Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Washington Post Reviews Dave Sim's High Society


THE WASHINGTON POST:
(from Three Graphic Novels To Read To Get Through This Election by Marc Lynch, 4 November 2016)
...High Society is the second book in what would become an epic 300-issue series. In Sim's early political masterpiece, the still-young Cerebus the Aardvark arrives in the city-state of Iest, where he is groomed for political power by the mysterious, uber-competent Lady Astoria. She guides the rough-edged aardvark through the byzantine politics of Iest. In short order, Cerebus wins and loses the position of "Ranking Diplomatic Representative" of Palnu, the economic powerhouse led by his former employer, the Groucho Marx-inspired Lord Julius.

Astoria then puts Cerebus forward as a candidate for prime minister as a populist nationalist candidate promising to stand up to Palnu. Confident that Iestan voters understand their complete and total economic dependence on Palnu, Julius responds by fielding a goat. (Not a talking goat character, a real goat.) In an all too familiar demonstration of the power of partisanship, the goat, despite being a goat, immediately wins the support of half the electorate. After a hilariously chaotic campaign, Cerebus ultimately becomes prime minister by a single vote, after the Iestan equivalent of a ballot recount -- he has to travel up north and track down the local official who had refused to register a vote out of disdain for elections.

That victory has consequences. Cerebus is himself very much a Trump-like figure. If anyone in the series resembles Clinton, it is the hyper-competent and ruthlessly pragmatic Astoria. The goat is, well, a goat. Cerebus is, at this point of the series, a shrewd, hypermasculine character obsessed with power for its own sake and utterly uninterested in policy -- a running joke is that he falls asleep during cabinet meetings and policy debates. As soon as he becomes prime minister, Cerebus disbands the legislature (Headlines: "Don’t say we didn’t warn you; Goat organizes resistance movement") and announces an "amnesty program" ("Turn in all traitors or be executed yourself; Goat arrested on morals charge.") He sells off the crown jewels to hire a mercenary army, then launches a series of disastrous wars that bankrupt the city-state and ultimately lead to its conquest.

The self-defeating nature of an unquenchable thirst for power -- whether by Cerebus, Astoria or anyone -- is a central theme of Sim's overarching 300-issue story. It’s worth reading this weekend (download an authorized, free digital version here) for the manic fun of a political campaign -- that is thankfully fictional -- and for reflecting on the sobering consequences of populist power gone wrong...

Marc Lynch is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Program and the co-director of the Blogs and Bullets project at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Follow @abuaardvark

16 comments:

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Good to see some discussion of why one should read Cerebus -- a line too often overlooked.

-- Damian

Carson Grubaugh said...

What an awesome pump to get for the books! Good company too. Transmetropolitan seems more relevant to me every passing day.

Ibis said...

Nice timing with all the other stuff going on too, CIH?, the IDW book, etc.

adampasz said...

High Society should have gotten this level of kudos 30 years ago. Better late than never, I guess.

Richard Palfreyman said...

Will be interesting to see what effect this has on cerebus.download volumes.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Adampasz: We can't be too sour about that. Thirty years ago "High Society" was covered positively in the comics press, and thirty years ago no comics were reviewed in the New York Times.

I would credit Dave with being one of those who imported the European / Japanese model of TPB collections of periodical stories to the North American comics market. "High Society" (as many pages as a real novel, and a horse-choking 25 bucks, as Bob Fiore put it at the time) was one of the first NA examples of that.

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Whoops! I guess my comment would map more accurately onto the post if I'd said Washington Post (though I think my point is still discernible). Sorry about that.

-- Damian

Erick said...

This is awesome news!
Self declared "pariah" no more!

Jeff Seiler said...

I was going to write in "None of the above." on Tuesday. Now I think I'll write in "The Goat."

Bill Ritter said...

"“High Society,” “Transmetropolitan” and “DMZ” are all brilliantly written and illustrated productions. They are far more fun, much richer and less didactic than these bare bones descriptions allow (and, fair warning, in the case of “Transmetropolitan” at least, extremely NSFW). If you need to distract yourself from refreshing your news feed for the 10th time in the last hour, give Dave Sim, Warren Ellis and Brian Wood a try."

All of these are excellent reads. Obviously "High Society" is my favorite (Because I started reading Cerebus with #26, and HS is a fabulous story). Nice to see WPost give some good props to comnics, and to these books, and most especially to Dave.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jeff: I'm not your fellow-countryman, so I don't have to make a decision, but I can understand your vote. Years ago, a pal and I came up with the idea of the "None Of The Above" Party (or NOT A Party). Our only platform was, if elected, we would immediately resign and force a byelection -- in which we would run on the simple platform of ...

Just what the smoothly-oiled machinery of government needs!

-- Damian

adampasz said...

Ha. Didn't mean to sound like a sourpuss. One of the reasons comics have been so cool is because they are not understood by the mainstream. :)

Dave Sim said...

VERY surprised that the WASHINGTON POST would allow a reference to me or CEREBUS let alone a favourable write-up. Let alone leaving out the obligatory "misogynist" shot. Are you sure anyone's in charge up there? :)

One of those "next you'll be telling me that the Cubs won the World Series."

[One of my favourite jokes ca.1972 was the guy who went into a coma after a traffic accident in 1958. Been in a coma for fourteen years. Wakes up and the first thing he wants to know is "HOW IS IKE? HOW IS THE PRESIDENT?" And, they don't want to shock him, but they figure this will be a good incremental step, so the doctor says, the doctor says, "I'm afraid President Eisenhower... has died." And the guy slumps back into his pillows and moans, "Oh, no. That means RICHARD NIXON is president."

Tony Dunlop said...

I hate to break it to Dave, but I bet whoever wrote that review doesn't even *know* Dave Sim is supposed to be a misogynist, or anything else besides a comic-book...er, excuse me, Graphic Novel, guy.

Travis Pelkie said...

I doubt that, Tony, he's got a signed Cerebus head shot as his twitter avatar. Click the link in the post here.

Tony again said...

That's what I get for not being a Twit!