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Cerebus: Wrapup

September 14, 2009

I wish I could look back on my adult life, post-1970, and say something more optimistic than “if feminism hadn’t come along I never would have become this isolated, this distanced from human society and I would have felt no need to do three hundred issues of Cerebus”.  That isolation is so central to who I am and has been so critical to whatever progress I have made as an artist, writer, and publisher, I can’t even begin to conceive of where another path might have led me.

Dave Sim, Introduction to Women, Fourth Printing, September 1998

What is there to say about this work of Art (and make no mistake, it is Art)? Reading through it,and looking at the more-often-than-not gorgeous line art, I’m both amazed and frustrated by some of the choices he made.

Can Sim truthfully act surprised that his dissertation of the Books of Moshe (Latter Days), and his attempt to reconcile God with Einstein’s Unified Field theory, however well-reasoned, published within the confines of his mammoth graphic novel featuring a hermaphroditic talking aardvark*, would not make a stir?  Put another way – would Thomas Paine’s Common Sense have made any ripples had the main points been couched in a story about pirates seeking gold in “Death Cove”?

And his decision to publish 300 serialized issues – was there some sort of bargain he made with himself forbidding a change of heart?

Onion: From an artistic standpoint, do you regret the series having come to an end?

Dave Sim: No, not at all. It was pure guesswork on my part back in 1979 as to whether I would have the stamina to write, pencil, ink, letter, tone, and fill the back of a monthly comic book for 26 years. In retrospect, I should’ve said 250 issues.

Interview with Tasha Robinson, The Onion, March 31, 2004

Lacking any editor but himself, there was no one around to rein him in on his excesses (the decision of having his character Cerebus intrude on some really heartfelt dissertations on the artist’s path (Reads), Ernest Hemingway, (Form & Void) F. Scott Fitzgerald (Going Home), and Oscar Wilde (Jaka’s Story & Melmoth) just to name a few off the top of  my head). I also believe that the plan Sim had detailing the story arc of Cerebus was painted with wide brush strokes rather than a detail brush – something he himself confirms in the introduction of Minds

‘Your turn.’

And after that simple two-word dialogue balloon, it was time for complete improvisation.

Dave Sim, Minds (Third Printing, June 1998)

Not that there’s anything wrong with that choice  of  “broad strokes” – but it does make for a meandering plotline – especially if it takes 26 years to finally finish it.

As to two of the major points Sim made in the series run – well, he might as well have been talking to a brick wall when he made his pitch for God in the novel (me being an agnostic).  As for the charge of misogyny – I do not believe that Sim hates women in general (the characterization of Jaka in particular not being demonized, but rather seen as a human being with faults) but does hate feminism as a social movement (the treatment of the Cirinists in Latter Days is a misreading by most as misogynism, substituting Sim’s dislike for the matriarchal society he created with dislike for women in general).

And what does it say when a reader like myself gets bored with the major points Sim tried to get across (again, Latter Days analysis of the Books of Moshe as an example), and skips over to his comments on the work in the back (and often enjoyed them more than the Art itself)?

I give Sim credit though – Steve Ditko chose the Path Less Traveled as well as Sim did.  Sim seems to have a better handle on his Art and Life, as Sim is now working on Glamourpuss, and Ditko has faded from the public eye. Will Sim do the same?

To sum up – do I feel that this series was worth the time to go over in detail enough to write these reviews?  Yes, I do.  I just want to warn off the “casual” reader – this (and I mean the entire series’ run) wasn’t written for you.

* And published in the final issues of that mammoth graphic novel, no less.

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