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