I’ve been thinking a great deal about crazy people lately - particularly Dave Sim and Henry Darger, as well as a few other folks who have not - as of yet - done anything crazy/interesting enough to warrant Wikipediation.
If you’re unfamiliar with either or both of them, go ahead and review the following:
A fairly thorough Salon piece about Darger.
It’s easy in these “meme of the moment” times to come across great displays of madness, scan them briefly and then move on with little more than a chuckle. After all, in a given week the average halfway “plugged in” net user will come across an array of lunacy, perversion, wickedness, depravity, chaos and utterly indecipherable gibberish that could take a lifetime to properly excavate.
We have lives, after all and we don’t have time to pull over for most of the wrecks on the Information Superhighway.
Still, I feel compelled to constantly poke and prod and revisit certain dark corners I’ve had occasion to view in the past. Darger and Sim represent two of the better (or at least more popularly FAMILIAR) cases. Darger - quite certainly - is the darker of the two, with a vague and very private history hinting at violence and the sort of oblique sexuality that spins just as easily into gruesome, incomprehensible displays as into benign and profoundly pitiable nescience. But Sim’s life and work are closer to me, personally.
As a youth, I read Dave Sim’s Cerebus whenever I could get my hands on it (the collapse that followed the 80’s “Black and White Boom” made it hard to come by his self-published work in my area). It was smart and funny and visually sophisticated in ways that just about nothing else could match at the time. For various reasons, my fascination with Cerebus didn’t last and Sim disappeared from my world for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t until his infamous Tangents essay was published that I felt drawn to go back and catch up. What I found - obviously - was a man destroyed. His old intensity had turned away from offering advice to young creators and fighting for free speech and instead was now focused with a new and manic ferocity towards all manner of opponents and adversaries that were only visible to Sim himself. He was waging a one-man war against women and homosexuals and an obtuse menagerie of other “emotional leftists” who he blamed for every ill he’d ever experienced. A once quirky genius was becoming more and more isolated - cutting himself off at first from women and then later from men (who he argued were as bad as women unless they swore off contact with them entirely), he retreated into his own world. His creations stopped being merely fantastic outlets and became Sim’s surrogate world - where he rewrote history, religion, psychology and even God.
In short, he was turning into Darger.
Now, to be fair, there are PLENTY of crazier people in the world. Men who have a hard time dealing with women are not rare or even particularly interesting. Some are driven to destructive, obsessive behavior and - in extreme cases - to violence, but most simply settle for crutches - “belief systems” (be they religious, political or otherwise) or various elaborate and egocentric psychologies are employed to help them cope with the world by providing structure for their suffering. The internet is filled with people whose religious, personal and sexual identities blur into an odd pastiche that makes perfect sense to them, but that makes the rest of us wonder where on earth they COME from.
Their lives and worldviews represent odd versions of the old “Hieronymous box” - a device that functions exactly as its creator intends, but without possessing any rational mechanisms for accomplishing the task. The creator considers the box and declares that it is working and that the “problem” is now “solved,” but anyone else who looks inside sees nothing but indecipherable junk.
And that, I suppose, is what fascinates me about Sim and Darger. Their works represent lush and broad illustrations of the type of madness that I notice (in varying degrees) all over modern society and the sheer scope of it all offers an nearly endless array of intriguing potential answers - stories and clues that hint at what - perhaps - turns you into this type of person.
In the end, it can’t ever fully explain where this sort of worldview and madness comes from, but it’s certainly interesting to climb inside these minds briefly to try and figure out exactly how some of this junk got in their boxes in the first place.