Cerebus the Aardvark

Introduction: My story (college kid finds aardvark)

In early 2005 I made one of my very infrequent stops at the Comic Swap in State College, PA, and found that the last two books of the Cerebus series had been published since I had last checked in. So I bought 'em, re-read the entire series and decided to write this web page.

I'm not much of a comic book fan - Cerebus is the only one I've ever bought, or even read regularly. In fact, other than the really cartoonish comic books I had as a young kid, I've never read any other comics. But my junior year roommate at Penn State (this would be around 1987 or '88) and some of his friends were into comics, and Cerebus was a favorite. So one day I picked up an issue and read it. If I remember right, the first one I read (the current issue at the time) was part of the Church and State story, where Cerebus is running around the top of a tower trying to avoid a giant three-headed monster who is attempting to persuade Cerebus that, logically, the best thing he can do is jump to his death.

I had no idea what the heck that was all about, but it was enough to suck me in. Soon I was reading a bunch of back issues, and before long I was at the Comic Swap (which I think was called the Book Swap at the time) ordering the first three "phonebooks" (the large Cerebus volumes that collect a group of related issues together into one long story). That was a pretty significant financial investment for a poor college student, so you could definitely say I was hooked at that point. During my senior year, long after the comic-reading roommate who got me started had moved out, the "Church and State II" phonebook came out, and I snatched it up and completed what I consider to be the absolute must-have portion of the Cerebus series: the first four books ("Cerebus", "High Society", "Church and State" and "Church and State II"). I've probably read those four at least a dozen times.

After graduation, I moved to a town about a hundred miles from State College and kind of lost track of Cerebus for several years. That's probably part of the reason why I consider the first four books to be the cream of the crop and everything else to be the "newer" books. Anyway, I still occasionally go back to State College to visit, and on one trip I decided to pop into the Book Swap for old times' sake. Next thing I know, I'm walking out with "Jaka's Story". From then on, every time I hit town, I'd be sure to stop at the Comic Swap to see if any new Cerebus books had come out. Once every year or two, they'd have a new one and I'd buy it. Now that the series is ended, I'm going to miss the tradition of hitting the Comic Swap, buying a new Cerebus book and then sitting in Zenos for a couple hours sipping some fine imported beers and reading a new Cerebus. Oh well.

Cerebus overview

I imagine at this point some of you are wondering, "What in the heck is this Cerebus? Is he misspelling Cerberus? It's an aardvark? What are you talking about?" So for those unfamiliar with the series, here's a brief introduction:

Cerebus was an independently published comic book series. That's apparently a rare thing in the world of comic books - most are owned and published by the big comic publishers such as Marvel or DC. They hire different artists to write and draw the various comics; the same title might be done by a bunch of different comic book artists over the years. The artists have little control over the final product.

But an artist named Dave Sim decided he was going to go it alone. He would write, draw and publish his own comic book, and have total control over the content. The result ended up being Cerebus, who's name is indeed a variation of Cerberus, the three headed dog from Greek mythology who guards the gates of Hades. Apparently Sim's wife (and publisher) at the time suggested naming the character after the Greek dog, but she misspelled it. Thus was Cerebus born.

Cerebus started off as a parody of Conan the Barbarian (what could be funnier than an aardvark barbarian?), and grew from there. He lives in a world called Estarcion, which is similar to ours although less technologically advanced. And in Estarcion, wizards can do real magic, demons can posses souls, death walks among the populace as a black, hooded figure carrying an hourglass, and of course aardvarks can walk and talk like humans. As the series matured, the magical aspects started to get downplayed. After the first couple books, it's rarely even commented on that Cerebus is an aardvark.

For the first two years that it was published, Cerebus was a bi-monthly comic (i.e. only twelve came out during those first two years). Then, in the late 1970s, Sim made a bold announcement: not only was he going to publish monthly, but his comic would also run exactly 300 issues. It would be a total of 6,000 pages, telling the entire life story of Cerebus the aardvark. The last issue would come out in early 2004, and the story would end with Cerebus' death. True to his word, Sim finished the series on schedule, although I don't think anyone (even the author) could have foreseen the course the story would take over its last couple years.

About a fifth of the way through the project (towards the beginning of the Church and State storyline), Dave Sim made a small concession to the overwhelming workload of self-publishing his own comic. He hired a second artist, who goes by the single name Gerhard, to work on Cerebus. They divided the workload such that Sim would continue to come up with the plots, write the dialog and draw the characters, and Gerhard would draw the backgrounds around the characters. The latter could involve everything from buildings and trees to props like tables and chairs, even the occasional animal. The difference Gerhard made was immediate and dramatic - when reading the first volume of Church and State, it's obvious where Gerhard joined the team. The artwork suddenly becomes much more detailed.

Book by book comments

This is the section I envisioned myself writing as I did my recent re-read of the entire series. I started out intending it to be a glowing review because, as I mentioned above, I really like the first four Cerebus books. But as I got into the later volumes, especially the ones towards the end that I had only read once or twice before, it started coming back to me how "literary" Sim got after Church and State. Which is fine, if you're looking to read literature. But I just wanted to read a comic book, dammit. I put expectations aside and worked my way through the wordier volumes like Jaka's Story and Reads, but as the series progressed Sim's social views and fanboyish love of famous authors kept intruding more and more on the story, until it started becoming a chore to continue reading. But I had those final two volumes, which were brand new to me, ahead. That was going to be the payoff for reading through those big text portions of Reads that have no real bearing on the Cerebus plot, puzzling through the pseudo-religion of Rick's Story, working through the tale of the Hemingways' African safari (to paraphrase Monty Python, "Africa? In Estarcion?"), and finally slogging through the tediously comprehensive "liner notes" to Going Home and Form and Void.

Then I giddily started reading the final two books, and it went well at first, but then...well, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. For those who have never read Cerebus but think you might want to, I'll try not to throw too many spoilers in here, but I make no promises. You might want to wait and read this page after you've read the books (at least the first four).

For those who have memorized every one of the 6,000 pages and are reading this just to get one more bozo's opinion, I apologize in advance for any mistakes that I make. I'm doing this from memory - I don't even have the books here with me to use as reference material. So if I make too many factual errors...oh well.

Cerebus

As mentioned above, Cerebus himself started out as a parody of Conan the Barbarian, riding into town with his sword and helmet and looking to spend some of his hard-earned gold in a tavern. Instead, he finds adventure...

The first book isn't a continuous story like all the other books - it's really just a collection of the early individual comic book issues, up to when the first lengthy storyline got started.

This book introduces most of the main characters who would appear throughout the first half of the Cerebus storyline, and in some cases into the second half. They're almost all parodies of famous characters from other comic books, science fiction stories, films and even history. There's Red Sophia, a female warrior based on the comic book character Red Sonja. Captain Cockroach parodies a whole range of comic book superheroes. Elrod the albino looks like the Elric character from Michael Moorcock's fantasy books, but he talks like Foghorn Leghorn from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. President Weisshaupt is a version of George Washington (apparently the last name comes from a story that the real Washington was never actually president of the U.S., instead an impostor named Weisshaupt took his place). But the character who wins the parody sweepstakes is Lord Julius, the ruler of a city-state called Palnu. He's not so much a parody as he is a dead ringer for Groucho Marx, which usually makes him the funniest character of any issue in which he appears.

The first book also introduces Jaka, who is probably the longest running character besides Cerebus himself. She first appears in issue #6 as a tavern dancer (sort of a PG-rated version of a stripper) who Cerebus falls in love with while under the influence of a drug. The drug is given to him by criminals who hope to use his love for Jaka to get information out of him. The drug wears off, and Cerebus ends up leaving Jaka in tears, his memories of their romantic relationship gone. I get the impression that Jaka was intended as a one-time character when she first appeared, but later in the series when Sim needed a love interest for Cerebus, he brought Jaka back. Again and again.

We also start to learn the geography of Estarcion in this book. There are cities like Palnu and Iest, regions like the Red Marches, etc. We meet an underground civilization called the Pigts who worship a statue that looks a lot like Cerebus. We learn of beings like Clovis (who Cerebus frequently swears oaths by in the early issues, but who eventually disappears from the story) and Tarim (who is the story's original equivalent of a god).

All of these characters (and more) end up making reappearances in the following three books, so even though the real "meat" of the Cerebus storyline doesn't begin until the second book, the first book is a must-read in order to set everything up. Plus, towards the end of the first book, the stories started getting longer and more advanced, running across multiple issues. We're not yet up to the stage where a book is one continuous story yet, but by the end of book one plotlines that take at least three issues to resolve are the norm, not the exception.

Another story element that is hinted at in the first book but never explicitly stated is that of Cerebus' "magnifier" nature. It is mentioned that in his youth (before the events of book one), Cerebus spent time as a Wizard's apprentice. Dave Sim has stated that some sort of magical "magnifier", possibly obtained accidentally during his apprenticeship, inhabits Cerebus. This causes many odd and amazing things to happen to Cerebus and to those around him during the course of his life. To me, this sounds like it may have started out as an excuse to explain away any illogical and supernatural plot points, but eventually Sim started using it as a plot device in later books. Or maybe he really did have it planned that way all along. Who knows?

In addition to introducing the characters and the world, the first book also has a bunch of good stories in it. It may be the most humor-oriented book of the entire series. It's a little tentative and even amateurish in places, obviously the work of a comic book artist who's just getting started. But it's a very entertaining read, and sets Cerebus apart from other comic books right from the start.

High Society

Here's where the real fun begins. At this point Sim has decided to dig in and do one long story that would last for 25 issues. Being interested in politics, he decided to make it the story of Cerebus becoming Prime Minister of Iest. The story starts out as a "fish out of water" tale, with the still-relatively-barbaric Cerebus finding himself in a posh hotel. In the previous book, he had briefly worked as security for Lord Julius, and due to Julius' "never let anyone understand what you're doing" philosophy, Cerebus was given a high ranking title.

When word gets out that he's in the hotel, every society type and businessman who is trying to get something from Lord Julius starts sweet-talking Cerebus. He doesn't understand why everyone is suddenly handing him the good life, but he takes what he can get. Eventually we meet a new character named Astoria. She craves political power, and has been attempting to get it by manipulating the easily-befuddled Captain Cockroach. When she learns about Cerebus, she quickly switches her sites to him. Over the course of the book, she attempts to get Cerebus elected as Prime Minister, and in the end he just barely beats out a goat who was nominated by Lord Julius (who gains a sidekick, Duke Leonardi, based on Chico Marx).

Being the greedy, power-hungry kind of aardvark that he is, Cerebus attempts to use his new position to take over the known world. Jaka returns to remind Cerebus that he vowed to come back to her, but Cerebus is bent on world domination and refuses Jaka's offer to run away with him. In the end it all goes wrong, and Cerebus wishes he had left with Jaka. By the end of the book, he's just another aardvark again, walking out of the Regency Hotel.

There are a bunch of new characters introduced in this book, such as a statesman named Blakely who helps Cerebus run his campaign, and a business leader who is an imitation Rodney Dangerfield. Plus the Regency Elf, who inhabits Cerebus' suite at the hotel and the McGrew brothers who attempt to kidnap Cerebus. But the focus of the book is examining the political process in a humorous way.

Church and State / Church and State II

After finishing High Society, Sim decided that even 25 issues were not enough to really tell the type of stories he wanted to write. He wanted to write the comic book equivalent of War and Peace. So next came the biggest single chunk of the Cerebus series - the 60 issue "Church and State". It's so big that it couldn't be published as a single book, so it was split up into two books.

The storyline delves into the power and politics of religion, with Cerebus again being put into a lofty position by forces who are trying to use him - this time he becomes Pope. The current Pope is executed for heretical beliefs, and no politically suitable replacement can be found. The powers that be somehow settle on Cerebus, thinking he's a harmless pawn who can be manipulated and controlled (apparently they didn't learn anything from the wars he started as Prime Minister).

Of course, as soon as Cerebus gets absolute power over the church, it starts corrupting him absolutely. He tells the people of Iest that they must give him all their gold, down to the last coin, or Tarim will destroy the world and everyone will spend the rest of eternity being tortured in horrible ways. He ends up with a hotel full of gold, but instead of bringing him the power he desires, it instead brings on multiple enemies who are out to destroy him and take his gold.

This story introduces the Cirinists, a group of radical female warriors lead by a woman named Cirin. This is the first sign of Sim's obsession with men vs. women, which would eventually turn into a rabid hatred (and, I suspect, a deeply buried fear) of feminists and women in general. But I'll get to that later. Cirin and her followers do not believe in Tarim, instead worshipping a female god named Terim. Dave Sim has admitted that Terim was initially just a misspelling of Tarim, but once he came up with the idea of male vs. female, he decided to run with it.

At one point in the story, Cerebus decides to abandon his plan of extorting all the gold out of the populace. He has an old comrade-in-arms from his mercenary days (pre-book one) named Bear (currently working for Pope Cerebus as a bodyguard) go and find Jaka so that she and Cerebus can run away like she suggested in High Society. But when Bear returns with Jaka, it turns out that she has gotten married since last we saw her, and she decides to remain faithful to her husband.

Many strange, supernatural things happen to Cerebus during these books - it's probably the most "mystical" part of the whole Cerebus storyline (not counting the last couple years, which Sim would tell you is not mystical or even fictional at all, but we'll get to that eventually). There's the Big Round Glowing White Strange Thing that transports Cerebus to other dimensions, there's the unseen Suenteus Po who talks to Cerebus in higher spheres of consciousness and reveals plot points, etc. We even learn that Cerebus is not the only walking, talking aardvark in Estarcion, but I won't spoil the surprise.

What it all leads up to is the "ascension", where one of the characters ascends into the sky and beyond, theoretically until they meet and talk with Tarim/Terim. Which character ascends? What do they learn there? You'll have to read the book to find out. I will just say that, given Sim's later militantly anti-female stance, the ending of Church and State is kind of surprising.

Actually, what I've written here about the Church and State books barely scratches the surface. There are sub-plots involving Astoria, the Cockroach, Weisshaupt and others. There are characters that I didn't even get around to mentioning like the Countess and the strange little farmer guy. There's no way I can do it all justice on a single web page, so just go and read the books.

The ending of the Church and State saga is not a good one for Cerebus. But despite that, I'd say that the first four books - Cerebus, High Society and Church and State I & II stand together as the must-own part of the Cerebus series. There's a solid cast of characters, great writing, great artwork, lots of humor and lots of twists and turns to the plot. People (and things) that play bit parts in the first book often come back as major characters/elements in the next three books. It all ties together nicely. Just go and read them already.

Jaka's Story

This is the first part of the Cerebus series that really pushes Cerebus the character into the background. At the beginning of this book, Cerebus is a marked man (er, aardvark). The Cirinists have risen to power, and they do not like Cerebus one bit. And the world didn't end as he predicted it would, so his religious followers have turned on him.

He ends up at the home of Jaka and her husband Rick, and lives in hiding with them. That's pretty much the extent of Cerebus' involvement in this book. The rest of it focuses on Jaka (as the title states). Her character completes its evolution from single-issue bit player in book one to love interest in books two through four to finally becoming a main character with the entire fifth book telling her life story in detail.

The book alternates between Jaka's childhood and what is happening in her life now. We see her growing up in Lord Julius' court (she's Julius' niece, and technically the Princess of Palnu, although she ran away from that life to become a dancer). We learn of the forces and events that shaped her, how she became interested in dancing, and why she ran away.

The part of the story set in the present shows us Jaka's job as a waitress/dancer in a tavern owned by a man named Pud. She keeps the job (even though dancing has been outlawed by the Cirinists) because Rick can't find work (not that he's trying very hard) and is basically worthless as a breadwinner. Pud is obsessed with Jaka, to the point of planning to seduce (rape?) her, despite the fact that she's married. This obsession is what makes him keep a dancer around even though he knows it's illegal.

This is the first book where Sim started putting more emphasis on being a writer rather than just telling the story through dialog. There is a ton of text in Jaka's Story (the childhood segments are mostly dialog-free drawings accompanied by blocks of text that take up big chunks of each page), and the plot advances at a very slow pace. After the quick-paced twists and turns of High Society and Church and State, this book seemed like torture the first time I read it. I've warmed to it since, but I certainly don't share the opinion that it's the best book in the Cerebus series, as one other web page that I've read insisted.

This book also sees the first occurrence of "Dave Sim the famous-writer-fanboy", as a new character named Oscar, based on Oscar Wilde, becomes a major part of the story. Again, kind of ironic that he picked Wilde, given Sim's later anti-homosexual stance.

In the end, the Cirinists find out about Jaka's dancing and it all ends badly. I won't give away the whole ending, but the important point for later in the story is that Rick leaves Jaka, and Cerebus mistakenly thinks that Jaka has been killed.

Melmoth

Sim's obsession with Wilde completely overwhelms the Cerebus storyline at this point. Reading Sim's views on the book (as documented here) it's clear that he disagrees with those who think that the "death of Oscar Wilde" parts of Melmoth should have been their own book outside of the Cerebus series. Despite Dave's explanations, I still think it would have been better that way. Just move the few bits of the book that actually involve Cerebus to the beginning of the next book, Flight, where they would have fit perfectly. Oh well.

Confusingly, the Oscar who dies in Melmoth is the real-life Oscar Wilde (who somehow lives in Cerebus' world), going by the name Melmoth (an alias that the actual Wilde used), and not the Oscar character from Jaka's Story who was also based on the real Wilde. Sim explains why he made it a separate character at the above linked page, but I think he could have just used the same character (so at least there would be a tangential connection to the existing storyline) and no one would have complained. Again, oh well.

Anyway, most of the text in Melmoth comes from real-life letters written about Wilde by his closest friends as his health declined. Just to keep the book from being completely "off-topic", we occasionally see Cerebus, who is sitting outside a cafe in a completely catatonic state. He is in shock, because he missed the events at the end of Jaka's Story and has mistakenly concluded that Jaka is dead. Near the end of Melmoth, he overhears some Cirinist soldiers talking cruelly about Jaka, snaps out of his trance and goes on a Cirinist killing spree.

That concludes the "first half" of the Cerebus storyline, issues 1-150. Sim has long advertised the series as existing in two halves, which would make certain points from the male perspective in one half and from the female perspective in the other half. Or some such thing - I've never fullly understood what he's talking about. Personally, I've never delved into studying the overall architecture of the Cerebus story in that much detail, but it is interesting to note that there are some structural similarities between the first half and the second half (an ascension in each half, famous authors turning up as characters, etc). At any rate, the "cliffhanger" ending of the first half (Cerebus snapping out of his trance and flying into a destructive rampage) certainly sets the reader up to want to get started on the second half.

Mothers and Daughters

The story that kicks off the second half is called Mothers and Daughters. It's actually four smaller books, which all supposedly cover the same topic from different angles, according to the author.

The four books that make up Mothers and Daughters are Flight, Women, Reads and Minds. The first book tells of Cerebus' flight from the Cirinists, who now want him dead because of his slaughter of their soldiers. The female characters take over in the next book, with Astoria's Kevillists fighting for the rights of daughters against the Cirinists who rule with an iron fist in the name of mothers. Where do the men fit in? Well, they mostly hang out in taverns, but we'll get to that in Guys.

The third book, Reads, goes back to the format of Jaka's Story, with the illustrations largely there just to break up the long blocks of text. The title refers to the most popular publications in Estarcion - a "read" falls somewhere between a magazine and a book. Or possibly more like a comic book, since they're illustrated. Sim's "Reads" documents the story of two authors, Victor Reid and Viktor Davis. The story of Reid is used to criticize the comic book industry - not being a follower of that industry, I don't "get" a lot of the specific references, but the points made can be more generally applied to any creative person working for employers who only see the business end of things.

The other author character, Viktor Davis, turns out to be an alter-ego for Sim himself, who quickly starts addressing the reader directly, and even attempts (not very successfully, IMHO) to pull the audience in as an element of the story. This is also the section of Cerebus where Sim first started to seriously alienate a large number of his readers by working his "women are inferior to men mentally, physically and emotionally, and exist only to ruin men's lives" philosophy into the Cerebus story in a very direct way. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last time his personal views dragged Cerebus down.

Somewhere in there, there's also the Cockroach and Elrod characters, who are parodying various comic book icons. A lot of this part goes over my head due to my unfamiliarity with the world of comics. The Cockroach goes through many personality changes here, and I have no idea who each one is parodying. Unfortunately for Elrod fans, that character learns something that causes him to be written out of the story for good. For that matter, the Mothers and Daughters storyline is pretty much the last we see of most of the main characters from the first half of the Cerebus series.

While all of the above is going on, Cerebus the character's story is still going on, although it makes up less and less of the books as they go along. Maybe that was the purpose of Melmoth, to get the reader used to Cerebus the comic book not being entirely (or even mainly) about Cerebus the character.

Anyway, events conspire to bring four key players in the story thus far - Cerebus, Astoria, Cirin and a fourth character who arrives in the guise of Death (I won't spoil the surprise) - together to have a conversation that ties up a lot of the plot threads that have been running from as far back as High Society. The buildup to this meeting is one of the highlights of the entire series, and makes for a great cliff-hanger ending to the "Women" phonebook. I remember when I first read it, I couldn't wait for the next book to come out so I could see what would happen. Of course, when "Reads" arrived, Sim dragged the tension out by telling the Cerebus plot, bit by bit, in between the thick-text stories of Victor and Viktor.

Eventually the four-character meeting ends, and only Cerebus and Cirin are left. They inevitably start fighting each other, and this time it appears to be to the death. But they don't get a chance to kill each other (although Cerebus suffers an injury that will leave him scarred for the rest of the series). Instead, an unexpected second ascension begins - this time with both Cerebus and Cirin going along for the ride.

In Minds, Sim drops the Viktor Davis persona and enters the story as himself, a voice named Dave that Cerebus and Cirin can hear in their heads. Cirin utterly rejects this male voice telling her that he's her creator, so she literally flies out of the story. Cerebus is forced to re-evaluate his life and his choices as the ascension deposits him in the outer reaches of the solar system and he's got no one but Dave for company. Cerebus theorizes that if he really does just exist in a book that Dave is writing, then Dave should be able to make Jaka love Cerebus, then everyone would be happy. Dave shows him a vision of what his life would have been like with such a Jaka - Cerebus gets bored and has an affair, which causes Jaka to commit suicide. Cerebus finally gets the point and asks to be put back on Earth (or Estarcion - the two are pretty much interchangeable by now) in a little bar that he always liked, where he plans to spend the rest of his days.

Guys

Under Cirinist rule, men can drink as much as they want in taverns for free. But once you go in, you're not allowed to leave the tavern until you're completely sober. And any woman whose husband disappears into a tavern for more than a few days can automatically divorce him and take all of his property and belongings. The theory is that no woman will be stuck with a bad husband - the bad ones will all end up drinking themselves to death in the taverns, leaving their wives set for life.

This suits Cerebus just fine, as Dave deposits him back on Earth at the tavern of his choice. He's apparently content to waste the rest of his life hanging out and drinking there, as long as his friends stick around. The other tavern residents include Cerebus' old pal (first introduced in Church and State) Bear, plus a half-wit who looks suspiciously like Marty Fieldman, Prince Mick (Mick Jagger, who also appeared in Church and State) and the bartender, who is based on Ringo Starr.

The first half of this book is more lighthearted and humorous than the Cerebus series had been for a long while - just guys hanging out and drinking and doing the sort of stupid stuff that drunk guys hanging out together do. But eventually it starts to feel like the plot is growing stagnant, and right about that time Bear's old girlfriend Ziggy shows up.

Ziggy is obviously a very repugnant character - all the other guys call her "Zig Pig" - but Bear is so in love with her that he's blind to her flaws. Soon all the other inhabitants of the bar, including the bartender, have left to get away from Ziggy, and in the end Bear also leaves to start a new life with her. Cerebus remains, alone at the bar and bitterly angry that everyone has deserted him.

The Cirinist overseer of the district, who is a caricature of Margaret Thatcher, arrives to inform Cerebus that, since there's no bartender anymore, the tavern will have to be shut down and he'll have to find somewhere else to drink. But Cerebus is still angry, and just to spite Thatcher he decides that he'll take the job of bartender himself.

After a period of boredom and loneliness (being the bartender in an empty bar every day, not allowed to have a drink himself until his shift is over), Cerebus finally gets a customer. And in a bizarre twist, she turns out to be the woman (named Joanne) that Cerebus had the affair with in Dave's "perfect world where Jaka loves Cerebus" vision.

Cerebus eventually tells her about Dave and the vision, and this leads to Joanne and Cerebus having a romantic relationship in real life. All along, Cerebus is basically just using Joanne for sex, while waiting for Bear to come back. Just days before Cerebus plans to give up on Bear, ditch Joanne and head back to his home town to see his parents, Joanne finds out about his plans and dumps him. In the final strange twist, Jaka's ex-husband Rick shows up at the end of the book and becomes Cerebus' only regular customer. But there's something not quite right about Rick...

Rick's Story

My take on this book is that it's a brilliant demonstration of how a religious text (and later, an entire religion) can be based on distorted stories documented by the misinterpretations of a delusional mind. Rick's split from Jaka and his mistreatment at the hands of the Cirinists at the end of Jaka's Story have obviously warped his mind. He now pictures himself as some sort of prophet, and ends up writing a book in the style of the Bible based on his stay in Cerebus' bar. The tavern becomes "The Sanctuary". The seat where Rick usually sits becomes "The Seat of Truth". And nearly everything Cerebus says becomes scripture. I can only assume that that's the way Sim intended the story to be interpreted when he wrote it (he's said himself that the reason he started reading the Bible in the first place was because he intended to parody it. Instead he developed a deep belief in God and his own warped and twisted concept of what the Bible is about...but I'll get to that). The point I wanted to make is that, by the end of the series, I get the feeling that Dave Sim started viewing Rick as a sort of Jesus figure, whereas initially he seemed to be more of a parody of the authors of the Bible. The odd thing is that Sim frequently denies that Rick is based on Sim himself - I never got that impression in the first place. I always figured Cerebus was based on Sim himself. Seems to me that Sim has a bit of a messiah complex if he thinks that people assume Rick is based on him. Anyway, back to the story...

Cerebus, for his part, is mostly just trying to get rid of Rick so he can start the voyage back to his home town to see his parents. Joanne comes back, and to spite Cerebus she takes up with Rick. Soon she's an Angel in Rick's book. Cerebus falls for it, becomes jealous and starts trying to poison Rick against Joanne. Next thing you know, Joanne is a "viper" and a "scorpion" in the book. Cerebus belatedly realizes that if Rick and Joanne become a couple, that would get them both out of his hair and he'd be free to leave. So he manages to get them back together, but just as he's getting ready to go, Rick comes in and says that Joanne told him that Cerebus claimed to have been married to Jaka. Cerebus had told Joanne that he and Jaka were married in Dave's vision, but Rick doesn't get the distinction and is so disillusioned with Cerebus that he leaves the tavern for good. Before he goes, he casts a "container spell" to try to trap Cerebus in the tavern.

In a sense, it works - Cerebus doesn't know if the spell is supposed to make him go or stay. He hangs around for a while longer, trying to figure it out, and Dave comes in as a customer. Cerebus doesn't recognize him, and after dropping a few hints Dave departs, leaving a mysterious package on the bar. Eventually Cerebus opens it, and it turns out that it contains Jaka's long-lost doll Missy. No sooner does Cerebus pick it up than the door opens and in walks Jaka. She didn't know Cerebus worked there - it was just a chance meeting. The two immediately start the relationship that they've both been longing for (to one degree or another) since way back in the first book.

In the meantime, Ziggy has dumped Bear (after their renewed relationship has obviously taken a toll on him), and he and the other regulars return to the bar. Cerebus now has it all - Jaka, his friends and his own tavern - all in one place. But it quickly becomes obvious that hanging out with Cerebus' buddies in a bar is not Jaka's idea of a good time, and in the end Cerebus has to choose between staying with his friends or leaving with Jaka. He chooses the latter, which would make this my choice for a good place to stop reading Cerebus, assuming you consider that a happy ending.

Going Home

Cerebus' plan to go home and see his parents turns into Cerebus and Jaka traveling together to his home town, where they'll settle down as husband and wife. They initially decide to travel on foot (Cerebus says that carriages are for old people), and Cerebus has a well-planned schedule in mind, because to get to his home town they'll have to travel through northern mountains and if they don't get there before early Fall, they could get trapped by a blizzard and starve to death. But despite Cerebus' plans, they quickly fall behind schedule and it becomes apparent that Jaka can't (or won't) travel as quickly as Cerebus wants to. The final dealbreaker comes when Jaka discovers that they've traveled so far from civilization that there are no more clothing stores. She has a breakdown at the thought of having to wear the same clothes day after day, and Cerebus finally relents and hires a carriage to take them back down south.

Eventually they formulate a plan to take a barge as far north as they can, so that Jaka can pack enough clothes to have a new outfit every day. Here's where Sim's obsession with famous writers crops up again. The only other passenger on the barge turns out to be a character based on F. Scott Fitzgerald (in Cerebus' world, his name is F. Stop Kennedy). The books start to turn more prose-oriented again, interweaving Sim's writing with excerpts of Fitzgerald's works.

It turns out Kennedy boarded the barge with ulterior motives when he saw that Jaka was going to be a passenger. He knows that she's the wealthy and influential "Princess of Palnu". His plan is to try to talk her into becoming the patroness of an artist colony he's trying to get started in a seaside resort. To do this, he appeals to her vanity and her desire to be known as a sophisticated supporter of the arts. Eventually he starts thinking he might have a shot with her romantically, as he drives a wedge between her and Cerebus.

Meanwhile, the Cirinists who run the boat have been eavesdropping on all of Jaka and Kennedy's conversations. They decide it would be much better to have Jaka paired up with Kennedy rather than with Cerebus, who they're only tolerating because he's the "male companion" of the Princess of Palnu.

It all comes to a head when the barge reaches its final dock. The Cirinists have arranged for a large number of soldiers to be at the dock to capture Cerebus. They attempt to delay Jaka and Kennedy from exiting the boat while Cerebus heads for the gangplank. At the last moment, Jaka realizes what's going on and rushes to Cerebus' side, escorting him safely through the Cirinist army, and making her decision to stick with Cerebus and abandon Kennedy's artist colony.

To give you an idea of how meticulous Sim and Gerhard were with the artwork in Cerebus: for the barge sequence they actually built a model of the barge so they could figure out what the backgrounds should look like from each character's point of view, depending where they were standing and which direction they were looking.

This book also contains an exhaustively complete appendix that documents where Sim got the ideas (and in some cases the text) on each page, and details about how the artwork was done (such as the barge model). By this point, I was starting to get the feeling that Sim thinks his readership is much more interested in him, his interests, his opinions and his work habits than they are the Cerebus story. Maybe some readers are, who know.

Form and Void

The trend of creating Cerebus characters out of famous writers continues, as Ernest Hemingway is added to the story as Ham Ernestway. We also get Hemingway's wife, Mary - actually, the story is based more on her and her writing than it is on her famous husband. At this point in Ham's life, his health and his mind are deteriorating rapidly, so he doesn't say or do much in the story.

Cerebus and Jaka somehow hook up with Ham and Mary for an expedition heading north, towards Cerebus' home town. How they came to be traveling companions and who planned this expedition is never made clear. Cerebus idolizes Ham, not only because he's a "manly" sort of writer, but because Bear used to idolize Ham. Cerebus figures if Ham was Bear's hero, he must be a real man.

The journey does not go smoothly. At one point Ham tries to put the moves on Jaka while Cerebus is out of the camp, but when Cerebus returns he gets angry at Jaka for daring to slap Ham. It doesn't help that Ham treats Mary like dirt (most likely as payback for the electroshock therapy she was having his doctors subject him to). Cerebus is not pleased when Jaka makes it clear that she wouldn't stand for such treatment.

Just as Cerebus and Jaka are brewing for a serious fight, Mary interrupts them to tell them a story. At this point we take a ninety degree turn and go completely away from the Cerebus story (again), and for about 70 pages the reader is subjected to illustrated excerpts of Mary Hemingway's diaries from an African safari that she and her husband took. It's almost as painful as watching someone's slide show of their vacation pictures. The whole point of this section seems to be "Dave Sim considers Mary Hemingway to be another example of a worthless woman", but I couldn't figure out that that's what he was going for until I read the voluminous annotations at the end of the book (67 pages of Sim finding fault with every little thing that Mary Hemingway ever wrote, said or did. No, I'm not kidding). When I first read it, the whole Africa sequence just left me wondering "What the hell is the point of all this?"

Following the Africa story, everyone goes to bed. They're awoken the next morning by a gunshot. Cerebus runs out and discovers that Ham has taken one of the rifles and killed himself. This sets Cerebus off in a panic - he grabs Jaka and flees. He realizes that while they were wasting time traveling with the Earnestways, Winter has set in. But the suicide has him so freaked out that he decides to try to cross the mountains anyway.

The story jumps ahead to Cerebus and Jaka trapped in a tent on the side of a mountain as a blizzard rages outside. If they ration their food, they might have enough to survive, but Cerebus is worried...only he can't remember why. Finally it comes back to him - Jaka ate all the remaining food when he wasn't looking because she couldn't stand the hunger.

Just as it looks like all hope is lost, Rick appears to Cerebus in a dream. He tells Cerebus that he was executed by the Cirinists. He also reveals that Mary was leading their party around in circles, which is why they didn't get across the mountains in time. Cerebus was so certain that Ham had everything under control that he never bothered to check their progress. Finally Rick tells Cerebus that a short break in the snow is coming, and as soon as it arrives he must leave the tent and head over the ridge, taking nothing with him. Lastly, he says that someone will come to Cerebus with a book that will explain everything, and that person will identify himself with the phrase "Mungu Mkono", which translates to "In the hand of God".

At this point, Dave Sim must have been a pretty much fully converted religious fanatic, because he's setting up the back half of Latter Days, where Cerebus...well, we'll get to that.

Cerebus wakes Jaka and tells her they have to leave the tent immediately and can't take anything with them. Jaka, figuring that they're already dead, doesn't want to go, but Cerebus goads her into it. On the other side of the ridge they find a recent lava flow - it turns out the mountain they're on is actually a volcano. The cooling lava provides a "road" that they can walk down to get to the town at the foot of the mountain.

In town they stay at a Cirinist-run hotel, but it's dangerous for Cerebus to stay there, so they eventually set out on foot to cover the last few miles to Cerebus' home town.

When they get there, everything goes wrong for Cerebus, as usual. He loses everything, including driving Jaka away (and out of the story for good). The book ends with Cerebus alone and in despair. The fate that was foretold to him at the end of Church and State, that he would die within a few years, alone, unmourned and unloved, seems to be coming true.

This might not seem like a good place to end the story, but I almost wish I had just stopped here and never bought the last two books.

Anyway, in the lengthy appendix notes, Sim reveals that he had decided to make Hemingway a character before he had ever read a word of the man's writing, just based on his reputation as one of the 20th century's greatest writers. It turns out that when he finally did read Hemingway's books while doing research for Form and Void, he came to the conclusion that Hemingway was a hack who could barely string a decent sentence together (and a tool of the feminist conspiracy as well). Maybe that was why he decided to use Mary's writings for a big chunk of the book instead. Although I think he just did it so he'd have a woman to attack. He also has some disparaging remarks for Picasso and all abstract artists, comparing them to Hemingway as people who tried to "fake it" as artists.

At this point, I thought Sim was clearly a misogynist and a self-centered, arrogant, overly-opinionated asshole. Which, don't get me wrong, he is. But if I had known he was also a right-wing religious fanatic and he planned to make Cerebus the same, I really would have stopped buying Cerebus books right here. But let's move on and see how he finished the series...

Latter Days

This book starts out well (which is to say it's at least humorous and entertaining), with Cerebus growing older, traveling away from his home town and taking a series of odd jobs as he tries to put the shame and depression of the end of "Form and Void" behind him. He goes from being an outhouse cleaner to being a shepherd to being a professional athlete. But something always seems to go wrong, and finally he decides that life is not worth living any more and tries to figure out a way to get himself killed. The solution he finally comes up with is to open a strip club in the middle of Cirinist territory.

Then comes the "payoff" of Rick's Story. Instead of getting killed, Cerebus gets kidnapped by characters based on the Three Stooges, who turn him into a sort of captive demigod, because they're members of a "Cerebite" religion that has sprung up based on Rick's writings from the Rick's Story days.

Once Cerebus convinces them that he is the One True Cerebus, they set him free. He uses his new followers to finally defeat the Cirinists and set up his own new world order, where any guy who's convicted of being a "total dick" by the agreement of a dozen people is put to death, and each year a vote is taken to decide which women are angels and which are vipers, with the latter also being put to death. In this way, Cerebus finally realizes his dream of being ruler of the known world.

But Cerebus gets bored, and decides to start collecting "Rabbi" comics to pass the time. He gets so into it that he starts writing his own "Collectors Guide to Rabbi". Just as it's about to be published, he finds out that the author of the series wrote it as a joke, specifically to make fun of Cerebus himself. This drives Cerebus insane, and it looks like Cerebus might spend the rest of his life wandering around in his fuzzy robe and bunny slippers saying "Dar, pretty trees!" and pointing at nothing. But then a long-awaited plot twist crops up.

The character foretold by Rick in Form and Void arrives, gives Cerebus a book and delivers the predicted "password", Mungu Mkono. That all happens off-screen, with Cerebus being informed about it by a messenger. When I read the page where the password was given, I got all excited thinking the big "end game" of the Cerebus series was just over the next page. Little did I know...

What comes next is 160 pages of Sim's bizarre, anti-female interpretation of the bible. How could he possibly have thought anyone would be interested in this? What a waste of space as the series is winding down. 160 pages doesn't seem like a lot over the span of a 6,000 page story, but I swear it took me longer to slog my way through those 160 pages than it did the entire other 5,840. I'll never read them again.

The character who brings Cerebus the book is named Konigsburg, and he's based on Woody Allen. Apparently, generations ago, Rick gave an ancestor of Konigsburg's the book and the "password" and told him to present them to Cerebus at the right time. That doesn't make a lick of sense for Rick's character (since he had just written the "Book of Rick" and believed it to be the truth), but what the hell, Sim has pretty much abandoned any attempt to maintain continuity in his story or make any sense by now. Now he's on a mission to spread his "message".

The book turns out to be the Torah, which a biblical scholar friend of mine informs me makes up the bulk of the old testament of the Bible. So the whole Tarim/Terim thing goes out the window and now the Cerebus universe suddenly contains the Jewish/Christian God. Does that ruin the story? You bet. But Sim presses on anyway.

For the next 160 pages, Sim has Cerebus spout Sim's interpretation of the Torah. Now, as you may have guessed, I'm an atheist myself (and at this point, if Dave was reading this page he probably stopped and wrote me off as part of the Atheist/Feminist/Marxist/Leftist/Homosexual conspiracy to discredit him), so even if it made the slightest bit of sense, I still wouldn't have been interested in eight issues of Cerebus interpreting the Bible. But here's what Sim thinks:

He believes that God exists, and that he's perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful and infallible. And the Bible is the literal word of God. So how does Sim (the evil misogynist) explain the obvious self-contradictions in the Bible, and the things attributed to God that are, well, downright evil? Easy - there's actually two Gods. Well, one is really God, and the other is a creation of God named Yoohwhoo (Cerebus/Sim's version of the unknowable YHWH). Yoohwhoo is female, and of course she's completely insane and evil. She thinks she's a God, but she's actually a spirit trapped inside the Earth. Anything good in the Bible (i.e. anything Sim agrees with) he attributes to the male God, while anything bad (that he doesn't agree with) he attributes to the female Yoohwhoo.

It sounds like a joke, and it could maybe pass for one...if it didn't go on for page after page after page after page. And if Sim weren't 100% serious about it. He also goes into great detail about how the female human characters in the Bible are completely evil, and the male characters are, of course, generally without fault.

He sees all sorts of symbolism in the Bible that supposedly supports his theory, but quite frankly very little of it makes any kind of sense, and it was sheer torture to try to read through, so I'm not going to attempt to do any sort of analysis of it.

Dave tries to add the occasional small humor break by having Konigsburg enact scenes from various Woody Allen movies, but having only seen a few Allen movies I had no idea what he was referencing most of the time, so even the supposedly humorous parts didn't do much for me.

At any rate, the book ends with a female reporter coming to interview Cerebus about his religious views. The reporter looks exactly like the (by now) long-dead Jaka, so the elderly Cerebus falls for her and ends up marrying her. Which is how the book ends. Which could almost be considered a happy ending, but that's not the end of the story.

The appendix notes are almost as boring to work through as the bible stories were. At least there's less than 50 pages of them this time.

The Last Day

We skip way ahead in the story, possibly due to Sim spending so much time on his Bible analysis. Instead of actually following Cerebus through the later years of his life, we're left to try to piece it together from the clues that are offered on the last day of his life, which is covered by the twelve issues that came out in the last year of the series.

But before we get into that, Dave has one last surprise in store for us. You know that grand unification theory that Einstein worked on all his life without success? Well, it turns out all he needed to do was read the Bible. That's right, Dave Sim, who never graduated from high school, spent a WHOLE MONTH researching scientific theories, then married them to his theories about the Bible and came up with what he's 100% certain is the grand unification theory. The bad news for Cerebus fans is that he spends the first 40 pages of the final book of the series telling us about it.

I shouldn't even bother going into it - suffice it to say that Sim believes that electrons, neutrons and protons are some sort of spirits created by God, and the reason they bind together to make atoms is because they are trying to build themselves up so that they're greater than God. Because of this sin, they spend the majority of their lives in the "hell" of the interior of stars.

Fortunately, after two issues were wasted on that, Sim has Cerebus awaken from the dream that it turns out he was having (where God revealed Sim's theory to Cerebus) and proceed to write it all down and hide it away. That takes up most of another issue, and after that Sim's unification theory drops completely out of the storyline (so why waste three issues of the final year on it? Only Dave knows).

By the time of the final book, Cerebus is approximately 300 years old, and has turned into a furry grey pile of wrinkles, aches and pains. But he is a devout believer in God, praying on a frequent basis. We find out that Cerebus had a son with the reporter from the end of Latter Days. Meanwhile the reporter has left Cerebus, become a radical feminist and renamed herself "New Joanne". She and her followers have managed to turn the world into Sim's worst nightmare of what a world run by radical feminists would be like. Of course, Sim's vision bears little similarity to reality, but no one will ever get him to believe that.

All Cerebus wants is for his son to come and visit him again before he dies. And, surprisingly, it happens. But homeland security-style political red tape prevents him from seeing his son. Cerebus is basically a prisoner in his room. A deal is struck where all Cerebus has to do is sign his name (he's still the overall ruler) to a document created by the feminist/homosexual powers that be, validating their lifestyles, and he can see his son. He breaks down and signs it, but before the paperwork can get through all the channels, his son pulls some supernatural tricks and gets in to see his father.

The son is a dark, mysterious character, and he arrives bearing some surprising news for his father. I won't give it away, but it turns out that he has been under his mother's influence too long, has completely abandoned Cerebus/God's teachings and is now more than a little insane. The surprise also has to do with Sim's strange belief that the ancient Egyptians had perfected gene splicing.

But anyway, the series ends (DON'T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE ENDING YET AND DON'T WANT IT SPOILED FOR YOU - I'M SERIOUS, YOU'VE BEEN WARNED) the way Sim said it would all those years ago. Cerebus, furious with his son, attempts to leap out of bed to chase and kill him. Due to his frail state, he only manages to fall to the floor and break his neck, killing himself. He goes through the obligatory "life flashing before his eyes" sequence, with duplications of images from throughout the entire Cerebus series, and then sees light beaming down from above.

In the light, he sees many of the characters who have graced the pages of Cerebus over the years. Three in particular are beckoning to him. I first took those three to be Rick, Jaka and Bear, but Sim says they're actually Ham, Jaka and Bear. Cerebus starts to run towards them, but at the last second realizes that most of those people wouldn't deserve to go to Heaven, based on the lives that they lead. He also realizes that Rick is not among those in the light, and decides he doesn't want to go there. Which makes no sense, since Cerebus hated Rick and considered him an annoying "girly boy". But Dave seems to have sold himself on Rick as the Jesus figure, so if he's not there, it can't be Heaven. Cerebus tries to escape, but it's too late, the light sucks him in. His pleas to God to save him go unanswered. So much for all those years he spent praying and trying to get into God's good graces.

Whether that ending lives up to the prophesy that Cerebus would die "alone, unmourned and unloved" is debatable (the people in the light seemed to love him, although they may have been demons attempting to lure him into hell). The part of the prophesy that said he would die "in the next few years" obviously turned out to be very wrong.

At least the notes at the end of this book were fairly slim. They're also organized issue-by-issue, so every 20 pages I stopped and read the corresponding notes. That way when I got to the final issue, it really was the end of the Cerebus experience for me. Kind of a disappointing ending, but at least it was definitely an ending.

Well, actually it wasn't quite the end - after finishing The Last Day, I ordered...

Cerebus Number Zero

This looks like a comic book (it's much smaller than even the smallest book in the Cerebus series) but it's actually five issues of Cerebus. When Sim finished High Society, he decided to switch back to the single-issue story format again. That only lasted one issue, and that issue ended up becoming a bridge between High Society and Church and State. But it wasn't included in either book. Then, following Church and State, he did a double issue that was sort of an epilogue to the Church and State story, but there wasn't room to include it in the Church and State II book. Finally, following Jaka's Story, he did another double issue to clear up a plot point about Lord Julius. It wasn't included in either Jaka's Story or Melmoth.

So what happened to these "in between" issues? The got put together to make Cerebus Number Zero. Can you live without it? Yes, it won't affect your enjoyment of the rest of the series of you don't have this. But if you really want to have a complete collection of the main Cerebus storyline, you'll have to pick this up. From my web research, I've discovered that there are other tangents related to Cerebus (I think I might have even owned the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles issue in which Cerebus "guest starred" at one time), but for now I'm ending my collection with the sixteen phonebooks and Number Zero.


About Dave Sim

Dave Sim has complained that no one wants to analyze or comment on his work; instead commentaries always end up talking about him. Well, this page is no exception. I did comment on Cerebus above, but you can't discuss the work without discussing its author. Sim himself has guaranteed this, by letting his own social, political and religious agendas creep into Cerebus until they took over the story. It's impossible to discuss Cerebus (particularly the second half) without discussing Sim, because by the end the comic book became entirely a pulpit from which Sim preached his beliefs.

So who is this Dave Sim guy who dedicated a good percentage of his adult life to writing, drawing and publishing Cerebus, planning it all out and then abandoning the plan to turn Cerebus into odd religious propaganda in the final stretch? If you end up reading the entire run, you'll most likely learn far more than you ever wanted to know about Sim. I remember back when I had access to my roommate's individual comic book issues, still early in the series, Sim would answer letters and editorialize in the back of each issue, generally taking any opportunity to let everyone know his opinions. And even way back then, he was a disagreeable sort.

By the end of the series, Sim had almost completely sealed himself off from any sort of personal human contact - even his co-artist Gerhard only visited once a week to drop off his completed pages and get new assignments. It's interesting to note that Gerhard even tried to quit near the end of the Latter Days book. Sim seems to attribute this to overwork, stress and declining health, but after spending so many years working on the series, why would Gerhard try to get out with the end in sight? Couldn't have anything to do with the drastic change in content of the story could it? Nah.

By this point, Sim was sarcastically calling himself an "evil, insane misogynist", because that seemed to be the public perception of him. Dave, of course, doesn't believe the description to be true, but let's have a look at it, shall we?

As for "evil"...I guess that depends on your own personal definition of the word. I certainly don't believe Sim is evil in the "demon possessed, doing the work of Satan" sense that he considers the word evil to represent. But if evil can be something as simple as being a complete bastard, then yep, he's evil. Plus he's a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, which makes him really evil in my book.

"Insane"? Well, he certainly doesn't appear to be playing with a full deck any more. Reading between the lines of Sim's notes to the latter Cerebus books, you can almost see his mind starting to deteriorate as he becomes more and more convinced that the entire world is a feminist/Marxist /atheist conspiracy to silence him and his bible-based insights into the nature of humanity and the universe. But he seems too lucid for the term "insane" to describe him completely accurately.

Then again, a regular poster on one of the newsgroups that I read once argued that anyone who sincerely believes in God and an afterlife has to be considered partially insane, or at least delusional. He came up with an analogy, which I've expanded upon a bit: Imagine if I told you that there is a garden gnome living at the bottom of a well in my back yard. And the gnome knows all and sees all - he knows your secrets and everything that goes on in your private thoughts. And he told me (since I'm the only one who can hear or see him) to write down this list of rules that everyone should live by. If you follow his rules exactly and stay on his good side, when you die you'll go to a magical place called Gnomeland, where you'll be happy forever. But if you don't follow the rules, you'll go to Trollville when you die, where you'll be tortured for the rest of eternity. It's all true, because it's written here in this book. So you better do what I say (er, I mean what the gnome says). Oh, and it doesn't hurt if you come by my back yard every Sunday morning, pay lip service to the gnome and give me a few bucks.

If I went around telling people that, I'd be moved to a padded room pretty quickly. Of course, change "gnome" to "God", "Gnomeland" to "Heaven" and "Trollville" to "Hell", and a good portion of the world's population (Sim included) believes it without hesitation.

To further shed light on Sim's sanity (or lack thereof), it should be pointed out that he honestly believes that past civilizations had advanced technology, which was somehow lost over the ages. One of the final Cerebus plot points involves Sim's belief that the ancient Egyptians used gene splicing to create "monsters" like the Sphinx. In a way, this "advanced past civilization" theory is seen all through the Cerebus series, with Cerebus' world seeming like our own world a few centuries ago, but with technologies and knowledge (and magic) that shouldn't have existed then.

Anyway, enough about insanity, how about the term "misogynist". Dave might argue this one, but there's no getting around it - he's clearly a misogynist. A quick web search for a dictionary definition of the term turned up "a man who hates women or believes that men are much better than women", and Sim qualifies on both halves of that definition. It's right there in black and white in his writing, in no uncertain terms: he believes that men are superior to women in every way, from way back at the beginning of recorded history straight through to today (in fact, now more than ever). Dave is not only the president of the He-Man Woman Hater's Club, he's also the CEO, the chief recruiter and he makes up the majority of the membership.

Which is odd, because over the course of the Cerebus series, Sim managed to create several sympathetic female characters. Sure, Sophia started out as a bimbo caricature (and remained a bimbo to the end), but in Church and State you can understand why she gets tired of putting up with Cerebus' bullshit. The Countess seems like a pretty rational, stable, likeable character. Astoria is power-hungry and conniving, but then again so are all the male characters, and in the end she realizes the error of her ways and leaves the story gracefully. And then there's Jaka, who has an entire book dedicated to her, and although she complicates Cerebus' later life and takes the blame for his downfall at the end of Form and Void, I'm sure a lot of readers were still pulling for a "Cerebus and Jaka live happily ever after" ending right up until it became clear that all the people Cerebus ever knew were long since dead.

Maybe it's just because I viewed the earlier Cerebus books through my own, liberal, atheist filters, but I get the feeling that when he was younger and working on the early Cerebus books, Sim was a fairly left-leaning guy himself, and he's stated that he was an atheist pretty much up to the point of Rick's Story. The Church and State books can be taken as being very critical of organized religion. Even as late as the first half of Latter Days, you could still interpret a lot of Cerebus as being shots at the ridiculousness of religious beliefs.

But Sim is a stereotypical example of someone who got more conservative as they aged. Dave took it way past the point that most people reach however - he now not only prays five times daily, he also thinks he's the only one who clearly understands God's message. If Sim were an American (thankfully, he's Canadian), there's no question that he'd be a hard-core, ultra-rightwing Republican.

The sad thing is that I don't think he even realizes how his misogyny obsession shaped his bizarre interpretation of the Bible, which in turn ruined the end of his life's work. Of course, that's just my opinion - if you ask Sim, he'll probably tell you that the whole series was unconsciously leading him to the conclusion that it eventually reached. I know from reading various internet writings of his since he finished Cerebus, he now feels that he and his comic book were being used as pawns in the age-old battle between God and YooHWHoo. He literally can't answer a question any more without somehow guiding the topic back to his twin obsessions of God and the inherent superiority of men over women.

I guess after writing a black and white comic book for 26 years, he can't help but see everything in terms of black and white. Sim seems to think that anyone who doesn't agree 100% with him (which is pretty much everyone), is a member of some Marxist/Feminist/Atheist/Homosexual conspiracy, which he is convinced is actively involved in taking over the world, forcing every pregnant woman to have an abortion, encouraging 13 year olds to have sex-change operations and even younger girls to dress "like five dollar hookers". The 13 year old sex change thing is particularly funny - in the liner notes to Latter Days (or maybe it was The Last Day...it's all starting to blur together), he mentions reading about that in the newspaper, and makes some comment about how he doesn't really care about it one way or the other, it's just another sign of the degeneracy of our "feminist era". But then he goes on to mention it about a dozen times or so throughout the rest of the notes. For someone who doesn't care, he sure seems obsessed about it.

One can easily point out all sorts of other self-contradictions in Sim's writing. He has stated that he believes that "leftist feminists" refuse to think for themselves, or are incapable of thinking. I'm sure he's never seen the masses of right-wing republicans who lap up every lie that Rush Limbaugh spews out as the gospel truth. Or for that matter, the irony of someone who has based his life on an unthinking faith in a supreme being for whom no tangible proof exists telling others that they don't like to think. I guess he considers his strange bible interpretations to be the height of intellectualism.

What it comes down to is that Sim just has a contrarian nature. I'm convinced that you could advance pretty much any theory on any subject to him, and he'd find a way to argue with you about it. How else do you explain someone who feels the need to believe in God and takes the Bible as the literal word of truth, yet still comes up with an interpretation that is completely different from the way anyone else has ever seen it? A way that, just by coincidence, fits perfectly with his own female-bashing mindset.

I think Sim's current state has a lot to do with his relationship with his parents. Being the contrarian type, he naturally had to rebel against his parents. In the notes to one of the later Cerebus books, he describes his relationship with his parents, and guess what? He pretty much hates them, and, of course, it's because they're liberal, feminist atheists. The relationship is so bad that Sim abandoned his mother when she was in bad shape in the hospital, because of a tiff with his father. My favorite bit is when he reveals that he doesn't think God's rule of honoring your Mother and Father applies to him, because his parents are atheists. Way to rationalize, Dave. Sorry, but it doesn't work like that - God's rules may not apply to THEM because they're atheists, but they still apply to YOU. That's the path you've chosen. But like most religious folks, you've decided to pick and choose which parts of the religion you're going to believe in and follow.

(Also amusing is Sim's theory that everyone who is suffering in a hospital is probably there because they don't really believe in God. That one's just too ridiculous to even comment on.)

It's especially interesting that a good percentage of the Cerebus storyline, from Church and State onward, involves many of the main characters (particularly Dave's stand-in, Cerebus) battling the Cirinists, who define themselves by their Motherhood. Even after the Cirinists are defeated, Cerebus is ultimately brought down by the mother of his child. Sim doesn't believe in psychiatrists (they're part of the feminist conspiracy, of course), but I bet if he ever did go to one, I'm sure their conversation would center around Dave's relationship with his mother ("Of course it would," Sim would say, "because psycho-analysis is just one of the corrupt tools of the feminists").

As twisted as he is, I'm guessing there must be something in Sim's personality that attracted me to Cerebus in the first place. Sometimes, when my wife has gotten me particularly pissed off about something, or a female co-worker has shown an impressive display of incompetence, I'll catch myself thinking that maybe Dave has a point. But then I just have to remember that over the course of my life so far, I've been pissed off by guys just as often as by women (if not more so), and many of my male co-workers are just as incompetent as the women.

Still, I've noticed that I'm drawn to other artists who share aspects with Sim. Not comic book artists (since I don't read any other comics), but I can think of a couple musical artists. The first to come to mind is Frank Zappa, who was something of a misogynist himself. Not on Sim's scale, but Frank wrote plenty of lyrics that were scornful or even abusive towards women, and he seemed to view his wife as little more than someone to cook, clean the house and have sex with whenever he felt like taking a break from his work. He was also known to strap on a groupie or two while on the road. Like Sim, Zappa was very dedicated to his art, and when business interests tried to interfere Frank struck out on his own, releasing his music independently via his own label. Like Sim, Zappa spent decades creating a massive project - although it could be broken down into individual albums, movies, books, etc, Frank considered the entirety of his output to be one big, interrelated "project/object". And Zappa rejected "common wisdom" to the point of encouraging people to not go to college, or even drop out of high school, and "educate themselves" instead.

I first got into Zappa around the same time that I read my first Cerebus comic, and while collecting the Cerebus books I was also collecting all of Frank's works. I now have over 70 Zappa albums, plus a few movies and a couple books. I wonder which would take longer, re-reading all of Cerebus or listening to the entire Zappa catalog?

Another musician who bears some similarity to Sim is Kerry Livgren. He, like Sim, built up a secular following, went through a religious conversion and then started subjecting his existing audience to his "new message". Livgren was the main songwriter for the band Kansas during their heyday in the mid-70s. He wrote songs like "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind". And then he found God. Livgren spent most of his younger life searching for some sort of "higher power", and of course if you keep looking long enough, you'll eventually convince yourself that you've found it. His search was reflected in the philosophical lyrics to Kansas' songs, but it wasn't until after the band hit their peak of popularity that Kerry decided to become a born-again Christian. And, like most recently converted religious fanatics, he wanted everyone else to join him. So, just as Sim hijacked Cerebus to get his religious beliefs out to an already-established readership (who hadn't signed on for that sort of thing), Livgren hijacked Kansas and tried to turn them into a Christian rock band. Over their next couple albums, half the songs started getting very preachy, while the band's other main songwriter (vocalist Steve Walsh) attempted to keep the other half more "standard rock and roll". The results were predictable: the band's popularity plummeted, and eventually Walsh left the band (followed one album later by the group's violinist). Livgren hired a new vocalist, who also just happened to be a born-again Christian, and the next couple albums were almost entirely Christian rock. Finally Livgren dropped the pretense of being a secular act and struck off on his own as a solo Christian act, and the new vocalist did the same. Walsh came back and revived the band, but they've never been able to regain the popularity they had in the pre-preachy days.

In the end I guess Cerebus was Sim's creation, to do with as he pleased. I'm not real thrilled about having spent $50 on the last two books, only to find that they had large sections that were nearly unreadable. But no one forced me to buy them. On the other hand, it's not like I could sit down in the store and read the whole thing in advance to see if it was worth spending the money on. And there wasn't really anything in the 20+ years worth of previous Cerebus to give a hint how far off the rails it was going to go at the end. Oh well. If I had the time and money, I'd try to put together my own version of Cerebus that didn't include all the ponderous stuff - I bet it could be knocked down to about 200 issues instead of 300.


Links:

For years, I've been thinking that I was pretty much alone as a Cerebus reader. My first hint that it might be more popular than I thought came when the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had a "Cow Parade" - artists from all over the area painted sculptures of cows, which were then displayed around town and eventually auctioned off. One of the cows was decorated with a television theme, but to my surprise the artist snuck a small, cow-like version of Cerebus (at least I think it's supposed to be Cerebus - it looks like him, but maybe it's just a coincidence) onto the cow sculpture's back side. I've found a bunch of pictures of it on the web, but they're all shot from the front, thus hiding the painting of Cerebus.

Fortunately, my wife made a hobby out of finding and photographing all the cows last summer while they were on display, and she happened to get the shot shown at right.

After finishing the Cerebus books I did a web search to see if anyone else had commented on the completed series. Much to my surprise, I found a ton of Cerebus-related web sites out there. Here are some highlights:

That concludes my own little overly-opinionated diatribe about Cerebus and Dave Sim. For anyone who actually read this far, thanks for letting me vent the thoughts that have built up over close to two decades of reading Cerebus.


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