The return of Dave Sim!
This review was originally posted at my Livejournal on September 14, 2008.
A fair amount of chatter emerged on my friends list recently due to a column by the SF writer Orson Scott Card, whose Ender series is regarded with deep affection by a great many people in and around the SF field.
Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.
By implicitly advocating the violent overthrow of the US government should same-sex marriage be legalized, Scott Card crossed the line for a lot of people and much discussion ensued regarding whether it is ethically or morally permissible to read and/or buy novels by a writer whose views one finds repugnant.
Despite the fact I was at The Beguiling to sell off much of my comic collection (including, ironically, a great many issues of Cerebus — which remain in my possession. The collector's market has changed quite a lot since I last checked and my single issues are apparently worth about, "a nickel a piece"), I had to consider buying it.
Although over the course of the 30 or so years it took him to complete Cerebus Sim's politics shifted from being roughly in sync with my own to nearly the polar opposite (when I didn't consider them merely nonsensical), the fact remains that even when he was devoting nearly half of his monthly comic to prose propaganda, the comic itself continued to be a unique and often brilliant piece of work.
"A new Dave Sim," I said, weighing the garishly-coloured book in my hand. "How crazy is it?"
"Fairly crazy," the Beguiling guy replied (in my opinion wrongly, as it turned out).
I bought it anyway. Sim may have devolved into a strange political "philosopher" of eccentrically religious and intensely misogynistic views, but he remains a remarkable artistic talent. Were he a popular thinker, I might have decided against spending more of my money on his work, but as things stand I was willing to separate the artist from the art. (And besides, if one were to purchase work only by creators whose lives were politically or morally upright according to one's own standards, one's options would be limited indeed.)
So. Judenhass. Printed on slick paper and priced at $4.00 per copy, this is a clearly a labour of conviction and possibly not even designed for profit; I can't imagine Sim is making much, if any, money out of it. (Irritatingly, the cover, slick on the outside, bare cardboard on the inside, curls out almost from the moment you've cracked open the book.)
Judenhass is German for "Jew hatred" and the book itself is more of a Gentile's meditation on the Holocaust (or "the Shoa", as Sim prefers to call it, using the Hebrew word for "disaster" and for the Holocaust) than it is a narrative or a history.
Sim makes the common claim that the Holocaust was unique among the many "atrocities ever committed by man against mankind" and further claims it was "inevitable", due to the widespread and longstanding, cross-cultural judenhass that has undeniably existed in the West since the rise of Christianity and the collective blame apportioned to "the Jews" for the crucifixion of Christ.
I decided some time ago that the term anti-Semitism (a 'coined' term of late nineteenth century origin) is completely inadequate to the abhorrent cultural phenomenon which it attempts to describe. For one thing, Arabs are Semites as well and the prejudice as it is generally understood certainly doesn't apply equally to Arabs and Jews.
It was in the early stages of researching this graphic narrative that I first encountered the German term judenhass. Literally Jew Hatred. It seemed to me that the term served to distil the ancient problem to its essence, and in such a way as to hopefully allow other non-Jews (like myself) to see the problem 'unlaundered' and through fresh eyes. Europe and various other jurisdictions aren't experiencing a sudden upsurge in 'anti-Semitism.' What they are experiencing is an upsurge in Jew Hatred. So that's what I've chosen to tell this story."
I don't think he's made his case, that the Holocaust was a unique atrocity, but he does make a convincing argument that Jew-hatred is a uniquely wide-spread bigotry, arguably rivaled only by the almost universal bias against dark-skinned people by the light-skinned.
Judenhass is not a narrative but, as I've said, a meditation and exposé of the historical "anti-semitism" that has pervaded Western civilization since the rise of Christianity. And in a world where the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Holocaust denial are still taken seriously in some quarters, there can be no harm in a primer that covers the basic facts of the Nazi's "Final Solution" and the rampant anti-semitism in the rest of the West that acquiesced to that horror. His sources are all noted and I noticed no errors of fact.
Drawn in a photo-realistic style, with the images almost entirely drawn from photographic references, it is largely a collection of horrific drawings interspersed with judenhass-laden quotes down through the ages, with an emphasis on those uttered during the 20th century and particularly during, and shortly after, the Second World War itself.
As an artist — draftsman and layout artist — Sim has lost none of his chops. His portraits eschew the caricatures he worked to such good effect in Cerebus and the scenes from the death-camps are appalling without resort to melodrama. The truth is horrific enough.
As befits its creator, Judenhass is an eccentric book, but one of undeniable power. If you are already historically informed, there will be little or nothing new to you (though some of the quotes from writers as diverse as Voltaire and Mark Twain might come as a bit of a shock). It would be a useful tonic for young people who have been exposed to some of the more lunatic websites and who, through genuine ignorance, may be taking Holocaust denial and other, related, conspiracy theories seriously.
Still, as a work of art rather than history/propaganda, I can't recommend it to any but the Sim completists among you. It's good work and well-meant, but not of any general importance or interest.