Dave Speaks about the Countess
From Dave's Q&A Session for Church & State I
Q3: What was up with the Countess? Who is she? What was her role in the larger story intended to be vs. what her role actually was?
DAVE: My intention with the Countess was to document a female who really just wanted to be a regular female and ended up in this idealized Kevillist circumstance owing to inherited wealth or having Weisshaupt for a sugar daddy. I'll leave those two as open questions—as a reader (I didn't remember hinting at Weisshaupt as sugar daddy, but that seems to me to be what I had the Countess talking around in her second appearance).
Q3: Why was she there?
DAVE: What I was trying to pose for the reader was the problem which results when you feminist-ize society (feminist-ize, not feminize). Essentially you make being female into a political role and a set of political decisions. As an example, in our society, every woman is expected to be in the "pro-choice" or "pro-life" camp and to be willing to denounce the other side and defend her own side at the drop of a hat. Which side are you on? Historically, a lady's—as opposed to a woman's—reaction to the question would be that it seems like a very unpleasant subject. And then she would change it or evade it gracefully. Because good breeding and good manners would dictate that she do so. Femininity was the custodian of those natures. Good breeding and good manners were passed down because mother had good breeding and good manners and her mother before her had good breeding and good manners. And suddenly, you not only don't have good breeding and good manners, you consider the whole idea of good breeding and good manners ridiculous. Everything is open for discussion. Air your dirty laundry. Let's talk turkey on the subject of mutilating foetuses. The genuine female interest in romance remains, even as romance itself goes by the wayside. Even at the time I saw this as a societal problem. There was the same impetus to create strong, independent (usually wealthy) female characters that there is today—they're less characters in the literary sense than they are role models in the Feminist propaganda campaign but as I did so—Astoria being the first major example—I thought, these women are not going to be very happy being like this. Where's the courtship and the courtliness? Where are the stolen kisses and the "loves me, loves me not"?
Q3: Why the change from her first appearance to her second appearance?
DAVE: I've heard that before, but, personally, I don't see there being a big difference between the Countess' two appearances. It's just a little later on and Weisshaupt—her self-appointed Henry Higgins—is dead. She's taking care of Secret Sacred Wars Roach and the two McGrew Brothers. Men are still drifting in and out of her orbit but structurally it's unsound. She realizes that they're just going to drift in and out of her life in fewer and fewer numbers because she's going to be an old woman soon. She's a born housekeeper, as I think most if not all women are, which is why I portrayed her doing all of the chores in her second appearance.
There is, in both of her appearances, a forced air of feministic superiority—that is, fundamentally bad writing— which, as I recall, was pioneered by Sonny Bono on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. He would portray himself as a buffoon and Cher would portray herself as his dominant superior. That would be the schtick. Which was the complete opposite of the situation. He was the brains and the ambition of the operation. I don't wince as much today as I used to when I read myself partaking of that poisoned apple—it was twelve years into the Feminist propaganda age and twenty years later on, I can pat myself on the back for at least recognizing that these lives were not going to end happily and that most strong, independent women were going to be getting most of their romance from fiction—the "reads" Michelle continues perversely to read while Weisshaupt is trying to get her to read complicated economic tracts—rather than from their relationships or their marriage(s).
It was clear to me in re-reading the material that this was, ultimately, Weisshaupt's weak spot that, through all of his machinations and manipulations, he still thought that a female needed to be worked into the mix. Not the more natural and sensible "and of course I'll need a good wife," but "I need a woman as amazing as myself to install in that position adjacent to me if I am going to make all of this work properly." If you've ever read the litany of attributes that Conrad Black was looking for when he picked Barbara Amiel, it seems cut from the same cloth. On paper, for a woman to see herself in just so heroic and significant a role on the portion of the world stage occupied by her husband must be flattering indeed. But it seems to me that it owes a good deal more to Frank Miller's Batman and Robin than it does to, say, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. I see it as an implicitly unhappy circumstance for women because it means there is always greener grass on the other side of the fence. A feminized Robin is always going to long to be someone's Juliet. A Juliet is always going to long to be someone's Robin. And, as a direct result of their implicit dissatisfaction, they're going to drive Batman and Romeo around the bend with their whining about their unmet needs in their respective categories nine times out of ten—where they don't choose to oscillate between the two role models: I'll be this fellow's Robin until that proves unsatisfying and then I'll be this fellow's Juliet until that becomes unsatisfying. It's no wonder Botox and other longevity treatments are coming into fashion. Courtship and nesting are sequential and consume decades in and around career decisions. I really do think, as men, writers need to be more aware of this and to stop creating these really unlikely fictional female hybrids and mutations.
As I reread the Countess' dialogue, she has too many "snappy rejoinders". There are a number of notable instances of Dorothy Parkers and the late Anita Loos—women who are genuinely that bright and that quick—but they are the exception that very much proves the rule. Katherine Hepburn wasn't nearly as sharp as the woman she portrayed in Adam's Rib and the Katherine Hepburn of legend was more a creation of a succession of male screenwriters than she was of herself.
Okay, you're all getting angry and sad and irritated again, so, let me shift gears a bit.
The Countess, visually, was based on Karen McKiel, the Aardvark-Vanaheim secretary from 1982 to 1988 (?). She was an interesting character and very much a first generation feminist in the strong, independent woman mold. Nothing particularly new or interesting then or now. It was really at one step remove from the situation (being a married man at the time) that I began to remark upon the societal change that was taking place with most girls/women having jobs and either taking it as a given that that was always going to be the case or that the job could be the lifestyle choice while they tracked down a husband whereupon they would either chuck it in (the vast minority) in favour of marriage and children or (the vast majority) put it on hold until the marriage and the children had been accomplished, whereupon it would be resumed in earnest. Boyfriends and husbands would be expected to fit themselves in and around the margins of the career wherever they could find a spot (cooking dinner, cleaning the apartment, doing laundry and shopping for groceries seeming like some valuable places they could occupy in their largely orbital existence around their strong, independent woman).
Karen was kind of interesting in that she had a predilection for other women's boyfriends and husbands. She liked to test the bonds of other people's matrimony and usually found it wanting. Which seemed to both satisfy and frustrate her since she was also in search of a husband of her own. In her own terms, she liked to "cause shit". She was a big fan of the TV show Dynasty (the Prince song—"Kiss"?—with the line "You don't have to watch Dynasty/to have an attitude" was certainly bang-on for the time period) where causing shit seemed to be a major female preoccupation. I didn't really interest her for the longest time because I was in an open marriage. Having sex with someone you were allowed to have sex with was no challenge and, therefore, no fun. There needed to be the possibility of fireworks not only in bed but in the resulting soap opera.
This many years later on, I can see in reading the Countess' dialogue my attempt to sort of wed Karen McKiel to that Dynasty brand of high-stakes relationship power fantasies that she liked. But, in a literary sense, it really just rings false. Even contriving Weisshaupt's overblown infatuation with Michelle which blinded him to who she actually was and compelled him to try and make her into someone she could never be (and, in rereading these sections that does seem to be my subtext: Pygmalion gone seriously awry at any number of levels. Not the least of which is that My Fair Lady was concerned with turning a flower girl/guttersnipe into a lady, not turning an average girl into Donald Trump) just seems a transparent literary device to cover for the implausibility of the plot point, the tip of the playing card is showing between my fingers when it's supposed to have vanished.
I started having an affair that was off-again, on-again through the ensuing year with Karen about five months after Deni and I officially split up, having an affair with your boss' ex-husband having an illicit tinge that having sex with your girlfriend's open-marriage husband just didn't have. My dedication in Church & State Vol. 1 to Jessica — Karen's own euphemism for her vagina — and that "somewhere it is always January 23, 1984" (the night we first had sex) certainly indicates that it was worth waiting for. Ultimately, of course, I ran afoul of the Holiday Rule which is a centerpiece of most women's on-again, off-again relationships. As a guy, if you want to stay in the game, you had better time your "on-again's" to coincide with Christmas, Thanksgiving and her birthday and, in this case, agree to drive home to New Brunswick with her sister and brother-in-law for Christmas. I declined and she came back with news of her new boyfriend that she had met while down there.
That really wasn't the end of things. She stayed the secretary for a couple of more years until the Bank of Montreal called asking for me and she tearfully showed up at the studio door to tell me that she knew what it was about: she had been paying her personal Mastercard from the company's account we had opened for depositing our Mastercard phone orders. I guess she had figured since it was all one big happy Mastercard family, no one would notice. If it wasn't quite a Dynasty flourish worthy of whatever-her-name-was-who-was-the-Queen-Bitch-on-Dynasty, it wasn't through lack of effort on Karen's part. To add insult to injury, several years later we had to pay tax penalties on her clothing purchases on her company Visa (evidently it was important to me that she look good in the office, thus justifying a clothing allowance of several thousand dollars) when the charges were, naturally, disqualified.
You know, Neil Gaiman chided me a while back saying that no one is entitled to know these sorts of personal details. I appreciated his very human concern and evident compassion, but I'm in a very different situation from Neil. It's still standing policy in the comic-book field that "Dave Sim is crazy." And, as far as I can see, no one seems to have any need to substantiate the charge. Everyone just takes it as a given. "Dave Sim is crazy." So, as much as possible, I think it's necessary for me to establish for posterity that a) I'm pretty sure I wasn't crazy and b) I had very good reasons for believing the things that I believed about gender relations, feminism and the post-70s hallucination in which I see most people living. Unless I cite actual experiences, I think I'm leaving myself open to the charge of evasiveness. I think if there were to exist at some point a groundswell of support for the view that Dave Sim is NOT crazy, I could probably see my way clear to "easing up" a little bit on the subject. But, as I don't see that to be the case, I'm going to continue to be as honest and thorough as I can be in answering questions posed to me in this forum and elsewhere and I'll then leave it to posterity to decide who was crazy and who wasn't.