Why was I yammering about “escapism” yesterday when there’s more Cerebus to discuss?

Steven Wintle, at Flat Earth responds to my musing on the subject of Cerebus & music! I think Steven brings up some really good points, for example (in reference to the creative artist’s “openness to Otherness”):

It is the music listener who is plugging those channels. I’m not arguing that listening to music cannot be enlightening, but how is listening to music to the exclusion of your own immediate environment any more worthy? When I draw in “silence” I can hear the cats purr, the wind blow, the ghostly conversations whispering through the hallways, all more creatively stimulating, less blatantly intrusive and more pleasantly random than a hi-fi with an automatic CD changer.

Makes a lot of sense, no? Also, on a purely technical level, I can see that musical rhythm might disrupt an artist at the board… I have no experience in that area, and it stands to reason that an artform that actually requires manual dexterity would make different demands upon its adepts than would a purely abstract form like writing. We’ve had some discussion along these lines in the CJ thread I started the other day

However, on the larger issue of whether Sim became a prisoner of his own vision–well, I think we’re all pretty much in agreement (and I’m not so sure that it’s a bad thing either–I mean, I think the same thing happened to Melville, while he was writing Pierre, and that’s one of the most incredible novels I’ve ever read!)… I was just rooting around for ways to discuss it, and I was struck by the fact that Sim seemed to be using the vision/hearing metaphor in exactly the same way that I tend to–in support of a project that is diametrically opposed in spirit to my Frank O’Hara-style “aesthetic of interruption”. In my opinion, “coherent narratives” are always founded upon neurosis–but I’ve come to see that, for this very reason, the great attempts to achieve “integrity through storytelling” are all the more worthy of our attention, if we have any interest at all in human frailty! (unfortunately for me, this realization comes about 13 years too late, and now I’m gonna have to track down all of those issues I missed!)

I think we should all encourage Steven to post some of the stuff he alludes to on the subject of comics as a “mute” medium…as a person who writes more about voices and sounds than anything else, I can tell you, I’m very interested! (also, I just love “meta” issues like this!) Okay, I’d better go–but I haven’t forgotten my promise to deliver the goods on Mars, Steven! I’m just waiting for the right moment!

Oh, yes–I’m just curious everyone:1. how many of you are still reading Cerebus? (or, on the other hand, never read it in the first place) 2.If you gave it up, when did you stop, and why? 3.And are any of you as eager to read the whole thing as I am, now that it’s done? It would be great if people could answer these questions–you could do it point-form!

Good night friends!



  1. I gave up about mid-way through Reads when I couldn’t tell the difference between the text and the editorial column. Not thematically – typographically. The work lost all boundaries, and not in an interesting way. Put on top of that Sim’s deeply repulsive ideology, and I had better things to do with my money – like pay the rent & put food in my stomach.

  2. For me, the series went off track exactly at issue 185 (the issue where the controversial Viktor Davis narrative began). Mothers & Daughters had been incredible up to that point and I was really enjoying the prose passages concerning Victor [Something]. I’d already made a 185 issue commitment so I gave him the benefit of the doubt for a long time after that. The story proper centering around the rising of Cirin and Cerebus into space was still beautifully dramatic and involving but then there were those irritating text sections. Really, the Viktor Davis monologues were the beginning of the deus ex machina that appeared as the climax of Mothers & Daughters. Was that the problem I had with the stort, the introduction of the Author into the text, the self-awareness of the narrative? No, what I object to is just how…badly it was executed, and increasingly Sim’s tone. If I’m going to read a first-person narrative I have to be interested in the character and/or the execution. It was really my past appreciation for Dave Sim, whose personal voice we’d been hearing for years in the letters from the president and letters pages that let me have enough faith to stay through what I imagined was a bad patch. Certainly, many comic writers attempting straight prose, are not quite as masterful prose stylists as they are in conceiving imagery, and Sim is definitely in that group. There are good points later in the series but my issue is really less about how weird his politics are than about how dully they’re presented. I like best brief moments in Guys where the political world outside of the bar is actually shown instead of explained. His mastery of the comic(s) page doesn’t waiver throughout the series, but the story drifts drifts drifts into opaque obscurity.

  3. issue 200 was the first issue of the series that i bought as it came out; everything else i’d been buying from issue 15 up in the back issue section. i had all of the swords of cerebus and all of the issues–none of the trades. as the series progressed i found myself picking it up less and less frequently. i’d buy the most recents issues eventually, but sometimes two or three months would go by. i started waiting until i could get them for half price. the last one i bought was 276. this wednesday i went to jim hanley’s universe and looked through issue 300 and DID NOT BUY IT. 100 issues ago when i started buying the series monthly i could not possibly have imagined this scenario. the benefit of the individual issues was always the sense of actual communication with the author behind the scenes, the insight into how the work was produced, the comics industry, the community of self-publishers, the thoughts of other fans. the letters page hasn’t run for a long time now and this is telling–he hasn’t been interested in real communication for quite a while. while the comic may be an explication of his thoughts and ideas, it’s not a political tract designed to persuade, it’s just a rant into the darkness.

  4. David, I agree that inward-turning can produce great work. It’s a question of what the vision is and what you do with it, rather than the fact of pursuit.

    As for music…I’d guess that about half of the professional writers I know have music on often or constantly while working, a quarter or a bit less never have it on while working, and the rest have changing preferences. I don’t know enough professional artists to form any conclusions about whether it varies with them, though I suspect not. The range of music is interesting, too, and nearly every writer I know has a strong opinion about what works or doesn’t for them, and it’s all different. Here’s X who only uses instrumentals, and Y who needs vocals for best creativity, and A is into classical or jazz while B is into noise and electronica…my suspicion is that the human brain is rigged to trigger the particular kind of concentration and connection-making from which creativity rises, but that the nature of the triggers is set during development, probably both before and after birth, so that someone who really knew the underlying chemistry of it could read biography in the sounds we work to.

  5. thanks guys–more! more!

    Now that this compulsion has got a hold of me, I’m gonna have to go ahead and find out for myself, but I want to be as prepared as possible–I’m not fearful of spoilers or anything like that!


  6. thanks guys–more! more!

    Now that this compulsion has got a hold of me, I’m gonna have to go ahead and find out for myself–no matter what! But I want to be as prepared as possible–& I’m not fearful of spoilers or anything like that!


  7. 1. I never stopped reading Cerebus, up until the final issue (which I also picked up at Jim Hanley’s). I started, sort of with M&D: 12 and continuously after M&D: 21. 2. Yes, Sim got a bit “off the rails” with Reads, but, well, I don’t agree with everything he’s said, but I fundamentally agree that there is a severe and damaging rift between emotion and reason in our modern society. I just can’t manage to ascribe one or the other to any particular gender.
    3. But, that being said, I am hugely excited to read the entire whole thing all over again. At first I was going to start with, naturally, the first phone book. But then I wanted to read all the individual issues, but I don’t have all the individual issues. But, I really wanted to read Cerebus, ALL of it, so I decided that the best place to start would be the first issue of Women, since that’s the first storyline with no gaps in collection. So, that’s where I’m at. Unless I wake up one morning and just plow through the phone books. At some point I’ll be doing both Phone Books and individual issues. I’ll probably be writing about it over in my neck of the woods at some point.


  8. definitely the worst spots of the last hundred issues, are rick’s story and the introduction of that faux-authentic sciptural spelling and endless enumerated redundancy. if one plans on starting with mothers & daughters, um… don’t. it’s really the climax of the series and resonates wonderfully with the entire work, returning to loose ends (often from very early in the series) and using them to add signifcance to the events which is entirely effective. until… but sim’s conclusions are often disappointing…the end of church & state for example, on the moon. because sim believes so strongly on rationality he definitely overelaborates his metaphysical conclusions. overelaborates, over-verbalizes, over-explicates. these may not even be real words. but he feels the need to have this entirely cohesive world-view to reveal to the reader at the climax (on the moon, viktor davis, as himself at the end of minds, the last two hundred issues) and this actually removes a feeling of truth from the narrative, especially as the conclusion are often unrelated to what we are actually presented with in the text. their specifity invites debate but there is rarely any debate. the work becomes a vehicle for sim’s conclusions, not an exploration of his premises, which makes for not-a-fun time. much better authors suffer from the same thing (see umberto eco, who, loves hundred page lists of mental connections which are only significant because he already knows the facts and are often tedious to readers who are being presented with the facts (and so many of them!) just then, in the context of eco’s [character’s] internal processes, without time to absorb them. sim presents less information but suffers from the same weakness of just wanting to explain what he’s already figured out without showing the figuring out and leaving the reader completely outside of the human and/or dynamic element of the process. the last hundred issues are just…cold. but i’ll still wait for the last trade to come out and then i’ll read them all again and hope to get more out of it.

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