Something fell.

§ April 19th, 2024 § Filed under cerebus § 15 Comments

Hoo boy, comments beget comments beget comments, and I told myself I was going to restrict CEREEBUSTALK to just this week, so I’ll try to cover a lot here in short order.

From Monday’s post, here’s JohnJ with

“…Even got a photo I took at a Capital City Distributors show published by Dave as a back cover. It was a shot of Dave, Colleen Doran, James Owen and Martin Wagner all mugging for my camera.”

Oh, do you mean…this photo, from the back cover to Cerebus #174 (1993)?

(I whited out your last name, in case that was a state secret or something.) Huh, it’s a weird the longer I’m online, the more people tangentially related to the comics I’ve read have found me online. Neat!

JohnJ also say (not a typo, was trying to rhyme)

“…It did seem like he dug a hole by promising 300 issues and having to stretch his story to get there. I found the small type impossible to read so kind of flagged on it as it neared the end.”

I’ll address the second part first, in that the overreliance on text pieces to carry the story in the latter part of the series was…unfortunate. In the “Jaka’s Story” and “Melmoth” sections it worked surprisingly well…usually throwing a giant text piece in the middle of your funnybook generally functioned as a big ol’ speedbump, and a bad habit of a number of 1970s comickers. (I will however give Steve Gerber a pass on this.)

But then we started getting into “Reads” and the text pieces there, which were at least readable, but contentwise a bit…well, we’ll say “alarming.” And then those issues that were almost all text with the pseudo-religious screeds that few if any tried to plow through, what amounted to wasted pages that could have gone to story but instead just supplied pages that could be stapled together to make a full-sized comic.

That sounds awfully harsh, and to reiterate: Dave’s comic, he could do what he wanted with it. But this was a ride that I, and many others, just couldn’t go on. It was literally a period of looking at the two or three pages of comics in each issue and skipping the text pieces and just filing the book away in my Cerebus box. Maybe someone will drop by here to yell at me for missing “the important stuff,” and I do mean someday to try to tackle it again, but…well, What Can You Do™?”

In looking something up, I came across the entry for “Lord Julius” (the Groucho Marx-inspired character) in a Cerebus Wiki, which included what Dave had to say about an unused story idea late in the series:

“[I] wanted to do Groucho as an old man somewhere in the course of Latter Days and just not having room for it. I was going to make Palnu this last lonely outpost completely surrounded by Cirinists and the place was just one big rotgut distillery with Lord Julius and Baskin running everything pretty much by themselves….”

If I may, perhaps a couple dozen or so fewer text pages could have made room for one more appearance by one of Dave’s more delightful characters. I mean, it’s not like the actual Groucho’s later years weren’t rife with the need for some kind of commentary. There’s even a lady who latched onto old Groucho in her own attempt to achieve fame, and if that doesn’t sound like something right up Dave’s alley, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, I’ll save that for my Cerebus fan fiction.

• • •

Thom H. hollers

“Sim did a lot of good work around creators’ rights back in the day. And 300 self-published issues is a huge accomplishment. It’s a shame all that gets overshadowed by his sad Light and Void ramblings.”

Just wanted to say, yes, Dave was (and still is, presumably) a primary supporter of self-publishing. Making it all the way to 300, in whatever form it took, was astounding, and I’m sure he had to do it with naysayers all around him telling him there was no way he was going to succeed.

“I’m sure the phone books still make him some money, but not as much as they would have if he had reined in his worst impulses and stuck the landing.”

I do wonder how well they are selling. I imagine well enough, since they’re still being carried by Diamond, he’s still printing new editions, and I even still sell a volume here and there. Despite how we may feel about how the book went in the end, it’s still a major work in the comics field, and gets attention simply just for that.

• • •

John sez

“…The last few years of the run we had dropped from about 30 people getting it, to just two (and we were only ordering one extra for the rack -that never sold, and then just went to back issue).”

That has me trying to remember how it was selling for us as Cerebus hit that magic 300. I think we still had a few diehards hangin’ on ’til the very end, including yours truly. My hunch is that sales dropped over time, but ordered a few extra for the last issue because that was a fairly momentous occasion. I don’t remember if we actually did sell more of #300 or not. I was even blogging at the time and didn’t make a mention of how it was selling. Ah well, maybe next time. (“What?”)

“I’m always eager to pick up other Dave Sim work just to look at what he’s working on. The Alex Raymond book is Fantastic.”

I’m glad to hear that. I was enjoying the strip cartoonists stuff in glamourpuss, and even told Dave during that phone call I was really looking forward to it. Alas, it’s another victim of my eye troubles as it’s in the backlog of goodies I need to read.

• • •

Mike Loughlin remembers pal-of-the-site Tegan O’Neil’s writings on Cerebus, and Rob S. comes through with the link. And as Rob notes, Tom Ewing already linked to Tegan’s writings in his own series of posts, but I like Tegan and want to link her too.

• • •

Onto Wednesday’s post, here’s old, old friend (as in I’ve known him a long time, not that he’s decrepit) tomthedog with

“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.”

Yeah, that link is a gathering on Dave’s writings re: feminism. SPOILER: he don’t like it, not at all, nuh uh. Also, it’s very, very long, and uses the phrase “feminist-homosexualist axis,” so, uh, you’re warned, I guess.

• • •

philfromgermany has something germane to say

“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.”

This gives me an excuse to add another break to this massive wall of text with that great Cerebus Jam cover by Bill Sienkiewicz:

Cerebus Jam (which I’ve talked about before) is a collection of short Cerebus stories by Sim with other artists, like Will Eisner, Terry Austin, and Murphy Anderson. Fun stuff, don’t think any of it has been reprinted.

A-V in 3-D is a sampler book of various titles being published by Dave’s company Aardvark-Vanaheim at the time, all in glorious three dimensions. According to the Comics Database link, it’s almost all been reprinted elsewhere except the Cerebus story. (Note to Tom W – there’s your answer!)

Cerebus Zero is a one-shot reprinting those issues of Cerebus that, I said last time, were not included in the “phone book” reprints for dumb reasons. Honestly, they should totally be in there, c’mon son.

Also of note is Cerebus World Tour Book 1995, reprinting the short stories produced specifically for the early pre-phone book Swords of Cerebus reprint volumes. Most stories feature Dave collaborating with other creators, like Gene Day or Joe Rubinstein. A six pager entirely by Barry Windsor-Smith is also included, as is a run of strips from the Comic Buyers’ Guide with the in-universe parody of Prince Valiant.

• • •

And speaking of Tom W, he talks about his experience with Cerebus and admires Dave’s mastery of the comics form. I mean, yes, absolutely, there’s no denying he was a master of pacing, caricature, dialog, and especially lettering. Just some of the purpose it was put to was a tad troubling near the end there.

“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.”

Oooh yeah. If you can find this book, it’s great. The Alan Moore/Steve Bissette/Rick Veitch “Mirror of Love” is astounding, but Dave’s contribution delivers a pretty solid, if dirty, laugh.

• • •

Daniel T squares off with

“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. […] He is basically screaming into the, er, void.”

That’s likely true…there may be some of The Usual Suspects on Xwitter still who are all “right on, man” assuming these comic fans actually read any of his comics (or any comics, honestly). But even given his the effective reach of his opinions are nil, they still impact the work itself, which is the real problem. What could have been a masterpiece is…well, I spent two posts already talking about this, you know what I’m going on about.

Whoops, and Daniel also mentions Dave’s wonderful lettering. I wasn’t copying Daniel, I swear!

“…High Society and Church and State show him to be an intelligent, thoughtful writer with a firm grasp of ideas and history.”

Yes, exactly…there are so many good ideas in the comic that when the bad ideas show up, it’s a real showstopper.

• • •

Jim Kosmicki notes

“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.”

to which Daniel T replies

“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.”

I don’t know for sure just how far ahead, and to what detail, Dave planned out the Cerebus storylines. But I do have at least one piece of evidence in favor of him having done so, at least to some extent.

Swords of Cerebus, published in 1984, reprints among other issues Cerebus #22 from 1980. In this issue Elrod (Dave’s parody of Michael Moorcock’s character Elric) is killed, but finds he becomes a ghostly spirit who can possess the living (in a parody of DC Comics’ Deadman). Swords of Cerebus includes text introductions to each issue, and for the reprint of #22 Dave says “we’ll find out why Elrod was able to do this around issue #175.” (Or thereabouts, I don’t have the book in front of me right now.)

In 1984, when this volume of Swords of Cerebus was published, Cerebus was around issue 55 or so. In issue #180, published in 1994, we do indeed find out what Elrod’s deal was.

So I think Dave had at least some plan in place…at least with large swaths of the story (“okay, Jaka and Cerebus will journey back to Cerebus’ home town at this point of the series”) while leaving enough room to maneuver for new ideas and plotlines, such as they were.

• • •

Joe Gualtieri recommends

“…you should absolutely read the Last Day.”

I mean, yeah, probably. If you’re going to go at least partly into Cerebus, knowing how it’s supposed to end with #300, you should probably see how it all wraps up. There are some…sour notes even here, given it is late in the series, but the very final scene is pretty wild.

• • •

Smichael swonders

“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?”

Hoo boy, that may be more than I’m able to tackle at the moment. I seem to remember Dave doing away with the letter column entirely at some point, replacing them with more text pieces. A sample issue from the “Latter Days” period I popped open to check had almost half the book dedicated to a piece titled “Islam, My Islam,” and oh dear.

The letters column was a wild ride, particularly during the “High Society” and “Church and State” days, but a more detailed description may have to wait until I can take a more thorough overview of the issues. Suffice to say, when the letters column existed, it was never boring!

“…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.”

I think that’s not a terrible comparison, leaving out the actual content of their positions. Both had the fortunate-for-them apparent freedom to do what they wanted, marketplace be damned. As I’ve repeated over and over again, Dave had the right do whatever he liked with his comic. He can look at everything everyone said here in criticism of Cerebus, and he can say “you guys are all dummies, you just don’t get it,” and he’d completely be in his rights to do so. Dave created something that is uniquely his, representing his ideas as he wanted them expressed, and completed the project with issue #300 as he’d planned.

It may not be the work we ultimately wanted, and some of the ideas we may find repellent. We may mourn the loss of what could have been unambiguously a classic. But there it is, all Dave’s, for us to examine, to interrogate, to debate, or simply to ignore. It’s that last option which is the real shame, but unfortunately work itself tries very hard to encourage that response.

• • •

Okay, that’s the end of Cerebus posts for a while. I didn’t address everyone’s comments, but you all had some good ones, and thank you for them. If you want to still discuss, the comments remain open, but my actual posts are moving on to other topics. Thanks again for your participation, and making me ponder this aardvark once again.

15 Responses to “Something fell.”

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    Thanks for Aardvark Week! Great reading of thoughtful writing.

  • JohnJ says:

    Thanks for printing the photo from Cerebus. It does bring to mind Wagner’s “Hepcats” a book I really enjoyed back then. Last time I Googled his name, I discovered he’s very involved with a group of Texas atheists, but I include him in my short list of self-publishers who gave it up with unfinished work still out there. Wagner and Teri S. Wood whose “Wandering Star” was another book I enjoyed.

  • Thom H. says:

    Yeah, thank you for the interesting writing about Cerebus and the links to same. It’s validating to know so many people stopped reading it when I did, and the textual analysis is fascinating. I guess it really does function best as a subject of academic study. That’s almost enough (but not quite) to get me to read the first half again.

  • Patrick Gaffney says:

    has anyone read Cerebus in Hell? I wonder what that is like? Is it more like the final 100 or the first 100?

  • Mikester says:

    Patrick – Cerebus in Hell and its various offshoots are kind of their own thing. It’s not an ongoing narrative, but essentially a gag strip. Technically it may be more like the final 100 in some of the tone in which certain topics are covered.

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    Yeah Cerebus In Hell is really not anything like OG Cerebus besides parodying classic comics covers and making fun of some super-hero tropes. (So don’t confuse it with Hellboy in Hell, f’rinstance. Clip-art Cerehus figures laid on top of images from Gustave Doré’s illustrations of Dante’s Inferno, with gags, or Gags (or “gags,” or “Gags”) attempting to satirize modern progressive language and goals. Early on it looked great but was only ever faintly amusing to me, and after collaborating with another writer for a time, at a certain point Sim started crowd-sourcing the writing, and it became kinda sad. Certainly not canonical in any way. I enjoyed the recent issue poking fun at the many hero characters with “Marvel” in their names, but it’s really one of those things that (in my opinion) diminishes the original series just by its existence.

  • Joe Gualtieri says:

    Just to clarify, I only recommended The Last Day if you can get through Latter Days, which is no easy task. It’s probably going to be the single roughest stretch of Cerebus for most people. The Last Day isn’t a complete change, but there are less walls o text than the previous volume, and if you’ve come that far, why stop? The ending is worth it.

  • Randal says:

    James Owen. He’s from the Phoenix area so he regularly attends local cons and has his newer books out but I still miss Starchild and its various offshoots. It really does NOT age well. Not in the Author-went-off-the-rails sense but in an Of-Its-time sense. Still revisit it regularly though.

  • A. J. Payler says:

    Not to keep this train running longer than necessary (like the subject comic itself, perhaps) but around the late #180s-190s somewhere Sim states outright the comic is going to end at #200, not #300, briefly acknowledging the bewildering effect this claim will have on the reader, then recants it all as a “joke” a few issues later. It’s still made pretty clear he definitely considered this notion seriously at least at some point though, as there’s very little movement or plot after #200.

    Worth considering if we’d all have been better off if he had–still would have had #186 in there so he’d already outed himself as a misogynist (which, yes, Dave Sim is by definition, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or similarly off the beam), but Tangent wouldn’t have been for which humanity would be the better, even if it’d come out later in Glamourpuss or whatever other unreadable non-comic Sim issued. (Seriously, for such a self-proclaimed student of realistic cartooning, dude sure takes every possible chance not to draw.)

    And oh man, Martin Wagner! A true self-publishing disciple of Sim at the time and someone whose work I recalled fondly enough to revisit it recently and HOO BOY does that stuff not hold up AT ALL. Painfully overwrought storylines, whiplash lurches in tone, completely uninteresting characters obviously based on the author and his friends, pointless lore held over from its college newspaper incarnation, all topped off with his tour de force–a cringey, pretentious stab at melodrama that today we would instantly recognize for the hacky trope of raining trauma on the (super idealized) female character in the name of “seriousness” and “depth”, complete with Sim-style layouts and decompression. Awful, awful stuff.

    Wagner apparently also planned to pick Hepcats back up at more than one point, even claiming to be drawing new pages that would continue the Antarctic reprinting in the 90s starting with the supposedly already finished #13; of course it later transpired he never turned in any finished art for #13. And then later in the 2000s, he did it again, saying he was going to finish Snowblind (comprising the Sim-inspired, drama-laden turn the series took at the end) as a graphic novel, but that never happened either, and several people complained of sending Wagner money for merch and comics that were never sent.

    After that ironically he seems to have pivoted to trying to profit off atheism for some reason (ATHEIST T-SHIRTS FOR THE FASHIONABLE FREETHINKER) doubling down in some kind of mirror-Sim self-destructive spiral, eventually ending that venture by changing the website to read as follows:

    And thanks for nothing.
    Maybe I ought to design Christian T-shirts instead.
    Christians may be gullible morons, but at least they spend money.”

    If you can fathom the reeking entitlement inherent in the type of personality who continually blames the world for his own obvious and entirely avoidable failures, I think you’ll be most of the way to understanding what happened to Martin Wagner and Hepcats.

  • I confess I never got into ‘Hepcats’ all that much because I just never could quite see the point of an ‘Omaha the Cat Dancer’-style comic with less sex and stiffer art. (Also, Antarctic Press’ computer coloring was hideous.) Nevertheless, such a title would likely enjoy more success nowadays, in an age of Kickstarter and a thriving furry fandom.

  • Jon H says:

    Does anyone know if Moon Roach dropping giant stone crescent moons on people is a reference to The Castle of Otranto, in which a character is killed by a giant helmet falling on him?

  • Snark Shark says:

    “entry for “Lord Julius””.

    I would have LOVED more Lord Julius. Sim did a great Groucho.

    “There’s even a lady who latched onto Groucho in her own attempt to achieve fame”.

    Oh, yeah. While he was speaking at some talk-and-a movie type event (something she pushed him into doing), it was announced that the movie (I can’t remember which Marx Bros movie it was) would be shown, Groucho remarked, “Why? I’ve already seen it!”

    He still had that wit!

    ““I am very curious about what the letters pages were like throughout the series…but particularly the last third”

    The letters pages in the Melmoth era were interesting, if I remember correctly. Most of the issues I read were in the TPBs, though. I got a stack of the Melmoth issues cheap at some point, which lead me into reading more Cerebus.

    “Cerebus in Hell?”

    Yes. It’s stupid. 2 out of 5 stars, and that’s ONLY for the artwork.

    “‘Hepcats’ ”

    I just never got into Funny animal comics, period. Unless Cerebus is a funny animal comic! I just never saw the point of them.

    “Teri S. Wood”

    I liked her strip in Amazing Heroes!

  • Matthew Murray says:

    I hadn’t realized that many of the later issues of Cerebus were mostly text pages. I flicked through a couple of issues in the 280s and suddenly the claim that Cerebus was a _comic_ that made it to 300 issues falls flat for me. A serialized publication? Sure. But some of these don’t have enough “sequential art” pages for me to consider the things they appeared in to be “comic books.”

  • philfromgermany says:

    Re: Letter’s page:

    IIRC the letters were collected in the early 2000s in a comicless phonebook.

  • tomthedog says:

    I am decrepit, that’s fair

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