Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Rick Nash's Knife Wound

Cerebus #220 (July 1997)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard

In the history of comics has there ever been a more realized, vividly fleshed out, and sympathetic character than Rick Nash? I always wondered where his knife wound came from (which, like his head wound, is never revealed in the series).

I wrote and asked Dave about it a while back and his response was as follows:
Dear Eddie:

Rick's knife wound is analogous to Cerebus' eye injury in that both responded in exactly the wrong way to what should have been a major corrective -- "straighten up and fly right" -- in their respective lives: in Cerebus' case by keeping the bandage on long past the point it was necessary and in Rick's case using it as means of forestalling criticism. He had learned that he could be as caustic and provocative as he wanted when he had been drinking and, just when his listener(s) had been provoked beyond a reasonable level of tolerance he'd rip his shirt open revealing his garish wound and be "off the hook".

Presumably, that's how he got the wound in the first place -- through those kinds of behaviour and he came up against someone who just decided enough was enough and "here's what you get" for having a big mouth and no means to back it up physically. Again, exactly the wrong response: incorporating it into his "act" instead of seeing it as a serious, serious warning. Cerebus didn’t actually go through it, but he did have a cautionary dream about it -- where his "friends" had cut off his other ear. That was enough to check his own behaviour. Rick actually had to go through it -- and still didn't really learn his lesson. It was his equivalent of what Jaka was for Cerebus: a lesson he just wouldn't learn. As he became a devout believer in God, that put him in line for a Grand Martyrdom. Having not learned the lesson from the knife wound in the chest he then suffers a head wound which he intentionally doesn't treat, wanting it to look worse than it is in order to generate sympathy.

Indirectly it issues from Jaka -- she provoked him in a very vulnerable area by aborting his son. Which caused him to hit her, which caused him to get his thumb broken, which set his extreme relationship with violence in an extreme downward trajectory which caricatured the core moment: aborting his son was profoundly wrong, so his response was proportional, right and true. If anything, in his mind, he UNDERreacted. But the result was profound physical pain heaped on top of his emotional pain. Which he then proceeded to act out through the rest of his life. He was being caustic and provocative, but he was also being honest, right and true… out of which he would either suffer another extreme physical pain for his honesty or be spared it depending on which way his listener tilted in response.

It would be an interesting question as to how God would assess Rick's life in toto. Did he deserve what he got (indeed did he deserve more)? Or was he a profoundly honest and truthful person whose sufferings were mostly unwarranted and cumulative?

You're right in indentifying me as Rick's "creator" in that context. I illustrated his post-Jaka's Story situation in anecdotal fashion just to give the reader an outline sketch of his serious problematic depths -- and to show exactly how "ill-fated" he was. But, in terms of making an equitable assessment of whether he was a "net positive" or "net negative" figure, that's both beyond my scope as a "creator", author, and non-divinity and the scope of the work which shows many aspects of Rick in successive episodes years apart but doesn’t show enough to allow for an honest assessment of all of his decision-making and choices.

He was one of those characters where I wouldn't WANT to know everything about him even as his "creator" (maybe ESPECIALLY as his "creator"). Does he redeem himself with his martyrdom? I don’t know: is a gruesome demise NECESSARILY martyrdom or can it just be a messy life made even messier that’s really just self destructiveness raised to a lunatic extreme? If you relentlessly provoke people in such a way that they feel compelled to execute you in a gruesome fashion, have you done anything besides find a really convoluted way to commit suicide?

Interesting questions.



Anonymous said...

I really like that Dave is willing to engage questions from his readers in such depth. Some people prefer an artist to let their work speak for itself but I'll take the commentary of the creator over the average critical analysis any day.

Anonymous said...

It is an interesting flaw in Cerebus that the work can't speak for itself -- not completely. The story itself is not sufficient to understand it. You really need stuff like this: Dave stepping in and telling you stuff about the characters, plot, themes, and techniques.

I think a subset of this problem is the oft-voiced criticism that to fully understand Cerebus, you need to be familiar with the sources of the various parodies (from Moon Knight to F. Scott Fitzgerald).

It might be an interesting question to ask how much of the "supporting material" -- Dave's annotations, "Aardvark Comment", interviews, and personal correspondence -- should be considered part of the larger work.

-- Damian T. Lloyd, flq

Anonymous said...

And yet, Dave can be a very dubious commentator on his own work. Honestly the work itself (most of it) interests me more than his opinions of it.

-- JM, AMOC fan

Jeff Seiler said...

"If you relentlessly provoke people in such a way that they feel compelled to execute you in a gruesome fashion, have you done anything besides find a really convoluted way to commit suicide?"

You mean like. . .Jesus? Or most of the New Testament martyrs and at least some of the ones from the Old?