TCJ #301: Excerpt from “Irredeemable: Dave Sim’s Cerebus”

From Cerebus #300 (March 2004) ©2004 Dave Sim & Gerhard

I’m not sure to what extent I need to explain the graphic-novel cycle Cerebus to a Comics Journal audience. Hard as it is for me to believe, based on my conversations with younger cartoonists, it seems like some basic background might be advisable here. The history of this book and its author used to be a legend in the comics world — in fact, it reads a lot like a superhero origin story. In 1977 Dave Sim, a 21-year-old comics fan, whose only job had ever been working in a comics shop, began drawing his own comic book, a parody of/homage to Barry Windsor-Smith’s Conan, featuring as its hero the eponymous Cerebus, an avaricious, hard-drinking barbarian who is also an aardvark. Two years into the series, Sim took LSD for a week and a half, suffered what he described as a “nervous breakdown,” and had to be admitted to a hospital, where he was diagnosed as “borderline schizophrenic” (whatever that might mean as applied to someone coming down off several days of acid). Recovering from this experience, he had a life-changing epiphany: Cerebus would run for 300 issues. It was a vast story; it would be his life’s work. Deranged hubristic ambitions are not uncommon among schizophrenics, people on LSD, or 23-year-olds, but here’s the remarkable part: He actually did it. Dave Sim drew Cerebus, putting out an issue a month, for the next 25 years. He finished it in 2004. It runs to 16 volumes, and occupies a solid foot of shelf space.

Cerebus Vol. 1 ©1987 Dave Sim

In the early, sword-and-sorcery issues of Cerebus, Dave Sim drew about as well as the second- or third-best artist in your high school, the guy you’d ask to do the cover for your heavy metal band’s album or airbrush the side of your van. After drawing about a hundred issues, by the time he’d finished Volume II of Church & State — around the same time he hired a brilliant and apparently indefatigable draftsman named Gerhard as his background artist, freeing himself to concentrate exclusively on his characters — Dave Sim had become one of the best cartoonists in North America. And not just in the excellence of his technical skill — he was relentlessly inventive and virtuosic. His exuberant formal experimentation extended from his lettering and paneling to the design of whole issues: Readers puzzled and wowed over the issues in which each page’s background was a fragment of one large picture of Cerebus, or the spinning of an ascending tower was reflected by the page layout rotating several degrees on each page, so that you had to slowly turn the whole book 360º in your hands in the course of reading it. “Thou shalt break every law in the book,” was his injunction to himself.

Sim was also a smart and voracious autodidact (he dropped out of high school after grade 11), and, as he matured, his intellectual passions grew beyond comics, and his artistic ambitions far beyond parody. The single-issue stories expanded into longer and longer story arcs, gradually growing into full-length, 500-page novels. As he continued drawing Cerebus, Sim incorporated everything that captured his interest into the book: He became interested in the mechanics of electoral politics, and Cerebus ran for Prime Minister; he got interested in the history of religion, and Cerebus became the Pope; as Sim’s literary tastes became more sophisticated, Cerebus encountered incarnations of Oscar Wilde, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway. He insatiably appropriated not only literary, historic and political figures, but fictional characters and screen personae, the likenesses of friends and colleagues, other authors’ prose styles, even another cartoonist’s dialogue in a manner that would’ve been called postmodern if he’d had an MFA. He wrote books within books, invented intricate political ideologies, created whole cosmologies. Throughout all of which the book’s central character remained the same anthropomorphized aardvark.

From Cerebus Vol. 5: Jaka's Story ©1990 Dave Sim

It also, against what might seem like any reasonable expectations, became a success. Dave Sim was one of the first cartoonists to publish his own work, and he was a vocal proponent of self-publication as the only means of securing artistic autonomy and control. Not only did he actually make a living being a cartoonist, he made it look glamorous. The monthly “Note from the President” and the photo that accompanied each issue of Cerebus hinted at a life spent doing nothing but drawing his comic book, smoking pot and going out (and breaking up) with good-looking girls. At comics conventions, he showed up in limos, rented out whole suites, threw parties. He’d become an alternative-comics rock star. He appealed to the young and unformed in much the same way as Jim Morrison or Hunter S. Thompson, artists whose personæ are at least as compelling as their work.

But then somewhere in there, roughly two-thirds of the way through the series, Dave Sim began to develop some let’s call them idiosyncratic and controversial views on the sexes, politics and religion — about which more later — all of which found explicit expression in his work. These “rants” and “tangents,” as he called them, alienated a lot of his audience. Quite a few of his readers would tell you that he went insane before their eyes. By the end, Cerebus’s circulation had dropped almost in half from its high point, circa Church & State — although that might also be attributed to the more static and internal action of the later books, or to changes in the business and culture of comics. The final issue, which showed the title character dying “alone, unloved, and unmourned” in fulfillment of a prophecy made back in 1988 (so this isn’t exactly a “spoiler”), completed an undertaking that began as an in-joke and ended as what its author, a man not given to modest understatement, claims is “the longest sustained narrative in human history.”*

Dave Sim noted ruefully that the completion of his vast project was met with “the sound of one cricket leg chirping.” Gary Groth, editor of the Comics Journal, which had had a combative history with Sim, sent him a note of gentlemanly congratulations of the sort you might imagine Holmes sending to Moriarty after the unexplained disappearance of the crown jewels. There were mentions in The Village Voice and The Onion’s A.V. Club — mentions that tended to take the same tone of straightfaced, whatever-else-you-wanna-say-respect the media pays to achievements like a record-setting win at the national hot-dog-eating contest.

It’s true that Cerebus occupies an oddly provisional place in comics’ canon, given the sheer magnitude of the project, its stylistic innovation and virtuosity, and its influence on other artists. (It was conspicuously excluded from The Comics Journal’s list of the 100 Greatest Comics of All Time.) It hasn’t helped Sim’s critical standing that he belongs to a cartooning tradition that’s currently unfashionable in an era of hip minimalism and the amateurish DIY aesthetic. His artwork is part of a lineage of densely detailed, illustrative, caricature-based cartooning, descended more directly from the fine art of William Hogarth and Honoré Daumier than are most contemporary American comics, a style whose modern masters are the likes of Arthur Szyk and Mort Drucker (and of which this writer is a marginal practitioner).

Cerebus is also too much a product of, and too narrowly concerned with, the world of comics ever to become the kind of breakout critical or commercial success as, say, Maus, Fun Home or Persepolis. Anything you can’t even begin to describe without explaining, “It’s sort of like Howard the Duck …” is never likely to get discussed in the New York Review of Books. Its parodies of characters, creators and trends in the world of comics circa 1980-2000 date badly, and were never even comprehensible, let alone of much interest, to anyone outside that marginal subculture.

But the main impediment to Dave Sim’s literary reputation is Dave Sim himself. His regressive social and political views and obnoxious rhetoric have created a public persona that’s eclipsed his artistic achievement in the comics world much more completely than it would have in the larger, less insular artistic world — where, for example, plenty of people call John Updike a chauvinist but not even his bitterest detractors question his mastery as a prose stylist, where Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ill-advised statement about 9/11 being a work of art didn’t get him ejected from the first rank of postwar composers, and artists like Wagner and Pound are still secure in their respective pantheons despite having endorsed ideas that are, to put it charitably, pretty well discredited.

But Sim’s controversial ideas are not peripheral to his work; he ultimately makes them its central message and purpose. Wagner never actually wrote any operas about the villainy of the Jews, nor Pound cantos praising the wise and just rule of Franco, but Sim incorporated his screeds about women and the tenets of his one-man religion into the text of his novel, so that even a reader determined to ignore all the apocryphal gossipy bullshit accumulated around the artist and concentrate on the work itself is finally forced to confront the fact that the man has some bizarre ideas and an abrasive way of expressing them.

Perhaps most damagingly of all, Dave Sim is the single most passionate and outspoken advocate of his own work, and also its most reductive and unreliable interpreter. Having finished his magnum opus, he seems unable to let go of it, and continues to hand down authoritative misreadings of the work that do it a serious disservice. He tries to rationalize the kinds of inconsistencies and contradictions that are only inevitable in a work that was written month by month over 30 years; he issues contemptuous dismissals of (female) characters who might have seemed to the reader to have had some depth and complexity; and he sometimes makes assertions that are clearly contradicted by the text. It raises the troubling possibility that what seemed like Cerebus’s literary quality may only have been so much projection on the part of its readers. What’s more likely is that Sim, like a lot of artists, is less than fully conscious of what he’s doing and is the last person who should be consulted about the meaning of his own work.

Mick Jagger vs. Margaret Thatcher in Cerebus Vol. 11: Guys ©1997 David Sim & Gerhard

Sim’s loudmouthed self-promotion and self-pity has effectively divided comics readers into two camps: those who sigh and make the little twirly-motion at their temples when his name comes up, and a devoted core of fans so uncritical and defensive you’d have to call them acolytes, which doesn’t tend to do an artist’s critical reputation much good either. (Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard have both become cult figures among different genera of dingbats, but Atlas Shrugged doesn’t get discussed in the same academic circles as the Tractatus, and you aren’t going to see a Library of America edition of Battlefield Earth anytime soon.) He complains that his work is willfully ignored by the comics world, but blaming his ostracism on the Marxist/feminist/homosexualist axis (this is not hyperbole) hasn’t persuaded many people to take a second look. And for all his plaints about his obscurity, he’s also been perversely obstructionist toward anybody who’s tried to publicize his work. (I’m thinking specifically, though not only, of the I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I stance he took toward the [female] interviewer for The Onion’s AV Club.)

It’s a situation I had hoped to go some small distance toward remedying for a new generation of readers who may not even have heard of Cerebus, or have heard of it only as an artifact of mental illness, a companion piece to accompany the story of Dave Sim, a very gifted cartoonist who went around the bend. Sim may well be a wackjob or an acid casualty, but he is also, I would argue, one of the greatest living cartoonists. And Cerebus is more than a curiosity; it’s beautifully drawn, intermittently hilarious and brilliant, the gargantuan and astonishing life’s work of a master craftsman.

That, however, was before I’d actually read the fucking thing.

•  •  •

From Cerebus Vol. 5: Jaka's Story ©1990 Dave Sim

I read several issues of Cerebus over my college roommate’s shoulder back in the mid-’80s, which, fortuitously, happened to be the era of Church & State II, one of the artistic crests of the book. (Of course it’s possible that everyone’s favorite era of Cerebus coincides with their initial discovery of it — cf. Peter Graham’s adage that the golden age of science fiction is 12.) Dave Sim was one of the very few artists I ever deliberately studied (as opposed to the deep influences I unconsciously absorbed from, say, Mad magazine and B. Kliban): I marveled at his drawings of a hand blurred as it shakes out a match or a face reflected in a rippling puddle of mop water; I imitated the fine hatching in the wrinkles around Bishop Powers’s shouting mouth and internalized the lessons of his expressionistic lettering and word balloons.

I never did get around to reading Cerebus, though. I’ve always had it jotted down somewhere on my life To Do list that someday I’d have to read the whole thing. The glimpses I’d gotten through my sporadic reading were intriguing but also daunting; I was intimidated by the book’s sheer length and evident complexity, all the backstory I’d have to absorb just to have any idea what was going on. I wasn’t looking forward to having to get through all the amateurish fan art and dweeby allusions in the first volume, which veteran readers glumly assured me would be necessary to familiarize myself with the basic cast of characters and background. I decided to wait until Sim had finished the whole 300-issue run and then, I told myself — envisioning this in a comfortably distant future — I’d sit down and read them all in one marathon, War and Peace-like binge.

Which is what I finally did last summer. I traded one of my original cartoons for all 16 volumes of Cerebus and hauled the whole 20 pounds of it down to my Undisclosed Location on the Chesapeake Bay, where I holed up, away from the distractions of the Internet or girls and read them one after the other on the couch, listening to old soundtracks on vinyl and eating Old El Paso tacos, all pretty much while wearing the same T-shirt.

So, what are we to make of this thing, Cerebus? It’s far too long and complex to give it the kind of close reading it deserves even in the generous space I’ve been allotted here. Its sheer unwieldy scale makes it difficult to evaluate critically; it’s such a vast structure that it’s hard to grasp its architecture. And everything we know about its eccentric author makes it hard to see clearly as a work of art. What I want to try to do is clear away enough of the clutter of extraneous baggage it’s accumulated and step back far enough from it to begin to figure out what kind of book Cerebus is, whether it’s ultimately any good, where it belongs in comics’ history and canon, and whether it’s deserving of — and capable of withstanding — critical attention from the larger artistic and literary world.

*Not sure whether there’s any point in quibbling with a claim this arbitrary and ill defined. Is Cerebus “longer” than, say, Henry Darger’s 15,000-page illustrated novel The Story of the Vivian Girls? Or, for that matter, than Japanese epics that ran for a hundred volumes and took decades to compose, or soap operas that began in the ’50s and are still running today? How to compare the length of graphic vs. prose novels, let alone print vs. electronic media? Let it suffice to agree with Sim that his achievement is, by logistical measures alone, very impressive indeed. Just in terms of the dedication and discipline necessary to such an undertaking, and the 10s of thousands of hours of labor involved, it is awe-inspiring.

(Continued in issue 301)


84 Responses to TCJ #301: Excerpt from “Irredeemable: Dave Sim’s Cerebus”

  1. Eric Hoffman says:

    Entertaining article (or, at least, what is posted here), yet you are wrong on one point: Pound did write poetry praising fascism. In fact, several people have written entire books about Pound’s poetic appropriation of fascism’s so called “aesthetics,” the most notable of them being Robert Casillo. Here ya go: http://www.amazon.com/Genealogy-Demons-Anti-Semitism-Fascism-Myths/dp/0810107104

  2. Jeffrey Goodman says:

    “That, however, was before I’d actually read the fucking thing.”

    The above is the quote from Mr. Kreider’s piece that stands out for me and makes me wish that the rest of the essay was accessible. I read all of Cerebus a few years ago and feel that it’s a very mixed bag. There were books that I loved, was amazed and amused by, while others bored me to tears and left me scratching my head, especially the last couple of books. I only recommend it to friends familiar with the minutia and esoteric ways of comics and to others, not at all. I feel it’s about 70% excellent, and 30% masterbatory insanity that can possibly even do damage to one’s eyesight after prolonged exposure. I will be picking up a copy of TCJ #301 to read the rest of this essay, as Mr. Kreider seems to have dissected Cerebus a lot more intricately than I and I liked what I’ve read of it so far.

  3. Eric Hoffman says:

    Moreover, I think you mean Mussolini when you write Franco. Franco was a Spanish dictator. Pound lived in Italy during WWII and was enamored with Il Duce, the Boss, Mussolini. Pound may well have respected Franco, but it was Mussolini with whom he met and admired.

  4. Eric Hoffman says:

    Finally, I disagree with your conclusion that Sim has been “perversely obstructionist toward anybody who’s tried to publicize his work.” Are you aware of Cerebus TV, Sim’s entertaining, half-hour, weekly show, which gleefully promotes both his own post-Cerebus work (glamourpuss, Cerebus Archive and Judenhass) and (generously, as he’s always been) the work of other comics artists?

    On a personal note, when approaching Sim for permissions to use imagery and writing in a proposed collection of essays on Sim, Gerhard and Cerebus, Sim graciously gave me permissions, no questions asked. I’d hardly describe that as “perversely obstructive.”

  5. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    Such a tease….. sigh. Just ordered my copy of 301…

  6. Oliver says:

    Even Dave says he doesn’t have fans, but readers. I think he has yet to find one who agrees with him on everything. In fact most of “the readers” delight in open minded discussions -well, you’d almost have to to enjoy stories titled ‘Mind Games” and whatnot.
    You are falling back on easy convenient and, let’s face it, untrue answers…in fact many would say Cerebus is a mess and not clear at all unlike Rand. Anyway, you are losing credibility, hoping it’s not a sign of what to come…you might not be up for the task you’ve set before you.

  7. Sabin says:

    Cerebus is the Triumph of the Will of comics.

  8. Sneevo says:

    Sabin is the Ann Coulter of analogies.

  9. Copper Man says:

    I feel it’s about 70% excellent, and 30% masterbatory insanity that can possibly even do damage to one’s eyesight after prolonged exposure.

    So only 4,200 pages of excellent comics? Totally not worth my time, then.

  10. R. Fiore says:

    I have an advance copy of the issue and this essay is really excellent. It says everything about Sim I would say if I had the ability. I had always hoped that when he got done with the goddamned aardvark he’d do something that would be accessible to the audience he deserved, but by that time it was too late. There came a point when I wasn’t familiar with the comics he was parodying and I came to realize the incomprehension that must arise in the general reader. What a waste.

  11. Eric Hoffman says:

    @ R. Fiore, I don’t understand much of the basis of your damnation of the later Cerebus parodies, “what a waste.” Did you ever consider locating those comics he was parodying? Often times when I find a reference in a piece of literature – an allusion, a quotation – and I am not familiar with it, instead of recoiling, I do my best to try to understand it, usually by locating the source material. Doing so generally enriches my appreciation of the work where I found the reference, as well as introducing me to something of which I was previously ignorant. Or is that too scholarly of me?

  12. Michael Grabowski says:

    Reading Spawn comics to get a better appreciation of Sim’s late parody of it doesn’t sound like a good use of one’s time, and I say that as someone who enjoyed those issues of Cerebus anyway. Does one also need to go read some fashion magazines if he doesn’t care for those parts of glamourpuss?

    Sim’s reliance on comics parodies throughout the work made it a lot of fun to read as it was coming out, but it weighs the work down in so many “allusions” that will one day (if not already) require heavy annotations to explain. This (to me) defeats the purpose of making comics, especially when so many of the sources of his jokes aren’t necessarily worth researching.

    One great example of this is Sim’s own commentary on the early Latter Days issue that parodied the hockey league. A funny issue loaded with in-jokes that largely went past me (and that’s ok) was made less entertaining and enlightening by Sim explaining all the gags.

  13. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    I think the likelihood of Sim’s parody/pastiche elements surviving someone not knowing the material has to be taken on a case-by-case basis, and in general is pretty overstated. I say this as someone who read the first five or so books as an early teenager with no exposureat all to Moon Night, Captain America, Elrick, Swamp Thing, or Groucho Marx (I know, I know), some of the objects of parody or pastiche for the earlier material . I think it depends an awful lot of the length and purpose of their use–certainly the big swaths of “Guys” with cameos are really problematic, in a “celebrity cameo in a 60s sitcom” kind of way.

    That being said, it’s hard to predict how People of the Future will react to such things. I have it on good authority that Lewis Carrol’s work is filled with allusions to contemporary events–most modern readers aren’t really reading that into them now.

  14. DerikB says:

    Agreed. I enjoyed Cerebus a lot and I have never read Moon Knight or a great majority of the superhero comics Sim was parodying. Sometimes that didn’t matter, sometimes maybe I’d have thought it funnier. Who knows.

    Not sure, Eric’s suggestion is the best though. I would never read Moon Knight or Spawn to try to appreciate Sim’s parody more. Maybe I’d reread some Fitzgerald or Hemingway or watch some Marx Brother’s movies, though.

    [Hey did you guys get rid of that silly commenting plugin you were using? I can comment normally now!]

  15. patrick ford says:

    Cerebus never did a thing for me. I read it for about a year around the time the early issues of Love and Rockets, and Raw were coming out. Really the only reason I read it was at the time it was a massive pain for me to get to a distant comics shop. There were a small list of things I was strongly interested in, but my feeling was that since I was spending what amounted to half a day getting to and back from the comics store I ought to at least check out some of the current books people were “raving about” at the time. As a result I spent a couple of years reading Cerebus, Swamp Thing, American Flagg, and Daredevil. None of that stuff interested me at all, and my biggest memory of it is thinking at the time, “why am I reading this?”

    The up side is I later sold off the Swamp Thing and Daredevil issues for good money. I never was able to find anyone interested in buying Cerebus or American Flagg.

    Cerebus seems to have been an early manifestation of “geek culture” now common, and typified by things packed full of “clever” pop culture winks and nods, like the dreadful Shrek movie which debased the wonderful book by William Steig.

  16. Jeffrey Goodman says:

    You’re on this site, so I’m guessing you know something about comics. Therefore, I’d recommend it to you. That was pretty much my point though perhaps it wasn’t crystal clear. To acquaintances who aren’t ‘comic book savvy’ I wouldn’t recommend a 6000 page anything, let alone a graphic novel of that length….you, though, probably should give it a whirl…you might even like the parts that hurt my eyes, who knows?

  17. “I’d sit down and read them all in one marathon, War and Peace-like binge”

    I hope you read every single word of the biblical exegesis in Latter Days.

  18. To second Eric Hoffman’s point about his being “perversely obstructionist” – a few years ago, I enquired with Dave Sim about shooting a documentary about him and Cerebus and he promptly invited me to accompany him to the upcoming Toronto Con. Unfortunately I was never able to get the film together, but during my stay he allowed me, a complete stranger, complete access as I followed him around for the weekend, and was a really classy guy throughout my stay. In fact, he took it upon himself to ensure that Jean Shuster received VIP treatment for her visit to the con (they were hosting the Shuster Awards there, named after he brother Joe.)

  19. R. Fiore says:

    I say it’s a waste because as Kreider says in the full text Sim had far more raw talent than a lot of the big machers of art comics but he frittered it away on trivial things. In a better world he would have realized that he’d developed themes and interests that didn’t fit the Cerebus template, allowed the Cerebus storyline to come to a natural conclusion (at which it still would have been seen as a work of monumental length) and then sought out new worlds to conquer. Instead he pulled this arbitrary number of 300 issues out of his ass when he didn’t have anything like enough story to fill them, and pursued this pointless quest with the dogged persistence of dictators who try to invade Russia. He exiled himself to the golden ghetto of being the court jester of the comics world and stayed there until it decayed into brass. If parody is going to endure then it has to parody subjects that are going to endure. The Spawn stuff I could follow because Spawn managed to infect the general culture but some of that other stuff I literally had no idea what he was talking about. To take a far from highbrow example, there would be a broad general audience for a comic strip account of the lives of the Three Stooges done by a cartoonist who could capture them in look and sound with exquisite accuracy, but to shoehorn it into this baroque, endless and obscure fantasy epic puts it out of that readership’s reach. By the time he was done his beliefs had become so eccentric and antithetical to those of most of the literate world that only sycophants could stomach him, and he seems to have lost interest in comics narrative anyway. It’s not a question of beliefs that are unpopular or reactionary but notions that are utterly nonsensical.

  20. Pat says:

    I’m not sure why so many people are taking issue with the “obstructionist” comment.

    When someone demands you sign a petition to interact with them (particularly when that petition involves taking a stance that clearly runs counter to reality), “obstructionist” seems awful reasonable.

  21. Huh? says:

    Sim frittered away his talent on juvenilia and minutia… when he might have been creating a Three Stooges graphic novel?

    Parody cannot endure if its subject matter is fleeting… but Guy Who Bought the McGwire Baseball’s superhero comic has become a part of the general culture?

  22. patrick ford says:

    Sim never struck me as being more than a modest talent. His figure work looked labored to me. If anything rather than a master cartoonist he seemed to fit right in with his hard-core-fan turned pro contemporary artists and writers. When I was buying the book his work looked like George Perez, Don Rosa, or John Byrne in the sense that labored effort was palpable, the work lacked any feel of originality, and seemed to be informed third hand information.

    Maybe he was trying to bring the dead back to life; but, “they don’t fully return, do they.”

  23. Dominick Grace says:

    Weeeeelllll, I think someone else already mentioned Lewis Carroll. The only place you’ll ever see some of the poems he parodied is in annotated or scholarly editions of his books; otherwise, the originals have faded into utter obscurity while Carroll’s parodies are still in print and widely read. It’s almost impossible to understand some 18th century satirical poetry without extensive footnotes explaining the references, but there are those poems, still in anthologies, still being taught as great literature. That doesn’t mean, of course, that Cerebus rises to th elevel of those writers, or that it will similarly transcend its original targets, but it does mean that you can’t assume that obscurity of reference dooms a work to obscurity. And as far as incomprehensibility goes, give me Sim’s most obscure independent comics parodies over any sequence of pages from, say, Finnegans Wake. Not saying I wouldn’t have preferred that Sim choose something else to do than parody obscure indie titles I’d never heard of, or than print thousands of words (tens of thousands? felt like it. . . .) of Biblical commentary in a tiny font, but he’s hardly unique as an artist far less interested in his reader being able to figure out what the heck he’s doing than in doing exactly what he wants to do. Without always liking or appreciating the results, I respect that determined devotion to vision.

  24. Sabin says:

    Gerhard’s work is the real reason to read Cerebus. Say what you will about Sim’s views/talent/art/fill-in-the-blank but Gerhard’s work was astounding from beginning to bitter end… and if you look closely you’ll see he actually has things to say.

  25. Sabin says:

    I do have her waist line.

  26. Adam says:

    “Sim never struck me as being more than a modest talent.”

    With respect, Art is not an entirely subjective discipline – and in this case, your opinion is simply incorrect. One cannot validly say a man whose work is chock full of firsts in the field of comics lacked originality.

    Though it is certainly valid to say he is not your cup of tea, and that’s as it is.

  27. Allen Rubinstein says:

    The Three Stooges material is one of the high points of Cerebus. It starts as a “wacky” treatment of the Stooges as we all know them, in character, and slowly evolves into a telling of their later lives, betrayals, disappointments and deaths. It’s really quite moving, brilliantly told and even Uncle Miltie shows up! If you take this section and the Mary Hemingway diary issues, you’ve got a master class in comics storytelling.

    I’ve said it before, and I will again – Cerebus contains some of the all-time best and some of the all-time worst comics I’ve ever read in thirty years. Nobody, but nobody is making comics today the way he has. I expect this statement to continue to be true in my lifetime.

  28. Pat says:

    Talent and originality aren’t the same thing. I think you’re misinterpreting that quote.

  29. patrick ford says:

    Sim’s work when I was reading it (1982-1983) looked and felt like the current mainstream. It was more tribute than satire wasn’t it?

    The art reminded me of the kind of painful looking hard labor George Perez was doing at the time. The stories read to me as an equally labored comic book version of the kind of one man plays which are called “An Evening With Groucho.”

  30. Paul Slade says:

    “Sim never struck me as being more than a modest talent.”

    One thing to say about Sim is that he started off as a very minor talent, but turned himself into a major one through sheer hard work and determination. Similarly, while less disciplined cartoonists were missing every deadline they set themselves, Sim just got on with it and produced his book on a reliable monthly schedule year after year after year. Where other self-publishers often couldn’t be bothered to handle the business side of their project properly, he put in the work to get on top of that too.

    I realise these aren’t very fashionable virtues in today’s comics culture, but the older I get the more I think they’re the ones that really count.

  31. DerikB says:

    Sim’s statements about this (keep a consistent schedule) were a big influence on me. When I was doing my first series of minicomics I kept it monthly for a number of years. Ditto when I started doing webcomics.

    But as the market changes, that particular advice seems in need of modification, I think it less the consistent publication schedule that matters than the consistent work ethic.

  32. Adam says:

    “…the work lacked any feel of originality…”

    I took that quote, as well as the one I mentioned, that you thought him a modest talent and that his work lacked any feel of originality.

    Anyway, that’s as far as I care to take this. If I misunderstood, my apologies.

  33. Adam says:

    Y’know, actually: OK.

    I don’t make the mistake of conflating Sim and Gerhard, but early Sim, sure, Pat. You ain’t wrong there. Though as another commenter notes, Sim took that modest talent and turned it into grand form.

  34. DiamondDulius says:

    Very interesting article… so interesting, I actually looked up the “reads” screed online and, after reading it, decided not to pursue Sim’s work any further. Even to a novice like me, it’s painfully obvious how his divorce haunts him and tainted his work…

  35. bl000 says:

    so if Cerebus, Swamp Thing, American Flagg, and Daredevil didn’t interest you in the early ’80s what would make you spend half a day getting to the comic shop (you really drove 8-12 hours to buy comic books?)

  36. bl000 says:

    I think my main problem with Cerebus as a whole was why did every obsession Sim had have to become part of the main narrative. It seems to me the he was stuck on this “300 issues” idea, so that anything he wanted to write and draw about was sucked into Cerebus the series, even though it had nothing to do with Cerebus the narrative. The Torah commentaries in Latter Days are the most obvious example, but it became apparent to me during the earlier Oscar Wilde sequence. Sim introduces an Oscar Wilde parody character who interacts with the cast, then a few issues latter starts a new book with a second Oscar Wilde character and spends a dozen or so issues on a very nice & detailed story of Wilde’s last days that has nothing to do with the ongoing narrative, just because he is currently reading alot of Wilde. I think Cerebus the series would’ve been much stronger and coherent if Sim had been willing to stop the series for a few months and published Oscar Wilde’s last days, his story about the Beatles & Stones hanging out in a bar, maybe a few other tangents (including “Tangents”) as separate OGNs, or whatever. Also, the reason the McFarlane/Spawn parodies don’t work as well as the earlier Moon Knight/Wolverine/Sandman/whatever parodies is that Sim isn’t really poking fun at McFarlane but seems to be sucking up to him & his buddy quite a bit, not making them the object of derision in the story but instead heroes in their own right who are smarter & more efficient then Cerebus himself.

  37. Ray Davis says:

    So the hook here is that your critical bluff was called on a book you’d never actually read, and you decide to contrast its “bizarre ideas and abrasive way of expressing them,” its intolerable and intolerant politics, its obscure allusions to justly forgotten trivia, its divisiveness and uncertain place in the canon, and the frequently cited insanity of its author to Ezra Pound’s Cantos? I smell sequel bait!

  38. RyanMCFC says:

    Does it really matter if even 50% of Cerebus was bullshit, or even if it was terrible? Even if there were only 25% great material in something so long, isn’t it a huge accomplishment? Especially when it is executed at such a high level of quality by only two people. Cerebus will last and in the future, as Sim the man fades, the great parts of his work will be able to stand on their own, and the rest will be footnotes.

    When I was a college kid who thought “The Crow” was great literature, and who knew absolutely nothing about Oscar Wilde, I read and was blown away by Sim’s Melmoth. I didn’t even know much about the Cerebus character (who sits at a cafe in a catatonic state for the whole book) and I was still impressed. I reread The Crow and Melmoth later in life and only one of them still impressed the older me. I’ll let you guess which one.

  39. David Groenewegen says:

    Funny, I think that Sim’s sticking his latest obsession into the book as he goes is part of what makes it interesting – on one level Cerebus is the autobiography of Dave Sim. This is one of the things that makes it so unique, in that, if you could’ve gotten him to write down the plot from issue 50 to 300 when he was doing #49 I bet it would have looked nothing like what came out. Because life is like that.

    I’m in the middle (#230ish) of re-reading it at the moment, and what strikes me is how much Sim dislikes Cerebus as a character after about #200. Makes you think that he should have taken Fiore’s advice.

  40. I often wonder what percentage of people that dismiss Sim would also dismiss Will Eisner. I think they both shine as not always the absolute best cartoonist in the world, but probably the best at telling the type of story they’re telling. Both of them whether you like they’re stories & artwork or not have abilities with page design & lettering that are nearly without rival. Which doesn’t mean everyone should read their work, but I do think that any serious cartoonist needs to in someway study what they did as if they don’t study it directly they will indirectly as the influence of them is so high. Just like eventually every electric guitar player eventually has to have an opinion of Jimi Hendrix.

    If someone were to ask me about reading Cerebus I’d probably suggest Minds or Jaka’s Story & say if you like them to read the whole thing. A lot less daunting than the 6000 page thing.

  41. DiamondDulius says:

    I don’t think you could seriously make the claim that Sim revolutionized the industry as Eisner did… a few times, even. Sim is truly a gifted cartoonist, no question, but the things Eisner did, he often invented. Most of the aesthetic arrows in Sim’s quiver can be traced back to other cartoonists, while Eisner had to come up with a lot of the things he did from scratch. That alone would put Eisner at a higher lever, in my opinion. Never mind the murky mess of Sim’s ideologies…

  42. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    What Eisner innovations come from scratch? Does anyone ever invent from scratch? Someone who is generally seen as a great innovator, in any medium, is in reality a great synthesizer–someone who seizes on something done one one scale or in one place and applies it to another, with their own spin. Eisner’s innovations, just like Sim’s, have antecedents in other places. Although, as I mentioned, it depends on which innovations you’re discussing–”Eisner”‘s much vaunted expressive lettering style was, for instance, the work of Abe Kanegson. Now I’m sure the two men worked in tandem, that there was some back-and-forth in the development, but things are rarely as clear cut as we want them to be. I think, much of the time, it boils down to “the innovator that I like personally is a great innovator. The innovator I don’t like personally is a copy-cat who got lucky.”

  43. DiamondDulius says:

    Good point… let me rephrase, then… Eisner was the first to do what he did in comics. He was obviously strongly influenced by film, among other mediums. The distinction I’d make would be that what Sim did has antecedents in comics in particular. Much of this simply boils down to the fact that Eisner was 30 years Sim’s senior. He had first crack at being an “innovator” because he was around decades before Sim. However, I do believe much of the language of comics was spearheaded by Eisner. Did he have people (like the aforementioned Kanegson) working for him? Sure, but, just like Kurtzman, Eisner was certainly in the driver’s seat. Any line committed to paper was by Eisner’s direction, particularly the Spirit strip. And, I didn’t mean to take away from any accomplishment Sim could make claim to… without question, he’s a first-class cartoonist. Just not in Eisner’s league, IMO…

  44. Lou Copeland says:

    Jeez… “sycophant?”

    It’s bad enough that I have to suffer my taste being ridiculed by lugs that hold the Claremont/Byrne run of X-Men as some sort of literary high water mark.

    It’s bad enough that after presenting copies of Cerebus to female comic store clerks attending the register (who I’m sure have never read a single issue of the comic) I’ve had to endure overt hateful sneers that could curdle all milk within a two mile radius.

    It’s bad enough that whenever someone does try to say something nice about Dave Sim we all have to suffer through a near endless stream of obligatory qualifiers about how they respect his achievements but “don’t agree with his views.” No kidding? Really? Isn’t that a given? Does that mean any time a qualifier of this nature doesn’t appear I can assume a 100% percent agreement with any and all of the views of the person being featured?

    Now I can add that one of the great writers about comics implied that I’m ready to drink some tainted Kool-Aid or attempt a hopeless military coup at the command of a comic book artist I admire and have had the privilege to work with.

    All this due to my love for a comic.

    Well, it’s all just too much. I just feel like plopping down on the floor under my Cerebus original with a tall glass of milk and a phone book to dream of a better world where comics readers can all band together to mock those bonehead Chris Claremont fans. My God, I can’t help but notice how my life’s taking the shape of some lyrics to an imaginary song written by Morrissey.

  45. Kim Thompson says:

    Oh, nonsense. Fiore is calling those who defend ALL of Sim’s work up to the bitter end — deranged and tedious “philosophical” tracts, impenetrable in-jokes, and all (to say nothing of those who actually agree with his psychotic opinions on gender) “sycophants.” I’m fairly sure those of us who admire huge chunks of Sim’s work, as well as his uncommon skills as a cartoonist, don’t necessarily fall under this condemnation. I think.

    The idea that female comics store clerks give or gave innocent CEREBUS readers the stinkeye because of their choice of reading material seems more like threatened-male paranoia. (You’re SURE that’s what it was, Lou?) Anyway, if you were a female comics store clerk and felt compelled to give dirty looks to any male who bought anything with a sexist or misogynist taint, you’d spend your days with a permanent glare etched onto your face.

  46. Paul Slade says:

    I love Gerhard’s work too, but it’s never struck me that he was using it to comment in any way. Could you give us an example of what you’re thinking of?

  47. Lou Copeland says:

    Well, maybe I’m misinterpreting Fiore’s post. I read it as a well argued and concise explanation of what he perceives to be a major fault of the work, which is almost spoiled by concluding that anyone that stuck it out to the end and and got any enjoyment out of the last few volumes is obviously an unthinking follower.

    The truth behind the hyperbole scattered throughout of my comment boiled down to a single experience at Jim Hanley’s about a decade ago with a girl decked out in the RIOT GRRRL!!! look. She was obviously VERY cheesed off about something – she gave me some very dirty looks, was extremely impolite, and slammed my change down at the end of the transaction. I was pretty dazed by her behavior, but after hitting the trains and looking over my purchases I realized the copy of Cerebus seemed to me to be the only logical explanation for setting her off. Seems to me the likely scenario, but I dunno, maybe Taco Bell fucked up her lunch or something. At any rate, she wasn’t employed there very long.

  48. patrick ford says:

    I’ve got to say that Sim’s later work sounds more interesting to me than the ghost of Groucho, ghost of Adams period stuff I read in the early 80’s.

    Not that I agree with Sim’s opinions on matters connected to gender or politics, but if he was getting into something more original in his later work it would at least be more interesting.

    His thinking on art doesn’t seem to have evolved much. It was my opinion that in the 80’s he was just another of those people under the spell of Adams

    (by way of Stan Drake), and Sim has continued on down that path as far as I know. The fact that he never got particularly good at photo-realism is an indication (in my view) that he’s just not as gifted as a Bill Sienkiewicz, who might have surpassed Adams. Not to say I’m a fan of Sienkiewicz, I don’t think I have anything by him, but it’s apparent he outgrew his roots.

    None of those guys can hold up to Alex Kotzky when you get to him you’re at the end of that street. There is an ease and grace in Kotzky’s work, and economy of line. Sim’s recent work like his early work belies the comment, “never let them see you sweat.”

  49. Kim Thompson says:

    Fair enough on all counts. Glad to see you walk back your “female clerks” comment. I don’t think someone who enjoys Sim’s very last CEREBUS work is necessarily a “sycophant,” but I’d say someone who would strenuously and publicly argue that it’s objectively good or great might risk that label.

    I have to say, there also seems to be a tendency among those who agree with Sim’s, uh, theories to embrace his later work, much like right-wingers who argue that the by all accounts ludicrous new ATLAS SHRUGGED movie is a good movie qua movie — or conservative comics readers who claim MALLARD FILMORE, PRICKLY CITY, and those awful Batton-Lash-drawn web comics aren’t the pieces of unmitigated shit they objectively are regardless of political bent. (Your snark about “female clerks” didn’t do you much good on that count.) I think it’s possible to believe women are soul-sucking voids who should be kept in their place AND think later CEREBUS is unreadable bilge, and I think it’s possible to have a non-Taliban non-psychotic view of woman AND think later CEREBUS is the cat’s meow, but it doesn’t seem to break down that way very often.

  50. Lou Copeland says:

    So what’s the deal, I guess you can only go three replies deep? I wanted to respond to Kim below. Sorry if I’m going overboard in doing so.

    To be honest, my initial post was less a case of taking umbrage at Fiore’s comment or any other of the indignities I somewhat mockingly enumerated than an (apparently failed) attempt to somehow humourously show support for a comic and it’s now middle aged creator. If one searches through the few posts I’ve made on TCJ.com, you’ll see I’ve tried to say supportive things about people like Sim, Frank Miller, and even Rob Liefeld (whose work I get a kick out of). It’s a shame that almost any creator in any artistic field, if they’re lucky enough to enjoy a lenghty career, goes through a long period where they’re taken for granted at best, or treated like dirt at worst. I can vaguely recall first-hand a period in the late seventies/early eighties where Jack Kirby was openly and broadly ridiculed. Wouldn’t it be nice if he had a larger share of the adulation he gets now back when it really counted?

    I’ve suffered my share of awful eighties albums from Bob Dylan without giving up on him, and Frank Miller has provided me with enough entertainment over the course of his career that I’m not taking the first exit off the highway just because of The Spirit. Those artistic mis-steps don’t always end in blind alleys – some times they lead to a path of successful re-invention. While Dave Sim’s best work may or may not be behind him, his output is still well worth my time and money. One can call that sycophantic behavior, I call it patience and loyalty.

    I’ve nothing whatsoever in common with Dave Sim on Political or Religious grounds, and while I feel some of the broader points he makes regarding feminism are at least worthy of discussion, his conclusions are often textbook examples of specious reasoning.

  51. steven samuels says:

    I always thought “His First Fifth” from Epic Illustrated #26 was terrific:

    page one

    page two

    page three

    page four

    page five

    page six

    page seven

    page eight

    <a href =http://www.cerebusfangirl.com/stories/1st5thpg9.jpg</page nine

    Thanks for the Cerebus Fan Girls site for the scans. Damn. I didn’t know there were any Cerebus Fan Girls. (Anymore).

  52. Lou Copeland says:

    I do agree that Melmoth was an awkward fit in the Cerebus story, But I think Sim had a definite point he was trying to make in having the disparate Wilde characters. One of themes he seems to enjoy exploring is the circles of confusion that eminate between a real person or event and the interpretations and ramifications of them that ripple across time. This seems to be why the Wilde in Jaka’s story was drawn in a cartoony style, while the Wilde of Melmoth was closer to a photorealistic style – he’s hinting that it’s a level closer to the “real” Oscar. I think this was a theme he was continuing to pursue when he introduced himself as a character in the Mothers & Daughters arc.

    That there are large chunks of Cerebus that Sim doesn’t seem to pull off as successfully as he might have seems to me one of the inherant dangers of assembling a narrative in a serialized manner. That said, I take the work’s flaws as they are. It’s kinda like looking at a Kirby drawing and saying “Well that’s pretty cool, but couldn’t he have rounded out the fingers a bit and quit cutting corners when he drew nostrils?” Well, yeah, but then you pretty much end up with a John Buscema drawing.

    I don’t fnd the McFarlane/Terry Fitzgerald parodies at all flattering, and I seriously doubt thier subjects did either.

    My understanding is that the religious commentaries were mapped out as part of the story some time in the early eighties or earlier, and he indulged himself when he found the Bible resonated with him in a far more a profound manner than he ever expected it to when he was younger.

  53. virgopunk says:

    If I self-published anything then surely, under the remit of free speech, I should be able to whatever I want with the story? I find it amusing that there are people who suggest that Sim “should’ve” done this or that or ended the tale earlier or worked harder on his stylisations etc etc. Maybe if he was in the employ of third-party publisher, although one suspects that we wouldn’t even have the saga at all if that was the case.

    I came to the work late in life but had been aware of it since my mid-teens. Back then I wasn’t interested in picking up mid-story and couldn’t afford any of the phone books. However, I was amazed at how absorbing the work was. Being British I was amused at Sim’s authentic Warner Bros version of Jagger’s cock-er-ney accents and was extremely intrigued by the Weishaupt character (I’d already blown my adolescent mind by reading most of Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminati books.

    I still only have about two-thirds of the full saga but, like many, I will endeavor to complete it, warts an all.

    It’s beautiful in the true sense of the word. To read through the work is to live inside a beautifully rendered but fallible human being’s mind. From 15 to my current age of 42 I completely understand the roads my personality has gone down through that time; some of it humourous, some disappointing, some humbling, some downright scary and some defying description and I see that humanity in Sim’s work. In our lives we can never hope to be perfect and I feel that it’s a brave person that chooses (maybe accidentally) to portray themselves in their art.

    A couple of things have always niggled me though; there’s never been enough serious critical analysis of Sim’s work at least that I’ve been able to track down and has the mysterious Gerhard ever given any insight into the working relationship he shared with Sim?

  54. Jason Pilley says:

    “Sim took LSD for a week and a half, suffered what he described as a “nervous breakdown,” and had to be admitted to a hospital”

    He didn’t “have to be admitted to a hospital,” he was forced into one by his then-wife and his mother; once inside and unable to leave he was administered tranquilisers which had no effect on the acid but which did cause excruciating pain in every one of his muscles for a period of days.

    You don’t have to accept Timothy Leary’s theory of “imprint vulnerability” to see how that might leave a lasting impression…

  55. Sean Michael Robinson says:

    has the mysterious Gerhard ever given any insight into the working relationship he shared with Sim?


  56. Dominick Grace says:

    She also publishes a Cerebus Newsletter. The go-to site and person for anyone interested in Cerebus, I think it’s fair to say.

  57. Kim Thompson says:

    “If I self-published anything then surely, under the remit of free speech, I should be able to whatever I want with the story? I find it amusing that there are people who suggest that Sim “should’ve” done this or that or ended the tale earlier or worked harder on his stylisations etc etc. Maybe if he was in the employ of third-party publisher, although one suspects that we wouldn’t even have the saga at all if that was the case.”

    You do understand that criticism isn’t a violation of free speech, and self-publishing does not confer a magical invulnerability to criticism, right?

    I think that if Sim had ended CEREBUS about halfway through and then funneled all his creative energy into independent, non-aardvark-related material, we would look back on CEREBUS as an eccentric but quasi undisputed masterpiece — by a cartoonist who later went off the rails, granted.

    I sort of admire Lou’s “standing-up-for-the-maligned-guy” loyalty to CEREBUS and Sim in all their iterations (as a Brian Da Palma fan who can muster support for MISSION TO MARS I do empathize).

    There were times during the first half of CEREBUS’s run when the current issue of CEREBUS was the best comic book on the newsstand.

    Someday I hope to have the time to re-read at least the first half of CEREBUS. I’m looking forward to it.

  58. steven samuels says:

    If the links I supplied aren’t working, go to cerebusfangirl.com. Click on “”Misc Stuff;” then click on “Misc Stories”

  59. Jesse Fuchs says:

    Confusion of the normative and imperative “should” certainly isn’t restricted to Cerebus superfans, Kim, but I bet it’s endemic. It’s a fallen world.

    As for Cerebus as a whole, I’ve read the first two-thirds twice, found it entertainingly and sometimes brilliantly engaging for many a subway ride, but one year later, I must say that this is still pretty much my least-regretted decision ever.

  60. Michael Grabowski says:

    Although the Melmoth book is an odd fit in the series, it seems to be a deliberate extended foreshadowing of aspects of The Last Day book. At least when I re-read Melmoth a few years ago, the Wilde character’s agonizing decline seemed to echo the aardvark’s.

  61. James Van Hise says:


    Rodney Ascher has just revealed the truth behind a complaint Sim made a few years ago. Sim stated that he no longer gives interviews because once he spent a lot of time with someone who said they were doing a film about him and after all that, nothing came of it and he never heard from the guy again. Sim was so pissed off at the wasted effort on his part that he vowed to never do it again.

  62. Kim Thompson says:

    Way way way back in COMICS JOURNAL history, we once interviewed a Famous French Writer About Comics And Comic Strips. When we tried to transcribe the interview his French accent on the tape was so impenetrable (even to me, a Francophone) that we literally could make no sense of it and had to scotch the interview. This made him so mad he threatened to sue us, for precisely what I’m not sure, some sort of violation of implicit contract, I guess. We ignored him and he wilted. (What’s the joke about second-hand French military rifles? “Never fired, dropped once.”) I once met him at a convention and the first words out of his mouth were, “Hmf! Yoo ‘ave poot on weight.” The kind of choleric, rude, self-important Frenchman who, if you put him in a movie, you’d be accused of shamelessly playing to stereotypes. He’d fit right into a Bugs Bunny cartoon as The Apopleptic French Chef Tormented Beyond Endurance By Bugs.

    I say this as someone who loves the French in general. Even Parisian waiters.

    One suspects that Dave Sim had other reasons for not wanting to expose himself to interviews and this was a convenient reason to give. Anyone who’s any kind of a public figures has given interviews that went nowhere. Or into the “void,” heh.

  63. Jason Pilley says:

    Aha! So THAT’S why Dave Sim no longer gives interviews!!!!!

    Erm, here’s an interview Dave Sim gave a couple of weeks ago: http://www.comicbookdaily.com/wp/championing_comi

  64. Allen Smith says:

    Just got TCJ #301 in the mail today, it’s the first issue of the Journal I’ve gotten in a long time, and the first phonebook sized issue I’ve gotten. Very impressive, what with the Crumb interview and coverage, and the Dave Sim article, among other things. It’ll take a while to go through everything that’s in this mammoth issue.

  65. Dominick Grace says:

    Is this out already? Or is that a subscription or advance copy you got? Amazon has its release date as August 3, and it wasn’t in any of the stores I frequent this past weekend.

  66. Allen Smith says:

    It was a subscription copy. It had been far too long since I’d read The Comics Journal, and since I no longer have enough money to bother going to my LCS any more, I simply decided to subscribe.

  67. peter kaprelian says:

    I just recieved mine-my sister gave me a gift subscription weell over a year ago, like two Augusts, and the first issue one was 300. I thought that one was thick….

  68. Paul B. Harris says:

    I’ll bet my lunch-money this person has never read ‘CEREBUS’, nor seen ‘Triumph of the Will’. This is a completely inane statement with no value whatsoever.

  69. Aaron McPherson says:

    I just finished the review, and have to say it’s the single best piece of writing on Cerebus and Dave Sim I’ve ever read. It captures perfectly the infuriating combination of brilliance, obscurity, virtuosity and insanity that kept my attention throughout the run, even if I did forsake the monthly issues for the collections after Reads. If I were to attempt a “condensed” version, as Kreider suggests, I would have to include portions of “Reads” and “Minds” because those two books tie together all the story threads up to that point, and if you exclude the text pages, what you have left is essentially a great fight scene, one of the best in the series.

    Perhaps the best point made is that Sim is his own worst enemy, particularly when discussing his own work. The interview with the Onion A/V club (accessible here: http://www.avclub.com/articles/dave-sim,13861/) is painfully embarrassing to read; I found myself wondering why he even did the interview, if he had such contempt for the site and its readers. He actually goes out of his way to discourage readers of the interview from buying the books!

    It’s a shame, because there are many brilliant aspects of Cerebus, and it deserves more recognition than it has received. Sim was probably more right than he knew when he said to the Onion interviewer that he should have picked 250 issues as his goal, rather than 300.

  70. Brad Chamberlain says:

    Great analysis/essay Tim. I’d been toying with re-reading Cerebus recently, and your writeup both made me eager to revisit the highlights and loathe to slog through the last few books again (other than to enjoy the artwork). Mostly, though I just found myself thinking that you had expressed several of my own opinions much better than I could have.

    Glad the Journal is back! Main request: more reviews of less-obvious works next time around. There are several dozen books from the past few years that I’ve been waiting for Journal reviews to help guide my spending… (I can’t be bothered to read online reviews apparently — no patience for the electronic word). I’m also missing the end-of-the-year “what I enjoyed reading” lists from creators and contributors…


  71. I just finished this essay, and was really excited to read something so well-written, exhaustive, and surprisingly positive about Sim’s flawed… well “masterwork” maybe is the wrong word, but whatever the right word is for “30 year long extraordinarily well-made one-of-a-kind public breakdown”. I’m no English major. Kreider’s writing is so clear and lively, I need to find some more of it. I hope he’ll be in future issues of the Journal. Also, the new design is gorgeous. Hats off all around to a job done well.

  72. patrick ford says:

    Dustin, Kreider wrote a nice article on editorial cartooning for TCJ #250.

    BTW TCJ #250 has my vote for the best issue ever. It’s packed with great material.

    R.Fiore says all that need be said about racial stereotypes in comics.

    Gary Panter : “epic “(I picked this up from my kids) interview.

    Interviews with Herge’, Barks & Stanley on one stage, Raymond Briggs.

    The Jack Kent letters to Milton Caniff.

    Bob Levin on Rory Hayes

    The Charles Schulz essay, “Developing a Comic Strip”

    A very good, and well reasoned essay on E.C. comics by Ng Suat Tong

    And it has comics too.

    It just so happens to feature on of the very few (and why in hell is that?) translationing into English of a work by Yoshiharu Tsuge. I would be tempted to say it’s one of his great works, but how can I say “Screw Style” is one of Yoshiharu’s better works when I’ve only been able to find two others in English (why the hell is that?).

  73. Anthony Thorne says:

    I also just finished reading the full Cerebus essay and like it very much. I’ve read maybe a quarter of #301 proper and am finding it to be a formidable collection. Fun to see Gary Groth’s son Conrad pop up with a question at the end of the Crumb interview too.

  74. Dominick Grace says:

    I’m slowly working my way through it, too. I was surprised at how many of the responses to Crumb’s Genesis were negative, though I found the positive assessments (notably Jeet Heer’s) more convincing. I guess I should not have been surprised to see Kenneth Smith given more thousands of words to reiterate his same tired “modernism sucks” mantra, rather than actually talking about the Crumb book–they might as well just have reprinted any random old essay by him and stuck in a few random references to Crumb. . . .

  75. Mike Hunter says:

    Dustin Harbin says:

    …Kreider’s writing is so clear and lively, I need to find some more of it. I hope he’ll be in future issues of the Journal…

    Tim Kreider’s routinely superlative cartoons featured as bonuses erudite and hilarious “Artist’s Statements”; check them out at at http://www.thepaincomics.com/

    Kreider’s “Introducing Sociology – A Review of Eyes Wide Shuthttp://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0096.html

    While his brilliant cartooning (collections published by Fantagraphics) gained him nowhere near the admiration he deserves, his focusing on prose instead has been far more rewarding. Op-ed pieces in “The New York Times,” “an upcoming book of essays for Simon & Schuster, titled We Learn Nothing…”

  76. Deb says:

    I’ve read all of Cerebus (still have my ‘phone books’ sitting on a shelf in the bedroom) and watched Triumph of the Will. The statement is in no way inane, and I can easily understand why Sabin made it. I’m not sure I agree with it – Triumph of the Will is not only shorter but more straightforward, and that makes comparisons difficult – but your behavior is not justified by the stimuli you’ve been subjected to.

  77. Cerebus says:

    I can’t understand why people have such a hard time understanding “world’s longest sustained narrative”. I have never once interpreted the comment as relating to the 6000 pages of the book, but rather, all the years it took to publish it. One single narrative, sustained, for 28 years.

    Also, I have put forth many times that, while the phone books certainly make for an easy way to read a few hundred pages of Cerebus at one time, the story loses much of it’s power when removed from it’s monthly, 22 page format. First of all, it was actually much easier to ingest a small chunk, take a breath, small chunk, take a breath, etc. But also, the ‘Notes From The President’, rants, tangents and ESPECIALLY the letters column (until he did away with it) add greatly to the understanding and enjoyment of what you’re reading. Many of Dave’s post-Cerebus publication comments make much more sense when you have the context of what he’s said about the book and it’s meaning over the previous 25 years to fall back on.

  78. Kit says:

    I have never once interpreted the comment as relating to the 6000 pages of the book, but rather, all the years it took to publish it. One single narrative, sustained, for 28 years.

    The Archers has been running since 1950.

  79. Kim Thompson says:

    Jaime Hernandez’s LOCAS is arguably a single continued narrative, which has been going on for 30 years, and counting. (It’s of course nowhere near 6,000 pages.) STEVE CANYON ran for 40 years, basically without narrative interruption. You can argue that most long-lived Franco-Belgian comics weren’t really a single narrative, but individual episodes — but VALERIAN ran for 43 years and partway through (not unlike CEREBUS) the authors clearly began considering it a single narrative (and unlike most other such series, wrapped up in a very conclusive, definitive manner).

    I never once DIDN’T consider the “longest” comment on CEREBUS to refer to sheer page length.

  80. Jeff Heikkinen says:

    That leads to an article about the silliness of (parts of) child porn law having nothing to do with Cerebus or Gerhard.

    Fortunately, a link to the first part of the interview you must have intended to link to can be found in one of the menus on the right hand side.

  81. Kit says:

    Jaime Hernandez’s LOCAS is arguably a single continued narrative

    Arguments to the contrary could be made, but would be fairly inconclusive.

  82. mateor says:

    Since we’re here…

    “And that was actually really difficult for me, because I really do think in a grayscale, in those tonal values. I realized at some point that it sort of defines the differences in the personalities of Dave and I: He’s very much a black-and-white kind of guy, even in his thinking, and I am more shades of gray. He was a master at spotting blacks. In High Society, before I started on the book, there was a lot of black. He was concentrating on the writing and the characters and there’d be a whole lot of black on the page, which was basically why he asked me to come on board and flesh out the world that Cerebus lives in.”
    Gerhard, from that article.

    It is a great piece.

  83. Thomas Reale says:

    I’ve only read the excerpt of the analysis as posted on the web, but I’d have to say it contains fair and reasonable assertions (and conclusions, if you will).

    I first encountered Cerebus in my local comic book store when I was 12 and starting to read comic books. There was one clerk in high school who told me it was the only book worth reading and the only book that he read. I picked up a copy, but I was lost, so I gave up on it and continued collecting and reading superhero stuff to the snarks of this clerk. However, when I was 14, I gave it a real shot when my parents took me up to Boston for a convention as a birthday present. This was during the Cerebus for President campaign, and both Sim and Gerhard were there, signing, talking, selling the phone books as well as original art. My encounter with them was slightly terrifying as a woman in front of me screamed and cursed at them until she was escorted out. But, when I talked to them, they were both really nice and encouraging of my reading habits in general. Interestingly enough, when I bought all the phonebooks that day up to the current issue, Sim recommended that I skip the first one as he said I didn’t need it and I probably wouldn’t enjoy it.

    I’ve read the entire thing(except the early sword and sorcery phonebook), and I enjoyed it. I don’t necessarily agree with all his views, and I’m certainly confused by some of them, but I respect his vision that he managed to bring to fruition with Gerhard. I actually loved his Biblical commentary in the later works, and I thought Last Day was intimidating with its insights. But then again, I should note that even though I’ve never taken LSD, I was diagnosed as a schizophrenic when I was 19 and continue to struggle with the illness. So, my appreciation for Cerebus might just be due to a connection between minds with mental illness.

  84. Johnny Mahoney says:

    I read Cerebus for 15 straight years and thought it was the most amazing comic I had ever read when first introduced to it. I stuck with it to the very end, long after his sales had plummeted, just to finish the ride and to see where he was going with it.

    After finishing the very last issue, my first thought was ‘it ended with a fart joke…kind of disappointing but some how fitting.’

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