Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Cerebus The Aardvark - An Introduction

"Cerebus, as if I need to say so, is still to comic books what Hydrogen is to the Periodic Table." - Alan Moore speaking when Cerebus was around 70% complete.

It's been ten years now since Canadian artist and writer Dave Sim's Cerebus project published it's final issue.  It seems only right that I cover this series first, as it's one I embraced during my first period of loving comics in the 80's, but didn't get around to finishing until my second (and current) period of loving comics.  The comic, despite it's lengthy run is still considered somewhat obscure by mainstream standards, poke around the net about it now and it seems roughly four general things are known about it: 

One:  That is ran for a very long time and Dave Sim was responsible for every single issue.  Two:  That it went from a light and funny book, to a darker and more serious one.  Three:  That it's vastly misogynistic and Four:  That Mr. Sim "lost his mind" towards the end.  Well, obviously I'll be covering these in the reviews in more detail as I go but here's my quick opinion of these points.

One:  The series did indeed run for a long time, from December 1977 to April 2004 and three hundred issues.  The story of Cerebus, a humanoid aardvark in a olde worlde of normal human beings, it splits into 16 "books" - Cerebus, High Society, Church and State I and II, Jaka's Story, Flight, Women, Reads, Minds, Guys, Rick's Story, Going Home, Form and Void, Latter Days and The Last Day (also a five issue mini called Cerebus Zero that collects a few issues that came between the big arcs) Dave Sim scripted every single issue and drew every one up until halfway through Church and State when artist Gerhard came aboard and started drawing backgrounds for the comic, although he had no input in how the story went.

Two:  The series startes out as a light parody of the Conan series, with elements of Howard The Duck (spoofing real and imagined people) before moving onto political and social satire.  It's not commonly agreed where the series takes a turn for the dark, though I have my own opinions (and will cover them when I reach that point).  It has however inspired a trope on TV Tropes called "Cerebus Syndrome" which covers all types of TV shows, comics, anime etc that get more serious as they go along.

Three:  Ah, the misogyny.  Now, I am a woman.  I am a feminist.  I even hold a Masters Degree in Women's Studies.  I should be the worst audience for a comic written by a man who starts calling himself "evil misogynist Dave Sim" in the last couple of books.  But it's not a totally cut and dried thing.  One of the reasons I will defend him from the charges of misogyny is that, up until the last two books, he has a very wide range of interesting female characters.  They are drawn with care and respect, made to look very different, have different personalities and a couple are really awesome and badass.  There is no gratuitous cheesecake, even Red Spohia who only wears a chainmail bikini is drawn more to emphasise innocent fun than sex. A couple of the volumes even pass the Bechdel Test, for goodness sake! The problem is mainly confined to when Dave Sim steps outside of the story and starts talking direct to the audience in the text parts of "Reads" and the appendices of the final four books.  I wil deal with his thoughts on women when I cover "Reads" because those were part of the original comics.  Covering the appendices would get very repetative and boring because it is mostly him saying the same things over and over. 



Yes, I am insulting him, because having to wade through all the sexist nonsense while finishing the saga left me feeling rather ill disposed towards Mr.Sim.  That won't stop me picking out other interesting bits and pieces from the appendices when I reach them, but really, I think that if you ignore the "Reads" text pieces and appendices of the last four books, only the final two can really be said to contain misogyny in story and that's sidelined somewhat by the trans and homophobia, anti-semitism and Islamopobia that suddenly appears as well.  And noticably neither of the final two books contain any female characters of note either.

Four:  Did Dave Sim go "mad" towards the end?  There seems to be some unsubstantiated stuff on the net that says he did, but if Latter Days is anything to go by, his experience of psychiatry is very much rooted in Freud and Jung.  I entered the care of a psychiatrist around the time Latter Days was being produced and those theories were completely discredited by then as a way of treating mental illness, which does say to me that if he had any contact with the mental health profession it was before the Cerebus project even started in the early 70's (actually Wikipedia supports this, he was hospitalised for excessive marjuana use in 1979 which was not long after the Cerebus project started).  No, what seems to have happened towards the end was he got religion.  Sad to say, but the final two books are derailed by Christianity more than crazy, and oh dear, not the nice, tolerant kind of Christianity either.

Anyway, that's a quick intro to Cerebus.  Time to crack on with the individual books.

7 comments:

  1. I'm not sure that's a great defence of Dave Sim's misogyny... Imagine if *he'd* said it: "I'm not really all that off-puttingly misogynistic until the last couple of books in the series, and by then you'll hardly even notice it among all my other horrible prejudices!"

    Looking forward to reading your write-ups and seeing how much of Cerebus I can actually remember!

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    1. Hi John, yes it's not the greatest defence is it? The misogyny charge can be levelled in varying degrees across the books in the second half of the series, but because the female characters are good and the stories in general good, I am willing to cut some slack. But the last two books, the penultimate one in particular are so poisonously awful that I'll be coming down quite hard on them. Anyway, I hope you stick with my write-ups, turns out trying to condense the first few volumes into a review is quite tough, but as the books get shorter and more focused, the write-ups should get better. Cheers!

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  2. So he's a fundamentalist Christian in the habit of smoking way too much weed?

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    1. Well, I think he'd quit the weed by then. The Christianity seemed to come about while he was writing the last two volumes in the late '90s-early '00s. Up until then he considered himself a humanist and wrote two early volumes with a rather unflattering parody of Catholicism in it.

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    2. Looking forward to your review of those. Should be fun.

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    3. My understanding was that Sim picked and choose aspects of not just Christianity, but other religions to Frankenstein his own slanted spiritual view of life, women, and the state of being. This supposedly started during his research that helped him write Church and State. Add a nasty break up with his wife at the time and a few periods of more drug use, along with an already fragile mental state and you have a perfect storm brewing.

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    4. My understanding was that Sim picked and choose aspects of not just Christianity, but other religions to Frankenstein his own slanted spiritual view of life, women, and the state of being. This supposedly started during his research that helped him write Church and State. Add a nasty break up with his wife at the time and a few periods of more drug use, along with an already fragile mental state and you have a perfect storm brewing.

      Delete