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Cerebus

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Way back 15-20 years ago, I used to read lots of books. One I followed and enjoyed, especially early on, was Cerebus. I quit buying books during Jaka's Story. The other day in the comics shop I saw they had the entire run. Is it worth reading the second half of that epic or did it continue the self absorbed, overly important, trend I recall, or did it resume as the fun romp of aardvark madness?

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Yeah, it continues in that fashion and gets worse as Sim sinks into madness, and then he begins to tell us about his avenging God and the evils of women who ruined our world.

There's some good stories mixed in there, but overall, it becomes far too much of a walk through Sim's misogynist mind.

The ending of Cerebus is exactly what you expect it to be, and what Sim stated it was going to be.

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The final issue is absolutely superb, and a perfect conclusion to a remarkable artistic achievement. Unfortunately, the 100 or so issues which precede it are eminently skippable, with several of the trade collections from the final few years bordering on being flat-out unreadable to all but the truly dedicated.

 

If you never made it past Jaka's Story there are a few more trades worth of thoroughly worthwhile material left before it descends entirely into Sim's less-interesting-than-it-might-sound public dissection of his own insanity (Melmoth is, while thoroughly bleak and depressing, one of the best trades I own, while the lengthy Mothers & Daughters graphic novel which spans the subsequent four trade collections, may not be quite as superb as Church & State, but is still a more-than-worthy effort). But if it was just more of the funny talking-animal-in-a-wacky-world-he-doesn't-understand material of the early issues you were hoping for, you stopped at the right point.

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-Cerebus (the first trade, collecting issues #1-25 - very rough and half-formed, but starts getting fun towards the end. Can be skipped if you're really put off by the comparatively primitive art and writing, but does include some material which sets up the world for later stories).

 

-High Society (issues #26-50 - this is where it starts getting really good)

 

-Church & State I (#52-80)

 

-Church & State II (#81-111)

 

-Jaka's Story (#114-136)

 

-Melmoth (#139-150)

 

-Flight (#151-162)

 

-Women (#163-174 - as you might guess from the title, this is where it really starts getting more than a little dodgy, idealogically-speaking)

 

-Reads (#175-186)

 

-Minds (#187-200)

 

That takes you up to the end of the Mothers & Daughters story (which begins with Flight) - this isn't a bad stopping point, although the next book, Guys, has some entertainment value, being to some extent a brief return to the more action-packed, humorous style of the earlier issues. After that, though, it dives wholeheartedly into hard-hats-only, beware-of-the-loony territory.

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The final issue is absolutely superb, and a perfect conclusion to a remarkable artistic achievement. Unfortunately, the 100 or so issues which precede it are eminently skippable, with several of the trade collections from the final few years bordering on being flat-out unreadable to all but the truly dedicated.

 

If you never made it past Jaka's Story there are a few more trades worth of thoroughly worthwhile material left before it descends entirely into Sim's less-interesting-than-it-might-sound public dissection of his own insanity (Melmoth is, while thoroughly bleak and depressing, one of the best trades I own, while the lengthy Mothers & Daughters graphic novel which spans the subsequent four trade collections, may not be quite as superb as Church & State, but is still a more-than-worthy effort). But if it was just more of the funny talking-animal-in-a-wacky-world-he-doesn't-understand material of the early issues you were hoping for, you stopped at the right point.

 

I should've looked at my Trades before replying.....

I thought Melmoth was before Jaka's Story. Melmoth was my 2nd favourite after Church & State.

Minds was a great Trade, but I didn't care for Women or Reads.

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Cheers guys. How critical to Melmoth is Jaka's Story, which I expect I am about 1/3 of the way through? That sounds like the stuff I'd like, if near as good as Church and State (which I enjoyed muchly).

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Are you getting bored with Jaka's Story? I did too. I thought it went too long.

BUT, it is one of the most impactful endings to a comic....and I say it's the most impactful ending to any Cerebus story. I recommend finishing Jaka's Story.

 

Melmoth is a complete stand-alone story. It springs from the ending of Jaka's Story, but you don't need to know anything that happened beforehand in Cerebus to read it. Oscar Wilde is the main character.

It's sort of like in Sandman when Neil Gaiman wrote a stand-alone story in the middle of the story-arc that dealt with the themes discussed in the wider story-arc, but the plot to the story itself had nothing to do with the wider story-arc and you didn't need to read the wider story-arc to enjoy and understand the one issue.

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Hey, I'm in the middle of Jaka's Story too! I'll finish reading it after my exams.

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I did too, for the most part.

There are some problems with it, but really the whole of Cerebus to me was worth reading, even though I felt it was hit or miss.

I just realize that most people don't want to read through Sim's ramblings, and would've like the series to remain in the same vein as Church and State throughout, which the title definately does not do! There is a huge difference between the mass entertainment value of mature comics of Church and State versus the entertainment value of, say, Latter Days.

Personally, I'd love to recommend everyone read through page after page, for example, of Sim talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I realize it's not to everyone's tastes.

I think it's fair to warn people that personal preferences aside, the title becomes seriously flawed after a certain point.

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Cerebus definitely had some weak points during the final third of the series. Well, "weak" probably isn't the right word. "Off-putting" might work better.

But yeah, I was also glad I took the time and energy to get through the entire series. Even at the points where people said Sim was just off his rocker, I found a lot of worthwhile things still there. And at parts where he maybe got a bit too preachy or pushy with his views, I took them just as that - one man's viewpoint, which I may not agree with, but still find interesting in their own right.

 

It is too bad the entire series couldn't have progressed in the vein of High Society and Church & State, but it's probably an unreal expectation to want that across the span of 6,000 pages and twenty-seven years.

 

But hey, if nothing else, at least the artwork only continued to get better as the years went on. Nobody really gives Dave Sim his dues as a fantastic artist and letterer. And Gerhard's backgrounds also deserve as much praise as possible. I wish they were still doing art duties together on something.

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Cerebus definitely had some weak points during the final third of the series. Well, "weak" probably isn't the right word. "Off-putting" might work better.

 

No, I think 'weak' works. It's not that I have a fundamental problem with him using the comic as a mouthpiece for his off-kilter beliefs, or even abandoning the story entirely to spend whole issues contemplating the life of Ernest Hemingway, but some of that stuff is just bad - the material about Hemingway and his wife in Form And Void, in particular, is both historically-dubious and poorly-written - his prose becomes stodgy and lumpen, and there's a powerful sense of agenda being allowed to overwhelm any artistic or literary point he may have originally been intending.

 

The final few years' worth of material, in which Sim gradually develops his own personal belief system out of a bizarre combination of the Bible, Torah, Quran, and a solid chunk of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL are actually quite interesting, albeit quite, quite mad - I'm particularly fond of his increasing certainty that not only is his the only viable belief system out there, but that anyone who doesn't subscribe to it is somehow deficient and laughably-misguided - even though, in several cases, the articles of faith in question are things he MADE UP OFF THE TOP OF HIS HEAD only a few months earlier.

 

The art and lettering remain truly sublime, of course, and on those grounds if no others I can't bring myself to entirely regret completing the series, but a point is reached well before the end where Sim's mania overcomes the literary merit of his writing to such an extent that it becomes genuinely difficult to read - not in the challenging, "this will be difficult, but if I perservere I will eventually become a better person for having read it" sense of some classic literature (Ulysses is, to my mind, unquestionably the finest novel ever written. I found much of the latter third of the book near-painfully difficult to read on a first attempt, and still challenging even now. I see absolutely no contradiction inherent between those two statements), but in a far more significant, "actually no, this is just bad, willfully-overcomplicated, artificial prose" sense.

 

It does pull back together into a semblance of coherency for the final trade (hell, there's redeemable stuff in Latter Days), but it really is a case of too little, too late. Shame. On one level it's a real pity that Sim-the-man has come to utterly overwhelm Sim-the-visionary-artist/writer in the public consciousness, but he brought it on himself to such an extent that it's difficult to feel much sympathy for him.

 

As always , I refer any and all interested parties to Andrew Rilstone's superb analyses of the subject here (scroll down to "Aardvarks, And Other Comics). His Davewatch entries - representative samples of Sim's prose and beliefs from the final 3-4 years of the title - are also worthy of a quick skim-through, particularly for those who haven't experienced latter-period Sim for themselves - although it's important to be careful when taking anyone's words out of context, they do paint a fairly accurate picture of Sim's apparent mental state while he was in the final stages of Cerebus.

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It's been a while.

King of the unfinished series, Warren Ellis, shared this very interesting perspective (sign up to his email list) about Cerebus.

 

"

On top of that, a whole new chapter of Warren's Brain Hates Him, because for the last two weeks it's been whispering, "when you finish the three shorter comics projects on your whiteboard, why don't you do a really long monthly comics series? Dave Sim finished CEREBUS when he was, what, 46?  You're 50 next month.  Start a huge long series and we'll see if you die before it's done."

CEREBUS is probably the single longest complete novel in the comics form.  Three hundred 20-page chapters, more or less, serialised monthly from 1977 to 2004. For all its size, it's a minor work in the canon, and possibly its most prodigious act of outsider art. It began as a parody book - note that TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES started largely as a Frank Miller parody book -- aimed at the sword and sorcery comics of the time.

Eighteen months or so into publishing, it is written that Sim decided to eat pretty much nothing but LSD for a week or two, suffered a mental break and got sectioned.  He came out of the hospital with a vision of extending CEREBUS into a 300-episode novel. A couple of hundred issues later he developed a, ah, very personal interpretation of certain religious texts and decided women were the root of everything wrong with human culture. He began running long scriptural screeds as part of the work. The book became a sad, confused, toxic mess, as Sim seemed as if he were articulating the precise terms, ideations and experiences of his own schizophrenic break. And what had been an ambitious, famous success story of a book became, in its final issues, something that would probably have been cheaper to fax to its remaining readers.  

The book didn't endure -- because of all that, and because it was extremely hermetic. It was filled with references to other comics, and to comics culture.  Later, as Sim read more widely, it filled with references to literature and writers. It suffers that problem of early post-modern work -- it's mostly about other people and their work, and often seems to be nothing in and of itself.

And yet.  Sim became Will Eisner's greatest descendant, a cartoonist and designer of exquisite skill who never stopped experimenting and innovating.  He was his own letterer, and interpolated the lettering into the art until it became its own storytelling toolbox. I still vividly remember the scene of Cerebus shouting at his priest/handler, his big squared-off speech balloons acting as huge battering rams to drive the poor mewling prelate out the door. Sim's great surge forward was, it's seen, largely because he chose to focus on the characters and compositions, leaving the backgrounds to a superb artist named Gerhard who made this little black-and-white comic the richest artistic experience on the shelves.

And yet.  That is a six thousand page graphic novel, the sum of the protagonist's life and anything up to a third of Sim's own life. Doing TRANSMET for 5 years (1300 pages) and FREAKANGELS for 3 years (900 pages) really kind of feel like enough?  I want to say FROM HELL is only 600 pages or so.  6000 pages is a Serious Thing.

For a story about a talking animal that went entirely off the rails halfway through, it is still, somehow, weirdly, a high bar. Which I realise makes no sense, for something that I would never ever recommend to anybody. I think about it sometimes, and wonder. It cannot be approached or approximated on its own terms, but, creatively, it gives me to think.

++

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ellis never ceases to amuse me.

unless he consumes large amounts of lsd and has a mental breakdown himself, i never see him finish that kind of magnus opum.

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Maybe if they got some goth girl to tie him to a chair and threaten with erotic torture if he manages to get so many pages a day scripted Ellis could produce an opus of that size?

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And you don't have Ellis' fixation with goth girls...

:wink2:

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