Get on the (Cere)Bus!
(Part I: issues #1-3)
Okay! Time for me to test my stamina, and my conviction that Cerebus is the Pierre; or, the Ambiguities of our era…
I don’t say that I’m going to get this whole mother read in anything like record time–but I will be keeping a record of the time that I do spend on it!
It begins as a parody (a mode I generally despise)–of a genre (sword n’ sorcery) I don’t give a fuck about. No way would I have bought Cerebus #1 off of the stands, if I’d been tall enough to reach for it, back in 1977. Sim himself describes these early efforts as mere Smith(Barry Windsor-, that is)-forgeries. Well, there’s a bit more to ’em than that. But not much. The most interesting elements of the first two issues, for me, are the text pieces–one at the front (by publisher Denise Loubert), and one at the back (yes! the lettercol, by Dave and–in issue #2, at least–various interlocutors)… Not to mention the pleasurable bonus of Sim’s Swords of Cerebus intros., which were included, along with all of the aformentioned editorial material, in the wonderful Cerebus Bi-Weekly reprints that emerged, in the late eighties, just in time to get me up to speed on the story! Anyway, here’s the author himself, on the genesis of the book:
How can you not love that? Oh the humility! The joyous uncertainty of it all! Clearly, this guy already has scruples against pandering to the market–but he is groping for a route to the hearts and minds of its constituents. So you take some stuff that people recognize–barbarians, wizards, “funny animal” protagonists–and you start re-inventing the alphabet, one familiar letter–and pen line–at a time, in the hopes that, eventually, you and your audience are going to slip into a passionate correspondence, without ever quite knowing how it happened.
My favourite things in the story proper are those elements which seep in from yet another pop cultural stream that was destined to play an increasingly large role in furnishing the stuff that Sim’s dream-world is made of–old Hollywood. So we get the “freak-out” scene, in which our little gray friend’s mind is wallpapered across a void generated by poppies, as their evil progenitor gloats in his corner of the page… Yes! It’s The Wizard of Oz! (mixed with Murder, My Sweet) And is there any doubt how Cerebus “the small (but certainly not meek!)” will defeat the Wizard? Of course–by stumbling past the illusion into the decrepit reality (although the Aardvark achieves this without any assistance from a Toto–you might say that he is his own Toto…) Our hero is also a little more bloodthirsty than Dorothy was, and, instead of tsking his Professor Marvel, he runs him through! And then there’s the finale, in which the macguffin of the piece–the “flame jewel”–is revealed to have been a walnut, traveling incognito… Cerebus takes his cash from the small-timers who paid him to retrieve the object, and he might just as well have said: “you got your dingus–it’s your hard luck, not mine, it wasn’t what you wanted.” Of course, Cerebus has no police, and no Brigid O’Shaughnessy (not yet!) to deal with–and so he is free to ride off and spend his earnings…
You don’t have to dip very far beneath the “surface” of the second issue to discover that Sim’s famous gender-troubles were always a part of his make-up. “Captive in Boreala” builds toward a climactic struggle between the “earth-pig” and a particularly nasty succubus, bent upon stealing his mind! ‘Nuff said, right? And the only thing that saves the poor creature is the fact that he is, somehow, so constituted as to be immune to the power of this “soul-sucking jerk”… It’s kind of remarkable, actually–Cerebus doesn’t do anything to win this fight. There is no panel-straining scene of the genus “must find final reserve of strength” or “must rely upon the power of love”… he merely exists through it, overpowering the monster by virtue of his ontological necessity to the storyline! The scene prompts us (and, no doubt, Sim himself) to ask the question that the next 298 issues attempt to answer–not “what will Cerebus do next?”, but “what is Cerebus?” Character is destiny.
One thing he is, is an unsentimental little fucker:
or, at least, so it would seem…
Issue #3 (“Song of Red Sophia”) is much funnier–although, here again, the ominous ghosts of gender-political future darken some of the brightest gags…especially Cerebus’ executive decision re: the best way to “torture” a man–i.e. force him to marry Sophia (who, it must be owned, is very annoying indeed!)… “Oh! how many torments lie in the small circle of a wedding ring.” Well, at this point, it’s merely anecdotal evidence of Sim’s crypto-misogyny–one characterization does not an ideology make–but, you know, with hindsight you can see plenty…
Oh yeah–and there’s a prescient letter from a guy named Terry Hamilton at the back of this issue. He reminds Sim that: “The advantage of funny animal characters is their flexibility. They can fit into any format.” No kidding! More to the point: any format can be fitted to them–as the next 25 years’ worth of stories will demonstrate…even if Robert Fiore (in that Cerebus roundtable issue of TCJ) thinks that Sim made a mistake by tethering his imagination to the “giant squirrel”… I could not possibly disagree more strongly with that statement! In Simian parlance, it’s the fantasy/fantasy that matters… the various “realities” that enshroud it are mere shades of the ineffable… That “giant squirrel” is Sim’s imagination–and, I suppose, his “soul” too!
Good Night Friends!