaching to all first year students at the Kubert School, or whether he’s really figured out something new. I mean, I know nothing about any of this, so I certainly can’t tell. (It’s a favourite trick of blowhards: Learn something about some subject people in general don’t know anything about, and then bloviate at length, and they’ll think you’re some kind of genius. Or just very boring.)

By the second issue, Sim has settled into the format: We get tracings of pictures from fashion magazines (with Sim musing on whatever is in the picture; here he tries to figure out the concept of “having a pet dog”, which is seemingly alien to him) along with tracings from various comic strips (accompanied by a continuous text talking about the artwork and the comics artists).

And I have to say, Sim’s really good at tracing a lot of different artists (although they often come off slightly odd and wonky, like the Timm woman in the final panel).

The striking thing about Sim’s text is how little research is apparently involved. If you count the number of times Sim writes “I think”, “I surmise”, “I’m sure that”, “I suspect” or the like, you’d run out of fingers very soon. So while he hedges his bets initially about how things were, after having introduced something “he theorizes” on one page, on the next page it’s a fact that he bases his next guess on. He constructs these elaborate fantasies based basically on guesses, and builds them up to amazing flights of fancy.

This slight of hand is very convincing, really, if you’re not paying much attention to what he’s doing.

(Not all of Sim’s tracings are successful — like the one on the top to the right? They both look crosseyed, and I don’t think they’re supposed to.)

A nice schtick Sim is doing is having the letters answered in character — I mean, as Glamourpuss. It avoids all the problems that Sim thought plagued the Cerebus letters column, where people were, you know, actually giving feedback on the comic, and Sim having to be somewhat polite in answering.

This is a good example of the Sim Interpretive Gaze — be amazed at how much he’s able to interpret from a single publicity shot.

See, Sim is convinced that there’s these vicious rivalries going on between all these comics artists, here with what Sim interprets as Raymond doing Caniff to annoy Caniff, and Caniff *gasp* not being even warned about it! No wonder Caniff was upset!

Of course, in the previous issue, Sim wrote that Caniff obviously hadn’t seen Raymond’s work at all since a decade earlier… but if you don’t actually to make Sim’s various guesses about what he’s feeling is going on make sense, it sometimes sounds pretty convincing.

He even extends his fan fiction to writing imagined letters Raymond could have sent Caniff to apologise (!) for using Caniff’s inking technique (!).

But this is a rare development: Sim acknowledges that he might just be making the whole thing up. I think it’s a pretty unique moment in Glamourpuss…

Sim talks a lot about inking techniques, and it’s mostly about how to achieve all those super fine lines while using a brush. As an amusing example of how labour intensive that can be if you don’t know how, he presents Bernie Wrightson’s technique… which explains why Wrightson didn’t get much work done, because he hadn’t figured out the mystery.

Sim says that he has, but that he won’t reveal the secret, because reasons. But he’s saying that “Raymond could no longer honestly say ‘It’s all brush'”, which made me re-read the preceding pages a few times to see whether I’d missed something? Did Raymond stop claiming that it was all brush?

What I think Sim is trying to allude to here in his normal smarmy non-explicit way as that Sim thinks that Raymond sometimes used a pen? I’m not sure! Because later in the series (if I remember correctly) Sim reveals how Raymond did it (as least how Sim thinks Raymond did it), and it’s all brush. If I remember correctly.

Which I may not!

But you end up with something like this if you just keep on guessing until you’ve guessed yourself into a conclusion, and write it up like it’s all a big mystery. It’s pretty annoying to read!

I guess I haven’t mentioned the schtick on the covers? I forget; it’s been three weeks since I started this blog post… So Sim draws some models, and then he makes them crosseyed and have them stick out their tongues. Fun! But I’m not sure that he’s ever seen a tongue? That’s not what a tongue looks like.

Hey! Cerebus!

Glamourpuss is basically paying to see Sim get better at drawing actual people, and… I mean, he is. Getting better, that is.

“END OF PART ONE”? So by this point, it looks like Sim has gotten more of an idea about what he’s doing here — it started off as an improvisation, but now he seems to have more of a definite story in mind. Kind of like Cerebus, really?

The second part is more about Stan Drake. I guess one of the reasons Sim likes him so much is that he’s one of the few comics artists that admit to tracing.

The rivalries Sim sees everywhere are pretty absurd — he’s doing a score keeping thing between “Manhattan” (i.e, the agency Stan Drake works for) and “Westport” (i.e., Raymond). He interprets Raymond hiring that agency to do his lettering as a calculated insult, and the agency apparently dropping the contract as a countermove. I guess that’s one way of interpreting the world… instead of perhaps Raymond just contacting a big, competent agency because it seemed convenient.

Sim can’t help himself — he starts doing a continuity of sorts in the Glamourpuss section, too — we get a long running sorta kinda storyline about Glamourpuss going into rehab playing out across the issues, including the inside front covers, with letters from her psychologist etc. That’s a good idea, really, but the actual material isn’t actually that funny.

And! And ad! From Heritage Comics.

Sim mixes it up and gets more into parodies and stuff, and some of it’s very successful (the one to the right) and some just doesn’t work (to the left).

This is a patented Sim move — he teases some consequences in bold face and everything, that have something to do with 1959, 1959 and 1966, but then… we’re not told what Sim alludes to.

It’s a good storytelling trick to keep the readers interested, but at this point my reaction to teases like this is to just roll my eyes, because I’m sure whatever it is, it’s going to be underwhelming (if indeed Sim ever gets around to it). Because Sim’s resolutions to his teases are always underwhelming.

Wow, that’s a lot of different cover variations of the first issue. And zombie variations, of course. “Fewer in existence than Cerebus #1”. Well, I don’t think they’ll be worth much…

Stan Drake starts a series based on an outline written by Margaret Mitchell, and this part is pretty interesting (just read the two pages above; I’ll be waiting here until you get back). *drums fingers* See, that’s an interesting analysis of how Rhett Butler was interpreted even by somebody who knows the abusive asshole he was based on.

But of course, Sim doesn’t limit himself to analyses like that: He theorises that the reason Mitchell wrote the outline was because… she was being blackmailed! I think the evidence he presents can basically be presented as “feels and vibes” — not that Mitchell might just have done it on a whim in 1934 because it sounded like it might be fun to do a comic strip, and then changed her mind and nixed it. (The outline languished in a drawer for twelve years until Stan Drake was offered the gig, and by that time Mitchell was dead.)

Like I said, Sim is getting pretty good at doing fashion models, so I’m wondering whether he’s starting to lose interest? Because the texts start growing longer and longer (echoing how Cerebus developed), and… they’re not very entertaining.

[Time passes.]

I read the first third of the Glamourpuss issues (and wrote the above) on April 22nd, and I planned on finishing up this blog post (and this blog series) over the next two days.

But now it’s May 26th! I’ve been procrastinating this for over a month!

So today I’m reading the next third of this series, and I’m finishing up tomorrow! By gum! But I’m not going to reread what I’ve written, because who reads what they’ve written anyway? I apologise if I’m going over stuff I’ve already mentioned above, though.

OK, the next nineish issues:

OK, do I still remember how to snap these shots… white balance looks good, but a bit out of focus? Hm.

Anyway, Sim doesn’t use this technique a lot — I mean, tracing the same photo using different sections of it for each panel. I briefly wondered whether he was going to make a longer narrative out of it, but it ran out of steam pretty quickly.

Sim’s writing is pretty loopy — first he tells us that Margaret Mitchell’s plot is “wildly inappropriate” for newspapers because of all the *clutches pearls* immorality and stuff, and then a page later, he tells us that it was the second most successful strip launch in history (until that time, presumably).

Such inappropriate.

He’s also very generous with his opinions… about himself. I mean, he says “it was an interesting theory” about a totally ridiculous guess that he himself had made — about these two characters being based on the same model. As far as I can tell, the only thing these characters have in common is that 1) they’re female and 2) blonde.

But while that was “an interesting theory”, he ditches it because he comes up with an even more bizarre theory later.

Hey! I’m annoyed with those long book titles, too. I’ve sworn to never ever buy a book with a subtitle that starts with “How…” — it’s against my religion.

Yes, the theory is that Eve Jones was based on Drake’s wife. Never mind that he created Eve’s look several years before he met his future wife. (Sim guesses — Drake did know her as a teenager, but probably not when she was 13, which she was when the character was created.)

It’s probably some sort of mystical manifestation.

(And a gossip tidbit — Sim here says that he was dating a 15-year-old when he was 29 — as far as I can remember, he’s previously said that he was dating a teenager, but I think he implied that she was older than that?)

Sim tries to gussy up his drawing practice as stories, and they usually fail miserably. This one isn’t too bad, though.

Uhm… I didn’t know whether this was some kind of in-joke or something, but Robin Barnard apparently exists? From the text here, it seems like Sim is genuinely railing at his artwork (seen to the left here), and demonstrates how much better he is at tracing fashion models (and indeed, after several years at it, he’s gotten really good at it). But I dunno. Might still be an in-joke. (There’s several pages of this.)

OK, now we finally arrive at what’s going to become the centre of the narrative — Alex Raymond’s final day.

And… er.. there’s some sort of “Margaret Mitchell Glamour” that’s possessing Drake and stuff.

OK, that drawing isn’t as good. And… have you tried reading these texts? I assume that Sim was amusing himself while typing them, but just putting in lorum ipsum would be as amusing to read.

And finally! Sim is doing comics again!!! Actual comics!!! STOP PRESSES

OK, Sim’s interpretations and literally unbelievable insights into people’s thoughts often gets grating and ridiculous, but this one seems pretty much on point to me: Drake is either lying or is a total moron. But I mean, both can be true, I guess.

This spread comes as the climax of a train of thought, and wowsers — it’s effective.

Sim explains that it’s feminism’s fault that some Muslims kill their wives and daughters.

For one issue, Sim ditches the “fashion parody” pages and just does bad tracings of John F. Kennedy pictures accompanied by quotes from Kennedy. I guess he ran out of time or something.

Er, yes, “undoubtedly”…

OK, that’s all I can take for today. FINISHING UP TOMORROW! For real! As Cerebus is my witness!

[Time passes.]

It’s now TOMORROW! I’m doing it! On schedule!

OK, the final nine issues…

Have I mentioned what an odd book Glamourpuss is? I mean, from a commercial point of view. Sim is fed up with drawing that little zip-toned guy, which is understandable, and he wants to learn how to draw like Alex Raymond, which is understandable, but what’s not easy to comprehend why he thought that he could make a living selling his Raymond practice workbook. Which seemed to be his plan.

So when I encountered this, I thought “finally Sim’s trying to get this thing back on track commercially”, but nope: After a few nonsensical (but striking) Cerebus pages, it peters out.

Uhm… I think what Raymond’s saying is that he uses models like he’d use a dictionary: To check whether he got things right, and then correct his mistakes? Might just be me, though.

For less than a handful of issues, Russ Heath does one pin-up per issue. I’m not quite sure, but I think Sim implied that these are things that Sim commissioned from Heath…

The first dozen issues of Glamourpuss has letters from a variety of people, and answered by Glamourpuss. For the remainder of the series, there’s mostly just Johnny McPhanbot, and I’m not sure whether this is because nobody else wrote in, or because McPhanbot’s letters are just better. Because they are — they’re pretty amusing.

And in this one, where he analyses Dave Slim’s inclinations towards being a contrarian, commercially, he seems to be pretty much on point.

OK, another thing that could sell: A sex issue! But with all those black boxes… probably not.

Over in the Raymond car crash storyline, we get super duper interesting tidbits like Drake drawing a guy with vaguely the same moustache as Raymond… and… that this portends… Yes, portends… what Raymond would say (a few months later) to Drake.

I know, I know — Dave Slim believes that putting things into a comic book makes those things come true, so you have to do close readings of comic strips, not written by any of the people involved, to find out what really happened to those people. (The strip wasn’t written by Stan Drake.)

Sim writes with such a seeming authority about various subjects that it’s easy to just let it all wash over you and assume that he knows what he’s talking about when he’s dropping factoids like this: “[…] an illustration of a left hand… usually verboten in advertising for the same reason buildings don’t have thirteenth floors”.

Well, that sounds too interesting to let pass by without actually checking.

Now, buildings (in the US) don’t have thirteenth floors because people in the US are superstitious and don’t like that number. (I worked on a thirteenth floor for a couple of decades; I somehow survived.) So Sim seems to be saying that there’s a superstitious taboo against… left hands? Left hands in advertising? Left hands in illustrations in advertising?

Some Muslim countries have stupid taboos against using the left hand for various things, so perhaps that’s what Sim is referencing? But he says “in advertising”. I tried googling for such a taboo, and I could find nothing. Which doesn’t prove anything — my Google-fu might be bad, and Google search is growing worse by the day.

What does “AI” say?

The third reason sounds like a good guess, if indeed such a taboo existed, but Sim says that it’s for “the same reason buildings don’t have thirteenth floors”, which doesn’t really fit here.

So let’s look at some ads, then.

I’m just googling 40s illustrations for ads…

Both these are British… perhaps it’s a US taboo…

Some left-handed eatin’.

But what about just… hands…


*gasp* TWO LEFT HANDS! The taboo!

So I dunno. Perhaps Sim is just full of shit. What does Captain Ockham’s Razor say? Arr.

All of a sudden, the “Margaret Mitchell Glamour” is an entity that thinks and has wishes and acts things out in the world? It fed lines to Drake so that this drama could play out and Raymond be killed, I think Sim is saying.

Apparently Neil Gaiman dissed Glamourpuss by saying that he preferred reading stories (over reading somebody’s inking homework, I’m sure), so we get a strange reportage about a young woman who killed herself in a mental institution, and… I’m not sure that’s going to bring the punters to the book, either.

The actions of the Margaret Mitchell Glamour become ever more overt.

For the last handful of issues, Sim seriously tries to make the book more engaging. We get ten Zootanapuss pages per issue, and they’re more comics-like than his previous fashion tracings. But many pages have that, too — Zootanapuss interacts with the fashion models in various ways, and some of it’s a bit amusing, but it gets repetetive. These issues also came with alternate Zootanapuss covers, with a new numbering system that starts at #1.

Could this trick people into buying more copies? Sim even starts doing some actual lettering, which is another thing people liked about Cerebus.

Over the final issues, Sim spends most of the time arguing against Stan Drake’s various versions of his tale of the car accident — but frustratingly enough, we start off with a couple of issues of this: Sim talking about how various people reacted to his renditions, and that they disagreed with it… but at this point, Sim hasn’t said anything about what Drake said, so it feels rather… er… “just you wait until I tell you what he said”, which is rather smarmy.

And as he gets down into the nitty gritty, it becomes less and less obvious why Sim is doing this material in this way: It feels more like it should have been a well-annotated blog post instead.

“It’s all a lot of nonsense to me”, one person is quoted as saying about Drake’s story, but we don’t know what that is, so it’s… I dunno.

Cerebus near the end had almost as much backmatter as story, but Sim had eschewed commentary altogether in Glamourpuss. I mean, what would be the point? It’s all commentary anyway. But then he starts, anyway — as a discussion with Eddie Khanna.

I just want to highlight this bit: Raymond’s fate was apparently predestined for decades. And as another “example”… “His predestined fate: R.I.P. Kirby”. Because his photo-realistic style would “die”, and Jack Kirby would become popular, so of course that’s presaged by Raymond using the name “Rip Kirby” on his strip.

“Far-fetched? I don’t know. I think comics holds a linchpin place in this world’s reality and Reality since it’s the medium that comes closes to the solitary creator of worlds”.

Well, even for a loopy view of the world, this is just kinda… I mean… “R.I.P. Kirby” presages that Kirby becomes popular? Words fail me. AND I STILL HAVE A LOT TO TYPE

Sim’s artwork has improved a lot through these years of practicing diligently, though. I mean… those are nice drawings.

OK, Drake’s memories have been implanted by the Margaret Mitchell Glamour, which Sim still hasn’t explained what is, really.

Yes, there famously aren’t any stop signs that are overgrown in the suburbs.

And this is where Glamourpuss ends — we finally almost get the crash, and there’s a pencil portentously hovering in the air.

Sim would go on to try to finish this work for years, but then developed ouchieness in his hands, so it was taken over by Carson Grubaugh, who finished it in The Strange Death of Alex Raymond… but that book was so annoying that I gave up halfway through. But I’m assuming the criminal behind the murder is… The Margaret Mitchell Glamour! Throw it in the slammer!

OK, three more pages to go: Sim explains how Glamourpuss came to be: He’d published Judenhass and sold 10K copies, which he took to mean that he had to something that took less time to do, and so Glamourpuss came into being.

Which is… an odd lesson to take from all this? I mean, Cerebus was enormously popular (for a time) because it had fun super-hero parodies, nice artwork and a funny aardvark. Now, he didn’t want to do another aardvark epic, but… there’s other things he could have done, right? The only two options were not 1) Holocaust Picture Tracing Book or 2) Fashion Magazine Tracing Book.

He finishes off by saying that he’ll be riding off into the sunset soon, because he’s seriously running out of money. (This didn’t happen, because IDW then gave him a bunch of work, and he was helped by a huge number of people, and also by Kickstartering a bunch of nonsense.)

OK… I”M DONE!!! YES! That was the most boring thing I’ve made myself do in several years, and if you’ve read all the way down here, I apologise. But as dull as this must have been to read, imagine how boring it was to write.

Oh, I should google to see what the critical reactions to Glamourpuss were, if any… Sorry, you have to suffer a bit more. (Unless you close this tab now.)

That’s from Wizard

Well, this news notice contradicts Sim’s recap — Glamourpuss and Judenhass were announced at the same time, so the reason Sim started Glamourpuss wasn’t because Judenhass bombed.

Hey, this is a good article, you should have read it instead of my blog post:

The key question of Glamourpuss is answered twice within the series; once on the first page, once on the last. The first answer is a creative one. The second answer is a commercial one. Both are, within certain bounds, honest attempts to settle the question. But still, on every one of its 350-odd pages, the question is at the front of the reader’s mind: Why? What is this for? Who is this for? Why does Glamourpuss exist?


There is charm. But by #3 the photorealism half is minutely analysing a photo of Rube Goldberg, Alex Raymond and Milt Caniff to draw all kinds of conclusions about Raymond’s sense of his own standing among his peers. What Sim acknowledges as he’s writing is mere conjecture he then subsequently treats as diamond-hard fact, a solidifying of rhetoric which whole edifices of further conjecture are built on.


These are Dave Sim’s fantasies, political and sexual, and they’re embarrassing in every sense. They’re shameful. All you want to do is look away.

True — I didn’t want to comment to much on Sim’s anti-feminist commentary, because this blog post is already boring enough, but — sheesh, it gets pretty heavy.

The Margaret Mitchell Glamour is supposedly pulling every string from another plane, manipulating the two artists into their fatal joyride, pretty much identical to Yoowhoo from Cerebus for those few who made it that far. It’s suddenly referenced as though it were part of the story all along, a trick familiar from Cerebus but far more jarring in a 26-issue series than it was in a 300-issue one. In Cerebus, when Bear returns as the epitome of masculinity who the titular character’s always hero-worshipped, you roll with it and assume your own memory’s at fault until you check Church & State and realise he was always comic relief. Here, with only a handful of comics between Margaret Mitchell’s earthly reality and ghostly glamour, it’s far more jarring.

Exactly! It comes out of nowhere, but then you sort of roll with it, and then you almost start believing it had been there all along. It’s a great sleigh of hand, and one Sim uses throughout Cerebus — and it’s ultimately why Cerebus is such a disappointing reading experience. Sim introduces a character, and perhaps it’s an interesting character, and then the next time we see that character (100 issues later), the character is totally different, but Sim is saying “no, they were that way all the time”. Sim isn’t very good at settings things up and following through — because he just changes his mind a lot. (And gaslights the reader about that.)

Anyway, really good blog post…

Let’s see… anything else? Here’s another full-series review:

But. This was a Dave Sim comic. A new Dave Sim comic. Even if all it was was equal parts curiosity, hope and the ingrained habit of twenty-three years, I started buying it. And I kept buying it, every other month, for the twenty-six issues of its existence. Now, seven years on from its demise, I’m putting my collection on eBay in the hope that someone will take it off my hands and free up space in my bookshelves.

This was written two years before it ended:

But despite all of his skewed opinions and his devotion to revealing “the fallacy of feminism,” “glamourpuss” is free of the polemic that ruined “Cerebus” for so many of his fans. The satire may touch on modern feminist values and what has become of women’s empowerment, but it completely lacks the invective that typified the latter half of his opus. As a whole, “glamourpuss” is one of the best put-together comics on the stands, beautiful to look at, insightful, informative, and funny. Would appreciating it really be a disservice to one’s beliefs?

From 2008:

Somehow, it’s weirder and sadder to read it because of the out-of-date thing, which makes his satire seem pathetic.

Here’s something you don’t see every day:

Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss is one of my favourite regular comics.


Now, I liked Glamourpuss. Its weird combination of fashion parody and comic strip history was a little mindboggling, but it worked, somehow, and kept me entertained through its entire run. It started off with having me wonder what Dave was up to, and as time went on, I realized the only real answer to that was “Dave was doing something I find entertaining and informative” and that was good enough for me.

And when Glamourpuss was being published, I kinda enjoyed it, too — but rereading it has been brutally tedious.

OK, that’s truly it: I’m now done with this blog series.

This blog post is part of the Renegades and Aardvarks series.

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