Conversations (19)

        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:


The Aardvarks:


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.


Victor Reid:


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.


Viktor Davis:


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.


But.


(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.

Oh, I don't know, I consider myself an optimist who sees things negatively. Haha. I assume everything will mess up, so why worry, why get upset, if you try your best, that's all you can rely on. The trends of the comic scene will come and go, and even my art style will get less popular or more popular. All I can control is if I hit deadlines and get a product done according to a certain standard.

Optimism is the choice to see things how you want, and then work towards making it that way. Pessimism is giving up.

So it comes down to perspective... Which leads perfectly into my next question:

In Mega City Two, your recently wrapped up Judge Dredd mini-series, you seem to take an almost perverse pleasure in drawing dramatic scenes and action moments from unique and, frankly, intense perspectives. Certainly, the work differed greatly from Gamma in that sense. Was that a choice made for the book itself or just an evolution of your style?

Well I, for one, am thankful that the Astronaut clip-art you had was substandard because, as you say, Dinosaurs rule.

How did you go from static, philosophical, and (mostly) one-off comics about dinosaurs (but really about US- WE ARE THE DINOSAURS!) to that sweet sweet Adventure Time gig? Did they just call you up and say "you're funny and irreverent, we'd like you to continue to do so but with these multi-million dollar IPs that are famous the world over."?

Well, I was going to start with some questions that were both HUMOROUS and THOUGHT-PROVOKING but you and Chip Zdarsky had to mess it all up with your frat boy like shenanigans (http://www.replyall.me/escapepodcomics/creator-qa-4-chip-zdarsky/#8392), so: Print vs. Digital as it pertains to comics- your thoughts?

Ohgosh nega chip dzarki (but really Riley)
Ohgosh nega chip dzarki (but really Riley) Added by: EscapePodComics
Hi, Chip. What is your favorite Cher song?
Fair point.

Did you ever, in your wildest dreams imagine you would have a comic of yours go into a SIXTH printing? Let alone within six months of it coming out? Actual, maybe you did. I imagine you have pretty wild dreams...

Yeah, forget that dumb question, I prefer this one: What is your wildest dream?
I wasn't even part of the initial pitch. That was all Nick! They brought me aboard after I drew a story for that Hurricane Sandy issue of Hawkeye. I guess my approach to that story seemed to fit the tone of this project. 

 As I recall, it was initially set up as a sort of Elmore Leonard or Guy Ritchie story in the Marvel Universe. That aspect is still in there, but obviously we started mutating it into something else pretty quickly. Some readers have described the book as a supervillain take on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I had never watched the show when we started on the book, but after 4 or 5 issues of seeing people make the comparison, I went and watched a bunch of episodes and I can totally see what those readers mean. 

That mutation has been a totally organic process. Nick works in short batches, getting me a few pages at a time, so it's a continual ping pong match as I react to his serves, and he reacts to my returns.

Thats's awesome. I Can totally see the Guy Ritchie aspect at the beginning and I can see it start to morph into something else, for sure... 


The response has been great on that book, as you well know. Was there a moment when you guys were worried about being canceled or is that still something that could happen? Marvel keeps referring to the book as a "sleeper hit." Does that mean that they're on-board or is it still a wait and see thing?