Friday, April 20, 2007

Cerebus by Dave Sim


Cerebus by Dave Sim is certainly one of the most remarkable comics ever created. This is obvious even from mere numerical facts:
Cerebus was:
1) 300 issues
2) 6,000 pages
3) 27 years in the making
4) One long story
5) highly seminal
6) drawn and written by one man
7) was always published on time

...Number six is only partly true: for most of the run, Writer/artist Dave Sim was aided by superb background artist Gerhard. His amazing, detailed pen-art background are unsurpassed.

Reading Cerebus is sometimes a frustrating experience though. Not really because of much variance in quality (though obviously there has to be that too), but because of the variance in style. Dave Sim was/is a fabulous humorist and fantast, but in some stretches, especially in the last 100 issues (!!) he tended to veer into long-winded philosophical and religious text narratives, only interspersed with a few drawings. To make it worse, some of those passages had tiny, tiny, tiny text and were near-impossible to read in my opinion (both due to type size and content). And some of them were philosophically, er, on the edge, and have been called misogynist.

Dave Sim says he has no long term friends. It seems that about half way into making Cerebus, reading the bible for research, he got religion big time, and he now has his own highly idiosyncratic mixture of Christianity and Islam, probably mixed with other stuff too, and he prays ritualistically several times a day at set times. He is easy to get at, he will answer his phones and he has answered several of my letters over the years. But in later years it is near-impossible to talk about anything without somehow touching on an issue he has problems with and being called a "feminist", which he does not mean as a compliment. Dave Sim says he is literally the last real male on the planet, the rest are male feminists, living under the thumb of "The Void" as he calls the feminine side of the universe. He is a minority of one, and the only one who really sees the truth. Heady stuff.

But Cerebus is still a unique work, and I'm sure nobody will ever equal it. It is bizarre, beautiful, fascinating, and often fall-over funny. Just one thing would make it worth reading: the caricatures. Sim made the most amazing caricatures of popular heroes as well as real people like Groucho Marx and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The drawings and the speech are unmatched in skill and hilarity.

Note: if you want to try it, I recommend starting with the second volume ("phone books" is the official name for these bricks), called "High Society". Dave Sim really hit his stride in this one, and Gerhard joined him to improve the art no end.

Update:
Steve B. helps out:
1) He wasn't always on time, but he always caught up. He fell several months behind at one point, then shipped issues every three weeks for a year or so, so the cover dates all *look* like he published them all on time.

2) There's no Gerhard art in "High Society." That's all Dave. Gerhard joined with issue #65, which is about halfway through the first volume of "Church & State."

Otherwise, nice summation. Dave's strange version of Islam is more influenced by Judaism than Christianity, I think, though he does accept the Scriptures of all three as the Holy Word of God -- but he has a pretty weird take on just what that all means, starting with the fact that the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran are all part of an ongoing dialogue between God and YHWH (which is not God's Ineffable Name but one of God's creations who thinks She's God -- it's a looooong story). He also thinks there were two different Jesuses (Jesus's?), neither of which was truly the Son of God.

But the comic book sure is good.

10 comments:

Cerebral Pascal said...

..."without somehow touching on an issue he has problems with and being called a "feminist", which he does not mean as a compliment."

Reminds me of the fate of American word "liberal".
Interestingly, "liberalism" is usually understood (at least in France) as wild "modern" capitalism, which is usually associated with the right wing of Politics. Go figure...

Perhaps it's just me, and I suck at understanding Politics? ;-)

fallen darkness said...

the rest are male feminists, living under the thumb of "The Void" as he calls the feminine side of the universe.

when america forced the women into factory work our society here took a nose-dive. wages fell, family values went out the door, hell was unleashed.
it has changed all for the worse. twisted and tainted by our own people. we have only ourselves to blame. at least here in the states.

Perhaps it's just me, and I suck at understanding Politics? ;-)

it's not just you pascull, but even they don't understand one another.

ttl said...

You possess and have read all 300 books?

The guy reminds me of Kari Suomalainen, our controversial cartoonist, whose famous motto was: "I'd rather be alone and right, than part of a group and wrong." Come to think of it, he also thought pretty much everyone else was a wussy.

Maybe this is a thing in general with the cartoonists/comic artists? Hergé wasn't exactly a conformist either.

eolake said...

I have most of the single issues (22 pages each), and all of the collections. And I've read it all (except a few of the very late issues with microscopic text pontificating on religion).

Steve B. said...

A couple of corrections:

1) He wasn't always on time, but he always caught up. He fell several months behind at one point, then shipped issues every three weeks for a year or so, so the cover dates all *look* like he published them all on time.

2) There's no Gerhard art in "High Society." That's all Dave. Gerhard joined with issue #65, which is about halfway through the first volume of "Church & State."

Otherwise, nice summation. Dave's strange version of Islam is more influenced by Judaism than Christianity, I think, though he does accept the Scriptures of all three as the Holy Word of God -- but he has a pretty weird take on just what that all means, starting with the fact that the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Koran are all part of an ongoing dialogue between God and YHWH (which is not God's Ineffable Name but one of God's creations who thinks She's God -- it's a looooong story). He also thinks there were two different Jesuses (Jesus's?), neither of which was truly the Son of God.

But the comic book sure is good.

eolake said...

Thank you much.

The Gospel of Pascal said...

..."an ongoing dialogue between God and YHWH (which is not God's Ineffable Name but one of God's creations who thinks She's God -- it's a looooong story)."

I'll bet it is!!!
This guy should write science-fiction. ;-)


"He also thinks there were two different Jesuses (Jesus's?), neither of which was truly the Son of God."

In the Eighties, I read a story about the twin sister of Jesus. It seems there was a slight unexpected development the night of the Nativity, and to make things worse, the girl was born first!
As the apocryphal legend goes, God felt the secular scenario shouldn't be re-written at such a late stage, so the girl was entrusted to the flow of a river in her floating crib under the protection of angels. She was then found and adopted by a good fisherman's family. She was so full of personality, that there's little doubt who the feminists descend from...
A pity the story never reveals the Holy Sister's name.

Anonymous said...

He also thinks there were two different Jesuses (Jesus's?), neither of which was truly the Son of God.

Foolish soul, deceived and twisted in the faith. May God have mercy upon your misguided thoughts.

Jesus H. Christ, the 0ne & 0nly, said...

Fear not my son, my Father's mercy is infinite.

Dear brother Anonymous, your name shall be praised for generations to come. You speak such delightful wisdom, my angels are shedding tears of joy. I bless you thrice.

The Mutt said...

Hey Jesus, if your Dad's mercy is infinite, why is Hell eternal?