Does anyone know if "reads" the concept was ALWAYS supposed to play an important role in the series? As in, when they were introduced way back in Jaka's Story or if that developed over time?
Stephen Bolhafner Added by: EscapePodComicsActually, "reads" were introduced fairly eary in "Church & State," Weisshaupt has Cerebus write a few, or at that point they basically sound like romance novels. They sound like salacious sexy romance novels in the short "Caroll E. King Reads," one of the 4-or-so-page stories the early Church & State chapters are full of. In that story, there are definitely things called "reads," and in fact whole shops devoted to them, and they seem to be something roughly analogous to today's popular literature. That story is set after Cerebus became Prime Minister for the second time but before he became Pope, so I'm guessing somewhere between #55-65 in the original run. A looooooong time before Jaka's Story (which started with #114).
You are, of course, 100% correct. The fact that I got their "first appearance" notwithstanding, does anyone know if they were always meant to be an integral part of the story or if it was just happenstance?
Victor Reid... The tales of his publishing woes and mishaps are just SO over-the-top but also so believable.
This also, to me, seems to be when Cerebus stops being simple satire BASED off people Sim knows and becomes straight up parody of them. Gary Grinch? C'mon!
It's been about 4 years since I last read READS and it's kind of blowing my mind again.
What is most amazing is the way Sim uses the text parts to slowly bring the reader closer and closer to his mental state and personality at the time.
Victor Reid is a broad stroke, Sim not lifting the curtain, but revealing the existence of such a curtain, and hinting at the "real" world beyond. Reid is not Sim, he does not have Sim's life, or attitude, and exists in a reality apart from our own, where familiar names are flipped around and the comic industry operates as if it were a late 19th century version of the 1940s pulp revolution. But in that world we see so much of our very own, so much that magnifies or exaggerates a truth (or "truth" or "Truth" or Truth) of the real world.
As Po delivers his revelations and warnings, we shift to Viktor Davis who, it seems, IS Dave Sim. He writes Cerebus, he has obtuse conversations with such real world people as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.
And then he starts talking to you, to the reader. He gets all conversational and familiar. If you've read the single issues of the book you recognize the voice of Dave Sim from the letters page. But, and this is a very important thing to realize, Davis is not Sim either.
After Davis leads the reader into a sublime and terrifying recognition of what their relationship is like, as writer and reader, there is a shift.
Shortly after "revealing" that Cerebus will only run 200, not the announced 300, issues the word "I" appears. Suddenly we are tossing back and forth between "I" and Viktor, stuff gets a bit personal but... we have still not met Dave Sim.
The point (or one of the points) Sim is making in the text of READS is that whatever is happening is happening within the pages of the comic. It's not the "real" world, but the schizophrenic one Sim spends the majority of his day in. And now you know that- now you know that if you are to give validity to what you are reading, if you are going to ponder it and weigh it in balance, then it is, to you, a true (or "true" or "True" or True) thing.
Sim himself will never truly appear, though there will be a drawing on a page that you can connect written symbols that you translate into words that can approximate, in a very primitive way, the IDEA of Dave Sim appearing, as himself, in a comic book. But that drawing and the magic of your brain will make that Dave Sim, which is what Sim always intended.
As he did with Jaka's Story in the past and will with Rick's Story in the future, Sim has slowly and painstakingly crafter a character with so much back-story, so much reality (or "reality or... you know the drill) that every action they do and word they "say" will have woven into it layers and layers of depth.
And that's some damn fine work.
Michael Grabowski Added by: EscapePodComicsI think the concept of what, how, and why we read was always a crucial subtext to the Cerebus work. The transitional paragraphs on the splash pages of the early issues suggest a storytelling--and story-consuming--culture. Po records/reports the campaign history in High Society, and the hint of class struggles surrounding the campaign is also subtly tied to the literate vs. the illiterate (usually a factor in class distinctions anyway, and the preservation of same). Cerebus briefly attempts to author "On Governing," as much for the potential money it would bring in as well as feeding his pride, but Weisshaupt proves to him that producing "reads" would be more worthwhile.
Those "reads" shorts in Church & State are satirizing comics reading culture as much as the popular book-reading culture, and shows a picture of the environment in which Sim is working. He's got a long-form work of significance to write, but the market rewards him best for it by producing it in short serial format with broadly-drawn satirical cartoon-based characters and a little bit of sex appeal.
The prominence of Oscar and his many like-a-looks, and later Fitzgerald & Hemingway, speak to an upper-class appreciation of authors--though maybe their works aren't in the same category as the trashier reads seen earlier. The eventual discussion of Rabbi goes back to weighing the cultural significance of an apparently trashy form--a question certainly on Sim's mind during his Latter Days on this project.
Finally, the book turns to a close reading of Genesis, a book both significant and Significant but with plenty of trash appeal, before concluding with Cerebus's written revelation of the creation of the universe, potentially the Most Significant Book ever, never to be read by another in his life.
So yes, I believe "reads", and Reads, were nearly always intended to have great significance within Cerebus the work as Dave looked time and again at how readers (including his own) choose to process text and make it have meaning or consider the author's meaning, as well as the personal and economic issues that surround the production of texts.
Well, we have come pretty much to the heart of things here at the Escape Pod Comics Cerebus Read, have we not? Within Reads, a slim 246-page volume, is packed enough food for thought to occupy a reader for a lifetime. The questions Dave Sim asks us are tough ones, and the questions he asks us to ask of ourselves are even tougher.
I am currently recuperating from surgery in a rehabilitation facility. My injuries and the subsequent surgeries were such that I am immobilized for much of the day and have been, until the last few days, in some considerable pain, with my mind clouded by the necessary pain medications. As a consequence it took me five days to read Reads. I consumed it in small bites in between physical therapy sessions, my concentration wavering due to the pain and the clouds of fog swimming in my brain. I stopped often to type notes on the laptop, afraid I would lose this thought or that one, concerned as I always am about trying to write something worth reading in these posts. I thought a lot about each passage (both text and comics) I had read, turning it this way and that in my mind and contemplating the differences between how I perceived and interpreted them for myself now and upon my first reading of Reads.
As I look over my notes (two typed pages) I see that they break down into three subjects: The Story Of What Takes Place In The Throne Room, The Story Of Victor Reid, and Victor Davis Tells A Story. Let us begin:
The Story Of What Takes Place In The Throne Room
And then there were four.
As Cerebus, Cirin, Astoria and Po all face each other in the Throne Room, Po takes the lead. In his address to the others he fills in some blanks for them and the readers and all the characters’ motivations become more real, more understandable, and more human. Dave Sim’s use of exposition here is unusual (for him) and in less skilled hands might have been clumsy. Fortunately we are in skilled hands.
Po here seems to be yet another Dave Sim surrogate. His near omniscience (Po’s knowledge of the world of Cerebus and even the inner lives of its inhabitants is second only to their /his creator), his willful isolation and resolve to remain above the petty squabble for “Ascension” and his advice to the others that they would be happier should they decide to follow his example makes of him an example, perhaps even an ideal, of what Sim may have wanted for himself at the time.
And then there were three.
Astoria drops the bombshell that ties the comics portion of Reads with the latter, Victor Davis portion of Reads. Cerebus is an hermaphrodite. This fact brings to light the motivations behind some of Cirin’s and Astoria’s actions, but in relationship to the Victor Davis text pieces it takes on greater importance. Cerebus is effectively a Merged Permanence (as Victor Davis describes it) in his own right. His reasoning, often sound, is nearly always derailed by his endless emotional hunger. His need for respect, power, sex, wealth, etc…, is never sated. Both the Light and the Void are within Cerebus and they struggle against one another constantly. The rest of the series plays out on this battleground.
Astoria taking Po’s advice and choosing to leave the throne room exemplifies perhaps the greatest character development of any of the countless characters within Cerebus. Astoria learns and changes the most. This is interesting as she is in effect the prototypical modern feminist that Victor Davis (and in later volumes of Cerebus and elsewhere, Dave Sim himself) rails against, or rather it is her beliefs, presumably still intact, that he rails against, and yet she comes off here as entirely sympathetic.
And then there were,,,,No, wait. What about Kay Sarah Sarah And Elrod The Albino, Last Ruler Of A Dying Race?
At this point, coming as it does after we’ve been informed of the magical energy that coalesces around aardvarks, the revelation that Elrod The Albino is a manifestation of same is something less than revelatory, however the manner in which Sim reveals it to us is entertaining (of course) and interesting.
“‘Bummer,’ thought Kay Sarah Sarah, ‘for Elrod had been her third favorite Cerebus character after Jaka and Lord Julius...’”
This line of dialogue, appearing as it does in a comics section of Reads immediately following the last Victor Reid text section and immediately preceding the first Victor Davis text section is perhaps the first full on “meta” self-referential moment in Cerebus. Prior to this Sim has thrown anachronistic references at us, usually for an easy laugh (a Star Trek reference comes to mind), but this is not that, A character in the book just said out loud that other characters in the book were characters in a book called Cerebus. Couched as it is in the funny-ha-ha (and it is funny) it might be easy to miss that this is BIG NEWS. It sets the stage for Victor Davis and for the appearance of Dave Sim himself in a later volume.
Okay, now. And then there were two.
The fight scene between Cerebus and Cirin is brutal, savage. The crushing pressure of Cirin’s hand upon Cerebus’ sword arm is palpable. The pain and desperation in both combatants eyes is disturbing. This is far from violence as entertainment and/or excitement depicted in our mass media and our comics and presumably in the reads of Estarcion. This is hard to watch, as if someone were beating someone you love, or perhaps worse, as if someone you loved were giving someone else a beating.
One absolutely stand out comics page shows Cerebus on all fours, bestial, looking as much like an aardvark as he ever will, the fight for survival reducing him to a primal form. Gone is the cute, anthropomorphic Cerebus, his three-fingered hands and three-toed feet transformed into clawed paws dug in for traction and his tail held aloft for balance and adjusting his aim as he prepares to spring upon Cirin’s sword wielding arm.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention Gerhard’s amazing artistry in crafting the Throne Room. The light streaming in from the windows and the reflections they cause in the polished marble of the floor create a depth of field I have never seen before in a comic book. Take another look at panel one on page 61 of Reads. I feel as if I could only tilt the page at the right angle I would be able to see my own reflection staring back at me.
The Story of Victor Reid.
I disagree with the supposition that Victor Reid is a Dave Sim surrogate, even in a several layers removed sort of way. As a character he is more in the vein of the second Oscar, his story a cautionary tale of an artist, albeit an altogether different tale than the one told of Oscar, or the Oscars (No, I shan’t put you through all of that again). Like Oscar, Victor Reid is another of Dave Sim’s nightmares, another example of the sort of artist he does not want to become.
Victor Reid, like Dave Sim, is relatively successful, a medium size fish in a small pond. Reid chose to sign with a publisher and accept an advance. His ego inflated by his admirers and his sudden temporary wealth, he spends his nights drinking and eating and carousing, neglecting to do the work he has already been paid for.
Despite this Reid is fortunate enough to have stumbled upon an idea for a read that would be like no other. Instead of the salacious yet Cirinist approved bodice-rippers that made his name and earned him his publishing contract he would write a read that examined Kevilism and Cirinism and as a bonus purport to tell of an actual verifiable Ascension, that of Cerebus. He is excited and works to the point of distraction. Like Dave Sim, Victor Reid was going to elevate his chosen medium.
Of course the economic realities of the situation come crashing down upon Reid. His publisher wants what they paid for, more bodice-rippers, He capitulates out of fear of losing his contract, his wealth, his admirers, and all of the comforts to which he had recently become accustomed. We last see Victor Reid now married with children, a slave to royalty cheques, presumably still churning out bodice-rippers for his publisher, his notes on the original Ascension languishing in a drawer somewhere.
One of the more telling passages is the first chapter of Victor Reid’s revamped bodice-ripper version of Ascension in which he recounts the rape of Astoria. Compare and contrast Victor Reid’s version of that event to that of Dave Sim’s. While Reid’s is intended to titillate and (as our Supreme Court might put it) arouse prurient interest, Sim’s is equal parts horror and subtlety, begging questions, some of which are answered within Reads.
Menachem was right when he wrote “Victor Reid is not Dave Sim.” Victor Reid is everything Dave Sim labored (and I mean labored) so hard to avoid being. Self publishing and making a living and telling the story he wanted to tell without interference, Dave Sim became his own dream of what he could be and banished the possibility of becoming Victor Davis to the dustbin of long forgotten nightmares.
Victor Davis Tells A Story
The central mystery surrounding the character of Victor Davis is how far removed are the beliefs of Victor Davis removed from that of his creator, Dave Sim? I think the answer is “not very,” or perhaps even, “Not at all.” Of course I mean Dave Sim’s beliefs at the time he wrote the issues of Cerebus that would become Reads. His beliefs have certainly evolved since then. That’s evident even within the pages of Cerebus that follow Reads. But his view on the sexes and society have not changed much since Victor Davis made them public.
While Menachem is correct that Victor Reid is not Dave Sim, he seems to see Victor Reid, Victor Davis and Dave Sim (the character that will appear before too very long within the pages of Cerebus) as a sort of progression in which we get closer to the real (“real”, Real) Dave Sim. As I wrote above, Victor Reid is to me in no way a version of Dave Sim. And while Victor Davis and Dave Sim (the character) are extraordinarily similar, I think that Dave Sim (the artist) created them for two very different purposes and audiences, the former to speak directly to us, the readers, and the latter to speak directly to Cerebus, his creation. As to which of them is closest to the real Dave Sim, who can say?
The views expressed by Victor Davis (and, for the record, those of Dave Sim are problematical for me. While I think he accurately describes the symptoms in our dysfunctional lives, relationships and society as a whole, I think his diagnosis is incorrect. The connections that Victor Davis tells us that he can not help but see between seemingly disparate events and coincidences are what inform his diagnosis, so let us take a closer look at those connections. Victor Davis gives us an example:
“The Beatles music compels (Prince) Charles Manson (Man-Son) to brutally murder Sharon Tate (tete is “head” in French), a blond actress, practically seven years to the day after the death of Marilyn Monroe (Moon Row).Edward Kennedy is implicated in the death of Mary Jo (Mary and Joseph) Kopechne even as Apollo 11 (The Sun God, two magicians) speeds towards the moon. All of this transpires within a couple of weeks in the summer of ‘69.”
What conclusions are we supposed to have drawn from these connections? Are they so self evident that Victor Davis feels no need to inform us what the are? And to be frank, I don’t see even the connections. Let me have a go at it:
“The Beatles (beat-less) music compels Charles (in charge) Manson (monsoon) to brutally murder Sharon (sharing) (Larry) Tate, a blond actress, practically seven years to the day after the death of Marilyn (Maryland) Monroe. Edward Kennedy (can he die?) is implicated in the death of Mary Jo (marriage? Oh!) Kopechne (cop pick knee) even as Apollo (Up? How low?) (7-)11 speeds towards the moon. All of this transpires within a couple of weeks in the summer of ‘69.”
Is there any more meaning to be found within Victor Davis’ example than within mine? Try it yourself with the sample given or any newspaper article or excerpt on any kind.
If I think Victor Davis’ diagnosis is wrong (and I do), then what do I think is the correct diagnosis? Victor Davis touches on it briefly but significantly when he discusses corporations and politicians. He doesn’t mention the science of advertising and I think it plays a huge role too. But this is a critical analysis of Cerebus and not a forum for my Democratic Socialist viewpoints, so I’ll spare you. (You’re welcome.)
So if Dave Sim (the really really real one) sees the sorts of connections in things that Victor Davis does, and I think it is evident that he does given his writings outside of Cerebus, then Cerebus is his attempt to make sense of those connections, to get to the truth (“truth”, Truth, “Truth”) of the matter of, in short, Life, the Universe and Everything (Trademark Douglas Adams).
Is Dave Sim a misogynist? No. I see no evidence that he hates women.
Is Dave Sim crazy? Mentally deranged especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way? No. Quite the opposite.
I don’t subscribe to Dave Sim’s worldview, cosmology, religion, politics, or his views on women. But I am certain he would be a charming dinner companion and a top-notch neighbor. I don’t think I could say the same thing about Tom Cruise and they let that guy walk around without a minder. Or do they?
First a response to LJ’s very well thought out and written piece:
Very dead-on with the Hermaphrodite aspect of Cerebus, LJ! As I expound upon my ideas here I would like everyone to realize that THIS aspect of merged permanence and Cerebus’s true nature work perfectly. This is a central theme of Cerebus, how he always sabotages himself or makes some rash emotional decision that ruins it for him. Becoming aware of his nature is the crux on which the entire series turns, if you notice- from here on in, as a self-aware merged permanence, Cerebus is going to act very differently than he did before.
Oh, and nice catch on the Kay Serah “meta-textual” brilliance, never noticed that!
Yes, yes, yes on the awesome art work. I think the most amazing part is something that has, by now already become pretty standard for Cerebus the series; the 3 dimensional aspect Gerhard’s meticulous work adds. It’s certainly, though, never seen on the level it is seen here until maybe Going Home again. Stellar work that really adds to the dizzying nature of what it going on.
Yes, that was sort of my point. It’s clear Reid is not Sim- he’s a “what if” or “Elseworld” version, I think… and he exists to get us comfortable with the discussion of Reads as comics and writer as Sim, to me. Beside for doing many other things, of course. But I’m still in my rejoinder, not my larger, thought-out piece.
This is where we get to the main thing I want to write about, and I don’t disagree with you, LJ, about the purposes Viktor and “Dave” play in the book: one for us, one for Cerebus. As for agreeing with Dave Sim’s opinions or beliefs… well, now is as good a place as any to start my “real” piece so:
The Problem With #186 (Or: Whose Line(r Notes) Is It Anyway?)
The biggest problem with issue #186 to me, is not the paganist, Zoroastrian-esque, anti-feminist point at it’s center. I am one of those people who can read all sorts of opinions and not be insulted by them. Especially when the person giving them doesn’t advocate DOING anything about them. Observations come from, well… observations. And the experiences that shape the observer, of course. Whatever it is Dave Sim is trying to say here, at the end of Reads, is his world view and I don’t see any reason to get up in arms over it or upset.
(You knew it was coming.)
The problem with the ideas expressed at the end of Reads is how BADLY they are expressed. Viktor Davis starts off strong, he starts by citing Alan Moore and telling us that all stories are true. Fine, okay. To me, and many others who read the book when it first came out, this seemed to be a hedging technique, something Dave Sim was doing so that he didn’t have to COMMIT to whatever he wrote. Whether that was his intent or not, what follows in Cerebus is a muddled mess than just gets more and more confusing and less and less specific.
We start with the Light and Void from George’s story on the moon. Fair enough. Sim uses some pretty amazing writing to put us, the reader THERE as he speaks to us. He even magically balances the various reactions different readers will have without losing the thread. All well and good. What follows, though, is some fairly sophomoric imagery in which the Light and Void engage in some sort of cosmic bukkake, sending long trails of star semen all over the place. Even this is not that bad, though one seems to wonder where the narrative is LEADING.
Then he starts with the “games.” In a display of shocking prudishness, Sim seems to recant his more overt imagery and creates these various sexual exchanges using all sorts of euphemistic terminology that only adds to the obfuscation of his point.
When the concept of Merged Permanence is introduced, I will admit, that I was lost. This is my third time reading Cerebus and the first two times I just sort of assumed all would be made clear as things go on. This time, trying to read as critically as possible, I just couldn’t make sense of it. Sim wants us to believe that this “Merged Permanence” is the same thing he shows us in the theater, the women eating the brains of their mates, controlling but the connecting idea is missing. To me, the central point of Reads, and this idea of merged permanence and Cerebus as a “working model” (for want of better words for it) of it DOES work as the series continues. And, if you read the letter’s pages and essays that follow #186, I think that Sim does a decent job of explaining what he was trying to say here, I just don’t think he does a very good job of it at this juncture.
I’m a big Cerebus fan and appreciate the various skills Dave Sim brings to his book, but this, to me is one of the few places where he just doesn’t BRING IT. It’s possible that the problem lies in me or on the fact that Sim spends so many issues writing so WELL, leading to SOMETHING that it just doesn’t seem that he delivers on.
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