This isn’t just an elaborate pretense to link to one of my eBay listings.

§ January 4th, 2019 § Filed under cerebus, collecting § 8 Comments

So a long time ago, at the previous place of employment, we had two copies of Cerebus #1. One was an authentic copy, personally hauled by Dave Sim from his local printer to his home by the boxload, presumably. The other was one of those rotten, no-good, genuine counterfeit copies that some nefarious nogoodnik produced at the time, to take advantage of whatever secondary market was building up around this weird Canadian parody of Conan the Barbarian.

Frankly, I’m surprised this sort of thing didn’t happen more often, particularly on the, shall we say, not-so-slickly produced small press titles that somehow ended up with a surprising mark-up in value. Granted, it didn’t happen a whole lot, and prices qould have to be awfully high to justify the cost of printing counterfeits…I mean, for the cost of printing “fake” copies of anther person’s comic, why not just put the resources into doing your own? Probably make just about as much money, when all is said and done. Anyway, I believe issue #2 of Cerebus was bootlegged as well, supposedly, and weren’t some of the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles copied as well? Wouldn’t surprise me.

But, yes, at one time at the shop, as I was saying, we had both the real and the ersatz earth-pig debut issues. Can’t remember their prices now, but they weren’t very cheap, and we ended up selling them both to the same person (one of our regulars, and a huge Cerebus fan). For a time, though, it was pretty neat to have ’em in the shop, just to be appreciated as the physical objects they were. Yes, there were plenty of reprints of the contents, which I had, but there’s just something about having the actual item in your hand, the crudely-printed (oddly enough, the counterfeit slightly less crudely-printed) amateur publication that represented an individual’s imagination and triumph in getting it all down on paper and out into the world.

I’ve read all of Cerebus. The “High Society” sequence and (to a very slightly lesser extent) “Church & State” remain absolute pinnacles of comic book storytelling. Even as the series wore on and became…well, let’s say “less accessible,” the illustrative standards of Sim and partner Gerhard emained remarkably high (well, aside from those issues near the end that were mostly text). Even the handlettering was nearly unmatched by anyone in the business.

I’ve mentioned this on the site before, but some of you reading this may not have been born yet, so I’ll repeat it here. I was first exposed to Cerebus via an article in the old Starlog Press magazine Comics Scene. I thought it sounded pretty cool, but with newsstands being my source for comic books, I didn’t have access to the beginnings of the indie comics boom. That changed in the early ’80s, when I found out about the shop that would eventually become my job, and suddenly I had more indie comics than I knew what to do with.

I still didn’t get into Cerebus at that point, however, because I figured “well, it’s been going on a while, it’s too hard to catch up,” and that’s how it went until a couple of years later, a friend of mine brought a copy of #74 to school and let me read it. Aaaand that was it, I was pretty much hooked. I bought the latest issue next time I went to the store, and over the next few years (including some of my initial months working at the shop, beginning in ’88) I slowly acquired all the previous issues…

…Except for the first 25. At the time, there were the Swords of Cerebus collections, which reprinted all those issues. That was good enough for me, I thought then…the issues starting at #26 were already pricey enough, the earlier ones even more so, making the Swords books a sufficient alternative. Plus, they had short stories exclusive to them, which was a nice bonus.

The reason I bring all this up is that, after seeing a link or something on the Twitters, I got to thinking about those early issues again. I divested myself of a good portion of my collection when I opened my own store, but I kept my Cerebus…I mean, yes, sure, there’s no real back issue market for them anymore, but that wasn’t the main reason. It was because I liked those comics, I put a lot of effort into starting that collection. And even if the latter part of the series felt like a…I’m not quite sure how to put it. A divergence, maybe, from the promise and the storytelling of the first half of the series, but it still remains an achievement, for all its flaws. It’s Dave’s comic, he could do what he wanted with it, and who am I to judge, but I can’t help but feel what I got in the end was not what I was waiting for. That’s what art does, sometimes.

Okay, I really wasn’t trying to delve into the criticism of the series…there’s plenty of that out there, and…yeah, they ain’t wrong. What I was thinking about recently, however…the thing that brought us all here today, was that old standby, the collector’s urge. The need to “fill the gaps,” as it were, to scratch those numbers off the ol’ creased and tattered checklist. Not that I’m been actively seeking the first 25 issues of Cerebus this whole time, but I got to thinking about them again, and about how I loved acquiring each new back issue to add to my run, how each individual issue felt like something special, with those great covers. Like, back to that #1 we had, it was a representation of someone’s dream put directly in my hand. Not a corporate character produced out of some huge, professional publishing house. It was like one of series of letters, from my Canadian pal Dave who wanted to tell me a story.

Realistically, I don’t know if I’m actually going to go through with trying to track these down. I don’t think I’ve had one of the early issues show up at my own shop yet in any collections. Well, there were the pro-graded copies of #8, #10 and #12 that a friend…actually, the very same friend who brought that #74 to school so long ago…had me sell on his behalf. I still have the #8, and there is a very small temptation to just keep it and pay my pal for it. I won’t, as Businessman Mike outvotes Fanboy Mike here, but I’m definitely keeping an eye out for reasonably priced copies now.

“Reasonably priced” is the trick, of course. A quick glance at the eBay reveals all kinds of prices on the earliest issues. Even the counterfeit #1, once listed with no value in the price guide, is selling for well over a grand (in one of those plastic slabs, of course). Quite a bit over whatever we sold ’em for at the old shop, I’m sure.

I do have the run of Cerebus Bi-Weekly, which reprinted all those early issues in their entirety, including editorial matter, letters pages, and ads, but it’s not quite the same. I realize it’s a fetishizing of those originals, when technically I already have everything that’s present inside them. I do really enjoy them, though, and while I may not love what Cerebus eventually became, I still have that strong nostalgic love for what it was, and how I felt as I slowly pieced it all together. Wanting my own copies of those initial almost-a-baker’s-two-dozen issues almost certainly stems from a desire to recapture that feeling, an old fan’s desire for when times were simpler, and the fun of collecting was at its peak.

8 Responses to “This isn’t just an elaborate pretense to link to one of my eBay listings.”

  • David Oakes says:

    I have always wondered if the comic would have been as successful if Cerebus had retained the long snout, rather than evolving into… whatever he is? (Cat? Rhinoceros?)

    These are the thoughts that keep me awake at night.

  • Tony says:

    Oh, man. This posting reminded me that I am only missing two issues of the whole run (it’s either issues 2 & 3 or 3 & 4…it’s been ages since I thought of these hence the uncertainty).

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    I remember that same Comics Scene article likewise inspiring me to check out the series, starting with #47, after being intrigued by the prominent use of the Marx Brothers in #46. By the time #50 came out I had managed to find all the early Swords books, and a couple sweet back-issue bins at some local convention helped me fill in the rest of the gap for about a buck/issue. Only the first ten actual issues stayed out of reach for me. What’s tough now is justifying the pair of shortboxes in my garage holding those 290 comics plus related works while sticking with re-reading the whole set of big trades.

    Sim is doing some crazy stuff to frustrate the Cerebus collector (and retailers, probably) these days, what with his random comics cover parodies for his creative clip-art collaboration series Cerebus in Hell? (sic). My LCS stocked it for awhile but now only gets it for pull list customers. Mike, would you care to comment some time about how Cerebus does in your store in any of its forms?

    Thanks from this Cerebus fan for this long and politely nuanced post!

    FWIW, the newest remastered editions (by Sean Robinson) of some of the trades, including the eponumous first volume, High Society>, and vol. 1 of Church and State are miraculous improvements over the original editions and well worth reading and re-reading (and owning and stocking on retailer shelves) without ever worrying about the later volumes.

  • Robcat says:

    Reading this reminds me of the thrill I got when I first read a Question/Blue Beetle Charlton comic. I was enthralled with The Question! I loved this guy but who was he? Where did he come from? Pre-internet it was harder to get information but I found out about the character and set off to locate and purchase all appearances- six by Ditko and a couple of others. Blue Beetle 3 eluded me for the longest time. Every shop I’d go into, I would ask. I think I finally located the last issue at SDCC.

    Yes, I own the hardback reprints. Yes, I have some digitally. Yes, today I could order any issue off eBay. But the thrill is gone. Not of the Question, Ditko’s greatest work ever! But the thrill of the hunt. It’s too easy now. I miss the days of looking, hunting, searching… Plus, I was a member of a smaller club. I knew a character many did not, I had read them, and OWNED them.

    Boy I sound old. “You kids don’t know how EASY you have it! In MY day…!”

  • Nik says:

    Mikester, what’s your take on the oddball Cerebus one-shots Sim has been putting out the last year or two? There seems to be a steady stream of them. I picked up one and found it borderline unreadable, I guess Sim can’t draw anymore due to injuries so it’s a strange fumetti kind of collage … I just can’t imagine who is buying these things?

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Ah, the Question… the character who would disguised his identity by dousing himself in chemicals that turned his suit blue.

    Because that was so much easier (and healthier) than actually changing clothes…

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    …and let us not forget that Ditko’s next creation ws the Creeper, whose main power was the ability to make his costume invisible…

  • Tom W says:

    Add me to the list of those curious to know how Cerebus In Hell and the reprint do in sales these days…