Saturday, 7 October 2017

Aardvarkian Gothic

Cerebus #25 (March 1981)
Art by Dave Sim

I have just had an article published called "Aardvarkian Gothic", focusing on issues 23-25 of Cerebus, in the academic periodical The Journal of Comics & Graphic Novels. The article is currently only available online and behind a paywall, but the abstract appears below. The paper was originally presented at a conference focusing on gothic and comics, so it approaches Cerebus as a work in which gothic motifs and elements are important. Anyone interested in reading the full article can contact the me at: dgrace2 [at] uwo [dot] ca to request a link for a free download. Only a limited number are available, so first-come, first-served!

"Aardvarkian Gothic" Abstract

Gothic motifs figure strongly in several storylines in Dave Sim’s Cerebus series, albeit initially for predominantly parodic purposes. One of Sim’s earliest multi-issue arcs, comprising issues 23–25, involves not merely parody of specific mainstream comic elements but also of gothic tropes. Sim’s genre-bending is one of the strengths of Cerebus, and this arc demonstrates Sim’s skill in weaving gothic elements into the book, for parodic purposes but also to serve Sim’s gestational thematic interests. Sim exploits several characteristic elements of the gothic to trouble questions of gender and representation. He reverses the standard trope of the vulnerable woman in a mysterious space, threatened explicitly with violence and implicitly with sex, by making the male Cerebus the vulnerable figure, surrounded by sexually tempting adolescent girls. The story further complicates questions of gender in its invocation of drag, climaxing its interrogation with an innovative take on the doppelgänger motif by introducing Woman Thing and Sump Thing as parodic monstrous others whose violent/sexual encounter literalizes Sim’s sexual politics, not to mention the crisis of representation sometimes seen as a key element of gothic. In doing so, he lays the groundwork for much of what will follow in Cerebus.

Dominick Grace is the co-editor, with Eric Hoffman, of the interview collection "Dave Sim: Conversations" published in 2013 by the University Press of Mississippi, as well as "Seth: Conversations", "Chester Brown: Conversations" and "Jim Shooter: Conversations". He is Professor of English at Brescia University College in London, Ontario, and the author of The Science Fiction of Phyllis Gotlieb: A Critical Reading and co-editor of Approaching Twin Peaks: Critical Essays on the Original Series and the forthcoming The Canadian Alternative: Cartoonists, Comics, and Graphic Novels, with Eric Hoffman.


Anonymous said...

Dom, I don't mean to be snarky, but you do know that Cerebus issues 23-25 were a blatant swipe of the Clint Eastwood movie, "The Beguiling", right?

So, it's not as if Dave made the story up completely. But Sump-Thing and Woman Thing, while also a swipe (obviously), were very entertaining, as was the little Rasta guy.

What I mean to say is that while Dave, even in the early days, could take other source material and (sort of) make it his own, your abstract kind of makes it sound like he invented this stuff.

As the great James A Owen, of "Starchild" fame once said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Only Dave can take someone else's character/s and do them better." He was referring to his character of Marty which, btw, James swiped from the great actor Marty Feldman (R.I.P.).

So, I guess, what goes around comes around.

Travis Pelkie said...

Didn't they just remake The Beguiling, too? Sophia Coppola, maybe?

I would have thought that the Swoon stuff would be discussed with Goth stuff.... ;)

Dominick Grace said...

Read the article. The debt to The Beguiled is part of the discussion.

Lots of other stuff (e.g. Swoon) could have been discussed as well. No paper considers everything. That would take a book.

Travis Pelkie said...

I was making a goth/The Cure version of goth joke, Dominick. Just kidding around. I realize that you wouldn't cover everything in an article, and I was more trying to make a funny.

And I blame Jeff for making me think that it was The Beguiling and not the Beguiled. Darn you, Jeff! (even though he didn't sign that post, we know it's him!)

Tony Dunlop said...

I certainly have no interest in reading the full article - but "literalizes Dave's "sexual politics?"" I hope you let your readers know that Dave's "sexual politics," circa 1981 when these stories were written, boiled down basically to "I like to boink hot chicks, and my wife lets me."

So does this mean that Tony Curtis in "Some Like It Hot" "complicates questions of gender?" Here I thought it was just an extended gag. What a Philistine I am.