Monday, 9 July 2012

100 Best Comics Of The Century

The Comics Journal #210 (February 1999)
Art by Seth
(from The Comics Reporter, 21 June 2011)
...Cerebus was probably the book least well-served by the rules we put into place in compiling the lists. We placed a premium on agreement between writers to keep a critic from rushing in with a personal favorite and getting a work no one else felt strongly about on the list. While there were votes for the comic book overall as well as High Society, Jaka's Story and Church and State, there seemed to be little agreement over which one was worth of inclusion. With the Hernandez Brothers, there was a much greater range of support for certain works. That may not have been the wisest group of standards a magazine has ever put together, but I swear it wasn't a direct blackballing.

(from Dave Sim Responds To The Fantagraphics Offer at, 20 September 2012)
...Cerebus barely missed the TCJ Top 100 list, mostly due to problems in terms of classification as to what constituted a single work, which scattered votes. It was on several lists including mine, as I recall. The accusation that it was a "political" omission is absurd, especially in view of the multitude of ink, much of it positive (or offering Dave an extended forum in interviews) spilled on Dave in the magazine. But the idea that Gary and I sat there, cackling, and kicked Cerebus -- one of my very favorite comics of the 1980s and some of the 1990s -- out of the Top 100 just to be dicks remains an unsquelchable paranoid narrative, I guess...

(from a letter printed in The Comics Journal #213, June 1999)
Cerebus should have been on that list. Let me count the ways.

First, there's the issue of visual accomplishment. Dave Sim and Gerhard have long been creating a comic that is simply beautiful to look at. Everything works to effect, from sumptuous settings to subtle facial expressions. The lettering is the most graphically articulate since that of American Flagg!. Caricatures are deft and merciless. The book has rigorously enforced its various paces, from agonising stop motion to hell for leather gallop; its sense of timing has been imposed more authoritatively than any other comic that comes to mind.

There's also no overlooking the epic nature of the title's run. As a story cycle, cartooning has produced few equals - perhaps some strips, but even these lack the overarching narrative scheme and momentum toward a conclusion that Cerebus has increasingly embraced. As a sprawling tale, it invariably takes up the broad social concerns of its era as well as the eternal quandaries of human existence.

Like many epics, it relies on episodic structure and thus risks being only episodically engaging or successful. As a whole, it is a particularly gangly saga, reckless even. The careening course of the narrative is a sightseer's delight, barring no excursion or accident or guest star. Cerebus is the kind of comic book diarist Samuel Pepys would have written had he been interested in fiction. And had he terrific graphic talents. And had he the disposition of Rabelais.

Actually, maybe it's just easier to imagine Sim as the Rabelais of comics, an irredeemable humanity (if informally pledged in Sim's case), apparently well-versed in the rollicking experiences of corporeal existence, who's allowed space for any object or issue that does a fly-by past his window on the world. He's instinctively let any and all of it pour in, channelled through personal interests and intellect (and impeded, say some, by same). Of course it's often threatened to swamp his life's work, but you still have to admire the fearlessness at flood stage. (The Sim/Rabelais parallel almost went without recalling Voltaire's criticism of his countryman as a "drunken philosopher who could only write when intoxicated" and of Gargantua & Pantagruel as "an extravagant and unintelligible book... prodigal of erudition, filth, and boredom.")

While I strongly believe Sim has located his narrative pole star to his own satisfaction, I've long since given up hope of understanding everything of what's going on in the comic. I do however remain highly susceptible to the dramas of the moment, the broader thematic twists and the sharper emotional turns. I read it chiefly - and could readily recommend it - for its irreplaceable humor and its sensual appeal.

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