Before we begin discussing the actual volume of Flight (or the 2nd half of Cerebus) I think we need to take ourselves out of the plot-based discussion and take a look at WHAT, exactly, it is we are reading.
This is a book that virtually one man created and maintained over the course of, at this time, about 16 years. A book he is going to keep going, at this point, for another 11 years or so.
This only HALF of Cerebus done, people!
Part of what I did over this brief break was read David A. Lapham's Stray Bullets. A wonderful book with some top-notch art, great world building and a really great eye for pacing and ear for dialogue. If you haven't heard, Stray Bullets is coming back this March after about a 7 year hiatus. With issue 41.
FORTY-ONE. Let that sink in. Lapham worked hard for ten years on this title before putting it on a long break, and he had only gotten 40 issues done. This is not an attack on Mr. Lapham in the least- He didn't compromise his vision and he had other, more rewarding, opportunities to pursue. Stray Bullets is an immense series and I applaud it and every decision Mr. Lapham has made regarding it. I only bring it up to point out what a colossal accomplishment 150 issues over 16 year is.
I know that we have pretty much NO new readers left at this point, but if we did I would use this as a chance to point out the depths that Cerebus (both the book and character) has explored in both the plot and in the telling of the story.
I would point to the growth of characters and the creator's growing mastery of the medium over the course of the book so far. I would ask them to consider the herculean task accomplished and the equally awesome one ahead; for we are only halfway done.
Before the discussion of Flight begins, I must address the lingering “two Oscars”questions from Melmoth. I thought the matter over and done, with both Menachem and myself putting forth our cases and (I thought) content to have done so, moving on. That discussion can be found here:
However, Menachem’s recent Twitter-based crowing and chest thumping regarding the supposed “definitive” proof of the his “two Oscars” position being found in Flight by virtue of an Oscar’s appearance therein has caused me to be...less content, let us say. And so I will take Menachem’s numbered rebuttal of my position and reply to each,
1. Time. Within Flight’s flashback sequence featuring Cerebus and Bear in conversation around a campfire, Bear informs Cerebus about the Cirinists telepathic ability and penchant for savage violence. I've always assumed it took place between the end of Jaka’s Story and the beginning of Melmoth. Cerebus has no interest in the Cirinists in Jaka’s story, even though his city has been invaded, he has been deposed, and he is in hiding. Perhaps he ran across Bear while they were both using their old haunts and campsites to avoid Cirinists and Cerebus, knowing only that Jaka, Rick, and Oscar have been taken by Cirinists, begins to question Bear. That is evidence of time passing between Jaka’s Story and Melmoth. Not definitive evidence, but an interpretation. As far as Oscar’s change in appearance from Jaka’s Story to Melmoth, yes, it is my supposition that two years of hard labor could (and in fact did in the case of Oscar Wilde) devastate the appearance and health of a man to whom labour of any kind had been astudiously avoided until his imprisonment.
2. Oscar’s debts. Saying Oscar was “adroit at getting money from his publishers” belies the fact that he is shown repeatedly reminding his publisher that he is owed moneys and going so far as refusing to send the latest installment until he is compensated for the previous one. He also was renting from Pud, on a lonely road on the side of a mountain. Upon meeting Lord Julius he fawned over him and was delighted at the implication that he might receive an invitation to a party at the Regency or Lord Julius’ estate. These are hardly the actions of a man with a great deal of money in the bank. Also, while he certainly would not rack up debts while in prison, Oscar’s wife and children presumably continued to require room, board, etc….
3. Reggie and Ronnie, etc… Even “respected writers” have friends, some of whom might help look after your wife and children as you waste away in prison, or even help you out after you've been released, as did Wilde’s friends. I’m afraid this point in particular is an empty argument.
4. No mention of Oscar’s children and family in Jaka’s Story. Well, neither is there any mention of Cerebus’ family, or Rick’s family in Jaka’s Story. And given that, however many Oscars there may be, they are all based on Oscar Wilde, then it is not difficult to imagine such a character living apart from his wife and children from time to time, just as Wilde did.
Menachem’s “definitive” proof of his “two Oscars” position seems to be that Archbishop Posey, arrested and sentenced to five years hard labor in Melmoth, appears in prison and in the company of an Oscar in Flight. On its surface and with a strict linear reading it does seem conclusive. However I see two problems with his conclusion.
The first problem is that while this Oscar is seen in but three panels and in deep shadows at that, there is no doubt that it is certainly one of our Oscars, but he looks aged and withered and much more like the Oscar of Melmoth than the Oscar of Jaka’s story. This seems to fly in the face of Menachem’s Rebuttal Point #1. If only a few weeks have passed since Posey’s imprisonment and a few more weeks have passed since the Oscar of Jaka’s Story’s imprisonment, than how to explain the haggard countenance of Flight’s Oscar?
The second problem is that the scene with Posey and Oscar is related to us by an unreliable narrator, one of many Suenteus Po’s (and all Suentos Po’s are unreliable narrators), an Illusionist for pity’s sake, in the Eighth Sphere on a giant free-floating chessboard during Mind Games VII or eighty-three or whatever it was! Ascribing any literal interpretation to this scene or many of the scenes that take place in Flight is folly.
And that literalness is where Menachem’s original “one Oscar” versus “two Oscars” (and I would argue that we are now faced with “three Oscars”) rebuttal breaks down completely. There is no way a reader can read Jaka’s Story, Melmoth and Flight and interpret their entirety both chronologically linear and literally. There is no way when doing so that Oscar can be one and only one man, and conversely there is no point to there being two Oscars, much less three Oscars, if we remain committed to a chronologically linear and literal interpretation.
Menachem wielded Occam’s Razor in his rebuttal but he wielded it inexpertly. He states that “it is too much work” to reconcile “one Oscar” and so “two Oscars,” by virtue of its being “the easiest, most narratively (sic) clear solution,” is simpler and therefore correct. This argument completely ignores several things. This is not the first time nor the last that Dave Sim will expect his readers to “work hard” to understand the stories he is telling. Taking any of Cerebus from High Society onward completely literally is to miss completely the levels upon levels of complexity and the richness and depth of meaning these stories convey. Applying Occam’s Razor to inconsistencies within Cerebus is to rob oneself of the joy of asking “what does this mean?”
I know Menachem well enough to know he is able to appreciate the many levels at work at once within Cerebus. I’m not suggesting that his interpretations are any less thoughtful and valid than my own, or your own, dear reader [sound of crickets chirping.]
However, I am disappointed that his rebuttal was so literal and failed to even attempt to address my interpretation of why Dave Sim chose to include the character of Oscar, or the characters of Oscar and Oscar, or the characters of Oscar, Oscar and Oscar, in the first place, and what meaning the reader might draw from those character(s) inclusion. It seems to me that solving that puzzle for oneself is the only way to give meaning to a what is, if interpreted strictly chronologically linear and literally, a largely meaningless character.
I hope to address flight on the morrow, and I’d be lying if I were to say I wished this were the last word on Oscar(s). I’m having fun!
Michael Grabowski Added by: EscapePodComicsThis comment does no true good as I haven't got a specific reference to corroborate it, but Dave Sim is on record as stating that Melmoth's Oscar is not Jaka's Story's Oscar, along with something of why he did that. That doesn't change the way it will forever read in the Cerebus texts.
In Cerebus's flashback to his conversation with Bear about Cirinists (Melmoth pp. 241-243) his snout is drawn substantially longer than usual by this point in the series, similar to it's original appearance in the early issues. I take this as a visual clue from Sim that this flashback goes way back, either prior to the first issue or in between one of those first ten issues.
Thank you, Michael. That was one of my answers, that the Bear scene was a waaay back flashback.
I have other answers to all the above, but very little time to write. If I'm going to write, it's going to be about FLIGHT, because we are WAY behind. Sorry, LJ!
Michael, your point regarding the Bear flashback scene is well taken. I did not pick up on that visual clue.
What concerns me most about the Oscar(s) is why did Dave Sim present them to us?
If there is no connection between the Oscars then what is the point of any of them? If there is a connection, whether figuratively (which I think I found) or literally (which I was unable to find), then what is it?
If we had been given only the Oscar of Jaka's Story than there would be no questions to answer. Oscar would then be a bit player in the story, an expertly crafted omage to a well known public figure, much in the way Filgate (sp?) functioned in High Society. But then Sim didn't see fit to give us the last days of Rodney Dangerfield, did he?
Sim's writing is never capricious. He has a points he wants to make and he has questions he wants the reader to ask and answer for himself. Why does Dave Sim retell the last days of Oscar Wilde in the middle of Cerebus?
These are the questions my posts on the Oscar(s) have attempted to answer, and I thing my interpretation does answer the questions. However, I'm aware that other interpretations could possibly answer these questions. But, unfortunately, no one in this discussion has come forth with an alternative explanation or even, inexplicably, seems to have asked themselves the question:
Sigh.... I think that the answer to the question "why?" is simple.
Oscar of Jaka's Story is "the artist." He, and Jaka, represent how an artist relates to their work, how they create, why and how they are treated.
The Oscar of Melmoth serves two purposes: to move the focus off of Cerebus, to give him the "breathing room" the story needs to make his inaction as important as it is meant to be AND to continue the discussion of "the artist." We've seen how the creator lives, but how does he die? Who really cares? Who remembers?
Why two Oscars, as opposed to one? Because Sim, for all his capriciousness as a writer, cannot bend time and space to the degree that would ruin the narrative, and having the end of Jaka's Story take place two years from the beginning of Melmoth would, so... Two Oscars.
Curse you, you've made me write about this again, LJ!
If the interval between my last post and this one doesn’t imply the obvious, then I will state it plainly: I’m having difficulty writing about Flight. I don’t want to write a book report and, since any readers we may have are presumably reading Cerebus along with us, I don’t imagine they want to read one.
Part of the problem is that Flight is book one of the four book ”Mothers & Daughters” storyline, and doing critical analysis of it is akin to doing so for the first ten issues of Church & State Vol. I without benefit of reading the rest of Church & State. There is simply too much happening in Flight that will connect with and much that will ultimately be reconciled within the following three volumes.
I’ve tried and failed to find an avenue of attack.
I wrote and abandoned a piece wherein I tried to show that Mrs. Kopp and Mrs. Thatcher were representing two sides of Cirin, the fundamentalist and the ruthless pragmatist respectively.
That led to my thinking about the entire book as composed of characters and themes with dualities that seemed to reflect the greater themes of “Mothers & Daughters.”
1. Cirin as fundamentalist/pragmatist.
2. Cerebus as aardvark of action (wholesale slaughter of Cirinists)/aardvark of contemplation (search for truth within the 7th & 8th spheres).
3. PunisherRoach as good Tarimite (heeding the call to vengeance)/bad Tarimite (heeding the call of nature).
4. Suenteus Po as unreliable narrator (7th sphere)/reliable (?) narrator (8th sphere.)
5. George as George/George the amnesiatic Tarim.
The trouble is that without the rest of “Mothers & Daughters” to pull from I could draw no coherent and supportable conclusions.
So, for now, if you’re reading along with us (is this thing on? [tap tap]), then I suggest only that you keep these dualities in mind and pay attention to when and how (or if) they resolve themselves over the next three volumes.
...and hope Menachem has had better luck than I.
Reggie Added by: EscapePodComicsLord Julius: I respect your creative and thoughtful interpretation of the material.
At the same time, Sim has said quite firmly that they are two different Oscars, and he is pretty adamant in rejecting what he sees as wrong interpretations. One the one hand, I don't think an author can preclude alternative interpretations of a literary work or entirely dismiss their validity if they are in good faith, respond to the material, and strike the reader as being true for them.
But on the other hand, I don't think you can argue that Dave planned it the way you see it or that he left clues that it is in fact one Oscar. I think you are left to argue that the meaning of the story is enriched if it is one Oscar, but concede that Dave had other plans. It could be that he subconsciously or unwittingly provided enough room to see one Oscar, which would actually commend the work in that it is open to different interpretations.
So, whether it is one Oscar or two, I'd be curious to hear why the story is any better if it is the same Oscar, rather than a different one.
The problem with Flight is well stated by Lord Julius above, as the first quarter of a very complex and DENSE work (Mothers & Daughters) it is hard to discuss it in the same way we did the previous parts of Cerebus.
The duality point is a good one, another is the massive amount of movement and change, which was calculated to shock and astound the reader after the sloooooooow chapters of Melmoth and Jaka's Story.
Suddenly, after stories that carefully and intricately laid out quiet and meaningful moments you have blood, plots, screaming, visions, ascensions and more.
Sim really ratchets up the fantasy element as well, he wants us to remember that this is an IMAGINARY world here, one in which he is exploring ideas and making social commentary with. He is not DIRECTLY commenting on any one thing, but rather creating a fiction that allows him to approach an issue that has bothered him for years- an issue that he doesn't even know how to approach, at first, as it is so complex, so Cerebus gets pretty damn complex in turn.
The issue, of course, is Feminism. Much has been made of Dave Sim's personal beliefs and ideas on the subject, but what we are focusing on here is how he addressed it IN THE WORK.
In the work, Cirin and her people have created a matriarchal network that rules with an iron fist. Astoria, though, has been chipping away at the infrastructure of this group for years, using Cirin's blind appreciation for her powers of politics to protect herself and forward her cause.
Oh, also, Cirinists can communicate telepathically, a feature in the story that wonderfully adds to the dramatic tension but also serves as another reminder that this is FICTION.
Suenteus Po, the Roach and Cerebus are all in a reactive stage at this point. What Cerebus started with his attack on the Cirinists is nothing short of a revolution. The fact that he started this all because he overheard one woman talk about beating Jaka and with no sort of agenda, of course, adds a whole other level to the events, in my mind.
So yeah, I think we should move on to Women and I'm sure that we will end up coming back to Flight to make points about ideas or events that started here and culminate in later books.
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