Hemingway is everywhere.
He’s in two movies this year (Papa: Hemingway in Cuba, Genius) and his books continue to sell and get special editions. The third volume of his letters just came out, too. Not bad for a guy who has been dead for 55 years.
Hemingway’s influence continues to permeate pop culture, and comics are no exception.
While researching my book, Hidden Hemingway, I fell down a rabbit hole and started collecting Ernest Hemingway references in pop culture—including more than 40 appearances in comic books.
Part 2 takes us through Hemingway’s cameos, parodies and homages in comics such as Superman, Weird War Tales, Lobo, Jenny Sparks, Simpsons Comics and a slew of foreign titles. At the end of the article: an interview with Dave Sim about his sexually-charged take on Hemingway in the “Form & Void” arc of Cerebus.
Shade the Changing Man #31-32 (1993)
“What inspired me to put Hemingway in the book? Partly, because Shade—being a pretty crazy book where almost anything could happen—was a great opportunity to include two of my heroes: Hemingway and James Joyce,” says writer Peter Milligan. “Both of these writers have meant an awful lot to me.”
In this time-bending, two-issue story, Hemingway and Joyce (writer of Ulysses) team up with Shade to battle an adversary in the Area of Madness.
“When I was young I really responded to [Hemingway’s] writing—especially his short stories. I loved that sense of so much meaning being hidden beneath the often simple actions of a short story. ‘Cat in The Rain’ and ‘The End of Something’ are two great examples of this,” Milligan says.
Hemingway was obsessed with Joyce, who was 17 years his senior (although they are depicted as contemporaries in Shade). Hemingway wrote that a nearly-blind Joyce once picked a fight, then stepped behind him and ordered: “Deal with him, Hemingway!” Milligan recreates and reimagines the scene, and tucks in other bits of biography, notably Hemingway’s early childhood dressed as a girl, when his mother raised him as the twin of his older sister.
In a particularly powerful part of the story, the two authors are transported from 1927 into a modern library—in which each gets to read his own biography. Hemingway doesn’t like what he sees. Milligan’s caption reads: “Hemingway moans audibly as he sees a photograph of himself taken only days before he committed suicide…A withered white-haired man, old before his time, alcoholic and finished.”
Milligan says that “reading about Hemingway and Joyce’s relationship in Paris, I was struck by how, though obviously very different in character and artistic intent, these two apparently got along famously…I hope that something of their characters and their relationship came out in that crazy comic book.”
Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of the Authority #5
Perhaps it’s only natural that Hemingway—in this incarnation a trans-dimensional military officer—would be in love with Jenny Sparks, the living embodiment of the 20th Century. In just a few short pages, Hemingway saves Sparks from falling to her death and proposes marriage. He is rejected.
“Oh, as if I’d be interested in anything other than becoming Mrs. Hemingway, you big Soppy Git,” says Sparks.
Beware the Creeper #1, 2, 5 (2003)
In writer Jason Hall’s Beware the Creeper, 1920s Paris is the stage, and Hemingway is one of the bit players in this violent melodrama. The main story focuses on twin sisters Judith and Madeline Benoir, a Surrealist painter and a playwright, respectively. After Judith is raped by an aristocrat, a mysterious figure (the Creeper) exacts revenge on his family.
Appearing in three issues, Hemingway shows up to throw punches and ponder the Lost Generation.
“To be sure, we went pretty broad with our portrayal of Hemingway but it was intended as an affectionate caricature,” says artist Cliff Chiang. “He provided a nice contrast with the more abstract pretensions of the Surrealists, while his legendary lust for life made for some humorous cameos.”
He adds, “It’s his final appearance in the book that is the most important when he gives some sincere, hard-earned advice to our lovelorn heroine.”
That advice centers on the American bohemian set coming to Paris to find—and reinvent—themselves.
“Well, we drink to escape,” Hemingway says. “We could always drink ourselves to death, but then suicide is the coward’s way out. Maybe you could just become someone else…less painful, anyway.”
Superman #277 (1974)
Writer Elliot S! Maggin has fun with a Norman Mailer / Ernest Hemingway mashup named Ted “Pappy” Mailerway, a former reporter turned hunter and temperamental man of adventure.
Mailerway was even a reporter at the Daily Planet before the arrival of Clark Kent, and he put the moves on Lois Lane. In one flashback panel, he embraces Lane from behind and suggests they cover a story abroad together.
“N-no, thanks, Mr. Mailerway! I’m just a city girl!” she tells him.
Curt Swan provided pencils on “The Biggest Game in Town!” in which Mailerway hunts the biggest game in Metropolis: Superman. He doesn’t want to kill the Man of Steel, mind you, just prove that he’s Clark Kent. In the end, Superman outwits Mailerway, who still has his doubts.
Weird War Tales #68 (1978)
Hemingway—uncharacteristically smoking a pipe and clad in a reporter’s trench coat and fedora—stars in “The Greatest Story Never Told” a six-page story by Paul Kupperberg, with pencils by a young Frank Miller.
Kupperberg remembers: “I had no idea who was going to draw it when I wrote it, and even if the editor had told me it was going to Frank Miller, I would have asked, 'Who?' Frank was still a total newbie at the time, with only a couple of short stories to his credit.”
In a story set in 1937, Hemingway covers the Spanish Civil War near the city of Teruel, a Nationalist stronghold. Instead of a battle, he finds himself witnessing townsfolk summoning a demon to wipe out 100 fascist government soldiers.
He’s spotted after the massacre by an old man, whom he tells: “I have always felt an affinity for the underdog with the courage to bite back! And you, mi amigo, have style—and the rarest of gifts of a people at war…grace under pressure.”
Fitting the theme of the series, Hemingway says: “One has to expect horrors in war—of all sorts! This is merely one of different kind.”
Kupperberg liked using historical figures in stories; Alexander Graham Bell even shows up in one of his Atom stories. In 1978, Kupperberg was only a year or two removed from earning his college English Lit major, which influenced his choice of characters.
“I’d been reading a lot of Hemingway and Fitzgerald...so I guess when I was trying to come up with ideas for Weird War Tales, Hemingway’s time as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War was on my mind,” Kupperberg says.
Though not a fan of hyper-masculine Hemingway persona, Kupperberg says Papa “had a lasting impact on me stylistically.”
“His prose was sharp enough to cut and I love his spare, clean style, especially by the time he got to The Old Man and the Sea,” Kupperberg says. “To this day I use a lot of little stylistic ticks that I picked up reading him.”
Kupperberg’s story would get a second life 11 years later, when it was reprinted in Sgt. Rock Special #6.
Thanks to John Wells for helping identify the Weird War and Superman stories, and providing scans.
Corto Maltese: Celtic Tales (1972)
In Hugo Pratt’s story “Under the Flag of Gold,” a Hemingway stand-in, Officer Hernestway, helps liberate gold hidden by the King of Montenegro in the Church of Sette Casoni. Hernestway only shows up in a few panels, as a volunteer ambulance driver for the American Red Cross—the same job Hemingway held in Italy, before he was injured in a mortar attack on the Italian front.
Death by Chocolate (1997)
Time travel and talking dogs dominate David Yurkovich’s wonderfully weird graphic novel.
As Yurkovich tells it: “I wanted to do a time travel story and…feature Hemingway because I thought it would be an interesting challenge to insert him into the narrative. The story takes place just prior to Hemingway’s suicide, and this is foreshadowed (though intentionally not graphically portrayed) in the story. In the story we are introduced to Sir Geoffrey, a canine from another world on which dogs (not man) became the dominant species.
“Sir Geoffrey’s society has begun to embrace the arts. Providing an artistic contribution to society is soon mandated by lawmakers, and Geoffrey is outcast for failing to possess any artistic skill. He teleports to Earth using a special ankle bracelet and is adopted by a caring family. Geoffrey can read and write and eventually stumbles upon the works of Hemingway and is blown away by the writing. He decides to travel back in time and learn from Hemingway so that he can eventually return to his home world as a great writer. Meanwhile he is being pursued by the FBI and a cryptic trio responsible for safeguarding the time stream.”
Fishermen Story: En Attendant Hemingway (2004)
In Irek Konior’s French graphic novel about monster-size fish and a small fishing village, Hemingway is the equivalent of Godot from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The difference? Hemingway actually shows up to save the day.
The Graphic Canon, Volume 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest (2013)
In Russ Kick’s Graphic Canon series, classic authors are adapted by modern comic book artists.
Steve Rolston illustrates a piece of journalism that Hemingway wrote for the Toronto Star, titled “Living on $1,000 a Year in Paris.” The panels echo the warmth of Hemingway’s posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast, in which Hemingway chronicled his life as a struggling writer in Paris, raising a young son with his first wife, Hadley.
It would all unravel, however, when Hemingway began to have an affair with their friend Pauline Pfeiffer, a wealthy fashion writer for Vogue. (He would later marry Pauline, the second of his four wives.)
“I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her,” he wrote of his first wife in A Moveable Feast.
Artist Rolston says that he wasn’t “immune to the romantic mystique of Hemingway and the other expat writers living in Paris at that time. That probably drew me to this piece of writing more than anything.”
Rolston was also drawn to this adaptation because it was based on a story for the Toronto Star. “As a Canadian, I liked that he was addressing both Americans and my countrymen,” Rolston says.
Interesting side note: Rolston loves The Left Bank Gang (also written about in this article), in which Norwegian cartoonist Jason “reimagines Hemingway, James Joyce, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald as struggling anthropomorphic cartoonists,” Rolston says. “I even gave it a cameo in my comic: there’s a boy on the street reading a French edition of Jason’s book.”
The second story in The Graphic Canon, Volume 3, “A Matter of Colour,” was actually written by a teenage Hemingway for his high school literary magazine, the Tabula. He appears in Dan Duncan’s adaptation as the narrator of this boxing tale, though as the bearded Papa figure of his later years.
The Hemingway Triathlon (in production)
Dirk-Jan Hoek has posted 86 pages (as of September 2016) of his Hemingway opus, which portrays the author struggling to overcome writer’s block and impotency after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Hoek has a website and a Patreon account, which you should check out here.
Hoek writes that his book isn’t a story and “most of the story did not really happen. That includes the Hemingway Triathlon itself, in which the author replaced the regular sport activities with hunting, fucking and drinking. But true or not true, my story does paint a real picture of the author and his obsession with his macho image. An image that became harder to sustain when he grew old and his body and mind paid the toll of drinking and war, car and plane incidents. Do you want to know what happens when the gap between image and reality becomes too wide?”
All 86 fascinating pages are up and translated by Peter Jamin at http://www.hemingwaytriathlon.com/
Barry Ween Boy Genius 2.0 (2001)
Creator Judd Winick recreates a famous photo of a bare-chested, aging Hemingway posing in front of a mirror with boxing gloves.
In the caption, Barry Ween’s journal paraphrases Hemingway—“In The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway describes genius as the ability to learn at a greater velocity”—but mixes up the attribution.
The actual quote comes from Death in Afternoon: “A great enough writer seems to be born with knowledge. But he really is not; he has only been born with the ability to learn in a quicker ratio to the passage of time than other men and without conscious application, and with an intelligence to accept or reject what is already presented as knowledge.”
Yet, Ween’s observations cut pretty close to the bone: “For a suicidal drunk with a pathological fear of latent homosexuality, Papa did all right.”
Big Book of Vice (1998)
Strangely, Hemingway doesn’t show up in the Alcohol chapter of Steve Vance’s Big Book of Vice. Instead, he gets a one-panel cameo in the chapter on Cuba, illustrated by Rick Geary, as part of the Sin Cities section of the book.
Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor #2 (2007)
Ellison pits himself in a poker game against Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Mark Twain and a few others in this bumper splash page between the stories of this anthology. Artist Eric Shanower illustrates individualized cards for each of the players, and Hemingway holds cards featuring a bullfight, a safari and snow on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
“Harlan said he’d write the pages if I flew to L.A. and watched over him like a guardian angel. So I did,” remembers former Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz. “The pages got written. The book got published. The artwork got returned. I remember nothing about Hemingway.”
Heavy Hitters Annual #1 (1993)
This story, “A Movable Beast,” is a play on words referencing Hemingway’s posthumously-published Paris memoir, A Moveable Feast.
Paris isn’t the backdrop for this tale, however: It’s an alien planet where Hemingway—clad in safari gear—finds himself hunted by the planet’s reptilian inhabitants.
“I had in mind the ‘Bad Hemingway’ contest held every year to see who does the worst Hemingway-type writing,” says writer Mike Baron. “And that’s what I was shooting for in the story.”
This story was part of Baron’s Feud tales within Heavy Hitters, as published by Epic.
Artist Mark A. Nelson remembers, “Since the story had a little tongue in cheek to it also, I pushed the ‘Great White Hunter’ image and then pushed it a little further.”
Things do not end well for Papa Hemingway.
Kiki de Montparnasse (2012)
In real life, Hemingway wrote the introduction for Kiki’s Memoirs in 1929, so it’s only natural that he show up for a cameo. Kiki (real name: Alice Prin) was a singer, actress, painter and model, best known as the figure in Man Ray’s surrealist photo, “Le violon d’Ingres.” She was known as the “Queen of Montparnasse.”
The Left Bank Gang (2005), Pop! (2016) and Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories (2008)*
Hemingway appears three times in Jason’s work, most recently in a one-page portrait of a suicidal Hemingway in Pop!
Norwegian artist Jason (the pen name of John Arne Sæterøy) is best known for his minimalist, often dialogue-free, panels populated with people or anthropomorphic animals. Hemingway gets both treatments.
In The Left Bank Gang, Hemingway (here a graphic novelist instead of a novelist), F. Scott Fitzgerald and company are portrayed as humanoid animals.
“I’m still not sure if [Hemingway is] a cat or a dog, actually!” Jason says. This particular story, he says, was born out of reading biographies, particularly Hemingway vs Fitzgerald by Scott Donaldson and Hemingway: The Paris Years by Michael Reynolds. In fact, the French edition of this book was originally called, simply, Hemingway.
In one true-to-life sequence, Hemingway comforts a wounded Fitzgerald, whose wife insulted the size of his manhood.
The rest of the book is reimagined history, culminating in a heist inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s movie The Killing.
In the story collection Pocket Full of Rain, Jason places Hemingway directly in one of his own famous short stories. In The Killers, a pair of hit men hold Nick Adams and some diner employees captive as they wait for their target to show up: a boxer who ran afoul of their unnamed client. Adams, Hemingway’s literary alter ego, goes to warn the boxer (who is holed up in a boarding house) after the killers leave.
In Jason’s story, however, he substitutes Hemingway for the boxer, and the result is a Hemingway stand-in meeting the author himself (a device also used in Nathan Never, written about in part one of this series).
Lobo (vol. 2) #36 (1997)
In Alan Grant’s self-referential narrative, “Death Trek 100, Part Two: Analysis of a Story Where the Writer Runs Out of Plot,” a pipe-smoking Hemingway appears as part of a literary Greek chorus. Accompanying him are Mark Twain, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare and others.
Artist Carl Critchlow wasn’t supplied with any photo references, but the best he could manage in those pre-Google days were “some grainy images from my local reference library, where I also found mention of his love of cats—so I threw a few in to help with identification and kept my fingers crossed it was near enough for any interested parties to work out who it was supposed to be.”
Melville: “I don’t understand, sir…The story’s finished, but there are three pages left to fill!”
Shakespeare: “Oh, my God! I’ve just had a terrible thought—maybe he’s filling it with us!”
Hemingway: “You mean—we’re only plot devices?”
Sartre & Hemingway (1992)
What happens when a young, philosophical mind (Jean-Paul Sartre) meets a brawny, testosterone-soaked writer (Hemingway) in 1924’s Paris? Answer: Hemingway fights a sword-wielding Salvador Dalí. Written in German and illustrated by Dick Matena, this hardboiled tale revolves around Eva, Sartre’s childhood love who was once a maid in his family’s home and has now fallen into prostitution. Hemingway shows up to punch people.
Simpsons Comics #135 (2007)
OK, Hemingway doesn’t actually appear in this Simpsons homage, “The Bald Man in the Sea.” Here, Homer is a stand-in for Santiago, the “old man” locked in a struggle against himself, the elements and a strong-willed marlin. It goes as well as you might expect.
“When you are dealing with a property that has told hundreds of stories, you have to dig deep. My father-in-law was a big fishing enthusiast so it was always in the back of my mind to do a fishing story. The Simpsons have a bay and so I decided to figure out what I could create,” remembers writer James Bates.
Bates considers straight parodies to be lazy. But a good homage is a different thing, he says. “I love the man against himself wrapped inside man against nature stories. So when the goofy pun ‘Bald Man and the Sea’ popped into my balding head, the story was born,” Bates says.
“My original ending had Homer waking like Santiago but he noticed his foil (Ned Flanders) getting accolades on TV. Ned had caught the fish after Homer tired it out,” says Bates. “Not quite the quiet dignity of Hemingway but very much Homer. D’oh!”
Superzelda: The Graphic Life of Zelda Fitzgerald (2013)
Hemingway and Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, disliked one another deeply. Zelda thought Hemingway was a phony, and Hemingway considered Zelda a bad influence who contributed to Scott’s alcoholism and his eventual inability to write.
World’s Finest Comics #304 (1984)
Hemingway, looking like the Comedian from Alan Moore’s “Watchmen,” makes a cameo in the backstory of the superhero villain duo Null and Void. Writer David Anthony Kraft features the Crooks Company, a reference to the Crook Factory, a real life covert submarine-hunting and spy ring in Cuba that Hemingway headed up during World War II. Later, his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, called the operation an excuse to drink with his friends and to get more gas for fishing while allowing Papa to play soldier.
Mad Magazine #24 (1955)
Hemingway is the subject of a parody in Mad’s first issue as a magazine, after its first 23 as a comic book. The author—here “Pappa” Heminghaw—finds himself in the jaws of a lion, as illustrated by Bernard “Bernie” Krigstein (who also provides the opening splash-page illustration). Mad parodies Hemingway’s 1950 novel Across the River and into the Trees in text as “Out of the Frying Pan and into the Soup,” promoting it as “The First Part of a ½ Part Novel.”
This issue of Mad also came five years after E.B. White’s skewering of the same novel in the New Yorker, his parody titled “Across the Street and into the Grill.” In all, the Mad parody seems oddly-timed, coming three years after Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, which won the Pulitzer Prize and propelled him to win the Nobel Prize.
Frantic! #1 (1958)
Hemingway gets spoofed again in this Mad knockoff, Frantic. Cuban-born creator Ric Estrada was a Hemingway fan, as he also did a story in Our Army at War #234 (featured in part one of this article). In fact, Estrada often told of the impact Hemingway had on his life.
“In 1947, at the age of 19, I was sponsored by my journalist uncle Sergio Carbo and his friend Ernest Hemingway to move to New York and study art and become a professional cartoonist,” Estrada wrote on his blog, before his death in 2009.
Here, three scant images illustrate a full page of text parodying The Old Man in the Sea. “Ernest Heminghay” is the author of “The Old Man and the She.”
Here, an 84-year-old man struggles to keep his young girlfriend away from “the sharks,” aka Ivy League men with “three-button suits and crew cuts and filtered cigarettes.”
It ends about as well as the original novella.
Thanks to Ger Apeldoorn and Craig Yoe, whose book about Mad magazine imitators, Behaving Madly, comes out next year.
Hemingway appears here in name only, credited as the co-author (with “Hans Cristian Andersen”) of a story that appears in Robert Williams’ underground comic Yama-Yama, a flip book collaboration with S. Clay Wilson. In Hysteria in Remission: The Comix and Drawings of Robt. Williams, editor Eric Reynolds wrote that the raw, pornographic comic was meant to “mock a proliferation of punk rock comics…Crude and vulgar were the aims.”
Williams would gain mainstream attention later in the 1980s for his infamous cover for Guns N’ Roses first major label record, Appetite for Destruction, also the title of his painting.
Murder Can Be Fun #2 (1996)
John Marr’s comic series, Murder Can Be Fun, profiles those who met bloody ends. Zander Cannon’s overview of Papa’s life lasts all of two pages, and sticks mostly to the facts, if you ignore the panel that depicts him as a war correspondent with a Star Wars AT-AT in the background.
One small bit of grisly fact-checking: When Hemingway committed suicide, he tripped both triggers of his shotgun—not just one barrel, as stated in Murder Can Be Fun.
Also in this issue: Jayne Mansfield, Andy Warhol, Bob Crane and Brandon Lee.
Glory #30 (2012)
Hemingway shoots at a caped villain along Parisian rooftops in a prologue story “Fantomas: L’Affaire La ‘Glory’!”—illustrated by Roman Muradov, best known for his work in the New Yorker and the New York Times. It’s not the only time Hemingway is a touchstone in Muradov’s work (see next entry).
The title character, Glory, is Rob Liefeld’s Wonder Woman-esque warrior demoness, which explains why she spans decades. Writer Joe Keatinge took over the character in a later incarnation, adding a backstory with Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Hemingway.
“He’s my favorite author, so that’s where it came from. I wrote this whole history no one is every going to see, including Glory meeting Hemingway in Spain,” says Keatinge. “I just love the way he writes. There’s no bullshit…it’s all very direct, all very to the point.”
In the story, as Glory cradles her prey in a headlock, Hemingway compliments her on the collar.
“You flatter me too much, Ernest! I couldn’t have captured him alone!” she says. “We may be the lost generation, but we can accomplish great things now that we’ve found each other.”
kuš! #22 (2015)
Hemingway shows up again, although indirectly, in Roman Muradov’s work in the “Fashion” issue of kuš!, an international comics art anthology published in Latvia.
“It is actually a sort of tribute to Hemingway, although through a slightly twisted perspective,” Muradov says.
The story is also reprinted in Aujourd’hui, Demain, Hier, a collection of Muradov’s work from Dargaud.
Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood (A World War I Tale) (2014)
Hemingway appears in a single panel of Nathan Hale’s engaging, hyper-researched account of World War I in digestible comic book form. Like in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the political sides are represented as animals, although Hemingway is human, along with Winston Churchill and J.R.R. Tolkien. (As mentioned elsewhere in this piece, Hemingway was a volunteer ambulance driver in WWI.)
WildC.A.T.s Covert Action Teams #41-42 (1992)
Why is the young Hemingway always fair-haired? In this time travel story, the WildC.A.T.s chase their adversaries—The Puritans—across time to keep them from altering it. In these issues, Grifter, Void, Max Cash and company find themselves in WWI, aided by a teenage Hemingway, who drives them around in his Red Cross ambulance.
Across two issues, the creators manage to misspell Ernest (as “Earnest”) and Hemingway (as “Hemmingway”) and put him on the French instead of the Italian front, but time travel challenges enough storytelling conventions, so why not spelling and geography?
Le Vieil Homme et La Mer (The Old Man and the Sea) (2014)
Thierry Murat’s French-language graphic novel of The Old Man and the Sea features Hemingway as a stand-in for the audience. In an ocean-side café, he hears a small boy’s tale about his friend, the old fisherman who struggled in bring in a great marlin.
In the epilogue, Hemingway tells the boy that his story is beautiful. In response, the boy says, “C’est pas une histoire, m’sieur Hemingway. C’est la vie..” [“This is not a story, Mr. Hemingway. It’s life…”]
Hemingway then goes home and writes the first line of the story.
The title character—a humanoid aardvark who starts as a barbarian and becomes a prime minister, a pope, and finally, an outcast—is the vehicle for Sim’s exploration of philosophy, religion and gender politics.
In this story, “Form & Void,” Cerebus treks home with his love, Jaka, and they encounter his idol, author “Ham Ernestway.” This Hemingway avatar depicts the author at the end of his life, nearly subverbal as he fights a losing battle with depression. His icy wife Mary, always at his side, works to protect his legacy.
This spare story arc near the end of Cerebus’ 300-issue run is part comic book, part obsessive notebook of Sim’s Hemingway-related citations and tangents published at the back of each issue. The research Sim conducted for this arc is staggering, and he goes to great lengths to prove that Mary Hemingway kept a handwritten journal from her 1953 safari in Africa that’s since been lost or destroyed in favor of her typed and edited manuscript.
Sim’s references rely heavily on Hemingway’s posthumously published The Garden of Eden and its depiction of gender ambiguity. On one page in Cerebus, an older Hemingway begins to disrobe, revealing women’s lingerie.
The text quotes Hemingway: “Mary is a sort of prince of devils….She always wanted to be a boy and thinks as a boy without ever losing any femininity…She loves me to be her girl, which I love to be – not being absolutely stupid, and also loving to be her girl since I have other jobs in the daytime.”
Sim goes farther than most scholars and biographers in claiming that Hemingway was bisexual.
“If all of the Garden of Eden manuscript pages were ever published, I’m sure Hemingway would become a de facto bi-sexuality poster boy,” Sim says.
Below, a longer Q&A with Sim about Hemingway and Cerebus.
Q: What inspired you to put Hemingway in Cerebus?
A: I took Norman Mailer’s word for it that Hemingway was the Undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the Literary World and decided that I would “do” him as the “capo di tutti capi” [“boss of all bosses”] literary presence in Cerebus—all without having read of word of his fiction. If he’s good enough for Mailer, he’s good enough for me.
Q: Did Hemingway’s writing have any impact on your work?
A: I’m a huge fan of the very early Hemingway, but ultimately decided that most of his work was “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Not much “there” there. The lower-case in our time I would rate the highest [in our time was Hemingway’s short story 1924 collection printed in Paris. His 1925 expanded edition, printed in New York, was upper-cased as In Our Time—ed.]. Some parts of Men Without Women. I’d rate Fitzgerald and Mailer higher than I do Hemingway.
Q: Even though you weren’t a fan of Hemingway’s work, what was your understanding of the author’s popularity during his lifetime? What was his appeal?
A: The adventurer! All the frontiers would be explored in the course of Hemingway’s lifetime and he was one of the last to travel to exotic locations and write about them and his choices were very astute: he made Kilimanjaro, bullfighting, the running of the bulls at Pamplona and the Spanish Civil War, among others, his own
It must’ve been both a great joy and a great burden to be Hemingway, probably both simultaneously, and in a way that mixed very badly with atheism and alcohol. His “black ass” was largely self-inflicted, I think.
Q: Scholars have linked Hemingway’s “black ass” moods, as Hemingway himself put it, to his family’s generational struggle with clinical depression and a legacy of suicide. Since you wrote the “Form & Void” story arc, how have your views on mental illness changed?
A: They haven’t. We all go through periods of “black ass” in our lives and it’s up to us to pull ourselves out of it. Hemingway didn’t, which was a failure on his part. Period.
Q: In the end note for “Form & Void” and in “Tangent,” you wrote that Mary Hemingway murdered her husband, and should be brought up on “first degree murder” charges. It’s been some time since you wrote that—was this hyperbole, or do you believe it to be true? Is the failure to prevent the last of several suicide attempts the same as murder?
A: The fact that she left the keys to the gun chest in plain sight suggests to me that she knew what she was doing and she knew what the result would be. So, it seems to me definitely premeditated. That having been said, it was Hemingway who unlocked the gun chest, loaded the weapon and pulled the trigger(s).
Q: In 2012, you told the Comics Journal: “I think Hemingway was completely bi-sexual...” which is a bolder statement than his biographers have made. What you led to the conclusion that Hemingway was bi-sexual?
A: Two things: first, Mary Hemingway’s Africa diary where it was clear that he was fantasizing that she was a young boy—his “kitten brother”... Second, The Garden of Eden book which he wildly “over-wrote” to the tune of hundreds of pages trying to explain his sexuality in such a way as not to sound gay. He couldn’t do it and gave up trying. If all of The Garden of Eden manuscript pages were ever published, I’m sure Hemingway would become a de facto bi-sexuality poster boy.
He wanted to be all man and all woman and he wanted his wives to be all man and all woman. Mary documented that in her journal, he snooped and read it and had to add his own entry after doing so, knowing that Mary’s journal would be read, in order to “clarify” things for posterity. I think he thought that everyone was like that: all man and all woman and that he was the only one who was honest about it.
Read Part 3, the final installment of this series.
Thanks to Betsy Edgerton and Mark Cirino, my co-author on Hidden Hemingway, who both provided eagle-eyed editing on this piece.
If you know of a Hemingway appearance we didn’t feature, please email: info [at] hiddenhemingway.com.