Thanks to Gerhard for originally posting this on the Cerebus Yahoo!Group. Since the formating on that was wonky, here is the formated one. And here is the original MS Word document which has the pictures embedded in it (and is decent sized at 530 kb).

The Long Strange History of Phase II

(starting bid: $5 US)

Good Things for the CBLDF


First Quarto:  The Savoy


Part I


    As Neil Gaiman wrote in his essay “300 Good Reasons to Resent Dave Sim”: “Endings are more memorable than beginnings…we remember where we were when we heard good friends were dead, while our first memories of them are hazy, muzzy things.”  And so I am rather fortunate in being able to remember that I met Neil Gaiman on or about the afternoon of October 4, 1986 (although it would stretch a point to describe Neil and me as good friends and, at least at this point, we are both still alive).  I can remember because I just have to walk a few steps over to the second floor landing and look at the Cerebus 1986 UK Tour poster (Fig.1) which is framed on the wall there and look down to the last appearance at Forbidden Planet in London.   Had the Tour worked out the way that I had intended—as the breakthrough point to world fame and fortune for Dave Sim, the World’s Most Ambitious Graphic Novelist and His Brilliant Collaborator, Gerhard—I might not have remembered meeting Neil.  I had been to the UK the previous fall for the UK Comic Art Convention and it had stuck with me what a dinky little island England was and that it would be possible for Gerhard and me to Tour the entire country (and Scotland) by car for roughly what it had cost for my then-wife Deni and I to fly between any two stops on the First American Tour in 1982 and roughly half of what it cost for most of the flights on the First Canadian Tour in 1983.  Of course, the fact that we flew over on Concorde and came back in First Class on British Airways tended to eat up the savings.

    As the cliché goes, I was “flush with my first major success”—the decision to print the entirety of the 500-page High Society (Cerebus 26-50) storyline under one cover and to sell it directly to the Cerebus readers (the distributor orders had been woefully small and insufficient to pay the whopping printing bill)—and had determined to try some more ambitious promotions with my brand-spanking-new six-figure bank account.  One of the hidden motives, of course, was that I wanted to experience “High Society living” analogous to that experienced by Cerebus in the titular graphic novel:  I had developed a weakness for world-class hotels, an appetite which had only been whetted by stays at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier, Toronto’s Royal York and Hilton Harbour Castle Hotels, New York’s Waldorf-Astoria and The Plaza.  The Savoy was definitely on my list. 

    So it was partly an indulgence of my taste for the high life and partly a sincere effort at promotion that led me to contact the Publicist at Forbidden Planet and to see if he would be able to drum up some journalistic interest in the world’s only 300-issue graphic novel and its two would-be perpetrators by inviting all interested journalists to a Press Reception in our suite at the Savoy.  I forwarded the usual pile of promotional items that are of use in such instances and attempted to do the same through the various stores along the way.  That was when I learned a first, hard media lesson about England.  It is, indeed, a dinky little island but dinky little islands (with no domestic newsprint sources) also produce dinky little newspapers; dinky little newspapers which need every available square inch of newsprint to shrill and shriek about this, that and the other tempest-in-a-teapot du jour and are, therefore, not overly amenable to finding merit in colonials who are attempting to draw and write a 6,000 page graphic novel, who are only a quarter of the way through same and whose graphic novel has not been optioned for the cinema or a television program and which has nothing to do with bloodshed, perversion, the Royal Family or admixtures of the three subjects about which the newspaper might shrill and shriek in a few self-aggrandizing paragraphs.  I’m not sure what English television and radio news is like now, but then it was very much like Canada’s (which was modeled upon it): the BBC and CBC being Pravda writ small, government mouthpieces and, besides that, a couple of freelance corporations at the periphery (the news, if it could be called that, so much resembled a Monty Python skit that I kept waiting for the punch-line at the end of every item).  And, of course, we had the colossal misfortune to be over there at the same time as Frank Miller, who was there on DC’s nickel as they tried, as well, to beat the bushes for media coverage with Time-Warner money behind them in an effort to capitalize on (what I believe was) the release of the final issue of The Dark Knight Returns in that Year Before what would prove to be the most lucrative and influential year in the company’s history (thanks largely to Alan Moore and the same Frank Miller).  As the resulting Dark Knight coverage was less of the Rolling Stone feature profile variety Frank was then getting used to and was, instead, mostly of the “Holy Splat! Bam! Pow! Cartoonist wows UK Bat-fans” variety I counted myself rather luckier than not, in the long run, that it was Frank and not me who was the object of (second hard media lesson) the universally patronizing London media.

    Of course that still left us with our Press Reception and on the afternoon in question, having thrown open the mini-bar and ordered hors d’oeuvres and bowls of caviar from room service, I prepared to seduce the three members of the fourth estate who had turned up at the behest of the Forbidden Planet publicist and (thereby) to make them do my journalistic bidding: Roz Kaveny, Dave Dickson and Neil Gaiman. 

    Of the three, Dave Dickson (I was informed by the Forbidden Planet publicist) was our big “coup,” since he wrote regularly for the music press in England: the big guns, New Music Express and what-not.  He had (reportedly and confirmed by him in our pre-interview chat) been out for a night of drinking on one occasion with Keith Richards.  He was a Cerebus enthusiast and it was, as I recall, the appearance of Mick and Keef in the book a few months before which had won him over to the idea of doing a piece on the Tour. He was an elfin fellow who looked for all the world like a small replica of David Bowie and who wore his rock ‘n’ roll credentials with distinction.  I remember he took over Neil’s flat when Neil came to America the first time, so it was interesting to me that—since Neil had given me the number of his London flat—I could get a hold of Dave Dickson anytime I chose to fly across the pond and join in whatever rock ‘n’ roll festivities might be going on that weekend.  I never did, but at the time, divorced and single, that was always nice to have in the back of my mind as an option. I remember that Mr. Dickson came up to say hello at one of the stops on the ’93 UK Tour and was more-than-somewhat the worse for wear for his rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle-in-proximity (not unusual among music journalists: word to the wise), but still charming and friendly as ever.

     Roz Kaveney.  Well, let me quote Neil again from “300 Reasons…”:


     She was, and is several sizes bigger than I am, huge as Thomas Aquinas and just as large as life: all dressed in black leather (Roz, that is, not Thomas Aquinas, who was a Saint), carrying a black leather bag full of manuscripts heavy as bricks, and to top it all she occasionally wears hats…Sometimes Roz would explain stuff, but usually she’d assume I knew what she was talking about.  I had a mental map of Roz’s world that was more or less like listening to an ongoing soap opera of truly operatic proportions (with real valkyries).  To be honest it would occasionally be a shock to meet members of the cast, who were without fail a disappointment: life-sized people of no particular distinction in whom it was hard to discern the sacred monsters of Roz’s sagas. 


     It wouldn’t have surprised me to find out that Roz Kaveney WAS a valkyrie.  She certainly knew how to dominate a room, with her knitted scarf the size of a large boa constrictor and the above-mentioned satchel clearing a path before her.  The whole time I was being interviewed by Dave Dickson I had trouble keeping my mind on his questions and my answers as Roz held court with Neil, Gerhard and the Forbidden Planet publicist in the hallway directly in my line of sight munching on crackers and caviar (and gesturing emphatically with them) and holding forth on, well, as Neil says: could have been just about anything. Nor was the situation much different when it came her turn to interview me.  I did far more listening than answering, as I recall. There is a species of interviewer that is just “that way”—many of them seem to see the journalistic profession as balancing out the economic karma of their therapy: in the one instance getting paid to tell someone their story and in the other paying someone else to listen.

    (That was a small, formulaic joke, by the way. I have no idea if Roz Kaveney has ever been in therapy and I mean no offense: I would certainly rank her as among the most interesting of the “I’ll talk, you listen” species of journalist that I ever met and—given that there wasn’t the remotest danger of having London throwing itself at my feet as a result of this particular Press Reception—I was as amenable to listening to Roz Kaveney’s “World According to Roz Kaveney” and enjoying my suite at the Savoy as I was to interjecting any observation just to hear myself speak.)

    It did give me a more-than-usual amount of time to “size her up” though.  She reminded me of someone, but for the life of me I couldn’t picture who it was.  It was only when she was in front of me, waxing eloquent on her various areas of expertise that it came to me.

    Roz Kaveney looked like Oscar Wilde. 


    Now what is perhaps interesting (or perhaps not—as you’ve probably noticed, I’m a bit of a Roz Kaveney myself when I get going) is that the interview that Neil conducted with me at the Savoy became linked in my mind with the photo Gerhard had taken of it which ran on the back cover of issue 146 (Fig.2), three issues before the conclusion of the serialization of Melmoth.  So, I would occasionally think to myself:  why wasn’t I more aware of the number of the suite?  Because the stay at the Savoy had become linked in my mind with the mid-point of the series, I had half-convinced myself that part of the reason that I had stayed there was because of its notoriety in the debacle of Oscar Wilde.




For those unfamiliar with that part of the story, it was in March of 1893 that Wilde engaged rooms at the (then) newly-constructed Savoy Hotel with Lord Alfred Douglas of whom he had become enamoured and (to the temper of those Victorian times, anyway) with whom he was becoming indiscreet to a point, as the Victorians would have said, “that faileth human understanding”.  From Richard Ellman’s Oscar Wilde:

From late 1892 Wilde saw his life divide more emphatically between a clandestine, illegal aspect, and an overt, declarable side.  The more he consorted with rough but ready boys, in deliberate self-abandonment, the more he cultivated a public image of disinterestedness and self-possession. (Douglas had his place in both lives.) If he had sought ways to imperil himself, Wilde could hardly have found better ones.  English society tolerated homosexuality only so long as one was not caught at it.  His chances of being caught were enormously increased as he combined casual associations with his more idealized ones with Ross, then Gray, and then Douglas.  Wilde believed in his star: he even had a star painted on the ceiling of his bedroom in Tite Street.  But he was always bringing himself to the brink. 


     I’ll leave aside the inadvertent double entendre of that last sentence. What is of far greater interest to me is Pierre Lou˙s’ observations—as a heterosexual member of Wilde’s circle to that point—as Alfred Douglas came to dominate Wilde’s circle and Wilde’s decision-making:


By now Lou˙s observed Wilde and his clique at close quarters.  He was present one morning in the Savoy Hotel room which Wilde and Douglas were sharing, where there was one double bed and two pillows.  While they were talking, Constance Wilde arrived, because she saw so little of her husband, to bring him his post.  When she besought him to come home, he pretended that he had been away so long he had forgotten the number of his house, and Constance smiled through her tears.  This was the occasion when Wilde said aside in explanation to Lou˙s, ‘I’ve made three marriages in my life, one with a woman and two with men!’...Lou˙s was upset: he had not considered the wife.  For his part, Wilde was frank about it.  He related to Mme Melba how he had been telling his sons stories the night before about little boys who were naughty and made their mothers cry, and what dreadful things would happen to them unless they became better.  ‘Do you know what one of them answered? He asked me what punishment would be reserved for naughty papas, who did not come home till the early morning, and made mother cry far more.’


    As it turns out, the punishment for that—at least indirectly—would be a good deal more severe than Wilde might have anticipated as he was found guilty of committing acts of gross indecency with unknown male persons in his room— room 362 (Eighteenth count) and in room 346 (Nineteenth count)—at the Savoy in the indictment against him at his third trial in May of 1895 at which he was sentenced to three years of hard labour.

    Someone sent me a copy of the fourth printing of The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1952) which contains the full record of all three trials.  When I got to the part about the rooms at the Savoy, I wondered, were either of those the rooms that I had stayed in?  It was possible.  One of the things I had splurged on was “river view” which was a good deal more expensive than the “city view” rooms.  I was vaguely bemused on arrival to find that the view was completely obscured by the trees that grow on that side of the Thames embankment (Fig.3)It seemed a distinctly typical “world class hotel” trick:  the first time you stay here, you get the trees.  If you come back, you’ll know enough to ask and we’ll put you up where you can actually see the river.  As you can see by the photo, the trees were just high enough to make viewing the Thames a complete impossibility.  

It is interesting to me, in this age of sexual latitude, that Oscar Wilde’s conduct is not only excused but revered as that of one brave homosexual’s courageous stand against a society of philistines—and that it is so seldom taken into account that whatever one might think of his sexual inclinations and to whatever extent one subscribes to the “love conquers all” theorem (or Woody Allen’s “the heart knows what it wants” variation on the theme which led him to his lover’s high-school-aged stepdaughter), Wilde was, at the time, a husband and a father to two small boys and consequently an adulterer (and a shameless one if the testimony of Lou˙s is to be believed):


    Lou˙s returned to Paris, disgusted at what he had seen.  He told Henri de Régnier that Wilde was now confessedly a pederast, and had abandoned his wife and children for Douglas.  Régnier passed on the details to Edmond de Goncourt, who entered them gloatingly in his journal for 30 April.  But Lou˙s had spoken not out of an urge to impart scandal, but out of a real dismay.  He decided to urge Wilde to change his ways.  An opportunity came in late May 1893, when Wilde stayed for a few days at the Hôtel des Deux-Mondes in the avenue de l’Opéra.  Lou˙s visited him, probably on the 23rd and remonstrated with him about his relationship with Douglas and his mistreatment of his wife and children.  Wilde declined to offer any excuse or modify his conduct.  Lou˙s, he said, had no right to sit in judgment over him.  In that case, Lou˙s responded, he had no alternative but to break off relations.  Wilde now gazed at him sadly and said, ‘Goodbye, Pierre Lou˙s.  I had hoped for a friend; from now on I will have only lovers.’ 


       But, of course, Neil interviewing me was well before the publication of Richard Ellman’s Wilde biography in 1987—the reading of which had first inspired the idea of casting Oscar Wilde as the third party in one of the two love triangles involving Jaka and her husband Rick in Jaka’s Story.  At the time of the interview, I was just past the halfway point of the serialization of Church & State (if a 500-page graphic novel doesn’t impress them, maybe a 1200-page graphic novel will attract their attention being the sum of my internal thinking: as it turned out not only did a 1200-page graphic novel not interest the media and the general public but a 6,000-page one has slipped past them, well below their radar screens as well) and virtually all that I knew about Oscar Wilde was that he, er, looked like Roz Kaveney.


     The decision was made largely on the basis that there is something comedic about someone of that size and that effeminacy thinking himself to be about eight dress sizes smaller than he is (Oscar Wilde, I mean. Roz Kaveney seemed to know exactly where she physically began and ended and was more than comfortable with that and—being as she’s a woman—a certain effeminacy is to be expected, at least on occasion).  There’s a famous photograph (printed in the Ellman biography) of Wilde dressed as Salome (Fig.4)—she of the step-father-seducing dance of the seven veils—that, to me, is inherently funny.  It isn’t just that this hulking brute of a fellow is dressed in a costume that would only flatter the form of a lithe and newly-budded teen-age girl, it’s the fact that you can tell by looking at him that he really thinks he’s able to “bring it off,” rather like the dancing hippopotami in Fantasia.  Likewise, Max Beerbohm’s caricature of Wilde slumped, drunkenly, in the Café Royal (Fig.5)

Text Box:       (It is perhaps interesting to note that the library book that I found which documented the history of the Savoy Hotel makes no mention of Oscar Wilde or Lord Alfred Douglas.  The Café Royal, by contrast—serving a high-class theatre crowd just off Piccadilly Circus and virtually unchanged in its Elysée-Palace-like splendour (Fig.6)from Wilde’s day to our own—has no such qualms and displays large portraits of Wilde and Douglas in the public bar area)

    …I’m as sure that Beerbohm’s caricature was accurate as I am equally sure that Wilde’s mental self-image was that of a slim and graceful English poet striking the attitude of a recumbent Apollo instead of what it undoubtedly was: that of a middle-aged paunchy debauchee sliding drunkenly under the table.

  I never strayed far from that concept in developing the character of Oscar as the comedy relief in Jaka’s Story.  Of course, my extensive research into Wilde’s life made me realize that there was a more tragic story afoot and that, ultimately, led to the decision to do the follow-up graphic novel, Melmoth, documenting Wilde’s last days in France (despite the awkward fit of then having two Oscars in the one storyline).   


     Anyway, that—in my long-winded way (and I never know how many pages it’s going to take for me to explain something very simple) was all that I initially intended to mention here in “The Savoy” section of the History of Phase II—I wanted to make the point that, in a karmic sense, I think it safe to say that Wilde’s undoing owed as much to his brutal and cavalier dismissal of his wife and children (as documented by Pierre Lou˙s) as it did to his being a poor misunderstood homosexual oppressed by an uncaring society: even though in our own day and age we tend to see the former as “business as usual” and the latter as a “minor crime against humanity” (or a “major crime against humanity” depending on the extremes of your political inclinations).

     That was, I thought, all that I had to say about The Savoy.  It turns out that I was wrong.


Next:  “The Savoy” Part II