Archive for the ‘Cerebus’ Category


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.


Review: The Last Day (Cerebus Vol. 16)

September 13, 2009

From Wikipedia:

Second and concluding part of the story-arc Latter Days and the conclusion of the series. In the first 40 pages Cerebus has a dream or vision in which cosmology is seen as a reflection of Theology, complete with explanatory footnotes by Sim. Upon waking Cerebus — now incredibly aged, decrepit, pain-ridden, and mildly senile — makes the laborious trek to his writing desk to write down his new revelation. He then hides the manuscript, and it is implied that nobody will find it for two thousand years (a possible homage to I, Claudius in which the dying Claudius does the same thing).

Cerebus spends most of the rest of the book trying to persuade his chief of security, Walter O’Reilly (named after Corporal Walter (Radar) O’Reilly from the “M*A*S*H  TV series) to admit his son, Shep-Shep, with whom he remembers sharing an idyllic father-son relationship.  However, the Sanctuary is under lockdown due to opposition from a new and even more rabidly “feminist-homosexualist” group led by Shep-Shep’s mother, whom Cerebus refers to as “New Joanne”, which favors such “rights” as pedophilia, zoophilia, juvenile recreational drug use and lesbian motherhood. As a result, social values have undergone a complete breakdown.

Cerebus finally goes to bed despairing of seeing his son again, but Shep-Shep manages to sneak into Cerebus’ room late that night. Their subsequent conversation shatters Cerebus’ last illusions about his son. Shep-Shep has aligned himself with Cerebus’ mother who has been conducting genetic engineering experiments, partly with knowledge gained from Cirin’s earlier experimentation. Cerebus is disgusted and horrified when Shep-Shep shows him the results of one of the experiments and explains his mother’s plans.

As Shep-Shep leaves Cerebus grabs a knife, intending to kill him, but falls out of bed and breaks his neck, alone, unmourned, and unloved, just as the Judge had predicted. His life flashes before his eyes in a series of flashback panels and his ghost sees many of his old friends and enemies waiting for him in “the Light.” Jaka, Bear, and Ham beckon to him, and he eagerly rushes to join them, thinking they are in Heaven, but then he notices the absence of Rick and realises that the Light may in fact be Hell. He calls out to God for help, but is dragged into the Light nonetheless.

I suppose the finish of any creative work of this size and scope is probably going to be a let down – I mean, the lead-up is so momentous that the finish, with nowhere else to go, just…halts. And when that end to the story involves the main character’s death, well, there isn’t any more story is there? (Setting aside the frequency comic book superheroes get killed and resurrected at regular intervals…)

In this book we get that “cosmology & Theology examination” that, despite Sim’s best effort, well, put me to sleep. I tried my best, but no dice. Differing world views and such.

Moving on, we get (as most of the volumes have had) some funny, some serious, and plenty of gorgeous art.

last day

After finishing this undertaking, I have to ask myself: was the story satisfying?  I’d say, yes it was.  I can almost forgive Sim for his transgressions in page layout, dialog, digressions in the story, inserting himself into the narrative, what have you – just to say I’ve read and finished this novel.  Do I think that parts of the novel would’ve worked better as stand-alones? Certainly. Was the choice of the aardvark as protagonist a misstep? Absolutely.

But he completed the task he set for himself, didn’t he?

And, when Shep-Shep reveals what’s in the box through the narrative- pure Waterford, baby. (For an explanation of “waterford”, read this older review:

Now: skipping over to the notes section at the end of the book (which are very interesting reading to me), Sim relates an anecdote about his relationship with his parents ending, due in part to their atheism and self-destructive behavior.  You’ll have to read his accounting as to how he does so – he even asks a couple of times in the text, “Are you sure you want to stick around and watch this?”, either addressing himself at the time or addressing the reader.

All of us eventually have to make a break from our parents, physically and/or emotionally, but the way Sim did it was chilling to read.

As an aside: Sim often refers to himself as “crazy” or “insane” – maybe he shouldn’t write stuff like this in the notes…

Either coincidentaly or synchronistically, as I was deliberating (questions about his mother’s health) internally,  the SARS breakout in Toronto occurred and people started dropping like flies in Toronto’s “medical churches”.  Again, I wasn’t unduly troubled. The crisis had originated in China and I had assumed that casualties were mostly, if not exclusively, among the faithless. (Emphasis mine – Ed.)

Dave Sim, pg. 247, The Last Day, second printing, June 2004

Note the phraseology – not “the Chinese”, but “the faithless”. In a mostly-secular society, you are going to be called crazy if you ascribe belief in a Supreme Being as being the reason your nationality is being affected by disease.


Review: Latter Days (Cerebus Vol. 15)

September 8, 2009

latter day 1

Sim giving us plenty of funny in the beginning of the volume, ’cause he knows he’s going to hit us with plenty of text later on…

From Wikipedia:

First part of the story-arc Latter Days. After a prodigious leap in time over two issues, Cerebus returns from the north intent on provoking the Cirinists into killing him. Instead, he is captured by a trio of characters based on the Three Stooges, who await a religious revelation from him. While Cerebus was in the north, a religious movement developed out of the teachings of Rick and his writings about Cerebus. Once Cerebus supplies the required revelation, he inspires a successful anti-Cirinist rebellion and a subsequent reordering of society. Much of the second half of this chapter consists of Cerebus giving a highly idiosyncratic analysis of the Torah. Lasting nearly a year (in publishing terms), this section, called “Chasing YHWH” (presumably a reference to the Kevin Smith film Chasing Amy) was presented almost entirely in text format, with minimal art. This story arc is unusual in that disembodied thought balloons give the impression that Cerebus is speaking directly to the reader at times. It is revealed in the last issue of the arc that Cerebus has been talking to a woman reporter who bears a striking resemblance to Jaka. He eventually falls in love with the woman and marries her.

Do I ever tire of making fun of the fact Cerebus has no lower jaw?  No.  No I don’t.

latter day 2

Our digression de jure – backstory into the Three Stooges.  Interesting enough to make me want to sit down and watch the Curly-era Stooge shorts. (Shemp was the original 3rd Stooge? Get outta here!)

Not to sound redundant, but – this should not have been in the book to begin with.  If you want to give tribute to them, fine, but don’t bore the reader with extraneous (if still interesting on its own) detail.  It’s like sitting down with a Spider-Man comic and half of the issue is taken up with the history of the Daily Bugle leading up to the day J. Jonah takes over publishing: fine detail work there, but not the main even, if you know what I mean…

And look! It only took until the penultimate volume of the series figure out how to do a good long time passed…

latter day 3 

and still more – less-headache inducing text pages…

 latter day 4

And for the Sim Quote of the Day…(referring to European film here)

Of course – as is something of a syndrome for those who become aficionados of international culture – not knowing the language allows you to imagine a much more interesting film than the one you’re watching.

{Manga fans (I would say anime  fans as well – Ed.) are a good example.  If the translations are accurate, there have to be a lot of fans of Japanese comics scratching their heads and going, “That’s what this one was about?” In the same vein, I remember Kevin Eastman admitting that that happens a lot with European material that he purchases and has translated for Heavy Metal magazine – the stories are a lot more interesting to look at than they turn out to be in terms of actual content.}

Dave Sim, Notes on Latter Days, pg. 500

As far as the text bits, analysing the Books of Moshe…if you’re into that kind of thing, go for it.


Review: Form & Void (Cerebus Vol. 14)

September 4, 2009

In the home stretch now – I don’t expect any of these last reviews to be very wordy at all, as much of what I’ve already written still applies, and having wrestled with this graphic novel for a good long time.

From Wikipedia:

Second and concluding part of the story-arc Going Home. Cerebus and Jaka continue their journey towards Sand Hills Creek, in the company of Ham and Mary Ernestway, characters based upon Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary. On the trip, Mary tells them about some of her and Ham’s journeys (this material is based on Mary Hemingway’s journals about Ernest’s last African safaris before his death).

Form & void 2

Ham kills himself, and Cerebus flees in panic, taking Jaka with him. They discover that they have been traveling in circles without making any significant progress toward Sand Hills Creek, and nearly die in a blizzard.

Form & void 3

They finally arrive in Sand Hills Creek only to find that Cerebus’ parents are dead and the rest of the community has shunned Cerebus for his perceived abandonment of his family. Cerebus drives Jaka away, blaming her for keeping him away too long.

Form & void 4

I’ve never read Hemingway – perhaps I should count myself lucky.

Annnoying bit number umpty-dozen: even when I feel that Sim is digressing from what I think the main plot should be, he always gives me something interesting in return. Hard to get mad at him when he does that.

Like: the charge of being a “typist” that Sim levels at Hemingway – I felt the same way while I attempted to read The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  After a bit, I was reduced to skimming the novel for something of interest to me (a good sex scene, some violence, something).  I think it was the short declarative sentences, coupled with McCarthy’s lack of capitalization skills that put me off that novel.  Sounds like Sim had the same sort of time with Hemingway, although, back then, proper capitalization was  still in vogue.

And (yes, I’m inserting a spoiler, sue me) the revelation that both Hemingway and his wife ate lion meat on that last safari they took.


Form & void 1

Funniest bit in this volume – Sim on the “talent” of Picasso in his Cubism phase:

Let’s say someone is holding a gun to your head and he tells you that you have to do an exact copy of one of these paintings in a week.  And one of the paintings is a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover and one of the paintings is a Picasso.  It does not matter which one, as long as the Picasso is one of the ones that is just a geometric patchwork of painted shapes. So any Picasso from Cubism onward. The Rockwell can be any Saturday Evening Post cover. Now, with a gun at your head and your life on the line, which one are you going to copy?  Exactly.  Why?  Because pretty much anybody can do it.

Dave Sim, Form & Void, Third Printing, November 2001



Review: Going Home (Cerebus Vol. 13)

August 28, 2009

From Wikipedia:

First part of the story-arc Going Home. Cerebus and Jaka travel across land, then on a river boat. Cerebus is eager to make as much time as possible, as he fears being trapped in the mountains near Sand Hills Creek by winter, but instead he indulges Jaka’s desire for shopping and public appearances.

going home 1

(We also get a good look at Cerebus’ jawless mouth. Priceless!)

Along the way, they encounter veiled hostility from the Cirinists. Cerebus and Jaka’s relationship begins to show signs of deterioration, and Jaka is almost tempted away by F. Stop Kennedy (a fictionalised F. Scott Fitzgerald), a writer who has accompanied them on their river boat.

Frustrating, that’s what it is. The Fall and the River part of this volume should have been self-contained on its own, rather than shoehorned into the greater Cerebus story arc. Gorgeous art, well-written, but in my opinion, another digression…

going home 2

At least here, we get some depictions of the military (in earlier volumes, Sim would allude to divisions of pikemen or some such, but would never illustrate them…)

going home 3


Review: Rick’s Story (Cerebus Vol. 12)

August 24, 2009

From Wikipedia:

Eventually Jaka’s ex-husband Rick arrives at the bar. He has significantly aged, become a heavy drinker (he could barely tolerate alcohol in Jaka’s Story), and it is gradually revealed that the mental and emotional scars from the events at the end of Jaka’s Story have left him mildly insane. Rick is working on a book about his life, which gradually becomes a religious work in which Cerebus is a holy figure and Rick his follower. Joanne returns and taunts Cerebus by courting Rick. At the end of the book, Rick departs, for reasons not entirely clear, and tells Cerebus that he will see Rick only once more in his life. After Rick has left, Jaka shows up at the bar, and she and Cerebus depart together, heading for Sand Hills Creek.

Yet another interesting digression from the “main” plot line.  Look – even Sim realizes that the story line might be getting too esoteric for the average reader…

Ricks 3

And, finally, the “jump the shark” moment for me – Sim puts himself graphically into the narrative…

Ricks 2

And more fantasy elements as well, which dropped me right out of the narrative…

Ricks 4

Can Sim recover me with some sort of Hail Mary Pass through the last volumes of the narrative? Stay Tuned…

Plus – I’ve been reading ahead (on Going Home right now) and found this passage in the notes at the back…

Part of my ongoing experiment to incorporate text pieces into a comic book story so that the reader actually reads them instead of skipping over them…”Oh shit. Do I really have to read all THIS?”…Yes, Dave, you have to read all one page of it.

Chasing Scott (notes on Fall & The River, Going Home, third printing August 2000)

The only problem being – there’s more than just one page of it.

Ricks 1

When adding text like this (I would say), don’t go in for lengthy passages like this, especially if they’re in faux-King James or what have you) and distill the essence down to the really important stuff. Just because you have 6000 pages to fill doesn’t mean that you have to bore the reader.  Especially when you’re using this as a plot point for the rest of the story…


Review: Guys (Cerebus Vol. 11)

August 13, 2009

From Wikipedia:

Cerebus hangs out in and eventually becomes bartender in one of the Cirinist’s bars where “degenerate” men are essentially quarantined from the female citizens. Described in the trade paperback’s introduction as based on a bar that Sim frequented during a near-alcoholic stint between relationships, the series features various parodic characters who come and go while Cerebus remains stationary. Cerebus begins a somewhat reluctant relationship with a woman named Joanne, who was first introduced in one of the possible futures with Jaka that “Dave” showed Cerebus in Minds. Enjoyed by a number of fans as a return to the “earlier, funnier” Cerebus.

Almost a Cheers episode transported to Estarcion – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Guys 3

Couple of guest appearances (I think) by other artists as well – I think this is Don Simpson…

Guys 1

The character incidentals would work well in another story, say, in present day Ontario – so why weren’t they set there, with only humans as characters, instead of the funny animal aardvark comic?

Aside from another place where the story should have been divorced from Cerebus-world entirely, Sim shows off (again) the mastery he has with caricature and dialog…

Guys 2

It’s weird…having to rage impotently at the Artist way, way after the fact like this, but then, there it is.

ADDED BONUS: The Cerebus Wiki…