Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Believer: A 'Cerebus' Review

The Believer #27, cover detail (September 2005)
Art by Charles Burns
DOUGLAS WOLK:
(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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another fine example of the back peddling cowardice that goes along with any review of Dave Sim's work. Meh.

David Birdsong

Eric Hoffman said...

It's amusing to me that anything that does not approach doe-eyed wonder is, to some of Mr. Sim's admirers, an example of "back peddling cowardice." I thought Mr. Wolk's review excellent, well-balanced and considered.

Anonymous said...

Eric Hoffman said...

It's amusing to me that anything that does not approach doe-eyed wonder is, to some of Mr. Sim's admirers, an example of "back peddling cowardice." I thought Mr. Wolk's review excellent, well-balanced and considered.



Well Mr. Hoffman, the very next entry on this blog reprints what Dave Sim had to think about Mr. Wolk's review. I think he points out correctly that the review is more of the same fish wrap that most of the reviews of his work are. I get it, writers are afraid to say too many nice things about Dave Sim because they have no wish to be thought of as being in agreement with his views, but they are willing to give in and praise the work itself. "This guy is a great artist, a great letterer, a great writer, but I sure don't agree with him about women..." It is old, tired and annoying. Get some guts, tell me what you do or don't like about Cerebus. It is six thousand pages long. Surely there is something else there besides the man vs. woman thing to talk about, but if it is not mentioned perhaps the writer will lose his or her "credibility" for not bringing up what a naughty boy Dave Sim is. Cowardice.

David Birdsong

Dominick Grace said...

It's not cowardice. Anyone who reviews Cerebus WITHOUT at least mentioning that subject isn't doing the job properly. Not only is how Dave's views have been received by readers a big part of the story, those views THEMSELVES are a big part of the Cerebus story itself. It would be cowardice to do a review of Cerebus withjout saying anything about women or feminism as they are treated in the book.

Sure, you could say a lot about Cerebus without getting into feminism/women--if you were reviewing one phone book, perhaps, or writing an article about one particular aspect of the work (Dave's parody of superheroes, perhaps, or how he designs/composes pages, or whatever). But if you're writing about the series as a whole, well ... avoiding the feminism/women question would be pretty much impossible, except as an act of cowardice.

Michael A Battaglia said...

In all fairness, Dave Sim has effectively broken the fourth wall throughout the body of his opus, so it is impossible to write an overarching assessment of Cerebus without including the views of the author. That said, I do NOT see the need to encounter the political or philosophical views of the author of the assessment or review posed with the intention of aligning or severing from the perceived views of Dave Sim. Whenever I see a review with the "I don't agree with Sim, but he's a great artist" drivel, it actually makes me want to laugh and throw up at the same time. It's not that I'm appalled that people would disagree with Dave Sim, it's that I'm appalled by bad writing.

Michael A Battaglia said...

If Dave Sim's views are introduced as part of the puzzle being analyzed, and the assessment is informed, well researched and written, and manages to penetrate into the body in a way that is enriching for the reader - offering something of substance (beyond the "opinion of the blog writer, etc.), then that is another story. I have yet to see anything that manages to penetrate into the body; I see a lot of coat tail riding masked as 'critical analysis', but nothing worthy of an Ongoing Dialog. I think the closest thing we've got are conversations between Dave Sim and his peers (such as Alan Moore). At some point, someone with both the credentials and appropriate level of seminal insight will come along and then the real Dialog will begin.

Eric Hoffman said...

@ Mr. Birdsong - it's Eric, please.

"Well Mr. Hoffman, the very next entry on this blog reprints what Dave Sim had to think about Mr. Wolk's review."

. . . but I'm not going to spend my adult life simply regurgitating Dave Sim's views; I'm a grown man and am perfectly capable of forming my own opinions. And my opinion is that Wolk's essay was a well-written and considered essay on this basis: having set its own criteria, it has met them, argued its points effectively and articulated them clearly. I respect Mr. Wolk's writing, and I think he has demonstrated that he is a capable writer and thinker about comics.

And as Dominick Grace points out, if you are going to deal with CEREBUS as a whole, which Wolk has bravely set out to do, then you simply must consider Sim's views on feminism, whatever their merit. It is unavoidable. If you as a critic believe that Sim's views are without merit, or a detriment to the comic on its own terms, or what have you, well then that is your opinion and you are welcome to it. Yet you are saying that having these opinions and articulating them is somehow an act of cowardice. How so exactly?