Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Cerebus Book 11: Guys (#201-219)

"Please Dave. Please.  Cerebus just wants to die." - Cerebus

After his adventures in outer space, Cerebus has come down to Earth and to a bar by the Wall Of Tsi. Shaken up, and sporting a bandaged eye after Dave's surgery on it, he celebrates his return by getting roaringly and miserably drunk.  The book itself has no real driving narrative.  It's like an episode of the old sitcom Cheers, in which men hang out, drink, argue and generally chat in a way they wouldn't do in the presence of women.  Much of what little forward momentum it has involves Cerebus struggling with the lessons he learned while stuck on Juno and his overwhelming fear of finding himself stuck there metaphorically again. The relaxed nature of the book is a welcome break after the preceding epic storyline with an array of fun characters and incidents keeping the slow paced story interesting as it wends it way along.  The front and back covers are especially symbolic of where Cerebus's head is at the start of the book.  On the front he sits alone, moody, nursing a drink.  On the back all the other characters are laughing and joking, their backs to him and standing some way off.  As the story moves along we get insight into how Cerebus both craves greater intimacy and close friendship and yet seems to resist it as well.  To the point that his internal "voice" is completely schizophrenic on the matter and he nearly drives himself to madness over it.

Having Fun Without Cerebus
The story begins with a Cerebus in the pub, along comes Mrs. Thatcher to chat with him and between them they fill in what happened during the time Cerebus was away in space.  There was another big time skip, this time of around four years.  Cirin returned right away from their "battle in the sky" and proclaimed the Goddess as winner.  Also now Iest is a giant wheat field after the mountain it was on collapsed completely.  Now Mrs. Thatcher thinks Cerebus should get himself married again, until then he can stay in the inn with as much free booze as he can drink.  And drunk he gets. There are several new characters in this story, including Harrison Starkey and Richard George who are of course based on The Beatles, as well as a weirdo based on Marty Feldman's Young Frankenstein character, plus the returns of Princes Mick and Keith and Cerebus's old mercenary buddy Bear, who gets a starring role this time.

Still Suffering A Sore Eye From Minds.
We get a series of pages of Cerebus's point of view as he blearily lurches round the pub.  Having been teetotal myself since Christmas 1992 I can only just remember what it felt like to get that arseholed drunk and Dave Sim captures it superbly.  Then Cerebus has a dream, first he sees a devil like creature who wants to smite him with the mother of all hangovers and then a character based on real life artist Rick Veitch - Roarin' Rick who chases the devil creature off by pointing out Cerebus is dreaming rather than drunk.  He then takes Cerebus through a his weird dream imagery.

Roarin' Rick: "Hey!  No need for embarrassment little buddy.  This is your dream.  If you want to have a dream about a middle aged man dressed in full-length black tights (The exclamation mark over the pubic area is a nice touch) then... whoa! [Rick changes clothes into suspenders, bra and frilly knickers]  Look what you've got the Roarin' One wearing now!  You see?  An unconcious mind is a virtual playground for repressed desires."

After more dream shenaningans, we cut to a pitch black sequence of panels where Bear is reproaching Cerebus for something.  Then Cerebus wakes up, has a horrifying vision in the mirror of having lost his other ear, wakes up properly and goes down to the bar to tell everyone about it, but Bear starts reproaching him with the same words as before.  When Cerebus get's all excited that he said this before, Bear punches him very hard.  Much to Cerebus's bewilderment.  Harrison Starkey, who is tending bar starts making comments that you wouldn't think to look at Bear that he enjoyed sexual liasons with local boys youth groups and suchlike, much to Cerebus's mounting rage:


Harrison: "Y-Y-You did"

Cerebus: "Cerebus did?"

Harrison; "Aye, aye.  Las' night whan yooz was droonk".

Cerebus; "...Who!? who heard?

Harrison: "Oh er.. ehm.. everywoon.."

Cerebus: ".. How do you know that?! HOW!?"

Harrison: "You wooz standin' on a table showtin' it at th' top uv' y'lungs".

Embarrassed and shamefaced Cerebus gets a telling off from Harrison about it being a shitty thing to do to a friend, and Cerebus resolves never to drink again.  Which is a promise he singularly fails to keep.  Life goes on in the bar.  People come and go, Cerebus gets drunk a lot, there is a lot of good natured drunken conversation and not much actually happens beside that.  Until one day when Cerebus and Bear are outside playing a game called "Five Bar Gate" (A cross between tennis and football) a man comes along promoting a new type of Read.  This time one in which the pictures and text are combined like our comics are today.  This one is a Spiderman parody called "The Wanker" (hee hee).

Yes It's Immature.  Yes It Still Makes Me Laugh!
Cerebus decides the book is really, really good.  But Bear is somewhat dismissive. After a grumpy game of Five Bar Gate, Cerebus decides to take the book into the bar to show the others, but howls of laughter break out when he does because "Wanker" is T'Capmin slang for... well it's UK slang for masturbation, I'm assuming the merriment among the other bar patrons means it's the same in T'Capmin.  This throws Cerebus into a huge sulk and Bear finally loses his rag with him completely and rages at him across several pages.

Bear: "WILL. YOU. SHUT UP! An' whatayacall FUCKING LISTEN! FOR ONCE IN YOUR FUCKING LIFE! It just wasn't enough for you to like that whatayacall "graphic read". It's NEVER enough for YOU  that YOU whatayacall like ANYthing.  Well I didn't like it.  I thought it was fuckin' stoopid. Izzat whatayacall O-Kay with you? SEE?! It isn't! It's NEVER fuckin'whatayacall  "O-kay with you".  It's like, it's like you're part chick 'r somethin'.  Everything's fine an' then sumbuddy Fuckin' says somethin' 'r sumbuddy does somethin', an' yer hurt, an' yer mad, an' yer unhappy, an'yer offended, ALL AT THE SAME FUCKIN' TIME!"

And the chewing out doesn't end there, Bear rants for several more pages about Cerebus's selfishness before finally concluding that the main reason Cerebus is behaving like a little bitch is because Bear was beating him at Five Bar Gate.  They have a very vicious game that ends when Bear makes a brilliant save and instead of protesting it, Cerebus catches himself and instead congratulates Bear.  And they return to the bar, the air cleared between them and ready for a drink.  I like this section, Bear's rage at Cerebus really does feel like Dave The Creator getting annoyed that Cerebus is not learning his "Juno" lessons properly and is speaking through Bear to try and get through to him again.  Which of course on a meta level he is! 

Time passes, seasons come and go.  Bear and Cerebus relax together, fishing on a nearby stream, sunbathing on the tavern roof and just generally enjoying the time they have to hang out.  They outright laugh at the idea they might want jobs.  Funny how "The Alchohol Sanction" enacted by a matriarchy as a way of controlling single men seems to be many mens idea of a great existence according to Dave Sim.  He might want us to be angry about the aimlessness their lives have been reduced to, but he makes it look like such jovial fun it's hard to see it as a bad thing.  But one day it all comes to an end when Bear's on-off girlfriend shows up atthe Inn.  The dreaded Ziggy.
Only Ziggy Can Tame The Mighty Bear
Now Ziggy is just the sort of woman you would expect from the pen of Mr. Female Void Dave Sim, a venomous harriden who switches between smiles and snarls in an instant.  But even then she works in comedic terms as the huge macho Bear is unable to resist her, going all gooey over her and doing whatever she asks.  For reasons not all adequately or convincingly explained, the entire barful full of men decide it's time to leave because of her and head north.  This especially makes no sense as both Ziggy and Bear leave as well.  Although Cerebus tries to persuade Bear that him and Ziggy never work out, this just makes Bear angry.  Then Bear wishes him well and leaves Cerebus now alone in the inn.  And his inner voice starts to go crazy, and in one telling picture we see Cerebus sat on a barstool in a rocky landscape as his thoughts run wild.  He's back on Juno again.
Alone Again.
Mrs. Thatcher arrives to check in and Cerebus tells her he has decided to take over as bartender so she won't need to get anyone else.  When she returns to check up on him and tries to order him around he gets nasty, and tells her that he is still the Eastern Pontiff and anyone who kills him will inherit that title.  And that if Cirin wants to finish their fight she knows where he is, and also he wants the larder filling with raw potato's (his favourite food).  A bewildered Mrs. Thatcher agrees and leaves, not quite sure what as to what just happened.  Half his inner dialogue think's he just signed his death warrant, the other half doesn't care.  But it seems to work and Cerebus is left to tend bar in peace.  Which he isn't actually very good at.  When he gets his first customer he only manages to fill his ale glass with foam.  After this, no one else comes to the pub for a long time.  Cerebus is lonely and horny.  Then one day a woman arrives.  A woman called... Joanne.

Joanne was the woman briefly seen in Minds in the scenario Dave created for Cerebus, in which he cheated on Jaka with Joanne.  This time Joanne feels like a tentative offering from Dave, to see how a relationship with her might play out without Jaka being involved.  Interestingly, Joanna seems to have a vague memory of the scenario she was involved in as she and Cerebus start chatting (told at first via text with added descriptions of their feelings).

Cerebus: (as if from a great distance) "Joanne"

"So we have met before, I knew it" (an awkward pause) "So how have you been?"

Cerebus: (from deep inside the memory) "Jaka killed herself"

(immediately)Oh, how awful! Jaka was.." (assessing  his expression) "your.." (uncertainly) "...your wife?"

Cerebus: "(still dislocated) "Aye" (rediscovering Joanne) "Don't you remember?"
All Women Have Trick Breasts, Fact.
Cerebus tries to describe how Dave bought them together but as Dave himself points out, he's at a complete loss of how to do so.  He tells Joanne that Dave is the writer who created everything, and she is fascinated even when she discovers that Jaka killed herself because they slept together and that Cerebus doesn't love her.  She makes a tactical withdrawal leaving Cerebus alone with his thoughts and his rage at another person being driven out of his life.  But Joanne returns.  Made up and showing a lot of cleavage and finally asks Cerebus if he wants to "go upstairs" with her. He manages to ignore his inner voice and they do so.

Cerebus's Brain In Revolt.
He tries to have a normal relationship with her, he really tries.  But the mundanity of her life, doesn't suit the mundanity of his life.  While she imagines she is melting the wall around his heart he is already putting in motion plans to leave after a certain number of days.  After a surreal dream in which he sees Joanne dressed as him and himself dressed as a baby who everyone laughs at, he wakes with a start and yells at her to leave, which she does in a haze of rage and tears.  The book ends Cerebus alone behind the bar again, until a buff and handsome bearded man arrives.  Cerebus seems familiar with him, but can't quite place him:

Cerebus: "Give Cerebus a hint."

Man: "A hint?"

Cerebus: "Aye"

Man: "A hint. Mmmm.  What would be a good.. oh! I know. You once told me. Heh. You once told me that you were in love with my wife."

It's Rick! And you can tell Dave Sim's character drawing has got more realistic over the years because this Rick bears very little resemblance to the spindly, goofy guy as seen in Jaka's Story. And thus the stage is set for the next book, Rick's Story.

Guys is an enjoyable read.  It's aimiable, languidly paced and tinged with more than a little melancholy for the nature of long term bar patronage and the interactions of the regulars.  It's the final time there'll be sustained comdey in the series. Also a book that has hardly any women in it for most of it's page count and a lot of drunk men might have been a ghastly hotbed of sexism and yet that is avoided once again.  Cerebus is shown to be his own worst enemy.  Thanks to his experiences in Minds he now knows what he needs to do to change himself and yet finds it so hard to do so.  Loneliness and boredom almost driving him crazy at certain points of the narrative as he argues with  and second and even third guesses himself to an insane degree.  While some might miss the grand political backdrop of the first two hundred issues, Dave Sim firmly lays out that the rest of the series is going to be all about Cerebus on a personal, intimate level.  Destroying Iest off-stage as it were, the place most of the prior books took place being his final word on the matter. "Never fall in love with a bar" says Dave Sim in the intro, but at it's best Guys makes it look like a long term relationship with a bar can be an enjoyable experience. Good stuff.


  1. This is clearly a tribute to the power of male friendship, which has been extolled in writing since the dawn of literature, from David and Solomon to Achilles and Patroclus. (Some say that Achilles and Patroclus were not just friends (as if there's any 'just' about friendship!) but also lovers — but if that was the case, why was Achilles so upset when his concubine was taken away?) As we all know, male friendship is best (in countries with religions that permit it, anyway) when liberally lubricated with the gift of Bacchus (i.e. booze). This is why Tony and I have such fun drinking Lambrini together (he says he thinks of me as an honorary bloke).

    This is a one-sided view of the human/aardvark experience, as shown by Cerebus having only one eye to use. The male/female relationship is temporarily shelved in favour of the male/male one. But it is something that needs to be shown — the power of friendship — and some people think that you can't show that with a male/female couple because sex will inevitably get in the way and mess everything up, like a rhinoceros in a bungalow. I don't think that's necessarily the case, but maybe Dave Sim does.

    Of course, sex can get in the way of male/male friendships too, hence the panic about homosexuality, which is often thought of as being the destroyer of friendship. "The low-down two-timing pansy pretended to be my mate, and all the time he just wanted to bum me!" Fortunately, we are moving beyond that in 21st-century Britain, helped by the fact that homosexuality is no longer (a) illegal or (b) socially unacceptable (in many places, anyway. Dunno how far you'd get proclaiming your gayness in a mosque or St Patrick's Catholic Church).

    Joanne is daft. I dunno why women like bad boys and think that they can change them. Why don't they realise that the transformation could be the other way round? And what do they see in Cerebus anyway? It's bestiality, for cryin' out loud! And being with someone who consistently talks about himself in the third person would drive me crackers by the end of the first fortnight. It shows how distanced from self/self-knowledge he is. He's alienated from himself so he can't help but be alienated from other people. So he drinks. Drink makes everything better. (Apart from the things it makes hideously worse.)

    The opposite of a guy is, of course, a doll — an object to be played with. So if you're not a guy, you're nobody. You're either in the bar or you're nowhere. And when the women turn the men into playthings, it's seen as a reversal of the natural order. Women make men tack wildly from one extreme to the other, i.e. they move in zig-zags (hence 'Ziggy'). Or they are just pallid simulacra of the masculine, which is why Joanne's name is a feminisation of the stereotypical male one, John.

  2. Once again Lucy, you get me thinking. Interesting you bring homosexual panic, there was a picture I ummed and ahhed about using and in the end didn't when Cerebus is mentally screaming "faggot, faggot, faggot!" at himself, worried about his overly strong attachment and missing of Bear when he goes.

    I can understand what Jaka and Cerebus see in each other. When they first met he was a traveller and adventurer and she was a dancer. Both self reliant but lonely, I can see why she fell for him and he for her after the fact. And I think later both still see each other as a ticket out of the mundanity their existences have fallen into, does it work out? Ah... wait and see.

    Joanne is daft, but strangely likeable as person, because she sees a part of Cerebus that needs healing and companionship and that's quite sweet. She's not perfect and not very deep and not what he needs, but she goes onto have a surprising influence on his later life...

    Talking in the third person would drive me batty too. I have often thought in retrospect it speaks to the fragility of his psyche. It doesn't take much to tip him over the edge into near madness and talking in the third person can be a sign of madness.