Monday, 28 August 2017

The 'Silent James' Reviews

(from a review of Cerebus Vol 1, 20 August 2016)
I started reading Cerebus for the 1st time ever recently. I know I’m tremendously late, but I have the fortune of it being freshly remastered. I picked up book 1 & 2, and just finished reading book 1 this morning.

My good friend Menachem, owner the incredible Escape Pod Comics, was very interested in my thoughts on the books & gave me the idea to draw up some sketch notes… thus the above image.

I can’t say it enough: I really love the artwork by Dave Sim. The progression happened pretty swiftly (around page 150), when he began drawing his character so incredibly animated in his movements. What I love about Darkstalkers, is the exaggerated animation sprites the characters have when they move & that’s all here in this book.

My favorite part about the entire book, is the breaking up of a scene into panels that the characters may walk through the environment. It’s a concept that never occurred to me before, I think it’s absolutely brilliant. He pushes it further throughout the story, including an abstract landscape in “Mind Game”. It’s a great way to get a lot out of a page, and it’s fun!

I always loved screen tones in manga & independent comics. It’s a simple, effective way to cover an area in a gray when your book is in B&W. I’ve cut my own screens before in the past, it’s a painstaking process but looks so cool. Zen the Intergalactic Ninja sticks out in my mind when I think of this stuff.

I won’t go into to much detail into my history w/ Cerebus, but basically, I saw it on comic shelves my whole life & was drawn to the pen & ink style, but was kind of overwhelmed with the size & number of books. I never had enough money to buy even one of those books. Over the years, many friends told me about the series & it gave me a bizarre impression of it. Many even told me to skip book 1, but I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down to read it.

I was expecting something drawn poorly that was a goofy, silly parody of Conan. Basically, “Not Another” Conan Story, if that makes sense. I never liked those “Not Another” movies. The first few chapters were like that but it quickly became it’s own world. That’s another part of what I love about it: it is it’s own world. It’s like a video game RPG, he goes to towns, finds out info, frequents taverns, gets into battles, travels around, looks for gold etc.

I’m not keen on the characters that are just parodies of someone else, except for “Sump-Thing” which is just too funny of a pun! I feel like it’s unnecessary and overused throughout. Also not a fan of any of the female characters, I wish he had put the same amount of work he put into Cerebus as he did the women.

Story-wise, I like most of it though there are a few gaps. “Black Magiking” to the end of “Mind Game” are my favorites in this one.

I really enjoyed reading book 1 and will start “High Society” soon. I know in later books Gerhard joins him to do the backgrounds, but for now I’m loving Dave Sim’s artwork on it’s own. Lookout for my review of Cerebus book 2: High Society in... however long it takes to read it! 

(from a review of Cerebus Vol 2: High Society, 25 September 2016)
I started reading Cerebus for the first time ever recently. I just finished reading book 2 High Society last night. I’m happy to say, the art continues to surprise & delight me. My favorite new items are Dave Sim’s use of sound effects as motion blurs, that idea never occurred to me. I love the use of framing & borders throughout: when Jaka shows up the first time, all the decorative borders, the scene with the guy under the floorboards that you think is in his own panels till he climbs up, and the effect of disorientation when Cerebus is drunk and the page orientation keeps flipping.

The page with Cerebus seen through all the bottles is another favorite. A completely new take on illustrating his character in many different ways. Mind Game in this book is pretty cool visually. The device he used to show echoes was brilliant & I really got a lot out of the vast simple images in some of the chapters.

The way he draws women is very poor, that hasn’t improved since book 1. I was hoping for more chopped up frames like in book 1 but there was less of that, a few scenes just had multiple Cerebus figures going through a single frame, which I didn’t like.

The story: Would it shock you if I said I preferred reading book 1? Don’t get me wrong, I loved reading High Society & am excited to start book 3 (when I save up my pennies), but I feel like he could have told the same story in less than half the pages. I know this is his style & it does speak volumes about how convoluted politics are, but as a reader I found it hard to get through sections. The visual storytelling was more interesting to me than the script, which is fine.

Silent James is a live illustrator for events and studio projects. Cerebus Vol 1 & 2 are currently available as an official FREE(!) download.


Michael Grabowski said...

Seems like a good spot to comment that I finally picked up the newest printing of volume 1, and sweet heaven I am in love with how good this looks and reads compared to my ancient 2nd printing. Beautiful work making Dave's original text shine so, Sean! This edition should go a long way to getting old & newer comics readers to get into Cerebus, and from volume 1 after all.

Silent James, the illustrated reviews are neat, and I hope you are inspired to keep reading, keep making these, and that Cerebus inspires your own work most of all.

Carson Grubaugh said...

It is really cool to get a commentary on the book as someone experiences it for the first time! I hope you keep going through to the end and posting as you go. The illustrated reactions are awesome!

I don't know why so many people suggest skipping the first volume. It remains one of my favorite of the entire series. By far the most fun volume to read and pretty foundational to the overall story.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Carson G.: The reasons for skipping the first volume are the ... shall we say variable quality of the writing and the artwork -- poor in comparison to contemporary work, and certainly to what Cerebus became. But you're quite correct that it's foundational to the overall story -- not just in establishing the Cerebus universe, but in seeing li'l Dave, the wannabe cartoonist who wasn't good enough to break into The Biz, take his first steps toward doing whatever the hell he wanted. For cartoonists and students of cartooning, it's fascinating and at times exhilarating! But for readers much of it is a bit of a slog, or at least a "Meh. What's the big deal?"

-- Damian

Tony Dunlop said...

While the first 25 issues (or "Volume 1" to you whippersnappers) is uneven in quality, to me it all comes together and starts humming like a well-tuned Corvette (a '56?) with the Palnu Trilogy, and picks up from there. (Alex Raymond doesn't take the wheel until the Torah Commentaries over 200 issues later.) (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Tony D.: I like the "Palnu Trilogy" myself, and I think it foreshadows that Dave's strength lay in longer-form narratives rather than the single-issue one-offs that were the norm in comics at the time.

-- Damian