Cerebus Part VII — Issues #17 to 19

 Cerebus Part VII — Issues #17 to 19
(see also: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI–not to mention Part V
I-and-a-half)

This is where Sim began thinking seriously about narrative structure–although the first hints of it are undeniably jokey:

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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):

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and, 3. fleshing out the details of Lord Gorce’s intrigue against Julius:

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Only to flush it all down the subjective drain with the knock-out drug that Perce feeds Cerebus at the end of issue #19!

Next–“Mindgame”!

(oh yeah–the art is unbelievably good in these issues too!)

Good afternoon friends!
Dave

4 comments

  1. Love these Cerebus pieces! But they are causing me some cognitive dissonance…you see, I only heard about Cerebus a few years ago, after Sim’s misogynistic meltdown, and after reading a little bit of his epic “women as void” rant I swore never to read anything more by Sim…

    But reading your reviews, Cerebus seems so darn interesting!

    Doug

  2. I know exactly how you feel Doug–no one hates Sim’s current political enthusiams more than I do… and yet, I think that, in some ways, this makes Cerebus all the more important… it’s the (26-year long!) record of an artist’s involvement with a world that none of us will ever understand, and–from what I’ve heard, at any rate–the closer he gets to gaining some semblance of his bearings, the more unbearable he becomes…

    at this point in my life, I feel that I am ready to deal with anything that the later Sim might dish out (keeping in mind that he is just as much a character–and a potential subject for tragedy–as Cerebus is!)…but we’ll see about that, in a few months or so!

    thanks for reading!

    Dave

  3. Keep in mind, Doug, that the really rank and vile misogyny of Cerebus doesn’t appear until…gosh, the 60s or 70s, at least. Those first 40-50 issues are really quite good and well-worth reading. If you can’t stand the idea of your money lining Sim’s pockets, then buy the phonebook collections of those issues used. But by all means, get them & read them.

    Dave–I’m looking forward to your comments on the issue which prompted my letter to Cerebus and Dave’s letter to me.

    jess nevins

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