This is where Sim began thinking seriously about narrative structure–although the first hints of it are undeniably jokey:
Lord Julius’ last-panel declaration irritated certain parties in the lettercol (including T.M. Maple). The reaction is of a piece with other complaints about the instability of Estarcion–as a fictional construct–that began to surface at this time. One reader laments the epidemic of anamundisms (i.e. “condominiums for Tarim”) that have overtaken the series–to which Sim replies “my aardvark for a dictionary!” (and goes right on violating every law of “dramatic unity”)… I’m glad he did so, of course–but the growing confusion, on the part of these readers, is also completely understandable. In fact–their bewilderment is a huge part of the story! If Sim hadn’t received those particular letters, he would’ve had to make them up…
Here we are, on the verge of “Mind Game” itself (that’s issue #20 folks!)–and the author of Cerebus was fucking with his audience big time! The early issues of the series made a cartographic pact with fantasy-lovers of the Tolkien persuasion (“want to escape into my head?”–the maps seem to say–“right then! here’s the route”); later on (in issue #20 itself, in fact!), there would be pseudo-scholarly pieces at the back of the books on “The Aardvarkian Age” (written by Deni’s brother Michael). Sim was playing chicken with “world-building”–and it’s no surprise that readers thought they were in for something completely different from what they got. Bruce Baugh (in this piece), gives an excellent account of the disenchantment occasioned by the swerve:
The one that I most noticed at the time was a certain failure of worldbuilding: it’s very difficult to believe that that Iest is really downriver from the stuff seen in Boreala or, for that matter, Iest’s early apparances. It went from generic medieval-ish fantasy to something distinctly more Restoration/early modern. Now, consistency is not the be-all and end-all of an engrossing narrative. But the tone doesn’t quite cohere: there’s the sort of detail and even number-crunching that an essentially serious story about corrupt urban politics would call for, mixed in with ongoing sword-and-sorcery parody, and early appearances of the master story. I thought at the time, and much more so during Church & State, that Sim would have been better served by starting up a separate series with a higher-tech, more culturally developed world for those sorts of stories rather than trying to bolt them onto the Aardvarkian Age.
I couldn’t disagree more strongly, of course (for reasons that I go into here). I have no interest in the aspiration toward ideal lab conditions that world builders strive for. Storytelling is a kind of magic–not a science–and it isn’t magic if it explains everything. So bring on the anamundisms! Would you prefer the mundane? Those eighties cheeseballs had it right–we are the world… Character is destiny–but character is setting too!
All of this is just to say that I love the fact that Sim spends all of this time
1. setting things up for a massive confrontation between the T’Gitan horde and Lord Julius’ armies;
2. creating superfluously brilliant characters like Gudre, Stromm, and Krull ( a figure that offers another commentary upon self-interested narrative–in a world without God, all we’ve got are our stories, and we all try to play God with–and, often, in!–those):
and, 3. fleshing out the details of Lord Gorce’s intrigue against Julius:
Only to flush it all down the subjective drain with the knock-out drug that Perce feeds Cerebus at the end of issue #19!
(oh yeah–the art is unbelievably good in these issues too!)
Good afternoon friends!