|The Believer #27, cover detail (September 2005)|
Art by Charles Burns
(from The Believer #27, September 2005)
...It is an absolute masterpiece - one of the most ambitious and fully realised narratives of the past century. And its flaws are plentiful, wide, and maddening, and penetrate straight to its core...
...Which brings us back to the aesthetics vs. politics problem. It's comforting to see first rate art that's compatible with one's own political views; but to see first-rate art that's violently opposed to one's own political views is necessary. If your sympathies are even vaguely secular or liberal - if, that is, you're reading the Believer, whose title Sim would probably find bitterly amusing - then the second half of Cerebus is an attack on you. It demands a response in the reader's mind, and if you can see past "what a total dick," you're likely to come out of it with your own thoughts about gender, power, and the nature of creation (with both a large and small C) clarified.
Any one can come up with a grand twenty-seven-year plan for a mammoth work of art, but Sim, along with very few others in human history, actually went through with it. He made the commitment to his story and spent more than a quarter of a century grinding away at it, and he finished it, exactly when he said he would. A serious, ambitious, completed large-scale work, no matter how deeply flawed it is, beats a perfectly envisioned but unrealised project every time. At the very least, Cerebus is worth reading for the same reason a grand, half-ruined cathedral of a religion not your own is worth spending time in: it's a cathedral. Take what you can from it.
Douglas Wolk is an author and critic, and his book Reading Comics won an Eisner Award and Harvey Award in 2008.