If you do use his last name, remember it’s “Sim” with no “s” at the end.

§ April 17th, 2024 § Filed under cerebus § 15 Comments

So y’all had some good comments about Cerebus and the troubles thereof, with a small side conversation about a 1957 Mighty Mouse I originally talked about on this site 18 years ago (Patrick, if you’re reading this, I replied in the comments with the info you need!)

I also got a comment (that went straight into moderation) from a particular troller who loves nothing more than being rude and insulting. This time he didn’t like me saying, in essence (and in admittedly too many words), “Dave’s worldview was troubling, and it negatively impacted Cerebus.” Which is, I think, about as objective and factual a description of the events as one can manage.

I’m not trying to pile on Dave, here (and yes, I’m perhaps being overly familiar by just calling him “Dave,” but referring to him just by his last name feels weird). There’s plenty of that out there, and some of it a whole lot more harsh than I’m being. I do like Cerebus, there’s plenty about it to admire, but as the more problematic elements begin to slip in, they become harder and harder to ignore as the series rolls along. To repeat myself, they go from informing elements of the story to becoming the story, to its detriment.

This isn’t a case of me, the reader, being “too woke” or whatever. It’s the story going from “being about Cerebus” to “being about Dave and his specific interests,” which is not what we signed up for. Like I said, it’s Dave’s comic to do what he wants with it, but for a whole lot of folks it went in directions that readers didn’t care for. And that ended up being the series’ legacy.

I don’t hate Dave. From what I heard on Bluesky, he seems completely affable in person. A few years back I spoke to him on the phone (and I’ll tell you what, seeing “Aardvark-Vanaheim” on my caller ID was something else). He was calling to set up a time to come by the store to promote a book, and he tried to introduce himself, to which I replied “I read all of Cerebus and glamourpuss, I know who you are!” which made him laugh. We had a perfectly friendly conversation about comics and retailing for a few minutes and that was that. His tour got called off due to COVID, so he never made it by, unfortunately.

But I don’t agree with certain positions he holds, and I don’t like how those positions derailed a comic I so loved. It was so disappointing to see something I’d been following for years wrap up the way it did.


Okay, enough of that. Let’s get to your specific comments, at least what I have time for tonight:

aj had this to say

“…I did borrow the first phone book collection, and, honestly, i cannot tell you what happened in it or even my reactions to events in the books now. literally nothing stands out to my memory. not characters, not events, not dialog. Some might take that as thinking i hated it, but it just didn’t HIT.”

That is a very not-uncommon response to those early Cerebus issues. Very often (in fact, even during the Bluesky discussion we were having on the topic) it would be recommended that you skip the first volume entirely, and go straight to volume 2, the inarguably excellent High Society. The very early issues, especially the first, are…unpolished, shall we say, and don’t fully express the wit and energy that would come in later stories. Generally the suggestion is that you go back to Volume 1 after reading later material.

However, I personally say differently. Which is ironic given that in my personal experience with Cerebus, I read later issues first (beginning as I did early in Church and State, i.e. what would be the third volume) given how I was collecting the series. I was reading earlier stories out of order, with missing issues, basically as I bought them. I did get the Swords of Cerebus books relatively early on:

…which reprinted the first 25 issues (which would eventually be collected in the thicker “phone book” edition pictured higher up in this post). But even getting them somewhat early in my Cerebus hunting-and-gathering, I still had read plenty of the then-newer material.

Even so, I say “read the books in order.” Yes, the early stuff is…the early stuff. It’s rough around the edges, and can be tough going. But it’s the beginning of the story, it introduces many of the major players who will occupy the series. And it doesn’t stay that crude for very long…you get to watch Dave improve in leaps and bounds as the series continues, and in short order it’s recognizably Classic Cerebus.

Just my opinion…there are people who skipped straight to volume 2 and never looked back and were perfectly fine, so there you go!

• • •

Allan Hoffman has a question which is a spoiler for the series, so I won’t quote it here. But I will answer “yes.” Which raises questions about earlier references, in a “was it there in front of us the whole time?” kind of way.

• • •

Chris V enters the formation with

“…I found that the series becomes a terrible slog through the next few volumns, as Sim’s changing personal beliefs take up more and more of the text. I do have more time for the artistry of the later volumns (starting with Going Home), which is where many readers choose to give up.”

I quoted this bit specifically because it allows me to bring up a topic I get asked frequently whenever the subject comes up…if one wants to read Cerebus, where do you begin and end?

I spoke already about where to start…I think Volume 1 should be read, in order, but if you want to go back to it later after reading later issues, I suppose I’ll allow it.

Altogether there are 16 “phone book” collections reprinting most of the series. (For reasons that are mostly dumb, issues #51, #112/#113 (published as a double-issue), and #137-8 are not reprinted, being “in-between” or “epilogue” stories mostly unrelated to the main narrative). If you want to mostly avoid the “bad” part of Cerebus, I would stop with Volume 9, Minds, with the caveat “DON’T READ THE TEXT PAGES.” The first ten volumes cover the first 200 issues, more or less, of Cerebus‘ 300 issue run, which pretty much takes care of all the plot points and such from the earlier issues that you’d be interested in.

• • •

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’ll wrap this all up on Friday, and also remind you to read Tom Ewing’s Cerebus essays that I’m hopefully not inadvertently pinching from. Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll see you soon.

15 Responses to “If you do use his last name, remember it’s “Sim” with no “s” at the end.”

  • tomthedog says:

    I was seriously going to try to finish Cerebus, or at least get through Jaka’s Story, because of Tom’s blog posts, but then I read Tangent again.

    Tangent, dude. Tangent.

    Cerebus deserves to die alone, unmourned and unloved.


  • philfromgermany says:

    There were a couple of specials but I cannot provide reprint status: A-V in 3D (with Neil the Horse), Cerebus Zero and Cerebus Jam. You need not skip these to evade the awful stuff.

  • Tom W says:

    I began with High Society as recommended and followed up with C&S I, but they were not the adult comics I was looking for in my late teens so I stopped there and didn’t catch up until years later, when Sim had outed himself as a misogynist, when I picked up C&S II and got the bug. Quickly burned through all volumes until the final two, which I paused beforehand in trepidation before succumbing to the completist urge.

    It seems I’m also rare in preferring the second half of Cerebus despite everything. I never got into the fantasy elements of it and they’re dispatched reasonably quickly, which helps, but it’s mainly because from Jake’s Story onwards the appeal becomes not content but form and the unassailable mastery of the medium. There are so many sequences, even in the final books, that push the envelope of comics in so many wonderful ways I’m in awe despite the author’s heavy hand sometimes being felt on the back of the head, commanding you to look at it a certain way. (And that happens far less often than you’d think.)

    So for me, the reading order is start with High Society, if you’re put off by Melmoth then finish at Minds, if Melmoth is actually more of what you’d want to see than the twists and turns of Iest then keep going all the way to Form and Void. After that you’re plunging deep into Sim’s obsessions and if you choose to ignore the warnings that’s on you. But for me there’s still great work in both. I know, I know…

  • Tom W says:

    PS: does anyone know if there’s new stuff in AV in 3D? I already have Cerebus Zero and Cerebus Jam, for my sins. And the excellent three-pager in Alan Moore’s AARGH!, a publication raising funds to combat Britain’s homophobic Section 28 law which it now seems deeply surreal Sim contributed to. Spoiler: the Sacred Secret Wars Roach has urges.

  • So, I tried Cerebus back in the day, dipping into a couple of issues, and it just never grabbed me, although I kept hearing about.

    Realizing that I will never read every book or see every movie or read every comic, I am happy to leave this one unread. There’s just so much out there.

  • Daniel T says:

    Sim’s views have never put me off Cerebus for one big reason: his ideas have absolutely no effect on anything, except maybe some of his most ardent admirers. His Kickstarters get, what, 200-300 supporters? I would consider that his dedicated fanbase and I doubt there are movers and shakers in that group who are going to change policy and win hearts and minds. He is basically screaming into the, er, void.

    The main problem with the last third or so of Cerebus isn’t the terrible ideas, but how boring the run is.

    It’s really too bad that Sim has put himself into the position he has, because I think he’s one of the best cartoonists in the history of comics; possibly THE best letterer; and High Society and Church and State show him to be an intelligent, thoughtful writer with a firm grasp of ideas and history.

  • Rob S. says:

    After decades, feelings of “fuck that guy” can soften when it’s easier to remember the good stuff than the bad. But even a brief look at Tangent brought back memories. And bile.

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    I know that I’m not the first person to point this out, but Sim really created biggest problems by proclaiming it a 300 issue story early on and then not being able to admit “I was young and brash” to stop when the story really needed to stop. Pushing to fill those last 100 or so issues seems to have “forced” him to let any ideas get on the page.

  • Daniel T says:

    It is of course entirely possible he had no plan for all 300 issues, but I always thought whatever he might have wanted to do with the character over the last 100-150 issues became less important to him than getting his ideas about things in front of people.

    If I remember correctly, he legitimately thought his Biblical commentary was going to lead to some revolution in the study of theology. THAT’S certainly more important than whatever an aardvark is up to.

  • Joe Gualtieri says:

    Re vol: Well said Mike. It does start off rough, but you see Sim grow by leaps and bounds very quickly. By the end of the book, you totally believe this guy can pull off a sophisticated 25 issue story,

    Re where to stop: High Society and Church & State, are to most, people, clearly the best part of the book. Jaka’s Story is very good, but it’s very different, and sets the book up for through #200 and the End of the Women/Read(s)/Minds trilogy.

    Did Sim run out of plot after the end of Minds? I can see the argument for it. The book is, again, very different after that point. If you’re still enjoying it and can get through Latter Days (which is probably going to be the roughest section for anyone who can get through Reads), you should absolutely read the Last Day.

  • JohnJ says:

    Dave’s issue of Spawn was also a real oddity. I’m not sure if Image has ever reprinted that issue. Dave didn’t give Todd a character to exploit like Neil Gaiman did.

  • Joe Gualtieri says:

    Comics dot Org has #10 being reprinted in the first volume of Spawn origins, so at least once. Sim recently reprinted it himself in single form.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “Dave’s issue of Spawn was also a real oddity”

    It was mildly amusing!

    ” Sim recently reprinted it himself in single form.”

    He should have titled it Swords of Spawn!

    “early Cerebus”

    And I still say the first Cerebus volume is underrated!

    “Did Sim run out of plot after the end of Minds? I can see the argument for it.”

    From what I remember hearing, it sounded like it!

  • Smicha1 says:

    As a casual reader of Cerebus (stopped at Jaka’s Story via the phone books, and never read/collected the floppies), I’ve been enjoying your posts and the Aard Labour writings quite a bit, but mostly as an outsider looking in. I am very curious about what the letters pages were like throughout the series…but particularly the last third. Can you share a bit about what reader response was, as seen through the lens of what Sim allowed into this space?

  • Smicha1 says:

    Follow up question, and I may be way off-base here….is it reasonable to see parallels between the last third of the Cerebus run, and the last third or so of Steve Ditko’s published work? It seems like they are both characterized by a domination of ideology over storytelling, and become more and more challenging, dense, alienating, choose-your-term-I’m-trying-to-be-nice…to the reader. Likewise, regardless of public opinion they both remain absolutely unique creations, doing things creatively that no one else could (or would choose to) do, and immediately recognizable as that creator’s work. That lack of regard for public opinion and attitude of “this is what I’ve got, take it or leave it” seems have driven both men’s output.

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